[Alternate titles: God Is a Master Novelist, Part Five; A Toast to Eugene England]
I don’t know if you’ve heard of the recent phenomenon “Twitch Plays Pokemon.” It was an online social experiment in which a programmer on the internet set up an online, crowdsourced version of the game Pokemon Red. Anyone who desired could enter the game/chatroom, where literally everybody at once was trying to control the main character with various inputs. It resulted in a kind of chaos, where the character on screen would take a step in one direction, then go back immediately, then to the right, then to the left, and so on and so forth as an average of at least 8,000 people at a time tried to play the exact same game. Remarkably, after sixteen continuous days, they beat it. Thousands of people, each with their own personal desires and limited amounts of control, actually managed to work together sufficient to complete the game.
A fascinating experiment. And one with broader applications.
Now, I want to go back to this idea that we are authors in our own right. That God put us here on this earth as Little Creators, as agents unto ourselves to collectively build the world. That God trusts us to help write the grand story of salvation with our own choices.
We are His hands, President Uchtdorf has reminded us. We are the instruments by which He does His work. It is accomplished by our choices and our willingness to serve. In other words, as crazy as it sounds, God often puts the pen in our hands, and trusts us to help bring to pass His work and His glory.
Why do you think that is? Why does He rely upon imperfect people to do His work? Why let Twitch write the Book of Life?
It’s the same question at the heart of the dichotomy of the “church” and the “gospel.” Many people have testimonies of the gospel, but not the church itself, which is seen as a bunch of only half-committed, often uneducated people trying to work together in an unnatural way, frequently offending others in their congregation whether ignorantly or not. Even if the structure of the church might be inspired, the people filling the ranks don’t seem to be at all. The church isn’t the point, they say. It’s a flawed system, and is not as true as the gospel.
So, again: why does God rely on such imperfection to accomplish the work of salvation?
Well, some of you will remember Elder Holland answering that question, at least in part, a few conferences ago: “Imperfect people are all God has ever had to work with.”
But then, why rely on us at all? Why depend on mere mortals to liberate the captives? Why give flawed souls so much power and authority? Why entrust people to teach who need to be taught?
The great violinist Itzhak Perlman gave an answer to this question that sums it up in a few words:
“When I teach others, I teach myself.”
When the divine Foreman asks His workers to dig, He does not just desire a ditch: He desires the workers to build their muscles. The workers themselves get stronger with each motion of the shovel. The work is as much for them as for the Foreman.
Likewise, the members of the church grow as they work and teach the gospel together, even and especially if there’s friction. We as agents learn more and more to be like God as we engage in our Little Creations, our choices. In pioneering the spiritual path towards a Zion people, we are not only blazing a trail for others to follow, but nearing Zion itself. That’s the church. And that is the very point of the gospel.
This principle is seen vividly in temple work. Though we often go for different reasons—to do work for our own ancestors, to feel the peace of the Spirit, to get needed revelation, to pray for a special blessing, etc.—all of the above are inevitably experienced. If we’re going just to do work for others, we’ll feel the Spirit and perhaps even get personal revelation anyway. If we’re going for our own sake, to pray or find peace, that will also unlock the gates for imprisoned souls. Just as trying to work in accord with others who may not share our level of commitment to the church is the actual work of building up the church, no second spent in the temple is ever wasted. Thus as we attend the temple, our worship there benefits our own souls just as much as it benefits the imprisoned souls set free through proxy ordinances.
And boy, does the Lord ever rely on us to do temple work! That aspect of salvation can be done no other way than by our choice to attend. That is us directly contributing to His work and His glory. That is where we are truly “saviors on Mount Zion,” where we build the kingdom and community of God. Where, essentially, Twitch writes the Book of Life.
The advancement of Zion produces less friction when we understand that principle, when we can catch the vision of what we’re working for. You’re much more likely to donate money to a cause when you can see the starving child the money’s going to, right? Likewise, the names we carry through the temple are not just ink on blue or white paper.
When we understand what each and every choice we make contributes to—and not only Zion as a community, but Zion as us, as our own hearts, as individuals—we can bear the harder parts all the better, and realize that the friction produced by rough souls rubbing shoulders together is actually grinding down that roughness into soft smoothness, like finely sanded wood. In other words, the friction might be exactly what’s necessary about the whole process. But it will only produce a smooth surface if combined with just the right movements, made with purpose and precision and parallel effort.
We are all writers in the Book of Life, all authors in our own right. But unless we learn from the Master Novelist, and take directions from His hand, we will rarely ever produce anything more than scribbles, and in all probability cross lines and create needless conflict with our fellow Little Creators. Learning to work in concert—in other words, building up the church, the community of Zion—is the end goal of the gospel. That’s why, in the words of Eugene England, the church is indeed as true of the gospel. And it’s why we’re given such heavy responsibility in making our own choices and doing the Savior’s work.
I’ll close this post with an excerpt from The Hero Doctrine:
“As bizarre as it is, God has faith in us. Just as Cooper [in Interstellar] lets his daughter do the work of the science experiment under his direction, so does God give us the responsibility of carrying out His will, relying on us to bring about His purposes. It is always shocking (to me, at least) how extensively He relies on imperfect people to further the cause of the gospel. Not just imperfect as in “mostly righteous with a few slip-ups here and there,” but people with serious flaws and serious sins in pasts both distant and near. Why?
“Because, like the layers of soil packed atop the seed, such burdens give rise to growth, and God is just as interested in cultivating our own souls as He is in sharing the gospel with those who have not heard it before. We are the work, His work, as much as any other wandering soul out there, and in spreading His gospel, we are often the ones gaining in strength, finesse, discipline, and glory.”