Monday, 28 February 2011

Questions of the Soul–Suffering

Last time we started answering from the Bible the Mormon missionary lessons’ “Questions of the Soul.” These are presented such as to imply that the Book of Mormon alone answers these questions but we saw that fuller, more correct answers can be found in the Bible.

As Mormons present their faith it is a useful exercise to ask what the Bible has to say about the issues they wish to discuss. This can prove a useful starting point for fruitful discussion and it is helpful to be able to declare, “But I already know the answer from God’s Word.” This week we look at just the subject of suffering.

Why does God allow evil and suffering? – The Mormon answer is found in three Book of Mormon texts: 2 Nephi 2 presents a dualistic view of suffering, declaring, “It must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not so…righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery neither good nor bad.” (v11) This is a familiar Mormon view that says suffering is part of the natural order of things.

Alma 14:9-11 and 60:13 both address the suffering of the innocent declaring, “ The Lord suffereth the righteous to be slain that his justice and judgement may come upon the wicked.” Both say the righteous slain will go to be with God.

But, while God uses our suffering to eventually bless us (Ro.8:28), nevertheless suffering and “opposition” are not natural. The Bible tells us that because Adam sinned, “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles…by the sweat of your brow you will eat your food.” (Gen.3:17,18)

Work is part of the natural order (Gen.2:15) but “opposition” in the form of hard toil, suffering and death are part of the fall. While Mormonism teaches that suffering is part of the plan to make us like God the Bible teaches that suffering is a consequence of sin but is used by God for good anyway. Where Mormonism sees death likewise as part of the plan Paul describes death as an enemy to be conquered (1 Cor.15:26)

The suffering of the righteous does bring condemnation on the guilty but God doesn’t seek the suffering of the righteous in order to justify his punishment of the wicked and nor is suffering always the consequence of sinfulness on our part or on the part of others.

We suffer as a consequence of living in a fallen world (Jn.16:33), trials test our perseverance (Js.1:12), and sanctify us (Heb.2:10;5:8) and Christians are to be “faithful unto death” (Rev.2:10). Suffering, then, can be a cause for rejoicing because we share in Christ’s suffering (Philip.3:10) and because, whether we live or die, Christ is exalted as we suffer with him (Philip.1:20)

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Chiasmus in the Book of Mormon

Chiasmus is “a figure of speech by which the order of the words in the first of two parallel clauses is reversed in the second” (Oxford companion to English Literature, 1985 ed.). One way of identifying a chiastic quote is to mark the repeated words or phrases with the letters ABBA. To illustrate, one of the most familiar examples of this is the phrase spoken at the foot of the Cross:

“He saved others, himself he cannot save.”

This becomes:

A. He saved

B. others,

B. himself

A. he cannot save.

There is an excellent web site dedicated to the subject, and it’s a lot of fun as well as educational.

Since we are currently looking at the Book of Mormon and “questions of the soul” I thought I should say something about this. Thanks Staci for your timely reminder about this fascinating subject. Mormons claim that examples of chiastic writing in the Book of Mormon help authenticate the book. It is found extensively in the Bible and is also to be found in the Book of Mormon, Ipso facto, etc.

Chiasmus is a sophisticated literary device that ranges from the most simple, as illustrated above, to complex examples. The Bible, Old and New Testaments, abound with examples and it is accepted that it is typical of one form of Hebraic writing.

A good example from the Book of Mormon is found 2 Nephi 29:13

The Jews

shall have the words

of the Nephites

and the Nephites

shall have the words

of the Jews;

and the Nephites and the Jews

shall have the words

of the lost tribes of Israel;

and the lost tribes of Israel

shall have the words of the Nephites and of the Jews.

The example Mormons most like to talk about is chapter 36 of Alma, 30 verses which, verse for verse, sets out parallels, verse 1 with verse 30, verse 2 with verse 29 etc. If you read it yourself it is easy enough to identify the parallels. Does this lend weight to Mormon claims?

