The Old Testament According to My Cats

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A parable. Not by them, but about them.

“I think we should just put up a big screen.”

“I don’t trust a screen.”

My wife didn’t trust a screen. Not to hold back the wandering, distressed cats from entering the front part of the van on our 25-hour journey across the country, not to keep them from finding comfort in the alcove of the pedal area and causing multiple horrific deaths, including their own.

Nyssa had a potentially better solution. Little leashes we could click into seat belts in the back. They’d be able to wander a couple of feet so they wouldn’t be stuck in a cage the whole way but they would have no way of murdering us and ruining our trip.

But with the leashes we’d also need some harnesses to attach them to. Nyssa returned from a trip to Petsmart with two cat leashes…and two medium-sized dog leashes. The latter two would of course be for our dear sweet Mr. Ringo (who is an awkwardly bulky cat, and is perhaps half-cow) and for the mama cat Abra, whose middle name we affectionately christened “Fatty.”

The morning of our arrival came, and it was time to get the cats into the harnesses. It wasn’t easy. Especially for Fatty. I mean, Abra. And the poor kitties, when they were harnessed up, kept trying to back out of the things. So there they are, all a little off balance, creeping slowly backwards in their attempts to escape their new prisons. But we thought we’d successfully pulled it off. At least the first stage of the process.

Mormon Reads has the rest.

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To All Mormon Artists, Writers, Musicians, Everywhere:

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The great English scholar Arthur Henry King wrote of consecration,

Once we have been converted and have laid down at Christ’s feet whatever talents and tools we may possess, we find ourselves able to take them up again and use them for the Church in his name and in the light of his countenance.

We all have spiritual instincts that we have gained from our Heavenly Father, those parts of us that make us His offspring. I believe our deepest spiritual instinct is to create. This is Heavenly Father’s most prominent role: Father, Creator, Designer of the universe, engineering the unending expanse of the cosmos all the way down to the tiniest strands of DNA in the tiniest insect. He is a builder of worlds, and more importantly, a builder of souls. He creates, and because He does, so do we.

Our own creations take form in many different ways. Some paint, some sing, some compose, some write. The fingers of one grip a brush tightly, while others dance across ivory keys. We create constantly, whether in art or in civil matters. Plowing fields and planting seeds is creating. Planning cities and structures is creating. Assembling a team that can accomplish great things is creating. Finding solutions to problems of all kinds is creating. Writing in our journals is creating. Establishing friendships and giving light to the lonely is creating. And in raising our children and teaching them truth, we are acting in the creation of a soul, joined together with our Heavenly Father in the gradual process of creating a divine being. All of us have some level of innate desire to form order out of chaos, to organize disparate parts into something new, something whole and beautiful.

But there was purpose to His creation as well, and so should there be in ours. Why did God create this universe, this galaxy, this solar system, this planet? So He could have a place for His children to dwell and to learn and to be tested. He created all of it not to boast, but to further His work of exalting His children. His is the noblest creative act of all, for it is meant for others: He is trying to create gods, and He lets us be a part of that work, if we so choose, to join Him in His work and His glory. And I can’t help but believe He wants us to use our powers of creation, our deepest spiritual instinct, to help Him in that noblest work.

That is the kind of consecration I call for today: a consecration of our arts, even our unconventional arts, and of all our creative gifts, to the church, to the gospel, to the work of saving souls and building gods and comprehending our Heavenly Father.

What are the spiritual possibilities with art, with music, with literature? I immediately think of the Savior, who expressed doctrine with stories, with literature—parables that not only taught but resonated with literary value. Those parables are the applied principles of our beliefs and can be seen as our theology made concrete, made real. Most stories today are what my friend Ming Stephens once called “interesting wastes of time.” Stories that make us keep reading, but in the end leave us empty and unchanged. Such works may be entertaining in the moment, but the reader then moves on and someday perhaps even forgets he or she even read it at all. But the power of art and media can be great if used properly.

BYU professor Wendy L. Watson said regarding the effects of media, “When you interact with someone repeatedly over time, it changes you. That’s why what you watch on TV or read or see in magazines is so critical. So watch what you watch. Be careful with whom you are interacting. These recurrent interactions change your cells. They change your soul. They change your countenance.”[1]

This is the power Latter-day Saint artists could have. With our artistic abilities, we can change human beings! And in doing so, we can change the world. Orson Scott Card said about the artists of society, “We who learn to create artworks and share them with the audience, we invent the world. We put visions and music and stories into people’s memories. Even when the audience for our works is small, they have received a priceless gift, for there is a place in their memories where, because of our work, all the people in that audience are the same. Sharing the shaped reality of art is the closest we come in this world to truly knowing what is inside another person’s heart and mind. For a moment, as an audience, as a community, we are one.”[2]

I once heard Jenny Oaks Baker, famous violinist and daughter of Elder Dallin H. Oaks, at a concert about to play a piece of music from the film score of Romeo and Juliet. She expressed her love for those title characters and revealed that in her heart she hoped those two characters could one day be sealed. Fictional characters receiving temple ordinances? Perhaps not true doctrine, but that’s how real literature can be to us, that we’d want to see that happen. That’s the power it can have on our hearts and minds. (I, for one, want to see Snape and Lily sealed one day.)

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Take a look at today’s popular media, and witness what the other side can do with that great power. Look at the degradation our culture has experienced, and without even being aware of it. To take one easy example, music and music award shows. Satan has bound that industry, no doubt about it. Remember what music used to be? Now look at what popular music is: catchy but cheap, dirty, unrefined stuff that furthers the work of degeneration of our culture. Even popular music used to be about love, but these days you’ll more often find songs celebrating not love and devotion and commitment, but merely sex itself, without subtlety or nuance or any art to it at all.

Those who are gifted with artistic talents, can and must reject that process and reverse that spiritual entropy, at least within the hearts of those few souls within our realm of influence. That realm expands with the increased quality of our work, and as we advance in skill and spirituality we will have a greater impact on the world around us.

You are promised by the Lord that “if thou wilt inquire, thou shalt know mysteries which are great and marvelous; therefore, thou shalt exercise thy gift, that thou mayest find out mysteries, that thou mayest bring many to the knowledge of the truth” (D&C 6:11). One of our great early artists, the poet Eliza R. Snow, is most known today for the words to the hymn, “O My Father.” Consider the effect that single hymn and its introduction of our Heavenly Mother has had on the church and on investigators over the past 165 years—a poem written after searching the soul, finding out the mysteries of God by inquiring, just as we are taught to in the Doctrine and Covenants. Sister Snow certainly exercised her literary gift, and she has brought many to the knowledge of sacred truths. Through her careful ponderings and poetic meditations, the existence of Heavenly Mother is now an essential doctrine of our faith.

