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Imagine There’s No Heaven … And You Might Just Find It

Imagine There’s No Heaven … And You Might Just Find It

So many of us walk away from church on Sunday feeling heavier instead of lighter.  So many of us leave with troubled hearts, filled with the heavy burden of not measuring up, feeling that we will never be good enough or that we should always do better. But this can’t be what Jesus intended for his church. Jesus said he came to give us peace, not to take it away.  (John 14:27.)  Jesus came to help us feel unburdened and light, not heavy.  (Matthew 11:28-30.)

Does church leave you feeling inadequate?

If this is how you feel a lot of the time, read on.  I think I may have something helpful for you.

I want you to imagine with me for just a minute.  I know you most often think of the commandments and teachings of Jesus as things you must do or follow to make it to some yonder, future heaven.  But I want you to suspend that way of thinking for just a moment.

Assume with me that you’re wrong about that.  In fact, if it’s helpful, assume that there is no afterlife or heaven, no “reward” at the end of the race.  Instead, assume for a moment that this life is all there is and the commandments are instructions about how to find peace and happiness in mortality … how you can achieve a little heaven on earth right here and now.

If you were to go back and re-read the scriptures from this perspective how would that change things for you?

For example, Matthew 5:44—”bless them that curse you”—would no longer be part of your entrance fee to heaven.  You wouldn’t have to feel shame, guilt or unworthy of God every time you “break” this commandment.  You wouldn’t have to feel like a failure just because you can’t live up to this seemingly impossible standard. Instead, you might just discover that this “commandment” of Jesus is actually a very practical and helpful way of letting go of anger and finding peace so that you can be happy right here and now.

The commandments and teachings of Jesus are not requirements for admission to God’s presence but are helpful tools for living happily.

For example, I have found that keeping the commandments brings immediate blessings, like the peace I feel when I have held my tongue, been the bigger person, or done something kind to someone who wronged me.  (Mosiah 2:24; Alma 34:31-32.) I have also found that breaking them brings natural consequences such as addiction, fear, anger, anxiety, conflict, etc.  These are the punishments and consequences spoken of in the scriptures. But I no longer worry about pleasing or angering God or losing credit towards my entrance fee to heaven when I die. 

I primarily see the commandments and teachings of Jesus not as requirements for admission to heaven but as helpful tools for living happily. If you want to find peace and happiness, try living the way Jesus said we should live.  If you don’t … don’t. 

Eating everything on the buffet will make you feel worse, not better.

But please don’t tell me I’m going to hell or that God is angry at me because I can’t eat every jot and tittle of food from the generous buffet of guidance, help and instruction Jesus so lovingly laid out for me in the scriptures.  I’m not eating that bread. (Matthew 16:6, 11-12.) Jesus was trying to feed my soul, not suffocate it.

God wants you to change, not so you are worthy of him, but so you can be happy like him. 

Moreover, that’s just not how God is. The first thing the Book of Mormon teaches us about God is his “goodness.”  (1 Nephi 1:1.)  Nephi testified that God is full of “power, and goodness, and mercy.”  (1 Nephi 1:14.)  His promise was to “show … you … the tender mercies of the Lord.” (1 Nephi 1:20.) The last thing the Book of Mormon teaches us about God is that he is gracious.  (See Moroni 10:32-33.) God is not some narcissist who wants to be worshiped and who gets offended any time we don’t do things exactly his way.  He’s not obsessed with obedience.  He doesn’t have a dominant-submissive obsession. He’s not an inflexible rule-obsessed Pharisee.  It’s very simple.  God is love.  (1 John 4:7-21.)

God loves you just the way you are!

God loves you just the way you are, and nothing can or will ever change that. (Romans 8:31-39.)  I choose to believe what King Benjamin said—it’s not about being good enough, it’s never been about being good enough, and it never will be about earning or deserving anything … the sooner you realize this, the happier you’ll be.  (Mosiah 2:20-21; Mosiah 4:11-12.)

In contrast, some hold the dismal view that the purpose of mortality is “to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them.” (Abraham 3:25.)  That’s just silly.  First, God already knows everything—there’s nothing for him to find out.  (D&C 38:1–2.) Second, of course we’re not going to keep every commandment—otherwise, the atonement wouldn’t have been prepared from the foundation of the world.  (Mosiah 4:6.) Simply put, this view seems doctrinally unsound and very unpersuasive.  Thank goodness we don’t believe in sola scriptura.  (See Book of Mormon, Title Page (“if there are faults they are the mistakes of men”).)

