Ideas to Ponder and Refine by Study and Revelation
“If thou shalt ask, thou shalt receive revelation upon revelation, knowledge upon knowledge, that thou mayest know the mysteries and peaceable things – that which bringeth joy, that which bringeth life eternal.” D&C 42:61
To know that which “bringeth joy [and] life eternal” – what a blessing this would be both in this life and the life to come. How can we know these things – the mysteries and peaceable things? The Lord tells us – by “asking” – by asking He who is the source of all truth, even God the Eternal Father. And how will He communicate with us? By revelation. And we know such revelation comes through the Holy Ghost, He whose role it is to “teach [us] all things” (John 14:26), to “manifest the truth” (Moro. 10:4), and by His power to “know the truth of all things” (Moro. 10:5). Sounds simple – but is it? Is it supposed to be?
God has provided us with testaments of truth – scripture, modern day prophets and apostles who teach and reveal His truth, and so many others who have truth revealed to them. But scripture is not without error, has lost many “plain and most precious parts” (1 Nep. 13:32), is subject to translation interpretation, and simply uses language of other eras ripe for misinterpretation today. Additionally, prophets do speak the Word of God – but not always. And those many others throughout the world inspired with truth must be identified amongst the many who do not. It remains with us to determine for ourselves through the Holy Ghost what is truth, what are those mysteries and peaceable things which bring joy and eternal life.
By design, this quest requires individual faith, a diligent seeking to know and a proving or testing through action – then comes the enlightenment through the Spirit. Others can teach and testify of what they know of truth, but each of us must pay the price, or fulfill the requirements of learning eternal truth for ourselves. Some truths are revealed quickly, others come only after a period of personal refinement through diligence and experience which open our eyes of understanding. Only then are we ready to receive so that truth revealed will be a blessing. This period of refinement can be long. Patience and diligence keep us on the path of enlightenment. Testimonies of various truths, or knowledge of truth, comes incrementally as we are ready to receive. Just as one can rightly say they “know” how to play the piano, there exists a wide margin of “knowledge” between the beginner and accomplished pianist.
What follows are ideas put forward for pondering and refinement through study and personal revelation. To find expression of truth in the written word is my personal attempt to discover and more accurately understand. The intent is not to put forward a case, or argument to convince or to sway another although admittedly, the language used may read as though this is my aim. An idea or understanding clearly stated gives opportunity for careful assessment as to its accuracy. It is for each to find their own assurance, their own “good report” (Heb. 11:2). References, if cited at all, are shared not to convince, but rather to evoke further personal consideration of scriptural meaning. (I urge you to take the time to refer to the scripture references for therein is truth to be found.) This leaves the door open for you to question, to search, to find support or not. There is great value in the process necessary to discover understanding. The ideas raised are to be part of a journey, not a place of arrival. If a destination is to be achieved, it will only come through further personal pondering, study, prayer, a longing for understanding – and of course through that witness of the Holy Ghost in personal revelation.
As a fellow traveller, I wish you well on your journey. May we all find peace and joy now, and eternal life to come as we discover and embrace the truth God so desires to reveal to us as we are ready to receive.
1. “Heavenly Father” and “Heavenly Mother” are the Defining Titles of our Relationship to Deity
Christ so often referred to God as His Father. We are taught at an early age to pray to “Our Father in Heaven”. We sing, “I am a child of God”. In both song and in declaration by prophets and apostles, we speak of a Heavenly Mother (see Hymn #292, “O My Father”; Gospel Topics Essays, “Mother in Heaven”). We believe in a familial heaven. We strive to live our lives that we might enjoy the blessing of eternal life with our Heavenly Parents and loved ones dear.
We believe our Heavenly Parents to be Gods in every sense of the word, the epitome of virtue and love, full of grace and truth, possessing all power and glory. And what is the work of these perfect, or wholly complete Heavenly Parents? Their work and glory as declared by Them is to bring about the immortality and eternal life of us, Their children (see Moses 1:39).
Like any worthy parent, Their ultimate wish is the very best for their children. The Great Plan of Salvation is designed to accomplish this. Its culmination for us is to become as They are; this is “the best” for Their children. Christ gave voice to this ultimate invitation to become perfect, or complete, at the culmination of each of his beatitude sermons (see Matt. 5:48; 3 Nep. 12:48).
Because of our own experience in mortality, we have a basis to define and envision the “perfect father” and the “perfect mother”. Our Heavenly Parents not only possess the character we envision, but then beyond our comprehension on to perfection. Any conception of Their character to which we might default less than this, whether caused by confusing language of scripture or even that of prophet leaders, must be reinterpreted considering this perfect character reality of our Heavenly Parents.
As Perfect Parents, possessed of perfect love, whose work and glory is to provide a path and means for us to become “perfect” as they are, let us not fall prey to the misunderstanding that our Father is somehow a Being of Wrath, one quick to punish the disobedient, slow to forgive, one who takes offense at our missteps and must be appeased through our suffering imposed upon us by His vengeful decree. Let us not envision a God who is to be feared because of His power to destroy us, a Being from whom we must seek protection from by cowering behind Jesus Christ who we envision as one needed to intercede between us and God, to be our mediator who seeks to find peace between two parties at odds, or who is to be our advocate, one who goes toe-to-toe with God to convince Him that He should forgive us, that His wrath should wain, that we are worthy of His love and forgiveness. Although one might find scriptural language that can be so interpreted and difficult to resolve, there are most often alternate interpretations and explanations for such. But if not, one is left with the choice between two conflicting identities of God. I will always hold to God as my Perfect Father. Approaching such language with a clear and fixed vision of our Heavenly Parent’s true identity and character will bring us through. “For this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent” (John 17:3).
2. An Overview – Agency, Justice, Christ’s Atonement, Faith in Christ
For there to be exaltation, or heaven, to become as They are and enjoy the relationships they enjoy, there must be agency, and for agency to exist, there must be choice, and for choice to exist, there must be opposition, and with opposition combined with mortal weakness, there will be poor choices made. The plan hinges upon justice, the certainty of consequence for choices made, and thereby provides the opportunity to learn from the natural consequences in accordance with eternal law of both good and poor choices made. Our journey is aided by truth, or eternal law, widely revealed to many of the children of men and flowing from such truth the invitation to choose good over evil.
