I’ll never forget, during one early morning seminary class, several years back now, when a student shocked me with a very inspired interpretation of a verse of scripture.

Often, as a teacher, you try to anticipate comments. It’s necessary in order to be prepared to answer questions, or to help students seek their own answers. Often, you feel in your preparation you’ve discovered all the most important doctrines, the most important things for your students to know, and grasp. You’ve dug up all the necessary “in the moment” information, and then you turn it over to the Lord.

But then, you have those days that no matter your preparation, no matter your own aha’s while getting ready, God has something better in store…and your students teach you. Those were always my favorite days—when my students came up with profound truths that made my mouth drop open and which set me pondering. And this is one I have never forgotten.

The scripture was Doctrine & Covenants 93:33-34. It reads:

For man is spirit. The elements are eternal, and spirit and element, inseparably connected, receive a fulness of joy; And when separated, man cannot receive a fulness of joy.

I asked my students, during this particular lesson, to read certain sections of scripture and pull out truths (i.e. doctrines). These two verses were simply in a large block of verses assigned and I hadn’t even focused on them by themselves. Then, one of my students got up when it was his turn to share some “truths” and he said something to the effect of:

What I learned from these verses is that suicide won’t make people happier. Suicide disconnects people from their physical body. And, if a fullness of joy only comes from them being together, or eventually reunited, then maybe if people knew that, they wouldn’t be tempted to commit suicide.

I remember sitting there (because I always sat down when I had my kids stand up and share) stunned. Such a doctrine had never before occurred to me. And certainly reading those verses had never led me to contemplate the intricate doctrines attached to suicide.

In Doctrine and Covenants 138 we find a vision by Joseph F. Smith regarding what happens to people after they die. While studying verses about Christ’s atonement and what He did in the three days His body was in the tomb, Joseph F. Smith received this incredible witness of the spirit world. In verse 11-17 Joseph F. Smith recounts:

As I pondered over these things…the eyes of my understanding were opened, and the Spirit of the Lord rested upon me, and I saw the hosts of the dead, both small and great. And there were gathered together in one place an innumerable company… I beheld that they were filled with joy and gladness, and were rejoicing together because the day of their deliverance was at hand. They were assembled awaiting the advent of the Son of God into the spirit world, to declare their redemption from the bands of death. Their sleeping dust was to be restored unto its perfect frame, bone to his bone, and the sinews and the flesh upon them, the spirit and the body to be united never again to be divided that they might receive a fulness of joy.

Then, in verse 50, we read:

For the dead had looked upon the long absence of the spirits from their bodies as bondage.

Contemplating suicide

Now, if we are to be frank, there are a lot of reasons people contemplate suicide. I myself, during the chaos and struggle leading up to my divorce (9+ years ago now) seriously considered the idea of it. I considered it from a very lucid state of mind, though I was most certainly compromised emotionally and in consequence physically from the stress and lack of sleep and the struggle to maintain my life at the time. I remember perusing all the medications in my house and seeing if any of them could be overdosed on. I did with an acute sense of how ridiculous it was, but I did it anyway.

But, in reality, I knew why I was doing it. And, it wasn’t because I didn’t believe that happiness was out there in the future somewhere. I figured it probably was, though I couldn’t comprehend it at the time. I contemplated suicide because I wanted to get my ex-spouse’s attention. I wanted to find a way to quickly bypass all the pain that was there, at present, and that subconsciously I knew was coming. I wanted to progress through this trial faster. I wanted to shock my ex-spouse into some kind of state where he was willing to see how much I (and our marriage) should mean to him. I wanted to skip past all the unknown drama and hurt, because there seemed to be no end to the pain (both emotional and psychological).

I had never known such numbness, such emptiness, such neglect, nor such personal stagnation. My life was in a horrific limbo. I couldn’t do anything until I knew I had given everything to save the marriage and I couldn’t move forward until the other party “threw in the towel.” And, suicide, in the back of my mind, seemed like a possible way to take control—to force something to happen, because it seemed like nothing was. I was trying so hard to save the marriage and yet it was getting better and it some ways it wasn’t getting worse…it was just stagnating in the slowest possible way.

That contemplation of suicide only lasted one evening. I have the blessing and curse of being incredibly self-aware and nearly incapable of going against my own testimony, my own logic, and reason. Rebellion against common sense and practicality is nearly impossible for me. Thus, so also was suicide.

However, other people contemplate it for reasons that may include: escape, fear, depression, revenge, control, psychological collapse, or despair. Other reasons tend to be more fanatic and are rare and I’m not sure such fanatic and eccentric reasons for taking one’s own life are related to this article at all.

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Bodies are a spiritual catalyst and a spiritual amplifier

However, no matter why a person may contemplate suicide, it’s important to understand that no matter how difficult life “in their body” is, that abandoning that body doesn’t necessary mean happiness. Bodies (whether mortal or immortal) are powerful. They are a power (i.e. glory, Abraham 3:26) that our spirit gains by simply coming to this life. To cast them off, no matter how much pain or suffering we may be experiencing, is to cast off the most powerful tool we have to access happiness.

The scriptures teach us that eternal happiness is achieved first and foremost by having our body and spirit together, or reunited (if we have died). A physical body (whether mortal or immortal) is a godly power. It’s something God had that we didn’t, and it is one of the primary reasons we chose to come into this mortal world.

A body grants us the power to create life, manipulate matter, and do all sorts of amazing things by the sheer act of our spiritual/mental will. In a body (D&C 138:33-35) we can gain access to ordinances and covenants that allow us to take advantage of God’s grace and by so doing seek godliness—to be like God. We can’t do that without a body!

