Posted by: Ascentury | Monday, 5 October 2009

“As the sparks fly upward” Part III

Part I; Part II.

“For by the law is the knowledge of sin.”

Death is universal. Death is common to all creation. Death is human and of the Fall. Death is individual—each person must grapple with the death inherent in each act, while completely ineffectual at expulsing it therefrom. There is a fundamental, absolute Otherness of God and the world, the latter disparate even in itself. Sin—the Fall—is the frame of reference in which all human questions are posed.

We must realize that all things must pass away, heaven and earth and the soul of man: “death hath passed upon all men” (2 Nephi 9:6). This world is death and this world is sin, but this death is required and ordained. For there to be at-one-ment, there must be at-odds-ment.

For it must … be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not so, … righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad. Wherefore, all things must … be a compound in one; wherefore, if it should be one body it must … remain as dead, having no life neither death, nor corruption nor incorruption, happiness nor misery, neither sense nor insensibility. •Wherefore, it must … have been created for a thing of naught; wherefore there would have been no purpose in the end of its creation. Wherefore, this thing must … destroy the wisdom of God and his eternal purposes, and also the power, and the mercy, and the justice of God.

•And if ye shall say there is no law, ye shall also say there is no sin. If ye shall say there is no sin, ye shall also say there is no righteousness. And if there [is] no righteousness there [is] no happiness. And if there [is] no righteousness nor happiness there [is] no punishment nor misery. And if these things are not there is no God. And if there is no God we are not, neither the earth; for there could have been no creation of things, neither to act nor to be acted upon; wherefore, all things must have vanished away.

… •There is a God, and he hath created all things, both the heavens and the earth, and all things that in them are, both things to act and things to be acted upon. •And to bring about his eternal purposes in the end of man, … it must … be that there was an opposition; even the forbidden fruit in opposition to the tree of life; the one being sweet and the other bitter (2 Nephi 2:11–15).

Repentance is another broad and difficult word to use, fraught with metaphor and abuse. It is often described as a turning-away from sin and death. This definition is negative, however, and does not illuminate—it would leave the house swept clean, fit for seven devils to return! Repentance is a turning-towards, a turning towards God, a turning towards faith, a turning towards Atonement, a turning towards at-one-ment. It is the window through which redemption occurs; in the context of the Fall, it is the window also through which quickening occurs.

Repentance is the ignition of love where once was loathing, “… the only door out of the dungeon of self” (MacDonald, Love Thy Neighbor). The new creature is born through the Atonement, the old succumbing and passing through death. It is disingenuous to refer to repentance of a specific act, or a specific attitude; rather, repentance requires the rebirth of the entire soul and a net progression forwards. Repentance is of all our sins—of sin, to be exact. It is crucifixion of the old man and embrace of the new.

An existential understanding of God’s outstretched arm also enlightens us to better comprehend the motivation of the institutionalized steps of repentance. Godly sorrow is a fruit of true faith. Restitution is the outward token of an inward change. And by confession, we stand voluntarily condemned before God. We acknowledge that his judgment and wrath are just, and pray for his mercy through Christ (unmerited by us, but nevertheless freely offered to us).

The reason that we feel guilt and shame is a sense of continuity with the sin—we are still the same being who was capable of that breach. The only discontinuity of which we know is death, but the death through which we must pass must not be confounded with any human death, which is only a parable or type. It is only ours to not resist this death when God wishes for it to pass upon us, and over us, and away with us—as a castle of sand in the ceaseless surf. The exhortation towards death in this work cannot be conceived of otherwise than as an invitation to let God work in our lives—already his province, but we fancy ourselves sovereign, like a certain people who would “not have this man to reign over us” (AVLuke 19:12–14).

Neal A. Maxwell reminds us that the natural man should not be held onto “because of a mistaken sense that the natural man constitutes our individuality. …What we now defensively regard as constituting individuality is likely to be significantly refined” (Maxwell, The Inexhaustible Gospel, 200). Furthermore,

Death is not the permanent annihilation of the human personality and individuality! President Brigham Young wisely declared that the preservation of human intelligence and individuality through the Atonement and resurrection ‘is the greatest gift that ever was bestowed on mankind’ (Maxwell, “‘Shine As Lights in the World’,” Ensign, May 1983, 9.).