Central to our Father’s plan to exalt His children is His offering of His Son, Jesus Christ to atone for us, to willingly experience and suffer all the suffering flowing from man’s choices of evil over good as justice requires. This incomprehensible vicarious sacrifice by the Only Begotten Son of God, a God Himself, in accordance with eternal law not fully understood, preserved our agency by willingly suffering the consequences of all sin in accord with justice. There would be no agency without the certainty of consequence justice provides. His sacrifice allowed those fixed consequences to flow, to Him and not to us, if we would change our course from evil to the good. This great atoning sacrifice, having experienced all the consequences flowing from justice, offers all His mercy-filled gift of being able to change our course and turn to good rather than evil (see Mos. 15:9; 2 Nep. 9:26; Al. 34:14-16; Al. 42:15). In this way, His mercy satisfied the demands of justice allowing us to escape inevitable heartache and embrace the joy of righteousness – “righteousness” being the choosing of “right”, or that which is good, the consequence of which is joy (see Mos. 2:41; 2 Nep. 2:23-25).
Man’s eternal progression rests upon He who is the “author and finisher of our faith”. (Heb. 12:1,2) Care should be taken not to define “faith” too narrowly. Paul shared insight on “faith” when he explained that:
“Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (Heb. 11:1)
Faith is a principle of action (see Lecture 1, “Lectures on Faith”) that flows from choice. Every individual on earth is engaged in exercising faith in some way. To make any decision, even the trivial, we look forward to a desired outcome, we rest our hope in the same, then through the exercise of faith, if our understanding of choice and consequence is correct, we arrive at that for which we hoped. Thus, the exercise of faith brings us to that for which we hope; it proves (is the evidence) such things are attainable.
God through Christ has bestowed upon all the children of men agency, the framework for the exercise of faith, thus the “author”. Our capacity to act, and bring about that for which we hope, to “finish” our faith, that too flows from Christ’s endowment of grace upon us, His enabling power. Whether one knows to whom we owe our thanks for faith or not, the gifts of mercy and atonement are given freely to all for our benefit and progression thereby fulfilling the design of our Heavenly Father’s plan for our becoming as they are and to enjoy the familial heaven promised.
3. The Timeframe to Become
A Perfect Father has a perfect plan to perfect all His children. How could it be otherwise? How could a plan that succeeds for only a select few be considered a “perfect plan” devised by perfect Heavenly Parents whose only motivation is pure love for Their children? If the plan is all-encompassing, and as the agency of man is central in the becoming process, inevitably the question arises, “How long is the door of repentance open to become as They are?”
The language of some scripture coupled with the short-sightedness of man can easily be interpreted in such a way that our perfecting opportunity is seen as limited to this life only, that our salvation depends only upon that which we choose in this life. A limiting reading of the scripture “For behold, this life is the time for men to prepare to meet God; …” can diminish our hope in development and progression stretching into eternity. (Al. 34:32) This life is the opportune time “to prepare to meet God”, that is one of the reasons we share the Gospel of Jesus Christ as this life is so well-designed for our progression and becoming, but the opportunity to prepare in this life does not close the door for continuing opportunity post-mortality. One need only consider our knowledge of the preaching of the gospel in the Spirit World and our dedicated efforts in temple work for our departed ancestry (see 1 Pet. 3:18-20; 4:6; D&C 138:57-59).
There is much to ponder regarding the opportunity for eternal progression as we consider the journey represented in temple instruction. The journey of man begins in a Garden of Eden, then progresses through greater and greater kingdoms, or glories, culminating with entering a Celestial Kingdom. What is Christ’s meaning when He promises, “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.” (Heb. 13:5; see also “How Firm a Foundation” (Hymn #85), all verses)? When an eternal being, a God, one who we esteem as “Redeemer”, a title which reflects the culmination of our Father’s great Plan of Salvation to unite with Him the Family of Man, promises with the word “never”, I take note. I can only conclude that His promise never to forsake us means that He will continue in His role as Redeemer throughout eternity which offers me hope of learning through repentance and being endowed with His empowering grace and love for as long as I am willing to pursue perfection.
Surely our loving Heavenly Parents, whose work and glory is to bring about our immortality and eternal life, have instituted a plan to accomplish such that extends far beyond the narrow focus of mortality only. This plan must span eternity. Perfection, or becoming as They are, all can achieve in the course of eternity so long as the fully aware individual does not finally and freely reject God and Christ’s invitation to come unto Them. These alone would be called the “son of perdition, and as Christ prayed “none of them are lost, but the son of perdition” (John 17:12). Given the authors and finishers of the plan, and the power of the God’s love for each of us to invite and to empower us in repentance, it is hard to envision any who would ultimately choose a contrary destination as we grow in wisdom through the refining process of repentance through eternity. Ours is not a dualistic theology of two parallel fates of heaven or hell, but rather a universalist approach where over the course of eternity, flowing from God’s immutable love reflected in His Son, all can look forward to heaven.
