Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 1:25-27

25 And God made the beast of the earth after his kind, and cattle after their kind, and every thing that creepeth upon the earth after his kind: and God saw that it was good.

26 And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.

27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.

One of the greatest assaults against all mankind is the academic classification of us as a species of animal. This notion that we are essentially the same as any other type of creature, just evolved differently, is one of the most damaging ideas I can think of. It is debasing. It denies our sacred and divine nature. It willfully ignores the self-evident fact that there is no other creature like people.

Yes, we are creations and animals are creations, but it is readily apparent to anyone that makes the most basic of observations that people are of a different order from animals, just as animals are of a different order from plants, and just as plants are of a different order from rocks and minerals. Even if we discard any religious argument we still have to tie ourselves in knots to deny what is self-evident: that humanity and animals do not fit in the same box.

But why we are different is only made clear when we embrace the biblical record. That indescribable quality that separates man from beast is detailed in verse 27, it is that man is created in God’s own image, male and female. This same claim is not made of any other creation, only of mankind, and it is this fact that lays beneath every elevated aspect humanity possesses.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 1:20-22, 24

20 And God said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life, and fowl that may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven.

21 And God created great whales, and every living creature that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly, after their kind, and every winged fowl after his kind: and God saw that it was good.

22 And God blessed them, saying, Be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let fowl multiply in the earth.

24 And God said, Let the earth bring forth the living creature after his kind, cattle, and creeping thing, and beast of the earth after his kind: and it was so.

There is an undeniable joyousness to God’s creation. “Bring forth abundantly,” “fowl that may fly above the earth,” “be fruitful, and multiply”…in these I hear a command to spread out, to explore, to uncover the beauty that God has hidden in nature.

Notice in these verses how God created the sea and populated it with vibrant life, the skies and populated it with vibrant life, the earth and populated it with vibrant life. He wanted every nook and cranny of His creation to be appreciated and adorned with life, and He instructed that life to propagate and fill the whole space around it.

After the fall animal life would become defined by a vicious struggle of life-and-death, a survival that was based on the termination of others. But as originally designed, life was meant to be a peaceful, joyful flourish.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 1:14-16

14. And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years:

15 And let them be for lights in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth: and it was so.

16 And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night: he made the stars also.

It amuses me how casual the wording is in these verses when describing the creation of worlds without number! You know, God just put some lights in the sky, simple as a parent painting stars on the bedroom ceiling, right? The phrase “he made the stars also” doesn’t begin to capture the magnitude of a hundred billion stars in our galaxy alone, each of them an entire world or star, each meticulously suspended by a complex web of gravity. And all of it described as little more than set dressing to the other work of creation that was happening down on Earth, a garnish to the main course.

And perhaps there is some truth to that, for as incredible as massive bodies of rock and gas in infinite space might be, they are surpassed by the wonder and intricacy of plants, animals, and people. When we turn from looking to the heavens above to the world around us we find the careful balance of nature, the micro-universes of cells and proteins, and the inexplicable miracle called “life” which animates it all. God’s crowning achievement of creation is not to be found in the vastness of space, but within us smaller things.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 1:2

2. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.

Here we see the natural state of this world: without form, void, darkness upon the face of the deep. It wasn’t for millennia after this passage was written that science became aware of entropy, the phenomenon that suggests the entire universe, if left to its natural devices, will dissolve itself into a evenly distributed, stagnant void. Everything will be made uniform until there remains no variety, and with in no variety there is also no catalyst or process. That fits the description of this verse remarkably well, doesn’t it?

Life and individuality can only occur as God moves upon the face of this world. He doesn’t just make our existence good, He makes it possible.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 1:1

1. In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.

Many have pointed out that the Bible begins in media res. Even though it is “in the beginning” of our story, it is also in the middle of another larger story: God’s story. Humanity and animal life and the mountains and the sea do not yet exist at this point, but God still does. He is already an entity, already all-powerful, and already commanding legions of angels to do His will.

And the lesson that stands out to me from this is that we are fundamentally different from God and we need to appreciate that fact. He is mysterious and He always will be. He is not a mortal man and cannot be understood in mortal terms. And yet we often try to do just that, stripping away the parts that exceed our understanding and remaking Him in our own image. That is folly.

