Could the Restoration have Happened Elsewhere and Elsewhen?

July 20, 2006 | 81 comments
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The common answer heard today in the Church is no. A variety of reasons are usually given: the religious freedom in the U.S. allowed it, it was prophesied in the BoM, the position of the U.S. in the world fosters its continued success, etc. These ideas find supporting statements from LDS Church leaders, from Mormon historians, and from application of recent sociological theories of religious markets. But are there reasons to think the answer could be yes?

I think some of these “no� reasons are based on the idea that God works through humans. Essentially, the logic is that for the Restoration to succeed, these humans had to be in positions (emotionally, financially, spiritually, socially, etc.) to succeed, and the conditions were just ripe in early 19th century New England for it to work. The implication of course is that God must somehow be unable to do it elsewhere and elsewhen. His influence is just not powerful enough in other circumstances. The Mormon God is finite and therefore more limited than the God of many other faith traditions, but let’s consider another avenue to this question.

Perhaps what is at stake here is not just theological claims about God’s limitations but also our own sense of what is the restored Church. Let me develop this. If Joseph Smith would have failed instead of succeeded, then would God have raised up someone else to be the founding prophet? Most of you have already probably thought of this question. Given our belief in free agency, it certainly could have happened. Maybe Joseph was actually the second, third, or fourth option. If so, the Church we have today is probably very different than it would have been if restored in some other place and time. It could be just as divine, of course; just different. By this line of thinking, perhaps when we answer no, we are saying it couldn’t have happened somewhere else and have turned out the same as it has. That’s not a bold claim at all, but maybe we’re afraid to say yes because we are tied to thinking that the way it happened is the only way it could have happened.

To be honest, I’m pretty convinced that it happened when and where it did for good reasons (the standard reasons do make a lot of sense), but I’d like to raise the possibility that it could have happened elsewhere and it would have been very different. How different? Hard to say. It probably would not have had the same evolution of auxiliaries, or it would not have the same correlated curriculum after 180 years of existence, etc. Think about it. If Joseph failed and God tried again in 20th century Peru, what would the Church look like? OK, so maybe Joseph’s replacement would also have been named Joseph and had a father named Joseph (2 Ne 3: 11-15) if you assume that the BoM would have been the same in that alternate Restoration. But even if you believe the limited geography view, then an angel could have buried the plates anywhere. What would the Restoration have been like if in Mexico? Guatemala?

I do think this hypothetical is useful. Programs and policies come and go, and so we should not think of these when thinking about what is the essence of the Church. If the core message of the Restoration is universal, then maybe it should have been able to take root in other places and times. If so, we’d probably have stake soccer tournaments instead of stake basketball tournaments. Of course, one thing wouldn’t change: thirty year old men would still be very unsportsmanlike no matter the sport.

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81 Responses to Could the Restoration have Happened Elsewhere and Elsewhen?

  1. Gilgamesh on July 20, 2006 at 12:27 pm

    \”OK, so maybe Joseph’s replacement would also have been named Joseph and had a father named Joseph\”

    I think the probability of a Jose having a son named Jose is non-existent. :)

  2. Jared on July 20, 2006 at 12:33 pm

    I like to think of how our hymns might be different if the Church had been restored among southern slaves instead of northeastern protestants.

  3. Adam Greenwood on July 20, 2006 at 12:37 pm

    I think you’ll like this post by Daniel Petersen:

    http://www.timesandseasons.org/?p=335#more-335

  4. J. Stapley on July 20, 2006 at 1:08 pm

    There is one thing that the our restoration had that is pretty rare: space. They could run off to the west. But when you consider where the bulk of our converts came from (Britan and Scandinavia (the first chapel was in Britain!)), then there is a strong case that the restoration could have just as easily happened there.

  5. Kevin Barney on July 20, 2006 at 1:17 pm

    I think the answer is “yes,” and I think this not because I have absolutist leanings, but precisely because I have strong finitist leanings. God works through human beings who have free agency. Joseph didn’t have to take the mantle upon him, and he had the potential to fail. What if, for example, he decided to take the gold plates for pecuniary gain and split the proceeds with Samuel Lawrence and his other money digging buddies?

    God’s purposes would be fulfilled, not because he would force Joseph’s actions or they were predestined, but because he had the power and foresight to fulfill them. If Joseph wasn’t up to the task for whatever reason, I believe God had contingency plans for someone else to fulfill that role.

    Adam linked to a guest post by Dan Peterson. I remember Dan and I discussed this very question over dinner a number of years ago. He had a fascinating speculation: that Joseph Knight Sr. and Jr. may have been a “back up” set of father and son Josephs who could have stepped up to the plate of JS struck out. It was a really fun conversation.

  6. bbell on July 20, 2006 at 1:21 pm

    The answer is yes. God has all power and can do what he wants. I really like Kevins comment. Now that is some sweet speculation!!!

  7. Christian Y. Cardall on July 20, 2006 at 1:21 pm

    As with related thoughts about the Restoration (for example here), Zenos’ allegory of the olive tree in Jacob 5 seems to be a useful text. With regard to the question you pose here, the object of focus seems to be “the good and precious fruit—which, taking a cue from Lehi and Nephi’s vision of the tree of life, seems to represent a community of individuals with the love of God in their hearts.” While the evil fruit is described as appearing in great variety, the good fruit as it appears in various places and ages does not seem to be described in terms of variety. Hence “conceptual minutiae are too often mistaken for the substance of the Restoration, deflecting focus from what is really being restored: the ideal of a prophetically-led covenant community of loving individuals. The possibly varying specifics of implementation of such from age to age may simply not be worthy of sustained attention.”

  8. Jack on July 20, 2006 at 1:27 pm

    The can begins to crawl with worms. The usual questions arise. Questions like: could the Savior have worked out the atonement “elsewhere or elsewhen?” Invariably I arrive at the same end–God ceases to be God. Of course, it’s fun to consider the hypothetical…

  9. Eric James Stone on July 20, 2006 at 1:28 pm

    In a previous T&S thread (http://www.timesandseasons.org/index.php?p=2027#comment-53507), I made the following comment, which seems on point:

    In thinking about this, I’ve come to the general conclusion that the Restoration happened as soon as it could. It happened in what was almost certainly the most religiously free nation on Earth, and Joseph Smith still ended up being martyred. The Saints were persecuted and forced to flee to Utah.

    If the Restoration had been attempted sooner, the restored church might have been crushed before it developed. (Or, possibly worse, coopted by a government. Here’s a bit of alternate history for you: A young Spanish explorer in Mesoamerica in the early 1500s finds and translates the golden plates and begins to restore the gospel, including the doctrine of plural marriage. Although nobody expected it, the new religion runs afoul of the Spanish Inquisition. But when Henry VIII of England is looking for a way to have a male heir, he decides Los Mormones have the answer. Mormonism becomes the established religion of England.)

    If the Restoration had happened a generation or two later, the restoring prophet would probably have lived to a ripe old age, and Church headquarters would probably still be somewhere back east. And the growth curve of the Church would be behind where it is.

  10. Rosalynde Welch on July 20, 2006 at 1:58 pm

    Michael, interesting that you frame the traditional “no” answers in terms of a limited God; I’ve generally heard them framed in terms of, precisely, a more expansive God, a God with perfect foreknowledge who established certain events from the foundation of the world.

    If the coordinates of the Restoration had been plotted differently, not only would our cultural accessories look different—style of music, social activities—but many of what we consider to be foundational faith commitments would almost certainly be different, too. Ordinances (particularly temple ordinances) would have a different form; the charismatic gifts might not have foreclosed so entirely and thus the priesthood hierarchy might have remained more fluid and less bureaucratic; Word of Wisdom, modesty, family values and other culture-relative characteristics of the Saints would certainly be different; our millenarian expectations and emphasis would likely be much less prominent; the auxiliaries would look very different or perhaps not exist at all; the BoM could read very differently, as well, depending on how tight one believes the translation process was.

    Unlike Christian, though, I don’t think this suggests that the former are cultural minutiae, basically irrelevant to the central message of the gospel. I think restoration as a process is just as important to God as is The Restoration as a result; that social constructs can set the stones glowing just as well as God’s finger from a cloud (though much less poetically).

  11. Michael McBride on July 20, 2006 at 2:27 pm

    Adam, Thanks for the link. I’ve worried about posting on old topics. Hopefully, this post/thread will give a new twist.

    Kevin, I enjoy the Knight back-up conjecture, especially since I’m a direct descendant of the Knights through Newell. I guess since I come through Newell and not Joseph, Jr., that I wouldn’t be in line for a GA-ship. But… Alternate hypothetical: what if I was the alternate history version of Joseph Fielding Smith? [Cue Twighlight Zone music.]

    Eric, Your conjecture is certainly one that could be well argued. Recent work on the sociology of religion makes a big deal about the religious freedom in the US (see Finke and Stark, “The Churching of America, 1776-2005″ for a taste of it). The western frontier, which consisted of Ohio and Missouri in the early 1800s was a place where new religions could thrive despite the persecution.

    Rosalynde, Could you expand on your last paragraph? It seems that your tying to have it both ways by saying that many of the cultural accessories would be different (which suggests that they are not essential) and also that they are important. Are you saying that the cultural artifacts are necessary appendages for God to succeed in a given point in place and time but not necessary in another sense?

  12. Jack on July 20, 2006 at 2:29 pm

    The “coordinates of the restoration” (I like that) only appear as the west begins to bust loose. Moving them across time and space is (imo) really quite meaningless–kinda like wondering why the dam didn’t burst in a different spot. Still, the hypothetical is always fun to consider, though that long list of differences in your alternate future, Rosalynde, doesn’t account for the west coming to power.

  13. Adam Greenwood on July 20, 2006 at 2:31 pm

    “Adam, Thanks for the link. I’ve worried about posting on old topics. Hopefully, this post/thread will give a new twist.”

    A very new twist. Carry on.

  14. Christian Y. Cardall on July 20, 2006 at 2:42 pm

    Rosalynde (#10), the aplomb with which you give away the store (in the perception of many) would make one think you were merely flicking lint from your sleeve.

    Said aplomb may reveal we’re not necessarily as far apart as you make it sound. Of course real people and real communities must exist and grow within and through some structure, even if such a scaffold or aspects of it eventually fall away. That post from which I quoted can be read not as counseling disdain of temporary or past constructs, but quite the opposite: suggesting the possible value of clinging to them, like a vine to its lattice, in order to not fall to the ground and lose the life you speak of.

  15. Christian Y. Cardall on July 20, 2006 at 2:49 pm

    That is to say, suggesting that some things “may simply not be worthy of sustained attention” may represent not disdain but a suggestion of avoiding the kind of impatient obsessive focus that leads to rejection—an avoidance you exemplify, for instance, in the casual tone of the second paragraph of your #10.

  16. Kevin Barney on July 20, 2006 at 3:01 pm

    Michael, do you have a son-in-law yet? He can be the alternate Bruce R. McConkie.