4. Jesus Christ is One with the Father; Our Intercessor, Advocate, and Mediator
Although the truth is clear in both scripture and teachings of modern-day prophets that Christ is one with the Father (see Mos. 15:1-5; John 17:11,21-23; 3 Nep.27:13-15; 28:10; 2 Nep. 31:21), it is not uncommon for many to create division between the Father and the Son in relation to our salvation. Misunderstanding of the meaning of the titles Intercessor, Advocate, and Mediator – coupled with the influence of an overriding paradigm of an adversarial justice system which roots are entangled with the twisted creeds of man corrupting God’s relation to His children– leads many to see Christ as our Protector from a vengeful God of Wrath who must be reminded of and appeased by the sacrifice of His Only Begotten. How ashamed I am for our Heavenly Father to be cast in such a demeaning and disrespectful light. Such a casting of our loving and perfect Heavenly Father flies in the face of His true identity and character in relation to us – His children.
i. The Law
To better understand Christ’s role as Intercessor, Advocate, and Mediator, there is a need to first explore what is “law”, “justice”, and “mercy” as spoken of in scripture. To Joseph was revealed that “All kingdoms have a law given; And there are many kingdoms; for there is no space in the which there is no kingdom; and there is no kingdom in which there is no space, either a greater or a lesser kingdom. And unto every kingdom is given a law; and unto every law there are certain bounds also and conditions” (D&C 88:36-38). The Lord restates this truth in a later verse, “And again, verily I say unto you, he hath given a law unto all things, by which they move in their times and their seasons;” (v. 42). In short, all is governed by law, “even the power of God who sitteth upon his throne”(D&C 88:13). It is helpful in retaining a true vision of the Father by understanding that the word “given” as used in these scriptures can be read as synonymous with “exists”. The law, or truth, is eternal. God shares with us knowledge of eternal law sufficient for us to exercise choice on our path to become. In this sense, He “gives” or shares with us the law, truth which exists separate and apart from His creation.
We read that “There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundation of the world, upon which all blessings are predicated – and when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated” (D&C 130:20,21). We learn from this that law is eternal and unchanging, that it dictates consequences for choice, that God binds Himself to these realities. Just as there are laws from which flow blessings, there are laws from which flow bitterness and sorrow (see 2 Nep. 2:10,11). A very vital observation to make to retain a loving conception of our Father in Heaven is that it is the law, not God, which brings both punishment and happiness flowing from our choices (see 2 Nep. 2:10; Al. 42:22).
Law is light, and truth. God reveals law to His children to enable choice between good and evil (see D&C 82:8,9). We also discover laws as we experience the consequences of choice (see Moses 6:55; Al. 42:18). Eternal law is essential to all creation and in our becoming as our Heavenly Parents (see D&C 88:34,35).
ii. The Justice of God
Within the body of eternal law, there is a Law of Justice, a binding reality which must exist for agency to be had. In secular circles, and in some religious dogma, justice is often equated with punishment for infringement of law, a form of retribution to be equal to the seriousness of the offence. In this context, punishment is intended to reform behavior. A retributive understanding of divine justice imputes upon God the role of meting out such punishment, and from this arises an immediate schism between our Father and us, His children. God is feared rather than loved. This notion of justice is deeply engrained in our collective psyche so much so that it is difficult to see past this when learning the true meaning of the justice of God.
The true justice of God is not only a blessing, but an absolute necessity for us to have and to exercise agency, and it is only through the exercise of agency that we can refine and become (2 Nep. 2:27; Hel. 3:27-30). So, what is the justice of God (as opposed to the justice of man)? Alma, in a masterful sermon to his wayward son Corianton, teaches the principle that every choice brings about the consequence tied to it. He calls this certainty “the plan of restoration” because we will have restored to us that which we choose, or desire (Al. 41:2-13). If our works and our desires are good, good will be restored to us; if our works are evil, we will be restored to evil. In other words, predictable consequence follows choice. Alma states that the “plan of restoration is requisite with the justice of God” (v. 2) To be “requisite” is to be “essential”. The law reveals consequence for choice and the justice of God is the truth that God honors that consequence. Alma teaches that except there be repentance “justice claimeth the creature and executeth the law, and the law inflicteth the punishment;” (Al. 42:22). In other words, justice upholds the law ensuring predictable consequence (punishment/sorrow; blessings/joy) the law prescribes. This is consistent with the notion of justice that like cases be treated alike, that all are subject to the equal application of the law regardless of rank or privilege, that the law is “blind”. As God’s commandments, and the consequences of obedience and disobedience are simply revealed law, when God states that He is bound when we do what He says, He is affirming His absolute commitment to the certainty of justice (see D&C 82:10; Al. 42:8). God’s justice assures the framework for the exercise of agency. Alma closes his teaching to his son with these words after having clarified with great eloquence the justice of God (i.e., that wickedness never brings the consequence of happiness (Al. 42:10)):
“O my son, I desire that ye should deny the justice of God no more. Do not endeavor to excuse yourself in the least point because of your sins, by denying the justice of God; but do you let the justice of God, and his mercy, and his long-suffering have full sway in your heart; and let it bring you down to the dust in humility” (Al. 42:30).
Alma expresses hope in the justice of God, that the certainty of consequence of Corianton’s sins will show to him the error of his ways. The justice of God is a great blessing as it informs his next choice! That same justice which informs also provides the way for Corianton to choose repentance, to choose mercy, the consequence of such choice being to escape the consequences of sin and make efficacious the atonement of Jesus Christ in His life. Justice upholds the consequences of Corianton’s sins to flow, but in accordance with the law of atonement and mercy, Christ suffered those consequences, thus meeting the demands of justice, and freed Corianton to enjoy mercy that “God might be a perfect, just God, and merciful God also.” (Al. 42:14,15).
Evidencing the perfecting power of the companions Justice and Mercy, most significantly, despite Corianton’s serious sin, and reflecting Alma’s complete faith in Divine forgiveness and empowering grace, Alma closes his plea and teaching to his wayward son with a call to return to “[preaching] the word unto this people” (Al. 42:31). To Corianton’s great credit, he answers his father’s call with great faith and thereby blesses the lives of many (see Al. 48:17-19; Al. 49:30).
iii. The Law of Mercy
As discussed, justice and mercy work in concert. Justice ensures the choice to invite mercy into our lives. Having learned from the consequences justice brings, a turn from ill to good marks a repentant soul. God’s justice and mercy are at work in the lives of all.