Without a body…none of these critical, eternal things are possible unless done vicariously by proxy individuals who have bodies. And God has made it clear that this is not the best way, though it is available (Alma 34:32-36) because our bodies amplify who we are and are a catalyst to godly development. Simply separating our body from our spirit won’t make us into something we aren’t already, fundamentally. We are who we become while we are in our bodies. Our bodies have an amplifying effect upon our spirits (2010, Bednar, David. A, Things as They Really Are). Our bodies also have the power to help us change, and improve, our fundamental spiritual nature. If our spiritual nature needs improvement and refinement, a mortal body can help us accomplish that faster than eons of existence as a mere spirit.

A lot of people who don’t understand the purpose of life foolishly assume that religion is about simply being a good person. It is not. God’s plan of salvation and the fullness of His truth is about becoming like Him. We can’t do that by casting off our body simply to escape pain or trouble, to abandon fears, to avoid dealing with the very real physical struggles of depression and other psychological, to enact revenge, to seek control, or to escape despair. Our body is the very godly tool that allows us, through perseverance, to transcend pain and trouble, to overcome fears, to conquer depression and other psychological struggles, to gain peace and conquer forgiveness, and to find joy.

To cast off our body purposefully is to give up the power to gain happiness and joy. It does not create the power to gain happiness and joy.

Death comes to all

Death is a very real thing. It comes to each of us in God’s own will and time. It is the doorway to other pieces of God’s plan for us prior to our eventual resurrection. But, even to God death (separation of the body and spirit) is temporary. Through the atonement and resurrection of Jesus Christ we will get our bodies back, perfected and immortal. His body is eternally connected with His spirit and so will ours be. Our body, because of the atonement of Jesus Christ, belongs to God (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). It is His to take, not ours to cast off.

Martyrdom and Sacrifice

There is only one person, in all of God’s plan, who got to choose (by God’s divine decree) when to offer up His physical body and cast it away and when to take it up again and reunite it with His spirit, and that was Christ (John 10:17-18). And, He did so in a supreme act of self-sacrifice and by a vicarious ordinance to save us both physically and spiritually for eternity. He didn’t do it to escape anything. Rather, He wished that He might not have to do so (Matthew 26:39).

Throughout scripture we see that God commands people to kill in rare instances, to be the hand of justice. We also see God commanding His prophets, apostles, and people to die for His truths rather than to compromise. We also see many people giving their lives to save others. Such instances, it would seem, are the only godly ways to walk purposefully into death. And God is the judge and grants the authority to do so.

Conclusion

What’s God’s feeling about suicide? Even as mortals we understand that suicide is not a solution, ultimately. It’s not something we should choose, and even non-religious people recommend against it. But how God treats it for those that commit suicide? That’s not for us to worry about. It’s in God’s hands.

But, if you are contemplating suicide, or if you know someone who is, please share with them God’s love for them. Remind them how precious and powerful their body is. And that just as their body allows them to experience so much pain and sorrow, it is also the catalyst and godly tool which can allow them to seek ultimately joy and happiness, both in this life, and in the life to come. Remind them that their soul (spirit + body) is, by the grace of God, the tool He has given them which gives them the power to find, create, and seek happiness and joy. Love them. Encourage them to hang on. Encourage them to seek help. To find answers. To take ownership of their ability (that body) to change their lives!

BT

I think every God fearing person has asked themselves this question multiple times throughout their lives. It’s one a dear friend and I discussed some months back. And, while pondering the #dailydoctrine for today in Joshua 6, the memory of this conversation came back to me. Now, it may seem at first that I’m not addressing the question, but stay with me and I’ll bring it around.

In Joshua 6 we see the Lord telling Joshua and the Israelites how to conquer Jericho. It’s an extremely unconventional battle tactic. Jericho, who is already shaking with fear from hearing about the miracle of the parting of the waters of the Jordan River, is cowering behind its walls. Big walls, if all the ideals are true. And what does God say? He says, march around it a bunch, don’t speak a word. Just blow trumpets. Then, on the seventh day, march around it seven times and on the last time blow the trumpets and everybody yell and shout.

If I had been an Israelite during that time, I might have said,

Seriously? With all the known ways of conquering a city, this is what God is asking me to do? I know He just parted the Jordan for us and all, but now I’m confused. Why aren’t we taking ladders to the walls, throwing ropes up, or breaking a hole through with some pick axes? I know all sorts of ways God could get us in. I don’t see how stomping around the city and shouting like crazy people is going to make a difference. Seems silly. I think I could come up with some political peace talks with the rulers… Maybe it’s not God, maybe it’s the prophet? How can I be sure that Joshua hasn’t just lost his marbles? He is getting older, you know.

It’s quite easy in retrospect to see the ridiculous nature of all these questions. We know stomping, and shouting, and marching, and blowing trumpets worked. But, these questions are similar to the ones we ask when considering choices in our lives.

God’s commands and answers are, as this example teaches us, often unconventional. But the question is, why? What do we gain, as His children, from receiving and acting in faith upon such unconventional commands?

  1. First, we gain a clear witness that God is behind us and behind our path in life. If we do it His way, the unconventional way, and it works, we know whose power hath guided and blessed our lives. It gives us a memorial, a firm hook in our memories that we can look back on when other trials of faith are before us. We can look back and say, “that was of God and I can trust Him to lead me again” (Proverbs 3:1-2,5-10).
  2. Second, others watching us gain a witness of the God we follow, and that though His ways seem unconventional, or “the long way around,” or other things, they work. God instructs all of us to follow Him, and for those who have yet to hear His call to come follow me, the seeds are planted as they watch us follow Him (1 Nephi 18:11-22).
  3. Third, it teaches us just how much God knows that we do not. When we draw a straight line between two points, it looks straight to us, but in reality it’s winding or the ending point we have drawn to is not actually leading us where our heart really wants to be (Isaiah 55:8-9).