  17. Seth R. on July 20, 2006 at 3:04 pm

    God doesn’t need our help to run His Church. We are graciously allowed to do our part anyway.

    Could God have started a Church elsewhere?

    Of course He could. He’s God.

  18. Rosalynde Welch on July 20, 2006 at 3:46 pm

    Christian, sorry to have mischaracterized your position, and I’m glad you clarified.

    Michael, what I mean is that perhaps a syncretic and idiosyncratic form of creation—a bringing to bear of one’s personal powers on matter unorganized, whether organic or cultural—is a better (and more Mormon) description of what the Restoration accomplished than a sort of Platonic scheme in which perfect universal forms are (im)perfectly replicated in history.

  19. Tim J. on July 20, 2006 at 3:56 pm

    I wonder if had Church been restored in England or Mexico or Peru or anywhere else, how the missionary program towards Americans would have gone. Would American converts travel to England in droves to follow the Church as Europeans did to America? I wouldn’t think so..but perhaps.

  20. Ryan Bell on July 20, 2006 at 4:11 pm

    Comments 6 and 17 baffle me. One hears it all the time, but I have no idea how to reconcile this idea that “God does need us to run his church” with the core doctrine of agency. Of course he doesn’t need me, an individual, to run his church, but he does need some individuals, all of whom could conceivably refuse to participate. Given that fact, there’s every reason to think that some moments were more ripe with willing individuals than others, and some moments were absolutely impossible, even for God. Or would Bbell and Seth R. argue that God has power enough to start his church in any place and time using any individual he wishes to?

  21. Adam Greenwood on July 20, 2006 at 4:19 pm

    I like it, Ryan Bell. Sock Puppet Joseph.

  22. Christian Y. Cardall on July 20, 2006 at 4:24 pm

    To clarify (and muddy) further… Your initial response wasn’t necessarily a mischaracterization, either. Both readings are there in the post—and in my person. For better or worse—worse, I fear—sympathy and the pull of identity and community in varying contexts lead me to emphasize, or least plead for acknowledgment of, one or the other.

  23. Jack on July 20, 2006 at 5:15 pm

    One could also wonder at whether JS would have been the great restorer had he been born in Ethiopia. I think context has everything to do with who we are in this sphere.

  24. Michael McBride on July 20, 2006 at 5:37 pm

    Kevin #16: No son in law yet, but I’ll be sure to advertise the position as the alternate history McConkie position when my future daughter is dating. That ought to scare away most of the suitors.

    Rosalynde #18: “perhaps a syncretic and idiosyncratic form of creation… is a better (and more Mormon) description of what the Restoration accomplished than a sort of Platonic scheme in which perfect universal forms are (im)perfectly replicated in history.” I think that was very poetic and agreeable. Thanks for clarifying.

    Tim #19: “I wonder if had Church been restored in England or Mexico or Peru or anywhere else, how the missionary program towards Americans would have gone.” Hadn’t thought of that one. I guess one aspect of your question is if there would have been a similar gatheriing imperative. If so, I suppose they would have emigrated. But how about this? We probably wouldn’t have had those baseball baptisms in Japan. They’d have been soccer baptisms if the Restoration was in Mexico or Peru, and they would have been cricket baptisms if the Restoration was in England?

    Jack #23: “One could also wonder at whether JS would have been the great restorer had he been born in Ethiopia.” A valid hypothetical, and I’d guess not. But then again JS probably wouldn’t have been the same JS in many senses of the person had he been born in Ethiopia, which makes it hard to say. That’s one problem we (including myself here) have with making hypotheticals, ie., that it’s hard to do counterfactuals when changing too many parameters.

  25. Adam Greenwood on July 20, 2006 at 5:41 pm

    I often wondered whether the Taiping in China were a back-up or a complementary Restoration. Don’t know the answer. Only God knows, I bet.

  26. mullingandmusing (m&m) on July 20, 2006 at 6:27 pm

    Of course God “could” do anything anywhere at anytime, although He isn’t known to do things unless and until they are the right time and right place. In a way, I don’t really understand the purpose of the discussion.

    The point is that God knew Joseph would use his agency to fulfill his mission. There is way too much embedded in the prophecies (down to his name) and also with how his family was led to settle in upstate NY. Imagine if the Restoration had happened on another continent. Would have been a touch difficult to get the plates. “All things have been done in the wisdom of him who knoweth all things.”

  27. Michael McBride on July 20, 2006 at 6:40 pm

    M&M #26. “[God] isn’t known to do things unless and until they are the right time and right place.” I’d say this is more of an assertion that an accepted fact. And it can certainly be questioned. For example, both of the following statements can be true: (1) God knew that Joseph would use his agency to fulfill the mission, and (2) God wanted the Restoration to happen earlier in another place but nobody lived up to his/her foreordination on the matter.

  28. Seth R. on July 20, 2006 at 7:02 pm

    Well, the question asked if God “could” have done it.

    Yes.

    Or was the post asking “why” he did it in America? Beats me, but it seems like a more interesting question than “could.”

  29. Mark Butler on July 20, 2006 at 7:28 pm

    Seth R. (#17), I completely disagree with your first sentence in #17. God (as a person) could not be saved or exalted without others. He *needs* us – not individually, but collectively in the broadest (universal) sense. Otherwise heaven would be a pretty lonely place.

    If all of us sat on our hands the plan of salvation would be frustrated and God would not be exalted – i.e. his exaltation is contingent on the salvation and exaltation of his children. It not is the nature of his power not to do anything at all – he can’t make matter or intelligences out of nothing, a suffering atonement is absolutely necessary, he cannot take what is preponderantly a natural wrong and turn it into a natural right, and so on.

    Those facts are ultimately why the plan of the devil will be frustrated – God has natural morality and common consent of the hosts of heaven on his side, and the devil does not. He will fail because his plan is naturally immoral – e.g. it inevitably leads to unhappiness. The devil cannot change that and neither can God. Otherwise we would have no basis to distinguish between the two. The plan of salvation is not based upon the Stockholm syndrome.

    Now, as to whether God could set conditions in motion to restore the gospel almost anywhere, of course he could. But in his divine wisdom, and according to his sovereign will and pleasure, and purposes in the salvation of mankind, he chose the United States. In part because, he prepared conditions here for the Restoration, raising many wise men up unto that very purpose. He certainly could have prepared conditions in some other country, although the cost of his preparations would likely have been higher in certain environments, and it is certainly according to the wisdom and economy of God to minimize the cost in the most general terms – human suffering and divine.

    Of course the reason why God suffers, why a suffering atonement is necessary is that he is not omnipotent in the accomplish anything at the flick of a finger way, but rather in the terms of his ability to accomplish any worthwhile goal compatible with individual free will and natural law, *in the process of time*.

    Listen to Nephi’s superior understanding of the relationship between divine power and foreknowledge:

    But the Lord knoweth all things from the beginning; wherefore, he prepareth a way to accomplish all his works among the children of men; for behold, he hath all power unto the fulfilling of all his words. And thus it is. Amen.
    (1 Ne 9:6)

  30. Mark Butler on July 20, 2006 at 7:35 pm

    “It is not the nature of his power to do anything at all”

  31. mullingandmusing (m&m) on July 20, 2006 at 8:14 pm

    and (2) God wanted the Restoration to happen earlier in another place but nobody lived up to his/her foreordination on the matter.

    I think both scriptural and modern revelation dispute this possibility.

    “[God] isn’t known to do things unless and until they are the right time and right place.� I’d say this is more of an assertion that an accepted fact.

    I suppose it is an assertion, but what’s the argument against it? That He sometimes does something that is not at the right time or the right place? Does God ever do something that isn’t right? If He did, He couldn’t be God, could He?

    I don’t see a lot of logic supporting the Restoration happening in another place. Haven’t you ever experienced that feeling of things “tying together” in an amazing way in your life? It seems like we are supposing that there are an awful lot of “coincidences” that had to come together in just the right way…prophecies, patterns, locations, circumstances (it’s rather interesting that Moroni just “happened” to deposit the plates within a mile of Joseph’s home, the home they moved to because of the financial trials they had). I say things happened exactly the way they were supposed to. Even the fact that compensation was made anciently in the BoM for the lost manuscript is evidence to me of this fact. I firmly believe Joseph was not some back-up guy for someone else who biffed it. (See also D&C 138:53-56, Abraham 3:22-23 and quotes like the following: ““Every man who has a calling to minister to the inhabitants of the world was ordained to that very purpose in the grand council of heaven before this world was.â€? Then the Prophet said of himself, “I suppose that I was ordained to this very office in that grand council.â€? (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 365.)”

    Even IF there was someone before Joseph, that was planned for, too. Otherwise, we have to imagine that God can somehow be surprised. How can we have faith in a Being who doesn’t know the end from the beginning. I know this brings up that whole agency/foreordination/foreknowledge thing, but I can’t believe in anything less than a perfectly knowing, planning, timing-it-right God.

  32. Jack on July 20, 2006 at 8:24 pm

    When I was younger I’d hear a cool tune on the radio and think “man I wish I’d written that.” Now that I’m older I don’t really worry about not being the writer–I’m just glad the tune exists. But still, as I consider this phenomenon, especially as it relates to music that was written in the more distant past, I have tendency to think that the idea of a song being plucked from its original breeding grounds and given birth in the present through my own talents is a complete impossibilty not only because I’m a different (probably inferior) composer, but also because the song coming forth in it’s original time and place in history is part of the whole fabric of preparation that gives the present its peculiar purpose and direction.

  33. Michael McBride on July 20, 2006 at 8:55 pm

    M&M #31. I think that as long as we have our agency, God could ask someone to do something and s/he could fail to do it. And this isn’t a shortcoming on God’s part. Did God want JS to give Martin Harris the 116 manuscript? Definitely not. Did he prepare a back-up plan in case JS did give MH the manuscript? Yes. Did God forsee it? Yes. By similar logic, one cannot rule out the possibility that JS was the back-up.

    I’m not saying I actually think JS was the back-up. I think your points about the plates and coincidence are quite valid. And things did seem just right for the Mormonism we know to have begun and strived. But my overall point is this: it’s the overall Mormonism we know and are familiar with that we think could only have happened when and where it did. A different but equally true version of Mormonism could possibly have been restored elsewhere and elsewhen.

  34. Michael McBride on July 20, 2006 at 9:01 pm

    Seth #28: “was the post asking “whyâ€? he did it in America? Beats me, but it seems like a more interesting question than “could.â€?”

    Actually, the post was really about our rationales for why we think it could or couldn’t happen and how those might be based on false notions of what really is the Gospel. I’m sorry if I wasn’t clear enough about that.

  35. mullingandmusing (m&m) on July 20, 2006 at 9:04 pm

    it’s the overall Mormonism we know and are familiar with that we think could only have happened when and where it did. A different but equally true version of Mormonism could possibly have been restored elsewhere and elsewhen.

