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

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