“Time is not our natural dimension”

christmas_home

So, Christmas season is upon us already. My wife and I are less than two months from our baby girl’s due date. (Yes we have a name picked out, no you do not get to know it…yet.) Time is rushing by, and no matter how we choose to use it, or how much we attempt to tackle it, pin it down and make it pause for a moment while we gather our bearings, it does not. Deadlines still come, Christmas will pass us by before we know it, and our years of health and youthfulness will shortly be a memory.

It doesn’t feel quite right, does it? It doesn’t feel…natural.

Elder Neal A. Maxwell:

“If, on occasion, you notice the strange encapsulation we call time, you’ll understand it’s not our natural dimension. The birds are at home in the air. They don’t think about how to fly. Fish are at home in the water. They don’t think about how to swim. It’s natural. But you and I are cocooned, as it were, in this dimension we call time. And it’s not our natural dimension. So it is, we’re always wishing we could hasten the passage of time or to hold back the dawn. And we can’t do either. We’re uncomfortable with time because we belong to eternity. If we were comfortable with time, we wouldn’t have clocks on the wall and calendars and wristwatches. It is not our natural dimension, so time will whisper to you, in the words of another hymn, that you’re a stranger here.”


Time is, to put it simply, a strange thing. It is also impermanent. Alma writes that “time only is measured unto men.” In
The Last Battle, the final book in C. S. Lewis’s “Chronicles of Narnia,” Lewis tells the story of the end of the world, the end of the old Narnia, and the beginning of a new one, the real Narnia, as that realm gains what could be called its paradisaical glory.

In the final chapters, the Pevensie children observe the awakening of a massive giant known as Father Time. Aslan, the Great Lion, tells them, “While he lay dreaming his name was Time. Now that he is awake he will have a new one.” Time, writes Lewis, is only an illusion. Only a fiction. A dream.

In describing the new Narnia as compared to the old, one character tells little Lucy Pevensie, “When Aslan said you could never go back to Narnia, he meant the Narnia you were thinking of. But that was not the real Narnia. That had a beginning and an end. It was only a shadow or a copy of the real Narnia which has always been here and always will be here: just as our own world, England and all, is only a shadow or copy of something in Aslan’s real world. You need not mourn over Narnia, Lucy. All of the old Narnia that mattered, all the dear creatures, have been drawn into the real Narnia through the Door. And of course it is different; as different as a real thing is from a shadow or as waking life is from a dream.”

So it’s actually okay that time rushes by. It’s okay that our lives pass like the Nephites’ did in the Book of Jacob: “the time passed away with us, and also our lives passed away like as it were unto us a dream, we being a lonesome and a solemn people, wanderers” (Jacob 7:26). We, too, are wanderers on a different plane of being than our home. But we will return to that home, where time is no longer. And there’s no better time than Christmas to emulate what that home is: a place of reunion, of at-one-ment.

What might our celestial reunion be like? From the ending of The Last Battle:

“Everyone you had ever heard of (if you knew the history of those countries) seemed to be there. There was Glimfeather the Owl and Puddleglum the Marsh-wiggle, and King Rilian the Disenchanted, and his mother the Star’s daughter and his great father Caspian himself. And close beside him were the Lord Drinian and the Lord Berne and Trumpkin the Dwarf and Trufflehunter the good Badger with Glenstorm the Centaur and a hundred other heroes of the great War of Deliverance. And then from another side came Cor the King of Archenland with King Lune his father and his wife Queen Aravis and the brave Prince Corin Thunder-Fist, his brother, and Bree the Horse and Hwin the Mare. And then—which was a wonder beyond all wonders to Tirian—there came further away in the past, the two good Beavers and Tumnus the Faun. And there was greeting and kissing and hand-shaking and old jokes revived….”

So with that thought, Happy Christmas, everybody. And take some time to remember not only the Christ child, but to what end He was born: to return us to our true home.

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To Those Who Doubt: This Is Why I Believe

[Alternate titles: The Substance of My Faith; To Them I Add Mine]

Fibonacci

As others have said many times before, academic reasons for believing in the Book of Mormon are not the main propellers of our faith. They are not why we strive to be better people or serve others or go to church or pay tithing. They are not why we pray to our Heavenly Father, or why we exercise any faith at all. The reason we believe is, again, that great equalizer the Holy Ghost, and how it has touched our hearts and minds in such a way as to be undeniable. Our lives are evidence of that sacred contact.

All three witnesses of the gold plates of the Book of Mormon had, at one time or another, reasons to recant their testimony. Yet they did not. David Whitmer never even came back to the mainstream of the church, but he never denied the object of his witness. He had seen the plates, and seen an angel. He kept that testimony until the day he died.

There are many ways we know, many reasons to believe.

My great great grandmother believed. She was from Sweden, living there at just the time the missionaries made their way into Scandinavia. They had stopped attending their protestant church because of hypocrisy in the clergy; a friend suggested they go listen to the Mormons who were there preaching, and at first my great great grandmother declined because she had heard so many awful things about them. But in the end she gave them a chance, and according to my great grandmother, her daughter, “she said that from that very first sermon, she knew that she had come to the right place. She had heard the truth, and after that, of course, she didn’t have to find any more churches because the missionaries taught her the gospel.” Soon after that, “they cut a hole in one foot thick ice in the river, and were baptized in that icy water. Then they walked a quarter of a mile to their house to change clothes afterwards.  They didn’t catch cold or freeze and that was a miracle in itself.” But as the influence of the Spirit grew in that area, so did the influence of the Adversary. With the arrival of missionaries came also the arrival of anti-Mormon literature, and so began the persecution. But the Lord had a plan. “One night my mother had a dream,” my great grandmother Ranghilde Safsten said to my own mother. “An angel came to her in the dream and said, “Don’t delay moving to America.  Go right now.”  From that time, they just sold everything and went, all of them, Grandpa, Grandmother, Erick and Cemoria, Mama and Dad and us five children and Emil and Ida and Enes.”

I believe because they believed. I believe because of the miracles that took place in their lives, because the Spirit spoke to them the way it speaks to me now. Because this experience was not unique—my great great grandfather survived in the winter trek of the Willie Handcart Company when he was only two years old. His parents, his family made the same kind of choices, received the same kinds of revelation, felt the exact same Spirit as my Swedish ancestors did, and they sacrificed everything for it.

All these people, these miracles, these pioneers, mirrored over nearly 200 years—they are why I believe.

I believe because of the testimonies of millions, the miracles in billions, the divinely inspired life philosophy that produces the greatest peace and greatest understanding and greatest love for all beings the world has seen or ever will see.