According to Elder Douglas L. Callister, President David O. McKay even called the masters of literature “the minor prophets.”[3] Surely Sister Snow could be thought of in that way, a veritable prophetess. What else could be out there for spiritually in-tune artists to discover? What other mysteries are there waiting to be solved by a thoughtful, faithful poet or novelist? What new understanding can be depicted in the arts that cannot be depicted any other way? What spiritual truth is there that can be delivered to a world that would otherwise reject religion at face value?

Now please bear in mind, I am not asking us to resort to simple moralizing. That is not the kind of teaching that I am talking about, both because it lacks art and grace and because it is not effective. I am, however, asking us to use our art to package our testimonies in new, creative, and subtle ways. Through creative gifts we can help the world understand our theological principles and even finer points of doctrine. Through the great avenues of literature, through visual arts and music and film, we can depict our theology, our principles, and share them with the world in ways they’ll understand.

The prophet Alma writes, “For behold, the Lord doth grant unto all nations, of their own nation and tongue, to teach his word, yea, in wisdom” (Alma 29:8). I find it similarly imperative to use familiar language and elements the world might find reasonable in order to bridge the natural intellectual divide, to convey spiritual ideas a secular audience wouldn’t be open to initially. Secular academics, for instance, would almost never be open to learning about the gospel if it were preached to them using traditional testimony verbiage. The gospel might very well need to be shared instead in the verbiage of academia, a translation work as necessary as anything learned in the MTC. Through art or literature or academia we can build our depictions block by block, reasonable premise after reasonable premise, until it culminates in the end with the natural illustration of a particular concept or teaching, and the otherwise close-minded reader can say something to the effect of, “…Oh. That makes sense.”

I see a strict divide in the field of Mormon literature today. Mormon writers almost always write either secular books for a secular audience or Mormon books for a Mormon audience. I see little overlap, comparatively few literary envoys from God’s kingdom to the great and spacious building. Those who have tried have mostly ended up abandoning their goal as diplomats and claiming new citizenship in the realm they were supposed to preach to. I see no one taking the torch from the great modern Mormon storyteller Orson Scott Card, with his Worthing Saga and Alvin Maker series and the Homecoming novels, all of which are in the vein of which I speak: taking Latter-day Saint concepts and ideas to a secular audience, these in particular draped in the clothing of science fiction.

Mormon literary critic Karl Keller wrote, “When someone becomes capable of creating imaginative worlds where Mormon theological principles are concretely true, then we will have a writer of the stature of Flannery O’Connor. Because she was a Catholic, she said, she could not afford to be less than a good artist.”[4] O’Connor was not a great writer in spite of her Catholicism, but because of it. Such, Keller argues, will be the case with the great Mormon writers. Our faith should inform our art, and because we have that advantage spiritually, we have the potential to achieve even greater artistic heights, if we choose to pursue them.

This was the vision of Mormon greatness called for by Elder Orson F. Whitney, one of the Quorum of the Twelve at the time in 1888, when he spoke of a new age of Mormon literature, and gave the following as his caveat to those starting out: “Above all things, we must be original. The Holy Ghost is the genius of ‘Mormon’ literature….No pouring of old wine into new bottles. No patterning after the dead forms of antiquity. Our literature must live and breathe for itself. Our mission is diverse from all others; our literature must also be…. In God’s name and by his help we will build up a literature whose top shall touch heaven.”[5]

That is a heavy responsibility, and it has only been in the last few decades that we’ve seen this promise begin to be fulfilled. But it has not yet. President Spencer W. Kimball in his inspiring 1978 article, “The Gospel Vision of the Arts,” wrote, “We are proud of the artistic heritage that the Church has brought to us from its earliest beginnings, but the full story of Mormonism has never yet been written nor painted nor sculpted nor spoken. It remains for inspired hearts and talented fingers yet to reveal themselves. They must be faithful, inspired, active Church members to give life and feeling and true perspective to a subject so worthy. Such masterpieces should run for months in every movie center, cover every part of the globe in the tongues of the people, written by great artists, purified by the best critics… Our writers, our motion picture specialists, with the inspiration of heaven, should tomorrow be able to produce a masterpiece which would live forever. Our own talent, obsessed with dynamism from a cause, could put into such a story life and heartbeats and emotions and love and pathos, drama, suffering, fear, courage.”[6]

Yes, that was 1978, but Mormon art and literature, as glistening as it is with talent these days, has not yet begun to reach its full potential, the capacity for grand masters and legends that echo the works of yesteryear. President Kimball regrets that this has not happened, and in the article repeats emphatically that there should be no reason for this, that the Miltons and the Shakespeares and the Beethovens and the Michelangelos have not necessarily run dry in our modern age. The reasons they haven’t emerged, I believe, have very much to do with the victories of the Adversary on the battlefield of our culture and the individual soul in his sinister quest to bind the tongues of the faithful.

One possible impediment pushed into our paths by Satan is the lack of doctrinal understanding in our youth, the field from which the next generation of great artists will have to emerge. LDS scholar and literary critic Eugene England wrote concerning Elder Whitney’s call for Mormon literature and suggests some of our mightiest doctrines as fertile fodder for creative expression:

“To fulfill this hope,” he writes, “Mormon writers need some theological literacy. B. H. Roberts, whom some consider Mormonism’s finest historian and theologian, provides an extensive overview in The Truth, The Way, The Life and a concise explication of what is most dramatic and unusual in Mormon thought in Joseph Smith, the Prophet-Teacher. Others could be added: Joseph Smith, of course, especially the King Follett Discourse (uncreated being and godlike potential); Doctrine and Covenants 88 and 93 (God’s relation to nature and to human agency); 2 Nephi 2 (the doctrine of essential opposition in everything) and Alma 42 (how the atonement works) from the Book of Mormon; and Brigham Young’s sermon, “The Organization and Development of Man” (our basic need for eternal progression).”[7]

Understanding these concepts, and being able to articulate them to those of the world in new and persuasive ways, could be an incredible boon to the work of the Gospel. These ideas are ripe to be portrayed in ways literary and fantastic, creative and powerful. Certainly Satan is working to prevent our understanding of these great and eternal concepts, and is active day and night in his fight to suppress our souls and halt our pens in rational declaration of these noble truths. In doing so, he quashes both our potential and that of those we may have taught or influenced. He shows us an easier path, full of distractions and apathy and even condescension of our own religion and the art it has inspired, calling such traditional art “kitsch” and “cliche” in comparison to the art of the world. Many artists may think they have more important things to write about, true art to express, and dealing with and even teaching gospel truths is considered didactic and artless.