It is clear from the Jericho example, that God knew that the walls were unstable. Sure, God can knock anything down anytime He wants, but He doesn’t ever extend His hand to such measures if less will do. God is powerful but He is also efficient. Whether it was a sink hole deep in the earth, or a weakness in the foundation of those walls, God knew about it. No one else did. And, marching around the walls, stomping on that ground, and then using a great deal of vibration was sufficient to bring those walls down.

And, who looking on would see any less than a miracle? Who looking on might not for a moment wonder if the God of Israel was The God? An unconventional battle tactic, that appeared a bit interesting and odd, suddenly turned into the best possible idea to destroy the walls of the city rather than other methods. Genius! God’s hand was plainly evident! It was the right path, though it didn’t make sense at the time. It was the best path. It was the most direct course between the two points that God had drawn and which Joshua and the Israelites were willing to submit to.

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So, now we come back to is, “How do we know if a choice before us is one that God wants us to take?”

While discussing with my dear friend, we came up with the following points about the paths that God leads us in and how to know if we are making choices that follow that path.

  • God’s path is always a path of resistance, the aim of which is to develop or increase godly attributes within us and strengthen our relationship with Him. He never connects the dots the way we do, and He often chooses an end dot/point that hasn’t even entered our wildest dreams.
  • God’s path rarely coincides with worldly or conventional wisdom. While we may be encouraged by the Spirit to use worldly resources wisely in our search for information and services, what the Lord eventually has us do with that information and those service tools is never exactly what we would have chosen or come up to do with on our own.
  • God’s path is not about our arriving at some future stasis or comfort. It is about providing us the resources we need to learn about Him, become like Him, and help others to learn about Him and become like Him.
  • God speaks through His prophets. We may be tempted to think they are out of touch or misled, but if we follow their counsel we will be shown that it is God’s counsel and will for us (Amos 3:7, Doctrine and Covenants 1:37-38).

Ultimately peace is the one thing the world, and Satan, cannot duplicate
(John 14:27).

We can do what seems to sound right to other people, what makes the most sense to us, what the world agrees with, and even with what we can imagine is possible. But, ultimately, though these ways may be exciting, or even fulfilling for a moment, they won’t grant us peace.

On the other hand, we can do what God’s prophets counsel us to do even though it doesn’t make sense with worldly wisdom, we can choose to trust the feelings or promptings we’ve had that sit well in our gut; though they take us down a path we can’t completely see the end of or even imagine how it ends. And despite the unknown in these paths, the trials, the struggles, and even the ups and downs, we will have peace that we are on the right track.

Everyone gets answers from God differently. But, I do believe that peace means that something sits well in your gut. It’s not a pillar of light or an earthquake. It’s a center of spiritual gravity that keeps all the rest of life’s turmoil and persuasions from pulling you off firm, godly ground…if you trust it. And, we each learn to identify that deep, small, part of our gut that simply says, “Trust me on this.” And, we don’t like to trust it. It’s scary to trust that feeling sometimes. But, trusting it leads to peace.

On our journey to learning to identify that gut feeling and to trust in that peace, this example from Joshua 6 can teach us so much about how to see how God works with us, what He’s like, and how to know if our path, our choice, is that which He would have us follow.

BT

Each of us, who try to serve God and represent Him well, often struggle with many things that God asks us to do either Himself, or through His prophets. These things often include specific commandments or even simply suggested church guidelines. Such as: modesty, the word of wisdom, general good eating and exercise suggestions, limited piercings, not getting tattoos, and many other physical appearance, psychological, and health commandments/guidelines. We have so many good reasons why we should be able to dress, act, and eat how we want. And, the reason why we like our reasons and struggle to follow God’s guidelines is because we see a fence, or a line, in front of us and we don’t understand why it’s there. Yah, people spout reasons, but their reasons somehow never sink that deep.

Your Body is a Temple

So, often we hear the phrase, “Your body is a temple.” And, though we basically get the idea, if we don’t dig deeper, we will still miss the point. More importantly, we will struggle to apply it. Going through the motions of what we call temporal commandments (and guidelines) is okay. But, for most of us if we don’t dig deeper at some point, we will most certainly come to a point where we stop keeping those commandments, stop following those guidelines, and we will struggle to get why they are there at all.

Personal revelation and application come quickly, almost too easily, once we really grasp and understand the WHY, or the doctrine behind any commandment.

So, if you Google the word “temple,” you will basically get the following definition:

A building devoted to the worship, or regarded as the dwelling place, of a god or gods or other objects of religious reverence.

In 1 Corinthians 6:15-20 we learn the following about our body:

  • It is part of the body of Christ, meaning the body of His church and kingdom. It’s not dispensable. No matter it’s function or size, it’s critical to God and His kingdom/church.
  • It is a temple of the Holy Ghost.
  • It does not belong to us, but belongs to Christ.
  • It belongs to Christ because He bought it through His everlasting atonement (Christ bought our body back from justice/sin and death so that it might be resurrected again someday).
  • The purpose of our body is to glorify God.

Applying the Doctrine

If our body is a temple devoted to the worship of God and is a dwelling place for the Holy Ghost, then that changes a lot of things we may choose to do to, or with, or put into, it. If we, individually, are critical to God’s church and kingdom on earth, then our need to be well-functioning members becomes far more important than we thought. If our body is not ours, and belongs to God because He created it and then bought it back through the atonement, then that also has significant implications. How do we treat other people’s property? And, if our body’s purpose is to glorify God, then that opens a whole other topic for study and thought. If it has a designed purpose, then using it otherwise will seem a lot more unsatisfactory and uncomfortable.

