Tuesday, 29 May 2007

"Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee"

It's been pointed out to me that my previous post doesn't tell you very much if you don't know what the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints actually teaches concerning the pre-mortal existence. So I'll offer up a pretty basic summary -- obviously you could spend your whole life studying this one topic and still not finish.

Our information on the pre-mortal existence of man (sometimes referred to as the pre-existence, despite the technical inaccuracy of that -- it's shorter, I guess) is based mostly in latter-day scripture and revelation. The most detailed descriptions can be found in the books of Abraham and Moses, located in the Pearl of Great Price (available on the Internet -- here). However, there are hints at it throughout the Old and New Testaments (and, it must be noted, the Book of Moses is a restored version of the original opening to Genesis as dictated by the Lord to Moses. So there).

In the beginning was God, singular. It is not terribly relevant that he has a wife, but as the hymn states:

In the heav'ns are parents single?
No, the thought makes reason stare!
Truth is reason; truth eternal
Tells me I've a mother there.
(Hymn #292, O My Father)

It's mentioned nowhere in the Standard Works (=the Old and New Testaments, Book of Mormon, Doctrine & Covenants, Pearl of Great Price), but I'm informed that it is doctrine, having been stated by prophets of the Restored Church. But it's not terribly relevant, so. Onward!

Abraham 3:22-23:

Now the Lord had shown unto me, Abraham, the intelligences that were organised before the world was; and among all these there were many of the noble and great ones;
And God saw these souls that they were good, and he stood in the midst of them, and he said: These I will make my rulers; for he stood among those that were spirits, and he saw that they were good; and he said unto me: Abraham, thou art one of them; thou wast chosen before thou wast born.

These intelligences -- or at least, those who were spirits -- are the spirit children of our Heavenly Father, aka God. With him they lived in glory for countless ages, but it gets boring after a while, being a spirit when your Father has a body; and so was the great Plan concieved.

Abraham 3:24-25:

And there stood one among them that was like unto God, and he said unto those who were with him: We will go down, for there is space there, and we will take of these materials, and we will make an earth whereon these may dwell;
And we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them;

Interestingly (oh no, here comes the tangent) the footnotes to that scripture say that the 'one among them that was like unto God' is Jesus Christ; I'm not so sure. He seems to be someone distinctly separate from the spirit children, judging by his 'we will prove them herewith'; also, in verse 27, we hear that 'the Lord said: Whom shall I send? And one answered like unto the Son of Man: Here I am, send me.' That is Jesus, and as the other person has just finished speaking, they seem unlikely to be the same being.

Anyway, back to the subject at hand. Job 38:4-7:

Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? declare, if thou hast understanding.
Who hath laid the measures thereof, if thou knowest? or who hath stretched the line upon it?
Whereupon are the foundations thereof fastened? or who laid the corner stone thereof;
When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?

The sons of God -- that is to say, each and every one of us -- shouted for joy when the plan was revealed. At last we would have a chance to obtain bodies of flesh and bone, and rise to be equal to our Heavenly Father. But there was still a problem. Oh yes, there was a problem. Someone would need to guide humanity through its mortal existence: our Father in Heaven needed a Son on Earth. Moses 4:1-2:

And I, the Lord God, spake unto Moses, saying: That Satan, whom thou hast commanded in the name of mine Only Begotten, is the same which was from the beginning, and he came before me, saying - Behold, here am I, send me, I will be thy son, and I will redeem all mankind, that one soul shall not be lost, and surely I will do it; wherefore give me thine honour.
But, behold, my Beloved Son, which was my Beloved and Chosen from the beginning, said unto me - Father, thy will be done, and the glory be thine forever.

Imagine you are watching this scene (as, indeed, you were). Your two brothers - one, admittedly, the Firstborn, who has probably had a good deal of respect from you over the aeons - have both offered ideas. Lucifer says that he can get you all bodies and bring you all home again. The Firstborn, on the other hand, won't promise that everyone will return - he says we should be able to choose for ourselves. Security or agency -- which would you choose?

Actually, you don't need to answer that. Abraham 3:28:

And the second [ie, Satan in this version -- the ordering is slightly different. This is the spirit who said he would bring everyone back] was angry, and kept not his first estate; and at that day, many followed after him.

Many, indeed. And what happened? Something that is referred to across the whole of Christendom: the War in Heaven. Revelations 12:7-9:

And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels,
And prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven.
And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.