This point, I confess, is not a straw man. As we seek to portray positive principles and explore our theology, there is the possibility for overt didacticism, and our efforts can be taken as moralizing lectures. Keller said of such well-meaning but ineffective stories, “The didactic sells the Church without making it very believable.”[8]

Brother England explained further, “Most thinkers in this tradition have understood that the more directly literature teaches, the less delightful and persuasive it becomes. In contrast, a vivid and honest story, interesting and complex characters, powerful images, and affecting rhythms and sounds can often move the reader into new dimensions of moral understanding and religious experience.”[9]

What does this mean for the goal of a consecration of the arts? It means our writers have a fine line to walk between didacticism and depiction, between sermon-preaching and subtle sharing. But successful balance and execution on the required multiple levels can bring forth the greatness Elder Whitney, President Kimball, and President Packer have called for.

Though we are all under the obligation of taking our message to the world, there are many varied and possible ways it can be done. A story doesn’t have to be explicitly about church, about God, about religion. It doesn’t need to be shallowly couched in the context of direct doctrine. Christ’s parables weren’t! But neither do they have to reveal simple meanings in the end. After all, the best parables are the ones that work on multiple levels, both literary and spiritual, and that carry implications loaded with meaning that aren’t brought up outright, as the Parable of the Talents does. Theoretically, it should teach through a natural understanding of the story and the lifelike characters therein.

Remember Keller’s words: “creating imaginative worlds where Mormon theological principles are concretely true.” The worlds we create for our stories, for our art—and I don’t just mean in fantasy or sci-fi texts; new worlds need to be created for literary, non-genre works, too—these worlds should be built according to the spiritual laws of the gospel. This does not mean LDS cosmological laws, but theological principles, spiritual laws as we understand them with consequences as real as gravity.

Orson Scott Card’s Ender series takes place in a futuristic earth where Mormonism doesn’t turn out to be true. And yet he is still able to promote our ideas—ideas Card must hold very dear to his heart—about family and about marriage, for one thing, and how important those institutions are. Those books are not didactic in the slightest, and yet they still teach, still instruct, still strike the reader on a different plane.

With Elder Whitney, President Kimball and President Packer, I again call to the Mormon artists to produce greatness, a dual greatness: greatness in the eyes of both the world AND the church. It is not an impossible line to toe, though no doubt it will be difficult. To this challenge President Kimball has said, “If we strive for perfection—the best and greatest—and are never satisfied with mediocrity, we can excel.”[10] President Packer adds, “Let the use of your gift be an expression of your devotion to Him who has given it to you.”[11] The best art, even true art, will lead one to God, via one way or another.

And so I say, in whatever gift you have, whatever talent you choose to develop, make sure the Lord has a reason to help you. Show Him what you’ll do with His help. Show Him that you will use it to bring to pass much good in this generation (D&C 6:8). Consecrate your gift to God and you will see it bloom and bear fruit that could not have otherwise been born. Search deeply to understand why you might have the gift that you have, the potential for greatness. Realize that He hasn’t given it to you to merely gain the glories of the world, but if, in the process of developing it, you do gain the glories of the world, use that unique platform to share the Gospel, to proclaim truth, and live as an example of Christian principles. Show the world what the gospel of Jesus Christ can produce, what the fruits and effects of Christ’s gospel can be.

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From my vantage point today it seems our faithful musicians are the latter-day equivalent of the Psalmist in using music to express sacred things. Look at the extraordinary example of David Archuleta, who is not only a popular singer in the eyes of the world or only a devout and unashamed Latter-day Saint. He has declared implicitly and courageously that his faith is more important than his art by serving a mission in the midst of his fame, leaving the spotlight to blend in with all the other white shirts and ties out there preaching the gospel. Now that he’s returned from his mission, he is one of the most public faces of the gospel, and I believe he has a long life of success and indirect proselytizing ahead of him.

In David Archuleta we find someone who has used his God-given gifts and talents to share the gospel with the world. He is able to preserve both his artistic integrity and his devotion to this work, and in fact combine the two in using his talents for the benefits of the gospel. The pattern he has set should be emulated by every Latter-day Saint artist the world over: establishing ourselves in the eyes of the world, then using that influence and that stage to bear our testimony to them, to share with them what is truly important and in ways they’ll listen.

Other examples include the burgeoning violinist Lindsey Stirling and rock and roll musician Brandon Flowers, who have participated in the inspired “I’m a Mormon” public relations campaign. In doing this, in sharing the fire of our testimony from atop the tower of fame, we can become beacons, and cast our beams of light across the world entire.

Sometimes, however, our artists lose track of what is truly important. Sometimes that light is even purposefully kept hidden beneath the bushel. To this concern, I want to remind you that your art is NEVER more important than your faith. Devoting ourselves to the creations of our own hands instead of the hand of the true Creator is a sad mistake that is repeated often amongst our greatest artists. President Packer has said, “We find that there have marched through this grand parade of mortality men and women who were sublimely gifted, but who spent all, or most, in the world and for the world. And I repeat that they may well one day come to learn that ‘many men struggle to reach the top of the ladder, only to find that it is leaning against the wrong wall.’”[12]

“Behold, there are many called, but few are chosen,” the Lord says. “And why are they not chosen? Because their hearts are set so much upon the things of this world, and aspire to the honors of men” (D&C 121:34-35).

I am reminded of the story of the play Corianton by B.H. Roberts, popular in the late 19th century in Utah. Others eventually took it to Broadway, but not before stripping it of the spiritual values that once defined it. It lasted only a week in New York, failing miserably because it tried merely to gain the glories of the world, and not to add glory to God.

The Book of Mormon has something to say about such cases: “And because of this their great wickedness, and their boastings in their own strength, they were left in their own strength; therefore they did not prosper, but were afflicted and smitten, and driven before the Lamanites, until they had lost possession of almost all their lands” (Helaman 4:13).

Those of us who have experienced time away from the presence of the Spirit can agree: we do not want to be left alone to our own strength. We need God in our lives, and for Him to be there, I repeat that we need to give Him a reason to help us. That reason will almost always be that we need His help to convey His messages to the world. In so doing, we have to keep our eye single to His glory, to the building up of Zion.

