God Himself

May 18, 2008 | 17 comments
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Lucky me, I got to talk about Mosiah 15 in my Gospel Doctrine lesson today.

Here’s the first half of the chapter, with some of my off-the-cuff musings thrown in.

1 And now Abinadi said unto them: I would that ye should understand that God himself shall come down among the children of men, and shall redeem his people.

One of my favorite verses in the canon. God himself came down to redeem his people. This is the foundation of my confidence in God–his personal investment in us.

2 And because he dwelleth in flesh he shall be called the Son of God, and having subjected the flesh to the will of the Father, being the Father and the Son–
3 The Father, because he was conceived by the power of God; and the Son, because of the flesh; thus becoming the Father and Son–
4 And they are one God, yea, the very Eternal Father of heaven and of earth.

At this point many class members look confused. Abinadi is talking about the duality of Christ, how he was both divine and mortal. But calling him “the very Eternal Father of heaven and of earth” seems to throw people. We don’t often talk about Christ as Father. More on this later.

5 And thus the flesh becoming subject to the Spirit, or the Son to the Father, being one God, suffereth temptation, and yieldeth not to the temptation, but suffereth himself to be mocked, and scourged, and cast out, and disowned by his people.
6 And after all this, after working many mighty miracles among the children of men, he shall be led, yea, even as Isaiah said, as a sheep before the shearer is dumb, so he opened not his mouth.
7 Yea, even so he shall be led, crucified, and slain, the flesh becoming subject even unto death, the will of the Son being swallowed up in the will of the Father.

The first thing that comes to my mind is Jesus’ majestic acquiescence in Gethsemane, “nevertheless, not my will but thine be done,” which suggests two separate, embodied wills in conflict: Elohim’s and Jesus’. But Abinadi’s context reminds us that the two wills in conflict both belonged to Jesus. The Father in him (the spirit) wanted one thing, the Son in him (the flesh) wanted another.

The image of the will of the flesh being “swallowed up” in the will of the spirit is powerful for me. It reminds me that the will of my flesh must be subdued and, finally, obliterated, and that this happens as the will of my spirit becomes stronger and stronger. I think of two creatures that need to be fed to live–if I feed the spirit it will flourish, and overcome the flesh. And vice-versa.

8 And thus God breaketh the bands of death, having gained the victory over death; giving the Son power to make intercession for the children of men–
9 Having ascended into heaven, having the bowels of mercy; being filled with compassion towards the children of men; standing betwixt them and justice; having broken the bands of death, taken upon himself their iniquity and their transgressions, having redeemed them, and satisfied the demands of justice.

Victory: the Son in Jesus is no longer in conflict with the Father in him. They’ve become an integrated soul, one in desire and purpose.

10 And now I say unto you, who shall declare his generation? Behold, I say unto you, that when his soul has been made an offering for sin he shall see his seed. And now what say ye? And who shall be his seed?

Back to Jesus as Father. When each of my kids have prepared for baptism, we’ve done a FHE lesson called “My Three Dads.” Heavenly Father is the literal father of our spirit bodies. Our biological fathers are literal fathers of our physical bodies. But these physical bodies are doomed to die, and so are these spirit bodies. Jesus is the father of spiritual bodies redeemed and reborn, and of physical bodies resurrected. When we make the covenant of baptism, Jesus becomes the father of our souls. We become his sons and daughters.

Surprisingly, this comes as news to many in the class.

I believe “he shall see his seed” refers at least in part to the real-time spiritual connection between Jesus and his people when he is making his offering. He literally feels each of our pains, sorrows, and burdens. I imagine he saw us as he suffered for us. Also, the Saturday after the crucifixion, during Jesus’s advent into the spirit world, we know he saw in person many of his seed.

11 Behold I say unto you, that whosoever has heard the words of the prophets, yea, all the holy prophets who have prophesied concerning the coming of the Lord–I say unto you, that all those who have hearkened unto their words, and believed that the Lord would redeem his people, and have looked forward to that day for a remission of their sins, I say unto you, that these are his seed, or they are the heirs of the bkingdom of God.

The covenant does us no good unless we keep it, and this is how.

These verses come together to create an indescribable awareness and sensation within me. I am a dual being, similar to the Father/Son Abinadi describes. God did not beget my mortal body, so I cannot compare myself to Jesus in that respect. But techically, I’m half divine, half fallen mortal. There’s tension within me just as there was tension within Jesus. Through grace and faith, my spirit can swallow up the will of my flesh. Because I’m a daughter of Jesus, I can grow up to be like him.

At the end of this discussion I took the liberty of reading all of Mosiah 14 aloud.

What thoughts and feelings do these scriptural passages evoke within you?