I believe because of the stability of our lives, how consistently rewarding this belief system is, how miraculously abundant it is, the morality it lives and thrives by and that, if followed, will make a near perfect society driven by love, founded in peace, followed in joy.

I believe because the inspiration and revelation I receive in the temple every single time I go.

I believe because I see and understand the happiness of the family life we teach and promote.

I believe because of the miracles in my daily life, and the testimony of others who have felt and seen similar things. So many prayers have been answered as I have turned to external sources like scriptures that they cannot be coincidence. Wherever you see a pattern playing out, as I have, there is a designer.

I believe because I see the great movement of the church, the momentum that has been building up with each successive generation since 1805, the prophecies of ancient prophets and modern prophets being fulfilled before our eyes,

I believe because of the stunning existence of the Book of Mormon, a book entirely unique in this world’s history, with no peer to match it, still unable to be proven wrong, still without a plausible origin story other than the one Joseph Smith himself gave.

I believe because I have felt the shocking reality that there is so much more going on than we as mortal, fallible, physically limited beings can perceive if we don’t care to pay attention or look carefully, that will be missed with a blink of an eye unless we pray with sincerity and pause and meditate and listen and do as the Spirit directs.

I believe because I have knowledge of the great Plan. It gives reason to our lives, purpose that pulls us forward, an actual structure to this existence that makes so much sense. The Plan is comprised of so much pulchritude that nothing in all the history of civilization has or ever will compare in how complete it is, how all-encompassing it is, this patchwork theodicy that offers answers at every twist and turn, but only if we care to actually learn it and live by it and live with it.

I believe because of the miracle of my life, my rescue from darkness and despair, the love of Christ penetrating that darkness and pulling me out and into the light. I know this church is true because without it, I would be a slave. A slave to addiction, a slave to my body’s desires and appetites. Without the grand goals of the gospel, I would have little reason to fight, to hold myself to a higher standard, to live true freedom.

But, of course, all that can be dismissed if there is no willingness to believe, no faith, no desire to live as God commands. All knowledge is dormant without faith. Yet this faith will be dismissed, at least by some. As coincidence or brainwashing or just some psychological effect. Just the brain convincing itself of something it wants to believe, whispering lies in its own ear, whatever it really wants to hear.

Just a trick, those lies, just a great neurological game, all in sinister effort to persuade itself that it needs to grow, to be developed, to go through hard things and exercise control over the body instead of letting it do what it wishes and be washed away in the winds of its desire. The brain, that cunning little con man, apparently wants hard work to be done, wants to be denied a steady stream of pleasurable chemicals. That’s how the brain works, apparently. Just a series of coincidence and psychological effects adding up to a totally illusory life. That’s what they’ll tell us.

And so why isn’t the scientific branch of academia, with all its omniscience and intellectual authority, with all its power and reach and prominence—why isn’t it studying this great psychological effect? Why hasn’t it been able to explain this “one weird trick” that has brought happiness and peace and unbelievable amounts of inspiration and ideas to so many people? What is it that makes the saints themselves so successful in their work and family life? Why hasn’t science figured out that secret, deconstructed it, obtained the valuable brain waves emanating from the skulls of the faithful, and offered whatever wisdom is distilled from that psychological secret to the masses? And why hasn’t any avenue of academia or scholarship determined the true origin of the Book of Mormon if not how Joseph Smith explained it?

We are told it takes courage to break away from our faith, that it is a crutch true men and women do not need. Perhaps it takes courage to leave the institution you have been brought up in all your life, to forge a new identity for oneself and live without commandments and structure. But I would argue that it takes far more courage for an investigator to make the decision to join this church than for a doubting member to leave it, and for a believer to stand up to the pressures and mockery and laughter of the world when their beliefs contradict with the latest lifestyle trends.

It is easier to live without rules, a life of whims and desires. That’s what we call the path of least resistance—let the wind and gravity take you wherever it may. On the other hand, it is much, much harder, and takes far more courage to willingly live your life according to new rules, to fight against the wind and stand up against gravitational forces. Rules you’ve never lived by before, and in obedience to a God you’ve never known before. All without artificial constraints, without anyone in particular holding you to those new rules or compelling you to keep them if you don’t want to. True courage is denying your own will, offering it upon the altar as sacrifice to our Heavenly Father, who will then use it to your benefit, if offered in faith.

Our religion is not a crutch. It is a ladder, a staircase, a mountain to be climbed. We are looked down upon because we have true courage; courage to deny ungodly parts of ourselves, to live on a higher plane, to have total control over our appetites.

So before you cast away the fruit of the tree of life and venture into the mists of darkness to join those in that great and spacious building, realize first that it is not an ascent, but a descent, and that the wine consumed among those raucous crowds will only deaden your senses, while the fruit of the tree of life does naught but enliven them and sharpen both the joy and pain of this life. That is courage.

I have tried the experiment of faith myself. That seed planted has become a tree of life of whose sacred fruit I have partaken. And now I offer it to you. Take the fruit, the seeds, plant them and try the experiment yourself. Whether you call the reason for it faith or the scientific method, I invite you to try the same experiment that I did. Test it for yourself. Verify it again and again. As many times as you need to. Let this be a rousing cry to your soul to wake up and take this gospel seriously, for it is the only thing that truly matters.

Cosmic Relativity: Time and Intimations of Eternity

[Alternate titles: A Wider Perspective; Zooming In and Out]

Butterfly Nebula NGC6302

 

Some things, many things, hard doctrines and contradictory evidence, we just don’t understand, and won’t in this life. To this end, I offer you this allegory presented by Elder Neal A. Maxwell.

—–

“I should like, if I may, to share with you on this point the fine writing of your own A. Lester Allen, a dean and scientist on this campus. This is what I have come to call the “Allen Analogy” about time. Let me read you these lines, if I may. Their application will be obvious. Dean Allen writes:

‘Suppose, for instance, that we imagine a “being” moving onto our earth whose entire life-span is only 1/100 of a second. Ten thousand “years” for him, generation after generation, would be only one second of our time. Suppose this imaginary being comes up to a quiet pond in the forest where you are seated. You have just tossed in a rock and are watching the ripples. A leaf is fluttering from the sky and a bird is swooping over the water. He would find everything absolutely motionless. Looking at you, he would say: “In all recorded history nothing has changed. My father and his father before him have seen that everything is absolutely still. This creature called man has never had a heartbeat and has never breathed. The water is standing in stationary waves as if someone had thrown a rock into it; it seems frozen. A leaf is suspended in the air, and a bird has stopped right over the middle of the pond. There is no movement. Gravity is suspended.” The concept of time in this imaginary being, so different from ours, would give him an entirely different perspective of what we call reality.

