Thursday, March 7, 2013

Who Are We? Part 3 - Our Potential

This the third part of a three part series. If you haven't already read the first two, make sure you check them out!
Who Are We? Part 1 - Little Children Are Alive In Christ
Who Are We? Part 2 - The Duality of Man

Suppose for a moment that I am a visitor from another planet. I have a tour guide that wants to show me some of the great things of this world. One of our first stops is to see an eagle.

"This bird is the great symbol of the United States of America," the guide explains. "Early in our nation's history, some of the leaders wanted the turkey to represent our great nation. Thankfully the eagle was chosen so we can have this majestic, powerful bird instead of a lowly turkey."

I stare at the birds in confusion. The choice seems far from clear to me, for this is what I've been presented with:

I share my confusion with my tour guide, "What manner of predators are around here? Are birds on the top of the food chain? Surely that tiny ball of fuzz with a beak is not as resilient as the turkey that proudly shows off its plumage! I see the turkey has wings to fly with, but the tiny eagle would only plummet to the ground if it was put in the air. What a messed up world this is!"

My conclusion probably seems logical when I compare a baby eagle to a full grown turkey. But is this comparison a fair one? Of course not! The eagle can grow up to be a noble bird that will fly far higher than any turkey. Like the story of the ugly duckling, the potential is far greater than what it may appear from the beginning. So it is with us.

We Can't Judge Our Future on Our Limited View of the Present

Critter hasn't learned to walk yet. He can sit up, roll over, crawl, and pull up on stuff. He likes to turn light switches on and off. He enjoys eating food, although he hasn't quite grasped the idea of making sure it is chewed well before he swallows it or even making sure what he puts in his mouth is actually food. He only has six teeth, and those are his baby teeth. When his diaper is wet or poopy, someone else has to change it for him. He wouldn't last a day in the wild, and would be lucky to last a day alone at home.

Yet, I'm not giving up hope just yet. Even though he is totally helpless and dependent on others for pretty much everything, he still has great potential. He isn't even a year old yet! I'm not about to judge him by the same standards as I would a college graduate.

Despite Critter's inexperience with life thus far, his potential is enormous. He can graduate from high school, get a college degree, have a successful career and a family. Or if he wants, he could choose to live in a van down by the river and pan handle for money. He could do all sorts of things with his life, but I'm not about to assume the worst. I'm his mother and want what is best for him and want to help him any way I can.

I'm glad my parents didn't assume I would always be bald and never be able to talk. I'm glad my Heavenly Parents recognize that even though I do dumb stuff sometimes, I still have potential. They know I'm not done progressing and that I still have a lot of learning left to do, and that's ok!

When I was a kid, my parents paid for music lessons and drove me all over the place. They helped me with my homework and taught me responsibility. When I made mistakes, they helped me so that I could improve. They knew that one mistake wasn't the end of the world. They knew if they were patient and caring, I could grow up to be a good adult and that I could be successful. When my path in life was uncertain, my parents had faith in me and often were able to counsel and help me since they had more knowledge and experience.

My Heavenly Parents love me too. Since they are exalted and perfect, they can love me even more perfectly than my earthly parents have. God sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to atone for the sins of all mankind. I can be forgiven from my sins upon conditions of repentance because Christ paid a price I would never be able to pay myself. My Heavenly Parents know that even though I may not look like much now, I have potential to be so much more. They see the big picture.

 Life Is Just a Speck

Imagine a line that goes on for infinity. Now imagine a tiny dot somewhere in the middle of that line. That is a pretty long line, isn't it? How big is that dot in comparison to the rest of the line? If you were to back up further, would you even be able to see the dot any more? Not very likely. What if you zoom in really close? Then you can't see the rest of the line anymore.

Life as we know it is like that dot. Before we were born, we lived as spirits with our Heavenly Father. Then we are born, we live, we die, and we return to live with our Heavenly Father again, only then we will have more experience and knowledge than we did before that tiny dot we call life. And we continue existing forever.

With this perspective, we may be tempted to think that life isn't a very big deal. And in a lot of ways, it isn't. When bad things happen, it may really be horrible, but it won't last forever. When Joseph Smith was suffering in Liberty Jail, the Lord comforted him with these words:
"My son, peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment;
And then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high; thou shalt triumph over all thy foes." (D&C 121:7-8)
But on the other hand, life is a really big deal. What happens if at that point on the line, the line rotates by a fraction of a degree? It won't look like much at first, but after continuing on the line a while, you will realize that it is significantly off the charted course. This is eternity we are talking about--it is best not to take chances exploring forbidden paths.

So, What Happens after Death?

"Now, concerning the state of the soul between death and the resurrection—Behold, it has been made known unto me by an angel, that the spirits of all men, as soon as they are departed from this mortal body, yea, the spirits of all men, whether they be good or evil, are taken home to that God who gave them life." (Alma 40:11)
When we die, our spirit separates from our body. The body remains behind while the spirit goes to a place referred to as the Spirit World. Later will come the Judgment and Resurrection. God will be our judge and we will be ressurrected to the level of glory which we deserve. I don't beleive that the afterlife is as simple as heaven and hell because most of the people who have lived on the earth can't be pigeon-holed soley as good or bad. I believe God's plan includes an eternity that is fitting and comfortable for everyone. Those that choose wickedness won't be comfortable in the presence of God and Jesus Christ, so there is a different place prepared for them.

