Thursday, July 29, 2010

I gave a talk in church. Topic: Holy Ghost

Mood Gorning Sothers and Bristers, I mean Good Morning Brothers and Sisters. Aubry and I really like first-letter transpositions so I thought I’d try one to see if anyone else finds them funny. Anyway, I’ve been assigned to talk to you today about the Goly Host. So here goes…

I’d like to begin my talk with a salutation. Paul’s Second Epistle to the Corinthians ends by saying: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost, be with you all, Amen.” Paul’s goodbye offers insight into the unique roles and characteristics of the three members of the eternal Godhead. First, Christ who made intercession with the father and without who’s grace we are doomed. Likewise, it was thanks to God’s love for us that he sent his only begotten to die for us. And finally while both Christ and God kept are from us by a veil, the Holy Ghost has been sent to the Earth to be in communion with man. This is the unique role of the Holy Ghost.

However, I think we sometimes forget that the Holy Ghost is a God like Jesus Christ and God the Father. So when we talk about the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost we are talking about the constant presence of a God – one of the three most powerful beings in the Universe can be your best friend. This is a pretty far-out concept. In Sunday school I’ve heard the Holy Ghost compared to Jimminy Cricket; and this is a cute analogy; but the reality is the Holy Ghost is no cricket – He is like the most awesome force in the Universe. This is why it is so desirable to receive the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands. You and I want (or at least should want) this awesome powerful presence guiding our decisions here on Earth. However there is a price to pay to hang with this guy (the Holy ‘G’ if you will): The Spirit will not bear an unclean vessel. This is why we strive to keep the covenants we have made with God the Father. Keeping the commandments can secure you the power to draw insight from the Holy Spirits deep celestial aquifer.

The knowledge of the Holy Ghost is not of man. In fact, in his talk entitled the Cloven Tongues of Fire, Boyd K Packer says that the “supernal”, or supernatural, insight of the Holy Ghost is often “obscured” by our Earthly, human activity and “meetings”. Therefore, in order to receive other-wordly knowledge, we must set aside time for meditation and communion with the Holy Spirit of truth. Moments of quiet repose are critical to keeping open and receiving the vital lines of communication from the Third member of the Godhead.

Not only is the Holy Ghost great to have around, but the witness of the Holy Spirit is also absolutely crucial to our entire system of belief. Let’s face it, if we are honest, I think most of us would admit that the Gospel is not altogether rational. The plan of salvation isn’t something you’d simply arrive at logically by studying the creatures of the Earth and the motion of the stars. The Churches contemporary publication True to the Faith: A Gospel Reference confirms that the Holy Ghost works outside the normal rational modus operandi. It says, “His communication to our spirit carries far more certainty than any communication we can receive through our natural senses.” The communication from the Holy Ghost is not a phenomena of this Earth, it is spiritual and beyond our powers of observation and ratiocination. I would argue that anyone who tries to encompass the entirety of the Gospel into an objective, pseudo-scientific analysis with known logically derived boundaries, is necessarily a charlatan because they deny the importance of faith in God’s plan. This also points to the fact, though, that without the witness of the Holy Ghost our belief system is rather dubious. Otherwise, it would be silly to believe something so fantastic as the story of the First Vision or Christ’s atonement for mankind. There’s certainly no scientific explanation for what Joseph saw in that grove of trees. Therefore, I’m afraid if you’re testimony isn’t based on the transcendent witness of the Holy Ghost, then you’re standing on metaphysically shaky ground. I therefore beseech anyone who has not sought the confirmation of the spirit to pray mightily unto the Lord for that fiery witness from beyond the veil. There is no hope to convince anyone of the truth of the Gospel without relying heavily on the testimony of the Holy Ghost. This is why pseudo-logic Bible-bashing is such wasteful enterprise. In Doctrine and Covenants chapter 42 verse 14 it says, “And the spirit shall be given you by the prayer of faith, and if you receive not the spirit ye shall not teach.” The Holy Ghost must be present to teach the things of God. So hopefully the spirit will bear a portion of my words to you. Otherwise, I’m not teaching.

In Matthew Chapter 3 verse 11 the testimony that comes through the Spirit is described as a “baptism by fire”. Like a fire, it burns a place in one’s being. “Once you have felt it, you can never forget it,” says Glenn L. Pace of the Quorum of the Seventy. This sensation has been described as both rapturous and sublime, both of which point to something beyond the words themselves. It is something Other. In Doctrine and Covenants chapter 121 verse 26 it is described as an “unspeakable gift”; Meaning it cannot be described. The sublime sensation of God’s infinite Love and infinite wisdom is an irrational sensation, in the sense that it is simply beyond rational discussion – it is awe-some in the original sense of the word – as in that which causes an eye-popping, jaw dropping feeling of awe. The absolute Otherness and Other-worldlyness of the Holy Spirit helps explain why many people find it difficult to describe those moments when the windows of heaven are opened and things are seen with the spiritual eye.

Now, we know from Christ that one of the reasons he left the Earth was for us to have a chance to exercise our faith; to grow and progress. In John Chapter 16 verses 7 and 8 Christ says, “It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart I will send him unto you. And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin…. ” So according to Christ the Holy Ghost was always a necessary component of his plan. He had to leave so people could learn to follow the Spirit without him. I imagine it would be difficult to progress very much while in Christ’s immediate presence. Being around the perfect source of goodness and light would likely make sin seem incredibly unappealing. So Christ had to leave so that we could be tempted, and for a guide through this tempestuous sojourn he sent the still small voice of the Holy Ghost. It recently occurred to me that this makes good sense, because if Christ sent the Holy Ghost as a loud, obvious voice we wouldn’t have as much opportunity to make mistakes and learn to actively seek spiritual guidance.

