Thursday, September 15, 2005

 

My Religion and Me

Chapter 11

WHAT ABOUT THE FALLOF MAN?

Now that we have discussed the eternal nature of our freedom and the increasing responsibility we take upon ourselves, we come to a consideration of the kind of situation we are in while living here upon the earth. We have now undergone a second “birth” in the sense of having been clothed again with another kind of body.

The Lord has revealed to us something of how we obtained physical bodies. After Adam had lived an unrevealed length of time in the Garden of Eden, he fell and became mortal. We have inherited bodies and the kind of world in which we live through him. What do we know about Adam’s sin and “Fall”?

Let us briefly consider the points of view of the world on these matters and then devote our main effort to the beautiful concept contained in the gospel of Jesus Christ as revealed in both ancient and modern scriptures.

VIEWS OF APOSTATE CHRISTENDOM

The traditional Christian doctrine of “original sin” says, in effect, that all of us were mysteriously and immaterially present in Adam. We sinned through Adam and therefore came into the world “stained” throughout our beings with that original guilt. The purpose of baptism is not for the remission of sins we commit ourselves but for the one terrible sin we committed “in Adam.” This point of view has built generations of resentment against our noble parents and has resulted in the pernicious doctrine of “pedobaptism” (infant baptism).

The apostate doctrine of “utter depravity” condemns man even more totally. It teaches that before the Fall in Eden Adam was sinless and guiltless and incorrupt, bearing somehow the “image” of God. When Adam fell, he lost absolutely and irretrievably that “image.” He became utterly depraved. All of us born since have been conceived in sin. There is no good in us. We are all bad—mind, spirit, and body. Before God we are always in the wrong. By nature, by makeup, we are incapable of doing or being anything in any way good. Baptism is pointless. No man, regardless of what he does, is worthy of divine blessing or of salvation. If he is saved, it is through the “grace” of God which he does not earn but which is bestowed in “mercy” upon the “elect” (chosen few) by the God whom everyone, chosen or not, is supposed to love and revere. This doctrine has prevailed in all Protestant churches having a Calvinistic background and is a part of the stern heritage from our pilgrim and Puritan forebearers.


A third less literal point of view which is widespread rejects the story of Adam and Eve as a nonhistorical myth, true only in the underlying presentation it give of the awful dilemma of all men-- they are estranged from themselves, from their God, and from each other. In the most of the versions of this view an extremely pessimistic attitude about the nature of man is taken. He is compound of pride, lust, and evil intent and by nature is demonic. Here again the rule of God is to make up by his own supreme goodness and mercy all the lack in man.

THE MORMON VIEW OF THE FALL

Revealed latter-day doctrine has brought welcome news to a world struggling with the crushing oppression of such doctrines which are misunderstandings of God and man’s very nature.

The Mormon doctrine of the Fall might be called “the happy fall”. It is rather like a man in the Alps who is ascending toward a remote peak. After climbing for some time, he discovers that he has reached the top of a lower peak. He records in his notes, “I must now go down in order to go higher up.” Adam did not begin his existence in the Garden, but belonged to the family of God with all the rest of us in the pre-mortal worlds. He was Michael, the archangel, one of those choice and bright spirits privileged to sit in the “congregation of the mighty.” (David’s phrase for the council of the gods, Psalm 82:1) He aided in the planning and organizing of the earth and was assigned to be its great patriarch.

The details of the entry of his spirit into his body and the entry of himself and Eve into the Garden are yet to be revealed. It is clear however, that his Fall did not consist in a rebellion against the Father like Lucifer’s in heaven. We are given some insight into his motives or Eve’s. The facts are that they were tempted, that they partook of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, that certain changes were brought about which were necessary for the whole human race:

  1. Adam and Eve and, therefore, all their posterity became subject to death, becoming mortal, where before they had been immortal. They suffered a “spiritual death” or banishment from the presence of God. Shortly, however, Adam was given the keys and powers and teachings to enable him to regain that presence, this time with knowledge, power, and an embodied personality like unto God’s .
  2. They put themselves in a position to learn some additional aspects of good from evil and become aware of the “opposition of all things,” spoken of by Lehi, and in so doing lost their primeval innocence or lack of awareness. (2 Nephi 2: )
  3. They became subject to illness, pain, fatigue, and all the miseries to which the flesh is heir.
  4. They were cast out of Eden into the world of thistles and noxious weeds where they had to work the soil by the sweat of their brows. We, as children of Adam, come into the world subject to these same conditions of mortality which open up for \us those same possibilities.

Absent from this account of Adam is the notion that we inherit from Adam in any sense original sin or utter depravity or estrangement. Our second Article of Faith would sound like heresy to most people in the world today but sounds, too, a clarion of truth: “We believe that men will be punished for, their own sins, and not for Adam’s transgressions.” (Second Article of Faith.)

It is important to note the corollary: We are not to be punished for Adam’s transgression and he is not to be punished for ours. In much of the world the commandment to “Honor thy father and thy mother” (Exodus 20:12) has not been applied to Adam and Eve, upon whom blame for all our mortal woes is placed. It is glorious to belong to the religion of Christ which does honor to both Michael and the Master and thus to all mankind.

