We’ve established that God is intimately knowable and desires to be known by us, that no group is immune to apostasy, and that there are many markers given in scripture we can look for to identify apostasy in the world. But what exactly is apostasy? I will admit that I am a total Nibley fangirl, and one quotation from him that I love is, “Apostasy never came by renouncing the gospel but always by corrupting it” (Temple and Cosmos, p. 395). It is the (often gradual) changing of what God has said into what men think he should’ve said, or what they think he might’ve meant when he said one thing that he clearly couldn’t have really meant. It is losing truth that God has given, not necessarily through open hostility to that truth, but through forgetting, downplaying, and explaining away.
People in apostasy do not realize they are in it. When you look through the Bible and Book of Mormon, you encounter story after story of people who were very religious, very devoted, and very sure of their privileged standing before God. They thought they had something the people around them didn’t have that would lead to greater blessings in this life and in what came after. It would not be unreasonable to assert that they even had good intentions, strong social behaviors, positive experiences, and real contact with aspects of the Divine. God meets us where we’re at, always. His Spirit is available to anyone willing to seek it, to the absolute greatest degree they do so. That’s why we send missionaries out to share the gospel with people: we believe they can access that Spirit, which will confirm the truth they’re hearing and urge them to accept it. It works. No one has a corner on the Spirit market.
So how does a person know whether he’s in an incorrect tradition or not? We looked at several examples in the last post, but as we can also see in scripture, nobody ever recognizes that those things are describing their own people. Why not?
There’s something called unbelief that’s referenced a lot in the Book of Mormon. In pretty much every reference to it that I’ve found, unbelief is not just lack of belief. It is almost always directly tied to something like “the traditions of their fathers,” or in other words, strongly held inherited beliefs that hide what is true. When we cling desperately to what we already believe to be true and do not open ourselves to the constant reality that our current perspective is by definition not completely true (unless you are God, but then you wouldn’t be here right now, would you?), we are susceptible to unbelief. We are closing doors God would like to open to broaden our perspective. But it is so scary to open those doors. They give us the illusion of security, and in this crazy place, all we crave is security.
Often, God has to put us through the wringer in some way until we’re broken down enough to let go of whatever belief we wouldn’t surrender because of the pain that uncertainty would cause. Once we do, however, he invariably shows us a truer one that fills us with light to a greater degree. The more we go through that process, the more we begin to trust him when he tells us it’s time to open another door, and the speed and depth of learning can increase exponentially. But trusting is so hard for us, so we all have different areas where we have unbelief. If that weren’t true, we would know heaven, and would have no areas of uncertainty, because we would be with God. It’s called the “veil of unbelief” for a reason: unbelief is literally the only thing that keeps us from being in his presence.
Unbelief seems to be one of the principle reasons God sends prophets. When you follow the scriptural narratives, it becomes clear that God desires people to have a working relationship with him (also HUGE DISCLAIMER, God is a Them to me, 100%, but that can be jarring to people, so that’s why I always use the traditional him, so I apologize if that rubs wrong) while in mortality, and not just spiritually, but physically. That is a real relationship. It’s why Christ appeared to the brother of Jared physically, as well as Moses (face to face, yeah?), Adam, Abraham, Joseph Smith, and all of them. It is why God went through the trouble to clarify John 14:23 in Doctrine and Covenants 130:3 as follows: “The appearing of the Father and the Son, in that verse, is a personal appearance; and the idea that the Father and the Son dwell in a man’s heart is an old sectarian notion, and is false.” As a refresher, John 14:23 says, “Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.” This is a promise. If you love Christ, and you do what he tells you personally to do, Christ and his Father will come to you, as a physical appearance. This can happen to you. He wants this to happen to you. It is The Point, if you will.
Back to prophets. What is a prophet? Well, according to what happens to those we label prophets in the scriptures, it’s someone who has received a message from God, usually in the John 14:23 manner, to give to a group of people. And that message is invariably repentance. And how do they preach repentance? By referring to the scriptures to explain to people how they have strayed from what they say. I’ve written about all this before, but it bears repeating. Joseph Smith (as well as the scriptures, look it up, y’all) taught that the way to determine who is a true prophet and who is a false one is by whether or not what they teach agrees with or contradicts scripture, because no true prophet will teach something that contradicts what came before. God is unchanging, and so is his message; if we would all give perfect heed to that message, we wouldn’t need prophets at all, because we’d all BE prophets for ourselves. But we don’t, so he sends them.