Therefore the Holy Ghost was sent to be a still small voice and a teacher while Christ is gone, to “reprove” us of our sins, so that we can learn what we must do to return to God the Father. So if you’re interested in going to the Celestial Kingdom – anybody here interested in going there? – the personage Christ sent to help you get there is the Holy Ghost. Train yourself to listen to what He says and you’re journey home will be much easier.

To return home, each person will receive specific, tailored instruction as to what course is best for him or her. The personal nature of our relationship with the Holy Ghost gets a lot of emphasis in this Church. Personal revelation is a gift that all members are entitled to and expected to earnestly seek. So I challenge you that are here today to pray for personal and specific guidance from the Holy Ghost this week, and then act on the promptings you receive.

Along with the obvious advantages of personally tailored instruction from the Holy Ghost the principle of personal revelation also creates a wonderful dynamic in the Church between orthodoxy and personal, subjective understandings of the Gospel. We do have the orthodox interpretation of certain scriptures; given to us by the Prophets – and the Holy Spirit will bear witness of the truth of their words – but the Brethren are not the only source of divine revelation and Gospel truths.

For instance, A common story goes like this: I had a question or a problem that was really bothering me a lot. I thought about it and prayed about it for several days. Then one day while reading my scriptures a particular passage struck my attention and suddenly took on meaning that I had never seen before. I applied this scripture to my specific contemporary situation, according to the new insight I received from the scriptures and have felt blessed as a result.

For LDS people the scriptures are saturated with meaning. Any one scripture can mean hundreds of things, depending on the person and the timing and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. The scriptures are very much alive. Through the Spirit they can be a constantly evolving story that lends itself to new and more interesting perspectives the more they are read. This openness in the Gospel allows for a variety of perspectives and leaves room for a variety of people in the Church who working together can enrich each other’s overall understanding of God’s plan. For this reason salvation through the Holy Ghost is a communal process. Or else my giving this talk is futile because everyone in this room already understands the Gospel the exact same way I do and there is really no reason for us to talk about it.

Finally, a quote from Boyd K Packer:
“We need not live in fear of the future. We have every reason to rejoice and little reason to fear. If we follow the promptings of the Spirit, we will be safe, whatever the future holds. We will be shown what to do.” There seems to be a general sense that the sky is falling in the United States today, but a Prophet of the Lord has told us that we need not fear. Everything will be fine so long as we just keep doing what we’re supposed to and follow the Spirit.

I’d like to tear my bestimony… Ha Ha just kidding. Honestly, I’d like to bear my testimony that Christ lives. He sent the Holy Ghost to Earth to testify of Him and the truth of his Gospel. I have personally felt the fiery witness that comes from the Holy Spirit of the truth of God’s existence and the truth of the Book of Mormon, which is the cornerstone of His Church. Despite feeling at times that a belief in God cannot be rationally defended, I nonetheless cannot deny the witness of the Holy Ghost. I cannot deny the impact on my life the presence of the spirit has made and I cannot justify my existence without appeal to a higher authority. I love this Church and its prophets and I love the emphasis they place on personal revelation. I love the richness of the Gospel and the never-ending potential for new insight and deeper understanding of Gospel concepts and stories. I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ. And I’ll leave you with the salutation of Paul: May “the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost, be with you all, Amen.”

1 comment:

  1. First, I love that you wrote jokes into your talk. Ha ha. How were they received?

    Second, I want to challenge you on just a couple points, if that's okay. I know this talk is devotional in nature and that you're not really trying to make arguments, but I can't let you get away with some things lol.

    "I imagine it would be difficult to progress very much while in Christ’s immediate presence. ... [I]f Christ sent the Holy Ghost as a loud, obvious voice we wouldn’t have as much opportunity to make mistakes and learn to actively seek spiritual guidance."

    I see two main problems with this view.

    (1) If it's difficult to progress in the immediate presence of god, how can we hope to progress in the celestial kingdom?

    (2) God has throughout the scriptures communicated in a "loud, obvious voice." In 3 Nephi 9, for example, Jesus not only speaks--in a disembodied voice from the heavens--but he makes his existence (and wrath) manifest by utterly destroying 16 cities and all their inhabitants. Such events don't happen today (unless theists want to throw their lot in with the likes of Pat Robertson who believed the Haiti earthquake was god's judgment). Why was it okay for god to rob people of their faith by acting in a "loud, obvious" way in the Bible and Book of Mormon, but not okay for him to do so today?

    I've written about this several times at the SHAFT blog, but I think it's weird that a Mormon would put so great an emphasis on having faith that god exists. Mormonism places greater importance on works than faith, in my opinion. Mormons disagree with the Protestant view that we are saved by our faith in god alone. And understandable so. Mormons don't like the idea of good people like, say, Gandhi going to hell because he didn't believe in the right god. But if faith is bad as the sole criterion for salvation, why should it be a criterion at all. What is the virtue of believing, on faith, in the existence of god?

    God should make his existence obvious, as it apparently was to ancient peoples. Alma says "all things denote there is a god." Perhaps that was true in his day, but it certainly is not true in ours. Did the fact that all things denoted there is a god render faith impossible for Alma? Of course not. Because there is another, more important faith in god--faith in god's providence. You can know that god exists, but still exercise free will and faith in whether you decide to follow and obey god. Laman and Lemuel knew god existed, but rebelled. As did Korihor. So even you maintain that faith is important, it doesn't follow that faith in god's existence is important.

    "I cannot justify my existence without appeal to a higher authority."

    Would you expound upon this?