So, I will now return to the main subject of this blog, which today is that big question: What Comes Next? This is the question to which everyone, sooner or later, wants an answer; the answer! Some people ponder it throughout their lives, others don’t give it a serious thought until faced with their own mortality, maybe in their last few seconds as they lay dying. “What now?”
There are as many different answers as there are religions. Christians believe in resurrection and immortality but have different definitions as to what exactly that entails. Some believe that our spirits sleep in the grave with the body until the day of resurrection; or not. Most Christians and Muslims believe in an entirely spiritual afterlife with no physical body; that resurrection is just the spirit being brought back to life.
Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints believe that like any essential philosophical question, this one must be answered by God, through His Holy prophets. So, what exactly do the prophets have to say on this matter? From the very first Book of Scripture, Genesis, we learn that man has a spirit. What is a spirit?
In Genesis 2:7 we read, “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” In Hebrew, the word translated as “breath” is “neshamah”, which in other places in the Old Testament is translated as spirit. So, we can see that God created man, and then placed his spirit into him. Many Christian sects believe that this is the point at which the Spirit is created. Thanks to other ancient prophets, as well as revelation in our day, we know differently. The Lord said to the prophet Jeremiah, “Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations.” Jeremiah lived before he was born, because God knew him, sanctified him, and ordained him before he was “formed in the belly.”
Men and women are eternal beings. They have always existed and will never cease to exist. Before this earth life we all existed as spirits. When we were born we gained bodies, albeit imperfect ones. When we die we will lose those bodies again, because they are imperfect, and in spite of any medical advances that may extend life, they will eventually fall apart and waste away.
Jesus’ resurrection brought about a future resurrection for all. Everybody. Good or bad. The resurrected bodies will be perfect, and eternal; they will not fall apart and waste away but will continue for eternity. Here is a short You Tube video about resurrection and immortality:
So, what is the point? If everybody will be resurrected in perfect immortal bodies, why do we need to worry about keeping commandments or repenting. Everybody is going to end up equally eternal in the next life, right? Well, yes, and no. We need to be concerned not so much with whether we will live again, but rather how we will live again. Through modern revelation we learn the difference between immortality and eternal life. Here is another You Tube presentation that explains this difference:
Immortality means just what you think. No longer mortal. Living forever, never dying, again. This a gift given us by Jesus Christ; everyone will be resurrected to immortality. Eternal Life? Well, that means something a little different. Through a revelation given to Joseph Smith, we learn that “Eternal” is one of Heavenly Father’s names, or titles. In this context, Eternal Life would mean “God’s Life”, or the type of life that Heavenly Father experiences. This is not a gift, in the same way that immortality is a gift. Eternal Life must be purchased, and it has a high price: perfection; a sinless life. Since none of us get out of this life in pristine condition, none of us can qualify for Eternal Life, at least not on our own. But luckily for us, the purchase price has been paid, and we our left with something comparatively easy to pay, easily doable for the weakest of human beings. We need to repent. We will talk more in depth about repentance in another post down the road. For now, a simplified explanation of repentance is to ask forgiveness for your sins, and then do your best not to commit them again. It has to be a real effort. You really have to try your best. Here is a wonderful modern-day parable that explains the atonement of Jesus Christ, and how repentance fits into the plan: https://youtu.be/d7N5QDDboi8
As we continue to repent each day, and improve ourselves little by little, and become just a tiny bit more like Jesus, we are fulfilling His commandment to “be ye therefore perfect.” Don’t worry about whether you can become perfect in this life. You just have to be on the road to perfection, walking in the right direction, and making some progress.
So, you have spent your life repenting and trying your best to improve. So, what’s next? What exactly does eternal life entail? Will you sprout angel wings, and sit on a cloud, playing a harp? Hardly. Do you really think that is what God does? Because Eternal Life, is His life. This silly idea, like so many sectarian notions, is a good example of why so many rational, clear-thinking people, leave religion behind, becoming atheists and agnostics. Atheists are not bad people. They just refuse to believe in silly ideas that are irrational to them. If I had not learned the true gospel of Jesus, I would have become atheist long ago. In my youth I was already starting to be become somewhat agnostic, doubting the religion in which I had been raised. Thank goodness that when we pay attention to what God has revealed through prophets, past and present, the gospel becomes much clearer, makes more sense, and the silly ideas dreamed up by people throughout our history fall by the wayside. And some of those ideas relate to concepts of Heaven and Hell, as described by most denominations. First, let’s talk about Hell, a very misunderstood concept.
HELL The English word “Hell” is a translation of the Hebrew word “Sheol” and has a similar meaning to the Greek word “Hades”. It refers to the place where the spirits of those who have died go to reside. Traditionally it has come to signify the place where the spirits of the wicked go to be tormented for eternity (see Inferno, by Dante Aligheri).
But the scriptures don’t actually describe it as such. Early understanding of these words was that they referred to a place for all the spirits of the dead, and was divided into two parts: a paradise, and a place referred to as “Gehenna”. The earthly Gehenna was a place outside of Jerusalem where, during a period of Jewish wickedness and idolatry, children were sacrificed to the god Moloch. It later became a place where the city’s trash was taken to be burned. The constant burning of trash, and likely a bad smell, is probably what people were thinking of when they described Hell as a place of eternal flames and brimstone (which is another name for sulfur. Ever smell sulfur? Smells kind of like rotten eggs.)
These descriptions are illustrated by Jesus’ parable of the rich man and Lazarus found in Luke Chapter 16:
19 ¶ There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day: 20 And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores, 21 And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. 22 And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried;
(Abraham’s Bosom is a metaphor for Paradise, where Abraham was to have resided after his death).
23 And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. 24 And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame. 25 But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented. 26 And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence.
The word ”Hell” in the scriptures is actually used to refer to three completely different things. The first one is this hell referred to above in the story of Lazarus and the rich man. In the Book of Mormon, we learn that this particular division is a temporary one for spirits awaiting the resurrection, and the final judgement.
11 Now, concerning the state of the soul between death and the resurrection—Behold, it has been made known unto me by an angel, that the spirits of all men, as soon as they are departed from this mortal body, yea, the spirits of all men, whether they be good or evil, are taken home to that God who gave them life. 12 And then shall it come to pass, that the spirits of those who are righteous are received into a state of happiness, which is called paradise, a state of rest, a state of peace, where they shall rest from all their troubles and from all care, and sorrow. 13 And then shall it come to pass, that the spirits of the wicked, yea, who are evil—for behold, they have no part nor portion of the Spirit of the Lord; for behold, they chose evil works rather than good; therefore the spirit of the devil did enter into them, and take possession of their house—and these shall be cast out into outer darkness; there shall be weeping, and wailing, and gnashing of teeth, and this because of their own iniquity, being led captive by the will of the devil. 14 Now this is the state of the souls of the wicked, yea, in darkness, and a state of awful, fearful looking for the fiery indignation of the wrath of God upon them; thus they remain in this state, as well as the righteous in paradise, until the time of their resurrection.
21 But whether it be at his resurrection or after, I do not say; but this much I say, that there is a space between death and the resurrection of the body, and a state of the soul in happiness or in misery until the time which is appointed of God that the dead shall come forth, and be reunited, both soul and body, and be brought to stand before God, and be judged according to their works (Book of Mormon, Alma 40:11-14, 21).
