Sunday, August 21, 2016

Eternal life is an acquired taste

God loves us and wants to bless us as much as we can receive it. The limit of God's blessing is usually understood to be our obedience. While that is true, it is not beneficial to think of this in the simplest sense, the sense that he blesses those that obey him and punishes those who disobey him, like a king who rules with an iron fist. This is not correct.

God does not benefit from punishing us. All that he does is for the good of the world.
He doeth not anything save it be for the benefit of the world; for he loveth the world, even that he layeth down his own life that he may draw all men unto him. Wherefore, he commandeth none that they shall not partake of his salvation. (2 Nephi 26:24)
God's punishments are better understood as the natural consequences of our disobedience to universal law. Instead of seeing them as the response of an angered dictator, we ought to see them as consequences that would have been avoided had we heeded God's instructions to do so.

It is a common thing for those who know something about the gospel to desire greater blessings than they possess. What we do not realize is that our sought-for blessings almost always come with situations that we would find repugnant in our current fallen state.

Here is a story from Jesus' life that will illustrate this point.

20 Then came to him the mother of Zebedee’s children with her sons, worshipping him, and desiring a certain thing of him.
 21 And he said unto her, What wilt thou? She saith unto him, Grant that these my two sons may sit, the one on thy right hand, and the other on the left, in thy kingdom.
 22 But Jesus answered and said, Ye know not what ye ask. Are ye able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of, and to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with? They say unto him, We are able.
 23 And he saith unto them, Ye shall drink indeed of my cup, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with: but to sit on my right hand, and on my left, is not mine to give, but it shall be given to them for whom it is prepared of my Father. (Matthew 20:21-23)

The mother of the apostles James and John came to Jesus asking for her sons to receive a new blessing.  Jesus' response was to indicate that the blessing James and John were requesting would require suffering far beyond anything they had experienced.

For those whose hearts and minds are prepared, and whose spirits are stout enough to endure, further light and truth is a blessing. However, for those who are unprepared, new blessings are actually an onerous curse.

When the rich young man asked Jesus how he could have eternal life, Jesus told him to sell everything he had and give to the poor. The man thought he wanted eternal life, but it turns out his understanding of what that would be like was very wrong. "...he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions." (Matthew 19:22)

What would happen if an unprepared soul came face-to-face with the Savior? There are references to this all over the place. Here is one:
...the demands of divine justice do awaken his immortal soul to a lively sense of his own guilt, which doth cause him to shrink from the presence of the Lord, and doth fill his breast with guilt, and pain, and anguish, which is like an unquenchable fire, whose flame ascendeth up forever and ever. (Mosiah 2:38)
No one desires that. Yet, the experiences bridging the gap between this experience and how we imagine an audience with the Lord are unpalatable for most. Turning our hearts to God means much more than simply wanting to draw closer to our preconceived notions of him. It means to adopt a childlike assumption that we know nothing with a willingness to submit to any affliction he might send our way, including uprooting the cherished traditions that make up our bedrock of belief.

For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father. (Mosiah 3:19)

Joseph Smith expertly described that the blessing of entering heaven is no different than any of the others that we have not currently qualified for. Unreceived blessings must be prepared for. Before we are ready to find joy in godly things, we have to allow God to instruct us and change our hearts so that we can learn to recognize, value, and savor that which is good:

"Here, then, we have this part of our subject immediately before us for consideration: God has in reserve a time, or period appointed in His own bosom, when He will bring all His subjects, who have obeyed His voice and kept His commandments, into His celestial rest. This rest is of such perfection and glory, that man has need of a preparation before he can, according to the laws of that kingdom, enter it and enjoy its blessings. This being the fact, God has given certain laws to the human family, which, if observed, are sufficient to prepare them to inherit this rest. This, then, we conclude, was the purpose of God in giving His laws to us: If not, why, or for what were they given? If the whole family of man were as well off without them as they might be with them, for what purpose or intent were they ever given? Was it that God wanted to merely show that He could talk? It would be nonsense to suppose that He would condescend to talk in vain: for it would be in vain, and to no purpose whatever (if the law of God were of no benefit to man): because, all the commandments contained in the law of the Lord, have the sure promise annexed of a reward to all who obey, predicated upon the fact that they are really the promises of a Being who cannot lie, One who is abundantly able to fulfill every tittle of His word: and if man were as well prepared, or could be as well prepared, to meet God without their ever having been given in the first instance, why were they ever given? for certainly, in that case they can now do him no good." (Joseph Smith, TPJS, p. 54)

We live in a society where people love eating meat but are unwilling to raise, kill, and butcher an animal themselves. It turns out that eating select cuts of meat in a buffet is a very different experience than eating all parts of an animal you raised and butchered yourself. The gospel is not subject to the Babylonian illusion. You can't buy the "cream" of the gospel in neat, convenient containers sold at your local grocery store. You have to breed the cow. You have to milk it twice a day every day for two years. You have to consume the gallons of skim milk along with the little bit of cream you get every day.

It is in vain for persons to fancy to themselves that they are heirs with those, or can be heirs with them, who have offered their all in sacrifice, and by this means obtained faith in God and favor with him so as to obtain eternal life, unless they in like manner offer unto him the same sacrifice, and through that offering obtain the knowledge that they are accepted of him. (Lectures on Faith 6:8)

I know a lot of people who seek after the experiences of people in the scriptures. Yet, I don't know many people (any?) who would willingly take upon themselves the lives of those people. We covet the blessings of the gospel. We shape the glory of God into what our telestial minds find desirable. Instead, we ought to realize that God's glory is anything but desirable to a telestial mind.

In a post worthy of your attention, Matt Crocket recently reported that the Lord told him the following: “Those who seek for priesthood and power will have neither, but those who seek to do my will, the will of the Lord, shall have both priesthood and power to do that which I have asked of you.” Upon reading these words, the Lord certified to me that these came from him and were true.

If "priesthood" is nothing more than the permission and power from God to do his will, why do we so often make an artificial separation between those elements of his will that we lust after (such as healing the sick, raising the dead, baptizing, having visions and visitations, etc.) and those elements we ignore (such as humility, meekness, patience, abasement, suffering, disappointment, purity, self-denial, etc.)? We ought to seek the latter as much as the former. We ought to realize that these are two ends of the same stick. We ought to realize that if the latter are repugnant to us, than the former--when done according to God's will--will also be equally repugnant.