29 decembrie 2014

The genealogy of faith

Read the preceding post in this series here.

Having defined faith in the first lecture, in the second Lecture on Faith we turn to the subject of the "object on which it rests"--namely, God himself. When we get to the third and fourth lectures, we will discuss what kind of being God is and what his characteristics and attributes are, but I do want to share this little tidbit now: "In him the principle of faith dwells independently; and he is the object in whom the faith of all other rational and accountable beings centers, for life and salvation" (v. 2). I had to spend some time thinking about what it meant by faith dwelling independently in God. The conclusion that I came to was that in order for us to have productive faith, we must depend on God to be the object and validator of our faith. But in order for him to have productive faith--which means he has the power to do all things good and right for himself and for us--he doesn't have to have faith in anything outside of himself. Simply put, God exists independent of any of us, but we depend on him for our very being (Mosiah 2:20-25). The second thing I wanted to comment on here is the phrase "for life and salvation." "Life" can be understood to refer to existential things: to live, breathe, and have our being, which will continue in perpetuity. "Salvation" can be understood to refer to existence or life that is saved and purified--to continue on in eternity in God's presence. God alone really is the only thing, the only being we need to have faith in, in order to make our eternal existence a happy and glorious one.

Let's move on to the main point of the lecture, which is to "show the evidences which mankind have had, and the foundation on which these evidences are, or were based, since the creation, to believe in the existence of God.... [or] by which the first thoughts were suggested to the minds of men that there was a God who created all things."
To prove the existence of God, this lecture uses an approach that feels quite outdated to us today, because it is based on the assumption that the Bible is a historical document, whose accounts of people's lives and dates can be trusted as actual fact. In our day and age, we are almost entirely certain this is not the case. Personally, I view the Torah as a kind of mythology. The stories may be based on things that really happened, and some of those things may have actually happened the way they are written, but I have no way of knowing to what extent those stories are history or allegory. However, if Joseph Smith, through revelation, reviewed the Bible and while making some pretty significant additions to the first book of the Bible (PGP), still kept the substance of the creation story and initial generations of man intact, and if I trust Joseph's work (I do), then I can have confidence that this account is how the Lord has deemed it best for us to learn about our creation and our relationship to Him, whether or not the story is literally and factually correct. So I will proceed without questioning the validity of the Genesis accounts.
Note: the Bible references in the Lectures on Faith are taken primarily from Joseph Smith's translation (LoF 2:5), even though it had not been published at the time the Lectures on Faith were written.

Adam and Eve
We begin by reading in Moses 2:26-29 and 3:15-17, 19-20 about the creation of Adam and Eve and the dominion they were granted over the whole earth, to "subdue it," and then fell from grace in Moses 4:14-25 and were driven out of Eden. So our first parents were endowed with knowledge and placed in a "high and exalted station...lord, or governor of all things on earth." And, more importantly, enjoying direct communication with his Maker, without a veil to separate them (2:12).
God gave Adam an understanding "on the great and important point which effected his happiness,--as to the real fact by whom he was created, or unto whom he was amenable for his conduct" (LoF 2:18). ("Effected" = brought to pass or accomplished, "amenable" = liable to answer.) In other words, knowing who created him and who he answered to for his actions made it possible for Adam to be happy.
"God conversed with him face to face: in his presence he was permitted to stand, and from his own mouth he was permitted to receive instruction--he heard his voice, walked before him, and gazed upon his glory--while intelligence burst upon his understanding, and enabled him to give names to the vast assemblage of his Maker's works" (LoF 2:18). This state of innocence and intelligence is the state that we are meant to return to, and the state that the Gospel of Christ is designed to return us to.
Even though Adam and Eve transgressed, they did not lose their knowledge about "the existence and glory of [their] Creator," because as soon as they heard God's voice after their transgression, they tried to hide, which they would not have done, had they forgotten who He was.
Continuing Communication with Adam and Eve and their Posterity
Even after Adam and Eve transgressed, God continued to talk to them. Even after they were cast out of the Garden of Eden, God continued to talk to them. Divine communication had a continuing presence in their lives and their children's lives, in spite of where they were and what they had done.
Consider Moses 5:1, 4-9, the first account we have of post-exile revelation. Apparently, even though Adam and Eve no longer saw God, they could hear His voice, and received commandments from Him. They were obedient to those commandments: an act of faith on their part, because they could no longer see who they were talking to, nor did they really understand the long-term plan or the significance of the things they were being asked to do. But they acted in faith that God still existed, that He was the creator of the world they lived in, that He loved them, and that they were doing what He wanted when they obeyed His voice.

God rewarded their faith with understanding. The first revelation, as we would expect, has to do with basic Gospel principles: faith in Christ and repentance, and a promise of salvation (Moses 5:7-9). Adam's faith was vindicated when the Holy Ghost fell upon him and he was able to bear witness of the Father and the Son, as promised by the basic doctrine of the Gospel. (A side note: although baptism is not specifically mentioned here, it is possible that Adam's baptism, which Enoch describes in Moses 6:52, happens at the same time as this revelation in chapter 5.)

From the second lecture, verse 30-31: "It was by a manifestation of God to man, and that God continued, after man's transgression to manifest himself to him and his posterity: and notwithstanding they were separated from his immediate presence, that they could not see his face, they continued to hear his voice. Adam thus being made acquainted with God, communicated the knowledge which he had unto his posterity; and it was through this means that the thought was first suggested to their minds that there was a God. Which laid the foundation for the exercise of their faith, through which they could obtain a knowledge of his character and also of his glory."