Falling over Chiasmus

Contrary to past Mormon claims, Chiasmus was not unknown at the time of Joseph Smith. Today Mormon scholars have recognised that this literary form was known at that time but still insist it is unlikely that Smith was aware of it

The Book of Mormon has many examples and, at first sight, this seems impressive. However, while it is common in the Bible, Old and New Testaments, as well as the Book of Mormon, it is by no means restricted to these. It is a generally used literary style found in many cultures, both in simple and complex forms and people even use it unconsciously. Take for example the famous Mormon couplet

A. As man is

B. God once was

B. As God is

A. Man may become

The person who coined this phrase didn’t think “I will put it in chiasmic form to make it memorable”. It just came out that familiar way we all recognise but don’t know the name of. One of my favourite quotes is by Thomas Fuller:

A. If an ass

B. Goes a travelling

B. He’ll not come back

A. A Horse

An example from a nursery rhyme is:

Hickory, dickory, dock

the mouse ran up the clock

The clock struck one

The Mouse ran down

Hickory, dickory, dock.

Even if Smith didn't know the word chiasm he would have had ready access to the distinctive form in his reading of the King James Bible. Indeed, if he copied his style from the Bible it would seem inevitable that his work would contain chiasmus, not just in those parts he plagiarised but even in those parts peculiar to the Book of Mormon. It is so common you practically trip over it at every turn.

Here’s another example, this time in a familiar Christian children’s song:

Whose the king of the jungle

Whose the king of the sea

Whose the king of the universe

and whose the king of me

I tell you J-E-S-U-S Yes!

He’s the king of me

He’s the king of the universe

the jungle and the sea

Chiasmus in the Doctrine and Covenants

To show this you need to realise that chiastic forms are found in the Doctrine and Covenants. It can't be explained, then, simply as an ancient literary form whose presence "proves" the Book of Mormon, and Mormon scholars readily acknowledge the accidental nature of its presence in the D&C. If Smith could draft chiastic forms in the D&C he could have done the same with the Book of Mormon – whether consciously or no. Here is an example from D&C 107:34-38

The Seventy

are to act in the name of the Lord, under the direction of the Twelve

or the travelling high council,

in the building up the and regulating all the affairs of the same

in all nations, first unto the Gentiles and then to the Jews;

The Twelve being sent out, holding the keys, to open the door by the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and first unto the Gentiles and then unto the Jews.

The standing high councils, at the stakes of Zion,

form a quorum equal in authority in the affairs of the church,

in all their decisions, to the quorum of the presidency or to the travelling high council.

The high council in Zion form a quorum equal in authority in the affairs of the church,

in all to the councils of the Twelve at the stakes of Zion.

It is the duty of the travelling high council to call upon the Seventy,

when they need assistance, to fill the several calls for preaching and administering the gospel instead of others.

Other D&C texts include 76:28-30; 76:89-98; 109:24-28.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking this a simplistic literary style. It can be very complex and involved. But don’t make the mistake, either, of thinking that its presence in a text is compelling proof of a claim. It is a style both complicated and common that the untutored can easily fall into, the educated unconsciously copy to a degree of complexity, and the trained and determined can reproduce well enough, or offer involved enough comment on to impress the unwary.

Here is one of my own humble making:


is a form

not a proof.

Proof comes

In the form of


Monday, 14 February 2011

The Bible Answers Questions of the Soul.

Last Monday Mormon we saw that the Mormon missionary discussions present the Book of Mormon in such a way as to suggest that it has answers not found elsewhere. They insist “the Book of Mormon answers questions of the soul” and the unwary can be led to believe that the book might give them access to otherwise unavailable wisdom. However, the “questions of the soul” listed in the lessons can be readily and indeed more fully and correctly answered from the Bible. Last week I listed the questions, this Monday Mormon we start to look at how the Bible answers them and draw out some very important lessons.