Just in case you were wondering who these angels were, D&C 29:36-37:

And it came to pass that Adam, being tempted of the devil - for, behold, the devil was before Adam, for he rebelled against me, saying, Give me thine honour, whish is my power; and also a third part of the hosts of heaven turned he away from me because of their agency;
And they were thrust down, and thus came the devil and his angels;

They were our brothers and sisters -- Satan managed to persuade a full third of the spirit children of our Heavenly Father away from the path that had been chosen. Perhaps he -- and they -- thought that they might convince Heavenly Father to change his mind, and allow Satan to bring us all safely home at the cost of our agency; who knows? What we do know is that he failed (as he must have done; how could he win?) and dragged a third of our family out of heaven with him. The good news, though, is that you, reading this, did not side with him -- whoever you are, even if you're the staunchest anti-Christian on the planet, you still supported your God and Father in that great battle. Be proud.

And then what? There's not much left to say. Abraham 4:1,3:

And then the Lord said: Let us go down. And they went down at the beginning, and they, that is the Gods, organised and formed the heavens and the earth.
And they (the Gods) said: Let there be light; and there was light.

After that, the rest is history.

Monday, 28 May 2007

'I take as my text for today...'

Nahum 1:11-13

11 There is one come out of thee, that imagineth evil against the Lord, a wicked counsellor.
12 Thus saith the Lord; Though they be quiet, and likewise many, yet thus shall they be cut down, when he shall pass through. Though I have afflicted thee, I will afflict thee no more.
13 For now will I break his yoke from off thee, and will burst thy bonds in sunder.

This is in the midst of various prophecies of the Lord's coming -- ie, the Second Coming. What can we get from these three verses? Scarily much.

1:11 -- One of the children of God ('one come out of thee') is a wicked counsellor against the Lord. There's only one person this can be, and that's Satan, the devil, Lucifer, whatever name you give him. It specifies one, so this isn't a class of people (yet); it's a single, specific individual. No individual save Satan can be classed as a universal counsellor against the Lord. There's a lot to learn here. First, Satan is a counsellor only -- not a being of power. He can't act except by whispering (and not shouting -- that's in the next verse, with 'though they be quiet'). Secondly, we learn the insanely important fact that he is one of us -- a child of our Heavenly Father. That means that, since he was in place at the start of the world, we must all have existed before the world -- in short, that one verse (in fact, those five words, 'one come out of thee') are a direct, Old Testament confirmation of the entirety of the pre-mortal existence as we understand it.

1:12-13 -- 'Though they be quiet, and likewise many'. I've already covered the fact that this tells us that Satan can only whisper. It also expands the scope -- one leader, but many such counsellors, of a like type. More Council in Heaven stuff. Then the rest of the verse -- the Lord will cut them (the wicked counsellors) down when he comes. Though he has afflicted us (or caused us to be afflicted, or permitted us to be afflicted -- it's one of those distinctions the Old Testament rarely makes), he will do so no longer. The next verse is more of the same -- the Lord will cast Satan's yoke from our necks and break our bonds asunder.

We know all of this, it's a combination of material from the Book of Moses/Abraham (Council in Heaven) and Revelations (Satan bound). But it's nice to see a traditional Jewish prophet confirming it all.

Friday, 25 May 2007

The Martyrdom

THE ASSASSINATION OF GEN'LS JOSEPH SMITH AND HYRUM SMITH, FIRST PRESIDENTS OF THE CHURCH OF LATTER DAY SAINTS; WHO WERE MASSACRED BY A MOB, IN CARTHAGE, HANCOCK COUNTY, ILL, ON THE 27TH JUNE, 1844; BY MISS ELIZA R. SNOW.

"And when he had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar, the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held.
And they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?
And white robes were given unto every one of them; and it was said unto them, that they should rest yet for a little season, until their fellow servants also, and their brethren, that should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled."- Rev. 6:-9,10,11.


Ye heavens attend! Let all the earth give ear!
Let Gods and seraphs, men and angels hear-
The worlds on high - the universe shall know
What awful scenes are acted here below!
Had nature's self a heart, her heart would bleed;
For never, since the Son of God was slain
Has blood so noble, flow'd from human vein
From "freedom's ground" - from Carthage prison walls!

Oh! Illinois! thy soil has drank the blood
Of prophets martyr'd for the truth of God.
Once lov'd America! what can atone
For the pure blood of innocence, thou'st sown?
Were all thy streams in teary torrents shed
To mourn the fate of those illustrious dead;
How vain the tribute, for the noblest worth
That grac'd thy surface, O degraded Earth!
Oh wretched murderers! fierce for human blood!
You've slain the prophets of the living God,
Who've born oppression from their early youth.
To plant on earth, the principles of truth.