What is worth preserving will be preserved—we need have no fear that God will waste creation! No human change or action is sufficient in itself, but that the overarching Atonement must pierce and break it for it to be effectual. “When Christ calls a man, He bids him to come and die” (Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship). To take up the cross daily is to daily set foot upon the path that lead inexorably to Golgotha—but thence to the garden tomb!

And ye are still indebted unto him, and are, and will be, forever and ever; therefore, of what have ye to boast? • … Can ye say aught of yourselves? … Ye cannot say that ye are even as much as the dust of the earth; yet ye were created of the dust of the earth; but behold, it belongeth to him who created you (Mosiah 2:24–25).

All things pass through death and are redeemed—only the unworthy return though the gate to oblivion. Repentance is the death of death, and the sprouting of the corn of wheat within us.

Posted by: Ascentury | Monday, 28 September 2009

“As the sparks fly upward” Part II

Part I is available here.

“I know not, save the Lord commanded me.”

Faith is perhaps one of the most difficult subjects to coherently discuss in religious discourse. It is a difficulty exacerbated by the myriad applications of the word across a spectrum of ideas. A brief review of the classical scriptures on faith yields the following definitions:

Faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things; therefore if ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true (Alma 32:21).

Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen (AVHebrews 11:1).

Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen (IVHebrews 11:1).

Faith is things which are hoped for and not seen (Ether 12:6).

Furthermore, “faith is a strong belief of truth within our souls that motivates us to do good” (Joseph F. Smith, Gospel Principles, 117); “faith is the assurance which men have of the existence of things which they have not seen, and the principle of action in all intelligent beings” (Lectures on Faith 1:9).

What are the common elements of these descriptions? Faith encompasses hope for unseen truth, belief of truth, and activity. It is, in short, a word so broad as to be useless for precise discussion. Faith used to describe the activity of planting a field in the hope of harvest is far different from faith used to describe acceptance of the Atonement of Jesus Christ in one’s life. Indeed, although strictly consisting of the “assurance of things hoped for” while “not seen”, the former sense is of no theological use whatsoever, beyond the parabolic. Faith as the principle of power and action, while intriguing, does not immediately bear on the discussion at hand and will similarly be omitted.

Loosely speaking, Protestants have embraced a view of faith as an act of the individual towards God while Catholicism holds that faith is a supernatural act of God in the individual’s life. Both views seem to be defensible scripturally and rationally, and the simplest resolution is that both are correct. There are two basic classes of faith—the inwardly-motivated, and the divinely-motivated.

The first is willful belief, or the decision undertaken to believe in something—a purely mortal act. “Belief is not a knowledge but an act of freedom, an expression of will” (Kierkegaard, 83). This is a species of science and metaphysics, as those paradigms emanate from certain keystone assertions, such as the supremacy of logic or the homogeneity of experience.

However, belief may be so constituted as to have anything as its object, true or false. “Untruth has exactly the same range as truth—for human eyes, not for God’s” (Kierkegaard, 103). Degrees of belief are elementary—contrast, for instance, “I believe that women should vote,” “I believe in the doctrine of the Eucharist,” and, most dangerously, “I believe in God”—as if that somehow justified (remember this word!) one’s behavior.

This is reminiscent of William James’ theory of live and dead hypotheses (James, “The Will to Believe”). But a paradigm of willful belief alone cannot account for the attested transcendence thereof: Saul of Tarsus, while “consenting unto [Stephen’s] death” (AVActs 8:1), was not pondering the possibility that the entire conception of the law had moved radically into historical and eternal obsolescence with the gift of God’s Son.

We are also told that faith is a gift of the Spirit. This faith is not fundamentally opposed to reason, nor allied with it; it exists at right angles to reason, and uncorrelated thereto. In conjunction with the light of Christ, a person is led toward truth; thus far, faith as a gift of God may be present and active even in the context of a fundamentally false religion, although with the golden canon of charity.