Is there a God? – The Mormon answer is Alma 22, an unfortunate choice since this chapter contradicts almost entirely what Mormonism has come to teach about God, Creation, man, sin and redemption. The main point here however is that a discussion about the existence of God takes place between Aaron and the king. But questions about the very existence of God are a relatively modern phenomenon, quite alien to the time when this story is meant to have taken place (90-77BC). Given that these are meant to be people with a strong Hebrew heritage whose very survival depends on the leading of God this is notably anachronistic.

The Bible never addresses such questions as there was no doubt about gods in the ancient world. When the Bible discusses God it addresses not man’s secular proclivities but his self-serving worship of other gods. The First Commandment does not say, “Thou shalt believe in God” but, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me…” Romans 1:18-20 declares man’s sin in suppressing the truth and turning to other gods, who “exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images…” Psalm 19:1-3 is preoccupied not with proof for God but with God’s glory declared by his creation. When Paul spoke to the philosophers in Athens (Acts 17) he did not urge them to believe in the existence of God but invited them to know the one true God.

Interestingly, neither do the creeds, catechisms of confessions of the Christian Church address this question, assuming likewise that the question is not whether there is a God but where we stand in relation to God.

What Does Jesus expect of me? – In the first half of 2 Nephi 9 we find a terrifying account of judgement, harrowed souls and everlasting fires of brimstone culminating in a heartfelt call, “He commands all men that they must repent, and be baptised in his name, having perfect faith in the Holy One of Israel, or they cannot be saved in the kingdom of God” (v23); it almost sounds orthodox. But in the second half there is a distinction made between those who have the law and those who don’t. Drawing selectively on ideas found in Romans 2, the chapter goes on to qualify God’s mercy: “Wherefore, he has given a law; and where there is no law given there is no punishment…For the atonement satisfieth the demands of his justice upon those who have not the law given to them, that they are delivered from that awful monster, death and hell, and the devil…But wo unto him that has the law given, yea, that has all the commandments of God…and that transgresseth them, that wasteth the days of his probation, for awful is his state!” (vv25-26)

But Paul goes on from Romans 2 to declare, “We have already made the charge that Jews [who have the law] and Gentiles [who don’t] alike are all under sin. There is no one righteous, not even one…Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law…” (Ro.3:9,20, words in square brackets added) He later writes, “For we maintain that a man is justified [put right with God] by faith apart from observing the law.” (Ro.3:28) The Heidelberg Catechism answers this question simply with Mt.22:37-40.

How can belief in Jesus Christ help me? - Alma 36 “borrows” heavily from the conversion story of Paul (Acts 9)  Here the Book of Mormon again contradicts what Mormonism has become, denying the value of personal worthiness (v5), proclaiming “personal trust in God” as the only requirement for life (v3), the “pains of hell” v13), the harrowing of the soul (v17), the importance of being “born again” (v23) and personal assurance (v28). This last is useful in witnessing to a Mormon who insists it is “arrogant to presume to know where you go when you die.”

Alma 36 describes sorrow for sin, repentance, faith in God, new birth and assurance of life eternal. This is what Jesus taught when asked ”What must we do to do the works God requires?" Jesus answered, “The work of God is this; to believe [trust] in the one he has sent.” (John 6:28-29) This is the message of Paul who, when asked “What must I do to be saved?” replied, “Believe [trust] in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved.” (Acts 16:31) Of course, while Christians are not saved by works we are saved for works (Eph.2:10).

As has been said often enough, the penitent sinner who trusts in God (trust is what ‘believe’ means in the Bible) are saved by grace alone but grace doesn’t come alone; works follow. To this Mormons have added layer upon layer of prescribed works required to attain that which Alma appears to have gained by genuine repentance and saving faith.

