Experiments

On the popular TV show MythBusters, one of the hosts once said:

“Remember kids, the only difference between science and screwing around is writing it down.” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BSUMBBFjxrY)

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about keeping records, and this quote jumped to mind at one point. It got me thinking: If I’m not writing down what is going on with my life, then technically I’m just screwing around.

This next prompted me to think: then what am I testing? When results should I be recording? What experiment is being performed?

Alma talks about this in Alma 32, where he invites us to perform “an experiment”. In this experiment, he describes a seed (“the word”) being planted in our hearts. Except here, he gets it a bit wrong.

In a proper experiment, you want only a single variable. That way, as you observe results, you can confidently attribute them to the singular difference between that experiment and the control group. Unfortunately, Alma describes a bit of a shoddy experiment, because he’s under the impression that the variables are 1) the seed and 2) the fertility of our hearts. He describes the variable of the seed as “if it be a true seed”, and the variable of our hearts by saying “if ye do not cast it out by your unbelief”.

While Alma is describing an inappropriate setup for a proper experiment, he actually unwittingly gets it right. What is being tested here is not the seed. The seed, or the word, is unchanging. We know a priori that the seed is a good seed. What is being tested then is the fertility of our hearts. Or put more simply, whether we will choose to receive the seed or not.

This is the grand experiment; this is the thing we are sciencing: our agency. What will we choose? Will we choose to nurture the seed, so that it will grow and swell and put forth fruit? Or will we choose to neglect it and end up casting it out?

And if we perform these experiment, are we recording our results? Or are we just screwing around?

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Breakthrough

I had a breakthrough recently.

As is hopefully apparent from some previous entries on this blog, I have serious issues with many of the claims made by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I believe that, on the whole, the church has lost its way. I do not believe it is led by someone who enjoys the prophetic gifts. I believe that the administrators of the church have become distracted by the trappings of Babylon and now plunder the widow’s mite to serve their own interests.

However, I still attend my local ward. I have struggled with the question of Why? for a while, and recently I had a breakthrough that helped me understand a bit better.

One of the things I believe in is the hope of Zion. I believe that we can, through the grace of God, transcend our petty differences and establish a city of peace, hope, learning, and majesty; a city where God would be willing to come dwell with us.

In Zion, we are not all the same. We may be of “one heart and one mind”, but this does not mean we may all get along. We still have differences. We still have our unique peculiarities, likes, and dislikes.

We also do not always get along, especially at first. As we struggle to leave behind the notions of what a “city” actually is, we find our differences thrown in to sharp relief. And we have to figure out how to deal with these differences, even though we may believe that others are totally “not getting it”.

This is why I stay. I stay because the others in my ward are not like me. I stay because as I associate with them, I learn to see them as human beings with their own frailties, struggles, compassions, and hopes, and not mindless automatons who simply follow the orders of their superiors. As I learn who they are, I have compassion for them and I humble myself. I see how they handle their own struggles, and this helps me believe that I can handle mine as well.

Zion means loving those who are explicitly not like me.

Limiting God

A couple of weeks ago, I had an interesting conversation with a man named Jonathan. We got talking about religion, and I proclaimed myself a believer of the Book of Mormon. He was happy for me, but proceeded to say that all we need is the Bible, and quoted Revelation 22:18:

… If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book:

To him, this was proof that all we need is this Bible, because no one can “add” unto “this book”, and he interpreted “this book” to mean “the Bible”.

(Never mind the fact that the Bible didn’t exist until a couple hundred of years after that was written, but whatever.)

But this got me thinking. In our conversation, we had talked about how true religion was the love of God, and that all religions are trying to experience that love. People tend to leave those religions when they realize that the love of God is larger than the limitations imposed on it by their church. The God they believe in is “too big” to fit in the box their church prescribes.

I absolutely believe this. But after we ended our amicable conversation, a thought struck me:

We had just talked about the infinite love of God, and how God places no limitations on that love. If we accept that premise as true, then wouldn’t it follow that the manifestations of His Love are also infinite? Why then would we limit ourselves to only experiencing His Love by means of a single compilation of books?