My favorite rendering of The Message is probably in Ether.
“And the Lord said unto him: Believest thou the words which I shall speak? And he answered: Yea, Lord, I know that thou speakest the truth, for thou art a God of truth, and canst not lie. And when he had said these words, behold, the Lord showed himself unto him, and said: Because thou knowest these things ye are redeemed from the fall; therefore ye are brought back into my presence; therefore I show myself unto you. Behold, I am he who was prepared from the foundation of the world to redeem my people. Behold, I am Jesus Christ. I am the Father and the Son. In me shall all mankind have life, and that eternally, even they who shall believe on my name; and they shall become my sons and my daughters… [insert editorial, go!] And because of the knowledge of this man he could not be kept from beholding within the veil; and he saw the finger of Jesus, which, when he saw, he fell with fear; for he knew that it was the finger of the Lord; and he had faith no longer, for he knew, nothing doubting. Wherefore, having this perfect knowledge of God, he could not be kept from within the veil; therefore he saw Jesus; and he did minister unto him” (Ether 3:11-14, 19-20, italics mine because DID YOU SEE THAT???).
And that’s it. Demonstrate faith by acting on your beliefs and rend the veil of unbelief. If your actions of faith are not rending any veils, consider the possibility that those actions might be rooted in unbelief instead of in what is true. Search for where your blind spots are that are keeping you out of God’s presence; ask God, and he will undoubtedly show them to you.
The record continues:
“Behold, I have written upon these plates the very things which the brother of Jared saw; and there never were greater things made manifest than those which were made manifest unto the brother of Jared. Wherefore the Lord hath commanded me to write them; and I have written them. And he commanded me that I should seal them up; and he also hath commanded that I should seal up the interpretation thereof; wherefore I have sealed up the interpreters, according to the commandment of the Lord. For the Lord said unto me: They shall not go forth unto the Gentiles until the day that they shall repent of their iniquity, and become clean before the Lord. And in that day that they shall exercise faith in me, saith the Lord, even as the brother of Jared did, that they may become sanctified in me, then will I manifest unto them the things which the brother of Jared saw, even to the unfolding unto them all my revelations, saith Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Father of the heavens and of the earth, and all things that in them are” (Ether 4:3-7, italics mine again because AGAIN, did you see that???).
This is a cool promise. When we Gentiles finally repent of our iniquity, we get to have the brother of Jared’s record, meaning all of Jesus Christ’s revelations unfolded to us. If we don’t have that, we haven’t yet repented of our iniquity, which should maybe raise some questions. Are we iniquitous, as a people? Surely not; we have so many indicators that we are God’s favored people, like our strong families (like the Lamanites in Jacob 3), our many temples (like in Ammonihah), and our prosperity (like pretty much every wicked population ever).
Is it enough to look and feel good? Is it enough to have had experiences with the Spirit? What if our ways really are different than God’s ways, and what we call good is not really good and what we call evil is not really evil? Do we know we are right? Or is it possible that we might be laboring under some cultural unbelief in any way? Would that explain why we haven’t received things that are promised to the Gentiles once they finally repent and come unto Christ? When you look deep into your heart of hearts, are you willing to be told by God that something you believe to be true is wrong? Have you set any bounds for the Lord?
The job of a prophet is to preach repentance. When we hear messages that show us our inadequacy before God and teach us how to to reconcile with him, or that bring greater understanding of God’s mysteries into our hearts, or that give us necessary information about how to come to Christ in reality so that we can get our teaching directly from him, that is preaching repentance. When a message makes us feel great about doing what we’re already doing and assures us that we’re in the right way, we should be giving that messenger some major side-eye, because the only people who delivered those kinds of messages in the Book of Mormon were people like Korihor, and he was a little stinker, by all accounts.
True messages agree with scripture, and that doesn’t mean they agree with what you think the scriptures say. Know your scriptures so you can know which messages are true and which are false. Equally necessary, learn how God talks to you so you can hear his voice confirming that truth to you and teaching you beyond what the words say. If that sounds like a lot of work, it is. We came here to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling, did we not?
My son just asked who I was writing to, and I said anybody who wants to read it. And he said I should write, “I love you,” so people reading it could think, “Wow! That person loves me!” I think he’s right. So if you’re reading this, I love you. That is why I write. God has poured love into me so that I would write these things, despite how uncomfortable it makes me. I love you and, much more importantly, God loves you more. Go to him and let him show you. Rend that veil of unbelief!
Exploring the spiritual side of things. Brevity is not my forte.