Yes, there are parts of Him that are connected to us. There are things that we learn about Him by examining ourselves. He is our Father and we are His children, we have the same basic desire for good, and the same natural repulsion for evil. But still we are not entirely the same as Him, and we never can be so long as we live in this smaller, mortal story. Thus we will get along much better if we do not try to project onto Him our opinions of what He “should” be like, and instead rely on what He has personally revealed to us about His nature.

Two Years In

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Reflections)

And then, just like that, I’m two years into writing this blog! This has certainly been a tumultuous year in the world, and it has been a dramatic year in my personal life as well. Many good things have happened for me and my family: changing jobs, moving to a new house, and getting used to having a new baby in the home, but each of these good things have also disrupted my regular routines, leaving me longing for a sense of consistency.

And during all of that disruption this spiritual study has been one of those pillars of consistency that I have come to rely on. Tethering myself to the regular practice of spiritual devotion has helped me fight the tide of distraction, to push against the temptation to give up my self-care and balance until things are more “normal.” I haven’t been perfect at maintaining my course, but I have definitely been better if I didn’t have these practices to anchor my soul.

My great hope is that the third year of this spiritual study will see me putting roots deep once more and moving from a state of survival to flourishing.

Statistics)

Throughout this year I added 275 entries to this blog, bringing my total up to 565. Those made up 18 new essays, bringing that total up to 51, and 12 monthly updates on how I am trying to make the gospel be more alive in my life. This blog has been picked up in 12 new countries during the last year, resulting in a worldwide spread of 55 countries in all.

Moving Forward)

Each of these anniversaries provides me an excellent opportunity to examine what is working well in my spiritual journey and what could be improved. I have spent some time thinking it over this last week and I have decided that it will be best for me to make a few changes to this blog.

Daily Study)

I have been researching specific topics for two years now, putting together a collection of scriptures and life lessons that convey a single, focused message. I like this style of scripture study and I will surely return to it from time-to-time. Lately, though, I have felt a need to shift from hunting out scriptures to fit into a predetermined category, and to instead let them speak for themselves. I want to take some time to just read them in their own context, allowing them to convey just the messages that they want to convey.

To that end I will discontinue the topical studies for a time and instead shift to a more sequential study. I will read through the scriptures chapter-by-chapter, verse-by-verse, making commentary on the lessons that stand out to me from them. I will not force myself to provide commentary where I have none. I expect that some passages of scripture will be very dense in the impressions that they make on me while others will be sparse. That is alright.

Now from time-to-time I would expect that a category of the gospel will weigh heavily upon me, and when that occurs I will pause my sequential study, get on my soap box, and conduct a topical study on that matter. After that it will be back to the regular, sequential study, at least until I feel the need to change my processes again.

Monthly Check-ins)

Last year I began a practice of checking my pulse spiritually and deciding where I needed to improve my daily practices. I do see great value in this self-analysis, and I do intend to continue it privately, but I will not continue to publicly post the results of those introspections.

It is not that I am opposed to sharing parts of one’s personal journey. I believe that vulnerability is an essential part of shining our light to the world. But I also believe that we typically don’t know which are the truly significant moments of our lives until after the fact, when we look back at all the events as a whole. I feel like taking time to chronicle all the little ebbs and flows of life is actually distracting me from the broader, more significant strokes of my development.

So for the time being I will limit the publicizing of my life lessons to the times that they specifically relate to the topic of my regular, daily scripture study.

Thank You)

Thank you once again for being a part of this journey. Each of us has a very personal, very individual path to walk which no one else can walk for us, but that doesn’t mean that we cannot have accompaniment along the way. You may not be able to take my steps for me, but you can be beside me as I take them.

I thank you for that accompaniment, and I hope that in some way my words convey my companionship with you on your private walk as well. God bless you.

Discussing Spiritual Differences- Summary

The idea of how to share the gospel message with others has been a recurring theme on this blog. I guess I have many questions about how to negotiate that intersection of living a godly life and living as a cooperative member of society.
Wanting to share the gospel in a socially kind way isn’t only about avoiding unpleasant tension, it is also essential to presenting your message in the light that was always intended to accompany it. You simply do not become a good missionary without first learning how to be a good brother or sister to your fellowman.
This study helped me to reiterate some of the ideas I’ve had on the subject before and also gave rise to some new ones. Here are some of the core concepts that stood out to me from my research.