Think of the story of the lepers healed in the river—only one came back to thank Christ for that miracle. How many of us have received of the glorious bounties and blessings of the Atonement, and in particular our own creative gifts…and then gone off to do our own thing, to do what we want to do with them?

Remember the battle that rages all around us, the battle we’re supposed to be waging. Remember what this whole scene on earth actually is. This isn’t some game where we can bide our time and do whatever we want, “whatever we love,” until we die. This is a war. And in a battle that will determine eternities, we must bear in mind what is truly important, and wield our sword against the foe that would bind us down. As the rousing chorus of The Battle Hymn of the Republic resoundingly declares, “As He died to make men holy, let us live to make men free!”[13]

That quest for true freedom is the battle, the epic war of this world, and in war we have allegiances. To whom or what are you loyal? For whom or what are you fighting? For what cause do we wield our sword? Do any of us want to stand there at the great and last Day, trembling before the Judgment Bar of God, trying to explain that our own secular artistry was more important than spreading the Gospel?

How you go about that missionary work is up to you. With our creative powers we can find new, exciting, and subtle ways of repackaging our gospel knowledge. Whether it be through allegory or through drama or through science-fiction or however else you think you can communicate the principles of the Gospel, it must be done. It is commanded that it should be done. Endowed members everywhere have covenanted to consecrate all of ourselves, all, to this work.

How blessed are we? As pointed out elsewhere in this book, fifteen million out of nearly seven billion. Why are we so blessed to have the Gospel? Because it isn’t just a blessing or even a privilege: it’s a responsibility. We cannot go around saying, “Oh joy, I am saved!”—we must remember why we are saved, and so be about our Father’s business, else we not be worthy of our hire, and instead be a wicked and slothful servant. And though I have spoken primarily of the creative arts, this commandment extends to all abilities, all professions, all places in life.

Brothers and sisters, there is work to do. The “great and marvelous work” is meant to be done by us. And we must do more than our best. For right now, we are not yet what we can be. Wherever we are, there is still distance to travel, relying all the while on the grace of our Savior to make our efforts sufficient. The whole idea of eternal progression is about constantly improving what our best can be. “Best” is not a rigid, inflexible goal; it is fluid, it rises, it beckons us ever onward, inviting our lifelong participation in the wondrous work. Christ gave us eternal life. Surely we can consecrate to Him our mortal life.

I call out to the rising generation of this church. I call out to them to become masters of their gifts, whatever they may be, to become champions of the Lord and use the sword He has given them to fight his fight, to spread the gospel to the world, and bring souls unto Christ.

Go find what the Lord has given you. It is your duty to find it, to develop it, to use it to further the cause, and then to receive the promised multiplicity of blessings to faithful stewards. In all the evolution of the temple endowment over the years, the covenant of consecration, though we think of it as a relic of the past, is still there—it still applies to all endowed latter-day saints, and it will forever.

We need great thinkers to emerge. We need artists and intellectuals—coupled with a testimony of Christ—to arise out of obscurity, and invest our talents in the spiritual economy of the world. Let us make art, music, and literature that brings souls to Christ. Let us infuse our entertainment with edification, grace our paintings and plots with meaning. Let our art lead to truth, to God! Let us not spend our time critiquing the brethren, and instead spend it supporting them, sustaining them, joining them in the war against the rapidly spreading evil that is so pervasive in the world today. The Lord and His servants need allies, not critics. Champions with sword in hand, not spiritual pacifists.

What can we expect to tell God at the end of it all about our time spent on earth when, in this brief but oh so important life, we are purely pursuing our personal passions, and not doing the work that will last through eternity?

We must find ways to instead channel those passions as they were meant to be used: for the Lord! To use them to enhance, further, and promote the work, to lay a foundation of understanding in the people who are searching for the truth and prepare them to receive the Gospel when they finally hear it. Let us be witnesses of God at all times and in all things and in all places that we may be in, and consecrate our time and talents to the work of Zion, and the building up of the kingdom of God on the earth.

[1] Wendy Watson, “Change: It’s Always a Possibility!” (Brigham Young University devotional, April 7, 1998, http://speeches.byu.edu/?act=viewitem&id=440).

[2] Orson Scott Card, “Art as an Act of Charity,” in A Storyteller in Zion (Salt Lake City, UT: Bookcraft, 1993), 112.

[3] Douglas L. Callister, “Your Refined Heavenly Home” (Brigham Young University devotional, Sept. 19, 2006, http://speeches.byu.edu/?act=viewitem&id=1633).

[4] Karl Keller, “The Example of Flannery O’Connor,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 9 (Winter 1974): 71.

[5] Orson F. Whitney, “Home Literature” in The Contributor 9.8 (July 1888): 296-300).

[6] Spencer W. Kimball, “The Gospel Vision of the Arts,” Ensign, July 1977.

[7] Eugene England, Introduction to Tending the Garden : Essays on Mormon Literature Ed. Lavina Fielding Anderson and Eugene England (Salt Lake City: Signature, 1996), xv-xvi.

[8] Keller, 62.

[9] England, xxii.

[10] Kimball.

[11] Packer.

[12] Ibid.

[13] “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” Hymns no. 60.

Mormon Reads reviews “The Hero Doctrine”

 

A couple of weeks ago the webmaster of MormonReads.com reached out to me. After a bit of personal chitchat, he said, “I’m in the process of reviewing your Hero Doctrine book for the Mormon Reads website and it’s one of the best books I’ve ever read.” Then he told me about his website’s Instagram account, where he posts excerpts from books he’s reading. I visited there and discovered a dozen highlighted excerpts from my book. I couldn’t believe my eyes.

The Hero Doctrine, by Neal Silvester. #ldschurch #lds #Mormon #divinepotential #lookup #godislove #ctr

A post shared by Mormon Reads (@mormonreads) on

At the time—and now with the contrast of his recent posting of his review against the rather mixed Deseret News review—it felt like the end of that episode of Doctor Who, “Vincent and the Doctor,” where the Doctor takes Van Gogh, who lived a tortured life and received great critical scorn, to the future, where he learns his works are celebrated and adored.


Okay, so maybe that’s a great exaggeration of my experience. But that’s the closest I can come to describing it. Someone noticed the book! Someone got it! I wouldn’t be completely passed over and forgotten after all!

It made all those years work worth it.

So here’s the full review given by Mormon Reads. 