    I understand what you are saying. Sorry if I got off on a tangent.

    OK, so now I will ask this: Do you really think it would be that different had it developed somewhere or sometime else? Minus the first while as things settled in (getting all the pieces in place, so to speak), I have a hard time thinking it would really be that different.

  36. mullingandmusing (m&m) on July 20, 2006 at 9:04 pm

    …but I’m sure someone will show me how that statement was too hasty. :)

  37. Mark Butler on July 20, 2006 at 9:29 pm

    The canonical modern case of someone being removed from their place is James Covill, discussed in D&C 39 and 40:

    And now, behold, I say unto you, my servant James, I have looked upon thy works and I know thee. And verily I say unto thee, thine heart is now right before me at this time; and, behold, I have bestowed great blessings upon thy head; Nevertheless, thou hast seen great sorrow, for thou hast rejected me many times because of pride and the cares of the world.

    But, behold, the days of thy deliverance are come, if thou wilt hearken to my voice, which saith unto thee: Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on my name, and you shall receive my Spirit, and a blessing so great as you never have known.

    And if thou do this, I have prepared thee for a greater work. Thou shalt preach the fulness of my gospel, which I have sent forth in these last days, the covenant which I have sent forth to recover my people, which are of the house of Israel.

    And it shall come to pass that power shall rest upon thee; thou shalt have great faith, and I will be with thee and go before thy face. Thou art called to labor in my vineyard, and to build up my church, and to bring forth Zion, that it may rejoice upon the hills and flourish.
    (D&C 39:7-13)

    Behold, verily I say unto you, that the heart of my servant James Covill was right before me, for he covenanted with me that he would obey my word. And he received the word with gladness, but straightway Satan tempted him; and the fear of persecution and the cares of the world caused him to reject the word.
    Wherefore he broke my covenant, and it remaineth with me to do with him as seemeth me good. Amen.
    (D&C 40:1-3)

    Now I certainly deny the idea that Joseph Smith was a backup, but the scriptures testify that his being removed out of his place was a real possibility if he did not repent or humble himself in certain instances. For example:

    For, behold, you should not have feared man more than God. Although men set at naught the counsels of God, and despise his words— Yet you should have been faithful; and he would have extended his arm and supported you against all the fiery darts of the adversary; and he would have been with you in every time of trouble.

    Behold, thou art Joseph, and thou wast chosen to do the work of the Lord, but because of transgression, if thou art not aware thou wilt fall.

    But remember, God is merciful; therefore, repent of that which thou hast done which is contrary to the commandment which I gave you, and thou art still chosen, and art again called to the work;

    Except thou do this, thou shalt be delivered up and become as other men, and have no more gift
    (D&C 3:7-11)

  38. BrianJ on July 20, 2006 at 11:04 pm

    J Stapley, #4: Your comment about the restoration having lots of space (the West) was very interesting. It allowed the Saints to “run off,” as you put it, but there is more to it than that. There were lots of moments in history when people could “run off” and completely isolate themselves. If I were more of an historian, I could probably cite several such events. What I find interesting is that the Saints fled to a place that was separate but definitely not isolated. Hundreds of other people would travel through the area on their way to the West Coast or gold and silver rushes. Many would settle in Deseret. The railroad would come through, linking Utah to the rest of the nation. In short, the timing of the Restoration was pretty ideal, as it allowed the Saints to stay connected while living apart.

  39. Michael McBride on July 21, 2006 at 1:03 am

    M&M #35. No need to apologize. I’m glad you’re sharing your thoughts. Personally, I think the Church would be very different. I’d suggest that it has drawn from American culture in many of its practices, such as its hymns which come mostly from American Protestantism. It has also adapted in response to various challenges, e.g., its organizational structure is designed to cope with its worldwide presence. If the Restoration occurred in another time and place, it would have drawn different things from its culture, and it would have faced different external challenges.

  40. Michael McBride on July 21, 2006 at 1:06 am

    Mark #37. Nice quotes. It does seem strange to think of JS as a backup, doesn’t it?

  41. mullingandmusing (m&m) on July 21, 2006 at 2:28 am

    Personally, I think the Church would be very different. I’d suggest that it has drawn from American culture in many of its practices, such as its hymns which come mostly from American Protestantism. It has also adapted in response to various challenges, e.g., its organizational structure is designed to cope with its worldwide presence. If the Restoration occurred in another time and place, it would have drawn different things from its culture, and it would have faced different external challenges.

    I wonder though, if there would have been a pretty decent stronghold come into America pretty quickly, assuming all other things were equal. Imagine the Church starting on another continent, but then coming here because no matter how we look at it, the climate here was conducive to the Restoration…religious freedom, fervor, and curiosity was ripe; governments allowed for freedom of religion; technology allowed for printing of new scripture, etc. Even where growth is great for teh Church, those kinds of things were still lagging behind in many places, and still are in some, even with the growth. Governmental structures create problems for growth, societal and religious climates can cause problems…. Would it have been possible for American culture to still end up having a fairly dominant place, all other things being equal? I tend to think that might be the case. Dunno…I’m not in touch enough with other cultures, governments, economies, etc. to know for sure, but I suspect that SO MUCH was just ripe and right about America (otherwise, it would not have all started here, the way I see it anyway) that, all things being equal, I think American culture might have still ended up having significant influence, even if the roots started somewhere else. I think this part of the vineyard was just ready to grow. (How’s THAT for a run-on sentence? Sheesh.)

  42. Mark Butler on July 21, 2006 at 2:34 am

    Michael (#40), Yes. Though I am not the sort who believes in immaculate foreknowledge, based on a pretty standard argument of the incompatibility of the B theory of time and divine power and free will, I believe that the degree of divine foreknowledge, based on his persuasive and creative power unto the fulfiling of all his words (as in 1 Ne 9:6), and his character anticipatory abilities in particular, is nothing short of stunning, indeed *far* more impressive than the common Arminian (and LDS) idea of simple foreknowledge.

    So while it is a technical possibility that Joseph would not repent under admonition, in my opinion the Lord was sufficiently confident of his character, based on personal experience with Joseph in the pre-mortal life, that he would hardly need a backup plan for the idea of complete apostasy by JS at all. He probably had something inchoate – there were many other righteous individuals around, but certainly none so well suited.

    In short I think the Lord knew Joseph better than Joseph knew himself. That doesn’t denigrate Joseph Smith’s free will or agency in any way, nor the validity and the applicability of the principles of judgment and ultimately being removed out of ones place, it is just a stunning ability in character anticipation – at the very least the practically morally certain knowledge that Joseph Smith would repent of his weaknesses and continue his mission as planned in the council before the world was.

    Sometimes I dither about how accurate this planning and effective indirect divine foreknowlege is – I am torn on whether it is accurate enough to account for all marriages however, unless the Lord plays an unrecognized part in encouraging or expecting every single one of them to happen, according to the circumstance and anticipation, but there is certainly evidence that some marriages were anticipated if not arranged before the world was.

  43. T-bone on July 21, 2006 at 2:43 am

    The value of the question that McBride poses, in my opinion, is that it gets us to think about what features of the Church and the Restoration are essential/necessary and what features are merely contingent. Asking the question the way McBride does seems to me to be a very useful way of getting us to distinguish core aspects of the gospel from cultural accretions.

  44. mullingandmusing (m&m) on July 21, 2006 at 4:12 am

    Mark B.
    Where does compensation say, for the lost 116 manuscripts, fall into your mode of thinking regarding foreknowledge? Seems more than just being familiar with Joseph’s character to have prepared for something as specific as a lost manuscript. I’m just curious to know what you do with things like that.

    I tend to think, given what Elder Maxwell has said about tailored, personalized tutoring, that even our trials (including those completely as a result of someone else’s agency) were anticipated by Him. How else could we trust that everything is part of our individualized plan? How can we have faith when our lives fall apart due to someone else’s agency? Not that God caused these things, but that He allows them and that, if we look to Him, He will consecrate our trials for our gain. Do you see Him reactively consecrating them (oh, dear, something happened to so-and-so, guess I had better find some purpose in this) or knowing what will happen and somehow having that fit into our personalize plan? It’s hard to even put words around it, but I’m interested to hear more of what you think on this topic.

  45. Mark Butler on July 21, 2006 at 9:44 am

    m&m (#43),

    There is a lot that I could say about this subject. However, it has been discussed extensively in the LDS blogospher, particularly over at New Cool Thang and I am not inclined to repeat everything that has been said on these issues. A more formal reference is Blake Ostler’s book “Exploring Mormon Thought, vol. 1, The Attributes of God”.

    Now I have said that I maintain a stunning level of divine foreknowledge given the radical contingencies of free will. The only difference is in the metaphysics or nature of this foreknowledge, which I maintain is according to the principle taught in 1 Ne 9:6, namely that God has power unto the fulfilling of all his words. That the mode and manner and particularly degree and effectiveness of this power and the way it correlates with necessary divine foreknowledge in the presence of free will as manifest in a mortal body is something almost beyond our comprehension is no object.

    The crux of the issue is usually not our own free will – if God were completely beyond time, like a Greek statue, then there would be no logical problem in reconciling divine foreknowledge and the radical contigency of free will. The twists and turns of free will would simply be deviations in the fabric of determinism thrown out before the Lord.

    The problem is that a Greek statue is literally impotent, as in lacking the power to make a difference between what he “sees” and the way things really turn out. Every concievable solution to this problem entails at a minimum adding some sort of meta-time, e.g. the time before an absolute creation, and then afterwards, or the idea of God tweaking the fabric of history in a manner not logically different from the changes to history caused by time travelers in science fiction stories.

    In short if one maintains the fixity of at least the material past, the names, dates, places, etc. of history, then immaculate foreknowledge of the sort where God simply looks out and sees the future, and does not actually have to work to accomplish a good one, indeed suffer immensely in order to acheive his will and accomplish his objectives, is incoherent.

    Can one really imagine Jesus Christ waking up one morning, looking off in a certain direction, and realizing for the first time (on the doctrine of exaltation) that an infinite, suffering Atonement on his part is required for the salvation of mankind? Certainly. But then the question is what is he in a position to do about this immaculate vision of the future. Does he have the ability to decline the foreordination of history, or is he pre-destined, no matter what he does, to show up at a certain time and a certain place, and go through every action he sees himself making, whether he wants to or not?

    What if he sees the victory, and knows that it is metaphysically inevitable, i.e. that there is literally nothing that he can do about it. Would not that knowledge incline him to slack off, to be less diligent, and so on – what possible eternal difference could it make? Indeed he would either see his own slacking in a vision of the future, along with what he would eat for breakfast for the rest of eternity, or he would conclude that no matter what he does it is okay, because the future will turn out okay anyways.

    So in any case, why should Jesus or Heavenly Father, or anyone else for that matter be given any credit for accomplishing the plan of salvation, and the work and the glory of *bringing to pass* the immortality and eternal life of man, if they could not help but do otherwise. Further more refined logical arguments can be made.