God is not a rule-obsessed Pharisee.

No, it’s not about keeping all the rules or changing so that you’re good enough for God. We’ll all be redeemed. God wants us all back. (Mormon 9:13.)

God wants you to change, not so you are worthy of him, but so you can be happy like him.  (Alma 41:10-11.) Ironically, if you live as if there is no heaven you might just find a little bit of it right here, right now. And if you’re fortunate enough to create a little heaven on earth, that’s the way you’ll spend eternity. (Mormon 9:14.)

For more ideas and discussion on this and other related issues, please read my books Gethsemamnesia and Built to Love, available now in paperback.

The Two Things That Will Give You Confidence to Meet God

The Two Things That Will Give You Confidence to Meet God

As I thought I was approaching death, I realized with stunning clarity that there are two things that will give you confidence to meet God and two things only: (1) charity for all and (2) virtue. “Let thy bowels also be full of charity towards all men … and let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly; THEN shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God.” (D&C 121:45.) This comes from a text recorded in 1839.

There are two things that will give you confidence to meet God and two things only: (1) charity for all and (2) virtue.

You are worth loving.

What did the word “virtue” mean at that time? While I am still trying to crystalize its meaning in my mind, one thing of which I am certain is that “virtue” did not have the primary meaning we assign to it today—the practice of moral duties and the abstaining from vice. That was only a tertiary meaning. “Virtue” meant something quite different. The 1828 Webster’s dictionary entry for virtue gives, as its primary meaning, “1. Strength; that substance or quality of physical bodies, by which they act and produce effects on other bodies.”

The Latin root from which the word derives—virtus—”was a specific virtue in Ancient Rome. It carries connotations of valor, manliness, excellence, courage, character, and worth ….”  As I put these concepts together it seems that in 1839 “virtue” meant something more akin to the modern usage of the word “integrity.”

Your very consciousness is garnished or adorned with an abiding commitment to genuineness.

Under this view, the meaning of the text is that confidence comes from (1) feeling charity for others (to the extent that it fills our innermost parts) and (2) having integrity, which requires us to be genuine.  Consequenlty, to let virtue garnish your thoughts unceasingly does not mean to endlessly think about ways to avoid vice. Rather it suggests that your very consciousness is garnished or adorned with an abiding commitment to genuineness.

That our confidence before God depends upon our ability to love and be genuine makes sense to me because God’s essence is love (1 John 4:8) and truth (John 14:6).  Jesus detested phonies.  He couldn’t stand being around pretentious and pious fakes.  “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness.  Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.”  (Matthew 23:27-28.)

Jesus detested phonies.

He was more comfortable around “the publican, standing afar off,” in the temple, who “would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner,” than the temple-attending, tithe-paying church member who “stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers ….”  (Luke 18:10-14.)

The self-awareness, confessional honesty and raw unpretentiousness of the publican is much more righteous to God than stodgy observance. Piousness swells the head, shrinks the heart and fosters self-deception and alienation from God. We draw near to him with our actions, but our hearts are far from him. (Matthew 15:8.)

To reject yourself is to reject God.

You must learn to love and accept yourself.

Simply put, resist the temptation to measure your righteousness by conformity, orthodoxy and obedience to the observable and measurable. If you want to be confident in this life and comfortable around God, be a loving and genuine person.  To do that, you must learn to love and accept yourself.

In order to love others, you must esteem and value yourself as much as you are told to esteem and value others.  This “self”-esteem is not grounded in a false, grandiose or unrealistic self-concept.  Instead, it is seeing yourself like God asks you to see others—as his child, of infinite worth and worth dying for.  True self-esteem is not grounded in your own merits.  After all, as Jesus Christ said, “without me ye can do nothing.”  (John 15:5.)  Instead, true self-esteem is grounded in God’s love and mercy toward you, his creation.  God created you.  You are worth loving.  You are worthy of giving love.  You were created in God’s image.  To reject yourself is to reject God.  You must first embrace your weakness before you can embrace God.

