To Live Freely: Part Eighteen
Yesterday I discussed three different domains of truth: the truth of the physical world, the truth of society, and the truth of morality. I made my case for each being well-founded and constant, even if at times mysterious. I argued that they all originate from outside of our individual selves, yet are inseparably integrated in us as well. I also considered the strange paradox where we all believe in these realities to some degree, yet we try to violate their rules even so. Each one of us seems to believe in the truth, but also disbelieve it in part. And this uncertainty makes it very difficult, even impossible, for us to live in full harmony with these realities and achieve our greatest potential.
Having acknowledged the problem, I turn now to an important passage of scripture, some of the most quoted verses from the Bible.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. - John 1:1-3
Much has been said about the meaning of the word “Word” in this passage. It sounds a bit strange to our ears, because a “word” is a conceptual and impersonal thing, but here it is being used to describe a personified being, indeed the fundamental being. Of course, the passage isn’t just talking about a word, it is THE Word. It is the fundamental Word, the ultimate Word, the Word before all others. It is the Word that we are told made all other things, defined all other things, gave form to all other things. This Word is so fundamental and foundational that without it there was “not any thing made that was made.”
I have spent a great while talking about the systems and rules that we see in the created universe, from physics to society to morality. As I said before, these systems clearly originate from outside of us. They were present before we were, and they will exist after we are gone. These verses from John explicitly identify the Word as the author of these laws and systems of reality. And if this Word is the word that defines the laws and systems of reality, then that Word must necessarily be true. For if it were not true, then all of reality would not be true either, nor our very existence. In fact, not only must the Word be true, it must be THE Truth. The fundamental Truth, the ultimate Truth, the Truth from which all these other truths are derived.
The Word is the Truth, and the Truth is the author of all the other truths that we observe, infer, and feel. Any attempt to live outside of the created truths is therefore an attempt to live outside of the fundamental Truth, and any attempt to live outside the fundamental Truth is an attempt to live outside of created reality. To deny the Truth and live against it is to deny the entire fabric of the universe, our own selves included, and frustrate our very being. It is not that it is merely advisable to live in the Truth, it is that it is only possible to live living in the Truth. Any attempt to exist outside of the Truth is to begin to undo one’s own creation, to unravel oneself into nothingness, to vanish into outer darkness.
What a problem, then, that we violate the Truth every day!
For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God, and the wages of sin is death - Romans 3:23, 6:23
It is a problem that we do not have the power to resolve either. As beings of the Truth, we cannot change the Truth. Nor can we change our own state back to being in harmony with the Truth after we have violated it, for the unmaking of ourselves is, in fact, instantaneous, only artificially prolonged by the grace of God.
And thus we see, that there was a time granted unto man to repent, yea, a probationary time - Alma 42:4
Of course, this probationary period does us little good if left to our own devices. We, ourselves, have no way to rectify the fact that we are now fundamentally disconnected from the Truth of the universe. And this is where the rest of John 1 comes into play. For, after defining the Word’s external authorship of all the elements that make up our reality, John then proclaims:
And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us. He was in the world, and the world was made by him. - John 1:14, 10
The creating Word came to live within its own creation! No longer just an external force, the creating Word now became an internal being as well. “It was made flesh and dwelt among us.” At one level that obviously represents the man Jesus Christ walking and teaching in Israel, but the penetration of the Word actually went much deeper. Jesus, himself, taught that he would be in us individually!
My Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him. - John 14:23 And as they did eat, Jesus took bread, and blessed, and brake it, and gave to them, and said, Take, eat: this is my body. - Mark 14:22 I in them, and thou in me - John 17:23
The Word is made our flesh, and it dwells inside of us!
Be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man; That Christ may dwell in your hearts - Ephesians 3:16-17 And he that keepeth his commandments dwelleth in him, and he in him. - 1 John 3:24
What does this mean? It means that the Word that made the Truth that all of our existence is predicated upon can also come into our hearts and make the same Truth in there as well.
Though we have violated the external Truth, we can be reconciled to it by having it remade internally. Thus, we cease to be damned by the uprooting of ourselves from the external reality, because we are now sustained by the same reality existing anew within us.