In their higher expressions, the light of Christ and the gift of the Holy Ghost guide the individual into greater truth, nobler activity, and deeper humility. They effect the death of the natural man, and realize the Atonement’s redemption and quickening. “Nothing that is good denieth the Christ, but acknowledgeth that he is” (Moroni 10:6)—it acknowledges the ubiquity of the Fall and the necessity of Atonement.

The second class of faith often follows as a direct consequence of the first:

For ye receive no witness until after the trial of your faith (Ether 12:6).

Draw near unto me and I will draw near unto you; seek me diligently and ye shall find me; ask, and ye shall receive; knock, and it shall be opened unto you (D&C 88:63).

It can also be deflected by the first, ill-used.

… After ye have known and have been taught all these things, if ye should transgress and go contrary to that which has been spoken, that ye do withdraw yourselves from the Spirit of the Lord, that it may have no place in you to guide you in wisdom’s paths that ye may be blessed, prospered, and preserved—•…the man that doeth this … cometh out in open rebellion against God; therefore he listeth to obey the evil spirit, and becometh an enemy to all righteousness; therefore, the Lord has no place in him, for he dwelleth not in unholy temples (Mosiah 2:36–37).

The final stage of faith (the fully religious act, as Kierkegaard has it) is often referred to as fideism, belief for belief’s sake, faith without evidence and as a radical principle (of the root). Faith has passed beyond one consideration among many; it has transcended the logical and embraced the absurd, the paradoxical. Of Abraham it has been written,

Wherefore it was reckoned unto him for righteousness (RVRomans 4:22). Wherefore? Because Abraham’s faith is faith before God (Romans 4: 17); because faith is not one element in his character, but forms the absolute limitation which marks his behavior and dissolves it, the absolute Miracle, the Pure beginning, and the Primal Creation (Barth, 144–145).

Abraham’s assurance that God is able to perform His word is the impossible assurance (Romans 4:21) …. If the line of death—his human disestablishment through his establishment by God—be removed from Abraham’s faith, its whole significance is removed. For faith would then be no more than a subjective human act, and would be depressed to the level of other relative and precarious human actions. Abraham ceases to be Abraham, if his life by not the consequence of his death. He did not merely believe: he believed—in God (Barth, 121).

This is faith in God—faith not as directed towards God, as if towards an object, but faith in the context of God . This is the union, the at-one-ment, of the two classes of faith, the individual embracing God and God embracing the individual (the individual’s embrace, of course, being Fallen). Ultimately, this is the leap of faith, the unreasoned and total commitment to the Lord, the religious stance of standing upon nothing except God’s word. This is what Kierkegaard’s knight of faith has attained—and yet not, for there can be no thought of ascribing this success of God to man.

And even faith, if it proceeds from anything but a void, is unbelief; for it is then once again the appearance of the slavery of unrighteousness seeking to suppress the dawning truth of God, the disturbance of all disturbings (Barth, 57).

The void, total acceptance of the consequence of faith as an intervention of God on our behalf, is what permits our belief and faith to be fixed upon true objects. No preconception may be carried into the furnace of decision; all that emerges must be shaped and augmented by God, and subjected to the Atonement. There is a necessary gap between myself and the object of true faith; even when focused upon a principle (as faith in virtue), I recognize that I am not its paragon but its parable, imperfect and limited.

The ground of faith is “Thus saith the Lord”, and any other motivation must be broken upon this stumbling block. To rely upon men, one must be subject to whimsy and inconstancy; to rely upon science, one’s footing must continually shift. Only in the word of the Lord, authoritatively pronounced (by the prophets) and correctly interpreted (by the Spirit), may one find the unchanging foundation.

Faith is the first principle of the Gospel, and the last, destined to grow from Alma’s seed into the tree of life, nourished inasmuch as the death of the individual permits the light of God to penetrate. Indeed, we ourselves are naught but a shadow, an absence of light—neither its source nor its obstacle. That which is in us obstructing the grace of God is its obstacle; we are whole inasmuch as we are devoid, space through which light may pass. As a zero, we are a placeholder for something greater which God intends to make of us.