So, if this paradise and darkness (or hell) is temporary, and only lasts until the physical resurrection, what comes next? What the scriptures refer to as “judgment” or “final judgment” is the next step in the process. It is at this point where it will be decided how each of us will spend his/her immortality. See the following link for a description of that final judgment:
I know the topic for today was supposed to be about what happens to us after we die. I promise that I will get to that soon. But I decided to step off the track today to talk about something else that I hope will be of interest to my readers: prophets.
What is a prophet? I like the definition given in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary:
1 : one who utters divinely inspired revelations: such as a: the writer of one of the prophetic books of the Bible b: one regarded by a group of followers as the final authoritative revealer of God's will
When we think of the Judeo-Christian prophets, the names Moses, Abraham, Isaiah, etc. come to mind. So, what was so special about these guys? Well, according to the Old Testament, they represented and spoke for God. Many people have the idea that God wants to keep Himself hidden and keep His will and His plans secret, but that just isn’t true. Although, to a certain degree He is hidden from most of the world, He really does want all of His children to find Him. And He really does want to share His will with us. Each of us can receive personal revelations from God, for our own lives. But, in order to avoid confusion, when God has a message or instructions for all of His children, He gives that message to His prophet, His mouthpiece. In his day, Moses was that mouthpiece. And whenever Heavenly Father plans to do something important for us, He tells His prophets first, so they can let us know. The Old Testament prophet Amos wrote:
Surely the Lord God will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets. (Amos 3:7)
That is what God did for His prophet Abraham, for Moses, for Joshua, Elijah and Elisha, and Isaiah, and Jeremiah, and all the others. The people of God had no excuse for not obeying His word, because prophets walked among them, as the mouthpieces of God, to let them know exactly what He expected of them. And why did God do this? To oppress them? To punish them? No! He loved them and he wanted to turn them into a holy people prepared to enter into His presence, to see Him and be with Him. Unfortunately, the people of that time simply would not overcome their sinfulness, and they were unsuccessful in truly becoming God’s people.
Finally, God sent His own Son to try and turn His people around, and they simply killed Him. Before He was killed He called more prophets, the 12 men we know as the Apostles; He called another 70 besides the 12. And despite their best efforts, over time these men were all killed as well, and their message mostly rejected. A form of Jesus’ teachings remained, but over time, those teachings were changed, or dropped completely, until the church became something totally unrecognizable as what Jesus had organized. The writings of the Apostles make up what is known today as the New Testament. After their deaths, Heavenly Father declined to send more prophets to this earth, for a time.
So, God loved the people of the Old Testament. He loved the people of the New Testament. Doesn’t He love us who are living in the 21st century? If so, why don’t we have prophets to guide as in former times? Well, as a matter of fact, we do.
I have already told you about Joseph Smith, and his mission. I also mentioned that he was killed at a very young age. But God did not leave us without a prophet after Joseph. Since the time of Joseph Smith, there have been living prophets on the earth again. There is a prophet today, and his name is Russell M. Nelson. There are also twelve apostles, who have been called as special witnesses of Jesus Christ. They are also considered to be prophets. There are more serving in positions known as “the Seventy”, and they are also prophets. Here is a link to photos of all of the church leadership, plus short bios for each one:
Twice a year, the whole world has the opportunity to hear these prophets speak, and to know exactly what God expects of us, and what His plans are for this world.
This coming weekend is the next opportunity to hear these leaders speak. They speak at a General Conference, which is broadcast worldwide. There are five two-hour sessions:
Saturday 10:00 AM, 2:00 PM, and 6:00 PM, Mountain Daylight Savings Time Sunday 10:00 AM and 2:00 PM, MDT
The Prophet, President Nelson, usually opens the conference with a short greeting, and then speaks at the Saturday 5:00 session, and then again at the Sunday 9:00 session. He also is the closing speaker on Sunday afternoon.
What kinds of things does he talk about? Well, just like Moses, he is the Lord’s mouthpiece today, and he tells us what Heavenly Father expects of us, specifically in our day. The following video is a talk by President Nelson from the April 2021. It will give you an idea of what to expect from a prophet of God:
President Nelson is not the only speaker during this general conference. Each of the apostles will speak. Many members of the Seventy will speak. And some of the leaders of the general women’s and children’s organizations will also speak. If you are looking for spiritual knowledge and wisdom, or just an amazing spiritual experience, this is the place to be. You don’t need to go anywhere; you can watch it on TV or on your computer. Here is the link for this Saturday and Sunday:
I hope you’ll join us. The following Monday, in my blog post, I will discuss some of the messages presented over the weekend. Then, on Monday, October 11, I will return to the topic of the third of three important questions: “Where am I going?”
So, what were we talking about last week when we left off? Oh yeah, the purpose of our life on earth. To recap:
In order to become like our Heavenly Father, we had to leave His presence to be tested. If we failed, we would never be able to enter His presence again.
We are unable to remember our pre-mortal life with Our Heavenly Father.
We needed to gain a physical body, like His but imperfect, in order to have physical experiences, and to be tested,
Well, it all sounds a little tough. Some of us began to have some doubts about whether we wanted to do this or not. And remember, we had a choice; we didn’t have to come to this earth to be tried and tested. We could remain spirit beings as long as we wanted. Some people, disillusioned with their own lives, have been heard to claim, “I never chose to be born!” Well, they kinda did, even if they don’t remember.
Now, if we thought this all sounded too difficult, it’s because the best part of the plan had yet to be presented to us. We were worried because, all of us, without exception, would make mistakes, a poor choice or two. Upon doing so, we would immediately be divorced from God, never able to return to His presence. When we died, we would lose our bodies and become spirits again. But then we would not even be able to return to the idyllic existence that we had before mortal life. We would be locked out of God’s presence forever, a true Hell. None of us would be capable of returning on our own.
So now, what? And why did all of us now living, or who have ever lived, decide to jump into the deep end anyway and take our chances? Because of God’s love, he provided a way back to Him, even for His seriously imperfect children. Here is a short video that helps us to better understand God’s love for us:
A SAVIOR Heavenly Father knew that we were incapable of returning to him once we left His presence. He knew we would sin, and thus be impeded from ever returning. It doesn’t sound like much of a plan, does it? We must attempt to become like Our Heavenly Father, knowing that left on our own we were guaranteed to fail; guaranteed to end up worse than when we started. But then Heavenly Father presented the final part of His plan, one that would make it possible to return to him, in spite of our imperfections; the only way to bridge that gap between Heaven and Hell. Heavenly Father would send a Savior to Earth, One who was actually capable of living a sinless life, a God Himself. And being sinless, He would be able to take upon Himself the consequences of all of our sins, take away our burdens.
We as spirits were excited about this plan! But who among us was capable of executing it? Who among us was capable of living a sinless life, of paying for everyone else’s sins? Who among us was not just a spirit, but a God? Only One.
The oldest, most ancient of the Spirits came forward, accepted God’s Plan, and offered Himself to be the Savior. He would accept and execute every facet of God’s plan and give God all the glory. His name was Jehovah. After His birth, he would be known to us as Jesus.
Jehovah had been at Heavenly Father’s side, well, forever. He was the first of God’s Spirit creations and had become a God Himself (keep in mind that “God” is not a name, although we have become accustomed to using it as such. It is a title.), even though he did not as yet have a body. He was the only Spirit capable of performing such a task, and we were overjoyed to have Him. I don’t think that anyone of us understood exactly what this would entail, the awful suffering and sacrifice that would be experienced by Him, for each of us. I still cannot comprehend it, and I’m not sure I ever will.