But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life - John 4:14
To live at all we must live in the Truth. To live in the Truth, we must be reconciled from our sin. To be reconciled from our sin, we must have that fundamental Truth that lays at the foundation of all reality planted within our hearts. To have the Truth planted in our hearts, we must receive the creator of that Truth, the Word, even Jesus Christ.
Jesus does not just come to invite us to join him in outer heaven, he comes to put heaven inside of us! And I do not mean that figuratively. Though I do not begin to understand how, in some way, entirely literally, Christ comes to put the seed of all created reality within our own being. All of the cosmos is made anew within us!
1 And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. 2 And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. 4 And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. 5 And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And he said unto me, Write: for these words are true and faithful. 6 And he said unto me, It is done. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely. 7 He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son. - Revelation 21:1-7
This is what it means to live in Truth!
Scriptural Analysis- Genesis Summary
Seventeen months ago I started my study of Genesis. I’ve always had a great esteem for the Old Testament, and during the last year-and-a-half I’ve realized that Genesis in particular is one of my favorite books in all of scripture. Ever since I was a child, I have loved legends and fairy tales, life lessons wrapped in a fable, and Genesis is full of that same sort of mythic storytelling. It has larger-than-life individuals, people who discover important morals, and cautionary tales.
In the beginning we had the story of Adam and Eve, and during my study I focused on how their experiences are an archetype for common experiences that we all pass through, and thus can be interpreted on an individual level. The story of Adam and Eve shows a state of innocence, the loss of that innocence, and the need to be saved from the resultant corruption. The story of Adam and Eve might be completely literal, but even if it is, it also has great value to us as an allegory of our own selves.
Then we had the decline of civilization, the prevalence of evil, and the eventual flooding of the world. I noted at the time that this was a sort of rebirth of the world, a second beginning. Also, it sets up the theme of man being prone to losing his way and that the truly faithful are a great minority.
The rest of Genesis was then dedicated to some examples of those faithful few. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph were each an island of faith in a pagan world. Though each faced different challenges, they did share common themes and patterns. In one way or another each of them was a stranger in a strange land, was taken from their usual comforts, was thrust into the wild world where they discovered the true nature of God, and each learned to trust Him above all else. They were imperfect men, but through their trials they grew into the unique identity God had called them to, often receiving a new name to signify this. And usually with those new names came promises, some to be fulfilled immediately, but some to come in God’s own good time.
Of course, this is only a brief summary. Genesis also has a tremendous number of individual lessons scattered throughout. It covers topics such as sacrifice, admitting one’s wrongs, duty, forgiveness, redemption, inner peace, patience, and faith. It illustrates how the good prosper overall, even if not in the moment. It gives example of how to live peacefully, even among those of different beliefs. It makes clear the importance of acting in accordance with one’s conscience, no matter the danger in so doing.
In conclusion, the book of Genesis teaches us how to live in honor with God and also our fellow man. It teaches by example the principles of virtue. Later on, we will have Moses and his explicitly spelled out law, we will have Jesus Christ and his clearly delineated gospel, but here at the beginning we have no formal set of commandments. This does not mean that there isn’t a law being taught, though, there absolutely is, it’s just that the reader is expected to derive what that law is from the stories. Thus, this is an interactive sort of law-giving, one that demands interpretation and application. If we don’t understand exactly why each of these principles exists, or if we don’t know how to abide by them all, that’s alright, more detailed explanation and instruction will come later. For now, though, we have enough to start living a life of faith.
Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 2:4-7
4 These are the generations of the heavens and of the earth when they were created, in the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens, 5 And every plant of the field before it was in the earth, and every herb of the field before it grew: for the Lord God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was not a man to till the ground. 6 But there went up a mist from the earth, and watered the whole face of the ground. 7 And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.
At this point we read of God creating man from the dust, which seems confusing given that we already heard about him creating man in the last chapter. Why are we hearing about the creation of man twice? One of the interpretations is that the first account only tells of a spiritual creation. God planned and prepared everything during Chapter 1, and then in Chapter 2 we read the actual execution of that plan. Verse 5 implies this when it speaks of “every plant and every herb” as though they already exist in some context, even before having been planted and grown.
Another interpretation is that these are two accounts of the same event. One could see Chapter 1 and the first three verses of Chapter 2 as a sort of prologue, using broad strokes to describe the events that are further detailed in what follows. In either case, by the end of Verse 7 of Chapter 2 man has become a living soul, the direct creation of God, and a central actor in the story of life.
Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 2:1-3
1 Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. 2 And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made. 3 And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made.
A great work never seems complete until we have settled back and looked long and hard at what was accomplished. A garden of crops, a finished basement, a manuscript, a college diploma…all of these need a moment for us to appreciate what has been done.
The thought occurs to me that sitting back and appreciating the creations of God is an excellent way to observe the sabbath, too. After all, the whole point of this seventh day was to cap off that work of creation, so what better way to commemorate it than by immersing oneself in it?
I also want to point out that while this seventh day was the end of God’s creation, it was only the beginning of mankind’s creations. Everything that we fashion on earth is built on the foundation of what He created first. Therefore I think it wise to view the sabbath in that light, too. We should have it be the foundation of our week, the cornerstone that everything else is built upon, not a garnish off to the side of everything else.
Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 1:31
31 And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good. And the evening and the morning were the sixth day.
At several points in this creation story God has pronounced His work as being good. This is the first time it is emphasized as being “very good.” Sometimes when we look back at our creative work we are also flushed with a sense of pride at what we have accomplished, surprised that something so good was able to come out of us. Other times we feel disappointed at how inferior the end result is compared to what we had imagined, either the result of lacking necessary skills or of having rushed things. In either case, we all feel that yearning to create something significant and pronounce it “very good” as our Heavenly Father did.
And this brings us to the conclusion of Genesis: Chapter 1. As we move on we will find that all this earth’s creation was merely a backdrop for the drama that would play out on it: the story of all mankind.
Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 1:28-30
28 And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth. 29 And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat. 30 And to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to every thing that creepeth upon the earth, wherein there is life, I have given every green herb for meat: and it was so.
These verses describe the relationship between man and nature with some very impactful language. The Hebrew root for the word “dominion” for example means “to dominate,” “to rule over,” or “to tread under.” I have brought to mind the image of a horse being broken so that it will obey the will of its rider.
And admittedly these are some hard words for me to digest. I’ve always sought to have a more peaceful relationship with animal life. I come from a state where hunting is a regular fall-time activity, one that I have absolutely no interest in taking part of.
I’m sure part of these more mellow feelings is that the animals around me are already domesticated. When I view a kitten curled on my lap for a nap I hardly feel any need to take it down a peg or two! Our relationship with animals is far removed from that of our ancestors who lived in the wild, hunted for their food, and were ever fearful of an apex predator taking their lives!
On the other hand, I do look at a mountain and feel the need to dominate it by climbing its defiant peak. I have that urge to row across a great lake, just because it’s there. I see a stretch of land and I want to break its soil and sow it with crops of my own. That yearning to surmount nature still exists, though we should keep that passion within reason.
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.
Who Am I?- 1 Corinthians 12:12-14, 18-20
For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ.
For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.
For the body is not one member, but many.
But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him.
And if they were all one member, where were the body?
But now are they many members, yet but one body.
For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ
For the body is not one member, but many.
Yesterday we examined how we are all creations of God. Our identity begins with what He made it to be. I believe part of the reason why our society resists this notion of being another’s creation, though, is because they fear that it takes away their individuality. There seems to be a sense that we are defined by our flaws, and smoothing them out would just leave us as generic good person #2167. Or in other words, if God is my creator me, and He made me to be like Christ, then following Him will just turn me into a carbon copy of Jesus, no longer myself.
But this is a misconception, a lie of the adversary, one that breaks down as soon as you take an honest look at genuinely good people and recognize how distinct they still are. Even if you are a creation of God, you can still be a unique creation. As Paul attests, the word “body” is singular, but it is composed of “members” which are plural and distinct.
But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him.
Saying that we seek unity in Christ does not mean that we all become Jesus. It means uniting with one another under a common banner, but still retaining and exercising our individuality. Yes God made you and set you, but He made you and set you to be and do something that only you could be and do. The reason that He even made you was because among all His other children He still didn’t have a you, and He very much needed a you. There is a you-sized hole in the body of the Christ that not I, not your neighbor, and not even your identical twin is shaped rightly to fill. God was the one that first baked your individuality into your bones and He isn’t about to take that way. The loss of your sins and misconceptions, will not be the loss of yourself.
In short, what the gospel intends for us is a unified diversity. If that sounds like an oxymoron, so be it. God loves to work in the impossible!