If we take the word ‘divine’ seriously, we mean that in this man the invisible has become visible, that what he is calls to mind what he is not, that a secret lies above and behind his behavior, and is hidden as well as illustrated by his conduct. We do not in any case mean that the secret is to be identified with his actions. When objects are thrown into the shadow by the application of a brilliant light, we do not call the shadow light; nor should we, when the light of the righteousness of God throws the works of men into darkness, call these works righteous (Barth, 119).

The dying, resurrecting God, death-in-life and life-in-death, is the ground of nihility against which we stand. Thus Barth speaks of Abraham’s “faith before God” not as “one element in his character, but [as forming] the absolute limitation which marks his behavior and dissolves it …” (Barth, 144–145). To remove my refined palate, or capacity for higher mathematics, or ability to speak a foreign language, is not to fundamentally alter my existence. I may continue as the same class of creature. To remove my faith, “the line of death,” is to destroy me—and this is what the son of perdition has committed. Faith as an intervention of God, accepted by the individual, alters existence—redeems it, quickens it.

Consider, in this light, personality and pride—ego. Whether I prefer Debussy or Chopin is, of course, of no bearing on eternity. Accidents of taste and opinion do not grind against the heavenly spheres, while love of one’s neighbor and submission before the Divine do.

This [non-historical] radiance [belief in God] obliterates the isolation of personality, the remoteness of the past, the aloofness of peculiarity, and all those purely incidental elements of which the individual is made up, and brings out what is common to every happening in history as well as its dignity and importance (Barth, 140).

Pride is the placement of any demand, any desire, any consideration above the eternal in our affections. God does not concern Himself with whether I drive a Cadillac or a Volkswagen, and neither should I—to the extent that I do, I am necessarily out of touch with the divine will.

Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment? … •Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin … (AVMatthew 6:25, 28).

Obviously, this extends far beyond mere physical considerations, to habits of attitude and personality—with rare exception, we have been far too concerned with fine-twined linen and tinkling ornaments and being first in line at the Rameumptom, culminating in a ‘me’ culture of designer clothes, polychrome iPods, and Internet pornography. Rather than live for a moment with the truly unsettling—Nibley’s ‘terrible questions,’ we prefer to force it all to recede into the background.

The new and everlasting Gospel—it is called this not because it is revealed anew through a prophet or seer, nor because it is some new thing that man has heard or said (Acts 17:21), but because it is new in every instant, continually pressing in upon the individual in krisis, everlasting in every instant, the rock of eternity.

Faith forces us outside of our limited nativity, into a greater. Faith is a deep act of God. Consider Benjamin’s hypothetical in his famous discourse:

… If you should render all the thanks and praise which your whole soul has power to possess, to that God who has created you, and has kept and preserved you, and has caused that ye should rejoice and has granted that ye should live in peace one with another, … •if ye should serve him who has created you from the beginning, and is preserving you from day to day, by lending you breath, that ye may live and move and do according to your own will, and even supporting you from one moment to another—I say, if ye should serve him with all your whole souls yet ye would be unprofitable servants (Mosiah 2:20–21, emphasis added).

There is no illusion that any human action “justifies” human behavior to the divine. We are the unprofitable servants, though servants we indeed may be. “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified alone by faith without the deeds of the law” (IVRomans 3:28). No human thing is truly righteous, and we forget that at our peril.

The Lord does, however, intervene in the world as the faith of men permits them to receive it.

I am a God of miracles; and … I am the same yesterday, today, and forever; and I work not among the children of men save it be according to their faith (2 Nephi 27:23).

Operative here is not the positive assertion of the will of men, but the negation thereof—a negative space through which the light of God may pass unhindered.

By faith in the revelation of God we see men bound, confined, and barred in, but even this is the operation of God. We see men under judgment, yet nevertheless thereby set aright. We see sense in the non-sense of history. We see that truth has burst its bonds. We see in men more than flesh. … We see the faithfulness of God [πίστις] remaining firm, even though the noblest human hopes and expectations are dashed to the ground (Barth, 95).

The exercise of faith is fundamentally hopeful, and is incompatible with a sense of ultimate tragedy. So often we are taught that tragedy is higher than comedy, that to stoically accept the fundamental unhappiness of the universe is nobler than to seek its harmony and joy.