Focusing upon mercy, how does this bounteous gift emanate from both the Father and the Son being unified in the provision of this essential gift for salvation and exaltation? I turn to 1 Nephi 11 which records young Nephi’s experience of learning of the condescension of God. Nephi desires to behold that which his father saw in vision of the Tree of Life (see v.3). Nephi is caught up in the Spirit of the Lord, is permitted to see what Lehi saw, and at the outset links the tree and its fruit with Christ, the Son of God (see v. 7). The tree (the love of God made manifest in Christ) is “exceeding beyond all beauty”, “did exceed the whiteness of the driven snow”, “is precious above all” (see v.8,9). Nephi sees what Lehi saw, then desires to know the interpretation thereof (see v. 11). In response, Nephi is shown “a virgin, most beautiful and fair above all other virgins” (see v.13-15). Critical it is to remember that what is being revealed is in answer to his desire to understand the meaning of the vision of the Tree of Life. He sees the virgin, then comes what may seem a curious question, but upon reflection relates directly to the virgin just spoken of. “Knowest thou the condescension of God? (v. 16). Does this question refer to God, our Heavenly Father, or to God, the Son Jesus Christ? I invite us to assume God, our Heavenly Father as we consider the verses which follow. Nephi responds to the question, “I know that he loveth his children”, but then admits his limitation in knowledge about God’s condescension (see v. 17). One might question how this answer relates at all to the question asked by the angel. But, as the further verses reveal, Nephi’s response is apt in linking the condescension of God with His love for His children. To consider that God, a Perfect Divine Being, the God above all, loves us – mere mortals – in this alone is condescension. God the Father loves us, and this love is reflected in the divine gift of His son, Jesus Christ born of the virgin Nephi saw, the Only Begotten of the Father. Consider, to reveal the interpretation of the tree, we are immediately taken to the birth of Christ. What follows Nephi’s humble and accurate response to the question of condescension is teaching of God the Father’s condescension wherein the virgin becomes the “mother of the Son of God, after the manner of the flesh” (see v.18, 19). The Father’s condescension is trumpeted in the words “Behold the Lamb of God, yea, even the Son of the Eternal Father! (see v. 21). Now with clarity, Nephi knows the meaning of the tree. It is the “love of God (manifest in Christ), which “sheddeth itself abroad in the hearts of the children of men” (see v. 22). Again, interpreting “God” to be God the Father, when he again instructs Nephi to “behold the condescension of God” (see v. 26), he shows Nephi the life and mission of Jesus Christ (see v. 27-28, 31-33), “twelve others” (see v. 29), “angels descending upon” and “ministering unto” the children of men (see v.30). In all of this, herein is the condescension of the Father in the gift of His Son, and all His ministrations among the children of men. Yes, of course, these verses also speak of Christ, a God Himself, who willingly chose to submit to the Father’s will which was for Christ to condescend, but in recognizing this most merciful act, let us not be blind to the Father’s condescension. We rightly speak of Christ’s condescension, its wonder cannot be overstated, but without the Father’s condescension, there would be no condescension of Christ.
Perhaps the quintessential description of how Christ’s journey through mortality prepared Him to extend mercy to the Children of Men is found in Alma 7. Yes, to abide in justice and thereby preserve our agency, He willingly suffered in the flesh all the consequences the law and justice dictate. This alone is unfathomable, but in His suffering, there was another purpose to be fulfilled. He suffered “pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind”, He took “upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death”, He took upon him our infirmities, “that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities” (see Al. 7:11,12). Over the course of His mortal life, the Son of God possessed of perfect love and empathy, could not help but suffer along with His mortal brothers and sisters. His many examples of healing the sick and the afflicted reflects His co-suffering with them and that merciful healing follows. His suffering the pains and sicknesses of others throughout His mortal journey, then culminating in Gethsemane and on the Cross, filled His bowels with mercy. Such vicarious suffering we can only venture to understand, but the assurance is ours - there is no situation or experience wherein we suffer that we can say to Christ, “You do not understand my suffering.” Imagine as well, the suffering of the Father as He bore witness to Christ’s suffering for us. “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). Such love was made manifest by Christ through His suffering the Cross, but also by His Father whose will it was that such sacrifice be made to satisfy eternal law that we may be redeemed. Love is the essence of mercy and both God and Jesus Christ are perfect in both.
We cannot know all the ways Christ and our Heavenly Father extend Their mercy to us, the many ways in which we are succored, enabled, and endowed. Mormon, in his last great invitation to all who would read his “Book of Mormon”, gave assurance that by the grace (mercy) of the Father we can be perfect in Christ, that then are we “sanctified in Christ by the grace of God” (see Moro. 10:32,33).
The law, justice, and mercy all work in perfect harmony for our good, for it is in perfect harmony that our Heavenly Father and His Only Begotten Son have revealed and provided these eternal truths to us for our redemption and perfection.
A. Christ as Intercessor
With at least a fundamental understanding of “law”, “justice”, and “mercy”, this opens our eyes to seeing with greater clarity that accomplished through the atonement of Jesus Christ and His roles as intercessor, advocate, and mediator. As observed earlier, these roles of Christ can be misconstrued and thereby seem to confirm a twisted understanding of the Father and His relationship to us.
Christ as Intercessor is one who stands between. A fundamental question is between what or whom? Many will immediately think that Christ as Intercessor stands between us and our Heavenly Father. The scriptures teach otherwise allowing us to preserve the true character and disposition of our Heavenly Father. We learn that Christ as Intercessor stands between the children of men and the consequence of death which followed from Adam and Eve’s choice to embrace mortality. Additionally, He stands between us and the consequences that flow from sin. Through His atoning sacrifice He brings victory over death for all and stands between the repentant “sinner” and the natural consequences of misery flowing from broken law upheld by the justice of God. Abinadi teaches these fundamental truths. After explaining how God the Father, and Christ His son, will work in concert to redeem his people, what will be Christ’s path here upon the earth culminating in His crucifixion evidencing the will of the Son being swallowed up in the will of the Father, Abinadi states:
“And thus God breaketh the bands of death, having gained the victory over death; giving the Son power to make intercession for the children of men –
Having ascended into heaven, having the bowels of mercy; being filled with compassion towards the children of men; standing betwixt them and justice; having broken the bands of death, taken upon himself their iniquity and their transgressions, having redeemed them, and satisfied the demands of justice” (Mos. 15:8,9; emphasis added).