In this act of redemption that we did not understand fully, Jehovah would provide for each of us one free gift, and one for which we would have to pay a small portion of the purchase price – not the same price that He would have to pay, but something that we were actually capable of paying. The free gift was that of a perfected body. Although each of us must die, one day we will each be resurrected to a body that is perfect, or in other words, free from the infirmities and limitations of mortality. Everybody! Good and bad. Saint and sinner. Everybody.
But that gift still does not guarantee a ticket back into the presence of God. It does not guarantee Eternal Life. For that gift, each of us must pay a comparatively small price. We must do as the ancient prophets and apostles and Jesus taught – repent. Although not the same price that Jehovah would pay, not an easy one either. It would require some effort on our part. If we didn’t do it, even having perfected bodies, we would never be allowed back into the presence of Our Heavenly Father again, regardless of His infinite love for us.
Now it was starting to sound like a pretty good plan. We all would have a chance to become like Our Heavenly Father. That would have been great if that had been the end of it. But, no matter how good something may seem, there is someone always willing to throw a monkey wrench into it. And that monkey wrench-thrower was a spirit whose name was Lucifer.
Lucifer was also an old soul. He is referred to in Holy Scripture as a “son of the morning” meaning that he was also one of Heavenly Father’s earliest creations. He had also progressed a great deal, but unlike Jehovah, he was not a god.
Lucifer was not wild about one part of Father’s plan. He was “concerned” that many would be lost if offered the choice to repent or not. And he was right; that’s how agency works. He volunteered to go to Earth instead of Jehovah, and he would make sure that everyone complied, that everyone obeyed, or repented when they failed to obey. He promised not to lose a single soul and would return 100% of Father’s spirit children to him, ready for Eternal Life. But he would not do it for free. In exchange, He wanted the credit, the glory. He wanted to take Father’s place, since his plan was obviously so much better than Father’s and therefore he was just so much smarter. Isaiah wrote a little about this event:
12 How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations! 13 For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north: 14 I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High. (Old Testament, Isaiah 14:12-14)
Sounds like Lucifer’s plan had some good points, right? I am mean, is choice all that important, if we were guaranteed a way back to Heavenly Father? Why is choice important? Watch this short presentation to help understand why Lucifer’s plan was a non-starter for us:
Father was not willing to give away our right to choose, since that was the very basis of determining who would be worthy of Eternal Life; who would actually choose it over the alternatives. So, He said no. He rejected Lucifer’s plan.
Now, Lucifer should have just accepted this decision, and gotten with the program. But he didn’t. Instead, he began to show his true colors. He got angry. He knew that others agreed with him and his plan. They sided with Lucifer, and soon Heavenly Father had a full-blown rebellion on His hands. There were not just a few that sided with Lucifer. The scriptures tell us that he succeeded in drawing away one third of the spirits from Heavenly Father. One third! John the Revelator taught:
3 And there appeared another wonder in heaven; and behold a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and seven crowns upon his heads. 4 And his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and did cast them to the earth . . . (Revelation 12:3-4)
Much of what John wrote in the Book of Revelation is figurative and often difficult to understand. A revelation to Joseph Smith clarified this passage, as well as the one in the next paragraph:
36 . . . for, behold, the devil was before Adam, for he rebelled against me, saying, Give me thine honor, which is my power; and also a third part of the hosts of heaven turned he away from me because of their agency; 37 And they were thrust down, and thus came the devil and his angels; 38 And, behold, there is a place prepared for them from the beginning, which place is hell. (Doctrine and Covenants 29:36-38)
The apostle John also tells us that there was war in Heaven. I have no idea what such a war would entail. Spirits have no bodies to wound or blood to spill. Spirits cannot be killed. All we really know is that Father prevailed, and Lucifer and his followers were cast out of His presence. They lost forever the opportunity to be tested and to receive bodies. They were doomed to remain spirits forever. They lost the opportunity for Eternal Life. John wrote:
7 And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, 8 And prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven. 9 And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him. (New Testament, Revelation 12:7-9)
In verses 9, above, John said that God cast them down into the Earth. Poor translation. That is where we get the old tale that Hell and the devil and his followers are down below us, underground. It should have been translated to read that they were cast down onto the Earth. They are here with us to this day, all around us. They are Satan and his followers. They are the unseen spirit world, and there are a lot of them. So, what exactly are they doing here? They are trying to influence us, to drag us down, to take away from us what was taken from them – the chance to receive eternal life. Misery loves company.
So, the purposes of our earthly life are 1) to receive a mortal body and learn how to properly use it, to make us complete souls, spirit and body, just like Heavenly Father, and 2) to test us; to see if we will be obedient in all things, and thus worthy to receive Eternal Life. Satan’s mission is to get us to defile and misuse these bodies, and to get us to violate the commandments whereby we may gain Eternal Life.
So, what comes after we complete this test called mortal life? We’ll talk about that next time, on September 27, 2021. See you then!
Back to one of my very first questions. Do you remember? “Why should any of this be important to me? Why should it make a difference?” Well, let me tell you.
Joseph Smith was only 14 years old when he had his first vision, and 17 years old when he had the second. That is when he began his heavenly training for the work that God had for him to do, which was, restore lost truths and restore his church which had been lost for centuries. All of this was necessary for the benefit of all mankind, and to prepare us for the imminent return of Jesus Christ to the earth. He was 21 when he finally received the gold plates into his possession and began the work of translating them. He was 23 when the first printing of the resulting “Book of Mormon” was made available to the world. He was 24 when, under the direction of God, he organized the restored church. During all of this he continued to be educated from on high, in visions and visitations, and by a Spirit-guided study of the Bible and Book of Mormon.
He learned a lot during his short life and passed much of that knowledge on to the rest of the world. And he was able to finally and accurately respond to three very important questions that people have been trying to understand, well, forever.
1-Where did I come from? 2-Why am I here? 3-Where am I going?
These are the three most basic existential questions about the purpose of human life.
WHERE DID I COME FROM?
Many religions try to explain our beginnings with answers such as these:
1-We are a creation of God, for his pleasure and good will, or, 2-We lived previously and were reincarnated after dying.
These are just a couple of explanations. There are probably almost as many attempts at explanation as there are religions. There is also a purely scientific view, which tells us that before conception we did not exist, and when we die, we will cease to exist. But what did Joseph learn from God and His messengers? That we are eternal beings; we have always existed, and we always will; there is no end, to anybody. There is only an end to this mortal existence.
There are many passages in the Bible, Old and New Testaments, that seem to contradict the teaching that we were created in the womb. In the Book of Job, God asks Job if he knows where he was before the creation of the world. Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? declare, if thou hast understanding. Who hath laid the measures thereof, if thou knowest? or who hath stretched the line upon it? Whereupon are the foundations thereof fastened? or who laid the corner stone thereof; When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?(Job 38:4-7)
Who were all these sons of God shouting for joy, before he laid the foundations of the earth?
God told the prophet Jeremiah that He knew him before he was born: Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations. (Jeremiah 1:5)
Apparently, the teaching that we existed before being born was a common one in the time of Christ, based on this question asked of Jesus by His disciples: And as Jesus passed by, he saw a man which was blind from his birth. And his disciples asked him, saying, Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?(John 9:2)
How could being born blind be a result of sin, unless he lived and sinned before he was born?
