Can A Man See God?

I failed to mention here an article that I authored which was published by the Interpreter last November.

Abstract: Joseph Smith’s First Vision is a favorite target of critics of the LDS Church. Evangelical critics in particular, such as Matt Slick of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry, seek to discredit the First Vision on biblical grounds. This article explores biblical theophanies and argues that Joseph’s vision fits squarely with the experience of ancient prophets, especially those who are given the rare blessing of piercing the veil of light and glory, the Hebrew kabod, that God dwells within.

The backstory on this paper is pretty simple. I stumbled upon a Youtube video of Matt Slick, of CARM, attempting to debate a group of LDS youth who were entering a temple in Idaho. He whipped out 1 Timothy 6:16, a strategy which I’ve personally experienced in my limited interactions with Slick online. Years ago when I first encountered Slick’s arguments along these lines I pounded out a few preliminary thoughts in this old blog post. Many of those early ideas made into my paper. The paper is primarily apologetic, but it involves some exploration of biblical themes which was very interesting and educational for me as I researched the topic.

I am a working professional in a completely irrelevant field, so I am not an expert on the issue. I don’t anticipate publishing more essays at a steady pace due to time constraints, but I do hope to publish occasionally throughout the years.


Omission of Section 132 from the D&C

A fascinating bit if history on Section 132 that I was previously unaware of:

“Generating even more controversy in discussing the revelation was an officially sanctioned scriptural work entitled, Latter-day Revelations: Selections from the Book of Doctrine and Covenants of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Published in 1930 under the imprint of the LDS Church, the volume was actually compiled by James E. Talmage, who by this time was a senior apostle in the Quorum of the Twelve. This work was characterized as containing “Sections and parts of Sections from the Doctrine and Covenants, the sections comprising scriptures of general an enduring value…”. Its purpose, in the words of Talmage, was “to make the strictly doctrinal parts of the Doctrine and Covenants of easy access and reduce its bulk.” Accordingly some ninety-five sections of the Doctrine and Covenants were completely omitted, along with parts of twenty-one others. The most noteworthy of these omissions was the entire text of Section 132! Fundamentalist Mormons were outraged, “accusing the [LDS] church of changing the scriptures.” In response, then Church President Heber J. Grant, ordered the work immediately “withdrawn” from sale and the remaining copies “shredded to avoid further conflict with the fundamentalists,” according to Talmage biographer, James P. Harris.”

Newell G. Bringhurst, “Section 132: Contents and Legacy” in The Persistence of Polygamy, (Independence: John Whitmer Books: 2010), 83-84.

Progression Between Kingdoms

I thought I’d post here a few quotes in favor of the concept of progression/regression between kingdoms. I began to look up all the quotes until I discovered that the folks at the New Cool Thang blog had already done all the hard work. I reproduce the quotes here for my own benefit so I can always find them in the future when the need arises, giving the credit to others for finding them.

“The brethren direct me to say that the Church has never announced a definite doctrine upon this point. Some of the brethren have held the view that it was possible in the course of progression to advance from one glory to another, invoking the principle of eternal progression; others of the brethren have taken the opposite view. But as stated, the Church has never announced a definite doctrine on this point.”

-Secretary to the First Presidency in a 1952 letter; and again in 1965

“None would inherit this earth when it became celestial and translated into the presence of God but those who would be crowned as Gods — all others would have to inherit another kingdom — they would eventually have the privilege of proving themselves worthy and advancing to a celestial kingdom but it would be a slow process [progress?].”

-Brigham Young, in Wilford Woodruff Journal, 5 Aug 1855

“Once a person enters these glories there will be eternal progress in the line of each of these particular glories, but the privilege of passing from one to another (though this may be possible for especially gifted and faithful characters) is not provided for.”

-Joseph F. Smith, Improvement Era 14:87 [November 1910]

“I am not a strict constructionalist, believing that we seal our eternal progress by what we do here. It is my belief that God will save all of His children that he can: and while, if we live unrighteously here, we shall not go to the other side in the same status, so to speak, as those who lived righteously; nevertheless, the unrighteous will have their chance, and in the eons of the eternities that are to follow, they, too, may climb to the destinies to which they who are righteous and serve God, have climbed to those eternities that are to come.”