    Now, as to your second paragraph, if believing a certain way about immaculate divine foreknowledge increases your faith, I say go for it. For me, the opposite is true, I like to think of God in an effective struggle to bring to pass all righteousness, not just seeing it “out there” in the simple sense, as if nothing he had the capacity to do could make a difference one way or the other. That is also not a particularly appealing version of exaltation.

    I would rather struggle, by degrees, in the work of salvation for all eternity, than be converted into a Greek statue whose every action was set in stone an eternity before the “perfect day”. What need would there be for me, or any other of God’s children to be exalted at all, if one absolute, and timeless God is sufficient, or worse if God (as a person) doesn’t need to exist at all, because history is the same whether he looks down upon us in mercy, or not?

    Orson Pratt had a lot to say about the conception of such a God. What practical difference is the idea of a God without body, parts, or passibility (ability to be affected by the outside world), and a statue with immaculate foreknowledge of his own decisions. It sounds like the end of divine liberty for me – not the end because he works effectively to fulfil all his words, but the end because he is turned into a machine, a very bored or at least passive machine. A soul of a machine that would do better if he left the machine to do its thing, and took a long vacation in the Uintas.

  46. Michael McBride on July 21, 2006 at 1:08 pm

    M&M #41: Nice point. Even if restored somewhere else, the Church headquarters could have emigrated to the US.

    Mark # “So while it is a technical possibility that Joseph would not repent under admonition, in my opinion the Lord was sufficiently confident of his character, based on personal experience with Joseph in the pre-mortal life, that he would hardly need a backup plan for the idea of complete apostasy by JS at all.”

    I don’t necessarily disagree here, but your comment raises additional questions. Are you saying that the Lord knows us all well enough so that he never needs to prepare back-ups? And if he does sometimes prepare back-ups because he knows that the person will fail, why would he give the person the task in the first place? And if he would do such a thing, how can we rule out the possibility that God asked someone else to be the restorer who failed and then had JS as the back-up? It seems to me that there is no way to rule out JS as a back-up even if we think it unlikely.

  47. Robert C. on July 21, 2006 at 2:01 pm

    In an Honors History of Civ class at BYU some Islamic Studies prof (who’s name I’ve fortunately forgotten) gave a lecture about inspired aspects of the Islamic religion. I approached him afterwards and, based on some comments he’d made, asked him–as a Mormon who’d studied Islam extensively–about his personal take on the Prophet Mohammed’s visit by the angel Gabriel. He said he believed that God called Mohammed with the same mission of restoration that Joseph Smith was called to, but that Mohammed forsook his calling and went apostate at one point. I’ve wondered about this possibility ever since and haven’t encountered anything to make me believe it’s not a possiblity….

  48. mullingandmusing (m&m) on July 21, 2006 at 2:37 pm

    I know I’m not Mark, but….

    if he does sometimes prepare back-ups because he knows that the person will fail, why would he give the person the task in the first place?
    That the right kind of judgment may come upon that person, or the right kind of learning/experience as part of the person’s individualized plan…I think there could be different possible reasons. If God only gives us things in life that cause success, where’s the opposition principle?

    It seems to me that there is no way to rule out JS as a back-up even if we think it unlikely.
    I’ve wondered about this possibility ever since and haven’t encountered anything to make me believe it’s not a possiblity….

    Except, again, for all the prophetic comments about how he was foreordained to fulfill that role…like from the very beginning…. What would we do with D&C 138? Abraham 3:22-23?

  49. Mark Butler on July 21, 2006 at 4:13 pm

    Michael (#46),

    No I am not making that assertion. The assertion that I am making is that the more righteous a person was in the pre-mortal life, the more dependable they are here, meaning that the pragmatic need for alternative provisions (holding mission constant) is inversely proportional to long term personal righteousness (proven character).

    Now Joseph Smith likely held the equivalent rank of an archangel or apostle in heaven, and having passed the tests where some apostastized before the world was, he was and is certainly one of the least likely persons for the Lord to need to prepare alternative provisions for.

    On the other hand, others have less consequential and less difficult missions, to the degree that they are easier to replace if they fall from their mission – i.e. a larger number of people could accomplish similar objectives with divine assistance. Thus there is a balance here – the need for alternative provision is maximized when the product of personal unreliability (flakiness) and the importance of the assigned mission is maximum. So the key is, don’t give important missions to flaky people. Joseph Smith was not a flake.

    So as I said, the Lord may have had some inchoate ideas as to alternative schemes and persons, but I don’t think he had a full fledged backup plan for two reasons – one, he can be incredibly persusasive, and the righteous are more easily persuaded than the wicked, and two I think that he is pretty good at making script rewrites on the fly if necessary. There are scriptures that refer to such – notably the idea of changing the times and the seasons.

    Now, in my opinion, there was a detailed plan of human history that Lucifer and the other leaders who fell with him were well aware of, and after they fell, adaptations had to be made, partly substitutions for the very roles that they were no longer able to fulfil, and partly changes in the times and the seasons so the Lord would have a strategic advantage over his adversaries.

    Taking the appropriate portions of Revelations seriously, apparently the detailed plan for each dispensation was sealed in a “book” (probably more like a whole library), and only those with the appropriate keys can break the seal and gain access to God’s detailed planning for how certain things should play out, who will do what, and so on. And the keys that protect access to the plans for the last dispensation, according to the scriptures, are held under the strictest security of all.

    For example:

    And I saw in the right hand of him that sat on the throne a book written within and on the backside, sealed with seven seals. And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, Who is worthy to open the book, and to loose the seals thereof?

    And no man in heaven, nor in earth, neither under the earth, was able to open the book, neither to look thereon. And I wept much, because no man was found worthy to open and to read the book, neither to look thereon.

    And one of the elders saith unto me, Weep not: behold, the Lion of the tribe of Juda, the Root of David, hath prevailed to open the book, and to loose the seven seals thereof.

    And I beheld, and, lo, in the midst of the throne and of the four beasts, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as it had been slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God sent forth into all the earth.

    And he came and took the book out of the right hand of him that sat upon the throne. And when he had taken the book, the four beasts and four and twenty elders fell down before the Lamb, having every one of them harps, and golden vials full of odours, which are the prayers of saints.

    And they sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation;
    (Rev 5:1-9)

    Then was the secret revealed unto Daniel in a night vision. Then Daniel blessed the God of heaven. Daniel answered and said, Blessed be the name of God for ever and ever: for wisdom and might are his:

    And he changeth the times and the season: he removeth kings, and setteth up kings: he giveth wisdom unto the wise, and knowledge to them that know understanding:
    (Dan 2:9-21)

    When they therefore were come together, they asked of him, saying, Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?

    And he said unto them, It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power.

    But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.
    (Acts 1:6-8)

    But of the times and the seasons, brethren, ye have no need that I write unto you. For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night.
    (Thes 5:1-2)

    Now learn a parable of the fig tree; When his branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer is nigh:

    So likewise ye, when ye shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors. Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled.

    Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away. But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only.
    (Matt 24:32-26)

    And they who do charge thee with transgression, their hope shall be blasted, and their prospects shall melt away as the hoar frost melteth before the burning rays of the rising sun;

    And also that God hath set his hand and seal to change the times and seasons, and to blind their minds, that they may not understand his marvelous workings; that he may prove them also and take them in their own craftiness;

    Also because their hearts are corrupted, and the things which they are willing to bring upon others, and love to have others suffer, may come upon themselves to the very uttermost;
    (D&C 121:11-13)

    There are very many other scriptures indicating such principles that the Lord often promises blessings to people on condition of continued righteousness knowing rather well that they are exceedingly unlikely to be able to meet those conditions because of their character. The scriptural commentary on Jacob and Esau is typical. The fact that the patrilineal birthright is often given to non-firstborn sons is another.

    Now one can say that Esau probably did something in the pre-mortal life to deserve being the first born, lets say the right of first refusal to the birthright, but the Lord knew that Jacob had more long term potential despite likely being “younger” or less experienced than Esau, and that he probably planned accordingly. Same deal with Joseph of Egypt, and his brothers, and so on.

    In other words the Lord knows more than he says – he calls many, but only a few are chosen. And in general the Lord knows ahead of time who is likely to be proven worthy under pressure, i.e. his revealed will granted according to worthiness, and his secret will or expectation of how things will turn out are different things. Patriarchal blessings are a practical example.

    A really good patriarch, lets say Adam, knows more than he can say. It has got to be pretty troubling to know that the Lord expects certain of your descendants to fall into inquity, that he has already accounted for that and plans to use their evil inclinations to accomplish his purposes? – can you imagine Adam’s feeling about the what would happen to much of his posterity in the flood or in various other apostasies?

    Or the proper patriarchal blessing that would be given to Attila the Hun or the King of Babylon? The only good part is knowing that a way is prepared, even for them, that they may be saved at the last day, if they will but repent, humble themselves before the Lord, and be sanctified.

  50. Mark Butler on July 21, 2006 at 4:26 pm

    m&m (#48),

    I do not think you are making a proper distinction between foreordination and pre-destination. Fore-ordain-ation is what God intends or plans for. Pre-destination is what unalterably cannot be otherwise, according to the will of God.

    For example this is what the Presbyterians (as good Calvinists) generally believe about predestination:

    I. God from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass; yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.

    II. Although God knows whatsoever may or can come to pass upon all supposed conditions; yet has He not decreed anything because He foresaw it as future, or as that which would come to pass upon such conditions.

    III. By the decree of God, for the manifestation of His glory, some men and angels are predestinated unto everlasting life; and others foreordained to everlasting death.

    IV. These angels and men, thus predestinated, and foreordained, are particularly and unchangeably designed, and their number so certain and definite, that it cannot be either increased or diminished
    (Westminster Confession, ch. 3 (1646))

    You can see that they do not believe that there is not the subtlest distinction between what God ordains and what actually comes to pass, thereby is it God’s will alone that accounts for whether any individual is saved or damned.

    Now of course God does not work like that – he has to work his will in a manner compatible with his knowledge of our character and his ability to persuade us, even after passing through the veil, to fulfil his purposes in our salvation and in the salvation of others.

    Now note that paragraph II above is a direct contradiction of the common Arminian view of simple foreknowledge – i.e. that God just sees the future instead of bringing it to pass. Well on this particular point I believe the Calvinists have a more accurate idea of the relationship between God and the future than the Arminians do. i.e. the future is in large part a function of God’s sovereign will.

    Now, where we as proper pluralists who have divine potential depart from Calvinism is that we believe that we all have free will, thus God’s ability to bring things to pass according to his will is a rather more subtle, almost miraculous exercise, than that of the Calvinist conception, where God has no other wills, whatsover to compete with – he just causes things – God said and done.