What is the purpose of these very basic principles of the Gospel? Isn't it to provide a way for us to return to the state Adam was in in the Garden of Eden, walking with God and speaking with him face to face, "obtain[ing] a knowledge of his character and also of his glory"?

In Moses 5:19-23, 32-40 we read about Cain and his crime. "Not only was there a manifestation made unto Adam of the existence of a God, but Moses informs us, as before quoted, that God condescended to talk with Cain after his great transgression, in slaying his brother, and that Cain knew that it was the Lord that was talking with him: so that when he was driven out from the presence of his brethren, he carried with him the knowledge of the existence of a God: and through this means, doubtless his posterity became acquainted with the fact that such a being existed" (LoF 2:32).

Is it a surprise that God condescended to talk to a murderer, someone He condemned? That should give us some hope that no matter who we are or what we've done, He will condescend to talk to us.
Back to the Bible as history: the next part of the lecture spends several pages calculating the time that passes through the first generations of mankind as set forth in Genesis. Here is a useful graphic that should simplify the matter for us:

I will highlight what I believe are the important points. First, these guys all lived long lives and had their families relatively young, so most of them lived concurrently. So much so, that Lamech, Noah's father, lived 56 years concurrently with Adam, and probably knew him well. Noah was the first patriarch who probably didn't know Adam personally. "From the time [the knowledge of God] was first communicated, it was retained in the minds of righteous men, who taught, not only their own posterity, but the world; so that there was no need of a new revelation to man, after Adam's creation, to Noah, to give them the first idea, or notion of the existence of a God: and not only of a God, but of the true and living God."

Here is the graphic for the subsequent generations:
Is it a surprise to find out that Abraham was born only a few years after the death of Noah, and Shem lived concurrently with Abraham? Shem is very likely King Melchizedek, and the "father" who conferred the priesthood on Abraham after Terah disqualified himself by worshiping Egyptian gods (Abraham 1:1-6).
With so many patriarchs and spiritual giants living concurrently for so long, the knowledge of God and the promises available to the faithful must have been very firmly cemented in culture and history by the time lifespans began to drop and people truly began to spread all over the earth.
The Takeaway
I believe there are three points to take away from all of this. First, that God is willing to communicate with any of his children, even sinners as egregious as Cain. This should give us some hope for ourselves!

Second, it was the testimony of Adam, our common ancestor, and the first person to have a firsthand personal knowledge of God and His promises, that inspired mankind to believe in God and be interested in what He had to say about things. As the Lectures put it: "by what means it was that God became an object of faith among men after the fall; and what it was that stirred up the faith of multitudes to feel after him; to search after a knowledge of his character, perfections and attributes, until they became extensively acquainted with him; and not only commune with him, and behold his glory, but be partakers of his power, and stand in his presence" (2:34).

You see, Adam was not just telling his children simply that God existed. He must have been telling them about how beautiful and peaceful Eden was, what it was like to talk to Father face to face, what it was like to be with his heavenly parents. When Adam and Eve told their children about all this, they must have also told them how badly they wanted to go back to that life, via the Gospel truths that had been revealed to them as they obeyed the voice of the Father. And naturally, the children began to want "to feel after him" too.

This brings us to my last point. It's important to recognize how important the testimony of others is in the process of faith and salvation. We need the examples of others to have the faith that we can return to God's presence, and to believe that the presence of God is something worth returning to. A word of caution, however: it is easy to begin idolizing the experiences of others. It is a nice distraction from the real work we have to do to have our own life-changing experience, but in the end, focusing on what others have done or seen will prevent us from doing or seeing ourselves, and exercising true faith in Christ.

"Let us here observe, that after any portion of the human family are made acquainted with the important fact that there is a God who has created and does uphold all things, the extent of their knowledge, respecting his character and glory, will depend upon their diligence and faithfulness in seeking after him, until like Enoch the brother of Jared, and Moses, they shall obtain faith in God, and power with him to behold him face to face" (LoF 2:55).

Here is the key: once we become aware that knowledge of God is a possibility, it is up to us to follow that road where it leads. Our success depends on our "diligence and faithfulness in seeking after him."

Glorious Discoveries and Eternal Certainty
"We have now clearly set forth how it is, and how it was, that God became an object of faith for rational beings; and also, upon what foundation the testimony was based, which excited the enquiry and diligent search of the ancient saints, to seek after and obtain a knowledge of the glory of God: and we have seen that it was human testimony, and human testimony only, that excited this enquiry, in the first instance in their minds--it was the credence they gave to the testimony of their fathers--this testimony having aroused their minds to enquire after the knowledge of God, the enquiry frequently terminated, indeed, always terminated, when rightly persued [sic], in the most glorious discoveries, and eternal certainty" (LoF 2:55-56).

What is "the most glorious discovery"? It is the person of God. What is the "eternal certainty"? It is your own salvation. Because no man can give that to you, but God can, just as he gave it to Adam and many of our other predecessors.

Additional Reading
A list of additional scriptures referenced in the lecture and its endnotes:
  • Ephesians 1:23 
  • Colossians 1:19
  • Isaiah 45:22
  • Romans 11:34-36
  • Isaiah 40:8-18
  • Jeremiah 51:15-16
  • 1 Corinthians 8:6
Read the following post in this series here.

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