WAS IT ACCORDING TO PLAN?

All of us, with father Adam, as premortal spirits anticipated the unfolding of the plan just as it has unfolded. The overall plan had been prearranged and prepared. Theoretically Adam could have refused to bring mortality upon the world, but his Heavenly Father knew that he would not. That was presumably one of the reasons why he was chosen for the task. It is the same with each of us. Not that we are fatalists (whatever will be, will be) or predestinationists. There is no coercion—that was rejected. Rather, as Lehi suggested, “All things have been done in the wisdom of him who knoweth all things.” (2 Nephi 2:24.)

Mormons agree with the rest of the world that the earth was cursed at the Fall but call attention to the phrase that follows “for thy sake” (Gensis 3:17) which means “for thy good.” It is the kind of world we knew would be suitable for our vital growth. It is deliberately constructed “obstacle course” to enable us to test the strength of the strands in our character as spirits in bodies. That testing “to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command” (Abraham 3:25) is not just to satisfy divine curiosity. It is the probing and improving kind of testing that yields development. It is fraught with godlike possibilities. All except a very few will benefit everlastingly. Even those who perform least effectively will be much improved.

In the pre-existence we proved ourselves as spirits in the presence of the Father. This was our first estate. Now, to keep our second estate, we must continue to progress in spite of not seeing and talking directly with the Lord. Although we have lost all memory of the sphere from which we came, we do have we will stay on the road that will lead us to become strong men and, finally, after the long hard pull, we may be exalted to be with our Heavenly Father.

WHY WE ARE HERE

Sometimes a young person may be heard to say in a moment of frustration or disgust with the way things are going “I didn’t ask to be born.” The implication is that his parents are responsible for his being here in the midst of whatever impossible situation is giving him a bad time. There is a further thought of resentment against God, as if to say, “If I’d had anything to do with it, I wouldn’t be in this predicament.” Oh, wouldn’t you now?

The gospel answer is concise: Yes, you would. You did ask to be born. Not only that, you sang for joy at the prospect. There is some indication that we had a pretty good understanding, too, of what we were getting into.

Brigham Young, whose days were not so different from our own as we sometimes suppose, expressed a further bit of insight in giving our Heavenly Father more credit than is sometimes given him:

I am aware that these evils are not pleasant, and probably if we could understand and comprehend evil without coming in contact with it, God would never have placed us on this earth, so far from those with whom we dwelt in the eternal worlds. He never would have placed us here but for our own good.1

Modern revelation bears out the idea that we needed and wanted to come here and were grateful for the chance. We got ourselves into this world by being valiant in another sphere. We can get out only by going through life here. We cannot withdraw.

WHY THER IS EVIL

If all the world is set up according to a plan of God, is evil real? Is pain pain? Or are they only part of fake scenery in a drama of life? Evil is real all right, and it is really evil. If it were not, there would be no real test. Pain is pain. Evil and pain cause suffering among men. Suffering can yield good results00 depth of learning, nobility of soul, sweetness of spirit, magnification of all that is godly in us—courage, compassion, new ability to feel and to transmit the light of God. Suffering can be beneficial, but there is too much of it. Not all is well in Zion or anywhere else.

The Father’s ceaseless work and glory is to persuade each of us to do all he can to reduce suffering among his fellows and to be transformed, partly through suffering, into a sin free and purified character. Perhaps one day we will be able to say that our sufferings have truly brought us closer to Deity. That is not just a spatial or emotional or intellectual closeness. It is the literal “closeness” or “likeness”—becoming as God is, as well as moving nearer to him. Should we not, then, seek to meet the problems of the world head-on in order to become perfected?

Our mission is to cope as best we can with what comes and to develop strength in the struggles to do so. To cultivate evil, to go looking for it, is folly. It is like the man in Zion’s Camp who deliberately picked up a snake and bragged that since the Savior promised that men with faith would deal with “any deadly thing” (Mark 16:18) he was going to give it a try. He was rebuked by the Prophet who explained that only if we are afflicted in line of duty will the Lord reward our faith with protection and healing.2 If, to satisfy the curiosity of the crowd or with the spirit of “showing off” we deliberately do ourselves harm in order to demonstrate any power, the power will be denied us and we must face all the unpleasant consequences. Opposition will come; we need not, should not, invite it.

With this thought in mind, Brigham H. Roberts says:

That conditions in life which is calculated to give the wildest experience to man, is the one most to be desired, and he who obtains it is the most favored of God… some of the lowliest walks in life, the paths which head into the deepest valleys of sorrow and up to the most rugged steeps of adversity, are the ones which if a man travel in, will best accomplish the object of his existence in this world… the path-way of fiery trials is the one ordained of God for his favored sons.