    Now the problem with the Arminian view is that it is naive – i.e. how can God have any power to change the future if he sees already the way that it unalterably will be? It makes God impotent to put it mildly.

  51. mullingandmusing (m&m) on July 21, 2006 at 6:46 pm

    No Mark, actually I do know the difference between predestination and foreordination, although I don’t pretend to be able to take you on in this. ;) I find it hard to try to put words around what I’m thinking, but I’ll try.

    I consider foreordination not God’s pre-determination of how things will be for each of us, thus negating our free will, but that foreordination is tied to His perfect knowledge of us and how we exercised our free will in the premortal realms, and how He knows we will exercise our will in this realm. I cannot believe that God can be surprised by anything we do. I believe that scriptures indicate that God knows all: “all things have been done in the wisdom of Him who knoweth all things” and “he knoweth all things, and there is not anything save he knows it.” and “I know the end from the beginning; therefore my hand shall be over thee” demonstrate to me that God doesn’t need to change the future; He already knows what it is. I see him actively involved, however, in an indescribable interplay of our own free will and His will and knowledge. Like I said, I can’t get my mind around it. There are times in my life when I have literally felt He was moving the world around me — just for me. How that can come into play with 6 billion of His children on the earth at one time is beyond me. I’m certain all of this also applies to children yet to be born and those in the spirit world. How He can orchestrate all the doings of the earth and all its inhabitants as well as the eternal realms (not to mention other worlds) is mind-boggling (there isn’t a word to capture what that really is). How He could put people and events and things into place in a way that they all unfold — all according to free will and natural law — so that His plan and will and perfect justice and mercy will eventually play out … it’s phenomenal. I suppose that the Atonement takes on that much more meaning when we consider all that isn’t fair and just and merciful with this life — but that His foreknowledge and understanding has taken all things — mortal, temporal, spiritual, eternal — into account. The Atonement will then be able to right many wrongs — but, again, all according to our exercise of free will, of course.

    I picture a sort of divine chess, where He lets us make the moves we want, but where He knows how things will turn out because He can anticipate every move — and will make all the right moves in order for us to learn everything we need to learn along the way, have every piece that is needed left on the board, have those taken away that don’t fit into His plan — all the while being able to do all of that while perfectly preserving agency.

    In short, I don’t see God needing to have permission or need to change the future — only unless we define “the future” as what mortals may see and understand. He has already allowed it to take shape according to the laws of agency and His perfect knowledge everything else that has happened long before we came here. Else how can we compensate for Him knowing the end from the beginning? If He knows that, how does changing the future (changing the end) fit into that concept? I wonder if we really don’t understand what “God’s will” and what His exercising of that will means. But since His will includes allowing us agency, that will always keep Him from being someone to “compete” with. We are our own judges. He won’t force anyone to heaven. (He can, however, will the earth any way He wants — because the earth is perfectly obedient! ;) )

    OK, this is becoming way too threadjacky. Sorry, Michael. But I do think this can all come back to relate to what you have talked about here. It’s not that it couldn’t be possible that Joseph Smith was a backup of some sort, but, if that is the case, God was not surprised by that need, and had Joseph in place long before whoever preceded him goofed. Revelations and so many other “coincidences” prove that. Also, the Restoration happened, I believe, exactly when God wanted it to happen. And if, for example, Mohammed missed the mark, then that still had a place in the big scheme of things, somehow or another, and also played into what God knew he would do. All of that based on His perfect knowledge of us from the foundations of the world and before.

    Like I said, Mark, these are just thoughts I’m having as I write…I clearly haven’t studied like you have, but rather just am going with what makes sense to me at this point. Maybe I’ll stroll over to the discussions you mentioned for more food for thought. Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts and respond here. (Sorry again, Michael!)

  52. Michael McBride on July 21, 2006 at 6:47 pm

    M&M #48. That God would ever prepare a back-up for anything means that he could foreordain multiple people to the same task. If you accept the idea of back-ups you accept the idea of multiple foreordination.

    Mark #49. “The assertion that I am making is that the more righteous a person was in the pre-mortal life, the more dependable they are here, meaning that the pragmatic need for alternative provisions (holding mission constant) is inversely proportional to long term personal righteousness (proven character).” I like the logic, but how far can it go? It can establish that a back-up was needed with very low probabilty, but can it establish that a back-up was not necessary at all?

  53. mullingandmusing (m&m) on July 21, 2006 at 8:50 pm

    That God would ever prepare a back-up for anything means that he could foreordain multiple people to the same task. If you accept the idea of back-ups you accept the idea of multiple foreordination.

    Yeah, well, I am not sure I do accept the back-up theory per se, although I wonder if foreordination for those God knew would goof would be foreordination in the same sense. I DUNNO. I really lean away from the back-up theory, because that, in my mind, would imply that God could be surprised and wouldn’t know what would happen. BUT, on the other hand, would multiple foreordination be impossible, though? I don’t have an answer…just wondering what others might think. Was David foreordained for something? Solomon? Early members of the Quorum of the 12 who apostatized and never came back? Is foreordination by defition something that only has a happy ending? Can someone be foreordained and still end up goofing? If so, what might that imply?

  54. Mark Butler on July 22, 2006 at 12:22 am

    m&m (#51), The first thing that you should consider is that the future is not yet a thing. God knows all things, but his knowledge of the future is different than his knowledge of things. The future is on the drawing board, in particular the material aspects are written in the book with seven seals. God then brings the future to pass according to plan using a combination of persuasion and anticipation – turning what was only a plan into an actual reality.

    Remember the simple argument against the idea that the future is a thing. If it were, God’s own future and that of his children would be a thing. Then he would look into the future, it would be fixed, cast in stone, captured on film,. whatever, and he couldn’t do a thing about it – if he saw good he could be happy, if he saw evil, he might be sad, but either way the die would be cast and God would not be able to affect the future, one way or the other. In other words, he would be impotent. No free will, no divine sovereignty, no crown of authority, just a spectator at best. On such an account why is he there at all? Why does he deserve any credit? Nothing that ever happened would have been due to his decision. All of history, indeed all of eternity would be a cosmological accident, with no one person responsible for anything. The salvation of the saints, the victory of good over evil, every play, every musical, all just an accident of history cast in stone without any persons, mortal or divine ability to choose for it to be otherwise. Of course statistically, a far worse fate would be likely – no divine power means statistically he is an aberration at best, and almost certain to fail. I can’t accept that.

    Immaculate foreknowledge and divine power and creativity are strictly incompatible. The former makes God into a nullity, an abstraction at best, he like we nothing more than the most radically improbable machines doomed to either repeat history over and over again like a broken record or run downhill into the chaos from whence we sprang.

    That is the scientific vision of divinity, and the scientific vision of humanity, and it is directly entailed by immaculate foreknowledge. No free will, no intelligence, just praise the Lord of the casino table who cast the die, and dyed the cast. Not a real Lord of course, but one which cannot touch, nor see, nor feel, an idol, a Greek statue, who like any figure of stone had no say one way or the other.

  55. mullingandmusing (m&m) on July 22, 2006 at 1:06 am

    OK, what about the future being the “end” that he knows…as in the end from the beginning? Is that not equivalent to future? Also if past, present and future are only concepts framed by man (that whole “one eternal now” thing), I still can’t see why we can’t believe in a God who knows what we call “future.”

    I realize after reading some of the Thang (not the thing), I’m probably making myself look like an idiot, but I’m still not ready to jump to your side of the fence. I still see too much embedded in prophecy and the way things work together to think that there isn’t an incredible amount of foreknowledge that God possesses, perhaps even perfect knowledge. I also can’t get my mind around why you think foreknowledge makes divine power incompatible. That doesn’t gel with me, at least not yet. I feel like the God you paint is somehow less than perfect, less-than-omni-everything (I realize that rubs some people the wrong way, but that’s the way I see Him)I’m going to have to mull over this one for a while. In that sense you obviously have a significant advantage over me.

    I also think it’s impossible for us to even put words down to adequately describe God, so in a sense, I wonder if discussions like this border on the ridiculous. We think we understand a little, but I suspect we are really quite clueless. :) And I doubt there is a philosophy in the world that can come close to explaining how God really works and is. I also think we can easily make statements that sound absolute and final, but I seriously doubt if we would be right when trying to figure out how God works. Just even thinking about Him listening to and answering millions of prayers all at once…there isn’t a theory on earth that can even come close to explaining even the “simplest” of heavenly tasks, is there? (“Behold, great and marvelous are the works of the Lord. How unsearchable are the depths of the mysteries of him; and it is impossible that man should find out all his ways.” (Jac. 4:8))

  56. Mark Butler on July 22, 2006 at 1:29 am

    Michael (#52),

    My point is not that the need is absolutely zero. I think that is untenable. My point is that according to the economy of God, the amount of effort he would put into making a backup plan is inversely proportional to the likelihood that that backup plan will have to be put in place.

    In my opinion, the a priori probability of Joseph Smith having fallen from his place granted his character and every divine effort to keep him there is infinitesmal. As in so small that God never bothered to write a backup plan. A failure there would be so dramatic an event that God would likely have to rewrite the plan for the final dispensation completely.

    There is no evidence that he writes contingency plans. He makes promises to people based on past worthiness – David is an excellent example, but he also knows their weakness and plans accordingly. David will indeed suffer severely for his sins, but at the last day he will be saved, though not exalted.

    The sad thing is that David’s weaknesses were probably prototypical of his whole people, who through the representative iniquity of most of David’s royal descendants, generally got what they wanted, and received what they deserved.

    Sometimes I really do not like to think of myself as potter’s clay, but on the other hand I imagine that each of us agreed to that level of guidance and interference before we came here – knowing that it was for our ultimate good.

    The most amazing thing about divine power is the way the Lord turns things upside down, literally turning the work of evil doers to his own eternal advantage, often using them to execute his will – not forcing them of course, but often directing their evil inclinations against evil, or in judgment that others amply deserve, and which will do them good in the long run. Keynes was wrong. In the long run we are not all dead, we are all, save a very few whom even hell cannot reform, alive in Christ.

    Wherefore the Lord said, Forasmuch as this people draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honour me, but have removed their heart far from me, and their fear toward me is taught by the precept of men:

    Therefore, behold, I will proceed to do a marvellous work among this people, even a marvellous work and a wonder: for the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the understanding of their prudent men shall be hid.

    Woe unto them that seek deep to hide their counsel from the LORD, and their works are in the dark, and they say, Who seeth us? and who knoweth us?

    Surely your turning of things upside down shall be esteemed as the potter’s clay: for shall the work say of him that made it, He made me not? or shall the thing framed say of him that framed it, He had no understanding?
    (Isaiah 29:13-16)

  57. queuno on July 22, 2006 at 1:45 am

    Re 11 –

    Michael, we need to swap genealogical notes sometime.

  58. mullingandmusing (m&m) on July 22, 2006 at 1:46 am

    I apologize in advance for the length of this, but I think this gets at basically what I have been trying to say. And, of course, being from Elder Maxwell, it’s said so much better than I ever could say it!