But, let’s compare our bodies to actual physical temples. They are everywhere these days.

  • They are in service almost daily, excepting the Sabbath Day and when they are closed for cleaning.
  • They are designed, built, and adorned to draw attention to God.
  • They are not cheaply or shabbily furnished. Great care is taken in “clothing” them both on the inside and outside.
  • They symbolize Christ, the atonement, and God’s plan of salvation in every particular.
  • They are not merely cleaned when they are dirty, they are cleaned before they get dirty to prevent them from becoming dirty.
  • They lead others to God’s highest blessings and covenants
  • While they share godly-designed similarities, they are all different and unique in some way, whether in décor, design, color scheme, and location
  • They help people to look up, or away from their normal day-to-day
  • They are dedicated to God and are used only in His service
  • People must be worthy to participate in temple ordinances (activities involving the temple)

As you read this list, if you had any thoughts, inspirations, twinges of guilt, memories, or other feelings about a certain bullet point, STOP NOW, and write it down. This is personal revelation to you. It is a tiny nudge from the Holy Spirit about something you need to ponder about, pray about, change, learn, and come to understand about your own body.

I could make a million (or probably more) applications from this list above. But my applications don’t matter. It’s yours. Whether your thought seemed apparently unrelated, only related in a minor fashion, or it was dead on with something you read in the list above, it is a nudge from the Holy Spirit.

You may have been prompted to eat better or simply to change the focus of your diet. You may have been nudged to exercise more, differently, or even less. You may have been given reassurance that a part of the word of wisdom you struggle with can be overcome. You may have been prompted about one piece of clothing you wear, or many. You may have been nudged about something you need to repent of. You may have been inspired to make a change in the way you serve God day-to-day in your work, school, career, or home environment. You may have been prompted to change friends, or to reach out to someone. You may have been inspired to teach someone what you have learned about this doctrine. You may have been inspired to repent of, fix, or clarify to another a false doctrine you have taught about the body in the past. You may have been taught something about the cleanliness of your body or home. I could go on and on.

I Was Prompted to Stop Running

Years back, from my freshman year of college on, I ran. I ran long distance from 2 miles to 4 miles. I trained for some trail races. 6 miles or more, most of those were. I ran several 5k races. I eventually (despite many foot issues) made my way up to a half marathon. It was a spiritual experience, make no mistake.

For years and years I ran because I was afraid of getting fat. I ran because I was worried about being attractive. I ran because I was afraid of others (male and female) thinking I didn’t take care of myself. I ran for so many reasons, but none of them was to glorify God or my body in His service.

I ate for many of the same reasons. I was constantly punishing myself, feeling self-conscious, devalued, unattractive. I was rigid with eating certain foods. Then, if I did slip up, I overate terribly. It was a horrible, vicious cycle.

For years I went up and down and up and down and up and down. Weight, self-esteem, self-consciousness. I would think I had arrived. But, I never had. Then, despite my efforts to be what I thought everyone (including myself) wanted me to be, I went through a sad divorce.

It was after this divorce, that I was at the gym one day. I was, as usual, working myself into a healthy sweat while looking around and wishing that I could just have the body that other women had. Then, I could be happy, I thought. But, while I was thinking this, and feeling so down about myself, the thought hit me that this thought process I had was ridiculous. I saw it then for what it was—ingratitude. It was selfishness. It was pride. Others had hurt me, yes. But my own view of myself was my own fault, primarily, and I could fix it.

Before this, I had also began having back trouble. I was having trouble sleeping because of lower back pain. It was an odd pain and I couldn’t explain it. I tried to treat it in different ways (squatting to pick up things, yoga, stretching, core exercises, etc.), but nothing was working. Training for the half-marathon came after my gym experience. It was hard training. I was running all the time. My back got worse. But, I did it. It was such a hard thing. But, it was a personal, psychological, and emotional achievement.

Then, a little while after running that 13.1 miles, I was running one day. I was almost home and looking ahead of me. I never ran with headphones or music. I valued the silence. It helped me think and process life so much faster. So, as I was looking ahead, I began to notice the telephone poles. One pole, in particular, stuck out to me. I didn’t think about how odd that was. I simply focused on the pole. It was coming up quickly in the distance.

As I was focusing on that pole, a very clear thought came to me, “You don’t have to run anymore.” It was such a simple thought, but it came powerfully. So powerfully, that when I got to that pole, I stopped running instantly. And, I’ve never run more than a few hundred feet since. I know without any doubt that God told to stop running. And, willing to finally cast aside my personal struggles and fears, I listened.

These two experiences came together at a point when I needed them. But they taught me so much about the motivation behind my efforts with my body/temple. No matter how justified, my reasons back then for doing all these things were wrong. My past reasoning did not contribute to peace, happiness, or a consistent positive self-esteem. It was only a stretch of miserable years.

Now, I exercise because my body is a temple created to serve God and my family. I exercise as much as I can, when I can, and how I am able to maintain that ability—to serve God and my family. If I have to end my exercise several minutes early to help my kids. I do—without guilt. When I eat poorly for a few days, I don’t drop into a deep depression and get worse or become inordinately rigid to punish myself. I simply make better choices moving forward. Sometimes I’m tempted to eat uber-smart and deprive myself of any fun food. This never makes me peaceful and happy either. There are times when I have come to realize that I need to make changes because my health and fitness and even image are preventing me from serving God and my family. That always provides sufficient motivation to improve—without giving myself a guilt trip. I simply refocus and do better. The result: peace, happiness, and a positive self-esteem.