‘On the other hand, picture another imaginary creature for whom one “second” of his time is 10,000 years of our time. What would the pond be like to him? By the time he sat down beside it, taking 15,000 of our years to do so, the pond would have vanished. Individual human beings would be invisible, since our entire life-span would be only 1/100 of one of his “seconds.” The surface of the earth would be undulating as mountains are built up and worn down. The forest would persist but a few minutes and then disappear. His concept of “reality” would be much different than our own.’

“That’s the most clever way I have seen time and intimations of eternity dealt with. It is very important that we not assume the perspective of mortality in making the decisions that bear on eternity! We need the perspectives of the gospel to make decisions in the context of eternity. We need to understand we cannot do the Lord’s work in the world’s way.”

—–

If we think about it, we’ll realize just how much God has actually been able to tell us, whether directly or by inference, about the realm of the gods, a realm that, in this life, we are blind to. On the other hand, there are so many things we do not understand, but is it because God merely likes to be withholding, or is it because the state of existence we’re in now precludes our comprehension?

It is good to have questions. It is even good to have questions that are unanswerable in this world because of our mortal limitations. Think of how it will be when, in the next life, we receive direct answers to those very ponderings! Perhaps we’ll even find that we already know them, that they were veiled with the rest of our memories of our past existence. Whatever the case, at some future day, truth will be known. And until then, we must hold to our faith and the knowledge that we have enough.

Why Faith?

[Alternate titles: Secular Faith; Faith in Dumbledore Saved the Day]

Voldy_DH

In the climax of his seven-book saga, Harry Potter walks, chin up, into the darkness of death, scared but willing. Knowing only that to save the wizarding world he must face his enemy and let him inflict a fatal blow, Harry enters the Forbidden Forest in a “cold-blooded walk to his own destruction.” But Harry is not alone. The spirits of his mother, his father, his godfather, and an old mentor walk at his side and support him in his final moments, much like angels ministered unto Christ during the Atonement. He receives comfort from them, but not reprieve. Death still awaits him, yet Harry walks forward with faith. He does not know how everything will turn out but knows, at the very least, that the old Hogwarts Headmaster Dumbledore loved him, and that this, presumably his final decision, will open up the way for evil to finally be destroyed.

In walking that path, Harry didn’t know everything. But he knew enough to make the right choice. He knew enough to go on. He knew enough to make a mortal commitment.

And remarkably, though he didn’t know it at the time, his knowledge of his fate was incomplete. The actual big picture eluded him; all he knew and possessed was his own personal piece to the puzzle. That’s all he could know for the plan to work.

Faith was the key. Faith as defined by the willingness to believe, and the willingness to act on that belief. Harry needed to be willing to die, to look death in the eye and accept his fate. If he had known every iota of Dumbledore’s plan, the sacrifice would not have produced the requisite magic to save his friends and loved ones. Like Abraham’s near sacrifice of Isaac, Harry only needed to be willing to face the end; if he had had perfect knowledge, the higher plan leading ultimately to evil’s downfall would have failed. So it was not perfect knowledge nor perfect education that saved the wizarding world—it was perfect faith, nothing doubting.

It is a fascinating thing that the Spirit is something we can only feel, and never accurately explain in words or in terms of the senses. This boundary actually serves as a great equalizer. No matter our brain capacity, no matter our physical or mental capabilities, all can feel the Holy Ghost, all can feel God’s love, all can know the truth. Indeed, that is the very point of Heavenly Father’s ways: all are capable of being loved and taught without any kind of training at all.

However, this channel to God also necessitates faith rather than knowledge.  There is no consistent empirical way of verifying this sensation, no scientific instrument that can measure it, document it, repeat it. The requirement of this kind of knowledge as a foundation of faith dissuades many from even considering the existence of God. They require satisfaction of the senses before being willing to believe in a higher power, and so say to the gospel we preach, “No thanks” (at the politest), and close their door.

Elder Maxwell observed that “the Lord gives more instructions than he gives explanations.” Those of us who have tried to follow those instructions without being granted accompanying explanations know how difficult that can be.

So if believing in God challenges our minds in such a frustrating way, and if the way God chooses to work with His children is so unintuitive, and if what is asked of us leaves an impression of such a distant and indifferent Father, why did God set up that system this particular way? Why make the path so impossible for some people, even good people, to walk down? Why is there a test of faith in the first place?

I’ll put it another way. Every other attribute—patience, diligence, humility, and so forth—has obvious merit when it comes to becoming a being like our Heavenly Father; they are attributes directly associated with godhood. Faith is too, in a sense—God needs faith for a very different reason—to command the elements (see Joseph Smith’s “Lectures on Faith” for more on this). That is faith in a different entity, in a different system. The faith we are meant to hold is in God—faith as defined more by belief, the trust we are willing to have in the salvation of God and in the many uncertain mysteries of this world. Alma tells us that eventually our knowledge can be perfect in the seed we once planted in faith, and then “your faith is dormant; and this because ye know” (Alma 32:34). Belief will be replaced by perfect understanding. So why is willingness to believe so essential to this life? Why institute the veil and blind us to the other two acts of this grand play? Why the divide from our Father in Heaven that makes trusting in an unseen power and being so important? Why force faith into the foremost focus of our faculties?

That’s the question I’ve been asking for a long time. Why faith? Why believe when we could make better choices by knowing?

Well, I recently found an answer—a few, actually.

The simple answer is that faith, I’ve discovered, is fundamental to our very existence. And here I don’t necessarily mean “faith” as in “faith in God.” I mean the general matter of belief and trust in a possible but uncertain future, whatever it is.

For instance, science and the laws of physics assure us our planet will continue to rotate and so the sun will indeed rise in the morning. But is there certainty in that fact? Is there concrete proof that tomorrow will be like today? The laws of physics say so, but those laws are still accepted on faith, what we think is right based on the knowledge we’ve accumulated thus far. Scientists must work on that belief to move forward with their work.

We also have faith—by which I mean trust—in our physical senses. They are our only method of interacting with the world around us, so we don’t have much choice.  But our senses can be fooled. We go to the movies and see impossible things on the screen. We see dinosaurs and explosions and special effects that convince us, for the time we’re in that dark theater, that they are real, and we feel emotions because of them. After all, in theory, if somehow all our senses were being manipulated at once like a dream, we would have no way of verifying what was real and what was not—other than what is whispered to our spirits, a stirring in our souls.