An excerpt:

I continued to highlight as I went, but soon found that I couldn’t possibly share all of the things I was highlighting with our social media following. On our Instagram page we typically share two highlights each day from what we are reading. At the pace I was highlighting, it would take me months to share all of the things I found deeply insightful. I quickly realized I had to narrow my highlights down just to the highest level of “thought-provoking” passages. In doing so, I still found myself sharing about five times more from this book than I do with most other books.

The reviewer was also perceptive enough to note the target age demographic. Hearing the book’s premise—tying Batman and Harry Potter the gospel—you could easily assume it’s for youth. And maybe sales would have been better if it was. But here’s what the review notes:

I first thought that the audience for this book would probably be teenagers and young adult because of the “superhero” tie, but after reading it I changed my mind. A teenager would still find this book to be enjoyable, but I think the audience that would most connect with it would be adults (age 21 all the way to Methuselah age) because of its ability to make me think so deeply on gospel topics.

It’s not that it’s NOT for youth, but I wrote it with endowed members, especially millennials in their 20s or even 30s, in mind. Really, nothing about The Dark Knight screams “teenager.” And Harry Potter? Everyone loves Harry Potter, as well they should. It’s profound and wise and beautiful. I don’t think it’s quite “literature” but it’s still one of the best stories ever told.

There is no reason whatsoever adults can’t learn from stories that children also enjoy (and by the way, children should not be enjoying The Dark Knight). After all, adults wrote them.

That’s just a small portion of a rant I have on this little topic but I’ll stop there for now. I want to end on a much more resplendent note, like the reviewer does.

His conclusion:

I can’t recommend this book highly enough.

So please, if you haven’t bought the book yet, ignore the Deseret News review (which is not inaccurate, merely incomplete and misleading) and read the Mormon Reads review in its whole. Then, if you believe them, head over to Amazon to buy the book for $15.21 (if you have Prime) and help financially support this adorable baby.

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Deseret News reviews “The Hero Doctrine”

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Unfortunately, my first major review is not wholly positive. Instead of focusing on the parables, or the insights, or the personal stories, she focuses on what she perceives as a lack of cohesion. I do not seem to know exactly what it is I’m trying to say.

I would like to gently point out to Jennifer Ball that she just described exactly what I’m trying to say—I aim to inspire greatness, to awaken the reader to their duty and potential, and to give them a new, higher perspective on the world, themselves, and the stories they read and watch. It’s all pretty much there in the introduction.

That being said, I do not dispute that there is some lack of cohesion. I get that. I really do! Each chapter was originally written as a separate, distinct talk. They weren’t all meant to go together. The structure wasn’t found until I was two-thirds done with all of them.

But it saddens me that that’s her main takeaway, and the thing she wants her readers to come away with the most about the book.

There are some positive takeaways that I hope readers of the review will note. My brother-in-law, who alerted me to the review, pointed out that she called me “a promising young author” and that my insights are “timely, relevant and unique.” I’ll take that as a talisman against the dark thoughts that will no doubt be tumbling down my over-sensitive bipolar mind. If you want to help, please leave your support in the comments, and/or post a positive review on Amazon, and/or post about the book on your Facebook page. Since this review is the only way a lot of people are going to hear about the book, I’d love any help you can offer in giving people alternative, more positive channels to The Hero Doctrine.

Guys, I don’t want to be one of those authors that responds personally to every negative review he gets. I’m not that guy, but this is the only significant review I’ve received so far, and I felt compelled to (briefly) defend the work that I’ve performed over many years, work done solely to help other people understand and appreciate the gospel more deeply.

Thankfully, I do believe that a very positive review is right around the corner. More on that in the coming days…

The brief testimony I should have given earlier today.

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I should have given this earlier today, but, alas, the long line didn’t allow it.

Two things to say about the line:

  1. How wonderful it is for there to be a constant line of people desiring to bear their testimony. In a ward where the overflow behind the back bench isn’t even open.
  2. Of course the line would have allowed it if I had just stepped in it at some point or other. I was waiting for a gap in the line, but as we all know, if you want to bear your testimony, no one in the bishopric is ever going to stop you. I just didn’t want to commit to the testimony enough to hand Dagny to Nyssa and go up there and wait for my turn. Why? Because even if you publish a book calling out for your fellow latter-day saints to wake up and stand up and speak up, the thought of public speaking can still make you a coward.

Now, I wanted to say just a few words about church. (Seriously, just one or two paragraphs.) Over the last few months I’ve missed a lot of church due to Dagny and the moving process. Heck, my attendance wasn’t even spotless before then. I don’t know if it’s bipolar or just laziness but it’s really hard for me to sit down for that long. I get antsy and there’s this bizarre Saturday night anxiety I get about going to church the next day. I think part of it is that I’ve gotten so used to working from home and being home all day that the thought of having to get up and go somewhere on time the next day really freaks me out. And then for six months when I worked as a night auditor for a hotel I worked Saturday night through Sunday morning, and church was at that exact wrong time, 1pm-4pm, for me to go without going insane from sleep issues, and so I missed at least every other week as a result. Anyway, the point is, over the last few years I’ve gotten out of the habit of a solid three hours of church every single week and I’ve noticed, especially lately, that my spiritual life—yes, despite writing a book on the gospel and being 100% loyal to it—is merely skimming the surface these days. I haven’t been able to see the gospel affect others’ lives. I haven’t been able to bear witness to other people changing others’ lives. I haven’t been able to be a part of the gospel changing others’ lives.

So I wanted, want, to bear my testimony of the church part of church. The social part. The part where we interact with each other, where cogs interlock as we perform together the great work of this gospel. It’s like only saying “Amen” in your head when everyone else says it out loud. Or only singing a few words of the hymns. Doing the church in your head can really alienate you from the reality of it all. Can make everything numb. Can make you forget the substance and grow calloused to the concrete changes it really can bring about.

So everyone, say “Amen” with everyone after prayers and talks. Belt out those hymns. The point isn’t to sing them beautifully. The point is to sing them together, and to allow yout o express the sentiments of the words, and, appropriate to today, bear your testimony. So do that, too.

But I’m a hypocrite, aren’t I? I wished I had born my testimony today, because it would have been an excellent step towards correcting this particular spiritual rut I’ve found myself in. It was, honestly, THE answer, because it would have introduced me to the new ward and shown them all that I want to be a part of them—which I do. Because this is a church, not just a life philosophy. A kingdom, not just a state of mind. And we’re meant to do it together. That’s what Zion is all about.