Note that intercession is “betwixt [the children of men] and justice” not betwixt the children of men and God the Father. Justice, in accordance with eternal law, demands the consequence of death and sin flowing from the choice to partake of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Christ, empowered by God, satisfied the demands of justice. By our Father’s loving design (see 3 Nep. 27:13,14), Christ’s atonement brings mercy to all, to intercede between man and justice. We read in Alma that mercy cannot rob justice (see Al.42.25) – but it can satisfy it (see Al.42:14,15; Al. 34:15,16)! Note that these scriptures teach clearly that Christ suffered all the consequences of mortal sin justice demands and thereby offers freedom from such eternal consequences through repentance, or in other words, by choosing good over evil. We feel of God’s forgiveness upon turning our hearts to Him and His Son. The prodigal son “came to himself” and upon his return was embraced by a father who ran to him and embraced without condition (see Luke 15:11-32). There was no hesitancy in the father’s welcome or forgiveness. Such is our Father’s response to those who “come to themselves” and return to Him (see Luke 15:17). Freedom from the natural consequences of sin through repentance may come immediately, but such freedom may also only come over time as it may be in our best interests to reap the purifying power of bearing such consequences (see D&C 98:3). Christ’s mercy offers solace and an enabling power to bear such burdens. In choosing Him, we are safely in His hands. What is always an immediate blessing of true repentance is freedom from guilt, and a blessing of peace and rest (see Matt. 11:48; John 14:27; John 16:33).
When considering Christ as Intercessor, one cannot help but consider what has come to be known as Christ’s intercessory prayer recorded in John 17. Does this prayer align with His intercessory role so clearly made in the Book of Mormon? I believe it does.
First, as a preliminary consideration, what are the purposes of prayer to the Father? Surely one purpose is to evidence the alignment of our will and desires with God’s (3 Nep. 18:20; D&C 46:30; 8:10; 18:18; 88:63-65; John 15:7; Al.14:9-11). Christ’s will and desires, He who states He is one with the Father (see John 17:11, 21, 22, 23), must align perfectly with the Father. His prayer then is not to convince God to change His will to conform to Christ’s, but rather is evidence of Christ’s will being in alignment with our Father’s. This alignment then opens the door for God to bless as requested. Christ’s intercessory prayer is evidence intended for us to see of the fulfilment of God’s plan, that Christ qualified Himself through His great and willing sacrifice to become our intercessor.
Christ’s prayer is that all those who have and will believe on His word (v. 8), who embrace His sanctification that they may be sanctified (v. 19), may be made perfect because the Father sent Christ who fulfilled the Father’s will, all borne out of both the love of the Father and of the Son (v.23). In short, that all may be one with the Father (v. 21). And how does this oneness come to be? By the atonement of Jesus Christ, His offering to the children of men the law of mercy, a law which satisfies the demands of justice for death and hell (sin) and thereby offers the glory of God to all who choose to embrace the gift God offers through His Son, and Christ offers through His atonement (v.22). His prayer is for us to hear; Christ says, “these things I speak in the world, that they might have joy fulfilled in themselves.” (v. 13). This intercessory prayer serves to give us joy through Christ’s testimony that He has done exactly what our Father wishes for us. What an offering! What intercession!
B. Christ as Advocate
Our common understanding of an advocate is one who champions a position or cause on behalf of another with the goal to persuade. Lawyers advocate for the interests of their client before a judge hoping to influence decision; lobbyists advocate politicians on behalf of their client seeking to sway the lawmaker; a parent may be an advocate for their child seeking to obtain for them the best possible educational opportunity. When Christ is referred to as our “advocate with the Father” is this describing Christ in a role where He is being seen as one championing our cause before our Father in Heaven seeking to persuade Him of our merit, or of some other cause relating to us for which God needs persuading? Even to formulate the question seems offensive to God, a loving and omniscient perfect parent who we know to be at one with Christ. Again, there is the risk of painting our Father as one who needs convincing of that which is in His children’s best interests. Does our Perfect Father really need such persuasion? I think not.
Numerous scriptures which speak of Christ as our advocate use the phrase “advocate with the Father” (see D&C 32:3; 45:3; 29:5). Let us consider the meaning of the title “advocate” and interpretation of the word “with” which often follows this title. The Greek word “paraclete” is translated in the New Testament as both “advocate” and “comforter”. In 1 John 2:1 we read: “If any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” Here, the Greek word “paraclete” is translated as “advocate”.
In John 14:26, a further explanation as to how Christ will not leave his disciples “comfortless” (v. 18), we read:
“But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.”
Here the Greek word “paraclete” is translated as “Comforter”. In the verse which follows, Christ references the peculiar peace He will leave with those He is seeking now to comfort. Does this verse (v. 27) have reference to the promise of a Comforter (v. 26)? How could it not? Returning to 1 John 2:1, consider the meaning if we were to transpose “advocate” with “comforter”. The sinner receives assurance of comfort from Christ together with the Father. They look to help the sinner overcome the sorrow of sin.
Thus, we see that “paraclete” is translated in the New Testament as both “comforter” and “advocate”. Might that same flexibility of meaning be applied to other scripture? In D&C 62:1 we read:
“Behold, and hearken, O ye elders of my church, saith the Lord your God, even Jesus Christ, your advocate, who knoweth the weakness of man and how to succor them who are tempted.”
In reading this scripture, in describing Himself as our advocate, Christ immediately speaks of His knowledge of our weakness and how to succor us which speaks so directly to Christ being our Comforter, an alternate translation of the word advocate.
Returning to the oft-found expression of Christ being our “advocate with the Father”, as the Father and Christ are one, and “advocate” can also be read as “comforter”, this phrase can be read as Christ being “our Comforter with the Father” (emphasis added). Or in other words, together they comfort us. This unity of purpose seems to be reflected in the following:
“Lift up your hearts and be glad, for I am in your midst, and am your advocate with the Father, and it is his good will to give you the kingdom.” (D&C 29:5)
We see Christ offering comfort through His assurance that He is “in your midst”, that He is “your [Comforter] with the Father” whom He assures is looking to give His people “the kingdom”. He speaks of them being on the same page. Together, Christ and God the Father are providing comfort to Their children. There is no schism between the two in relation to us. Speaking to the Romans, Paul confirms this mutuality when he says of the Father:
“What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us?
