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Sunday, April 26, 2015

Heaven Has Not Come Too Close

Truman Madsen made some great observations about Joseph Smith's first vision of God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ.  He said:

"...it hadn't ever occurred to him, when he went in the grove, that all of the then influential churches were in error.  Notice that the question he put - when he recovered himself - the question he put was not 'is there a true church in the world?'  The question he put was which church is true.  He assumed at least one had to be.  There answer was all the more striking and stark, therefore: 'join none of them.'

Another interesting point about the background is that he had been struck.  In fact, he said, 'no passage of scripture ever came more strongly to a soul than mine by reading the bible [paraphrasing, referring to James 1:5]'.  We think we know that reverend George Lane was the man who first recommended [to Joseph]... that one do that, and even that specific passage was mentioned in some of reverend Lane's sermons.  He was a Methodist, and he was associated with the revival of which I have spoken.  We can't prove that he was this person; but Joseph later describes this person who was, he says, identified with the aforementioned religious excitement.  I can't imagine - and this to me is poignant - that at age fourteen, full as he was of the glory, the remarkable experience and the excitement of it... [Joseph] went to this man, told him what had happened; and you remember, his response was instantly 'Oh, no. That could not be of God. Those sort of things don't happen anymore.' So, to recommend that one lacking wisdom ought to go and pray, 'Let him ask of God', fair enough.  But, the answer seemed, to this man, too much. Heaven came too close.  And it's almost as if, I repeat, the boy - pure minded, spontaneous, even a little unrestrained, as teenagers are - should have been struck instantly.  In the moment of, 'Wow!  It worked!  You told me to do this.  I did it" and the response is 'Shucks boy.  It's all of the devil.'

...[Joseph] learned early that to testify, even to hint, of divine manifestations was to stir up darkness and to call down wrath.  And that continued, until there were bullets."

The reason I mention this small part of Truman's lectures is that, when it comes to testifying of the divine power, aid and transformation in the hearts of many from the heaven in our day, I think I can relate, even if it's in a very minute way, to Joseph when he said "There has been great difficulty getting anything into the heads of this generation.  It has been like splitting hemlock nuts [a really tough nut] with a corner dodger [a piece of corn bread] for a wedge and a pumpkin for a beetle [something you would use to drive in a wedge]."

I speak my thoughts here in this manner to emphasize how strongly I feel about this subject matter.  So many times people throughout the world today, sometimes myself included, even among Latter-Day Saints, look for extensively established rules and boundaries for events, experiences or epiphanies of a spiritual or divine nature to the point where they are in the same mindset of the children of Israel when they received the law of Moses.  They want things spelled out in such intricate detail that they forget the reason behind it all in the first place.  They forget that God's power is not limited by our understanding of it.  He will never communicate with us in a way that we have not sought and are not ready for, but it's not because He can't do it.  It's because He loves us and doesn't want to overwhelm us in our weakened and ridiculously spiritually crippled state we are in relative to Him.

Everyone is in a different place of spiritual understanding.  We all have unique perspectives, which is why the Savior counselled us to not judge or compare one of us to another.  But please.  Let's not make the mistake of assuming that just because we have not experienced (or have) some sort of amazing, uplifting spiritual thing in our hearts or even with our eyes or ears, etc., that someone else can't or shouldn't be at a spiritual level we don't think they are.  Each of us need to be seeking to develop an individual, personal, deep, loving relationship with our Father and our Savior Jesus Christ through obedience to His gospel as taught by His prophets and the scriptures in our day.  Each of us is at a different point in that journey.

I know what it's like to feel excited and have my heart and mind enlightened by another's testimony of God's truth.  I know what it's like to feel that horrible doubt and uncertainty when my faith is severely challenged and I have no one to turn to but Father in Heaven for answers.  I know what it's like to doubt everything good I've ever heard and wonder if any of it is true.  I also know what it's like to collapse inside and just lay myself at the Lord's will, feeling broken, begging to have some kind of answer and assurance of what is true, what I should believe, what I should do.  I also know what it's like to have those glorious moments of reassurance in my heart, when the Holy Ghost communicates to my mind and heart and testifies of truth in such a way that there is no room for doubt left.  I know what it is like to have those moments where there is not the least shadow of doubt of God's love and plan, to have that sharply contrasting, deeply soul satisfying, feeling of relief as a result of faith filled prayer and obedience to His commandments, where I can think, as Joseph probably did, "You told me to do it.  I did it and it worked!"

I also know that many of these moments have come when I have heard some individuals share beautiful spiritual experiences they have had with and/or from heaven.  I have felt the Holy Ghost testify to me of their truth.  I have wondered at times whether or not some of the things that I feel or come to my mind are just me or if it's really the Spirit speaking to me.  I think most, if not all, of us have experienced that at one point or another.  But this I know.  I know now what impressions from the Holy Ghost are like better than I ever did before.  I know that He has testified to me of truth, truth about doctrine and stories of divine manifestations.

The Lord has been taking more and more frequent steps in hastening His work in our day.  There are always angels on the other side of the veil doing the Lord's work.  I know for myself that many people today have seen divine beings, heard audible words of strength and comfort from the Lord and/or His servants on the other side and I have felt the Holy Ghost confirm to me, as clear as could be, that He does send and allow us to experience these types of things when the situation warrants it.  Said the prophet Joseph Smith Jr. about himself, "...God hath not revealed anything to Joseph, but what He will make known unto the Twelve, and even the least Saint may know all things as fast as he is able to bear them."

How easy it can be to assume, after having our own wonderful spiritual, faith building experiences, that someone else, however they appear to us, can or cannot have the same kind of divine aid or understanding or even much greater than what we have.  We must be careful not to fall into this trap.  Our job is simply to believe in and seek to become like the Savior and set the best example we can, to repent and change and let Christ be the one to determine the spiritual capacity of another, to let the Holy Ghost guide us in what we say to or withhold from others rather than our own mortal perceptions of them.  Only those who are called as judges, those whose calling is to give spiritual insight and direction about personal matters, are entitled to the discernment needed for such things.

One of the companions I had on the mission, Elder Tyers, said it very well, "the moment we take [even] our greatest strength and think we are better at it than another, pride kicks in and we start to sink."

Bottom line?  As opposed to what the man by whom Joseph was mocked said, heaven has not come too close.  There's no such thing.  And if you think Heaven is already really close, it's going to get a whole lot closer in the next few years.  Most of the public, and even many members of the church, don't really understand how close it's going to get in the next few years.  The only variable part in the equation is how ready we are for what Christ would show us.  Let's use the scriptures as our guide and not make the mistake of assuming what the Father and the Son will or will not do for someone else.