The happy ending of the fairy tale, the myth, and the divine comedy of the soul is to be read, not as a contradiction, but as a transcendence of the universal tragedy of man (Campbell, The Hero With a Thousand Faces, 21).

These are the fruits of faith, among others: that men accept Christ, that they aid Him in His work not only among their brethren but within their own souls, and that they transcend the world by realizing its dissolution and impending rebirth as a result of the same Atonement which bridged the gap of death within themselves.

What then is to be done, if faith is truly an act of God in my life؟ I suppose, proceeding from what dim light is mine, that I must implore Heavenly Father for faith, true faith, and that I must choose to believe that which I already suspect to be true. This should not be a validation of my current outlook, but an invitation to change it, to die to the world and be reborn in God. Thus men must follow the command at Eden’s gate, and “repent, and call upon God in the name of the Son forevermore” (Moses 5:8).

Posted by: Ascentury | Sunday, 20 September 2009

“As the sparks fly upward” Part I

What we now defensively regard as constituting individuality is likely to be significantly refined (Maxwell, The Inexhaustible Gospel, 200).

It has been my perennial temptation (fiercely resisted) to atheism and formless nihilism. Nihility, the perceived ground of meaninglessness I meet behind the façade of civilization, I cannot interpret otherwise than as God’s peculiar challenge to me to create meaning, to invite Him to manifest Himself through my unbelief—my unrighteousness commending the righteousness of God (Romans 3:5). Despair of this sort may, indeed, be His challenge to our age, the idols of the ancient Philistia replaced with the eidos of the modern.

Enlightenment thought enshrined doubt, and thence sprang the latter-day despair. So many of our brethren and sisters feel that there is no existential significance, and that there is thus no ultimate hope. Let us not balk from their assertion, but set ourselves to firmly answer for the greater glory of God. Unless and until we face the void of civilization, we cannot empty it with truth.

The great paradox of the gospel is that it seeks to individually dissolve the individual. The man or woman who stands alone before God must alone bow the knee, submit the will, and covenant with the Lord of all mankind. Every son and daughter born into this world must face this task, ultimately, alone, standing without and apart (and thus within), meeting the terrible questions and their terrible answers, meeting God and gods and discerning.

Then what truths do I propose to lift away from the “philosophies of men”؟ How does the individual stand in relation to the absolute that is God؟ Existentially, we must encounter existence. Despair may be replaced by hope, and that is one miracle of the Gospel.

… The overcome of this pessimistic nihilism represents the single greatest issue facing philosophy and religion in our times (Nishitani, 47).

I will proceed by examining anew the separation of the creature from the Creator, and the design which abolishes that separation, the Gospel. An Atonement was wrought, and the individual must ultimately encounter it in every act as the old man dies and the new lives, the Gospel new and everlasting—Christ, and him crucified.

“There is a great gulf fixed.”

Man was created into a paradise a paradisiacal creature. In the innocence of Eden, Adam and Eve enjoyed “the cool of the day” (Moses 4:14) and the fruit of “every tree of the garden” (Moses 3:16; AVGenesis 2:16). We know little of their idyllic state. All are familiar with the Eden narrative, the story of our first parents’ expulsion from the presence of God and the consequent entry of mankind into a world drenched in the “sweat of [his] face” (Moses 4:25, 5:1; AVGenesis 3:19).

We know little of their idyllic state, and why? Because it is completely and utterly foreign to us, born and bred into a world of opposition, failure, and disunion. Death and sin entered at once into the world with the Fall, and remain perpetually with and within us here.

In the common sense, death is the separation of the spirit from the body. More broadly, death is separation—from God, from others, from Christ-within-us.

¶ “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” saith the Lord. •“For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts” (AVIsaiah 55:8–9).

For who hath known the mind of the Lord? (AVRomans 11:34).

The divide between heaven and earth, the sacred and profane—between man and God—is not merely that of degree, as if on different rungs of a ladder. We are not on a continuum; heaven is a fundamentally different thing than earth. All this earth is fallen, and all this earth must be redeemed and quickened.

Redemption is the reversal of death, the world turned upside down (Acts 17:6), and refers to the death of which Jesus spoke:

Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit. •He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal (AVJohn 12:24–25).