In proof of this I direct you to the lives of the saints and the prophets; but above all to the life of the Son of God himself. The life of the Prophet Joseph Smith is an illustration second only to that of the Messiah.3

We shouldn’t envy sinners, they are in a terrible condition. But are they? Often they seem to prosper, seem to be “having a ball,” and not to be afflicted with many of the worries that beset people trying to be good. It seems often that they are having all the fun, and getting all the breaks. It makes us wonder. Then we see afflictions coming upon the righteous—losing a beloved wife or child, being injured in an automobile wreck on the way to conference, being hurt on the welfare farm. Some people have more to bear than anyone ought to have. We wonder even more. Do the people thus afflicted wonder? Yes sometimes.

There is a young man who has been since birth a hemophiliac or a “bleeder.” A slight bump on his arm makes it swell and swell until his whole arm is one huge bruise from bleeding under the skin. Every three weeks he goes to the hospital and lies in severe pain while they pump by transfusion more and yet m ore blood into him. The pressure in his organs, even in his bones, builds up to bring him incredible pain.

This young man is a blessing wherever he goes. He has served an inspired and inspiring mission (wearing braces.) He is a successful salesman and a brilliant sound technician, able to study and apply his knowledge even in bed where he is much of the time. He is married and has two choice children. Often anniversaries and Christmas are celebrated in the antiseptic bleakness of a hospital room.

What he has done is not so important as what he is, what lines of character and compassion are in his face and in his very nature. “When I come out of great pain,” he has said, “I feel that all my petty acts are washed away. I feel that I am starting afresh with a clean slate. It is like baptism.” Asked if he would endure it all again, he says, “Of course I would not wish this on myself or on my children. Yet the blessings have been so great—so great.” Told of a woman who has not suffered 1/100th as much physical pain but who is bitter and cynical and seems to darken the air around her with her bad spirit, a woman for whom nothing can be done that is appreciated, he smiles and says, “She must learn.”

Some, like this young man, find enlightenment and exaltation in suffering. Others are darkened and corroded by it. Some are grateful for the strength to endure what they must; others are greedy for blessings with which they are never satisfied. The difference is in the way one is affected by adversity. What makes the difference?

The prophet in the semidarkness of a dungeon was given this great “if”: “if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high… all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good.” (D&C 121:8, 122:7.)

Enduring it well seems to make the difference in the effect of adversity on people. If someone were watching at the other end of life, seeing the people coming out, he might be inclined to think that there were two worlds in here, one happy and one sad, seeing the shriveled souls on the one hand and the expanded, radiant ones on the other.

The truth is that it is all one world. Sooner or later each person has to come to grips with it. Pain is the common lot of mankind. Every man will fail sometime. The difference in men is not because of the world, but because of different responses to it. One man walks with God; another does not.

IS THERE NO OTHER WAY?

Repeatedly questions arise as if people regret the bargain they made and are trying to find and easier way. Why are we going through all this? If God knows the end from the beginning, does he not know what we will do without our having to do it?

Repeated questions arise as if people regret the bargain they make and are trying to find an easier way. Why are we going through all this? If God knows the end from the beginning, does he not know what we will do without our having to do it? Why could he not assign us to the appropriate level in the world beyond and be done with it?

Such a question ignores the nature of the universe in which both the Father and his children exist. It is a universe of law. Growth does not come because someone has it all figured out. You cannot gain an education without grappling with ideas in the classroom and the laboratory. You cannot develop muscles without using them, nor avoid their atrophy if you do not. You cannot write the lessons of exposure to good and evil into the depths of your soul without living through experiences with them in flesh and spirit. In summary, you cannot gain experience without actually having it. No matter how accurately, for example, high school registrars can predict the statistical outcomes of each entering class—how many will graduate and with what major interests and with what levels of proficiency—the knowledge of the spectator does not create the outcome of the experience. Work does. Experience does. Our bodily experience is essential,

Why does a man need God? What is religion for? Isn’t it a crutch? Why all the emphasis on Christ and the atonement? Isn’t it just a matter of walking a straighter line each day—more good turns, slow improvement, and making each day a little better than the last?

Such questions ignore the destructive force of sin and the lifegiving power of Christ. If life were just a matter of turning the right switches, all we would need would be a taperecording of the Ten Commandments and we could turn ourselves on to obey them. It is not that simple.

No man of himself can lift himself to celestial glory. Our growth depends on the light of Christ, guidance of the Holy Ghost, and the power of the priesthood which is given us of God and his Son. We need divine protection from all the forces that can stunt, wither, or destroy us. The religion of Jesus Christ is not just a philosophy of life; it is the generator of life. The judgement day will not only establish “Were you obedient to law? But “Did you know the law so that you could be obedient? It is the power of godliness that is essential to our exaltation, the same power which the boy Joseph Smith was told Christendom lacked.

If you go it alone, you cannot succeed. If you go it with him, and receive his power, you will increase and make it. There is no other way.

  1. Brigham Young, Jr. in Journal of Discourses, 26 vol. (London: Latter-day Saints Book Depot, 1855-86), 15:192
  2. Joseph Smith, History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, ed. B. H. Roberts, 7 vol. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., ), 2:95-96
  3. B. H. Roberts, The Gospel and Man’s Relationship to Deity (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1965), pp. 278-279.


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