Christ Bought Our Bodies

Maybe you’d like to say that it’s not fair. You didn’t ask Christ to purchase your body out from under you. But, you did ask Him to do so. The very fact that you are here on this earth means you accepted Christ as your physical and spiritual Savior before you ever came to this world. You jumped into this mortal existence knowingly, even though you can’t remember it. God honored free will in the premortal world. He would never have sent you here had you desired to not enter into it.

So, maybe you want to change your mind. You want to “own yourself,” so you can do what you want without guilt or the need to change. Well, that’s fine and dandy. But, when it comes time for the resurrection and you are the only one who doesn’t get your body back and must remain a spirit forever, like Satan, and are subject to him, then you’ll likely want to recant your statement. But, good news is, you can’t change your mind and you’ll never have to recant. Your body is paid for–past tense. You’ll get it back no matter what you do—all because Christ bought it for you.

The fact that our bodies our not our own is incredibly humbling and significant. Not only did God give our bodies His image, but He ensured that they would be ours for eternity. We can choose to do what we like with them, but the consequences will always follow. We can have joy in our choices for a season, but by and by the end cometh.

When we take the time to realize that we are running around in someone else’s property, it can and should change the way we take care of our bodies. They are on loan for this mortal existence. We cannot escape the “bill” or “payment” that comes due when we damage them during our rental. They will be cleaned up and renewed for our ongoing eternal existence. But how we treat them directly corresponds to our spiritual growth. Our countenance and appearance will affect our spiritual one. We can’t escape that. What we do on the outside, is always to some extent, indicative of our internal emotional, psychological, and spiritual state.

We may be pretty darn good. But, only God can teach us how to best care for the bodies He has given us and simultaneously bought back so that we might eventually keep them forever. He has already provided many obvious and logical guidelines. He has already given us several temporal/physical commandments. It is imperative that each of us turn to Him and seek His will regarding the treatment of our bodies when it comes to the personal details. He cares!

Conclusion

It’s so tempting to do what we do for others. It so tempting to do what we do for our own issues, needs, and pride. It’s so tempting to think that these will provide the sufficient motivation and testimony to provide personal happiness. But, they never do.

It’s tempting to listen to the world’s reasoning for why we should flaunt our bodies, commit them to rigorous diets, draw attention to them, pierce them, mark them, and other physical applications. But their reasoning will never be sufficient to bring us lasting self-worth, self-esteem, or peace. We will bounce from diet to diet, outfit to outfit, and other internal and external fads, in an attempt to find that perfect balance. But, it will always allude us.

It’s tempting to think that our bodies belong to us and that we can do what we want without spiritual consequence. But, they are not ours and as we test this theory, we will eventually come to see that the greatest peace and happiness available to us comes when we learn to see and treat our bodies as temples of God.

We must do what we do for the right reasons. When it comes to our body (inside and out), everything—everything—is about its use as a temple of God, a dwelling place for the Holy Ghost, a tool glorify God and to bring others to Christ (or to not get in their way or distract them with “us.”). There is no other higher, or more fulfilling, purpose. No other motivation will bring us constant, powerful motivation, peace, dignity, and self-esteem. We can’t find happiness, no matter how rigid we are with ourselves, with any other purpose.

If you struggle with standards of modesty, the word of wisdom, piercings, tattoos, certain styles of dress or brands, exercise and eating regimens, eating disorders, getting help for physical issues, accepting help for physical issues, and more, all of your struggles can be answered as you continue to ponder your body as a temple and seek God’s will for you. If you don’t think you struggle with any of these, I challenge you to go to God anyway and seek to know if there is anything He would have you change in the care and treatment of your temple.

This is a powerful doctrine. I challenge to you make it a part of your life.

BT

If I was an investigator of the Jewish church, in Jesus time, and I had as my example Pharisees, Sadducees, and Scribes, I might have been extremely resistant to joining up. The Pharisees certainly never appear to be peaceful and happy. They were judgmental and preoccupied with others, rather than themselves—in a negative way. I certainly would not have been willing to count my steps on Sundays or avoid pork simply because some God commanded it if…their sour-faced life was the result.

I sometimes can’t figure out why the Pharisees stayed converted to their own version (because it was certainly of their creation) of Judaism. The only thing I can determine is that they stayed faithful out of fear. And, it was fear they passed on to others. Fear of breaking a commandment. So much did fear guide their actions that they passed it on to others—judgmentally. Everyone was doomed in their eyes…even Christ.

And, because the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Scribes led the religion, (and their principles), it was dying out. Israel had been conquered and scattered and would have continued to dwindle had not Christ come to fulfill the law and restore the truths that had been lost. Fear does not convert people to God. It only keeps them afraid. And obeying out of fear, ultimately, cannot produce salvation.

So, why do people choose a religion? Why do people convert? Why do people stay faithful? Why do people come back to God?

I think I can sum it up in two words: happiness.

2 Nephi 2:25 teaches us that “men are that they might have joy.” So, are we so surprised that the reason we seek God, or religion, is because we believe it will bring us happiness? No. And, the gospel of Jesus Christ is about happiness. It is not about temporary, fleeting excitement. It is not about intense, dizzying highs followed by horrific lows. The gospel of Jesus Christ is about peace, happiness, and continual joy.

But, are you happy? Are you peaceful? Do you experience joy despite the struggles of life? If not, why? Why aren’t you happy?

Happiness is Personal Peace

When most of us think of happiness, we think of the absence of trials, struggles, pain, suffering, sorrow, etc. And yet, God has shown us that joy can only come from opposition (2 Nephi 2:11). If there is no down there can be no up. If there is no sorrow there can be no happiness. This life is about the ups and the downs. The triumphs and the sins, and the weaknesses, and the mistakes (Ether 12:27). The gospel of Jesus Christ is about finding peace in knowing the downs are part of the ups and that ultimately Christ has overcome all of the downs. The ups become precious because of the downs. We become godly during the downs.