To take this even further, why are we saddened when our friends, family, and colleagues decide to leave their church? If they truly believe that they have found another (and perhaps for them, better) way to experience God’s love, ought we not to rejoice with them?

Why do we place limitations on what God can and cannot do? He is an infinite being. Is it not conceivable that He might know what’s better for us than we do? We should trust in Him, and not in the short-sighted policies of man.

Recognizing the Voice of God

Behold, I am God and have spoken it; these commandments are of me, and were given unto my servants in their weakness, after the manner of their language, that they might come to understanding. (D&C 1:24)

The manner of my language is different from the manner of my spouse’s language. My language is different from my mother’s language and my father’s language. In fact, my language is unique to me. The phrases I use, the idioms I use, the very order of the words themselves, are all unique to me. That is my language, and it is as individual as are my fingerprints.

But if God speaks to me “after the manner of [my] language”, how do I know that it is His voice that I hear, and not my own?

The Third Person

I’ve been studying the Book of Ether recently, and I came across a verse again that has always bothered me:

“I saw the finger of the Lord, and I feared lest he should smite me; for I knew not that the Lord had flesh and blood.” (Ether 3:8)

This verse bothered me because I couldn’t figure out why it was in the third person. The Brother of Jared is having this theophany, so why doesn’t he use “you” or “thou”? Why is it “he”? As I studied these verses more, I found the answer, and it is very subtle and faith-affirming.

Let’s consider this experience from the point of view of the Brother of Jared.

In the first verse, he hikes up the mountain carrying his sixteen small stones. He is alone. When he gets to the appointed place, he begins to pray, calling upon the Lord to favor his petition. He is still alone, and he prays until the end of verse five.

In verse six, the Brother of Jared finishes his prayer, and he is still alone. This is when he starts to feel something pressing on the stones he holds, and by the sixteenth stone, he sees a finger.

When he sees the finger, he falls down in shock, afraid that he has seen something he shouldn’t have seen, and perhaps wondering how he could stand to see a finger so glorious and not be consumed by fire. The finger, presumably, has disappeared.

In the midst of this confusion and shock, the Brother of Jared (who is still alone) hears a voice: “Arise! Why hast thou fallen?”

The Brother of Jared has no idea who is talking. From his point of view, he saw a finger and is now hearing a voice. He assumes the finger belongs to the Lord, because that’s the person to whom he’s been praying. But the voice? He has no context for knowing the owner of the voice, and responds ambiguously, using the third person:

I saw the finger of the Lord…

After this, the voice identifies itself:

I shall take upon me flesh and blood; and never has man come before me with such exceeding faith as thou hast; for were it not so ye could not have seen my finger.

The voice identifies itself as belonging to the same person who owns the finger, namely the Lord. At this point, with proof as to the identify of the person with whom he has been speaking, the Brother of Jared can appropriately switch to the second person:

Lord, show thyself unto me.

To me, this subtlety is exquisite. We as readers of course know the identity of the voice; Moroni is very explicit throughout the whole sequence that the owner of the finger is the same person who owns the voice. That extra detail he includes is actually the source of the confusion; had he left it out, this question would never have arisen.

I read this, and I think: could an uneducated farm boy have caught that detail, if he were making this up?

Joy

Tonight, an interesting thought came to me: If Christ were to show up on my doorstep and spend the afternoon with me, what would we talk about? He’d want to sit, listen, and hear about what I’ve been doing recently that excites me. What would I tell Him? Would I be able to look through my life and find a topic about which I could talk endlessly, forgetting that I sat in the presence of God, and expound on the intricacies of the topic? What topic, as I describe it, would fill me with joy and exuberance to be talking about it?

As I pondered this and expressed this idea to my spouse, I found an answer. And as I considered it, my soul was filled with light as I thought of how excited I get when I talk about this subject, and how I revel in its complexities and delight in the challenges it presents.

And I felt God smiling down on me, and knew that He would love to sit and hear me out. And I know it would be foolish, for there is nothing I know that He does not; He’s the one who probably inspired me with these ideas in the first place. But He loves to hear us prattle on about how we take joy in filling the measure of our creation.

Do you know what you’d talk about? And if you do know, is that what you spend your time doing?