And so it takes faith to even accept what we see every day. Daily life is a constant matter of belief and trust that things are one way and not another. A preponderance of evidence can’t prove, only lead us to believe. What we know, whether in religion or science, we know to the best of our knowledge, but we lack a “perfect knowledge.” And that, dear readers, is belief. That is faith.

So, given that faith and belief are staples in life, what does that say about faith’s role in the gospel, in the progression along our Eternal Arc towards certainty and true knowledge?

Faith, which I define as the willingness to believe, is the most necessary part of that progression. It is not one attribute among many, as I previously assumed. It is the guide that coaxes us along that path that makes internalization of godly attributes possible in the first place. Faith is manifested when we trust those teachers of godhood, whether they be wise men and women or just the storms and strife of everyday life. Faith is what catalyzes growth, born when we decide to listen to what they have to say, when we decide to believe them, even if we don’t know absolutely that they will lead us in the right place.

In other words, faith comes before knowledge. You can’t know something unless you’re willing to learn it first, until you’re willing to believe that teacher, whatever it may be. And because growth is the core purpose of this life and all existence to come, faith is the first principle and ordinance of the gospel, the foundation of learning. That was the answer to my question.

The same principle applies to worldly learning, does it not? To learn something new about chemistry, you first have to believe in the chemist, to trust her. Because a student knows considerably less, or perhaps nothing at all, he must exercise a modicum of belief, even plant a seed in faith—exactly as Alma taught the poor outcasts of Antionum. And because of that faith, he eventually learns enough from her that he can start doing experiments of his own, and acquire the same kind of knowledge she possessed.

Do you see how science and religion can contain essentially the same processes? That is because they are both pathways to truth—different kinds of truth, but truth nonetheless. And that pathway, that process, is the divine way of learning and teaching. It is what drives the Plan of Salvation. We are sent here to gain bodies to experiment and learn for ourselves what mortality is like, with all of its aches and pains. That takes time and effort, and it takes faith at first, to learn from our parents and families, before we go out and discover so much of it for ourselves.

It is the same with God, in the end. In this life we first depend on God, spiritually speaking. We depend on His commandments, on His directives. But eventually, like Nephi being given the sealing power, we will be able to make choices for ourselves, and go to God with our own ideas, our own plans, and receive sanction for them from Him. And someday, when we’ve learned enough, we can be like Him. We can be gods.

Layers upon layers, all made possible by faith, by a willingness to believe.

For Those Whose Faith Has Snapped

[Alternate titles: The Fruits of Sincere Uncertainty; Can a Wand Really Be Broken Just by Stepping on It?]

The following is a lightly modified excerpt from my upcoming book.

dh.c18--life-and-lies-of-albus-dumbledore

Midway through the final book, Harry Potter learns a devastating truth about Albus Dumbledore’s past, and deflates into despondency. The man he looked up to for so long—the symbol of absolute good he had come to know, the mentor who had personally trained him—had flirted with the dark arts and an ideology of tyranny in his youth. This revelation shatters Harry’s understanding of Dumbledore, and leads him to question everything he thought he knew, even so far as to doubt Dumbledore ever even cared for him.

Later in the book, Harry, once doubting Dumbledore’s leadership, and Hermione, once trying to convince Harry of the same, completely switch positions. After learning about the mysterious Deathly Hallows, Harry has finally caught onto just a glimmer of what he suspects Dumbledore’s ultimate plan to be, and it excites him. He starts to put together clues, see meaning where once he saw void, and connect dots that once appeared to be mere random scatterings. Hermione, alarmed at Harry’s reliance on knowledge she believes faulty, essentially tries to talk Harry out of it, to crack his renewed faith in Dumbledore. Driven by pure logic and reason, she doesn’t catch the vision that Harry does, and instead tries to divert his path elsewhere.

Nonetheless, Harry reaches the conclusion that Dumbledore made the challenge so hard because he was letting Harry try things out for himself. He realizes that Dumbledore has worked this way from the beginning, that if Dumbledore had swooped in and done all the work for him, Harry would never have the learning experiences he began to gain all the way back when he first saved the Sorcerer’s Stone from Quirrell and Voldemort in the first book. If Harry had never had the chance to be heroic, he never could have been a hero.

There is something to be said for times of sincere uncertainty. This world is indeed intended to be a proving ground, a test to see which path we’ll choose with our God-given agency. Uncertainty and even doubt can be an essential step to proper learning as we seek out truth and assurances. After all, if we had perfect knowledge, if we remembered everything, and could see God’s smile or frown after each step we take, there would be no reason to strive, nor would our choices much matter at all. Elder Maxwell writes, “It seems clear, not only scripturally but logically, that this second estate could not include either the direct memories or the reference experiences of our first estate. If such were to impinge overmuch upon this second estate, our mortality would not be a true proving ground.”

So the next time you feel doubt, or acknowledge a nagging question, neither of which you have immediate answers to, consider that part of the point! Knowledge is never gained in a day, and it would be unfruitful and untruthful to never admit that a doubt has entered your head. My friend Stephan Peers once wrote me concerning a spiritual question I had, saying, “Aren’t doubts great? I mean, they have to be resolved, right? So [if] you find a place for them then they cease to be doubts. If you don’t find [them] a place they become ignorance and end up undermining everything.” Indeed, suppressed doubts have a way of bursting out at unfortunate moments, moments designed and planned on by the Adversary.

Lehi’s sons give excellent examples of the two paths of this process. Nephi received his own vision of the tree of life simply because he wanted to know for himself: “I had desired to know the thing that my father had seen, and believing that the Lord was able to make them known unto me, as I sat pondering in mine heart I was caught away in the Spirit of the Lord” (1 Nephi 11:1, emphasis added). Nephi only received answers as he tried to work them out in his own mind, while at the same time asking God for help. As we are admonished to frequently in the scriptures, Nephi asked, and he received; knocked, and the Lord gave unto him what he desired.

Later, Laman and Lemuel are (surprise!) complaining about something their father said to them, and Nephi, overhearing their disputes (probably with a little groan and a sigh), seeks to know what the matter is this time. They tell him that they can’t understand some particular doctrine; Nephi asks if they had even bothered to pray about it, and they say, Well, no, “for the Lord maketh no such thing known unto us” (1 Nephi 15:9). Nephi gets understandably exasperated, and reminds them, after a few critical questions, of the great promise of the Book of Mormon: if you ask in faith, with sincere belief, and exerting yourself in trying to do the right thing, then the requested answers will be given unto you. But rays of light will not shine down if your heart is hard, if you are unwilling to act on the message delivered. (1 Nephi 15:6-11.) The example of Laman and Lemuel, then, is a warning to us that we’re not going to get everything by our own wits alone; reliance wholly on the arm of flesh will lead to murmuring and perhaps even apostasy. It is the sincere question that is answered, the earnest effort that will be rewarded, as long as the asker maintains the necessary degree of patience and relies on the Lord’s timetable, not their own, for God’s timing is better than our own.