He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?” (Romans 8:31,32; emphasis added)
There is scripture which speaks of Christ “pleading [our] cause” before the Father (see D&C45:3; Jacob 3:1). This may seem to confirm a role for Christ as an advocate who is trying to convince God of something on our behalf. Again, it must be asked, is there such a schism between Christ and the Father when it comes to “our cause”?
Let us consider the detail found in D&C 45:3-5 which reads:
“Listen to him who is the advocate with the Father, who is pleading your cause before him – Saying: Father, behold the suffering and death of him who did no sin, in whom thou wast well pleased; behold the blood of thy Son which was shed, the blood of him whom thou gavest that thyself might be glorified; Wherefore, Father, spare these my brethren that believe on my name, that they may come unto me and have everlasting life.”
In legal terms, “pleadings” are those initiating documents in a civil lawsuit which allege facts which if proven in court through testimony justify the relief sought. Christ “pleads” on our behalf, or in other words, states facts, which if true (and we know that they are), justify the relief sought.
In this scripture, Christ both pleads (sets out facts to be proven) and testifies (bears witness of the facts) fulfilling both components of establishing fact. To bear testimony, a witness must have first-hand experience. What better witness can we have of what Christ has done for us than Christ Himself? And of what does He testify? Nothing less than His great atoning sacrifice which satisfies the law of justice thus permitting Christ’s “brethren” to come unto Him and enjoy everlasting life. Let us remember, this ascension blessing for all mankind through Christ is the Father’s plan of redemption and exaltation. Christ’s gospel is to “do the will of [His] Father” as so beautifully expressed by the Resurrected Christ (see 3 Nep. 27:13-15). Their unified efforts are clear when Christ affirms that “according to the power of the Father I will draw all men unto me, …”. It is our Father’s plan for His children to be redeemed through Christ. Rather than seeking to “convince” our Father to allow mercy into His children’s lives, Christ is simply bearing witness that He has fulfilled our Father’s will which satisfy the demands of eternal law by which God is bound (see D&C 82:10) and mercy can now be extended. It is only logical to conclude that there must be testimony of the facts which fulfill the laws of justice (Christ’s atonement) in order for justice to allow mercy to flow into our lives. Truly, God is both “a perfect, just God, and a merciful God also.” (Al. 42:15)
There is a pattern of Christ testifying before the Father, bearing witness of what He has done for us. Again, this is not to convince God to change His disposition towards us, but to testify, to provide evidence that the law has been satisfied; He is reporting the fulfilment of his role in Their plan. By way of example, when Christ testifies before the Father of those who have become “clean from the blood of this wicked generation” (D&C 88:74, 75) He is bearing witness of a truth, reporting to the Father of the fulfilment of Their plan – He is not defending us against a vengeful God to mollify Him.
When we read of Christ bearing witness for us, we should ask, “Is Christ only bearing witness to the Father?” The answer helps us to connect this witness or testimony to Christ’s role as our Comforter along with the Father. Returning to section 45:1, it begins with “Hearken, O ye people of my church …” and then Christ speaks of His mission for man. Verse 2, “And again I say, hearken unto my voice, …” and then Christ speaks of the consequences if we do not. Verse 3 begins with “Listen to him who is the advocate with the Father…” then goes on to testify of His atonement which opens the way for us to “have everlasting life”. Clearly, these words, and His testimony is directed at us; He is explaining to us what He has done for us. We are the ones who need to understand – the Father well knows the fulfillment of the law through His merciful Son. We need to learn of His witness; this testimony is to bring us comfort as we come to understand the gift Jesus proffers us through His atonement.
The scriptures are replete with such testimony from Christ of what both Heavenly Parents and Christ, Our Redeemer have done for the children of men to offer exaltation. Reading, and pondering these many scriptural witnesses of what has been done for us by both the Father and the Son to overcome death and hell should bring the ultimate comfort. Surely there is comfort in knowing that for which we can hope. Mormon made clear that which offers hope:
“Behold, I say unto you that ye shall have hope through the atonement of Christ and the power of his resurrection, to be raised unto life eternal, …”(Moro. 7:41)
Yes, Christ is our advocate with the Father. Together they comfort us through Christ’s testimony repeatedly shared with us that He has fulfilled our Father’s plan and continues so to do, satisfying the demands of eternal law, necessarily respecting the justice of God, and thereby blesses us with eternal hope.
C. Christ as Mediator
Another title of Christ which can give cause for confusion about the nature of our Heavenly Father in relation to us, His children, and Christ’s redeeming role, is that of mediator. Typically, we see a mediator as one who stands between parties at odds with each other hoping to facilitate resolution to a conflict between those parties. Such a mediator is neutral, having no personal interest in the outcome of the conflict. A couple seeking divorce, rather than turn to the courts to resolve contentious issues between them, may first turn to mediation hoping that with the assistance of a mediator, they will be able to arrive at a mutually acceptable agreement on matters relating to their children, property, and financial support. An employer and its unionized employees may turn to a mediator seeking assistance to resolve disputes between them. Jesus’ role as mediator is not as these. He most certainly has a personal interest in us – He is definitely not neutral in this work. He is so much more than a “facilitator”.
One definition of a mediator is “one who acts as an intermediary agent”. In law, an agent is one who is authorized by, and acts on behalf of a principal to fulfill a certain mandate of the principal, in the narrowest sense, the entering into contracts which legally bind the principal and a third party. The agent is “intermediary” in the sense that she is on the principal’s errand. An agent has a fiduciary duty to her principal, namely, to act in the best interests of the principal, to do only that authorized by the principal. Christ stated that: “I came into the world to do the will of my Father, because my Father sent me.” (2 Nep. 27:13). This is the language of an agent describing both his authority and mandate from his principal. In 3 Nephi we gain further insight:
“And my Father sent me that I might be lifted up upon the cross and after that I had been lifted up upon the cross, that I might draw all men unto me, that as I have been lifted up by men even so should men be lifted up by the Father, to stand before me, …” (3 Nep. 27:14)
If we agree that it is our Father’s Plan of Exaltation and central to that plan is Christ’s atonement for man, clearly Christ was on His Father’s errand by fulfilling the mandate to “draw all men unto [Christ]”. Surely, He is to be seen as an agent for the Father in this respect – a mediator.