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17 Responses to God Himself

  1. Thomas Parkin on May 18, 2008 at 6:08 pm

    Perfect.

    The realization that it is Jesus who is the Father of all those born again in His name is so important. That realization marked an important stage in my growth to date.

    Among many other things, it is a realization that can cause us to reexplore the true nature of a heavenly ‘patriarchy.’ (It turns human conceptions of patriarchy completely on their head.)

    ~

  2. Clair on May 18, 2008 at 6:15 pm

    It would be easy to conclude that Abinadi was a trinitarian, and stop at that level of theology. Your exposition has found other insights into Jesus’ experience, and ours. Thanks.

  3. JWL on May 18, 2008 at 6:41 pm

    The 1916 First Presidency statement on the use of the term “Father” in referring to Jesus would suggest a symbolic interpretation of Abinadi’s use of the term. They suggest that when the term “Father” is used for Jesus that it has meanings such as co-creator of the world, leader of the righteous, one who acts by deputization from God the Father, etc. but not the Father of humankind’s spirits or the ultimate deity of the universe. In the statement the First Prersidency indicates that where Jesus addresses the Father in the Gospels, He is referring to God the Father, not to Himself. I would suggest that your interpretation of Jesus’ statement in Gethsemane conflates the personages of the Father and the Son contrary to accepted LDS doctrine. That’s why your students looked confused. See:

    http://library.lds.org/nxt/gateway.dll/Magazines/Ensign/2002.htm/ensign%20april%202002.htm/gospel%20classics%20%20the%20father%20and%20the%20son.htm?fn=document-frameset.htm$f=templates$3.0>

    (I hope someone more skilled than I can make that link useable.)

  4. Kathryn Lynard Soper on May 18, 2008 at 7:42 pm

    Oh, I didn’t use the Gethsemane prayer as an example of Jesus’ dual nature. Of course when Jesus prays he’s addressing God the Father (Elohim), not himself. But in this particular passage Abinadi is using Father to refer to the divine spirit in Jesus, not to Elohim.

    I think that’s why this passage is potentially confusing: Usually when we talk about unity between the Father and the Son, we’re talking about Elohim and Jehovah/Jesus. But this passage focuses on Jesus as the Father. Of course, the Father in Jesus is utterly at one with Elohim. When Abinadi says the will of the Son was swallowed up in the will of the Father, essentially we can include Elohim there, because the two Fathers are one in purpose and desire.

    It’s a real thrill to see someone come to understand that when they covenant to take upon them the name of Jesus Christ, they literally become a member of his family, a la the covenant in Mosiah 5.

    Thanks for your comments.

  5. Jamal on May 18, 2008 at 10:42 pm

    I got to teach this to the older teenagers in our Sunday School today. Wasn’t sure how it would go over, but it actually came across quite powerful, I think it actually hit some of those kids pretty deeply. I focused on the “God himself” part as well and then added the part from Mosiah 14:12 about Christ being numbered with the transgressors. So God himself came down and let himself be sacrificed. Not humans sacrificing to God, but God sacrificing himself for humans. And moreover, when we screw up so badly that we become among the worst of the worst sinners – killers, liers, thieves, adulterers, whatever – God himself doesn’t recoil from us, he stands with us! From that verse I imagined a picture at the judgement bar, those “terrible” people lined up on one side waiting for their expected damnation, and the righteous on another side. And where does God stand between those crowds? With the worst. He loves them (read “us”) so much that he stands with us and pleads with justice on on our behalf. I’m not writing this well, and I’m missing part of the message. The “worst” Christ stands with are those who screw up but sincerely try their best to keep reaching out to God, while the “best” he won’t stand with are those who claim to be great but really don’t give place for God – obviously there are other crowds, but this seems to be the picture of the extremes the scripture is trying to draw to make the point so well. But the message here I found really powerful and it brought the spirit into that little classroom.

  6. kenjebz on May 18, 2008 at 11:51 pm

    great post, you give us idea. YOu\’re also a great teacher.

  7. Jonathan Waite on May 19, 2008 at 12:52 am

    Thank you for your post. I hope you don’t mind I rip off your FHE lesson on \”My Three Dads\” — I think that works wonderfully to instill in children\’s minds their relationship with Heavenly Father and Jesus. Also, thanks to the subsequent link to the 1st Presidency exposition. I believe it is in total harmony with the post.

  8. Raymond Takashi Swenson on May 19, 2008 at 3:14 am

    Your exposition is precisely the one that I remember reading in a recent book by a BYU professor discussing this chapter, though I cannot recall who it was or which book it appeared in. It seemed to me to be the most elegant understanding of the passage. Perhaps it was Robert Millet.