-J. Reuben Clark, Church News, 23 April 1960, p. 3

“It is reasonable to believe, in the absence of direct revelation by which alone absolute knowledge of the matter could be acquired, that, in accordance with God’s plan of eternal progression, advancement from grade to grade within any kingdom, and from kingdom to kingdom, will be provided for. But if the recipients of a lower glory be enabled to advance, surely the intelligences of higher rank will not be stopped in their progress; and thus we may conclude, that degrees and grades will ever characterize the kingdoms of our God. Eternity is progressive; perfection is relative; the essential feature of God’s living purpose is its associated power of eternal increase.”

-James E. Talmage, The Articles of Faith [1899 edition] pp. 420-421

You that are mourning about your children straying away will have your sons and your daughters. If you succeed in passing through these trials and afflictions and receive a resurrection, you will, by the power of the Priesthood, work and labor, as the Son of God has, until you get all your sons and daughters in the path of exaltation and glory. This is just as sure as that the sun rose this morning over yonder mountains. Therefore, mourn not because all your sons and daughters do not follow in the path that you have marked out to them, or give heed to your counsels. Inasmuch as we succeed in securing eternal glory, and stand as saviors, and as kings and priests to our God, we will save our posterity. When Jesus went through that terrible torture on the cross, He saw what would be accomplished by it; He saw that His brethren and sistersCthe sons and daughters of GodCwould be gathered in, with but few exceptionsCthose who committed the unpardonable sin. That sacrifice of the divine Being was effectual to destroy the powers of Satan. I believe that every man and woman who comes into this life and passes through it, that life will be a success in the end. It may not be in this life. It was not with the antedeluvians. They passed through troubles and afflictions; 2,500 years after that, when Jesus went to preach to them, the dead heard the voice of the Son of God and they lived. They found after all that it was a very good thing that they had conformed to the will of God in leaving the spiritual life and passing through this world.

Lorenzo Snow, MS 56:49-53; Collected Discourses 3:364-65.

The question of advancement within the great divisions of glory
celestial, terrestrial, and telestial; as also the question of
advancement from one sphere of glory to another remains to be
considered. In the revelation from which we have summarized what has
been written here, in respect to the different degrees of glory, it is
said that those of the terrestrial glory will be ministered unto by
those of the celestial; and those of the telestial will be ministered
unto by those of the terrestrial—that is, those of the higher glory
minister to those of a lesser glory. I can conceive of no reason for
all this administration of the higher to the lower, unless it be for
the purpose of advancing our Father’s children along the lines of
eternal progression. Whether or not in the great future, full of so
many possibilities now hidden from us, they of the lesser glories
after education and advancement within those spheres may at last
emerge from them and make their way to the higher degrees of glory
until at last they attain to the highest, is not revealed in the
revelations of God, and any statement made on the subject must partake
more or less of the nature of conjecture. But if it be granted that
such a thing is possible, they who at the first entered into the
celestial glory—having before them the privilege also of eternal
progress—have been moving onward, so that the relative distance
between them and those who have fought their way up from the lesser
glories may be as great when the latter have come into the degrees of
celestial glory in which the righteous at first stood, as it was at
the commencement. Thus: Those whose faith and works are such only as
to enable them to inherit a telestial glory, may arrive at last where
those whose works in this life were such as to enable them to entrance
into the celestial kingdom—they may arrive where these were, but never
where they are.”

B. H. Roberts, New Witnesses for God 1:391-392.

Some years ago I was in Washington, D.C., with President Harold B. Lee. Early one morning he called me to come into his hotel room. He was sitting in his robe reading Gospel Doctrine, by President Joseph F. Smith, and he said, “Listen to this!

“ ‘Jesus had not finished his work when his body was slain, neither did he finish it after his resurrection from the dead; although he had accomplished the purpose for which he then came to the earth, he had not fulfilled all his work. And when will he? Not until he has redeemed and saved every son and daughter of our father Adam that have been or ever will be born upon this earth to the end of time, except the sons of perdition. That is his mission. We will not finish our work until we have saved ourselves, and then not until we shall have saved all depending upon us; for we are to become saviors upon Mount Zion, as well as Christ. We are called to this mission.’ ” 22

“There is never a time,” the Prophet Joseph Smith taught, “when the spirit is too old to approach God. All are within the reach of pardoning mercy, who have not committed the unpardonable sin.” 23

Boyd K. Packer, “The Brilliant Morning of Forgiveness,” Ensign, Nov. 1995, 18

Elder Holland on Faith, Doubt, and Testimony


Last weekend was the 183rd Annual General Conference, and as always it was a wonderful experience. I consider General Conference a minor Mormon holy weekend, coming twice a year at the same time. It is a time for families to sit together and “pitch their tents round about the temple“, as it were, to listen to the prophets of God. Nowadays we sit on couches and watch it on cable and satellite TV, which I rather enjoy.

