Sunday, January 6, 2013

And This Is Life Eternal

"And this is life eternal that they might know thee the only true God and Jesus Christ whom thou has sent"
-John 17:3 KJV

As Jesus was closing His earthly ministry He spent the last few hours of His marvelous life teaching the twelve (except Judas) the most important things that He could.  He knew that hours after that final Passover dinner in the crowded upper room, his devoted followers were going to face the most significant trial that any of them could imagine.  This Jesus, of whom Peter testified "Thou Art the Christ," was about to be put through a mock trial and then executed by Gentiles like a common criminal.  He knew that His death would be a small moment and a precursor to His glorious Resurrection, but they had not figured it out yet.  Their Master's life had been threatened for three years and He had never even been close to death.  How could they imagine the end of His extraordinary life when He had been delivered so many times before?

We all know the rest of the story.  The Savior suffered the atonement and death on the cross.  He was resurrected three days later.  He rose with the good news of the Gospel.  Through Him, all mankind could be freed from the bonds of death and Hell and live eternally with our Father.  In hindsight, this was the most significant, glorious, wonderful few days in history.  But can you imagine what it must have been like for Peter or John or Mary or any of the rest of them?  Jesus knew exactly what they would go through and with that sobering image in His mind, He gave them the only comfort He could.  He taught them eternal truths that would sustain them through this period.

He opened their minds to His eternal mission which was to "give eternal life to as many as thou [God] hast given him" (John 17:2)  And what is "eternal life?"  To know God the Father and His glorified Son Jesus Christ.  There is no talk here of heaven or mansions or pearls or any of the other descriptions that He used so freely during His ministry.  To know God and His Son is what constitutes eternal life.  As I read this scripture I was first taken aback.  It doesn't say "and this leads to life eternal..." or "this is one of the blessings of life eternal."  He said that to know God IS life eternal.  So, I "know" lots of people.  In fact I would say that I "know" people I haven't talked to in years.  Is that really all there is to eternal life?  I just have to have a couple conversations with God and I'm good?

After I reflected on the importance of this statement and the setting in which Jesus said it, I came to the conclusion that my definition of "know" was a little bit off.  John helped me out a little bit in 1 John 4:8 when he said "He that loveth not knoweth not God for God is love." So I can't "know" God in John's sense without having some of God's attributes.  Now, please don't misunderstand, I'm not saying that we have to have fully developed Godlike attributes to come unto Christ, but it does seem that being like Him helps us to know Him better.  In the Book of Mormon, when missionaries teach, they "begin with the fall of adam" and then explain the Plan of Salvation.  The plan of salvation then provides the motivation for these new converts to receive their "mighty change of heart."  So how does knowing this plan help us to be better?  The answer is in the restored idea that we are the "children of God, and if children, then heirs; heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with Him (Romans 8:16-17)."  An heir is the successor of a king.  He/she is the person who takes over the crown when the current ruler dies.  Since God is immortal, then heir must mean something different eternally.  Becoming "joint-heirs" with Christ helps us to better understand what this scripture means.  Christ, as His Father's heir, has become like His Father in every meaningful attribute.  He has the same knowledge, the same love, the same omnipotence as His Father.  They are "one" in this sense.  When our Father invites us to partake of Eternal Life, He is inviting us to be one with Him like Christ is.

That being said, our Father will not force any of us to live the life He lives.  I think that many of us hear or read about Eternal Life or the Celestial Kingdom, and think that this gift is something that He will hand us at some future time.  In some of our minds, God's glory is like a cookie or a toy that can be just given if we have earned enough "eternal points."  From looking at the scriptures and words of prophets I have come to believe that the judgement will not be a time when God gives us our punishments or rewards so much as a time when He will reveal to us what we have chosen to become.

With that in mind, do we really think we came to Earth to struggle through this life, only to have whatever we have become wiped away in the judgement? God already knows what we will do long before we do it. Why could he not have just placed us in heaven or hell and skipped all the drama? If what we DO is the most important thing and He already knows that, then why is He wasting His and our time?

What we do is only relevant in that it shapes who we ARE. He sent us here not because it was A way but because it was the ONLY way. We have to decide to become like Him. He can't assign us our punishments or rewards prematurely because we are our own punishments and rewards. That is why we all have our choice or agency. We can only become like Him if we choose to do so. And we know what we are choosing by what we do.

With that in mind might I suggest that we evaluate all of our actions, beliefs, biases, opinions, judgements, etc... in light of this eternal destiny? We will not be handed perfection, but through the grace of the Savior we will have the opportunity to pursue it as long as we choose to. He has already saved us from our sins and from death. But what He has not, and can not do for us is choose for us what kind of people we will be in the "mansions of" His Father. That is for us to decide. If we want to be like our Father, we will have to choose to be like HIm. We will have to choose to love each other. We will have to choose to be open minded and embrace all truth. We will have to choose to give up those vices that we cling to. He will help us, inspire us, guide us and do anything that we will let Him do for us. But in the end, it all boils down to our individual choices. What do your actions say about what kind of person you are choosing to be? What do
your thoughts about others reveal about who you are trying to be like? What does your reluctance to get rid of that pet sin tell you about where you want to go and who you want to be with in eternity? These are hard questions and I struggle to answer them myself. The glorious thing about these questions is: even though they reveal what we currently are (which is often uglier than we would like), they also give us a chance to choose differently. If what we are is the result of our choice then we have the choice to change it.

As we change, the Savior will be our constant companion. He will lead and teach us what our next decision should be. I've often noticed that the more that I change, the more I find out how far I have to go. But no matter where we are in this journey, the direction we are headed reveals this choice more than where we currently are. A prostitute who is trying to repent and sincerely wants to do so is closer to Celestial glory than a pious church member who pridefully thinks that he/she has done enough. That was Christ's message while He was alive and it is one we should keep in mind. If we think we have done enough, we are in trouble. If we are overwhelmed and think we have too far to go so we don't even try, we are damned. Both of these extremes are dangerous. They only safe path, the straight and narrow way, is to have hope in the redeeming power of the Savior and in the promise that we CAN do it. Our loving Father didn't send us here to fail. We all have the ability to become like Him if we want it. So if we are not going the right way, let's choose to do so. It's worth it. If we think we might be on the right path, let's stay on. Let's fix what we need to fix and let Him reveal the improvements that He would make in us. And then "when He shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is (1John 3:2)." If we are like Him we will truly "know the only true God and Jesus Christ whom [He] hath sent."

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