    Our own intellectual shortfalls and perplexities do not alter the fact of God’s astonishing foreknowledge, which takes into account our choices for which we are responsible. Amid the mortal and fragmentary communiques and the breaking news of the day concerning various human conflicts, God lives in an eternal now where the past, present, and future are constantly before Him (see D&C 130:7). His divine determinations are guaranteed, since whatever He takes in His heart to do, He will surely do it (see Abr. 3:17). He knows the end from the beginning! (see Abr. 2:8). God is fully “able to do [His] … work� and to bring all His purposes to pass, something untrue of the best-laid plans of man since we so often use our agency amiss! (see 2 Ne. 27:20).
    Neal A. Maxwell, “Care for the Life of the Soul,� Ensign, May 2003, 68

    Amid all this, God, who lives in “eternal now,� is relentlessly and lovingly accomplishing His work, using His unique foreknowledge to ensure that all His purposes will prevail—not just some of them. The Prophet Joseph said: “The great Jehovah contemplated the whole of the events connected with the earth, pertaining to the plan of salvation, before it rolled into existence, or ever ‘the morning stars sang together’ for joy. … He knew … of the depth of iniquity that would be connected with the human family, their weakness and strength, their power and glory, apostasies, their crimes, their righteousness and iniquity; … He was acquainted with the situation of all nations and with their destiny; … He knows the situation of both the living and the dead, and has made ample provision for their redemption.�
    Neal A. Maxwell, “These Are Your Days,� Ensign, Oct. 2004, 26

    “In fact, the ultimate place in which we hope to be is “in the presence of God, … where all things … are manifest, past, present, and future, and are continually before the Lord.â€? (D&C 130:7.) What a wondrous God we worship. The Prophet Joseph Smith said, “The past, the present, and the future were and are, with [Jehovah], one eternal ‘now.’ â€? (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 220.) How different the Lord’s “nowâ€? is from ours. While encountering and exploring such vastness, we sometimes know more than our tongues can tell. Knowledge which is “spiritually discernedâ€? is not always easily communicated.”
    Neal A. Maxwell, “The Inexhaustible Gospel,� Ensign, Apr. 1993, 68

    (I also realize this is older, but I still think it’s worth some consideration. It’s worth a read to the end, as he specifically gets to the question of this post….) ;) (Once again, apologies ahead of time for the length…I know this is not ideal.) This gets to some of the things I read over at the Thang, including prophecy vs. prediction, the importance of agency, and some other ideas that I’ve enjoyed mulling over. :)

    The combined doctrine of God’s foreordination is one of the doctrinal roads “least traveled by.� Yet it clearly underlines how very long and how perfectly God has loved us and known us with our individual needs and capacities. Isolated from other doctrines, or mishandled, these truths can stoke the fires of fatalism, impact adversely upon agency, cause us to focus on status rather than service, and carry us over into predestination. President Joseph Fielding Smith once warned:

    “It is very evident from a thorough study of the gospel and the plan of salvation that a conclusion that those who accepted the Savior were predestined to be saved no matter what the nature of their lives must be an error. … Surely Paul never intended to convey such a thought. … This might have been one of the passages in Paul’s teachings which cause Peter to declare that there are in Paul’s writings, ‘some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction’ � (Improvement Era, May 1963, p. 350; see 2 Pet. 3:16).

    Paul stressed running life’s race the full distance; he did not intend a casual Christianity in which some had won even before the race started!

    Yet, though foreordination is a difficult doctrine, it has been given to us by the living God, through living prophets, for a purpose. It can actually increase our understanding of how crucial this mortal second estate is and can further encourage us in good works. This precious doctrine can also help us go the second mile because we are doubly called.

    In some ways, our second estate, in relationship to our first estate, is like agreeing in advance to surgery. Then the anesthetic of forgetfulness settles in upon us. Just as doctors do not de-anesthetize a patient in the midst of authorized surgery to ask him again if the surgery should be continued, so, after divine tutoring, we agreed to come here and to submit ourselves to certain experiences; it was an irrevocable decision.

    Of course, when we mortals try to comprehend, rather than accept, foreordination, the result is one in which finite minds futilely try to comprehend omniscience. A full understanding is impossible; we simply have to trust in what the Lord has told us, knowing enough, however, to realize that we are not dealing with guarantees from God but extra opportunities—and heavier responsibilities. If those responsibilities are in some ways linked to past performance or to past capabilities, it should not surprise us. The Lord said:

    “There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this 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). This eternal law prevailed in the first estate as it does in the second estate. It should not disconcert us, therefore, that the Lord has indicated that he chose some individuals before they came here to carry out certain assignments; hence, these individuals have been foreordained to those assignments. “Every man who has a calling to minister to the inhabitants of the world,� said the Prophet Joseph Smith, “was ordained to that very purpose in the Grand Council of heaven before this world was. I suppose I was ordained to this very office in that Grand Council.� (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 365.)

    Foreordination is like any other blessing—it is a conditional bestowal subject to our faithfulness. Prophecies foreshadow events without determining the outcome, because of a divine foreseeing of outcomes. So foreordination is a conditional bestowal of a role, a responsibility, or a blessing which, likewise, foresees but does not fix the outcome.

    There have been those who have failed or who have been treasonous to their trust, such as David, Solomon, and Judas. God foresaw the fall of David, but was not the cause of it. It was David who saw Bathsheba from the balcony and sent for her. But neither was God surprised by such a sad development.

    God foresaw, but did not cause, Martin Harris’s loss of certain pages of the translated Book of Mormon; God made plans to cope with failure over 1,500 years before it was to occur! (See preface to D&C 10 and W of M)

    Thus, foreordination is clearly no excuse for fatalism, or arrogance, or the abuse of agency. It is not, however, a doctrine that can be ignored simply because it is difficult. Indeed, deep inside the hardest doctrines are some of the pearls of greatest price.

    The doctrine pertains not only to the foreordination of prophets, but to God’s precise assessment, beforehand, as to each of those who will respond to the words of the Savior and the prophets. From the Savior’s own lips came these words, “I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine� (John 10:14). Similarly the Savior said, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me� (John 10:27). Further, he declared, “And ye are called to bring to pass the gathering of mine elect; for mine elect hear my voice and harden not their hearts� (D&C 29:7).

    This responsiveness could not be gauged without divine foreknowledge concerning all mortals and their response to the gospel—which foreknowledge is so perfect it leaves the realm of prediction and enters the realm of prophecy.

    The foreseeing of those who will accept the gospel in mortality, gladly and with alacrity, is based upon their parallel responsiveness in the premortal world. No wonder the Lord could say, as he did to Jeremiah, “Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; … and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations� (Jer. 1:5). Paul, when writing to the Saints in Rome, said, “God hath not cast away his people which he foreknew� (Rom. 11:2). Paul also said of God that “he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world� (Eph. 1:4).

    The Lord, who was able to say to his disciples, “Cast the net on the right side of the ship� (John 21:6), knew beforehand that there was a multitude of fishes there. If he knew beforehand the movements and whereabouts of fishes in the little Sea of Tiberias, should it offend us that he knows beforehand which mortals will come into the gospel net?

    It does no violence even to our frail human logic to observe that there cannot be a grand plan of salvation for all mankind, unless there is also a plan for each individual. The salvational sum will reflect all its parts.

    Once the believer acknowledges that the past, present, and future are before God simultaneously—even though we do not understand how—then the doctrine of foreordination may be seen somewhat more clearly. For instance, it was necessary for God to know how the economic difficulties and crop failures of the Joseph Smith, Sr. family in New England would move this special family to the Cumorah vicinity where the Book of Mormon plates were buried. God’s plans could scarcely have so unfolded if—willy-nilly—the Smiths had been born Manchurians and if, meanwhile, the plates had been buried in Belgium!

    Neal A. Maxwell, “A More Determined Discipleship,â€? Ensign, Feb. 1979, 69 (some emphasis from original did not transfer, and I’m too lazy to go html it all back in)

  59. Mark Butler on July 22, 2006 at 1:52 am

    m&m (#52),

    I should say that I think that strict absolutism is positively incoherent. Why should God himself suffer in order to redeem all mankind is he were strictly omnipotent? How is the doctrine of the impossibility of ex nihilo creation of matter or intelligences compatible with strict omnipotence? If God can snap as fingers and bring this world into existence, why didn’t he just create us all in a saved eternal state, and spared us all this misery?

    And though I would not agree with some on the precise interpretation of the evidence, why is there a fossil record extending back hundreds of millions of years? God is not a deceiver, that he should falsify such dramatic evidence.

    How is it that nearly everything good is accomplished in the process of time? If God knew our potential, who was savable and who was not, why not just snap his fingers and presto chango endow us with the blessings we deserve? Why is our service and suffering required in this life? Why are families more often than not a royal pain in the neck? A first class struggle for basic sanity, peace, and order?

    Strict absolutism cannot answer any of those questions, but classical Mormonism can. Neo-absolutism can make for an effective, saving faith, but it cannot answer any of those questions – it just has to resort to an appeal to mystery, same as Martin Luther did five centuries ago.

    There is a philosophy in the world than can explain how God accomplished all those things – it is God’s philosophy – the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven – the understanding of which is one of the greatest blessings in mortality.

    Hear, O ye heavens, and give ear, O earth, and rejoice ye inhabitants thereof, for the Lord is God, and beside him there is no Savior.

    Great is his wisdom, marvelous are his ways, and the extent of his doings none can find out. His purposes fail not, neither are there any who can stay his hand. From eternity to eternity he is the same, and his years never fail.

    For thus saith the Lord—I, the Lord, am merciful and gracious unto those who fear me, and delight to honor those who serve me in righteousness and in truth unto the end. Great shall be their reward and eternal shall be their glory.

    And to them will I reveal all mysteries, yea, all the hidden mysteries of my kingdom from days of old, and for ages to come, will I make known unto them the good pleasure of my will concerning all things pertaining to my kingdom.

    Yea, even the wonders of eternity shall they know, and things to come will I show them, even the things of many generations. And their wisdom shall be great, and their understanding reach to heaven; and before them the wisdom of the wise shall perish, and the understanding of the prudent shall come to naught.

    For by my Spirit will I enlighten them, and by my power will I make known unto them the secrets of my will—yea, even those things which eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor yet entered into the heart of man.
    (D&C 76 1-10)

    Note also:

    Seek not for riches but for wisdom, and behold, the mysteries of God shall be unfolded unto you, and then shall you be made rich. Behold, he that hath eternal life is rich.
    (D&C 6:7)

    And now, verily I say unto you, that as I said that I would make known my will unto you, behold I will make it known unto you, not by the way of commandment, for there are many who observe not to keep my commandments.