The apostle Paul, in his epistle to the Romans, made it clear that God knew us before we were born: For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. (Romans 8:29)
In his Epistle to the Ephesians Paul stated that we were chosen by God before he created the world: According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: (Ephesians 1:4)
These scriptures, although pointing to a life before this earth life, are somewhat vague; they don’t really give us much detail or explanation. Maybe this is why the teaching has been lost through the ages. Maybe this is why a restoration of lost gospel principles was needed; why a “Joseph Smith” was needed.
A Book of Mormon prophet named Alma teaches the following about those who receive the priesthood: And this is the manner after which they were ordained—being called and prepared from the foundation of the world according to the foreknowledge of God, on account of their exceeding faith and good works. . .(Alma 13:3)
So not only are spirits alive before being born, but they are also called and prepared for certain works and missions, based on their faith and good works - before their birth! Book of Mormon prophet Samuel talks about returning to the presence of God via the redemption of Christ: But behold, the resurrection of Christ redeemeth mankind, yea, even all mankind, and bringeth them back into the presence of the Lord. (Helaman 14:17)
To be brought back means that we must have been there previously. If not, Samuel would have simply said,” . . . bringeth them into the presence of the Lord.”
Although these Book of Mormon references are a little less vague than those of the Bible in speaking of a pre-mortal existence, they still don’t give us a lot of detail. This is a really good example of why it is so important to have living prophets like Moses or Abraham, instead of just ancient scripture which people can interpret and twist to suit their own pre-conceived notions.
In later revelation from God, Joseph learned a great deal more about our existence in the presence of God before being born as mortal beings. In a revelation received from Jesus Christ in September 1830, he learned that:
1-we lived before the creation of the world, 2-we had agency, or in other words, freedom to choose, to follow good or evil, and, 3-A full one-third of all of the spirits that existed before the creation rejected God and followed Satan, hence Satan and his angels (Yep, Satan is also real, and he existed, just like us, before this mortal life. He at one time was one of us. Forget about that nonsensical image of a red monster with horns and a pointed tail. If you saw him, you would not be able to distinguish him from another human being!)
And it came to pass that Adam, being tempted of the devil—for, behold, the devil was before Adam, for he rebelled against me, saying, Give me thine honor, which is my power; and also a third part of the hosts of heaven turned he away from me because of their agency; And they were thrust down, and thus came the devil and his angels; And, behold, there is a place prepared for them from the beginning, which place is hell. And it must needs be that the devil should tempt the children of men, or they could not be agents unto themselves. (Doctrine & Covenants, Section 29:36-39)
Speaking of marriage, and its importance to His plan, God said to Joseph in May 1831: Wherefore, it is lawful that he should have one wife, and they twain shall be one flesh, and all this that the earth might answer the end of its creation; And that it might be filled with the measure of man, according to his creation before the world was made.
So, if we were created even before the world existed, why don’t we remember it? Why don’t we remember anything previous to this life? Very few people remember even as far back as their infancy. Here is a short video presentation that helps to explain this concept. https://youtu.be/I3g2xMjHbqA
So, what are we doing here, or rather, what are we supposed to be doing here? What exactly is the purpose of this life?
WHY ARE WE HERE?
If we lived in the presence of God before being born into this physical earth life, why would we want to leave? Why in Heaven’s name (pun intended) would we want to leave Heaven! We lived in the presence of Our Heavenly Father. We loved Our Heavenly Father, but we noticed something very different about him. He had a physical body; we did not. We were created spiritually and did not possess physical bodies. His body was perfect, and glorified. He could experience things that we could not. We desired to have those experiences. And God wanted us to have those experiences.
As parents, we want our children to grow up and be like us. Not exactly like us, but having healthy bodies, two legs, two arms, two eyes, etc. We want them to experience the good things that we experience. Our Father in Heaven was no different, except that he loved us even more than we love our own children. He wanted us to experience the same happiness that He experienced.
So, He presented His Plan to all of His spirit children. He wanted us to be like Him, glorified physical body and all. But remember, God is powerful; all-powerful. He is all-knowing. We, spirits, although created by a perfect being, were not perfect (still aren’t). Once again, parents, think about your own children. You love them all, very much. But do you feel the same about giving the keys to the car to each one? Some you probably trust more than others. Do they all have the same abilities, same talents, all the time? Are they all equally wise? Would you feel comfortable about leaving anyone of them home alone for a week? I’m guessing not. I’m not saying that they are bad children! I’m just saying some are more trustworthy than others, some will always make the right choices even when Mom and Dad are not around. Some, regardless of our love, just never quite develop the ability to always choose the right, or the wise, thing.
Heavenly Father wanted to give that gift of eternal life to ALL of His children (I don’t want to get into this too much now but I will in a future discussion: Eternal Life and immortality are not the same thing. Eternal Life means living the same type of life that God lives, having the same types of experiences, and having the ability to do great things and have great experiences, eternally.) But great blessings include great responsibilities. Although Father knew already which of His children would likely be successful in this regard, He does not play favorites. He does not predestinate. All of His children were blessed with the right to choose; choose to accept His plan or not. Choose to make correct choices, or not.
We were excited about this plan, or at least most of us were; to be like Him, to have His experiences. To inherit eternal life. We said, “YES!”. But, there was a condition. This would not be easy. In fact, there were several conditions. First, we would have to leave His presence, and those who failed, would never be allowed back into His presence, ever again. Remember, God is perfect. Perfect beings cannot exist in the presence of imperfection, or rather, imperfection cannot survive in the presence of perfection. We were perfect in the sense that we were at the time incapable of committing sin. We didn’t even know what sin was. We were innocent.
Second, we would not only leave His presence physically, but we would leave it mentally as well. As we were born into earth life, we would lose any memory of our previous life with God. Wasn’t it much easier to clean your bedroom with Mom standing over you, or at least with your bedroom door open, and she passing by frequently to make sure you were doing your job? What would happen if Mom told you to clean your room, then left. Would you still clean your room? Maybe, maybe not. What if in time you forgot what she said, or you just decided it wasn’t that important? It would all depend on you, what kind of person you are. And that was the real test. God knew who we were, but still he wanted each of us to choose the right for ourselves.
Third, to pass through physical experiences we need physical bodies. We couldn’t have a glorified body like Heavenly Father. Our bodies were imperfect. Really imperfect! Some of us would go through life with few physical challenges, some with enormous challenges. Some would suffer with great pain and sickness. Some might only live a few minutes, and then die. The great thing is that each of us passes through a test that is tailor-made for each of us, in accordance with our needs. Some would have great material advantages; others would be born into abject poverty. Some would be enormously intelligent, and others, well, not so much. Others might have debilitating mental disorders. But each of us would be tested according to the abilities that we had, and of course, dependent on our individual spiritual needs. Hence the saying, “Where much is given, much is required.”
Well, so far, this all sounds like a lot to take in. But wait! There’s more! And I will talk about it next Monday, September 20, 2021. Hope to see you then.
Before moving on to an explanation of the basic teachings of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, remember that I said that anyone can know for themselves if what I have written in my first four posts are true. The key to that knowledge is found in the Book of Mormon itself. As far as I am aware, no other book has a similar promise in it.
In the very last chapter of the Book (It is divided up into chapters and verses, just like the Bible.), the Book of Moroni (yes, the same one who appeared to Joseph to tell him about the gold plates.) Chapter 10, verses 3-5, it reads: Behold, I would exhort you that when ye shall read these things, if it be wisdom in God that ye should read them, that ye would remember how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men, from the creation of Adam even down until the time that ye shall receive these things, and ponder it in your hearts. And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost. And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.