For many who are interested in apologetics there were many good talks to draw from, but one of them far and away stood out from the rest. It comes as no surprise that it was delivered by Elder Holland. There are so many quotable lines from his talk, but below are a selection of them. Please take the time to read the talk in its entirety (it isn’t very long) and also watch the video of his delivery (at the end of this post), which adds a whole other dimension to his words.

In moments of fear or doubt or troubling times, hold the ground you have already won, even if that ground is limited….When those moments come and issues surface, the resolution of which is not immediately forthcoming, hold fast to what you already know and stand strong until additional knowledge comes.

When problems come and questions arise, do not start your quest for faith by saying how much you do not have, leading as it were with your “unbelief.” That is like trying to stuff a turkey through the beak!

Sometimes we act as if an honest declaration of doubt is a higher manifestation of moral courage than is an honest declaration of faith. It is not!

…please don’t hyperventilate if from time to time issues arise that need to be examined, understood, and resolved. They do and they will. In this Church, what we know will always trump what we do not know. And remember, in this world, everyone is to walk by faith.

Except in the case of His only perfect Begotten Son, imperfect people are all God has ever had to work with. That must be terribly frustrating to Him, but He deals with it. So should we.

A 14-year-old boy recently said to me a little hesitantly, “Brother Holland, I can’t say yet that I know the Church is true, but I believe it is.” I hugged that boy until his eyes bulged out. I told him with all the fervor of my soul that belief  is a precious word, an even more precious act, and he need never apologize for “only believing.” I told him that Christ Himself said, “Be not afraid, only believe,”…I told this boy that belief was always the first step toward conviction and that the definitive articles of our collective faith forcefully reiterate the phrase “We believe.” And I told him how very proud I was of him for the honesty of his quest.

What was once a tiny seed of belief for me has grown into the tree of life, so if your faith is a little tested in this or any season, I invite you to lean on mine.

Hope on. Journey on. Honestly acknowledge your questions and your concerns, but first and forever fan the flame of your faith, because all things are possible to them that believe.

The invitation to us to lean on his testimony in moments of doubt was an especially powerful line to me. It is, for me, the epitome of the role of an apostle.


An Update

It’s been a while! My wife gave birth to a set of twins about 6 weeks ago, so you can excuse me for putting blogging and research on the back-burner for a while. It still is, really, for the foreseeable future.

However, I wanted to just make a few remarks about all the great research that is out there right now.

The 2012 FAIR Conference wrapped up about a week ago and this year they’ve made a special effort to get the texts of all the talks published on their website very quickly so we can read and digest their contents. This has never been done so quickly in years past. There are a lot of fascinating topics to read about:

So far I’ve refrained from publicly commenting on my blog about the fallout at the Maxwell Institute that happened a few weeks ago. There isn’t much to say at this point except that it is a real shame the way Dan and the other editors were treated. Even more disappointing is the change in direction that the Maxwell Institute has decided to go. The good news is that Daniel Peterson has too much passion and zeal for apologetics to let it die so easily. His new journal has recently been launched and there are already two very interesting looking articles I need to read:

Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture

Finally, my studies lately have led me somewhat into the weeds of early Mormon polygamy. It is a topic I have so far avoided blogging about. Expect some notes on those topics in future posts.

“After All We Can Do” as a reference to the Law of Moses


“After All We Can Do”

One of the more controversial passages of scripture found in the Book of Mormon is 2 Nephi 25:23.

 23 For we labor diligently to write, to persuade our children, and also our brethren, to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God; for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.

Evangelicals look to this passage as proof that Mormonism is a “works based” religion. Many Mormons, particularly of past generations, also look to this passage as evidence that Mormonism is a “works based” religion. However, in recent years many Mormon students and scholars have come to view this passage in a different light. If you are reading this post you are probably already aware of what I speak. Stephen Robinson and Robert Millet have been especially influential in changing the way we talk about this passage. They argue for a reading that looks something like this:

23 … for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, [in spite of/even after/apart from] all we can do.