What’s interesting, however, is that Laman and Lemuel do eventually ask questions, and pretty direct ones at that! In fact, just a few verses later they “were pacified” by Nephi’s answers, and “did humble themselves before the Lord” (1 Nephi 15:20). But, as the pattern goes, eventually they find new causes to complain as they spiritually shrink away from the harder truths, those words of chastisement that they just can’t bear to hear from their younger brother. It is pride and anger, more than the actual doubts, that lead the doubter down forbidden paths. Thus we can see the imperative of maintaining that attitude of humility and pacification in the face of the next wave of questions and even doubts that will inevitably wash over us.

We’ll always eventually come across that scary moment where we can only admit, “I don’t know.” But though that obstacle might make us stop in place on the path, it is not just cause for turning around or for venturing off on some tangential journey. It is that very “I don’t know” that drove the great scientists and seekers of truth in more ancient times! Did Newton stop at “I don’t know” and turn to go play video games? Did Galileo? Did Darwin?*

Did 14-year-old Joseph Smith?

No. Every revelation to human civilization, terrestrial or celestial, has come because the seeker kept seeking. They knew that lack of knowledge of a thing did not extinguish the importance of that thing, nor did they simply label that thing unknowable, dismiss it as a just a contradiction in, say, the laws of the universe, and give up because it didn’t make sense. Science and religion, those great bastions of all manner of truths, are driven by the thirst to know, to truly know. Walls do not stop the genuine truth-seeker. Instead they drive the great thinkers to wonder: “What’s behind that wall?”

No serious scientist or theologian has ever demanded every bit of knowledge immediately, but has persisted in studying and thinking and working hard until they came across a satisfactory solution. This should be our behavior and perspective as well when we in the church come across that “I don’t know” moment. When we hit those walls, we should do some homework. Fast, pray, counsel with your bishop. Go to the temple with an open heart and open mind. Look up studies and scholarship being done. Know our religion better, and the factual findings that fill it. And if you truly want to know, if you truly want to verify what you’ve been pondering over all that time without ever being given a direct witness from the Spirit, make a test of obeying the commandments. For Christ has said, “If any man will do [God’s] will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself” (John 7:17).

Live fuller! Look deeper! For there are always answers.

As we do look deeper, however, we may find hard questions answered with equivalently hard doctrines. These are those that test the mettle of our testimony, whether because they are hard to live or hard to accept that others lived them with the Lord’s approval. Such hard doctrines can discourage us, dampen our enthusiasm for the gospel because we might feel betrayed by the church for seeming to selectively teach certain doctrines and histories and ignore others as if to hide them. But those truths that lie in the shadows, spiritually speaking, still should not eclipse the effulgent rays of what truth we have been given.

In my experience there are many more reasons to believe than to doubt. The tension between the two is, of course, what this is all about, and why faith is the first and foremost principle of the gospel—why we are to always hold up that shield of faith and counseled to stay loyal to the church in all times and situations. I promise it will eventually lead to a brighter enlightenment than you ever could have before, and you will have a deeper, more mature understanding of the inexhaustible gospel than if you’d never asked questions at all.

Though a seemingly unintuitive technique of God, withholding immediate answers from us does indeed assist in the construction of our souls. Elder Maxwell wrote, “How often have you and I in our provincialism prayed to see ahead and, mercifully, been refused, lest our view of the present be blurred?” Knowing too much at a given time may dull the edge of this world, and sharpened sensations are necessary to gain all the experience we need here. But the decision to believe that answers are out there, even if we do not know them—this should spur us forward, and it is what prepares our minds to receive answers when the time is right.

When God does not answer our prayers for inspiration or revelation or confirmation right as we ask them, or even a short time afterwards, we should not take this as evidence that there is no God, or that He does not care. For if we truly start progressing in attempts to find God—praying more frequently, doubling our scripture study time, gradually discovering more knowledge and building our mind and spirit block by block—then wasn’t that lack of direct answer worth it? Aren’t we better, stronger people for it?

How far are we willing to go for God? For truth?

Enos was willing to pray all day and all night for his answers. Are we?

———-

*Darwin in particular is still at the center of religious conflict today, as his discoveries seem to directly contradict the origin of man as depicted in the Bible. Darwin, though he was an ardent believer in his younger days and became less so as he studied the process of natural selection, never ceased in his wrestles with the existence of God, a grapple of agnosticism predicated on his research and his own intuitions.  But regardless of his personal beliefs, his scientific legacy has brought many since to reject the notion of God as Creator. So was his search for truth worth it? I, for one, think so. As I detail more thoroughly later, I suggest to the vacillating soul to wait before deciding if one side or the other in the debate of religion and science is truly and absolutely correct. After all, for many, Darwin’s discoveries have inspired a grander view of God with a more expansive understanding of His creative ways. Though the theory of macro-evolution seems to contradict the story of Eden as the beginning of human existence, perhaps with time that discovery will be revealed as simply another stepping stone toward a greater truth that neither the church nor science could have predicted or even understood at this moment in time.

The Greatest Rock Song (Subtly) About Addiction

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Of the many songs written about drugs in the recent music history (such as “Needle in the Hay” by Elliott Smith or “Hurt” by Trent Reznor), I think this is easily the most terrifying and haunting without being horrific about it. Check out those last two stanzas in particular.

On a dark desert highway, cool wind in my hair
Warm smell of colitas, rising up through the air
Up ahead in the distance, I saw a shimmering light
My head grew heavy and my sight grew dim
I had to stop for the night
There she stood in the doorway;
I heard the mission bell
And I was thinking to myself,
“This could be Heaven or this could be Hell”
Then she lit up a candle and she showed me the way
There were voices down the corridor,
I thought I heard them say…

Welcome to the Hotel California
Such a lovely place (Such a lovely place)
Such a lovely face
Plenty of room at the Hotel California
Any time of year (Any time of year)
You can find it here

Her mind is Tiffany-twisted, she got the Mercedes Benz
She got a lot of pretty, pretty boys she calls friends
How they dance in the courtyard, sweet summer sweat.
Some dance to remember, some dance to forget

So I called up the Captain,
“Please bring me my wine”
He said, “We haven’t had that spirit here since nineteen sixty nine”
And still those voices are calling from far away,
Wake you up in the middle of the night
Just to hear them say…

Welcome to the Hotel California
Such a lovely place (Such a lovely place)
Such a lovely face
They livin’ it up at the Hotel California
What a nice surprise (what a nice surprise)
Bring your alibis

Mirrors on the ceiling,
The pink champagne on ice
And she said “We are all just prisoners here, of our own device”
And in the master’s chambers,
They gathered for the feast
They stab it with their steely knives,
But they just can’t kill the beast

Last thing I remember, I was
Running for the door
I had to find the passage back
To the place I was before
“Relax, ” said the night man,
“We are programmed to receive.
You can check-out any time you like,
But you can never leave!”