    But unto him that keepeth my commandments I will give the mysteries of my kingdom, and the same shall be in him a well of living water, springing up unto everlasting life
    (D&C 63:22-23)

    Assuming one’s conclusion is not a very good way to understand mysteries, by the way. Intellectual humility is at a premium.

  60. Mark Butler on July 22, 2006 at 2:03 am

    With all due respect to Elder Maxwell he skipped an important part of that critical verse in D&C 130:

    The angels do not reside on a planet like this earth; But they reside in the presence of God, on a globe like a sea of glass and fire, where all things for their glory are manifest, past, present, and future, and are continually before the Lord.
    (D&C 130:6-7)

    He skipped with an ellipsis the qualifier “for their glory”. So setting aside the objection that the future is not yet a *thing*, the scripture does not say that the actual future is manifest before angels in immaculate detail, it only says that all things for the glory of those angels are manifest before them – e.g. what they need to know of the divine plan to do their jobs.

    As evidence of this fact, allow me to quote from the book of Daniel, regarding a latter day prophecy about which there was some dispute(!) among angels in the kingdom of heaven:

    Now I am come to make thee understand what shall befall thy people in the latter days: for yet the vision is for many days. And when he had spoken such words unto me, I set my face toward the ground, and I became dumb.

    And, behold, one like the similitude of the sons of men touched my lips: then I opened my mouth, and spake, and said unto him that stood before me, O my lord, by the vision my sorrows are turned upon me, and I have retained no strength.

    For how can the servant of this my lord talk with this my lord? for as for me, straightway there remained no strength in me, neither is there breath left in me. Then there came again and touched me one like the appearance of a man, and he strengthened me,

    And said, O man greatly beloved, fear not: peace be unto thee, be strong, yea, be strong. And when he had spoken unto me, I was strengthened, and said, Let my lord speak; for thou hast strengthened me.

    Then said he, Knowest thou wherefore I come unto thee? and now will I return to fight with the prince of Persia: and when I am gone forth, lo, the prince of Grecia shall come.

    But I will shew thee that which is noted in the scripture of truth: and there is none that holdeth with me in these things, but Michael your prince.
    (Daniel 10:13-21)

  61. mullingandmusing (m&m) on July 22, 2006 at 2:26 am

    59
    Yes, but the mysteries are understood by the Spirit and often aren’t really explanable, as Elder Maxwell stated. I’m not saying we can’t understand God, but it’s not going to be primarily through intellectual discussion or worldly philosophies, which sometimes these discussions seemed to be based on too heavily, IMO. I’m not trying to insinuate that you haven’t felt any spiritual confirmation of what you hold to be true, but all I can say is that, at this early point in my thought processes on this, Elder Maxwell’s words have resonated more than yours. But I appreciate what you have to say, because it gives me stuff to think about.

    Assuming one’s conclusion is not a very good way to understand mysteries, by the way.

    Was something missing from that sentence? Either it’s just late or something was missing….

  62. Mark Butler on July 22, 2006 at 2:27 am

    I should say I fully agree with the virtually everything Elder Maxwell said in all those quotes, save some minor metaphysical details in a couple of the statements that are backed off from in others.

  63. Michael McBride on July 22, 2006 at 2:34 am

    Mark and M&M: I’m enjoying your conversation. Keep it up!

    Queuno: My descent it through Newell and Lydia’s son Joseph, and then through his daughter Roxie. Roxie Knight was my great grandmother. What line do you come through? (Maybe you’d be the alternate history version of Joseph Fielding Smith?)

  64. mullingandmusing (m&m) on July 22, 2006 at 2:36 am

    62
    well, then, I’m clearly not getting what you are saying. I’m not too good with philosophical and metaphysical speak. :) Duh points for me.

  65. Mark Butler on July 22, 2006 at 2:46 am

    I should also say that Elder Maxwell is not clearly asserting immaculate (comprehensive, e.g. down to every electron) divine foreknowledge in the vast majority of those quotes, although he implies it in some of them. The long 1979 passage is the best, the literal, absolute idea of an eternal now, however, is logically incomprehensible, sort of like God making 2+2 = 5.

    In the 2004 quote Elder Maxwell technically contradicts the idea of an a literal eternal now in the very next sentence. How does one use foreknowledge to ensure purposes will prevail? That is all tensed language. Purpose is for making things different than they would be otherwise. Prevail is that victory. Foreknowledge is a contradiction in terms in an eternal now. So at best we can only regard eternal now as a very loose metaphor for having the script (the book with seven seals) laid out in front of him.

    The quote from Joseph Smith in the 2004 quote directly contradicts the idea of an eternal now as well – note the key phrase “before [the earth] came rolling into existence”, as well as a variety of other tensed statements.

    The 2003 quote is almost perfect, except for the idea of a literal eternal now. It discusses how God brings to pass his purposes – note the present progressive tense. Note that he uses “astonishing foreknowledge” instead of perfect foreknowlege, and the fact that the future is according to the Lord’s determinations, according to those things that he takes into his heart to accomplish.

    Now in the gospel sense these may be minor differences, but if one is practicing metaphysics they make all the difference in the world.

  66. Mark Butler on July 22, 2006 at 3:05 am

    m&m, My disagreement is not really very much about how much the Lord knows about what will come to pass, it is about the way he knows so much about what will come to pass.

    I am asserting that the way he knows is that he exercises his divine power to make those critical aspects come to pass without materially interfering with the character or agency of any individual, i.e. he lets people who are inclined to do evil do evil, but he is constantly intervening according to the subtle influence of the spirit to direct the paths of both the good and the not so good such that his purposes are accomplished. The rest of what he knows is simple anticipation.

    So character knowledge + intervention + anticipation = astonishing level of foreknowledge, more than adequate to fulfil all his words. As the scriptures say his purposes cannot fail – he has ample power to bring them to pass in the process of time.

  67. mullingandmusing (m&m) on July 22, 2006 at 3:06 am

    That is all tensed language. Purpose is for making things different than they would be otherwise. Prevail is that victory.

    I don’t see it that way, as His purposes take into account what He knows about our exercise of free will and what He wills. I think Elder Maxwell addresses that.

    I refuse to take the argument of “logical incomprehensibility” as the reason something Elder Maxwell says can’t be. :) That is what I meant by saying that we really can’t understand God logically. I worry sometimes that we try to impose mortal constructs on God when seeking to understand Him. Our logic may be insufficient in that regard. But, what do I know? :)

  68. Mark Butler on July 22, 2006 at 3:27 am

    m&m (#67), How do you suppose the Lord is going to reveal “all mysteries”, the “wonders of eternity”, to his Saints in the latter days if they are inherently incapable of understanding them?

    How shall their “wisdom be great, and their understanding reach to heaven”? How shall before them the wisdom of the wise and prudent come to naught?

    Of the mysteries that have been revealed in the scriptures, how many are logically incomprehensible? Any of them? On the contrary, usually the solution to mysteries is straightforward once one knows the key.

    Now of course this particular mystery is not one of those – it probably ranks in the top three mysteries of the kingdom of heaven. Most people, even very intelligent people, notably Martin Luther, just completely give up – either to a raw faith, or to raw skepticism.

    However, Joseph Smith was quite clear that the understanding of the mysteries was open to any righteous person who would make the necessary effort. He openly ridiculed the idea of an irrational God, and those who beleived that an incomprehensible God was a good thing. He said that the way one noticed the influence of the Holy Ghost was when once received strokes of pure intelligence. That comprehensibility was a sign of revelation, and stupor a sign that one was proceeding in the wrong direction.

    He taught that God was embodied in a world of natural laws, but had all power in the process of time despite what most would consider overwhelming constraints. Now some people prefer to let mysteries be mysteries, but when I look out on the level of ignorance and agnosticism that pervades the academic world, I cannot help but think that an understanding of a few of the mysteries of theology would do the world a lot of good. No doubt the level of education in the Millennium will make the alternate doubt and despair and overweening self-confidence that pervades the academy today look foolish by comparison.

  69. Mark Butler on July 22, 2006 at 3:34 am

    m&m (#67), I agree with your second paragraph starting from the first comma here.

  70. Mark Butler on July 22, 2006 at 3:54 am

    Also, not all logic is created equal. 2+2=5 is absolutely certain. Many other logical arguments fail for metaphysical reasons (due to the non-simplicity of what words correspond to for example).

    Unfortunately, many scriptural terms correspond to realities that are exceedingly complex – that is why theology is very difficult – indeed almost impossible without considerable inspiration as to proper semantics, or at least semantics better than what things might appear at first glance. Western civilization is littered with the consequences of flawed theological arguments. The Lord often had to raise up various individuals to remedy mistakes made by scholars and theologians centuries earlier. Joseph Smith first among them, but there were many who preceded him, who did the world a lot of good in that manner – Arminius, Luther, Calvin, Ockham, Aquinas – each had their faults, but their influence with some divine help, accounts for much of the strength of Western Civilization.

    Note the following scripture:

    And after that ye were blessed then fulfilleth the Father the covenant which he made with Abraham, saying: In thy seed shall all the kindreds of the earth be blessed—unto the pouring out of the Holy Ghost through me upon the Gentiles, which blessing upon the Gentiles shall make them mighty above all, unto the scattering of my people, O house of Israel.
    (3 Ne 20:27)

    Through me – as in through belief in the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Holy Ghost is poured out upon the Gentiles, making them the mightiest civilization upon the face of the earth, extending so far as scattering those of the house of Israel.

    Of course the Lord intends to flip the pancake upside down in the latter days, when he brings to pass his strange act, and quickens his work in his time, in order that he may pour out his Spirit upon all flesh, unto the glorification of the righteous, and the condemnation of the wicked.

    For who shall abide the day of his coming? For he is as a refiners fire, and a fuller’s soap. And he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver: and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the LORD an offering in righteousness. Then shall the offering of Judah and Jerusalem be pleasant unto the LORD, as in the days of old, and as in former years.
    (Malachi 3:1-4)

    (See also Isa 28:21-22, D&C 95:4, 101:95)

  71. Mark Butler on July 22, 2006 at 3:57 am

    Sorry “2+2=4 is absolutely certain”. O tempora, o mores!

  72. mullingandmusing (m&m) on July 22, 2006 at 3:01 pm

    m&m (#67), How do you suppose the Lord is going to reveal “all mysteries�, the “wonders of eternity�, to his Saints in the latter days if they are inherently incapable of understanding them?

    I’m sorry if I give the impression that I think people are inherently incapable of understanding God’s mysteries. I just think that that process is a lot more personal, a lot more internal, a lot more spiritual and a lot less about logic per se. In my mind, the combination of Jacob 4:8 “Behold, great and marvelous are the works of the Lord. How unsearchable are the depths of the mysteries of him; and it is impossible that man should find out all his ways. And no man knoweth of his ways save it be revealed unto him; wherefore, brethren, despise not the revelations of God” and Alma 12:9 — “It is given unto many to know the mysteries of God; nevertheless they are laid under a strict command that they shall not impart conly according to the portion of his word which he doth grant unto the children of men, according to the heed and diligence which they give unto him” suggest to me that knowing God’s mysteries and attempting to explain them are very likely incompatible. I believe strongly in the fact that we will have the opportunity to understand all things. But I don’t believe this is a telestial-sphere process, nor something that can easily be described in telestial-sphere words. Not that we aren’t to seek to understand and even to discuss towards understanding, but, ultimately, only the Spirit (opened up to us because of the Atonement) as well as perhaps even more to come when Christ reigns on the earth (and beyond) can make it possible for us to see and understand more.