Shades of our patriotic fathers! Can it be,
Beneath your blood-stained flag of liberty:
The firm supporters of our country's cause,
Are butchered while submissive to her laws?
Yes, blameless men, defam'd by hellish lies
Have thus been offer'd as a sacrifice
T'appease the ragings of a brutish clan,
That has defied the laws of God and man!
'Twas not for crime or guilt of theirs, they fell-
Against the laws they never did rebel.
True to their country, yet her plighted faith
Has proved an instrument of cruel death!
Where are thy far-famed laws - Columbia! where
Thy boasted freedom - thy protecting care?
Is this a land of rights? Stern FACTS shall say
If legal justice here maintains its sway,
The official pow'rs of State are sheer pretence
When they're exerted in the Saints defence.

Great men have fall'n and mighty men have died-
Nations have mourn'd their favourites and their pride;
But TWO so wise, so virtuous, great and good,
Before on earth, at once, have never stood
Since the creation - men whom God ordained
To publish truth where error long had reigned;
Of whom the world, itself unworthy prov'd:
It KNEW THEM NOT; but men with hatred mov'd
And with infernal spirits have combined
Against the best, the noblest of mankind!

Oh persecution! shall thy purple hand
Spread utter destruction through the land?
Shall freedom's banner be no more unfurled?
Has peace indeed, been taken from the world?
Thou God of Jacob, in this trying hour
Help us to trust in thy almighty pow'r;
Support thy Saints beneath this awful stroke-
Make bare thine arm to break oppression's yoke.
We mourn thy Prophet, from whose lips have flow'd
The words of life, thy spirit has bestow'd-
A depth of thought, no human art could reach
From time to time, roll'd in sublimest speech,
From the celestial fountain, through his mind,
To purify and elevate mankind:
The rich intelligence by him brought forth,
Is like the sun-beam, spreading o'er the earth.

Now Zion mourns-she mourns an earthly head:
The Prophet and the Patriarch are dead!
The blackest deed that men or devils know
Since Calv'ry's scene, has laid the brothers low!
One in their life, and one in death-they prov'd
How strong their friendship-how they truly lov'd:
True to their mission, until death, they stood,
Then seal'd their testimony with their blood.
All hearts with sorrow bleed, and every eye
Is bathed in tears-each bosom heaves a sigh-
Heartbroken widows' agonizing groans
Are mingled with the helpless orphans' moans!

Ye Saints! be still, and know that God is just-
With steadfast purpose in his promised trust.
Girded with sackcloth, own his mighty hand,
And wait his judgments on this guilty land!
The noble martyrs now have gone to move
The cause of Zion in the courts above.

(Originally published in The Times And Seasons, July 1844)

Wednesday, 23 May 2007

Prophet of the Where?

If you've got a decent knowledge of Old Testament history, you'll know that the Hebrews eventually split into two Kingdoms, Judah (the South Kingdom) and Israel (the North Kingdom, also referred to frequently in scripture as Ephraim). Both of these states had periods of righteousness, and both of them had Prophets at various times. The question is, how many of each do we have details of?

I'm not going to list all the prophets mentioned for the period of the divided kingdoms; I'll stick to the ones who have their own books, or who are prominently mentioned elsewhere.

Judah

Obadiah?
Micah
Isaiah
Joel?

Israel

Hosea
Amos
Elijah
Elisha

A fairly even distribution, it seems, but consider this:

-Obadiah and Joel possibly, or in the former case likely, prophecied after the fall of the North Kingdom (as, of course, did so many others - Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Malachi, all the other named books)
-Amos was actually native to the South, despite spending his time in the North
-Elijah and his follower Elisha have left no writings that reached us in our day

There's several implications here. First, of course, is the fact that very few writings of Prophets from either Kingdom - or indeed any Prophets before the split - have come down to us. Four books here are known for certain; most of the Old Testament before the split is records, rather than writings. There must have been many living and speaking prophecies, and presumably some were written down, but we don't have them.

Secondly, only one North-bred Prophet has left his words for us, compared to at least three from the South. Amos' record may have been relayed through relatives or friends in Judah, hence its appearence. We know of at least one - Elijah - who was as renowned as Isaiah of the South, but left no record.

The upshot of this? One springs immediately to mind - the case of the brass plates mentioned in the Book of Mormon. We still have several things they contained - the Books of Moses, the writings of Isaiah - and we know that they were owned by a part of the Tribe of Manasseh. The time we're introduced to them is some hundred years after the Fall of the North, and there's no reason they can't be far older than that - they were metal, after all. So the idea that they might have contained the writings of Northern Prophets, which didn't manage to make the transition to Judah in any other lasting way, is hardly outrageous.

Why do I bring this up?

Zenock and Zenos are mentioned, and quoted, in the Book of Mormon. Their lives are not given in any detail whatsoever, but the prophecies must have been on the Brass Plates. While Isaiah's writings were added after the Fall of the North, these two were from before - that rarest of things, the records of Prophets of the North.

