The following is the continued excerpt from my upcoming book, The Hero Doctrine. In this chapter we trace the arc of our souls along the same path (albeit a cosmic version) as the hero Luke Skywalker.
Atonement with the Father
The transformation process takes the hero to a certain stage that resonates so loudly with our theology that it almost needs no explanation. After all, what else could “Atonement with the Father” really mean?
To Campbell, it meant a confrontation with the being that holds ultimate power in the hero’s life, most commonly a father or father figure. This stage is where we internalize that power and discover truth about our identity, our place in the world.
Christ expressed a similar desire for His people, for His younger brothers and sisters: “Therefore I would that ye should be perfect even as I, or your Father who is in heaven is perfect” (3 Nephi 12:48).
We are like our Heavenly Father in so many ways, not least of all in our race, our kind. In his sermon on faith, Alma remarked that “Every seed bringeth forth unto its own likeness” (Alma 32:31). Bear in mind, the seeds themselves don’t look anything like the trees that produced them—not at first. If we didn’t know any better they would be totally separate things in our mind. Likewise, a human embryo doesn’t look very much like a human being; in fact it doesn’t look anything like it. But nonetheless, that is how we all started out. That was our physical beginning. Even taking it a few steps further, we see that an infant doesn’t look much like a human being either. But we don’t call a baby any less of a human just because it has not reached that stage of adulthood and maturity. It is a human—just not developed yet, not fully mature.
In other words, kittens grow up to be cats, and puppies turn to dogs. So what do children of a god turn into?
Recall Luke’s ambition to become a Jedi like his father before him. After becoming a full soul, with spirit and body, we are asked to go about perfecting that fused being, to become like our father and reject all ungodliness, deny the carnal nature inherent in mortal bodies and choose the divine nature inherent in our spiritual bodies. This is where we open up to our Father in heaven and let His power perfect us. Oneness with the Father—eternal life in His presence, and the eternal life that He himself lives—is what the Atonement is all about: God granting us power and increase we would not be capable of producing ourselves.
For the power and heritage of God to be expressed in our everyday lives, faith and the lens of the Spirit is required; we must stop depending on our own eyes, on our own strength, and start trusting in His. This is what Luke did at the Death Star attack run, when he disregarded the computer’s targeting system and put his trust in an unseen higher power. The Force, responding to his faith, guided his decisions. His mortal vision lacked the ability to pinpoint exactly where and when he needed to fire the proton torpedoes; only with the added measure of the Force and the spiritual vision Luke received therefrom could he hit that two-meter-wide exhaust port and destroy the Death Star.
That never-ending inheritance, that everlasting happiness we’re promised, is our “Ultimate Boon,” our veritable holy grail, what we’ve been working on and searching for all this time.
For Luke it was peace within himself—peace as he rejected the Dark Side, and as he saved his father’s fallen soul; peace as he grew to his full potential and realized the Jedi that he became; peace as he destroyed the evil in the galaxy, ended the war decisively, and set the prisoners free. In the end Luke fully realized his destiny, his potential, and his power.
It is after we receive of the ordinances of the Gospel, after we show our faith in Christ and repent of our sins, after we live righteously to the ends or mortality and endure to the end—all steps and stages of the Eternal Arc—that we can advance to our highest state of being: the state of exaltation. A station where we, like Luke, understand ourselves in our totality—our destiny, our potential, and the profound power we’ve accumulated, not to mention the role we’ve presumably played in frustrating the enemies of our Father’s plan. This is the attainment of celestial glory, a perfected state, an inheritance of all that the Father hath—the powers of creation, of command.
Supreme happiness, supreme love—that is the true meaning of the word “heaven.” Sealed to your family, to your companion, to your parents, to your children, “to receive a greater change, and to be received into the kingdom of the Father to go no more out, but to dwell with God eternally in the heavens” (3 Nephi 28:40), where we will learn the sacred power to create worlds and to tell new stories; to know all things, to do all things, to have all things.
What else could Christ mean by “all that my Father hath” (D&C 84:38)? Nothing less than that it is our right and privilege to inherit the kingdom of God if we live righteously to the ends of mortality. By the Atonement and power and priesthood of God, we may achieve this state of being. And we will be in the presence of the Father and our own families forever.
Master of Two Worlds
By the end of the journey, the hero holds power over both the spiritual and the material worlds, mastery over the inner vessel and the outer vessel in turn. The hero, at the end of his arc, has not only changed himself, but changed the entire world.
Luke became a full Jedi and dismantled the galactic Empire. He conquered the inner battle in his spiritual duel with Darth Vader and the Emperor, refusing to choose anger and become evil like them. He triumphed also in the external duel, defeating the Empire in battle and destroying their source of power in his part as rebel leader. He commanded himself morally, internally, and through the powers of the Force, physically and externally.
We too must become masters of two worlds. The first world we are meant to conquer is the stewardship of our body. The ideal end state of the soul is a spirit that maintains total possession over the body, a soul in which the natural man has no sway, and the perfected mind has full agency. And so, like Luke learning the powers and boundaries of the Force, we must learn the powers of our physical bodies and internalize the boundaries God has provided us to keep them under our soul’s domain. When we deny ourselves of all ungodliness, what then is left? Only godliness.
It is when we manifest all godly attributes that the natural man ceases to have power over us, and our spirits have power over the material elements that comprise our bodies. We are, as Lehi instructed, “things to act,” not “things to be acted upon” (2 Nephi 2:14). This, it should be noted, is the difference between ourselves and the rest of nature, what sets our potential apart. “Nature,” remarks Katharine Hepburn’s character in The African Queen, “is what we are put in this world to rise above.” An exalted body will obey our command, just as God’s body obeys Him perfectly. God is not divided like we are, the natural man pulling Him one way and the soul the other. This perfect unity of body and spirit is the purpose of the stewardship of our soul. It is the first world we are responsible for.
The second world is the world we will create, the world we are right now in training to organize. In obeying the commandments of God, we show that we, like God, are willing to live within law. And in the same way that our own bodies are our first stewardships, and that children—receivers of law—eventually become parents themselves, so do we as those obedient to law eventually become lawgivers ourselves. “And he that overcometh, and keepeth my works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations” (Revelation 2:26).
Some see this destiny as too far off to concern ourselves with now. But we are closer to that lawgiving than we might think. We should never forget that the power God uses to create and organize worlds, to command the elements and shape matter at his will, is the power of the priesthood—the same power used in sacrament meetings, in governing our homes, in the administration of the church, and in all our sacred temple ceremonies. Through the regulation of priesthood authority via priesthood keys, any man or woman spiritually called to a work by the Lord through his servants can exercise that creative power. What a humbling realization it is to know that in fulfilling our callings, we act, to some degree, by the literal power of God, the same power that organizes worlds.