So how do you find out if it is true? Ask God, just as Joseph Smith did. He got his answer. I got my answer. You can get yours, too. But you have to do it the way the Lord instructs us. You must,
Be sincere. Don’t do it just because someone asks you to. Do it because you really want to know.
Have real intent. That means that you are not just a curiosity seeker but intend to accept and follow it if and when God answers you.
Have faith in Christ. In other words, believe that he will answer you, one way or another, without skepticism.
And how exactly will he answer you? Will he appear to you like he did with Joseph Smith? It’s possible, but unlikely. One of the purposes for our life on this earth (which I will discuss in more detail later on) is to develop faith. Faith is not simply a blind belief as you may have been led to understand. It is a strong belief in something that is true, and which becomes a principle of great spiritual power as it is developed. For this reason, only a handful of people have experiences similar to Joseph Smith’s, and they then often record them and publish them to the world – so others can believe on their words and develop that faith. Eventually, all who develop that faith will have the experience of meeting God face to face, whether in this life, or in the next. It is an experience which is sacred and personal, and if it happens in this life it is usually not shared with others.
So, how will he answer? In my experience, God has answered different people in many different ways. But a good rule of thumb can be found in one of the revelations given to Joseph Smith, which can be found in another book of modern scripture called the Doctrine and Covenants. It is divided in Sections rather than chapters, each section containing one or more revelations. In Section 8, the Lord says: . . . assuredly as the Lord liveth, who is your God and your Redeemer, even so surely shall you receive a knowledge of whatsoever things you shall ask in faith, with an honest heart, believing that you shall receive. . . . . . Yea, behold, I will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy Ghost, which shall come upon you and which shall dwell in your heart. Now, behold, this is the spirit of revelation. . . Therefore this is thy gift; apply unto it. . . . . . Remember that without faith you can do nothing; therefore ask in faith. Trifle not with these things; do not ask for that which you ought not.
And in Section 9, the Lord continues: . . . you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right. But if it be not right you shall have no such feelings, but you shall have a stupor of thought that shall cause you to forget the thing which is wrong. . .
So, after you have studied it out in your mind (thought about it, pondered it), you ask if it is right or true, and you will feel it “in your mind and in your heart”; He will cause that your bosom will burn within you (a very warm feeling, not just in your mind, but an actual physical reaction), and you will feel that it is right.
This may still sound a little vague. How does it work in actual practice? Let me share with you my personal experience. It happened when I was 20 years old.
I began an intense study of the religion that I had belonged to for the first 20 years of my life, wanting to know for myself if it was true. I read the Book of Mormon. I’ll talk more in depth about the Book of Mormon, and what exactly it is, in a later post. Suffice it to say now that it is an important book of scripture for Latter Day Saints which accompanies the Bible and is just as important to us as the Bible.
I started reading the Book of Mormon. I read and studied and pondered for a long time every day. I didn’t just read - I studied, I thought about what I was studying, and then I prayed about it, fully expecting to get an answer. Some people have reported miracles. Some say that they have heard voices, or in some very rare instances actually received a visit from a heavenly messenger. Many have dreams and visions. But the most common answer comes in the form of that warmth accompanied with a peaceful assurance of the truth of that matter which they are praying about.
As I studied and prayed, I received no answer at all, no confirmation. I fasted. In other words, along with prayer I went without food and water for a 24-hour period. This is a common biblical practice and is also practiced in other religions as a way to focus the mind on matters of the spirit. Nothing seemed to be working. Then, two weeks after I began my search I awoke one morning and began to pray, and I heard a voice. To this day, I don’t know if it was a real voice, a physical voice or just something that spoke so loudly in my mind that it seemed to me to be a real physical voice. Have you ever had that happen? It’s an interesting experience. It is not a sign of psychosis! The voice said to me, “You know it's true! You have always known it was true.” And at that exact moment, I did, and I knew that I had. All doubt fled. It was like a flood of water washed over me in an instant, and took away all my doubts and fears, and left me having more certainty about something than I had ever felt about anything else. And of course, along with this “knowing” came the warm physical feeling, not just in my bosom, but throughout my body. It was overwhelming, almost taking away my energy to do anything else.
I sat in my room for a long time, basking in the moment and pondering the experience. I continued to study over the next several days, and had the scriptures opened up to me in a way that had never happened before, and I gained great new insights and knowledge. I read the four gospels of the New Testament from beginning to end, for the first time, and had an amazing experience that changed me in yet other miraculous ways. Within a few weeks, I was a totally different person than I had been most of my life; much different than the person that many of you knew as a teenager. The whole “born again” experience is real; I lived it; I know.
Now, I would like to invite all who have read these first few posts in this blog, to try to find out for yourself if the things that I have written about are true. This may be a new kind of experience for you, or it may be something you have heard all your life and just never really applied it. Or it may be that you have had this experience, long ago, and you just drifted away, and allowed yourself to forget the experience or to even doubt that it ever actually happened. Try it again. You can get that feeling back again. The experience that I had? I have relived it over and over again in my life, and that is how I have continued forward in faith, in the face of many challenges to that faith. Every time I read the Book of Mormon, I ask God to confirm its truthfulness to me again, AND HE DOES! EVERY TIME!
I am not someone who is comfortable talking about my religious beliefs or experiences, to people who do not believe as I do. To be honest, I am a bit of a wimp about it. I know how many people feel when they hear these kinds of things. They will think that I am some kind of a fanatic, that I am a nut. And I don’t take rejection well; I want to be liked. I have unfortunately lost friends because I spoke to them about my beliefs and invited them to learn about them. So, as important as my beliefs are to me, I avoid talking about them with others; I never bring them up, and I am perfectly happy with people not knowing how deeply held those beliefs are. Because, you see, I have passed the point of just believing; I now know; there is absolutely no doubt. And that is exceedingly difficult for many people to understand or accept (although in a future post, I will talk about how unbelief becomes doubt, becomes belief, becomes faith, becomes certainty, and finally becomes perfect knowledge).
But recently, I have felt strongly that I need to write this down, to publish it for all to see and know who I really am. This is my declaration to the world of what I know to be true, and my invitation for all to know it as well. I have rarely been able to do this face to face, but I can write it, because I am not looking you in the face right now, seeing the incredulity in your eyes, the smile that comes from thinking I am a funny fool. I’m just looking at my computer screen, trying to imagine how this will go over once I actually publish it. It’s easier that way because I really am a coward. I don’t want to be laughed at. And even if people don’t make fun of me, like I said, I don’t handle rejection well. The thought of not being taken seriously, or of someone mocking my beliefs, really bugs me.
So here it is, my inner thoughts laid bare for the world to see and judge. If it has been of any interest to you, if you felt anything good while reading it, come back. I am not finished. My next posts will include more of the teachings the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Some of you may think these doctrines strange; many of you will feel that they are things that you have always believed, and just never knew of a church that actually taught them as truth. I hope you will join me again on Monday, September 13, 2021. Until next time.
About three years after Joseph Smith’s vision of God the Father and Jesus Christ, He wanted to know his standing with God. So, one night he decided to pray vocally as he had before, but in his room at his home. Once again, I will let Joseph tell his story, since he does it so much better than I could.