The Gospel According to Dagny: Return of the Bink

[The second in our “Gospel According to Dagny” series. Click here for “Tummy-Time”]

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No, Dagny, no! I was just there. Why do you need help AGAIN? It hasn’t been ten seconds. Please let me sleep. I can only get comfortable so many times.

But those cries don’t stop. I flip over in the bed, raise myself up on my elbows, and peer back into her sleeper. As usual, the pacifier has fallen out of her mouth. Some people call it a binky. We do, but we also like to call it just…the bink. The perfect soother of misery and woe. Kinda like the Spirit.

So I replace the bink, only it immediately falls out again. I put it back in her open, wailing mouth, hold it there until her lips find it, wait for her to get a good grip on it, wait further at the edge of the bed to make sure she gets in a good sucking rhythm on it and that her cries are truly abated, sigh with a small modicum of relief, and turn back over.

Then the cries start up again.

I almost start to cry, too. This can be a never-ending cycle sometimes. And it’s her own darn fault! She’s the one that keep spitting out the bink! Why does she do this if she knows it causes her so much pain? Doesn’t she realize how much pain she’s causing her father, too? Her father who loves her but really needs peace and quiet of his own once in awhile?

Well, no. Of course she doesn’t realize that. She can’t really see me. She can’t interpret what I’m going through at all. And it isn’t really her fault, either. Her mouth muscles aren’t fully developed. She tries, but they’re imperfect, and she gets distracted, and she gets distressed, and a lot of the time the problem is something else. She’s hungry, or she’s got a bad diaper, or she may simply just need to be held close and reassured that she’s loved.

When I remember these things my heart melts and I remember how much I really do love her, and that patience is a divine quality for a reason. A feeling of forgiveness floods my soul. I take her in my arms, hold her tight, kiss her cheeks, and dance her to sleep within my embrace.

And of course I replace the pacifier, because she knows how much she needs it, and I know she’s sorry she ever spat it out in the first place, and instead I take pleasure in all the other myriad ways she’s developing and growing and becoming, day by day, hour by hour, a tiny little bit more like me.

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Immortality AND Eternal Life: the Difference

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I want add a brief but essential addendum to my post about LDS cosmology. I quote God’s conversation with Moses, where He reveals to his prophet the meaning and purpose of all that He does.

Moses 1:39:

For behold, this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.

Too often in Christian rhetoric the term “eternal life” is the same as “immortality.” It’s understandable given that the New Testament is all most Christians have, and the two terms are used, or at least interpreted, interchangeably. And that’s why I’m so grateful for modern revelation, and especially for the awe-inspiring Pearl of Great Price.

The scriptures never actually lay out the difference between these two concepts in clear terms. I think that is perhaps because the concepts are too sacred to be frank about. God only ever differentiates between immortality and eternal life indirectly, and only in the above verse. That keeps it hidden away for those who desire to know, to know. Christ used parables for the same purpose, so only those who were really listening, those who truly wanted to know, would understand.

Well, there are in fact two other places in the scriptures where God really defines “eternal life” as different from “immortality,” and one of them actually is in the New Testament. It is in the great intercessory prayer.

John 17:3:

And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent.

But even this is not laid out in a clear way. That’s obviously because this wasn’t meant to be a sermon or even a parable. This was an ultra-private moment between Heavenly Father and His Son that we are privileged to get a glance at.

D&C Section 132 offers a stunning parallel version to this verse in the middle of a mind-blowing explanation of the true scope of marriage and family and what the eternal potential of mankind really can be if we enter into and abide by the new and everlasting covenant.

The clarifying callback comes in verse 24 (emphasis is mine):

This is eternal lives—to know the only wise and true God, and Jesus Christ, whom he hath sent.

Look at that. Why “lives”? That construct is almost nowhere else in scripture. Eternal lives? I thought we were talking about eternal life. I understand eternal life. What’s eternal lives?

If you read Section 132 you get a pretty good idea of what that is. I’ll try and condense it with a little commentary here and there.

To state what should be obvious at this point, eternal life is different from immortality. Immortality means never dying, never being extinguished. We are all immortal, in a way. Some form of us will persist through all eternity. But this is not what is meant by “eternal life.” Eternal life is more than never-ending. Yes, yes, we have the typical primary explanation that eternal life is life with Heavenly Father, and when we die we get to go back and live with Him again. But that’s not really much of an explanation, is it? Because we were with Him before we came to Earth, too. So why leave?

Eternal life is not merely a never-ending length. It is also a never-ending quantity. It is life stretched out not just forever in one direction, but forever in ALL directions. What do I mean by this? Keep in mind that the context of this doctrine is in the definitive section on eternal marriage. That isn’t just marriage forever, but generations forever. We obviously have a mortal version of this—your kids have kids, and theirs eventually do too. That chain goes on and on. But we all die before we see more than a few generations pass by. And we only ever make minimal progress in this life. It’s all mortal, and we separate, and bodies and relationships decay. That is life. That is lives.

But eternal lives is as different as a sphere is to a circle. Eternal lives, as Christ has revealed, is to “know” God. Well, to know God isn’t just to say, “How do you do?” and “What’s your major?” like you would to get to know a date. To know God is to know what it is like to be Him. It is to experience His life.

And what is His life?

“To bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.”

His driving purpose is to, as a deity, have children. Kittens grow up to be cats, and puppies turn to dogs. So what do children of a god turn into?

That’s right.

So what God is trying to do—what “eternal lives” really means—is continue the everlasting generations of gods. Create an unending chain of celestial life. Because when we’ve achieved what He’s achieved in terms of righteousness and knowledge, we will be heading the same work He heads now. We will be just like Him, “which glory shall be a fulness and a continuation of the seeds forever and ever. Then shall they be gods, because they have no end; therefore shall they be from everlasting to everlasting, because they continue; then shall they be above all, because all things are subject unto them. Then shall they be gods” (D&C 132:19-20).

Wow.

You could say Christ died to give us immortality. But Christ atoned for us to make it possible to truly know God and thus have eternal lives. That’s God’s purpose and I think it should be our purpose to. Kind of throws a new light on, well…

Everything.

LDS Cosmology and Modern Astronomy: A Beautiful Marriage

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The great scientist Carl Sagan wrote,

…in some respects, science has far surpassed religion in delivering awe. How is it that hardly any major religion has looked at science and concluded, ‘This is better than we thought! The Universe is much bigger than our prophets said—grander, more subtle, more elegant. God must be even greater than we dreamed’? Instead, they say, ‘No, no, no! My god is a little god, and I want him to stay that way.’ A religion, old or new, that stressed the magnificence of the Universe as revealed by modern science might be able to draw forth reserves of reverence and awe hardly tapped by the conventional faiths. Sooner or later, such a religion will emerge.