    Anyway, as you noted, I think a logical precursor to understanding Abinadi’s sermon in this way is to really understand King Benjamin’s sermon about Christ, especially Chapter 3, which contains the message of the angel about the mission of Christ. In the symposium book on Benjamin from FARMS, the remark is made that, unlike many other Book of Mormon prophets, Benjamin does NOT quote Isaiah, but I think this is incorrect. Specifically, it strikes me that the entirety of the angel’s message in Mosiah 3 is an expanded version of Isaiah 9:6, the famous verse set to music by handel: “For unto us a child is born . . .” Especially Mosiah 3:8, which contains several elements in the Isaiah passage, and with other verses, highlights the contrast between Christ’s dual natures as both God and human. Mosiah 3 is emphatic that
    Christ is “the Lord God Omnipotent” AKA “the mighty God”, and as the creator of heaven and earth, is the “everlasting Father”. He is the Son of God, but he also is the child of Mary. And then perhaps the most quoted verse of Mosiah 3 is in 19 (actually part of a chiasmic unit with the last part of verse 18), which speaks of how the “natural man” is an enemy to God, until he becomes “as a child”, submitting to the will of the Father. This is not a generic child here, but rather I think Benjamin has in mind the Son of God and the child of Mary as the example of submission to the Father.

    When Mosiah 3 is read in conjunction with Abinadi’s sermon, the understanding of how Christ is BOTH Father and Son comes much more easily.

  9. Benjamin on May 19, 2008 at 11:05 am

    Can I call a moratorium on referring to Gospel Doctrine as “GD?” Out in the world this acronym has a very different, very unfortunate, and very widely understood meaning. . .

  10. Kathryn Lynard Soper on May 19, 2008 at 11:14 am

    Fair enough, Benjamin.

    Jonathan, rip away! It’s not like I made this stuff up. ;)

    Jamal, sounds like a terrific lesson. I’ll bet it’s one many of your students will remember.

    Raymond, interesting points. Thanks. And thanks to you too, kenjebz.

  11. NYC on May 19, 2008 at 11:51 am

    Wonderful post. Thanks for our next FHE lesson! One question:

    “But these physical bodies are doomed to die, and so are these spirit bodies.”

    I thought our spirit bodies lived forever. I understand as a result of sin we suffer ‘spiritual death’ because we are separated from the presence of our Heavenly Father. But, don’t our spirit bodies continue to live? or at least exist – albeit with diminished light and knowledge.

    ‘Spiritual death’ and ‘our spirit bodies die’ seem to say different things. Any insight?

  12. Kathryn Lynard Soper on May 19, 2008 at 11:57 am

    Good question, NYC. You’re right–that’s not good terminology on my part. I was referring to spiritual death. And you’re right, part of that death is literal separation from God (he’s there, we’re here), but there’s also the separation which comes from sin–an important thing to bring up when we talk about the fatherhood of Christ. Every mortal will be resurrected and returned to the presence of God, but only those of us who take Christ’s name upon us and live as his children will be able to remain in the fulness of that presence.

  13. TrevorM on May 19, 2008 at 2:54 pm

    Great post on a great subject. I have taken note of the “my 3 dads” idea for future use.

  14. MartyH on May 20, 2008 at 1:28 am

    “nevertheless, not my will but thine be done,”

    This saying is a hard to align. Was there truly any conflict as in the manner you describe? For we also read:

    \”Now is my soul troubled; and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour: but for this cause came I unto this hour.\”

    \”During the days of Jesus\’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.\”

    \”For he has not despised or disdained the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help\”

  15. Clean Cut on May 20, 2008 at 8:45 am

    Thanks for this conversation! Very insightful. And among other things here, I too love the “My Three Dad’s” idea. Again, thank you!

  16. Boise on May 20, 2008 at 5:09 pm

    Great post. I’m surprised at your class’ surprise, though. I’ve always heard that this passage meant that when we are baptized, Jesus Christ becomes our spiritual father, as a sort of spiritual adoption.

    I’ve also heard that that that’s the reason why Christians refer to each other as “brother” and “sister” – we’re fellow siblings, all part of one big happy family. (And hence, the irony of our more contemporary use of “Brother/Sister So-And-So-Last Name” as a formal, distancing title.)

  17. Hunter on May 20, 2008 at 5:10 pm

    Great post. I’m surprised at your class’ surprise, though. I’ve always heard that this passage meant that when we are baptized, Jesus Christ becomes our spiritual father, as a sort of spiritual adoption.

    I’ve also heard that that that’s the reason why Christians refer to each other as “brother” and “sister” – we’re fellow siblings, all part of one big happy family. (And hence, the irony of our more contemporary use of “Brother/Sister So-And-So-Last Name” as a formal, distancing title.)

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