I continued to pursue my common vocations in life until the twenty-first of September, one thousand eight hundred and twenty-three, all the time suffering severe persecution at the hands of all classes of men, both religious and irreligious, because I continued to affirm that I had seen a vision. In consequence of these things, I often felt condemned for my weakness and imperfections; when, on the evening of the above-mentioned twenty-first of September, after I had retired to my bed for the night, I betook myself to prayer and supplication to Almighty God for forgiveness of all my sins and follies, and also for a manifestation to me, that I might know of my state and standing before him; for I had full confidence in obtaining a divine manifestation, as I previously had one. While I was thus in the act of calling upon God, I discovered a light appearing in my room, which continued to increase until the room was lighter than at noonday, when immediately a personage appeared at my bedside, standing in the air, for his feet did not touch the floor. He called me by name, and said unto me that he was a messenger sent from the presence of God to me, and that his name was Moroni; that God had a work for me to do; and that my name should be had for good and evil among all nations, kindreds, and tongues, or that it should be both good and evil spoken of among all people. He said there was a book deposited, written upon gold plates, giving an account of the former inhabitants of this continent, and the source from whence they sprang. He also said that the fulness of the everlasting Gospel was contained in it, as delivered by the Savior to the ancient inhabitants; Also, that there were two stones in silver bows—and these stones, fastened to a breastplate, constituted what is called the Urim and Thummim—deposited with the plates; and the possession and use of these stones were what constituted “seers” in ancient or former times; and that God had prepared them for the purpose of translating the book. After telling me these things, he commenced quoting the prophecies of the Old Testament. He first quoted part of the third chapter of Malachi; and he quoted also the fourth or last chapter of the same prophecy, though with a little variation from the way it reads in our Bibles He quoted many other passages of scripture, and offered many explanations which cannot be mentioned here. Again, he told me, that when I got those plates of which he had spoken—for the time that they should be obtained was not yet fulfilled—I should not show them to any person; neither the breastplate with the Urim and Thummim; only to those to whom I should be commanded to show them; if I did I should be destroyed. While he was conversing with me about the plates, the vision was opened to my mind that I could see the place where the plates were deposited, and that so clearly and distinctly that I knew the place again when I visited it. After this communication, I saw the light in the room begin to gather immediately around the person of him who had been speaking to me, and it continued to do so until the room was again left dark, except just around him; when, instantly I saw, as it were, a conduit open right up into heaven, and he ascended till he entirely disappeared, and the room was left as it had been before this heavenly light had made its appearance. I lay musing on the singularity of the scene, and marveling greatly at what had been told to me by this extraordinary messenger; when, in the midst of my meditation, I suddenly discovered that my room was again beginning to get lighted, and in an instant, as it were, the same heavenly messenger was again by my bedside. He commenced, and again related the very same things which he had done at his first visit, without the least variation; which having done, he informed me of great judgments which were coming upon the earth, with great desolations by famine, sword, and pestilence; and that these grievous judgments would come on the earth in this generation. Having related these things, he again ascended as he had done before. By this time, so deep were the impressions made on my mind, that sleep had fled from my eyes, and I lay overwhelmed in astonishment at what I had both seen and heard. But what was my surprise when again I beheld the same messenger at my bedside, and heard him rehearse or repeat over again to me the same things as before; and added a caution to me, telling me that Satan would try to tempt me (in consequence of the indigent circumstances of my father’s family), to get the plates for the purpose of getting rich. This he forbade me, saying that I must have no other object in view in getting the plates but to glorify God, and must not be influenced by any other motive than that of building his kingdom; otherwise I could not get them. After this third visit, he again ascended into heaven as before, and I was again left to ponder on the strangeness of what I had just experienced; when almost immediately after the heavenly messenger had ascended from me for the third time, the cock crowed, and I found that day was approaching, so that our interviews must have occupied the whole of that night. I shortly after arose from my bed, and, as usual, went to the necessary labors of the day; but, in attempting to work as at other times, I found my strength so exhausted as to render me entirely unable. My father, who was laboring along with me, discovered something to be wrong with me, and told me to go home. I started with the intention of going to the house; but, in attempting to cross the fence out of the field where we were, my strength entirely failed me, and I fell helpless on the ground, and for a time was quite unconscious of anything. The first thing that I can recollect was a voice speaking unto me, calling me by name. I looked up, and beheld the same messenger standing over my head, surrounded by light as before. He then again related unto me all that he had related to me the previous night, and commanded me to go to my father and tell him of the vision and commandments which I had received. I obeyed; I returned to my father in the field, and rehearsed the whole matter to him. He replied to me that it was of God, and told me to go and do as commanded by the messenger. I left the field, and went to the place where the messenger had told me the plates were deposited; and owing to the distinctness of the vision which I had had concerning it, I knew the place the instant that I arrived there. Convenient to the village of Manchester, Ontario county, New York, stands a hill of considerable size, and the most elevated of any in the neighborhood. On the west side of this hill, not far from the top, under a stone of considerable size, lay the plates, deposited in a stone box. This stone was thick and rounding in the middle on the upper side, and thinner towards the edges, so that the middle part of it was visible above the ground, but the edge all around was covered with earth. Having removed the earth, I obtained a lever, which I got fixed under the edge of the stone, and with a little exertion raised it up. I looked in, and there indeed did I behold the plates, the Urim and Thummim, and the breastplate, as stated by the messenger. The box in which they lay was formed by laying stones together in some kind of cement. In the bottom of the box were laid two stones crossways of the box, and on these stones lay the plates and the other things with them. I made an attempt to take them out, but was forbidden by the messenger, and was again informed that the time for bringing them forth had not yet arrived, neither would it, until four years from that time; but he told me that I should come to that place precisely in one year from that time, and that he would there meet with me, and that I should continue to do so until the time should come for obtaining the plates. Accordingly, as I had been commanded, I went at the end of each year, and at each time I found the same messenger there, and received instruction and intelligence from him at each of our interviews, respecting what the Lord was going to do, and how and in what manner his kingdom was to be conducted in the last days.
If you have not guessed it already, these plates were the source of The Book of Mormon, which members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints consider to be a companion scripture to the Holy Bible. These experiences were not the only ones had by Joseph. For the remainder of his life, he continued to receive revelations from God, via angels, visions, and occasionally from Jesus Christ personally. Did they just pop in to shoot the breeze, so Joseph could proclaim himself a prophet to be followed and obeyed? Not quite. The things that Joseph learned over the years, and passed on to us, are what distinguish the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints from any other religion, particularly from other Christian faiths. And make no mistake about it – we are a Christian religion, regardless of what some may attempt to assert. Unfortunately, some of the people who did not believe Joseph Smith’s teachings also became violently angry with him, and as a result, he and his brother Hyrum were murdered on June 27, 1844, in Carthage, Illinois. I have included here a 1-hour long Youtube movie about Joseph’s life and death, for anyone who would like to get a better idea of what this exceptional young man was actually like:
So, back to Joseph Smith’s story. Even if you are a Latter-Day Saint, and know this story by heart, read on anyway. Maybe my perspective can add to what you already know.
One morning, we don't know for sure what day it was, but Joseph tells us that it was a sunny day early in the spring of 1820, he got up very early, left his house and began walking. He went to a grove of trees not far from his house where he could have some privacy. He wanted to kneel down by himself, in private, and ask God to give him the answers to his questions. He went to a nice quiet spot in the grove, where he could be alone. He looked around, and seeing that he was completely by himself, knelt to the ground and he began to pray. He later wrote that this was the first time that he had ever prayed vocally. I would imagine that means that he had prayed silently, in his heart, without actually verbalizing what he wanted to say. This was the first time that he actually opened his mouth and spoke in prayer. He described his experience much better than I can so I will defer to Joseph’s words at this point:
. . . I kneeled down and began to offer up the desires of my heart to God. I had scarcely done so, when immediately I was seized upon by some power which entirely overcame me, and had such an astonishing influence over me as to bind my tongue so that I could not speak. Thick darkness gathered around me, and it seemed to me for a time as if I were doomed to sudden destruction.