Now we come back to the Pharisees. They made the gospel about fear. Fear of making mistakes. When instead they should have preached the hope of overcoming them. They made the gospel about lines, boundaries, and achievement. When instead they should have preached the destination of godliness. Because ultimately there are no lines. There is only becoming godly. There are commandments, but they are practice in becoming godly, not an end unto themselves. The Pharisees, out of fear, made the commandments and end unto themselves.

Nothing, in the gospel, has a beginning or end, save in Christ. If we give it another beginning or end, apart from Christ, it will cease to belong to Him. When it has a beginning or end in anything else it becomes the gospel of that thing or person. Grace is not about not sinning. It’s about becoming godly as we learn from sins and mistakes. And so forth.

Personal peace comes from knowing we can do it, we can make it, despite our struggles, sins, weaknesses, and so forth. And when we say that, so many pharisaical people want to freak out. They’re so afraid that if we tell people that, that those people will stop keeping commandments and staying away from those lines. Again…they’re so afraid. And so they can’t be happy. And they can’t let others be happy, or peaceful.

Problems with the Rising Generation

I was pondering this blog post when the memory of the Olive Tree Allegory came into my mind from Jacob 5. You know, that chapter everyone dreads reading because they’re so worried that it has 70+ verses rather than what’s in it?

In the Olive Tree Allegory we always have the Lord of the vineyard grafting branches in and grafting braches out. Pruning branches off and dunging and aerating the roots. And, it’s always about the roots and the branches. Either the roots go bad or the branches overcome the good of the roots.

As I was staring out a window, watching the highway go by, a principle jumped into my head. The roots of the gospel are: faith, repentance, baptism, the gift of the Holy Ghost, and the ordinances and covenants that follow. All of these things are centered in Christ. The branches of the gospel are the commandments and the organization put in place to keep the roots healthy. When the branches overcome the roots, the tree (person, family, ward, stake, region, area, etc.) gets sick. If the tree stays sick too long then the roots get ruined.

The gospel ceases to be the gospel if we let the branches overcome the roots. The roots can become corrupted if we allow in false doctrine. But usually, the problem with long-term religious culture (like the Pharisees) in our homes is that we start focusing on the branches without tending to the roots. We start making the gospel about fear instead of happiness.

Oh, we may preach happiness and peace, but that doesn’t equivocate. It must also be a part of us. It must show in our lives. We can say going to church will make us happy, but if we go to church and then are not happy, what are we really teaching? It’s something different than what we’re saying.

Branches Overcoming the Roots

It’s easy for this to happen when you get past the first generation of converts to a religion. The original crew is usually converted. They get the foundation of the gospel because they depended upon it so heavily in their conversion. Thereafter, however, to children and posterity, the gospel becomes something it is not—it becomes a tradition. It becomes a system of do’s and don’ts rather than a framework for joy, peace, strength, healing, and happiness. It becomes a set of lines and rules and lectures about negative consequences instead of tools and paths for the greatest amounts of joy, peace, strength, healing, and happiness.

The culture of religion so often preaches that happiness can only be had from a strict regimen of religious ritual and participation but fails to continue on to explain the doctrine WHY. Happiness can be found in lesser amounts in less strict religious observance. It can. And when it does, we appear as liars and control freaks determined to force our children into a life they can’t see the benefit of. A life they don’t yet believe in.

God doesn’t want our obedience and our devotion to His gospel and His plan out of fear, awe, and reverence. Those are mildly important. What He wants is our obedience and our devotion out of love for Him. Love that stems from an understanding of what He offers, what He gives, how He loves, and who He is. That is the kind of understanding that creates a visible peace and happiness in us that transcends life’s struggles and problems. That is the kind of example others, especially our kids, need to see. If they can’t see what it is to be truly at peace, to experience true joy, and to know a fullness of happiness, how can they desire it? How can they see that it’s not worth it to settle for less?

The Pharisees (and the others), as nearly as I can tell from scripture always seemed to be unhappy. They were so caught up in the details of not crossing the wrong lines and not appearing evil that they had room for little else, aside from pride. They were so stressed and preoccupied with building fences around fences to prevent themselves (and others) from sinning that they sinned worse than if they had crossed those lines. They omitted love, mercy, and righteous judgment (Luke 11:42). They were absolutely miserable. The only happiness they seemed to get was from judging others by their over-zealous piety and righteous data. And, that’s not real happiness.

In the Book of Mormon we have the story of the people of King Benjamin. They extol Benjamin as an incredible king. They listen to his final sermons and have magnificent changes of heart, covenanting to follow Christ and take upon them His name. Then, as always happens throughout the Book of Mormon when there has been a great Christian revival, the rising generation doesn’t become converted, or doesn’t remain converted (Mosiah 26:1).

Obviously, even our children, our responsible for acting upon righteous principles and gaining their own conversion to the gospel. But, it’s highly important that they know what the gospel is and not just the rules, lines, and commandments. The gospel is the atonement of Jesus Christ. All else stems from it. From His love. From His plan of happiness.

Parents giving piggyback ride to children

We Don’t Have to Be Perfect to Teach the Gospel of Happiness

Now, I’m not saying parents have to be perfect and that as families we can’t have struggles. Life is hard for everyone. But, to some extent, there are those who preach the gospel and yet create toxicity surrounding it. They don’t embody the godly characteristics (to any great extent) that they keep preaching to their kids. They pound into their kids heads that if they read and pray and keep all the commandments that they’ll have the Spirit and be happy. And yet, these kids see parents who do all these things and yet are rarely, if ever, happy. They see parents preoccupied with commandments, not doctrines. They see family going through righteous motions but not becoming happier or more Christlike. And that’s because that’s what’s really happening! They aren’t progressing. They are tripping and stumbling over major stumbling blocks, just like the Pharisees.

