Tuesday, December 11, 2007

An explanation and update

I thought I would post my final religion paper. I don’t know that is particularly good, but for anyone who is looking for some doctrinal encouragement, I think it fits the bill.

Otherwise I am doing great. This last Saturday I was invited by a friend in one of my classes to go riding with him and his wife. It was really good. I can’t really explain how much it means to feel that another guy actually cares about me in a way that is totally unrelated to sexuality.

I am so grateful to the Lord and the way in which he blesses me. I want to clarify a little bit about the last paragraph of my paper. I confided in my religion teacher last week about my struggles. He is the only one who will see this paper. Also, I don’t want to give the impression that I am happy about my SSA. This is not easy, nor is it fun. I do, however, know that the Lord seeks my best interest. He would not have given me this challenge to deal with if there wasn’t something I could learn from it. Part of my responsibility in the process of overcoming the natural man is to find out what I need to learn and do as a result of my challenges.

Sin and the Atonement

WARNING! This is LONG! I’ll explain it in my next post

This Semester I have studied the New Testament with a desire to better understand the Atonement, the Sacrament, and Prayer. I selected particular questions that I felt would be helpful in deepening my understanding of these principles. It is interesting to me that while I feel that my understanding of these principles has been greatly enlarged, deepened, and in some ways corrected, many of the questions I felt were important remain unanswered while others now seem superficial and irrelevant. As I have studied the New Testament, my thoughts have been influenced greatly by a book that I read early in the semester. The Peacegiver, by James Ferrell, offers many great insights into the atonement of Jesus Christ. So now, I hope to capture the feelings and thoughts of this humble heart of mine on paper. In doing so I seek the inspiration and guidance of the spirit.

Before we can truly understand the blessing and saving power of the Atonement we need to understand what it is we are being saved from. In announcing his own mission, Christ quoted the prophecy of Isaiah saying, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised.”[1] Christ was to become known as the Savior, the Redeemer, the Deliverer. Indeed, He preached deliverance to the captives. Who are these captives and to what are they captive?

Christ later taught that “Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin.”[2] It appears form this verse that when we sin we become subject to “the power and captivity of the devil.”[3] John taught that “he that sinneth is of the Devil.” But what does this mean? How are we subject to the devil? James E. Talmage taught in Jesus the Christ that Judas Iscariot had, through sin, effectively surrendered his agency to Satan. In other words when we sin we sacrifice a portion of our agency to the enemy of our souls. We are no longer completely free to make our own choices. As Paul counseled “let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body.”[4]

Paul also taught that we should be careful “lest any of [us] be hardened through eh deceitfulness of sin.”[5] James Ferrell explained that this hardening and deception is illustrated in the response of Adam to the Lord when asked if he had partaken of the fruit. Adam began to justify himself and blame Eve. Eve likewise blamed the serpent. When we sin, our natures become changed. They become corrupted so that the way we see the world is distorted. We see ourselves as guiltless. We don’t need the Savior. Someone else is to blame.[6] In this sin “we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.”[7]

Another of Satan’s lies to which we become subject when we sin is described by Elder Uchtdorf. He said, “Satan, “the father of all lies”, “the father of contention”, “the author of all sin”, and the “enemy unto God”, uses the forces of evil to convince us that this concept applies whenever we have sinned. The scriptures call him the “accuser” because he wants us to feel that we are beyond forgiveness. Satan wants us to think that when we have sinned we have gone past a “point of no return”—that it is too late to change our course. In our beautiful but also troubled world, it is a sad reality that this attitude is the source of great sorrow, grief, and distress to families, marriages, and individual lives. Satan tries to counterfeit the work of God, and by doing this he may deceive many. To make us lose hope, feel miserable like himself, and believe that we are beyond forgiveness, Satan might even misuse words from the scriptures that emphasize the justice of God, in order to imply that there is no mercy.”[8]

Sin is not a system of carefully kept tally marks in the heavens. Nor is it a card system of all our transgressions which will keep us from entering heaven. Nor is Sin truly a single stain on our robes that must be removed before we are worthy to enter into the Celestial Kingdom. Sin and righteousness are not some abstract things external to our souls. In fact the very nature of our souls is changed when we Sin. This change takes us away from Christ and our Heavenly Father. It blinds us to the reality of the plan of Salvation and gives the Devil power over our decisions. How then are we free?

