Monday, September 12, 2005
My Religion and Me
Your Part in the Lord’s Work
Sometimes we step outside the snug little circle of the present where everything is more or less familiar and in our minds we venture into a vast uncertain world to ask in wonder, “Who am I? Where did I come from? Was I always myself? Will I always be? Is there anyone else just like me? Why am I?” Such questions usually come to us when we lift our eyes to the endless sky ever above us or when we think about the universe that is always around us and consider how little we know about it. Then our imagination staggers as we reach out with our finite minds to try to grasp the meaning of infinity and eternity.
Because we are children of God, there is little cause for wonder that we should ask questions and that our minds should reach out hungry for understanding not to be satisfied without some kind of answer. Wrought upon by the Holy Ghost, man has gone surprisingly far in reaching out. He has understood and subdued the forces of nature sufficiently enough to send human beings as far into the void of space as the moon and has devised machines to measure and photograph other planets, thus extending the realm of what is known and understood by man. Even such extensions of knowledge only touch the surface of the vast uncharted world of the unknown and do little to answer the recurring questions about out beginnings and eternal destinies.
WHERE DID I COME FROM?
To the Prophet Joseph Smith, who wondered too, some answers came—answers he transmitted to us which opened new vistas of understanding. He said:
"The mind of man… Where did it come from? All learned men and doctors of divinity say that God created it in the beginning; but it is not so; the very idea lessens man in my estimation. I do not believe the doctrine; I know better… I am going to tell of things more noble."1
To the question “How was man created?” most religions answer, “By God.” To the question “How was God created?” most religions answer, “God was not created at all. God is self-derived. God had no beginning and will have no end. God is a ‘necessary’ being.” Thus, most world religions agree to the proposition that there was never a time when nothing existed.
God has always existed. All the prophets of God, ancient and modern, have understood the great related truth that there never was an eternity in which god existed alone. The building blocks of all things are co-eternal with Him. God has always been working with self-existent realities, at least three of which may be identified as follows:
1. God has always existed.
2. Some laws have always existed. (These are laws of nature as distinct from man-made laws.)
3. Matter is eternal. (It may be converted to energy but the sum is eternal.)
Here are some exact formulations by or through the Prophet of this glorious truth:
"God himself is a self-existent being…Who told you that man did not exist in like manner upon the same principles? Man does exist upon the same principles."2
The mind or the intelligence which man possesses is co-equal (i.e., coeternal) with God himself. Is it logical to say that the intelligence of spirits is immortal, and yet that it had a beginning? The intelligence of spirits had no beginning, neither will it have an end. God never had the power to create the spirit of man at all. God himself could not create himself. Intelligence is eternal and exists upon a self existent principle. It is a spirit from age to age, and there is no creation about it.3
"Ye were also in the beginning with the Father;… Man was also in the beginning with God. Intelligence… was not created or made, neither indeed can be…For man is spirit. The elements are eternal, and spirit and element, inseparably connected, receive a fullness of joy." (D&C 93:23, 29, 33.)
IS THERE ANYONE ELSE JUST LIKE ME?
It is one of the amazing facts of human personality in this world that no one of us is exactly like another. Even those of us who look alike and have the same parents and similar environments are unique—in some ways as different as if born in a different universe. “It takes all kinds to make a world,” people exclaim when they make this recurring discovery of human differences. Strictly speaking, though, there are no kinds. We speak of species, races, families, tribes, and the like, but at root every individual is one of a kind and the only one of his or her kind.
Consider a pair of identical twins, for example. In appearance they may be so similar that they are mistaken for each other. Those who know them best, however, can tell them apart because there are differences in attitudes, interests, mannerisms, and even in the ways they gesture or smile or say hello. No two people have the same fingerprints, the same scars or the same signatures. In the harder-to-measure matters of thought and perception, we all seem to be wired differently in ways that allow no permanent disguise.
As a lively person, you have a good imagination. Try sometime to draw a hundred different faces. You will likely run out of ideas and find it hard to make that many that are really distinctive. Your imaginary faces will have your trademark or identification tag, as so Rembrandt’s, da Vinci’s, or Picasso’s works. Or as the characteristics in any familiar comic strip who bear their creator’s stamp. Yet in this world of three billion or more, there is not one face that is the exact replica of another. Think of that! Three billion variations on the same theme! Resemblance without duplication! How many more before now and how many after. Such is the wondrous variety that surrounds us, not just of face and feature but of personality and character.
Scientists tell us that individuality goes at least as far back as our birth into this world. Embryologists tell us that individuality goes back still earlier to our development in that mysterious period between conception and birth when the embryo develops into a baby ready to be born.