But, exerting all my powers to call upon God to deliver me out of the power of this enemy which had seized upon me, and at the very moment when I was ready to sink into despair and abandon myself to destruction—not to an imaginary ruin, but to the power of some actual being from the unseen world, who had such marvelous power as I had never before felt in any being—just at this moment of great alarm, I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me.
It no sooner appeared than I found myself delivered from the enemy which held me bound. When the light rested upon me I saw two Personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description, standing above me in the air. One of them spake unto me, calling me by name and said, pointing to the other--This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!
My object in going to inquire of the Lord was to know which of all the sects was right, that I might know which to join. No sooner, therefore, did I get possession of myself, so as to be able to speak, than I asked the Personages who stood above me in the light, which of all the sects was right (for at this time it had never entered into my heart that all were wrong)—and which I should join.
I was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong; and the Personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors were all corrupt; that: “they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof.”
He again forbade me to join with any of them; and many other things did he say unto me, which I cannot write at this time. When I came to myself again, I found myself lying on my back, looking up into heaven. When the light had departed, I had no strength; but soon recovering in some degree, I went home.
Wow! What an experience for a 14-year-old boy to have. And who was it exactly that appeared to him and spoke to him? “One of them spake unto me, calling me by name and said, pointing to the other--This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!” God the Father, and His Son, Jesus Christ appeared to this exceptional young man.
Now, as you might expect, this is the point where some people hearing this story for the first time say, “yeah. . ., I don’t think so”, and walk away. And that might very well be what you are thinking as well. But before you walk away, take just a moment to ask yourself, “If this story were true, what difference would it make to me? Would it be important, or would I just say, ‘that’s very interesting’, and then not give it much thought?” If you think it would be interesting, but still not very important to you, then it’s OK to stop reading here. I hope you know that the friendship and love that I have for you has nothing to do with whether we both believe in the same things. Neither friendship nor family ties should ever be based on something like that. I hope you feel the same way.
If you are interested, here is a short Youtube video about Joseph’s experience:
So, what is it about this story, the experience of Joseph Smith praying in the Grove, that is so important, or should be important, to me and to you? The importance lies in what Joseph Smith learned. He learned that:
God the Father and Jesus Christ actually do exist.
God does want to communicate with His children, in all times and places, not just the Jews and their descendants, and only in the times described in the Bible.
God the Father and Jesus Christ are two separate personages, or beings, not simply different manifestations of the same being.
The true nature of God the Father and Jesus Christ is that they are physical beings that look just like us, or rather, we look just like them. We truly were created in their image as taught in the Holy Bible.
None of the churches that existed at that time on the earth were recognized by God as his church, or in other words, none of them represented Him in any way.
If these things seem important to you, it would be good to continue learning about them and to find out for yourself if Joseph Smith actually saw what he said he saw, or if it's just a fairy tale that he made up. I have learned for myself that it did actually happen.
After this experience, Joseph Smith continued with his normal daily routine. He continued to work to help support his family, and he continued to attend church from time to time, although he did not join any of those churches, just as he had been instructed.
Sometime later he recounted his experience to a minister that he respected, and who he thought could give him some good advice. The minister actually became angry with him and told him that what he had seen was of the devil, and that he should not tell other people about that experience. He went on to say that in that day and age God no longer spoke with people, that there was no such thing anymore as visitations of angels or revelation from God. He said that all of God's revelations were contained in the Bible, and that there would be no more communication from God to men. He ridiculed Joseph and treated the experience as something silly and unbelievable. He later passed on this information that Joseph gave him in private to others, and soon the entire community was aware of what Joseph had claimed to have experienced. From that point on, he was treated very badly by the community, and all kinds of strange stories were made up about him, none of which was true . He simply continued working for his family’s support as he had done before. He did not have any other spiritual experiences of this type for some time.
About three years later, Joseph decided to find out what God would like him to do, other than just remaining aloof from the various churches of the day. Be sure to read my next post when I will talk about Joseph’s next pivotal experience. And if you are still wondering about my comment that you can know for yourself if any of this is actually true, well, hang in there! That discussion is coming soon!
Well, here we are, back again, and I’m betting that my interested audience has diminished a bit, maybe considerably. That’s all right. Like I said before, I’m not out to convert the world. I just want to share what’s important to me with others who have the same interest in having their families forever.
So, let me tell you about something very important that happened in 1820, in the northeastern part of the United States. There was a family named Smith; a very common name, one of the most common names in the English language. The father’s name was Joseph and there was a Joseph, Junior. Joseph Smith. Joe Smith. You can’t get much more common than that!
This family, although they believed in God, did not have a lot of interest in organized religion. They worked very hard for a living, and in the evenings would sit around the fireplace or around candlelight and read from the family Bible. Not much different than many other rural families in the early 1800s.
It was in this period of time, that there began to be a religious revival in the northeastern United States. Preachers from many different Protestant religions were coming out to the less populated areas and holding meetings and revivals. These preachers came out to gain new followers and build up their churches. There were Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, and a few other denominations. There were groups that were dissatisfied with any of the prevalent Protestant sects and formed their own alternative churches. Members of the Smith family were interested in hearing what these various preachers had to say and attended their meetings as often as their time and work schedules would permit. Being laborers and having to work long hours to maintain a living for a large family, the Smiths had very limited time. And, as it would happen, there were meetings all through the week, not just on Sundays.
Although some members of the family (and it was a large family - nine children) began to lean toward one denomination or another, Joseph Smith, Sr. had no interest in any church. Nevertheless, he was a God-fearing man. Although the Smiths did not attend any specific church regularly, they prayed individually and together. They read the Bible together and tried to live by its teachings, according to their understanding of its precepts.
During the aforementioned revival, not everyone in that large family was converted to the same religion. Part of the Smith family was converted to the Methodist Church, some went to the Presbyterians. Joseph Sr. did not join any. Joseph Jr. was partial to the Methodist religion, but he wasn’t really sure about any of them. He went to meetings held by many different preachers. He believed in the teachings of Jesus. He believed that men and women should love each other and treat each other with kindness. The preachers from the different churches also taught these basic principles: that people should treat each other with love and respect, that they were all brothers and sisters, children of God. But it turns out they really didn’t practice very well what they preached. The followers of the different denominations, including their various preachers, pastors, etc., all argued with each other. Each one felt that he or she was right, and those who did not believe in his or her particular brand of religion was condemned to Hell. They were not very friendly towards one another, and there was a lot of rivalry.
Joseph Jr. was only 14 years old at the time, and he was perplexed. It’s very impressive to me that a 14-year-old boy would have any interest in religion anyway. That was, and is, the exception to the rule. I know that when I was 14 years old (and those of you who knew me when I was that age can attest to this) I had absolutely no interest in religion, especially the religion in which I had been raised. To me my family’s religion was a series of rules and restrictions that took away my freedom, kept me from doing the things that I liked to do. I didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about the principles or the precepts that were taught. I just didn’t like the restrictions. And I think there are a lot of people who don’t like organized religion for that same reason.