Christ taught that “Truth shall make you free.”[9] How does truth make us free? When we se the truth of our own sinless and helpless state; when we see that we cannot possible overcome the bonds of sin by ourselves, we have an opportunity in that moment to turn to Christ to free us. As He himself said, “If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.”[10]

How does Christ save us from the captivity of sin, in effect save us from ourselves? With the understanding of the true nature of sin and why we must be saved from it, we can better understand just what the atonement was. Alma taught that Christ would “take upon him the sins of the his people.”[11] Knowing that sin subjects us to the power of the devil, in Gethsemane, Christ was in as Talmage said: “the supreme contest with the powers of evil” an “hour of anguish when Christ had to meet and overcome all the horrors that Satan could inflict.”[12] The Savior’s perfectly righteous character allowed Him to remain sinless even when bound with the same chains which bind us. This is what Paul meant when he said that Christ “was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.”[13] Paul also explained that Christ “who knew no sin,” “was made to be sin.”[14]

Christ was therefore placed under the exact same temptations I am. He was handicapped by the effects of my previous sins, as well as the afflictions, pains, sicknesses, and infirmities, that I have suffered. Yet, because of the attributes which made his character perfect, he was able to resist and overcome the power of the Devil. He overcame the effects, the captivity, of sin. He broke the bands of the second death which is spiritual death.

Because He has literally and perfectly been “where we are,” and yet remained sinless, when we turn to Him and qualify ourselves for His grace through our humility, broken hearts, and contrite spirits, He “knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptations.”[15] As Paul taught, “For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succor them that are tempted.”[16] Christ’s temptations were not just those he experienced in his own mortal life. He does not understand temptation in general terms. Rather he knows intimately and perfectly the temptations that we face and the sum influence of our previous choices as well as the circumstances over which we have no control. Having broken free of the same chains which bind us, He knows just what character attributes he needs to bestow upon us to enable us to likewise break free. This is the enabling power of the Atonement: the Grace, or divinely given strength, to do more than we ourselves are able.

Therefore when we repent and come unto Christ, we are truly made “a new creature.”[17] This freedom from the power of sin to cloud our minds, is what the Bible Dictionary means when it teaches that repentance is: “a change of mind, i.e., a fresh view about God, about oneself, and about the world.”[18]

Elder Bednar taught about repentance. He also teaches about the next step in our progress to “be perfect, even as [He] is.” “The gospel of Jesus Christ encompasses much more than avoiding, overcoming, and being cleansed from sin and the bad influences in our lives; it also essentially entails doing good, being good, and becoming better. Repenting of our sins and seeking forgiveness are spiritually necessary, and we must always do so. But remission of sin is not the only or even the ultimate purpose of the gospel. To have our hearts changed by the Holy Spirit such that “we have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually”, as did King Benjamin’s people, is the covenant responsibility we have accepted. This mighty change is not simply the result of working harder or developing greater individual discipline. Rather, it is the consequence of a fundamental change in our desires, our motives, and our natures made possible through the Atonement of Christ the Lord. Our spiritual purpose is to overcome both sin and the desire to sin, both the taint and the tyranny of sin.”[19]

This change of heart that comes about through the power and grace of the Atonement is one of the greatest goals we can have here in mortality. The freedom from the taint of sin leads so smoothly to the development of Christ-like attributes. Elder Hafen Described the process this way: “We grow in two ways—removing negative weeds and cultivating positive flowers. The Savior's grace blesses both parts—if we do our part. First and repeatedly we must uproot the weeds of sin and bad choices. It isn't enough just to mow the weeds. Yank them out by the roots, repenting fully to satisfy the conditions of mercy. But being forgiven is only part of our growth. We are not just paying a debt. Our purpose is to become celestial beings. So once we've cleared our heartland, we must continually plant, weed, and nourish the seeds of divine qualities.”[20]

An integral part of overcoming the damning power of sin, is recognizing the need for the Savior and humbling ourselves sufficiently to seek his help with real intent. The Lord taught that, “The Sabbath was made for man.”[21] Perhaps the most important thing we can do on the Sabbath is partake of the Sacrament. As we eat and drink, “in remembrance of [Him]”[22] we are given an opportunity to realize anew our dependence and need for the intercession of the Savior.

Perhaps that is why Paul, in talking about the armor of God, about protection from the power of sin, said that we must “pray always.”[23] It seems that if there is always a prayer in our hearts, that is if out thought and desires are turned to God continually, that we would always retain in remembrance our need for the Savior. We are less likely to be deceived by darkness when we are focusing on the Light of the World.