The great differences we observe here in physical, measurable mortality are but reflections of that vast variety of differences that existed in the pre-mortal existence. President J. Reuben Clark has written:
"The record in Abraham which precedes the account of the council (in heaven), is devoted to explaining that there are inequalities… among the intelligences, not all are equal. The Lord said to Abraham, calling attention to this great group of intelligences, that there were among them those who were the great ones, and declared to Abraham that he was one of
those who were to be rulers"4
Do we not believe, is it not a self-evident truth, that all men were created equal? Yes, if by that we mean equal before the law or equal in certain inalienable (undeniable) rights or equal in their claims to opportunity. It is obvious, however, that great inequities exist in terms of what men are, what they have, and what they are able to do.
Lingering in many of us is the unanalyzed assumption that we all got the same start—that back in some beginning we were all on the same foundation with all others and that everyone started equal. This has not been fully clarified in the revelations. But there have been great differences since there was any record or any indication given. Along the path of our eternal existence, we have apparently always been surrounded by varying degrees of enlightenment, glory, power, goodness, and harmony with the purposes of God. Some have responded and some have not. Why?
We know—and it is all we need to know for our purposes (and our Heavenly Father’s) here on earth,-- that the framework of the gospel plan provides us with ample opportunities to grow and prove ourselves in association with others similarly engaged who both need our help and need to be of help to us. We know that God as a loving father who knows our needs and aspirations and how best to help us fill the measure of our creation.
"Those who diligently labor, knowing that the Master (our Lord) will give to them whatever is right, and with thought for the work rather than for the wage, shall find themselves more bountifully enriched."5
It was probably in this connection that the Savior told the following parable:
"But many that are first shall be last; and the last shall be first.
For the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is an householder, which went out early in the morning to hire labourers into his vineyard.
And when he had agreed with the labourers for a penny a day, he sent them into his vineyard.
And he went out about the third hour, and saw others standing idle in the marketplace,
And said unto them; Go ye also into the vineyard, and whatsoever is right I will give you. And they went their way.
Again he went our about the sixth and ninth hour, and did likewise.
And abut the eleventh hour he went out, and found others standing idle, and said unto them, Why stand ye here all the day idle?
They say unto him, Because no man hath hired us. He saith unto them, Go you also into the vineyard; and whatsoever is right, that shall ye receive.
So when even was come, the Lord of the vineyard saith unto his steward, Call the labourers, and give them their hire, beginning from the last unto the first.
And when they came that were hired about the eleventh hour, they received every man a penny.
But when the first came, they supposed that they should have received more; and they likewise received every man a penny.
And when they had received it they murmured against the good man of the house,saying, these last have wrought but one hour, and thou has made them equal unto us, which have borne the burden and heat of the day.
But he answered one of them, and said, Friend, I do thee no wrong: didst not thou agree with me for a penny?
Take that thine is, and go thy way: I will give unto this last, even as unto thee.
Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? Is thine eye evil, because I am good?
So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many be called but few chosen." (Matthew 19:30; 20:1-16)
Christ seems to indicate that everlasting life is promised to all who come and follow him regardless of when they come. Eternal life is indeed a “golden penny” and is our Heavenly Father’s to bestow where he will. Our relationship with him is on a one-to-one basis, and it matters not what others may do or receive from him (except as they need our help). We covenant with him to serve him; he offers us the marvelous coin of eternal life. Whatever inequities there seem to be, lose their significance in view of such an offer. The gratitude each one of us should feel at so great a love should kindle in us enough life to let us rejoice at whatever success or advancement our brothers may achieve, though they go in ahead of us. Only in heaven is there universal rejoicing over the repentance of a long-time sinner, for only in heaven is there in each heart so great a love that there is no room for selfish comparisons and protests to the good man of that house.
Such truths help us relate to the other things in the universe. We sometimes hear individuals discuss the relative importance or influence of heredity and environment as if all they were could be accounted for by credit or blame to immediate circumstances as these, but when looked at in longer perspective, what we are is a product of our own doing. This leaves a lot of excuses looking pretty thin. Each of us is an eternal self, and what we are today is a product of what, with the help of our Father we have been making of ourselves for having make enough wise choices along the way to account for a great deal of progress, for that is why we are here upon earth. Our relationships with God, each other, the elements, and eternal laws have brought about our present situation. In this sense, each of us is a creature of his own making.
1 Joseph Fielding Smith, comp., Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1938), p. 352
2 Teachings, p. 352
3 Teachings, p. 354
4 J. Reuben Clark, Jr., in Conference Report of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, April 1952, p. 96
5 James E. Talmage, Jesus the Christ (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1963), p. 482.