God’s Justice and God’s Mercy: A Matter of Spiritual Physics

[Alternate titles: Theological Complements, Not Opposites; Not James, Severus, and Jacob’s Allegory of the Olive Tree]

An Olive Tree in Gethsemane

The following is an excerpt I had to mostly cut out of The Hero Doctrine for length reasons. It is taken from the chapter, “A Mirror of God.”

This will lead directly into my next post on Thursday, about James and Severus and the allegory of the olive tree (though that one is not part of the book).

——

God abides by perfect justice. He both sets forth laws and is Himself governed by them. It is a theological misconception that certain behaviors and actions in this world are moral because God says they are, or rather, that God’s ways are moral because they are God’s. This is absolutely false. In the words of Alma, “Now the work of justice could not be destroyed; if so, God would cease to be God” (Alma 42:13). He acts within the boundaries of higher law, and gives His children lower laws by which they can eventually ascend to His level.

God’s law stretches beyond moral boundaries to the physical laws that define and give shape to this mortal world. Without allowances, without mercy and miracles, nature is an extreme capitalistic world—making its inhabitants both free to rise and free to fall—and is built on physical, temporal cause and effect, choice and accountability, and cold hard justice—laws without empathy. The strongest survive, the fittest continue on. Those are the hard truths of the natural world, where mercy does not exist, only justice.

Now, because God is also a God of miracles, He is also a God of mercy. Miracles are exceptions to physical law, moments when higher law set forth by God overrides the lower law He has previously given to govern nature. His mercy is expressed similarly, in providing exceptions to spiritual law through the system of repentance and forgiveness (Mormon 9:21).

So how can He be both perfectly just and perfectly merciful? Those two seem to be opposites, but indeed they are actually complements. For mercy to have meaning, justice must be first established. In God’s kingdom, justice is the law, and mercy is the exception to the law. Mercy cannot, by definition, be institutionalized as law because the very function of mercy is that it actually breaks the law, and so relies upon a system of justice already in place. A world based entirely on mercy would have no law whatsoever, including physical, chemical, or biological law, and existence would be impossible. It can be seen, then, that God’s dual natures of justice and mercy are ingrained in the very fabric of our reality, in the foundation of life as we know it.

But mercy can be granted on a case-by-case basis; Christ is willing to grant His mercy to all those who willingly come unto Him. Mercy can, therefore, be applied to all, but only individually, not as a blanket universal application. That mercy depends on the individual’s relationship with Christ. This is the importance and necessity of developing such a relationship, of knowing God and Jesus Christ.

Mercy as universal law would be, in truth, at the heart of Satan’s plan. Negating consequences of actions and offering eternal life to everyone regardless of their sinful state nullifies agency, for without consequences, choices would have no meaning, and we would have no cause to grow or change. We believe, on more than one level, the law of the harvest, found many places in scripture: “Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap” (Galatians 6:7). According to that law, the law of justice, outcomes cannot be artificially equalized in God’s kingdom, except by the miracle of the Atonement, the ultimate tender mercy. Only through Christ’s sacrifice can the law of justice be sated and the effect of our wrong choices be wiped away. Thus it is only after law (and hence justice) is implemented that God provides ways around it.

Furthermore, God expects us to work within spiritual law if we desire to join Him in the next life. In the Doctrine and Covenants, Christ explains, “Except ye abide my law ye cannot attain to this glory”—meaning celestial glory— “Receive ye, therefore, my law” (D&C 132:21, 24). It is simply a matter of what we might call spiritual physics—imperfection cannot coexist with perfection. This isn’t a choice on Heavenly Father’s part, but a framing feature of the universe. It is the reason Christ needed to perform the Atonement in the first place, the act which satisfied justice while mercifully allowing imperfect beings access to the highest glory. A being willfully untouched by the Atonement cannot reside with God in “everlasting burnings”  without being spiritually consumed. Again, that is not the result of God’s punishment, but that of the individual’s choices. The Atonement reaches out heaven’s hand to earth to lift us up, as Christ descended and was lifted up, and it is up to us to grab hold or turn away. Too many, because of ignorance, choose the latter.

Elder Quentin L. Cook writes, “One of the great distortions of the Apostasy was that it cast God the Father’s plan of salvation as overwhelmingly harsh. Frederic Farrar, the Anglican church leader, classical scholar, believer, and highly regarded author of Life of Christ, lamented that most Christian churches view hell and damnation incorrectly as a result of translation errors from Hebrew and Greek to English in the King James Version of the Bible.”

Our view of Heavenly Father and His glorious Plan is, of course, entirely different. We understand that God’s love and mercy have given us everything we have, and may give us everything Heavenly Father has too, should we successfully keep His commandments and endure to the end.

The Fruits of Repentance: Severus Snape and Oskar Schindler

An excerpt from The Hero Doctrine—two stories, fiction and nonfiction, that show how the world can change from one soul’s repentance. The Snape story has been subsequently halved for the final draft, so I wanted to share the original here.

OBVIOUSLY MAJOR SPOILERS. Ahem.

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The life of Severus Snape is undeniably tragic, and yet, in the rain of tragedy often blooms a flower of incomparable beauty. His tale begins with loneliness. The only child of constantly bickering parents, young Severus grew up resenting others, insecure about his own identity as a mere half-blooded wizard and poor and largely friendless at that. He lacked, and so his little heart was cold and hateful. But there yet remained room for something good—in his loneliness he found a friend his age, a fellow magic user named Lily. She was kind-hearted and loving and good, the only bright spot in his life and throughout their childhood as best friends he clung to her. Even so, however, he continued to breathe bitterness, maintain an affinity for dark magic, and look down on those born to non-magical parents. This group of people included Lily, but he always made an exception for her in his head.

