Saturday, October 15, 2011

We Can't Be Perfect without Each Other

While riding the bus to work yesterday morning, I had one of those flashes of spiritual insight. I was reading the latest BYU Studies, Vol. 50, No. 3 (2011), which about as far as I go with subscriptions to scholarly journals not being much of an intellectual myself. There is an article in there by a non-Mormon theologian, Stephen H. Webb, who stumbled on Mormonism while studying the obscure Christian concept of "Heavenly Flesh Christology." He was amazed to find in the unique teachings of Joseph Smith interesting reconciliation of many of the conflicts of the early Christians about the nature of God and Christ along with the whole concept of a physical world and human existence. If the internet still exists two years in the future, then you can read it on line at BYU Studies. Otherwise, you have to get a subscription or go to some library that has one. The article's title is "Godbodied."

Anyway, I was interested in the non-Mormon scholar's amazement with basic tenets of Mormonism that would not surprise anyone familiar with Sections 76, 88, and 130 of the Doctrine & Covenants as well as Moses 1 and the King Follett Sermon. [You can talk all you want about the obvious development of Brother Joseph's theology. Yet it is still amazing to consider that Moses 1 was received in 1830 at the very beginning of the church!] Dr. Webb's style is clear and engaging even as he talks about the ancient development of Christian "orthodoxy" through Platonism, the Creeds, St. Augustine and various "heresies." Then, at the end of his concluding paragraph he brings it all home in a way I was not expecting even if my spirit was prepared for a witness of truth:
What makes this world so fascinating is that God has organized the universe in such a way as to grant us a share of his distinctive nature. "God himself, finding he was in the midst of spirits and glory, because he was more intelligent, saw proper to institute laws whereby the rest could have a privilege to advance like himself." These laws, at least in the universe, are no more changeable than God is. These laws govern the living and the dead. "Hence the responsibility; the awful responsibility," Smith says, "that rests upon us in relation to our dead; for all the spirits who have not obeyed the Gospel in the flesh must either obey it in the spirit or be damned." Smith thus comes upon a most remarkable reformulation of the priesthood of all believers and the communion of the saints. The dead cannot be perfect without us. The drama of salvation continues in the afterlife, but the continuity of the living and the dead means that what the faithful do here and now has reverberations in eternity. Never has eternity been so full of time.*
So, I guess my family history and temple work do mean something. And here I am struggling to break through and resolve that illegitimate birth in 1789 Wales! This is an astounding doctrine that the work is all connected and the Grace of God, oddly available in an eternal and universal sense well beyond the ideas of most traditional Christianity, nevertheless requires a lot of work on our part to make the free gift, freely given, effective for the entire human race.

This connects to a discussion my wife and I had recently as to why the Lord wants us to live in families. While we have a pretty good one, it isn't always as much fun as you see on some TV sitcoms or even in the idealized families portrayed in Mormon Ads for the church. There's certainly nothing wrong in striving for an ideal even if most of us fall far short. And there are those most difficult, ugly things in families - pretty much every one at some point or another - and in some it is absolutely horrifying. We came to the odd conclusion that the Lord wants us in families with all the hurt so we can work with Him in order to be healed. That works in the here-and-now as well as across the veil between the living and the dead. But that is the hope that the Atonement can heal our hearts and families, nuclear and beyond, to include the entire human family across the ages of time.

Hmm, I wonder if some kind of political union could make us more perfect as well. I don't see how it would be excluded in our weak human attempts to make things more like celestial principles in our current condition. Rugged individualism is fine. But our political freedoms come from God as an aspect of Grace freely given and we need to work together for us to take advantage of them and protect them and share them with others. We are better united than we are individually. Works for me.

Addendum, later, same day:
So here I am in the Family History Library. I did a search for the christening record of our suspected scoundrel ancestor, Rees Price, in neighboring (to Glasbury) Bronlyss because that's where the 1851 Census says he was born 92 years previous. He doesn't show up. And I looked ten years both directions. Still, you have to give the Census some weight. He doesn't show up anywhere else yet either. And I'm not quite ready to declare him the father of Ancestress Hannah's child - our John Vaughan (1789-1851). We have a couple of potentially confirming pieces of information to check even if I have to go to the National Library of Wales (someday).

In checking the data on new.familysearch, a dear sister at the desk helped me with a long-standing and frustrating question I've had about how to separate out a person who is combined with a uniquely different individual even if the name is the same or nearly the same.The suspected old codger Rees Price (1759-1852) has that problem. His legitimate children appear and have temple work done but the family was all messed up with the two different Rees Prices combined. The sister helped me sort it out and as I did, I had to enter a new "Ann" spouse of Rees Price with the right dates - and I have her burial record and monument inscription as well so she is a solid person. The end result is that while new.familysearch has temple work done for Rees and the children, the mother Ann came up as a new entry who needs all the temple work. She and Rees need to be sealed and the children need to be sealed to the right parents. It's only fair we get it right for Ann.

*Webb, Stephen H. Godbodied: The Matter of the Latter-day Saints, BYU Studies 50:3 at 99 (2011) [citations left out of quoted text but all were from Joseph Fielding Smith, comp., Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1976)].

February 7, 2012
There is a thorough review of Webb's new book, Jesus Christ, Eternal God: Heavenly Flesh and the Metaphysics of Matter (Oxford University Press, 2012) at By Common Consent. The BCC reviewer, BHodges, notes that Webb has some criticisms of Mormon theology in the larger treatise.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments are welcome. Feel free to disagree as many do. You can even be passionate (in moderation). Comments that contain offensive language, too many caps, conspiracy theories, gratuitous Mormon bashing, personal attacks on others who comment, or commercial solicitations- I send to spam. This is a troll-free zone. Charity always!