That religion has emerged.

Back in 2002, Neal A. Maxwell delivered exactly how and why that religion is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

I understand concerns generated by such rhetoric. I get the skepticism a nonmember would feel in reacting to what could be seen as arrogance or naivety on my part. I may seem a little too desirous to please the scientific community, to claim our partnership without an actual foundation just to get people in my tent.

But this is not abstract dogma applied haphazardly to out-of-context scientific quotes and understanding. This is real. And it just excites me so much.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is among the only sects of Christianity to have a distinct cosmology. It is also perhaps the only one to fully embrace the grand discoveries of astronomers and astrophysicists about our universe. That is because we are a cosmic religion. We recognize just how much there really is to know, and we desire to know it. Rarely does a new fact about the cosmos threaten any of our teachings. In fact, our doctrine celebrates the science of astronomy and astrophysics. We exult in the findings of people like Carl Sagan and eagerly add them to our understanding of our own beliefs, which lay a groundwork for cosmological facts.

Because the discoveries all too often confirm what our scriptures have been teaching for nearly two centuries now.

Again, I get how this attitude of mine could be misconstrued as an over-eagerness to connect ancient abstract teachings to modern-day science. That the connection between the two is more tenuous and strained than I admit to, and perhaps is something I am merely imagining in my zeal. But it is not. I promise you, I do not have to stretch the science or the religion to get them to meet in the middle. They just do.

It is a remarkable thing, and I want to share it with everyone.

Now, Elder Maxwell cautions before diving in, “the Church does not align itself with the astrophysics of 2002 [when he gave the above address], nor does it endorse any particular scientific theory about the creation of the universe.” But I believe that is only because the science is not done. It won’t be done for a long time, and the theories will only keep adjusting, and, I believe, growing closer and closer to revealed truth and implied subtle truths within the wording of those revelations. We do not know the full breadth and scope of the universe because our brains cannot comprehend it. The science is not complete because our minds are not, and neither are our souls. But one day it will all be knowable—and known.

D&C 121:29-31—

“All thrones and dominions, principalities and powers, shall be revealed and set forth upon all who have endured valiantly for the gospel of Jesus Christ.

“And also, if there be bounds set to the heavens or to the seas, or to the dry land, or to the sun, moon, or stars—

“All the times of their revolutions, all the appointed days, months, and years, and all the days of their days, months, and years, and all their glories, laws, and set times, shall be revealed in the days of the dispensation of the fulness of times” (D&C 121:29–31).

And they have surely begun to—in ways the early Church, to whom these things were revealed, never could have anticipated.

Let’s take a look at a few of the parallels Elder Maxwell brings up:

Furthermore, order is reflected in God’s creations…

“And I saw the stars, that they were very great, and that one of them was nearest unto the throne of God; and there were many great ones which were near unto it; . . .

“And thus there shall be the reckoning of the time of one planet above another, until thou come nigh unto Kolob, which Kolob is after the reckoning of the Lord’s time; which Kolob is set nigh unto the throne of God, to govern all those planets which belong to the same order as that upon which thou standest” (Abraham 3:2, 9; emphasis added).

One scientist is reported as saying of cosmic configuration, “We may be living among huge honeycomb structures or cells.” [17] Some scientists say of certain nonrandom galaxies that they “appear to be arranged in a network of strings, or filaments, surrounding large, relatively empty regions of space known as voids.” [18] Other astronomers say they have discovered an “enormous . . . wall of galaxies, . . . the largest structure yet observed in the universe.” [19] Commendably, such able scientists continue to press forward.

For us, however, clearly the earth never was the center of the universe, as many once provincially believed! Nor has it been many decades since many likewise believed our Milky Way Galaxy was the only galaxy in the universe.

….

…contemplate what constitutes but one section within our vast Milky Way Galaxy:

Isn’t it breathtaking? Especially when we realize that the distances between those bright dots are so great!

Whatever the how of God’s creative process, spiritually reassuring things are set forth about the beginning—“back of the beyond,” so very long ago.

“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 they went down at the beginning, and they . . .organized and formed the heavens and the earth” (Abraham 3:24; 4:1; emphasis added).

Strikingly, according to some scientists, “Our galaxy, the Milky Way, is located in one of the relatively empty spaces between the Great Walls.”

There is space there.

It’s often in the subtext of ancient scripture, in language that we might not have noticed and would not have meant anything to anyone at the time it was revealed—whether in Old Testament times or the 19th century—that we find those startling, striking parallels.

Some might cry “Coincidence!” And yet the science fits all too perfectly into the narrative of creation—and the narrative of creation came first. Long before science could guess at how it all worked. Indeed, it is because of many supposed coincidences that life exists at all. Could all this really be a great cosmic accident?

One scientist who does not believe in divine design nevertheless noted that “as we look out into the universe and identify the many accidents . . . that have worked together to our benefit, it almost seems as if the universe must in some sense have known that we were coming.” (Freeman J. Dyson, “Energy in the Universe,” Scientific American 224, no. 3 (September 1971): 59.)

We can see what chaos looks like in deep space. We can see what this Earth, this solar system, must have looked like before the accidents began to fall in line. We can see the before and after, the chaos and the order, and how it all fits into “one eternal round” of complex and cyclical creation as our scriptures describe.

This next view is of a star-forming region involving unorganized material.

“And as one earth shall pass away, and the heavens thereof even so shall another come” (Moses 1:38).

Next, we see a visual of what is “left over” after a star dies.

“For behold, there are many worlds that have passed away by the word of my power” (Moses 1:35).

In the words of the hymn “How Great Thou Art,” of the universe and the Atonement, we sing that we “scarce can take it in.” [10]

Whatever God’s initial process, there apparently was some divine overseeing: “And the Gods watched those things which they had ordereduntil they obeyed” (Abraham 4:18; emphasis added).

As my friend and LDS author Chris Heimerdinger likes to point out, ours is the only major Christian religion to have as part of its doctrinal canon the existence of life on other planets. Didn’t Stephen Hawking say that if there was no other life out there in the universe, it would be an incredible waste of space?

Very significantly, we here on this earth are not alone in the universe. In the Doctrine and Covenants, which will be the focus of your study this year, we read that “by [Christ], and through him, and of him, the worlds are and were created, and the inhabitants thereof are begotten sons and daughters unto God” (D&C 76:24; emphasis added; see also Moses 1:35).