Come to Your Own Knowledge)

First and foremost, you cannot properly testify of what you do not personally know. Testimonies that come from a place of “or so I’ve been told” are unhelpful to everyone involved. A testimony is not what you think and it’s certainly not what you’ve been told, it is what you have come to actually gain a knowledge of for your own self.
But most of us are terrified by the idea of admitting when we do not know something. Everyone has an answer to every moral question, even when they haven’t given the matter any prior thought. And I know that this game of pretended knowledge occurs because I have played it myself. I have spoken as if I had a sure confidence when I really didn’t. And I have seen enough to know I am not the only one that has done so. There are pretenders everywhere.
And there is no point in considering the question of how to testify of good and renounce evil unless we have first come to truly know what is right. To be able to testify with power you must be able to testify with confidence. You have to be able to believe your own words before you can expect anyone else to. And if you don’t really know what you’re talking about, then set aside the question of testifying for a time and focus instead on just coming to really, really know.
Matthew 15:14- Let them alone: they be blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch.
Alma 32:34- And now, behold, is your knowledge perfect? Yea, your knowledge is perfect in that thing, and your faith is dormant; and this because you know, for ye know that the word hath swelled your souls, and ye also know that it hath sprouted up, that your understanding doth begin to be enlightened, and your mind doth begin to expand.

Wake Up the World)

But bit-by-bit one can come to know what they’re talking about. Not all at once, not the entire whole as a single piece, but gradually one can come to be sure that faith yields fruit, that repentance yields cleansing, that sacrifice yields humility, and that following God yields true happiness. Even before one can testify of all things they are able to testify of some.
And not only are they able to testify, they must! For there is already such false confidence given to hurtful philosophies that many men and women are left confused and derailed. When one awakens to the truth one sees how much untruth is being championed as fact. And untruth actively causes harm, it is sure to hurt the lives of those that abide by it.
One cannot idly sit back when these realities become apparent. We must try to help those in harm’s way, even if it means speaking with such boldness that some will become angry at us. We are compelled to renounce the lies and champion the truth. Not because we wish to condemn our brothers and sisters who are deluded, but because we love them and we want to help them.
Matthew 5:14- Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid
Acts 4:29-30- And now, Lord, behold their threatenings: and grant unto thy servants, that with all boldness they may speak thy word, by stretching forth thine hand to heal; and that signs and wonders may be done by the name of thy holy child Jesus.

Ever an Invitation)

We are meant to preach with boldness, we are meant to renounce sin without reservation, we are meant to speak of absolute truth in absolute terms. Our words and our example should testify of the truth with such weight that those who hear it cannot help but be moved. Moved to say to themselves “well I had better find out for myself on this matter.” Truth testified boldly has that effect: to compel the hearer to come to their own knowledge. It inspires men and women to find their own surety.
But…though we seek to be bold, to compel, and to inspire, in none of these ambitions is there justification for trying to force. I can make clear my own convictions, but I must never try to make your own convictions for you. This gospel is one of invitation. The message should be given in a very clear and powerful manner, but then it must be left to the hearer what they will do with it.
And some will choose to do nothing with that message and some of them will choose to fight against it, and we must accept and allow that. Though we seek to make the world a better place, we know that it can only be better when people are able to choose it for themselves.
2 Nephi 2:27- Wherefore, men are free according to the flesh; and all things are given them which are expedient unto man. And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil; for he seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself.
Doctrine and Covenants 121:41- No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned;

Discussing Spiritual Differences- Matthew 10:16-17, 22-23; 1 Samuel 8:7

Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.
But beware of men: for they will deliver you up to the councils, and they will scourge you in their synagogues;
And ye shall be hated of all men for my name’s sake: but he that endureth to the end shall be saved.
But when they persecute you in this city, flee ye into another: for verily I say unto you, Ye shall not have gone over the cities of Israel, till the Son of man be come.

And the Lord said unto Samuel, Hearken unto the voice of the people in all that they say unto thee: for they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them.