Quickening is the triumph over death, the dominion over all things cast down, the weak things made strong.

Jesus is the corn of wheat which has fallen into the soul of our souls, to bring forth fruit. Are we able to follow His example in dying, that we may not abide alone, but at one؟ We, of ourselves, are not. We are no more capable of building a bridge across that abyss than we are of walking a tightrope to the Sun.

Death presses towards us like a looming juggernaut, wider than the world and colder than winter. Do we realize that that death is but a type of the death through which we pass every day? Inasmuch as we do, and as we are taught not to fear death as a terminus but to embrace it as a gateway, we accept it as a natural part of our mortality. Shall I rest here?—or shall I press forth and recognize that, more than this, death “shall give [me] experience, and shall be for [my] good” (D&C 122:7)? This is one of the truest strengths of the Latter-day Saint worldview today, but each individual must grapple with it alone and come to terms with death, not as an abstract principle, but as his or her own impending veil.

Death is sin; or, sin is death. Each is a parable of the other, and so often they are spoken of in the scriptures in the same breath, in the same terms:

O how great the goodness of our God, who prepareth a way for our escape from the grasp of … death and hell, which I call the death of the body, and also the death of the spirit (2 Nephi 9:10).

The separation in my will from that of my Father is a manifestation of death, as is my refusal to wholeheartedly embrace the Atonement and plead with God for the full measure of faith to be meted unto me. The very death against which I stand, however, is the complete delimitation of the world by its impossibility and futility. The only word sufficient is nihility.

Nihility refers to that which renders meaningless the meaning of life. … The appearance of this nihility signals nothing less than that one’s awareness of self-existence has penetrated to an extraordinary depth (Nishitani, 4).

Many do not feel this void above our head, and beneath our feet, and at our side, and in our soul. Whether this is by will or ignorance or grace I cannot say; I may be permitted to envy them their security. But stare into the abyss I must, and though it stare back into me, it will encounter only itself. But God may look through such a piercing hole, and I hope I might look back. The mind is a hall of mirrors—to look outward is to see projections of myself; to look inward, the same. I do not mean to imply that we can see other than “through a glass, darkly,” in this life; I mean to imply that it is a worthy goal.

For many years now—in literature, film, and music—we have witnessed increasing expressions of a profound sense of what has come to be called existential despair, a hopelessness beyond hope. Granted, the human scene also includes many individuals who go happily about life’s labors untouched by these feelings. But the holocausts and the wars have taken their terrible toll of hope among twentieth-century man. Said one eminent scientist, “The most poignant problem of modern life is probably man’s feeling that life has lost its significance, … [a] view … no longer limited to the philosophical or literary avant garde. It is spreading to all social and economic groups and affects all manifestations of life.”

One need not question either the reluctance or the sincerity with which some despairing individuals have come to such wrong conclusions. In fact, one feels compassion and desires to reach out to them in genuine entreaty!

… But such poignancy of view is no guarantee of the accuracy of the view. Moreover, in human affairs, erroneous and unchallenged assertions sometimes assume an undeserved aura of truth. While a response to this hopelessness may not create conviction in disbelievers, it can bolster believers against the silent erosion of their own convictions (Maxwell, Neal A., “‘Shine As Lights in the World’,” Ensign, May 1983, 9).

Inevitably, many feel estranged by the apparent pessimism of atheistic existentialism in the vein of Heidegger and Sartre, and many are unfamiliar with Kierkegaard and the mystics (Eckhart, Boehme, Julian of Norwich, etc.). What existentialism might have to truly offer contemporary Latter-day Saint theology is, however, a sense of nihility and a deeper context for connecting with those who have lost their own sense of purpose, purpose which all the television advertisements in the world cannot rekindle. Such a nihilism invites modern sophisticates to step away from the narrow orthodoxy of the Enlightenment, not backwards into a naïve medievalism but forward into an awakening, such that recognition of the divine challenge of nihility compels us as Christians to meet it with hope.