Lehi teaches of our choice of liberty and eternal life “through the great Mediator of all men” (2 Nep. 2:27) Liberty and eternal life are offered us by Heavenly Father through His Son, His agent or mediator, even Jesus Christ. There is but one who was and is capable of giving us that which the Father desired:
“For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” (1 Tim. 2:5)
Christ is spoken of repeatedly as the “mediator of the new covenant”, of a “better covenant”, even the New and Everlasting Covenant (see Heb. 12:24; 8:6, 13; D&C 76:69). Christ, in accordance with the Father’s will, has done and continues so to do all that is necessary for eternal covenants to work their purifying power in our lives (D&C 84:19-22). Christ brings to us from God this New and Everlasting Covenant manifest in Jesus Christ, an expression of the Father’s love for His children, the collaborative means whereby all can be united as one.
5. Conclusion – Truth Expands the Heart and Mind – Demands Diligence and Patience to Acquire Understanding
Eternal truths understood are foundational to the promised joy and peace to one’s heart and mind that is to be ours, even in this mortal journey which is laced with “misery and woe”. (Moses 6:48)
“Adam fell that men might be, and men are that they might have joy”. (2 Nep. 2:25)
“Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” (John 14:27)
As Latter-day Saints, covenant members of the Church of Jesus Christ, if our path of discipleship is more burden than blessing, we must ask ourselves, “Do we understand the Gospel doctrine restored sufficiently to enjoy the joy and peace promised?” When we hear encouragement to stay on the covenant path, are we fixated on our discouraging shortcomings obsessing with self, or do we feel assurance in gospel truths which compel and enable us to look outward in love?
In our striving to understand true doctrine, that which brings joy and peace, where can we look to guide our discovery? Alma teaches with clarity how to discern between “a true seed, or a good seed” (Al. 32:28) and one that is not. Or in other words, how to discern truth from falsehood. He invites us all to “awake and arouse [our] faculties, even to an experiment upon [his] words, …” (Al. 32:27) This invitation should cause us to reflect upon our state of awareness and willingness to engage our faculties in our search for understanding. He presents the process to acquire knowledge through the exercise of faith on a “good seed”, the word of truth being compared to a good seed. The experiment is to plant the seed in our hearts, to at least desire to believe it to be a true seed, to exercise even a particle of faith in that planted, then, if it be a true seed, he says:
“…, it will begin to swell within your breasts; and when you feel these swelling motions, ye will begin to say within yourselves – It must needs be that this is a good seed, or that the word is good, for it beginneth to enlarge my soul; yea, it beginneth to enlighten my understanding, yea, it beginneth to be delicious to me.” (Al. 32:28)
A “good seed”, true doctrine, will “swell within [us], “enlarge [our] souls”, “enlighten [our] understanding”, and “be delicious to [us]”. A seed of truth produces fruit which uplifts and edifies. Does our understanding of doctrine, of what we hold up to be eternal truth, do this for us? If not, are we exercising faith in a seed which is not good, or not correct? There are many points of doctrine with which the children of men struggle, which appear to weigh them down rather than to lift, which seem to darken rather than lighten one’s path. Is the source of such struggle the doctrine – or the misunderstanding of true doctrine? Are we willing to “arouse our faculties” to seek to find a true seed, or true understanding, when the seed we have planted in our hearts does not produce the results Alma describes?
After further explanation as to how to plant the word and begin to exercise faith therein, Alma and then Amulek testify that the word to be planted in their hearts is Jesus Christ and His atonement for all (see Al. 33:22, 23; 34:6). Understanding Christ’s central role in our Father’s plan to redeem all His children is foundational to understanding all those points of doctrine which bless our lives with joy and peace.
In exploring how we can distinguish between truth and errancy in scripture, drawing from Alma’s recommended experiment upon the word, the Givens put forward what they call the best question we might ask ourselves: “Does what I am reading expand my heart and mind, or does it narrow the mind and constrict the heart?” (Terryl and Fiona Givens, All Things New, p. 68) In testing our understanding of doctrine, we might ask a similar question: Does my understanding of the nature of God, the role of Christ to redeem, sin, repentance, forgiveness, justice, judgment – or any other doctrine – expand my heart and mind, or does it narrow the mind and constrict the heart? Of all people, the Latter-day Saint has so much the opportunity and reason to rejoice in the experience of mortality because of truth revealed and restored. Sadly, there are many whose understanding of that truth does not expand the heart and mind, but rather narrows and constricts.
If our current understanding of doctrine brings us down, put that understanding on the shelf. Do not let it continue to harrow us, but rather let our faith be exercised to find true understanding. Rest our faith upon those truths about which we have received a witness through the Holy Ghost, truths which do expand our hearts and minds. Let us remember patience in the process of acquiring spiritual understanding sufficient to allay that which narrows and constricts. This process may extend over weeks, months, even years and is most often contingent upon our faith and diligence put forward to understand. It is a blessing for truth to be revealed "line upon line” (2 Nep. 28:30) as we are ready to receive it for with knowledge comes accountability.
Remember the example of the sons of Mosiah as noted by their friend who could be similarly described:
“…yea, and they had waxed strong in the knowledge of the truth; for they were men of sound understanding and they had searched the scriptures diligently, that they might know the word of God.” (Al. 17:2)
In addition to their diligence in searching the scriptures, the essential added requirement of obtaining knowledge of truth, namely revelation, was also sought:
“But this is not all; they had given themselves to much prayer, and fasting; therefore they had the spirit of prophecy, and the spirit of revelation, and when they taught, they taught with power and authority.” (Al. 17:3)
In a society where we want everything right now, and with minimal effort, it is a challenge to be patient and trusting in our loving Father’s perfect timeline.