In this vein I can better understand James admonition to “count it a joy when ye fall into many afflictions,”[24] and Paul’s exclamation that “we glory in tribulations.”[25] Trials and afflictions are in reality opportunities to remember the Redeemer and our need for his help, thereby taking the first step in freeing ourselves for the captivity of sin.

Likewise our weaknesses and imperfections should be seen as a wonderful opportunity to remember and experience the grace of God in our lives. In Paul’s words: “And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.”[26]

This understanding has been an invaluable blessing to my life as I have struggled with my trials. For reasons I do not understand the Lord has allowed me to be tempted and afflicted with feelings of Same Gender Attraction. But understanding the nature of sin and the compensatory power of the Atonement has greatly increased my faith in the Savior’s ability to save me from the chains that I have allowed the devil to place upon me. I know that He can give me the strength necessary to break my own addictions to pornography and masturbation. I am completely unable to do so myself. I have tainted my own soul by yielding to the enticing temptations of that evil one who is seeking the destruction of my soul. However, the infinite power of the Atonement, of which I am not worthy, can break those bonds and free me. I have witnessed and felt that power in my own life. I know that these things are true. As I continue to strive to do good and become more Christ-like, the Savior will bless me with his own attributes. I am eternally grateful for what Christ has done for me. He has made it possible for me to leave this world ready to meet Him. “For I shall see Him as He is, and I shall be like Him.”[27]


[1] Luke 4:18

[2] John 8:34

[3] 2 Nephi 2:27

[4] Romans 6:12

[5] Hebrews 3:13

[6] The Peacegiver, James Ferrell

[7] 1 John 1:8

[8] Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “The Point of No Return,” Ensign May 2007.

[9] John 8:32

[10] John 8:36

[11] Alma 7:13

[12] James E. Talmage, Jesus the Christ

[13] Hebrews 4:15

[14] 2 Corinthians 5:21

[15] 2 Peter 2:9

[16] Hebrews 2:18

[17] 2 Corinthians 5:17

[18] Bible Dictionary, “Repentance.”

[19] Elder David A. Bednar, “Clean Hands and A Pure Heart.” Ensign, November 2007.

[20] Elder Bruce C. Hafen, “The Atonement: All for All.” Ensign, May 2004

[21] Mark 6:27

[22] Luke 22:19

[23] Ephesians 6:18

[24] James 1:2

[25] Romans 5:3

[26] 2 Corinthians 12:9-10

[27] 1 John 3:2

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Looking Upward

In General Conference a year ago Elder Wirthlin talked about an eternal principle. I have seen this principle prove true in my own life over the past couple of days. He said that we will all have Fridays in our lives, and he wasn't talking about end-of-the-workweek Fridays. He was talking about Suffer-the-Atonement-be-betrayed-get-crucified-and-forsaken Fridays and watch-the-Savior-of-the-world-die-and-all-hope-with-him Fridays. Elder Wirthlin then said that no matter how dark and difficult our Friday's become, we need to remember one thing: Sunday will come. Again, not have-to-sit-through-meetings Sunday, but rather Rise-from-the-dead-in-Glory Sundays and Witness-the-Savior's-resurrection Sundays.

Thursday morning was definitely a Friday for me (see last post). However, since Thursday evening, I have been living in Sunday. I feel a need to testify of the blessings of the Lord. In doing so, I don't mean to offend anyone. This is just what I have witnessed in my own life.

Thursday night I met with my Bishop. We talked for a while about "P" and then began to discuss the interview with Elder Oaks and Elder Wickman. I let him know how I felt about the attitude that many leaders and members of the Church (especially BYU-I religion teachers) have that I have named Wickmanism. It is the "Quit feeling bad for yourself and just get over your problems. They are just the now. Eventually, you will be happy. Just trust us." attitude. I told my Bishop that sometimes that was hard for me to really believe. He then explained that one way to view this challenge is as a special opportunity to exercise faith. He said that when we have all the answers to and things are going well, especially when we are blessed as soon as we keep the commandments, our faith gets to be lazy. It is only in the times when we don't understand and when it is hard to believe that our faith is tested and stretched and allowed to grow.

