Friday, November 02, 2007

What is God? The Mormon Version

Do you believe in God? If there is a God or Gods, what are the characteristics of divinity?

I was raised to believe that Heavenly Father was a perfected man who had once been mortal, lived, died, been resurrected, and then been perfected. For some reason Christians find this to be non-Biblical and non-Christian. I'm not sure why since the Bible teaches that Jesus lived before he was born, that he was the mortal offspring of Heavenly Father and Mary, that he was killed, died, was resurrected in a perfect and immortal state, and that he then ascended into heaven to join Heavenly Father in his perfection. While the Mormon doctrine is unique and heretical to many, it isn't unreasonable even if it challenges traditional beliefs about God.

Mormon doctrine takes the next logical step and proclaims that as children of God, we have the same capacity for perfection and deity within us. Many think this diminishes God, but I always felt that this showed a truly almighty God that was secure in his perfection and willing to share it with everyone willing to follow his laws. Don't be fooled by the fact that the current Mormon prophet, "Doesn't know that we teach that." I don't know a single active Mormon that is unaware of this doctrine and in fact this doctrine is central to both Mormon doctrine and also its practice. It is for this very reason that every believing Mormon aspires to attend the temple, because they believe that it is only through completing all of the ordinances in the temple that they can hope to receive their "exaltation" which is to live in heaven with God and to become as he is.

Mormons believe in a personal God that actively interferes in the daily lives of his children. How he does this is a mystery, but they believe that he answers prayers, heals people, manipulates the weather, influences the behavior of both the righteous and the wicked, reveals truths to anyone that asks and has the spiritual sensitivity to receive the answer, and generally does anything that he needs to do to achieve his ends.

The key to receiving God's blessings is to live his commandments which have been revealed to his prophets. Joseph Smith received a revelation that tells us that God can actually be bound, that is obligated, to bless us. The revelation says that for every blessing there is an associated law. If you want the blessing then you must live the law. But further, if you live the law the God is obligated to give the blessing.

One of the basic commandments is that we should fast and pray. Through fast and prayer we can come to know God's will through the Holy Ghost or Spirit. The Spirit is often referred to as a still small voice. Some people claim to actually hear voices, but I don't know any of them. Most are taught that the Spirit gives us feelings. Another revelation from Joseph Smith describes how to tell if something is true. You must pray diligently and try to work out the answer in your mind. Then you ask God if what you have formulated is true. If it is, then you will feel a burning in the bosom or a feeling of peace or rightness. This is the Spirit bearing witness. If it not right, then you will feel a "stupor of thought". This is a feeling of wrongness that will erase the thing that is not right from your mind. You can read about the process in D&C 9.

As a result of these teachings, Mormons tend to be very conscious of rules and are very focused on trying to keep the commandments to the best of their ability. Non-Mormons like to accuse Mormons of believing that salvation is through works, not grace. But this isn't true. It's just that they don't believe that God will be mocked and that simply "accepting Jesus" gets you an E ticket ride to heaven. They believe that you much accept Jesus, but the Book of Mormon teaches that people are saved by the grace of Jesus after all that they can do.

They also try to be very sensitive to their feelings and try to distinguish between those feelings that are ordinary feelings and those that may be the promptings of the Spirit. And they believe that those promptings can come regarding every aspect of their life including work, finances, and politics.

While I was growing up I had a few powerful spiritual experiences that I believed were manifestations of the Spirit. These feelings were very strong and confirmed my belief in God. I know Mormons, including my father, who have never felt a burning in the bosom. But I've had that sensation twice. My first such experience was when I was about 11 or 12. This will probably sound stupid to you, but I had spent some time one evening organizing the things I needed to do each day into a numbered list. I then put these numbers in a pocket notebook where I could put the numbers on a sheet for each day that I would check off. I guess even at that young age I was already struggling with my general lack of organization. I finished this up and was quite happy and pleased with the prospects of improving myself. I knelt down for my evening prayers and as I did I felt an intense pleasurable warmth in my chest that I instantly recognized as the Spirit witnessing with a burning in the bosom. To me it was a witness that God was aware of me and pleased with the path that I was on. It exactly fit the descriptions in the scripture.

I went to college when I was 16. I was very smart and self-reliant for my age, but I was painfully immature socially and had the paradoxical combination of a huge ego and very low self esteem. I also suffered from crippling migraines and depression. One evening I'd had a terrible migraine attack. My head was throbbing and I was terribly depressed. I felt lonely, alone, unloved, and completely unhappy with simply existing. In this state I knelt down on my knees and prayed and soon felt that comforting warmth fill my chest and expand like a pleasant wave through my body. The best analogy I can make is that it was like a smooth, non-sexual orgasm that left me comforted and reassured that someone out there loved me and that things would be ok. I got up at peace and was able to go to sleep and continue on with my life in a much better state of mind. This was an example to me of the Spirit acting as a Comforter as described in the New Testament.

While I was a freshman at the Lord's university (BYU for those who didn't know) I read the Book of Mormon from cover to cover. As I read it I felt a certain rightness and I just couldn't imagine that Joseph Smith could have possibly made it up. It seemed to be full of teachings and stories that were very helpful in knowing how we should live our lives. It beautifully describes doctrines like faith, grace, atonement, and redemption and is full of moralistic stories where bad people are consistently punished for disobedience and the righteous are rewarded for their good deeds. I interpreted the feelings of rightness as further spiritual witnesses of the truth of the Mormon church.

I continued to study church doctrines and it always seemed consistent and comforting. These feelings carried over to my church mission where I served for almost two years in Bolivia teaching the people there in Spanish about Joseph Smith and the restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ. I was always reading church books about doctrine and history and felt that I was very knowledgeable about the church although there was always more to learn.

So how is it that I am where I am at today? This post is long enough so I'll continue this later.

Catching Up

It's been a while since I posted so I guess I have some catching up to do. Part of it is that I've been trying to work lots of overtime as I stress over paying for college for my son, classes for my wife's teacher certification, horse crap for my daughters, etc. I'm making more money than ever before and yet there never seems to be enough. I guess it just proves that wants are infinite; no matter how much money you make you'll always want more.

Between working, running, physical therapy, and life in general I've just felt really busy, but I think the reason I haven't posted is more because I let myself sink into a bit of depressive funk that left me not really giving a rat's ass about much. I could whine about it but it would probably make as little sense as the thought's of most depressed people. Let's just say that on more days than not it feels like life sucks.

On the up side I did my last session of physical therapy three weeks ago. I still get some pain and soreness on faster runs and after hard runs, but it clears up quickly and doesn't slow me down at all. I'm still limiting myself to three runs a week, but I'm up to as much as 30+ miles per week and all of those runs are quality runs with either longer distances or faster paces. I had my first race of the season a couple of weeks ago and finished only about 30 seconds off my personal best so things are progressing pretty well. In fact, my legs are feeling fresher and my gate is feeling smoother than I've felt in over a year. I'm continuing the experiment of less running and more low impact cross training. it will be interesting to see if I can continue to improve my fitness and performances. The next test is a 10 miler in a week.

I'm doing the Dallas Half Marathon with a friend in early December. It's his first half and I'm looking forward to running it with him. I set my PR in the marathon at Dallas last year. This isn't a goal race for me, but it is only a month before the Houston Marathon so it will be my last race before I take a shot at breaking four hours in the marathon. At that point I'll only have one or two more long runs before I start my taper so my conditioning will be pretty much done at that point.