As we watch them attend the school of magic together, it is palpably clear that despite the dark cloud he dwells in, and despite their outward label as just “best friends,” he is in love with her, and has been since he first started watching her years ago. She is everything to him, but because of his almost compulsive obsession with the dark arts and the prejudice he holds against other muggle-borns that he just can’t suppress, he loses her. She breaks off the friendship and he must watch helplessly as she falls in love with the rich, handsome, popular athlete who always teased and taunted and outright harassed him behind her back throughout their years at school. Those two go off together and get married and start a family and receive the love and adoration of the wizarding world. Severus, his life now lightless, gives in entirely to his fascination with the dark arts and joins Lord Voldemort’s cult of Death Eaters.

He lives this small and pathetic dark life for a while, in the company of people who generally accept him and appreciate him, but who are obviously evil, devoted to the Dark Lord and the rise of the dark order. This is the life he could have continued to lead, and  he could have brought about the Dark Lord’s ascension to immortality and great power a destiny but for one single opportunity for change.

Because of information Severus himself unwittingly supplied to his master, Voldemort plans to attack Lily’s house and kill her new son, Harry, along with James and Lily herself. In this moment, Snape finds himself truly torn between two worlds. It is drastic. It is stark. But it gives him a clear choice. Will he choose acceptance and fulfillment in the company of Death Eaters and the approval of his onetime hero Voldemort, despite He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named’s intention to murder the only woman he ever loved? Or will he sacrifice all that and seek to save Lily’s life, even though she didn’t love him, and has chosen to spend her life with his enemy?

Desperate for hope, Severus seeks the aid of Albus Dumbledore. In this scene we witness the contempt and indignation the wise and good and ordinarily kind Dumbledore has for Severus, the former pupil who chose evil. This moment is great and terrible, and Severus utterly debases himself in supplication for Dumbledore’s help. At first he asks merely for Dumbledore to save Lily, but when chastened by Dumbledore for his selfishness, he begs for all three of their lives, as long as it would save Lily’s as well. Severus then faces his choice when Dumbledore asks him what he will offer in return for his help.

In words reminiscent of the prayer of the father of King Lamoni, Severus hesitates, then whispers, “Anything.” And so anything, everything, is consequently asked. Attempts to save Lily and James prove in vain, but this moment changes Severus Snape forever. No, he does not suddenly become good and kind and loving like Lily. His life was far too full of pain and bitterness for that, especially when dealing with Lily’s son, who cruelly looks almost exactly like James, but with her eyes, so everytime he sees young Harry he remembers James’s victory over him, and how much he lost, how much he could never gain back.

But though his temperament does not change, his life direction does. And this change in trajectory and his subsequent choices have massive rippling effects across the wizarding world.

As he chooses to rebel against the evil that once claimed his life, he develops an incredibly close friendship with Dumbledore. The wizarding headmaster is Severus’s only confidant, the only one who knows the goodness deep within his heart and the secret of his love for Lily—and the only one who knows just how much pain he’s gone through, and how much he has sacrificed for the sake of that love. From the shadows Severus devotes his life to protecting young Harry, for in spite of how the boy evokes constant painful memories of James, he is Lily’s son, and he does it for her. When Voldemort returns to full strength in blood and horror, Severus puts his life perpetually in danger as a full-time spy, pretending to the Dark Lord that his loyalties had never truly turned to Dumbledore and that he remained a secret Death Eater even after Voldemort was presumed dead. All this, while remaining almost totally alone, friendless apart from Dumbledore.

And then, then he is compelled to kill Dumbledore, murder his only friend, the man who gave him a second chance. This he did at Dumbledore’s request, meant to maintain his role as double agent at Voldemort’s side. Of course, the only person who knew of this arrangement was Dumbledore himself, and so to the world, Severus is a traitor of the vilest kind, and a coward at that. He escapes the wrath of his old colleagues and turns his time entirely over to the Dark Lord; he must dwell in the presence of and work for the very man who murdered his eternal love. Never can he break his mask; all turmoil and anguish must be kept inside; he is even prevented from saving the lives of innocents who have been taken captive, people he knew, because maintaining that mask is so essential to Dumbledore’s very long-term strategy of bringing down Voldemort, a strategy Severus never knew the full extent of. Last of all he dies a violent death in the jaws of a snake, never to see the fulfillment of the plan to which he had devoted his life.

Only after his death does Harry, does anyone, learn all that he had sacrificed for the cause of good. At the end, after learning Severus’s true nature and the incredible choices he has made since his first to try to save the Potters, Harry gives one of his own sons Snape’s name, and tells young Albus Severus that the old potions master was the bravest man he ever knew.

Severus is the character upon whom the entire Harry Potter series rests. Without his courage and without his choices—and without that change of heart midway through his life—Harry would not have survived, not at the beginning, when Voldemort attacked his home and family, and not at the end, when Voldemort laid siege to Hogwarts. And so it would not be inaccurate and certainly not untruthful to say that Voldemort and the Death Eaters were extinguished by an act of repentance.

Now, for the other story, the nonfictional one. You may have heard of this man before, though his name is ironically probably not as well known as Severus Snape. This man was a member of the Nazi party in Germany in the 1930s and ‘40s, and well known for his business enterprises and silver tongue. He was also a womanizer who cheated on his wife time and time again, and a war profiteer, founding an enamelware factory to capitalize on the conflict of World War II. To save on costs, he employed Jewish laborers to work in his factory, but because their work was forced, they didn’t receive a dime. Once penniless, this man became rich, powerful, and influential, capable of smooth-talking anyone into anything and wealthy enough to bribe officials into ignoring certain of his side-endeavors. Perhaps you’ve heard of this man, or seen the film about him. His name was Oskar Schindler, and in the midst of the hell of the war and the attempted annihilation of an entire race of people, this hero saved the lives of over a thousand Jews in his factories.

Hellish situations like war always bring out either the best or the worst in people. Somewhere along the line, Schindler realized what his country was doing. He realized his part in it, and in an act of repentance, used his considerable resources over the years to rescue Jews from the worst horrors of the Holocaust. He used not just his wealth in this saving effort, but his factory itself, which became a kind of sanctuary where Jewish workers could be protected. He deflected Nazi investigations with flattery and bribes, talking down or paying off Gestapo officers who noticed his behavior. Eventually he went completely broke, having used all of his funds to care for and protect his workers. By the end, because of the turning of his heart, over 1,100 Jews escaped hell on earth and lived to tell the tale. Today there are more than 7,000 descendants of the Schindler Jews.