(As an addition - one possible reason for them not being recorded elsewhere might be that these two were actually ancestors of Lehi, rather than renowned Prophets in their own day. The extracts we have of their works do not seem to be prophecies of 'current events' at their time of writing - they were focused exclusively on the Messiah. As such, they would be unproven, having said nothing that could be tested, and perhaps only recorded in one place, on the plates, so that Lehi's family could say they had Prophets in their line. Lehi's descendents, with their well-known obsession with all things Messianic, would of course not even begin to think this way; those who were writing primarily for a future generation, such as Mormon, would assume that the writings of these Prophets would be well known in the latter days, and think nothing of including mentions of them)

I desired mercy, and not sacrifice

(I'm cheating for this first post and pulling out something I wrote back on -- so my note says -- the 11th of March. But I've not shown it to anyone before, so that's all right)

Matthew 12:7-8:

"For I say unto you, That in this place is one greater than the temple.
But if he had known what this meaneth, 'I will have mercy, and not sacrifice,' ye would not have condemned the guiltless."


This is cross-referenced in my LDS-published Bible to Hosea 6:6, but verses 4-7 are noteworthy:

"O Ephraim, what shall I do unto thee? O Judah, what shall I do unto thee? for your goodness is as a moving cloud, and as the early dew it goeth away. Therefore I have I hewed them by the prophets; I have slain them by the words of my mouth: and thy judgements are as the light that goeth forth. For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings. But they like men have transgressed the covenant: there have they dealt treacherously against me."

The covenant in question is the Abrahamic covenant, and Israel (Judah and Ephraim being symbolic of the two halves of the nation throughout much of the Old Testament) transgressed it at the foot of Sinai, by their act of idolatry and disobedience. By this transgression they signified their ignorance that there is one greater than the temple and the temporal things of the law - that the Lord, if he will, can save them without the need for objects and rites, such as they thought they needed - and thereby proved that they were not ready for the Celesital law of the Christ and forgiveness, but only the Telestial Mosaic law of sacrifice and condemnation.

Debunking a Few Myths

Welcome to With Eyes Wide Open: Thoughts of a Mormon Scientist. As my welcome post, I thought I'd start by seeing exactly how many myths about Mormons I can debunk by my very existence. So let's get started.

Myth: There is a church called the Mormon Church.

Response: Hello. My name is David, and I'm a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. One of our volumes of scripture is the Book of Mormon, from which the nickname "Mormons" is derived. It's like if we called all Christians "Bibles", which would be rather strange, to say the least. The correct term for members of the Church is "Latter-day Saints", with the adjective "LDS". But we use "Mormon" just as much as anyone else, so don't worry about it.

Myth: Mormons aren't Christian.

Response: I have two volumes of scripture known as "quads". These contain the four Standard Works of scripture of the LDS Church -- the Bible, Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price. The Book of Mormon is subtitled "Another Testament of Jesus Christ", and documents the workings of the Lord among His people, including the appearence of the resurrected Saviour in their midst. Through the Book of Mormon, I have come to know of the power of the Saviour's Atonement, and of the love Jesus Christ, the Son of God, has for me and for all mankind. Because of the Book of Mormon, I can truthfully say that I know that only through Jesus Christ can I ever be forgiven my sins and return to live with God. Tell me that's not Christian.

Myth: Mormons all live in Utah, in America.

Response: I was born in London, England. I grew up in London, England. I now live two hours away from London, England. I've visited the USA a total of three times, never for more than a week, and only one of those visits was to Utah. No, I don't have any ancestors from Utah, either.

Myth: Mormons only believe the things they do because they were indoctrinated with them.

Response: My mother was brought up a Methodist, while my father was raised a Roman Catholic. By the time I was born, they'd both lapsed completely from church attendance. For the first twenty years of my life, I went to church only for things like harvest festivals and the occasional Christmas mass. Oh, and my grandparents' funerals. I wasn't christened as a child because my parents wanted me to be able to choose for myself. Well, I did choose. At age 20 I chose, of my own free will, to be baptised and confirmed into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Myth: People only join the Mormon Church because they're ignorant.

Response: See the subtitle of this blog? I'm no Henry Eyring (the archetypal Mormon Scientist, and author of the Eyring equation), but I do have a Master of Chemistry degree. That's from a British university, for the record -- which means four years of intense study entirely focussed on science, as opposed to an American degree which is a lot broader in scope. I joined the Church during the second year of my degree.

Myth: The Mormon Church doesn't want people to think for themselves.

The title of this blog is With Eyes Wide Open. It's taken from a song:

With eyes wide open I'll walk in His light
And bask in his bounty of proof

Our Heavenly Father has given us brains for a reason: He wants us to think. He wants us to explore the world around us. He wants us to study the truths He has revealed and find out for ourselves if they're true. Whatever people may tell you, Mormons aren't afraid to think.