COMMENTARY

They will deliver you up to the councils, and ye shall be hated of all men for my name’s sake
But when they persecute you in this city, flee ye into another

Jesus did not mince words when he told his disciples what to expect when carrying his message into the world. And one of the points that he stressed in particular was that they were going to be rejected…a lot. Though the disciples would work miracles, though they would speak with power, though they would dedicate their lives to this work, though they would convince many of the truth, there would always remain those who would not accept their message.
Recall that even the master orator Paul, after he had borne a masterful testimony to King Agrippa, was only able to elicit a response of “almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian.”

For they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me
But is it any wonder that the disciples would be rejected when their master was as well? Jesus was turned away from cities, disputed against in the synagogues, and given up to death by his own people. Was it just because he didn’t know the right words to say, because he fumbled in his delivery, because he wasn’t skilled enough in the preaching his own message.
No, of course not. He and his disciples faced rejection for the simple reason that people have their freedom of choice, and some just choose to reject the gospel message and that’s all there is to it. It doesn’t have to be that the one proselyting did anything wrong. They might have said exactly what they needed to, but the person hearing the message just didn’t want to receive it.
And that is an important truth for us to remember whenever we try to champion the right. I have known those who believe that if they can just find the right, magical words they will be able to unlock anybody’s heart and that simply isn’t true. No one has to accept what you to say. Anyone is able to turn you down, no matter how perfect your reasoning is. If you feel that you spoke with the words that were given you, that the point was made, that the truth was evident to any who would see, then you have done your part. Anything after that, acceptance or rejection, is out of your control. Whatever the outcome is, you must just accept it and move along.

Discussing Spiritual Differences- John 8:32, 1 John 2:21

And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.

I have not written unto you because ye know not the truth, but because ye know it, and that no lie is of the truth.

COMMENTARY

The truth shall make you free
Yesterday I considered how the truth wants to be spoken and urges us to utter it. However it is not the truth that needs us so much as it is we who need the truth.
Truth is not some fragile being that we must protect or else will fade away. It is not Tinkerbell who will die if we stop believing in it. Truth just is. It exists independently of our involvement. Truth does not need to be stated to be true.
So when we speak the truth, it is not for truth’s sake, but for humanity’s. As Jesus attests in this verse, it is the truth that makes us free. Thus to know the truth and to not say it is to leave your brother in chains.

Ye know it, that no lie is of the truth
And this is yet another reason why those that have found moral truth must speak up, even to a world that doesn’t want to hear it. Just as it is wrong to see someone walking into physical danger and not call out a warning, it is also wrong to not call out a warning of moral dangers.
When one has found the truth one knows the truth and one knows what is not of the truth. And when one knows that what they hear is not truth, it would be an act of abuse to leave one’s fellowman so blinded. Even if the other will not hear, the one that knows the truth is still obligated to speak it so that the other can have his chance for freedom.

Discussing Spiritual Differences- John 18:37-38, Matthew 5:14

Pilate therefore said unto him, Art thou a king then? Jesus answered, Thou sayest that I am a king. To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice.
Pilate saith unto him, What is truth? And when he had said this, he went out again unto the Jews, and saith unto them, I find in him no fault at all.

Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid.

COMMENTARY

Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice
Pilate saith unto him, What is truth?
It is in our nature when we hear something untrue to correct it. Even small children cannot help but call out when a known fact is misstated. Point at something and call it the wrong color, mess up on a simple mathematical operation, attribute a quote to the incorrect historical figure, lie about where you were yesterday…someone will call you out on it. There is something in each of us that just wants for the truth to be spoken.
And certainly this applies to moral truth as well. When we have awoken to the balance of right and wrong we become unsettled to hear any declaration that is morally askew. When others speak a morally untrue message we feel compelled to correct it.

Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid
And this is a great source of friction to those that proselyte, for there are some who would rather they just kept their moral truths to themselves.
But exercising that restraint runs contrary to the very nature of truth. Truth is like a light: it shines forth. It is a city on a hill that cannot be hid, a candle that cannot be stowed beneath a bushel. When someone casts shades of untruth, whether it be “1 + 1 = 3” or “joy can be found in carnal living,” then truth is compelled to sweep forward to correct it. Truth, even undesired truth, yearns to fill every dark corner with light.