Now, one or more parents or family members may struggle with keeping the commandments. And yet, this also should not create crisis. The gospel is the atonement. The principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ can be lived and taught in any home even with varying levels of belief and testimony. The atonement is mercy, forgiveness, patience, long-suffering, etc. Even with family members who lack righteous consistency, or who sometimes fail to say a kind word, peace can abide. I’m not saying it’s easy. I’m not saying it doesn’t take heroic effort. I’m saying it’s possible. That’s what the gospel should provide. That’s what people, especially our kids, should see. The gospel should be lived so that our kids can see that despite weaknesses, struggles, and differing levels of testimony, the basic principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ can abide. And that those principles are what create peace, joy, love, and happiness.

If we preach forgiveness and mercy to our kids. Then we have to show it to them and our spouses. If we preach that keeping the commandments makes us peaceful and gives us strength to find happiness. Then, we have to show it. And, if we fall short a bit in showing what we know to be true, then we have to be open, communicate and bear testimony of the hope and faith we have in Christ despite our shortcomings. We have to frequently, outwardly, and honestly show the gospel of Jesus Christ working in our lives. Our imperfections are what give us the opportunity to show our children that the gospel works! We should not pretend to be perfect when our kids are smart enough to know we’re not.

I was sitting in Relief Society one day, and a woman said, “If we were perfect our kids would never learn anything about the atonement of Jesus Christ.”

I was floored. I had been feeling so miserable that day for my failings as a mother. Then, here this woman brings me back to the gospel. I have worked hard to focus my efforts as a mother into using my own failings to teach my kids more about the atonement. I am also trying to get better, and not mess up as much, but I know that as long as I keep trying, I can have peace. I want so much for my kids to see this and to never despair. I want to show them the happiness and peace that comes from God’s grace. I want them to feel the faith I have and to be infected with it as they face their own weaknesses, sins, and struggles. I want them to see that for me it is a gospel of happiness and peace.

So, is the gospel a gospel of happiness and peace for you? If it’s not, it’s time to get back to the roots. It’s time to make it a gospel of happiness and not a gospel of fear.

BT

Doctrine: The Light of Christ is our basic conscience, but it can be dulled or altered. The Power of the Holy Ghost is a momentary burst or intense “glow of truth” that is temporary so that we can choose to act upon it, but not be compelled. However, the GIFT of the Holy Ghost is an endowment of POWER that makes our imperfect efforts and sincere righteous desires effective in actually changing us into a godly beings.

For many Christians, there is a clear deficit in understanding the role of the GIFT of the Holy Ghost. I think this is because there are so many ways in which the Holy Spirit functions that most of us fail to see the distinctions between His several functions AND how we are supposed to take advantage of those functions for our own journey back to God. In fact, most people don’t understand and can’t differentiate between the Light of Christ, the Power of the Holy Ghost, and the Gift of the Holy Ghost.

The Light of Christ is something that comes with us when we are born into this world (Doctrine and Covenants 93:2; St. John 1:9). It is in our flesh, blood and spirit. In fact, it cannot be separated from us because it is tied directly to the power by which we were organized and made. Christ created the earth. Every particle of it is under His command and is given life and purpose by His divine influence. God, our Heavenly Father organized our spirits. Therefore, the innate goodness and godliness from which we originate has been preserved in our very nature. It is a part of who we are, eternally. Which, is why every person that comes into this world has a basic understanding of right and wrong and a sense of guilt. The Light of Christ is our basic conscience.

However, the Light of Christ is not sufficient to perfect us. It is an innate sense but not an active source for help. It can be warped or altered by our environment and life experiences as we actively choose to override it. Alone it is insufficient to help us become like God.

Unlike the Light of Christ, the Holy Spirit is an active source of guidance. The Holy Ghost is a member of the godhead. He is omniscient, omnipotent, perfectly loving, perfectly just, and so forth. He is exactly like God the Father and Jesus Christ. The only difference between Him and Them is that the Holy Ghost does not have a body of flesh and bone (Doctrine and Covenants 130:22-23). This bodily difference is necessary so that He can communicate directly with our spirits.

So, how is the Power of the Holy Ghost different from the Light of Christ?

Before we receive the Gift of the Holy Ghost through confirmation (after the ordinance of baptism), the Power of the Holy Ghost can descend upon us and give us what I like to call an intense “glow of truth.” This glow may be an injection of pure reason or logic that connects some spiritual and intellectual dots for our life. It can be a feeling of comfort or peace that something we have been taught or that we have read is true. It can be an unmistakable feeling of love or assurance that God is with us. But, the key to all of these things is that they are significant moments. We know during this intense “glow of truth” that something is God’s will, or that something is true, or that we need to make a little, significant, or a big change in our life.

But, while the glow is intense and something we are infinitely sure of while we feel it, it doesn’t stay with us. Why not? We’d certainly like it to, wouldn’t we? Because often when the glow is gone we doubt or lose sight of what we felt. But, the glow can’t be permanent. This is because once we know something God isn’t going to attach strings to our arms and legs and make us act on that knowledge. And, having a permanent intense “glow of truth” is akin to doing just that. No matter how great it feels when we feel it, to make the glow remain with us at that intensity is an act of compulsion.

Once the Holy Ghost has given us a clear witness, He has to step back to allow us to use our free will to follow it. The glow was an obvious and blatant invite to recognize and follow God’s truth and will. But, after the invitation has been delivered, we have to be free to choose (2 Nephi 2:27). God will not act upon us (2 Nephi 2:14-16).