We do not know where or how many other inhabited planets there are, even though we appear to be alone in our own solar system.

As to the Lord’s continuing role amid His vast creations, so little has been revealed. There are inklings, however, about kingdoms and inhabitants.

“Therefore, unto this parable I will liken all these kingdoms, and the inhabitants thereof—every kingdom in its hour, and in its time, and in its season, even according to the decree which God hath made” (D&C 88:61).

The Lord even invites us to “ponder in [our] hearts” that particular parable (v. 62). Such pondering does not mean idle speculation, but rather, patient and meek anticipation of further revelations. Besides, God gave only partial disclosure—“not all”—to Moses, with “only an account of this earth” (Moses 1:4, 35), but Moses still learned things he “never had supposed” (v. 10). Nevertheless, we do not worship a one-planet God!

Moses 7:30: “And were it possible that man could number the particles of the earth, yea, millions of earths like this, it would not be a beginning to the number of thy creations.”

Now, cast your eyes on this view of what is called “deep space”:

Almost every dot you see in this frame, courtesy of the Hubble telescope, is a galaxy! Think of our own Milky Way Galaxy. I am told that each galaxy represented here has on the order of 100 billion stars. Just this little wedge of the universe has almost innumerable worlds.

Many kingdoms, each with its own time and season. Many planets, each with their own timeline and history, some perhaps as advanced as we are when our Earth was still only rocks and rivers, while others may be primitive still even as we approach our planet’s end times. “…by [Christ], and through him, and of him, the worlds are and were created” (D&C 76:24, emphasis mine). “For behold, there are many worlds that have passed away by the word of my power…and as on earth shall pass away, and the heavens thereof [read: stars and galaxies] even so shall another come; and there is no end to my works, neither to my words” (Moses 1:35, 38). Through great telescopes our scientists today witness exactly this happening to stars throughout the galaxy, a constant flux of celestial death and rebirth.

This was all revealed to men before trains were even invented. Just a coincidence, that all these spiritual revelations actually revealed cosmic truth? If so, yet another item to add to the list of things Joseph Smith accidentally got right. (That’s Chris Heimerdinger about the Book of Abraham and the theory of relativity. Look up Abraham chapter 3 if you’re skeptical; in it God explains to Abraham how time moves differently when you’re in different places in the universe. That was 1842.)

But Joseph Smith’s revelations were not merely about sketching the laws and awes of the universe. They were much more about the question that puzzles astronomers to this day.

Hawking said: “Although science may solve the problem of how the universe began, it cannot answer the question: Why does the universe bother to exist? I don’t know the answer to that.” [12]

Albert Einstein said of his desires: “I want to know how God created this world. I am not interested in this or that phenomenon, in the spectrum of this or that element. I want to know His thoughts; the rest are details.” [13]

Dr. Allen Sandage, a believer in divine design, was an assistant to Edwin Hubble. Sandage wrote: “Science . . . is concerned with the what, when, andhow. It does not, and indeed cannot, answer within its method (powerful as that method is), why.” [14]

 

The main difference between the Latter-day Saint view and that of the likes of Carl Sagan is that, in addition to being in awe of the beauty and scope of the universe, we also believe it has purpose. That it is designed not merely to tickle the fancy of those who look in their telescopes, but house the greatest possible forge: a smithy of the soul, crafting men into gods.

For God, like any parent, wants His children to grow up to become like Him.

It is a work built and driven by love. A love for each and every one of us, His children. “And there are many [worlds] that now stand, and innumerable are they unto man; but all things are numbered unto me, for they are mine and I know them….For behold, this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:35, 39).

Brothers and sisters, the Lord is mindful of each of His vast creations. Look once more at the many “dots” in just one portion of our ordinary-sized Milky Way Galaxy:

He knows them all. Think of it. Just as the Lord knows each of these creations, so also He knows and loves each of those seen in this or any crowd—indeed, each and all of mankind! (see 1 Nephi 11:17).

It is a grand scope, yet perfectly intimate. God spins both galaxies and lilies, explodes stars and comforts us when we’re sad.

 

…as we enlarge our views both of the universe and of God’s stretching purposes, we, too, can reverently exclaim, “O how great the plan of our God!” (2 Nephi 9:13).

Therefore, as we probe, ponder, and learn, we certainly should be filled with awe, and we should also be intellectually meek. King Benjamin counseled us with these simple but profound words:

“Believe in God; believe that he is, and that he created all things, both in heaven and in earth; believe that he has all wisdom, and all power, both in heaven and in earth; believe that man doth not comprehend all the things which the Lord can comprehend ” (Mosiah 4:9; emphasis added).

Alas, in our age, brothers and sisters, we have some who believe that if they cannot comprehend something, then God cannot comprehend it either. Ironically, some do actually prefer a “little god.” Better for all of us—scientists and nonscientists alike—instead of trying to downsize divinity, to upsize our personal humility!

As spectacular as what science has learned about the witnessing universe so far, it is still such a small sample. Of the 1995 Hubble picture of a “deep field,” it was said that “the sampled segment—the deepest image ever taken of the heavens—covered . . . ‘a speck of the sky only about the width of a dime located 75 feet away.’” [16]

The soul trembles, brothers and sisters!

Taken all together, such insight inspires deeper reading of other passages that contain similar terminology. How many times has the Lord been literal in the scriptures without our knowing it, because our minds and grasp of knowledge were not advanced enough to receive it? How much knowledge has God already communicated that we have simply ignored  or taken for granted or been blind to?

It is a glorious, intimidating thought. And it is tempting to simply ignore the vastness of what there is to know because it is “not essential to our salvation.” Well, my friends, if you think about it, very little is actually “essential to our salvation.”

God wants us to have more. He wants us to become like Him, to obtain the same level of knowledge He has. That is why He gave us curious minds—minds that have led to the jaw-dropping scientific discoveries we have before us. And it is why He calls this era the “dispensation of the fulness of times,” and tells us that “all…shall be revealed” in this time (D&C 121:31). We are meant to know as much as we truly desire to know. For it is knowledge, in combination with divine mercy and salvation, that turns men into gods—the purpose of God’s work, the purpose of the universe itself as He has revealed it from His own mouth.

So…search! Don’t let the mundanity of our everyday life numb your minds. Elder Maxwell warns us: “Humdrum routineness and repetition can cause us to look indifferently downward instead of reverently upward and outward.” But, even more than the scientists, we Latter-day Saints have the greatest reasons to look into the universe, into the Creator’s cosmos, with joy.