    So, in a sense, perhaps you are preaching to the choir about the possibility of understanding mysteries. I firmly believe in this possibility. I still don’t think logic is the key, at least not in the way we define logic. I find the more I understand of God, His prophets, His truths, the more they “make sense” to me (as you mentioned)– but not in a way that I can just “explain” to someone. This kind of logic is not simply transferable, it must be felt, transferred by the Spirit. That’s why I think there is a point where “logical” discussion about these things fails because each of us is at a different place in terms of the Spirit. If you have learned things from the Spirit, for example, that I am not yet ready to receive, then you could write until Carpal Tunnel took over your life (my equivalent here of speaking until you are blue in the face) and still not “convince” me of anything. (If, indeed, the Spirit has revealed great, mysterious things to you, I would wonder if you should be saying much at all in fact!) :) Am I making any sense? Maybe my stumblingblock in these discussions is when supposed mysteries of God are conflated with philosophies and language of the world that are laden with telestialness. I find a disconnect there that not only reflects my limited vocabulary, but also that doesn’t settle with the way I think the Spirit works. Or, perhaps I should clarify that that is not the way He works with ME.

    BTW, I had to chuckle at your 2+2=5 thing. I was seriously scratching my head on that one. :)

  73. Mark Butler on July 22, 2006 at 4:14 pm

    m&m (#72),

    I appreciate your perspective. It is a common one – in twentieth century Mormonism, in particular. However Joseph Smith and many other scriptures affirm what I am advocating here.

    Joseph Smith said that a man is saved no faster than he gains knowledge. The knowledge of the world? No. The knowledge of God. And knowledge does not come like a magical brain download – it only comes through righteousness, obedience, and extensive pondering. That is why we have to study things out in our minds in order to receive answers to our prayers. We must be prepared to understand the answer. It is very hard to be steadfast on a course of action that one does not understand even the first principles of.

    … the things of God are of deep import; and time, and experience, and careful and ponderous and solemn thoughts can only find them out. Thy mind, O man! if thou wilt lead a soul unto salvation, must stretch as high as the utmost heavens, and search into and contemplate the darkest abyss, and the broad expanse of eternity–thou must commune with God. How much more dignified and noble are the thoughts of God, than the vain imaginations of the human heart! None but fools will trifle with the souls of men.
    (TPJS, 137)

    Now, please understand that “logic” is just a general term for any formal means of organizing, understanding, and discovering the truth. All logic is not created equal, but there is no language without logic. Language is logic. All language is a way of representing or communicating distinctions between what is, was, or will be the case and what is not.

    The Lord said that truth is the knowledge of things as they are, as they were, and as they are to come. Truth is meaningless unless that also entails the knowledge of what is not the case, was not the case, and never will be the case. That is what language is for – to make that distinction – to say the truth, and dispute error.

    Reason is no more and no less than comprehending the proper semantics of language, particularly gospel language, according to the inspiration of the Lord. There are rules that he can teach us about how to interpret his word. Those rules have a correspondence with eternal analytical truths of language and logic, the very first one is the law of non-contradiction.

    Other commonly accepted principles of secular logic are not so favored, but with a proper understanding of divine language and symbolism, and yes, even analytics of the sword of truth – we may gradually attain, line upon line, precept upon precept, unto a knowledge of the mind of Christ, yea even the means by which he thinks.

    If that were not the case in any degree, the scriptures would be void of theological reasoning. On the contrary, the scriptures are full of it – Paul is a particular example – hard to understand at times, but full of hidden mysteries in almost every word.

    As to gaining and understanding of those words, there is no revelation without intelligence. Warm fuzzy feelings do no one any good, unless they are warm fuzzy feelings about *something* – some principle or rule, that when repeated or adhered to, will cause those confirmatory feelings to return. And that is just the very beginning of inspiration. Listen to the words of Isaiah:

    Woe unto them that rise up early in the morning, that they may follow strong drink; that continue until night, till wine inflame them!

    And the harp, and the viol, the tabret, and pipe, and wine, are in their feasts: but they regard not the work of the LORD, neither consider the operation of his hands.

    Therefore my people are gone into captivity, because they have no knowledge: and their honourable men are famished, and their multitude dried up with thirst.

    Therefore hell hath enlarged herself, and opened her mouth without measure: and their glory, and their multitude, and their pomp, and he that rejoiceth, shall descend into it.
    (Isaiah 5:11-14)

    i.e. iniquity and captivity to the ways of the world is a consequence of ignorance of heavenly things.

    The communications I made to this council were of things spiritual, and to be received only by the spiritual minded: and there was nothing made known to these men but what will be made known to all the Saints of the last days
    (TPJS 237)

    And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions: And also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out my spirit.

    And I will shew wonders in the heavens and in the earth, blood, and fire, and pillars of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and the terrible day of the LORD come.

    And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be delivered: for in mount Zion and in Jerusalem shall be deliverance, as the LORD hath said, and in the remnant whom the LORD shall call.

    This prophecy has not been fulfilled yet, but no doubt will be fulfilled soon enough. God intends to save, and hopefull exalt us some day, and he cannot possibly do that unless we strive to learn how to reason like he reasons, and think like he thinks. “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect” – the doctrine of mystery avoidance is the way of slackers and cowards.

    Seek not for riches but for wisdom; and, behold, the mysteries of God shall be unfolded unto you, and then shall you be made rich. Behold, he that hath eternal life is rich.
    (D&C 11:7)

  74. Mark Butler on July 22, 2006 at 4:18 pm

    That second to last quote is Joel 2:28-32.

  75. mullingandmusing (m&m) on July 22, 2006 at 4:25 pm

    And knowledge does not come like a magical brain download – it only comes through righteousness, obedience, and extensive pondering. That is why we have to study things out in our minds in order to receive answers to our prayers. We must be prepared to understand the answer.

    As to gaining and understanding of those words, there is no revelation without intelligence. Warm fuzzy feelings do no one any good, unless they are warm fuzzy feelings about *something* – some principle or rule, that when repeated or adhered to, will cause those confirmatory feelings to return.

    etc….

    I still think you are preaching to the choir more than perhaps you think you are. I don’t know that I said anything that contradicted any of this. Maybe it’s just my lousy choice of words that mean something different to you. I dunno. But I really am not sure what you are trying to convince me of.

  76. Mark Butler on July 22, 2006 at 4:49 pm

    My point simply is that a revelation that you do not understand is not a revelation to the degree that you do not understand it. One limiting case is a warm fuzzy feeling about you know not what.

    The other limiting case is comprehensive understanding of what God understands about the matter. There is a spectrum in between, and that spectrum is traversed only through thought and pondering unto understanding. Not logical discovery, in general, but logical understanding and ability to apply revealed principles to unprecedented cases.

    The domain of the real, as Charles Peirce would put it. Not the mere trivia of actuality, but eternal principles and patterns, both the principles and patterns of natural law, but more so the principles and patterns of divine law and ordinance, in greatest detail the working whereby the Lord accomplishes his purposes.

  77. mullingandmusing (m&m) on July 22, 2006 at 5:12 pm

    76
    I don’t think I disagree with anything you have said, and yet I feel like you are trying to convince me of something, and I’m not sure that is necessary. But that’s ok. Lots of interesting stuff to think about. :)

  78. Mark Butler on July 22, 2006 at 5:39 pm

    m&m (#77), Not just you, but a lot of people. Nevertheless it is clear that we are in substantial agreement about nearly all the material issues here.

    Back to the main topic, my position is that the combination of the Lord’s power, persuasive ability, character knowledge, and calculated anticipation is more than adequate to need to write only one detailed plan for our temporal salvation, represented by the book with the seven seals, i.e. that is capacity is sufficient to the degree that writing a detailed backup plan for any number of serious contingencies would be contrary to his own economy.

    Of course when he talks to us, he must use on the one hand or one the other language, because his anticipation of our obedience or disobedience to that very principle according to our own character and his spiritual guidance and direction is what keeps his plan on track, such that his purposes shall not fail, and all his words are fulfilled in the process of time.

  79. Seth R. on July 24, 2006 at 10:36 pm

    Mark,

    I don’t have the philosophical or religious studies training to really engage your response to my post on your terms. I’ve seen how debates with you tend to run on numerous occasions, and I’m not going there.

    I am in no way criticizing your style of argument, but I am simply unable to debate with you on questions of metaphysics or Armenianism, or whatever else. I have my own style, and it doesn’t often work well with yours.

    But I am pretty familiar with the scriptures, and, depending on what your response meant, I think it’s more or less speculative.

    If you meant that God requires humanity, as an abstract concept, I’ll concede you probably have a good argument.

    But if you are asserting that God needs you, or God needs me, or God needs America, or God needed Nebucanezzer, or God needs humanity on any level other than the abstract …

    No, I don’t think that is correct.

  80. Mark Butler on July 25, 2006 at 12:03 am

    Seth,

    Very quickly. There is a general sense in which I agree with you. However there is a characteristic and very Mormon sense in which I disagree and it is related to the doctrine of exaltation, the necessity of marriage, the purpose of temple sealings, and King Follett Discourse style theology.

    Roughly speaking we teach that we are saved and exalted through the saving and exalting of our lineal and adopted children. That implies that our Heavenly Father is saved and exalted through the
    the saving and exalting of his children, i.e. us.

    The logical implication is that his kingdom and glory would be minimized if he did not have any children to save and exalt, or if every last one of them rebelled and became everlasting servants of the devil.

    I referred you to D&C 121:46, which teaches much about this principle, and the proper mode of divine (priesthood) authority:

    Let thy bowels also be full of charity towards all men, and to the household of faith, and let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly; then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God; and the doctrine of the priesthood shall distil upon thy soul as the dews from heaven.

    The Holy Ghost shall be thy constant companion, and thy scepter an unchanging scepter of righteousness and truth; and thy dominion shall be an everlasting dominion, and without compulsory means it shall flow unto thee forever and ever.
    (D&C 121:45-46)

  81. Seth R. on July 25, 2006 at 12:10 am

    In that sense, I suppose the ground upon which we agree or disagree is probably fuzzy. And I admit Joseph Smith’s non-canonized writings have always appealed to me, if for no other reason than his sheer theological audacity (but for other reasons too).

    But I’m also very wary of inflating humanity too much, or trying to familiarize God too much.

    Your read on section 121 is interesting.