Let us guard against dismissing that which has been revealed to us even when true understanding of other points of doctrine takes time. Just as then President Dieter F. Uchtdorf said to “doubt your doubts before you doubt your faith” (Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “Come, Join with Us, Ensign, November, 2013) we are wise to hold fast to what does expand our hearts and minds even as we patiently search for greater understanding on other points of doctrine which do not. Dismiss an understanding which harrows the mind and constricts the heart, then patiently look to gain a true understanding over time. Understanding of truth is an incremental process fed by experience and diligence, both of which entail the passage of time. Just as the people of Enoch became a Zion people and “in the process of time” (Moses 7:21) were taken up into heaven, we too are wise to recognize our becoming, our understanding of truth, will evolve in a similar process.
We are Children of Perfect Parents. Eternal law, including justice and mercy, is the framework for eternal progression. Christ as Intercessor, Advocate, and Mediator is one with the Father in offering immortality and eternal life to all of God’s children. As said Jacob, I say to us all, “O be wise; what can I say more” (Jacob 6:12).
President David Orr
(Postscript: That written reflects to the best of my current understanding the principles of truth discussed. This understanding may sharpen over time and enjoy greater clarity. Of course, there is always the limitation of finding true expression in the written word. Anyone who may read and study this writing are encouraged to do so with a desire to test for themselves the voracity of that written. I do not profess a perfect understanding, but rather write to gain a better, and share to invite and encourage diligence in coming to know and understand eternal truth.
By admission, I acknowledge that footnotes and citations may not be correctly formatted, but I trust they are sufficient to allay allegation of plagiarism and clear enough to find and review if the reader desires.)
 Consider the message of eternal invitation from Christ found in the six verses of “Come, Follow Me”, (Hymn #116).  Given the limitations of mortal man, it is difficult to imagine anyone being “fully aware” and thus capable of coming to such a damning conclusion. The Givens write: “A contemporary of Joseph Smith, Charlotte Haven, found the Prophet’s Nauvoo sermons full of hope and optimism, recuperating the legacy of Christianity’s founding fathers. A spirit in the lowest kingdom, she recorded him as saying, ‘constantly progresses in spiritual knowledge until safely landed in the Celestial.’ Joseph deliberately represented this process in the temple endowment.” I cannot read this without reflecting upon my own experience walking the stairs from room to room in the Cardston Alberta Temple. The Givens go on to share words by Brigham Young, Lorenzo Snow, James E. Talmage, President Joseph F. Smith, J. Reuben Clarke Jr. who all speak of eternal progression to the highest kingdom of glory. The Givens acknowledge that “Church leadership has officially declared that the question of eternal progression and movement through kingdoms is not a resolved point of doctrine” (see Givens, “The Christ Who Heals”, p. 118-121). So, the door for such an interpretation remains open, a door through which at this point in my understanding of things eternal, I cannot help but to walk.  Even for these there remains question as to whether they can ever escape their choice to reject God. Their punishment is “everlasting” and “eternal” (D&C 76:44), but is this simply designating such punishment as being God’s punishment? (D&C 19:4-12), that it exists eternally, but not necessarily without end for the individual? And of such punishment the Lord reveals “And the end thereof, neither the place thereof, nor of their torment, no man knows. (D&C 76:45) This too can be interpreted that there is an end to being a son of perdition, and end “no man knows”. Christ answered the consequence justice requires through His suffering, and if we repent not, He makes clear that we that we must bear those terrible consequences. (D&C 19:17) Might we conclude, as it was for Christ, that once the full extent of the demands of justice have been met, that escape from “endless torment” and “eternal damnation” is possible? Consider the possible connection between Christ’s initial explanation of these terms and the clarification that comes regarding the fate of those who choose not to repent.  Enoch was invited to “walk with [the Lord]” (Moses 6:34), and he did (Moses 6:39) which led through his faithfulness to a Zion people who “walked with God”. (Moses 7:69). This unification with God occurred “in the process of time” (Moses 7:21) Both “walking with God” and “in the process of time” speak to perfection being achieved along a continuum. Would a loving father ever finally close the door on a repentant child? Is the promise found in Mos. 26:30 limited to mortality only when there is so much that suggests otherwise?  Elder James E. Talmage wrote: “The Atonement in Accordance with Divine Law – We have learned but little of the eternal laws operative in the heavens; but that God’s purposes are accomplished through and by law is beyond question. There can be no irregularity, inconsistency, arbitrariness or caprice in His doings, for such would mean injustice. Therefore, the atonement must have been effected in accordance with law. The self-sacrificing life, the indescribable agony, and the voluntary death of One who had life in Himself with power to halt His torturers at any stage, and whom none could slay until He permitted, must have constituted compliance with the eternal law of justice, propitiation and expiation by which victory over sin and death could be and has been achieved. Through the mortal life and sacrificial death of our Lord Jesus Christ the demands of justice have been fully met, and the way is opened for the lawful ministration of mercy so far as the effect of the fall are concerned.” (James E. Talmage, “Articles of Faith”, p. 476 Appendix 4, Notes Relating to Chapter 4, Note 1)  Corianton’s example of repentance through engaging with full purpose of heart in the work of the Lord reflects so very well the teaching of James found in James 1. We may miss the central message of his admonition to be “doers of the word, and not hearers only” (see v. 22) His call to be doers of “pure religion” (v. 27) aids in overcoming temptation and sin (see v. 2-4,12-15). Corianton was taught true doctrine relating to God’s offering of repentance through His son Jesus Christ, then trusting upon such, Corianton embraced the invitation of his father to be a “doer of the work” (see v. 25). In the “doing”, temptation lost its grasp upon him. When we falter and sin, may we exercise faith in Christ unto our repentance, then renew our engagement in the work of the Lord, whatever that may be for us in our sphere of influence. In so doing, we are endowed with divine grace and temptation to sin loses its power over us. For further consideration of the condescension of both God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, see Mos. 15:1-5; John 10:30;14:8-10.