So, what about the Gift of the Holy Ghost? If the Power of the Holy Ghost teaches us truth with an intense glow, what does the Gift of the Holy Ghost do?

Both before and after confirmation by the laying on of hands (see 4th Article of Faith), we experience the Power of the Holy Ghost (the glow) which is like a shot of veritaserum for our mind and heart (pardon the Harry Potter reference). But, it doesn’t last. However, the Gift of the Holy Ghost is a much more subtle experience. Rather than a sporadic shot it is a consistent, subtle flow of direction.

For those who want the “constant glow,” they can get something even better through the Gift of the Holy Ghost by accepting the covenant of baptism and being confirmed by the laying on of hands (see 4th Article of Faith). This is because they have exercised their agency/free will to enter into a covenant to serve God and keep His commandments. Covenants are how God protects and dispenses His power (Doctrine and Covenants 88:33-36). Meaning, we can’t get access to certain aspects of His power without making a covenant with Him. Therefore, a condition of the baptismal covenant—wherein we agree to give our will to God and keep His commandments and take His name upon us—is that God provides us with the constant guidance (not compulsion) we want.

However, this constant guidance isn’t a gigantic glow. It is more like a trickle of constant truth that will aid us in our designs to become godly. It also doesn’t compel us to be godly. But, it puts forth subtle invitations that alter our path a little at a time toward a godly end. This trickle is meted out to us in greater or lesser degrees as we continue to exercise our agency in keeping commandments, seeking for more knowledge and understanding, becoming Christlike, and receiving and entering into more covenants. If we don’t keep our end of the covenants the trickle is slowed to an occasional drop and eventually will leave us if we fail to repent and keep trying. We don’t have to be perfect to have the guidance of the Holy Ghost. We only have to be sincerely trying.

So, what good is a constant trickle of truth? How do we use it? What does it do?

Now, I don’t wish to diminish the experiences of those who claim to have been preserved physically by the Holy Ghost’s promptings. And yet, the fact is that those inexperienced with the Gift of the Holy Ghost often seem to preach about such physical-saving experiences as if this is the most common and important purpose the Holy Ghost serves. It is not. In fact, if indeed the Holy Ghost prompts us to take an action that will preserve us physically (which He can and has done at times but certainly doesn’t do often), it is the least important function to hope for. And, if we are not preserved from physical accidents and calamities, it rarely has anything to do with our ability to listen to the Holy Ghost.

Consider this, Christ overcame death with His Atonement for all of us, regardless of how we choose to live in this life. Therefore, no matter what happens to our physical bodies, they are guaranteed to become perfected and resurrected. However, though Christ overcame sin for all of us with His Atonement, access to that portion of grace is guarded and protected by covenants and conditions, like all the rest of God’s power. We can’t be forgiven without sincere action on our part. To offer it otherwise would be a grand mockery of the sacrifice Christ gave. Therefore, in order to receive the spiritually perfecting power of the Atonement we have to use our agency to choose to repent, keep God’s commands, and follow the nudges we get from the Holy Ghost.

The Gift of the Holy Ghost differs from the Light of Christ and the Power of the Holy Ghost in that the Gift of the Holy Ghost has POWER to enact permanent changes in our very emotional, mental, spiritual, and psychological selves. This is what Christ was referring to when He said that we must be born, not only of water, but of the Spirit (St. John 3:5). Baptism is an ordinance and takes place in a moment. But, being slowly changed by the Holy Ghost over time is baptism by fire.

For example, if we have a temper problem but we desire to be better and exercise our agency to try to be slower to anger and more quick to listen and love; over time, the POWER of the GIFT of the Holy Ghost can take our sincere intent and make it powerful enough to actually change our innate nature. If we take any temptation or weakness and exercise our agency to change it or overcome it, the GIFT of the Holy Ghost has the POWER to help us to actually overcome and change.

It doesn’t matter if we have a very debilitating psychological or physical addiction. It doesn’t matter if we are encountered with something that isn’t very tempting to us at all. The amount of temptation or the level of the weakness doesn’t matter. In order to be released from that temptation or addiction we must exercise our agency to overcome it. That act, combined with the POWER of the GIFT of the Holy Ghost, is what gives us the power to change and overcome. It may take one time of saying no and steering away from a temptation. It may take thousands of attempts to say no and steer away from a temptation. Depending on who we are different struggles and temptations will be harder for us. But, a sincere effort, over time, combined with the Gift of the Holy Ghost is what actually purifies and SANCTIFIES us and helps us become more like our Father in Heaven.

This is the amazing role of the Gift of the Holy Ghost. And, combined with our basic conscience and occasional glowing bursts of the Power of the Holy Ghost, each of us is capable of using our agency to become like God. However, without the Gift of the Holy Ghost, even the Power of the Holy Ghost testifying of truth cannot make us godly. We need the POWER of the GIFT to enact real spiritual change in our very beings.

Because of the sacredness and the power of the GIFT of the Holy Ghost, it is guarded by covenant. So, the Gift of the Holy Ghost is not a power to trifle with. He is a member of the godhead. We can’t take His companionship and help for granted.

So, the Light of Christ is basic and beneficial. But, it can’t change our very beings. The occasional bursts and intense glows of truth we get from the Power of the Holy Ghost can help us know God’s will for us and help us recognize His truths. But this burst of truth is an isolated experience that abates in time so that we can exercise our agency to accept or reject it. But, the GIFT of the Holy Ghost is a gift of POWER to become better, until someday we can become perfect. This GIFT is the power by which we become sanctified and holy. And, it is guarded by sacred covenant and only dispensed to those who try to keep that covenant.

BT