Is there a Life after Death? – Alma 40 has to be one of the most confusing and unsatisfactory chapters in the Book of Mormon. The only sure thing in it is that there is life after death, so I suppose we have our answer. He doesn’t know how many resurrections there will be, one, two, three or more (vv5,8) but there is something suspiciously like purgatory where the wicked go to await judgement while the righteous go to paradise (vv12-15), so is there already a pre-judgement judgement? Who knows? But there are a lot of imponderables here and a preoccupation with timetables even though it is clear that “all is as one day with God, and time only is measured unto men.” (v8)

The only verses of significance to a Mormon in 1 Corinthians 15 are v 29, which speaks of baptism for the dead, and verses 35 to 41, which Mormons interpret to mean degrees of glory in the afterlife. This a great shame because this key chapter in Paul’s teaching demonstrates the central place given to the resurrection in Christian teaching. Paul writes, “If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God…If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.” (vv13-19)

This chapter, beginning with those things that are “of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then the Twelve…” goes on to talk at length and in detail about the resurrection and life after death. A fuller answer and more satisfying.

What is the Purpose of Life? – Alma 34 is a montage of Bible ideas around Moses, Christ, atonement, faith and salvation and reads as though the writer was recalling Bible verses he had memorised. Familiar ideas include the fact that “redemption comes through the Son of God” who will “atone for the sins of the world.” That all are lost eternally without this sacrifice, that it must be an eternal sacrifice, “the whole meaning of the law, every whit pointing to that great and last sacrifice.” That in this way only “mercy satisfies the demands of justice” and “only unto him that has faith unto repentance is brought about the eternal plan of redemption.” There is a lengthy and urgent soliloquy on prayer and the need to “work out your salvation” in your life by many acts of charity.

Interestingly, it is here that we are told that “this life is the time for men to prepare to meet God” and that that waiting until the next to repent is fruitless. That “that same spirit which doth possess your bodies at the time that you go out of this life, that same spirit will have power to possess your body in the eternal life.” A far cry from the later Mormon idea of repentance in the next life and baptism for the dead. There is not a lot to quarrel with here except that this is not Mormonism.

There is a more satisfying and helpful answer to this question of the purpose of life in the great intercessory prayer of Jesus in John 17:20-23. “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one. I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”

It is well put in the Westminster Catechism: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.”

Next suffering, baptism, prayer, peace and joy and more

Monday, 7 February 2011

The Book of Mormon and Questions of the Soul

Last week we saw how the tone, order and in some instances content of the Mormon missionary lessons, Preach My Gospel, have changed and changed again. One thing that doesn’t change is the imperious attitude of Mormons to other believers. Mormons have a high view of their faith compared with the traditional Christian faith. Mormon missionaries are advised:

“Although prayer has a role in many religions and cultures, rarely is prayer considered to be a two-way communication between God and man. Help those you teach understand that they can speak the feelings of their hearts in prayer. Demonstrate this in the way you pray when beginning or ending a lesson. Use simple language that they can also use when they pray. Help them understand that our Heavenly Father will answer prayers, typically through the feelings of their hearts and thoughts in their minds. If they are sincere and really want to know whether God is there, He will answer them. Invite the head of the household to offer a kneeling prayer at the end of the lesson.” (Preach My Gospel, p.39)

The arrogance and presumption in this statement is breathtakingly insulting to Christians and incredibly misleading for young missionaries who are sent out into the world believing this nonsense. But then it is in the nature of a Mormon to think better of himself than he might of others. Having planted in people’s minds the idea that Christian prayers don’t get answered they lead their investigators to infer that the Book of Mormon has answers not found elsewhere.

I thought it would be a good exercise if I challenged you to answer them from the Bible – if you can. I will put my own answers in next Monday Mormon. This is the official list of questions the Book of Mormon is, at long last, able to answer after 1800 years of “apostasy”. We thank thee Oh God for a prophet, dum, de dum, dum, dem dum, dum, de dum…

The Book of Mormon Answers Questions of the Soul

1. Is there a God?

2. What Does Jesus expect of me?

3. How can belief in Jesus Christ help me?

4. Is there a Life after Death?

5. What is the Purpose of Life?

6. Why does God allow evil and suffering?

7. Does my infant need to be baptised?

8. Does God know me?

9. Does God answer prayer?

10. How can I find peace and joy?

11. How can my family be happier and more united?

12. How can I balance my family and career?

13. How can I strengthen my relationship with my spouse?

14. How can I avoid the evils that threaten my family?

15. How can I avoid sin?