I don't know why, but that really hit me as true. I had never thought of it that way. So in a way I can feel sorry for all the Mormons who live the "ideal" life. As C.S. Lewis said(and I am paraphrasing): We have no room to be proud of our blessings and the ease of our life. When things go well, we should look and say: If I had been stronger, the Lord would have put me in a more difficult position. I think the opposite applies as well. When we look at our lives and think "Damn, this is hard. The Lord must not care about me very much." We ought to look and say "Wow, the Lord must know that I am pretty strong and capable or else he never would given me such a difficult assignment."

My Bishop also pointed out that he agreed with me. As he read the interviews the though had come to him that Elder Oaks has had someone very close to him experience SSA, whereas Elder Wickman had no understanding of the issue and just recited the "correct answer." I felt a lot better that my Bishop felt the same way.

So, the next morning in my Ed Psych class I had a really neat experience. There has been this guy in my class that I have sat next to all semester and tried to get to know better. At times I have felt like I wasn't getting anywhere with the friendship. Just a note: He is married, too and the same age as I am. For the most part, I am really not sexually attracted to him althoug ther have been moments. (More on that in a minute) Anyway, our professor asks us a question and gives us two minutes to discuss it. Well, this guy turns to me and says, "So what are your plans for next weekend?" I told him we didn't have any. He says, "My wife and I wanted you and your wife to come riding with us. Would you like to?" So, since my wife and I moved back from our summer on a ranch in Nebraska I have had to sell all my horses and really miss riding. That was a major stress reliever for me. I am so excited about getting to ride, but that pales in comparison to the excitement of having another male ask me to do something with him.

Then he starts to ask me what I thought about Elder Oaks talk in this General Conference 'Good, Better, Best.' He tells me that he is really concerned about how he is going to handle all the different activities as a parent and wanted my advice. We talked after class for about twenty minutes. The whole time I am just standing there thinking, "I can't believe this is actually happening. Here I am talking to a guy who respects me enough to talk to me about something like this." Anyway, It really gave me hope that I am not doomed to failure in building healthy male relationships.

Then that evening, my wife decided to stay at her parents house after work and encouraged me to call my only real friend from High school that I have see like twice since I got home form my mission. I know, pretty pathetic. I was doubtful that he would have time seeing that I was calling him for the same night. Well, he did. We got together and went out to dinner and spent about 4 hours just talking. I had forgotten just how much we have in common. I was on cloud nine the whole evening. It felt so good to relate to another guy and feel like he cared about and understood what I was thinking and feeling. I am probably going to confide in him about my SSA sometime soon. I made him promise that he wouldn't let another year go by. We kind of committed to getting together once every other week or so. That will be really good for me.

I have noticed that as I develop healthy, intimate relationships with other men, that sexual attraction to them fades. I remember at times in high school fantasizing about this friend of mine, but as I spent more time and built a very strong friendship with him although we didn't have much time to hang out later in High School, I no longer felt anything for him sexually. It just seemed wrong. The same thing has happened with this guy in my class. I was really attracted to him at the beginning of the semester, but now I just can't think about him in a sexual way. I respect him too much.

After my wife's hell week at work, last night she was a lot more relaxed. We talked a lot about how I felt and she was so understanding. I really love her. I am so glad that I can talk to her and not have to be all macho, but can express my feelings and still feel like she respects and loves me. I got her an appointment for a massage today and she was a lot more relaxed and happy after that. We had a great evening together.

I'm sure that there are countless other "Fridays" ahead for me as I continue my climb upward. However, I know that Sunday will always come. One last thought that has been on my mind since my Bishop mentioned it: I actually am glad that the Lord does not work on a short term basis. He is in this thing for the long haul, until we are like Him. I know that I am a hell of a long way from that point and if the Lord worked on the short term, He would have given up on me a long time ago. I am so grateful that He is patient and willing to give me all the experiences that I need to become like Him. However, that blessing comes with the "challenge" that the Lord doesn't work on the short term. In other words, we need to be as patient with Him and His time line as he is with us. I know that is not easy. It takes a tremendous amount of faith. But how could we develop the faith necessary to return to live with Him if everything was given to us immediately?

I know that the Gospel is true even if some who are called to lead the Church are imperfect. I know that Christ lives and that God is our Heavenly Father. Most of all I know that they love each of us and are far more patient, understanding, and willing to forgive and help us than we are ready to elieve. That doesn't mean that they will make it easy, but they will make us more like Them. I am so grateful that I am not in this fight alone. I cannot begin to describe the blessing it is to have others, my wife, good friends, and particularly you who read thins and send support and advice. Thanks for helping this lost traveler who is just trying to find his way back home.