Both of these stories story demonstrate the potentially unending fruits of true repentance, the vast possible effects brought about by the penitent actions of a single soul. The power and magnitude of the act of repentance, so simple and pure, can reach infinite proportions and reap eternal consequences. And though Snape was a bully to Harry, and Schindler himself remained a womanizer and alcoholic, the changes wrought in them were enough to save the lives of thousands of innocent people, and to this day inspire further good, further heroism, in all who hear their stories.

I believe we, each of us, can do the same. For that is our purpose: to become saviors on Mount Zion. But what’s needed first is change: repentance.

Next week: James, Severus, and Jacob’s Allegory of the Olive Tree

Three Spiritual Interpretations of the “Dark Knight Rises” Prison Escape

[Alternate titles: The Euphemism that Is “Temple Attendance”; Give TDKR Another Shot]

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The Dark Knight Rises sometimes gets a bad rap. I myself was severely disappointed in it the first time I saw it. “Christopher Nolan has finally made a bad movie,” I posted afterwards. But as I came to realize, and as my friend Gordon Goesch pointed out later, it wasn’t necessarily a bad movie, just not the movie we were expecting. And eventually I was, am, able to see it with more appreciative eyes. These days I love it for what it is, and not for what it isn’t.

There are two particular sequences that I will always remember: the fall of Gotham, and Bruce Wayne’s prison escape. Two days ago, during my first Elders Quorum lesson, I used the prison escape as my intro. I’m going to explain three theological interpretations of this scene that stand out to me.


First, setting the scene: Bruce Wayne is stuck at the bottom of a deep pit with several other prisoners. As Bane explains to Bruce, this pit is designed to provide the ultimate despair, because of the light at the top. That light taunts the prisoners with at least some small hope of escape, even if in reality escape is impossible. In that way the pit is a veritable torture chamber.

Bruce falls prey to this mentality. Just like so many before him, he tries to make the climb…and fails. But he isn’t killed. Interestingly, there is a rope hanging down from a spot not quite near the top that Bane and the League of Shadows set up for the prisoners to tie themselves to. It’s used as a kind of safety line, ensuring that if you try the climb but fall, you won’t necessarily die. Another of the pit’s despair-inducing measures.

As he is recovering and training his body to be even stronger, Bruce receives some strange advice from a fellow prisoner, a wizened old man who must have been stuck in that pit for decades. This prisoner points out to Bruce that with the rope tied around his body, there are fewer risks.

“How can you move faster than possible, fight longer than possible, without the most powerful impulse of the spirit: the fear of death?”

He later clarifies: “Make the climb…without the rope.”

With the rope, there are few stakes. It is the path of safety, but not real achievement.

So Bruce decides to try without the rope. He makes as if to leave permanently, packing up supplies as if he’s absolutely certain he’s going to make it this time. At the base of the wall, he refuses to let himself be tied to the safety line. He climbs up to the famous spot where everyone fails to make a certain jump. The spot where everyone falls.

The prisoners below are chanting loudly, urging him on, cheering his efforts, believing in his potential. They know the only way for them to escape the pit is if Bruce does it first.

So Bruce leaps…and he makes it. He climbs the rest of the way with ease, all the way to the top and into daylight. Then at the lip of the pit there is another rope. He tosses it down almost casually. Now everyone can escape that literal pit of despair. He has liberated the captives by going first.

Now, even in Nolan’s slightly weaker films, there is still a treasure trove of spiritual insight and theological allegory. You can probably see at least one of the three I’m writing about today already.

  1. This scene paints a vivid portrait of hell’s prisoners, don’t you think? In Batman’s rise from the pit, we also see the story of Christ and the resurrection. Bruce Wayne takes on the role of the Savior, conquering that formerly unbeatable foe of Death. As he completes his ascent and reaches the light at last, he throws the rope down behind him, opening the way for others to follow after, to be resurrected as He was. By making the heavenward climb first, both Bruce Wayne and Christ built a bridge to liberate the captives of darkness and despair.

    “He only could unlock the gate of heav’n and let us in.”

  2. But as cool as that image is, it’s not terribly applicable. What is applicable is that same idea but in connection with that famous verse in Obadiah: that “saviours shall come up on mount Zion.” That we are those saviors, that we can help write the story of the Atonement by making that climb ourselves and tossing down the rope at the top so others can come up after us. I am speaking specifically of the temple.

    The topic of my EQ lesson was indeed on temple attendance. I wanted my quorum to look past that euphemism—”temple attendance.” Because it’s so much more! After all, it would not be inaccurate to replace those two words with, “Spending two hours in God’s presence liberating spiritual captives from an otherwise hopeless pit of despair.” Like Batman, yes. Sometimes we forget the vision of temple work, and we become lazy, indifferent to it. I hope this particular image helps you see what it truly is.

    Those prisoners, chanting below, they are our unbaptized ancestors, cheering, urging us on. We are Bruce Wayne, slowly making the climb up towards the light, that “step-by-step ascent into the eternal presence,” as David O. McKay termed the endowment. Then, when we’ve made it to the top and have received all the necessary ordinances, we toss down the rope, and allow our forebears the chance to escape too. And such a work can only be done by us, we of this latter-day dispensation, we, the generation upon whom all hopes rest. We are the ones who build the bridge from prison to paradise, from hell to heaven.

    And that’s what temple work is all about, Charlie Brown.

    “If our young people could only glimpse it,” President McKay says, “it would be the most powerful spiritual motivation of their lives.”

  3. There’s a third interpretation I want to briefly discuss, one entirely separate from the temple or any saving ordinances at all. It lies in the idea of that rope. I call this the “No Romance” interpretation, because it’s what my novel is all about.

    Why are we on this earth? Why are we not still in Eden? Why didn’t we stay with Heavenly Father up above?

    Why doesn’t Bruce wear the rope on his final, true climb?

    The answer is, of course, that only on this earth, in this life, are there stakes. Only here is defeat possible. Neither in Eden nor in our pre-earth life could we experience danger, pain, death, and, yes, fear. As a result we could neither experience true sanctuary, pleasure, life, and peace. Only with the possibility of damnation could we attain salvation and exaltation. Without stakes, without the possibility of defeat, genuine victory is an impossibility.

    As Bane points out to Batman, you can only have true despair when there’s a little bit of hope to cling to. But Batman proves the opposite is true: you can only have true hope if there’s a little bit of despair clinging to you. So it’s only when Bruce left the safety rope behind that he could make that jump, that leap toward the light.

So give The Dark Knight Rises another try. It’s not as packed full of broader significance as its predecessor, but it still teaches some astonishingly Mormon theology. Because that’s how Chris Nolan rolls.