Our collective cultural nihilism manifests itself today in a thousand blaring diversions, to ‘decoy … [our] minds’ (Brigham Young, Millennial Star, 39:372) away from facing the abyss and recovering meaning from its meaninglessness. Too much do we live like martyrs and die like lemmings.

Nihility lurks beneath the contemporary tendencies of great masses of people to devote themselves passionately to the races, to sports, and to other amusements. Though it merely float about in the atmosphere of life without clearly coming to awareness, yet it is there—as a ‘crypto-nihilism’ (Nishitani, 86).

A crypto-nihilism—designed to transfer the burden of creation away from ourselves, projecting it onto our sports gods and phosphor goddesses. Video games, popular culture, and even education can be manifestations of this nihilism—to face away from the impossibility of existence and its attendant horrors, the burden of decision (de-cision!) and the burden of consequence. Activities creative and meaningful in the correct context become vain and devoid outside of it. If life’s activities are not pursued with the intent of creating meaning, life sinks into oblivion and retreat.

The awareness of our separation and the desire for reunion, latent or not, compels us to seek peace. Indeed, we sin because we seek to fulfill a legitimate, genuinely felt need with an illegitimate means—although “the natural man is an enemy to God” (Mosiah 3:19), it is, after all, our nature to crave redemption from sin.

Sin is an irreconcilable gulf set between us and God, but we are nevertheless—nay, therefore!—reconciled by Jesus Christ. All mankind are subject to the law, and the Fall—even our little ones are denoted not as intrinsically pure, but as made alive in Christ. Thus Mormon:

Little children are whole, for they are not capable of committing sin; wherefore the curse of Adam is taken from them in me, that it hath no power over them; and the law of circumcision is done away in me. …Little children are alive in Christ, even from the foundation of the world (Moroni 8:8, 12).

Whether or not a child is in herself capable of conscious sin, she rests under “the curse of a broken law” (Moroni 8:24) in Adam’s fall, not in her own (Moses 6:55); she is “alive in Christ” insofar as the Atonement was effected from the “foundation of the world.”

So there is a curse in Adam’s fall. Latter-day Saints, however, do not excoriate him or Eve for the necessary transgression, preferring to focus on the positive effects. As Eve proclaimed after the expulsion from Eden, “Were it not for our transgression we never should have had seed, and never should have known good and evil, and the joy of our redemption, and the eternal life which God giveth unto all the obedient” (Moses 5:11). Death is a necessary backdrop; sin is the context of this world; nihility is the ground upon which we stand—and thus do not stand.

For as death hath passed upon all men, to fulfill the merciful plan of the great Creator, there must … be a power of resurrection, and the resurrection must … come unto man by reason of the fall; and the fall came by reason of transgression; and because man became fallen they were cut off from the presence of the Lord (2 Nephi 9:6).

Death hath passed upon all men, and there was a Gospel written before the world was made: a Gospel which invites men to face the Fall and accept the Atonement, made in time in order to transcend time. Every individual dies daily, whether it be the death of frivolity and vanity or the death of discipleship.
The plan of redemption—the plan of happiness—the plan of salvation—is the intention and design of God in this world. The flesh is to be overcome by the spirit, the natural man by the spiritual, the old man by the new:

And he commandeth all men that they must repent, and be baptized in his name, having perfect faith in the Holy One of Israel, or they cannot be saved in the kingdom of God (2 Nephi 9:23).

Faith is the starting-point of the Gospel, and whither it returns continuously, the atmosphere in which man may begin to receive the Atonement in full, beyond the physical redemption and quickening to the spiritual. Thence the working of God engenders repentance, baptism, and perseverance unto the end, a Gospel which radically challenges the individual in new ways and forces our proud knees to bend and yield before the sovereignty of our Lord Jesus Christ, intermediary and intercessor for this world. He is the way, the truth, and the life.

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The following conventions have been used for scriptural citation.

AV – Authorized, or King James Version
IV – Inspired Version, or the New Translation; partially available in the 1981 LDS Bible JST excerpts
RV – Revised King James Version

References to Barth are from The Epistle to the Romans, Oxford University Press: 1957. References to Nishitani are from Religion and Nothingness, University of California Press: 1983. I am indebted to Kiersten Davis and Jeffery Dean for their input.

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