Another important thing I believe is that we don't stop progressing after we die. Death is definitely a life-changing experience, but it isn't the end. I don't think we will spend eternity wearing halos and playing harps. As enjoyable as that would be, I think God has much more in store for us.
"But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him." (1 Corinthians 2:9 KJV)

Many Mansions

Christ said:
"In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you." (John 14:2 KJV)
Because our Heavenly Father loves us, he hasn't developed a cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all approach for everyone. After we die, we still have our individuality, we still have strengths and likes. While the setting will change, I will still enjoy good music and look forward to participating in that area. Resurrected bodies are perfect and immortal. That means when I sing I won't have to worry about my voice cracking!


We will also have the same relationships as we have here. I once met a wonderful couple. They were very kind and had a beautiful loving family. When talking about their relationship after this life, they said they would probably see each other and give a high-five and say, "We had a great time on earth, didn't we?"

With all due respect, I hope to give my husband a lot more than a high-five when we are both on the other side, and I believe I will. It would not be heaven to me if I wasn't with my husband and family.

I believe the keys that Christ gave to Peter are on the earth today.
"And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." (Matthew 16:19 KJV)
I believe that things can be bound on earth and heaven. This includes marriage. Many people have the power to make something binding on earth. I could go to Vegas and get married "til death do us part." The person performing that wedding has been given authority that makes it legal and binding. But he hasn't been given power from God to make it last any longer than death.

When I was married to my wonderful husband, it wasn't just for time. We were married and sealed "For time and all eternity" by someone holding priesthood authority. This person didn't get his authority by attending a school to get a diploma, passing a test to get a certificate, or because he felt like it was a good idea and the right thing to do. This priesthood authority was given to him by having hands laid upon his head by someone who had the authority given to them in the same manner, and so on in a chain back to ancient prophets. This man sealed us for time and all eternity while we were inside of a Holy Temple. If my husband and I keep the promises we have made to God, our marriage will last beyond death and into eternity.

Eternal Progression

No matter how hard I try, I'm pretty sure I'm still going to sin and make lots of mistakes in this life. I will still have a lot of learning left to do when I die. But I will have forever to learn those things which are important. As I strive to follow the example of Jesus Christ, I learn, progress, and hopefully become more like Him. In fact, Christ commanded us to be perfect.
"Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect." (Matthew 5:48 KJV)
I think James E. Talmage explains how this commandment can be applied clearer than I can:
"The road to exaltation and perfection is opened through the Gospel of Christ. We cannot rationally construe our Lord’s admonition as implying an impossibility. We are not required to assume that man in mortality can attain the perfection of an exalted and glorified personage, such as either the Father or Jesus Christ. However, man may be perfect in his sphere as more advanced intelligences may be in their several spheres; yet the relative perfection of the lower is vastly inferior to that of the higher. We can conceive of a college freshman attaining perfection in his class; yet the honors of the upper classman are beyond; and graduation though to him remote, is assured if he do but maintain his high standing to the end."
But would it make sense to quit after a perfect freshman year? If I had gone to one year of college and really excelled, only to drop out and never return or further my progress, I would be living far below my privileges. Because I am a daughter of God, I can inherit wonderful things.
"The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God:
And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together." (Romans 8:16-17 KJV)
Joint-heirs with Christ. That is a big deal. As our perfect example, Christ was the heir and received of all of God's blessings because of His perfect life. I have been promised that I can inherit the same blessings if I follow His example. If I follow Christ and apply His Atonement in my life, I can be a joint-heir with Him.

"And, if you keep my commandments and endure to the end you shall have eternal life, which gift is the greatest of all the gifts of God." (D&C 14:7)

"And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent." (John 17:3 KJV)
We can have eternal life. Life with God and Jesus Christ. Like any good parent, our Heavenly Father doesn't want us to halt our own progress. He wants us to learn and grow and be able to have the same blessings as He has. Just as the tiny eagle egg can grow and mature into a full-grown, majestic eagle, we, as children of our Heavenly Father, can grow up to be so much more than we are now. C.S. Lewis put it this way:
"It is a serious thing, to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no 'ordinary' people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilisations -- these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whome we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit -- immortal horrors or everlasting splendours. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously -- no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption. And our charity must be a real and costly love, with deep feeling for the sins in spite of which we love the sinner -- no mere tolerance or indulgence which parodies love as flippancy parodies merriment."
Of course, reaching our full potential is a long-term goal. I don't expect to obtain exaltation in this life any more than I expect my baby to graduate from college next week. But there is still great peace available as I better understand who I am, who I can become, and what God expects of me.

How has your relationship with God influenced the way you live your life?

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