In other words, they argue that Nephi’s use of the word “after all” should be understood in the sense of “after all that we’ve done, we still need God’s grace”.

I personally am a bit unsure as to whether this is what Nephi really means. I worry that, perhaps, Millet and Robinson are too influenced by the Evangelical scholars they love to dialogue with (to the benefit of us all). It certainly is a valid perspective, but is it right?

Rather than argue against their perspective I want to share an alternative one. Actually, it really isn’t an alternative one but perhaps it can be seen as a complimentary facet to their take. I’ve wondered whether it is best for us to remember that Nephi is speaking from the perspective of one bound to follow the Law of Moses.

This passage stands at the beginning of a short exposition by Nephi of the relationship between the Law of Moses and Christ’s grace. It may be appropriate to consider 2 Nephi 25:23-30 as one literary unit, or a small aside by Nephi in which he struggles to explain the relationship between the Law of Moses and the grace of Christ. Verse 23 stands at the beginning of this exposition, and serves as an introductory summary of what is coming next. I want to suggest that, perhaps, “all we can do” is a reference to the Law of Moses.

 23 For we labor diligently to write, to persuade our children, and also our brethren, to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God;

(A) for we know that it is by grace that we are saved,

(B) after all we can do.

(A) 24 And, notwithstanding we believe in Christ,

(B) we keep the law of Moses, and look forward with steadfastness unto Christ, until the law shall be fulfilled.

I’m not a scholar of Book of Mormon parallelisms, but I wonder if my restructuring of the text above might be appropriate to illustrate what Nephi really means. It is quite easy to see how “all we can do” in verse 23 refers to “keep the law of Moses” in verse 24.

Nephi, speaking from the perspective of an ancient Israelite who is bound under the Law of Moses, is struggling to reconcile the need for the Law of Moses with the grace of Christ. He is wrestling with this issue long before Paul ever did. Nephi arrives at the conclusion that the Law of Moses is meant to help Israel look forward with steadfastness to the coming of Christ (vs 24).

If 2 Nephi 25:23-30 is taken as a literary unit, and if verse 23 is an introductory summary, then verses 29-30 can be read as a parallel final summary of Nephi’s point.

 29 And now behold, I say unto you that the right way is to believe in Christ, and deny him not; and Christ is the Holy One of Israel; wherefore ye must bow down before him, and worship him with all your might, mind, and strength, and your whole soul; and if ye do this ye shall in nowise be cast out.

 30 And, inasmuch as it shall be expedient, ye must keep the performances and ordinances of God until the law shall be fulfilled which was given unto Moses.

What does it mean for us? It is tempting to see the phrase “after all we can do” to be specific only to Nephi’s doctrinal dilemma, not our own. Nephi is thinking specifically about the relationship between the Law of Moses and Christ’s grace. We don’t really grapple with that specific issue in this dispensation, and so this particular passage may not be totally applicable to us in the same way it was applicable to Nephi and his people. In other words, what I am suggesting is that when someone accuses the Latter-day Saints of having a “works based” soteriology because of this passage, we may be able to point out that this is Nephi speaking from a perspective that is mindful of the Law of Moses which has since been fulfilled in Christ. Our Evangelical friends should understand this, in theory, because Evangelicals very frequently talk about New Testament teachings superseding Old Testament teachings. They don’t consider themselves bound by Old Testament commandments that have no relevance in the New Covenant, and neither do we.

That isn’t to say there is nothing of relevance in 2 Nephi 25:23 for us. As Latter-day Saints we do grapple with the relationship between modern day commandments (ie. tithing, word of wisdom, sabbath day, chastity, etc.) and Christ’s grace. Nephi’s thoughts regarding the Law of Moses can be transferred to our modern day struggles, to a point. The commandments point us toward Christ, and we perform the ordinances and keep the commandments because they are manifestations of Christ’s grace, and they lead us to him.

Let us be careful to not  mistake Nephi for an ancient Latter-day Saint. He wasn’t. He was an Israelite. Latter-day Saints are sometimes prone to forget that Nephi’s concerns were not always the exact same concerns that we have in this dispensation.

Feel free to share your thoughts, and let me know if maybe my pain killers (from my surgery) are really the ones doing the talking.

(As a totally unrelated aside, I want to point out that Nephi urges us to worship Christ in verse 29. How does this jive with the tendency among LDS to emphasize that we worship God the Father, not Christ? I think we need to reevaluate what we mean by “worship”.)