Although society and societal mores were somewhat different in the early 1800s, deep down I don’t think people were all that different from today. I don’t think you could have found very many 14-year-old boys that were excited about religion or going to church. Like I say, I was no different at that age.
But Joseph was different - he thought a lot about these things. He thought about the things that he read in the Holy Bible. He believed many of the things that were taught by the various ministers at the meetings and revivals that he attended. But because each one taught the scriptures so differently, and espoused differing opinions about what was important, he ended up just being very confused. He didn’t know who to believe. And he wanted to know. He really wanted to know. He wanted to know the truth. Who was God? And what did God have to do with him? What was he supposed to be doing with his life? What religion could teach him the right way to live and be happy? Who could show him the meaning of life and what happens after we die? These are questions that have intrigued and befuddled the most erudite thinkers of every age. Now imagine a 14-year-old boy with what amounted to a third-grade education wrestling with these kinds of deep philosophical quandaries.
He thought about these things as he worked each day. The Smiths were a farm family and had to labor long and hard for their living. They bought a tract of land in Western New York, in the Township of Palmyra. They had to clear the land in order to farm it. In other words, it was wooded land and they had to remove the trees, stumps, large rocks - everything that would impede them from planting and harvesting. These were strong, hard-working people, including Joseph. One day Joseph was reading in the New Testament, and came across the following verse in the Book of James:
“If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.” (James 1:5)
Joseph later wrote that no scripture ever had a greater effect on him than that one did. He said that as he read it, it entered into his soul in a powerful way, as no other verse of scripture ever had, and he couldn't stop thinking about it. It kept coming back to him over and over again It absorbed his thoughts, not for a few minutes or for a few hours, but for days. He thought and he pondered, “What did this mean? What is it that I need to do? How do I ask of God? Was James talking about prayer?”
He finally realized that to follow James’ counsel he needed to pray; to ask God to help him to understand the things that he could not understand. He had some simple questions, and he needed some simple answers. He wanted to know what his standing was with God (Did God know him? Did God love him? What should he be doing in this life to get closer to God? Which of all the churches was true; which was His church?)
Have you ever asked these questions? Did you find the answers? How did you find the answers? Joseph believed what he read in the Bible, and fully expected to get an answer directly from God, by praying. To find out what happened when Joseph followed the counsel given by James, and prayed, come back for my next post on Monday, August 23, 2021.
I decided to write this blog to explain why I am a Latter-Day Saint (formerly known as Mormons). Not just what my religion teaches, but why it teaches it. Why do Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) believe what they believe?
It is possible that you are a friend or member of my family and have known me for a very long time. If you only knew me when I was a teenager, then you may be surprised to read the things that I will publish in this blog. I am not the Cary that you knew 45 or more years ago.
You can probably say that about any one of us. We all change as we age, not just physically, but mentally, emotionally, and spiritually as well. Things that were important to us when we were young, aren’t all that important anymore. Things that we never thought about when we were teenagers, often become the very thing around which our lives now revolve. Granted, some of us change more than others. I am amazed when I encounter someone that I haven’t seen in years, and although physically different, mentally they are still teenagers; in many ways they are emotionally stunted.
Well, I have changed in just about every way imaginable. If you haven’t seen me in 40 years, and saw me again for the first time today, it is quite likely that you would not recognize me. And if you were reading this without knowing who had written it, you would never know that Cary Martinez was the author.
Of all the changes I have seen in myself, the most striking one is in understanding what is important, and what is not. The thing of most importance to me as a teenager was, well, me! Yes I was interested in music, but only because I wanted to be a musician. I was very manipulative, and pretty much everything I did or said was based on a selfish motivation: what would make me happy right now. Today, the thing of most importance is my family; my wife and my children, my parents and siblings, and in fact, all of my extended family. My material possessions mean nothing to me compared to the people I love. I have recently lost an adult son to an untimely death, and I would give away everything I own, to have him back with me again. What has held me together, mentally, and emotionally, is my faith, my belief, even my knowledge of our purpose in this mortal life, and my knowledge that I can have my family with me forever. And that is why I am a Latter Day Saint (formerly known as Mormons). I am a Christian, although not what most Christians would call a “traditional” one. Latter-Day Saints practice a different kind of Christianity, which is why we are rejected as “true Christians” by some. I am not writing this blog because I feel I need to convert the world to my beliefs. I am writing because I feel a responsibility to let my family and friends know why I believe what I believe; how I know what I know; why I am so completely different from that reckless and misguided young person I was some 45 years ago.
So, if you would like to continue reading, I would like you to do a couple of things for me. First, leave your own beliefs at the door. I’m not asking you to abandon your faith, but simply try not to allow it to influence or color what you read here. Enter with an open mind. Easier said than done, right? But, just, for a few moments, try not to worry about whether you believe in the same things that Latter Day Saints believe. For a moment just strip yourself down mentally to the basic “you”. Without regards to religion or any other belief systems, answer these questions: What do you believe to be important in your life? What are the most important things to you?
If your life is all about success in your career or in business, then you should find a religion, or belief system that deals with that and that helps you to get ahead in those areas of your life. But the gospel of Jesus Christ is all about is helping you to be happy, and to have a happy family. It is about gaining an eternal perspective, one that extends beyond this mortal life. If personal relationships are important to you, if your spouse and your children are important to you, you probably would want them around you as much as they could be, even for eternity if such a thing were possible.
There are many things that I enjoy about my life. But if I could only keep one thing in my life, it would be my family. My wife is my closest and best friend. My children are my treasure. So, everything in my life revolves around my wife and my children. If this is the same for you, if you have these same feelings about your family, then it would be profitable for you to listen to what I have to say. I’m not selling anything. I don’t get brownie points for convincing someone of what I believe. It has just become the most important thing in my life, and when we have something important, we want to share it with the people that we care about. I want to share it with my extended family, and I want to share it with my friends.
Regardless of what some people may think, especially after reading this blog, I am not a religious fanatic. I do not want to convince the world that what I believe is true. That’s the nice thing about writing something in a blog. I can write what I want, I can tell everyone what I believe, and how it has completely changed the way I live, the way I view life and love, and you don't have to read it if you don't want to. If you think I’m just some nut trying to do a commercial for his religion, you can just close this page and go read something else. It’s that easy.
I feel a need to share what I know and what I believe with the people around me, because it has made me happy, and because I believe it to be true. And if it’s true, then it’s something everyone needs and everyone will benefit from having in their lives. But I don’t want to get in anyone’s face and bug you or bore you with things that don’t interest you. So, if you're interested in knowing how your family, your loved ones, can be with you forever, please continue reading. If you knew of some way that you could be with your family forever, would you be interested in it? For just a moment, don’t worry about what is or is not possible. If it were true, would it be important to you? Even if you think having your loved ones with you forever is just a fantasy or a dream, think about what it would be like. I’m telling you now that it's possible. That is what the true gospel of Jesus Christ is all about.
Before I start telling you how it’s possible, I want you to know that there is a way to find out for yourself if what I am telling you is true. That’s the cool thing about all of this. You don’t have to believe me. You don’t have to believe anyone else. You can go directly to the source and learn for yourself if what I say is true. Interested? Come back for my next post on Friday, August 20.
My name is Cary Martinez, and I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (formerly known as Mormons). Although it can be found in 161 of the 195 countries in the world, as of the end of 2020, members of The Church accounted for only about .2% of the world's population. What is it about this church (formerly known as Mormon) that draws some people to it, and repels so many more? More to the point, why am I a Latter-Day Saint? This blog explores these questions, and many more.