This may come as a surprise to you, but God already knows your faults and weaknesses. And chances are everyone around you is already aware of them, as well. There’s no use masking them.  Be more like the publican and less like the Pharisee.  Just be who you are, don’t be fake, acknowledge your faults, and do your best to love.

Letting virtue garnish your thoughts is a call to avoid self-deception.  It’s an invitation to self-awareness, self-acceptance and complete honesty.  Filter everything through that filter and you will become confident in the presence of God.  You will see that God loves you no matter what.  And then, when you are filled with that love and acceptance from God, you will be grounded enough to love as you ought.

Peace Like a River

Peace Like a River

The greatest of all power is the conscious abdication and relinquishment of it.  The outstretched arms of Jesus on the cross signify that if we are to be like him (Matthew 4:19; 5:48) we must surrender that almost insatiable human appetite to pull things in to ourselves, to hold on to them and to control.  Finding strength and power in helplessness, vulnerability and letting go seems contrary to our nature.  But Jesus demonstrated that accepting our loss of control and power is the gaining of it.  Jesus modeled this as he submitted to church and Roman authority.  Knowing that irony and paradox ignite the human soul like bellows to a flame, Jesus stirred within us a passion for justice by suffering injustice and sparked a spiritual blaze that burns in the hearts of billions to this day.

We too must learn to stretch out our arms and let go.

If we are to be powerful, we too must learn to stretch out our arms and let go.  If we are to be transformed, we must learn to let go.  If we are to be happy, we must let go.  (Matthew 10:39; Matthew 16:25; 2 Corinthians 12:10.)

Jesus promised us peace.  (John 14:27.)  That peace is like a fountain of living water—a river—flowing within and through us.  (John 7:38; John 4:14.)  We must get out of its way and let it flow through us if we are to ever find peace and happiness.

You are out of control if you need to be in control.

We were created to be a part of the divine flow, conduits for the presence of God.  (Romans 8:10; 2 Corinthians 4:6-7; Galatians 1:15-16Galatians 2:20; Ephesians 3:17.)  You, like Jesus, are called to be the revelation of God through the enfleshment of the Word.  (John 1:14.)

Thirst for control dams the beauty of the flow and destroys our peace.

Get out of the way.  You are out of control if you need to be in control.  You are weak if you feel that you must be strong.  Any time you try to cage, capture, contain or control someone or something you are damming and destroying the peace and beauty of the flow.  And then you are damned.

You are dammed and damned if you are preoccupied with trying to receive revelation from God rather than revealing God to others through your goodness.

You are dammed and damned when you clamor for attention instead of attending to others.

You are dammed and damned when you spread your arms and reach to grasp rather than reach to give.

You are dammed and damned when you stretch and strive to pull things and pull others in to you as opposed to projecting and unleashing light, love and encouragement.  (Luke 11:33.)

You are dammed and damned when you clamor for attention instead of attending to others.

You are dammed and damned when you constantly worry about your health instead of healing others.

You are dammed and damned when you constantly think about your own appetites and yearnings instead of yearning to feed others who are hungry … and not just for food.

The creed weary and ritual worn Jesus showed us the way.

You are dammed and damned when you are preoccupied with knowing the right or being right instead of righting what you know to be the wrong within yourself.  (Matthew 7:3-5.)

You are dammed and damned when you care more about how others feel about you than how you feel about others.

You are dammed and damned if you constantly worry about the future or the past instead of doing good in the present.

Not revelation.  Transformation.

You are dammed and damned if you think you can know God through study, prayer and ritual when God says the way to know him is to know your neighbor.  (John 5:37-40; Matthew 25:31-40.)

You are dammed and damned if you are always looking for God in some holy place when he has said, “I’m always there in another’s face.”  (Matthew 25:31-40.)

You are dammed and damned if you think some method, magic or incantation will bring you to God when God has said your neighbor is his incarnation.

Pray we must.

But for what?

Not revelation.  Transformation.

We don’t need much guidance (a guise for control … a wish to make God the genie in our lamp).  This or that?  It matters not.

Not revelation.  Transformation.

What matters is courage, kindness, integrity, compassion.

To see God in another’s face.

“I’m always there in another’s face.”  (Matthew 25:31-40.)

Atonement.

Reconciliation.

To see that in another … God in his place!

The creed weary and ritual worn Jesus showed us the way.

To have the courage and the power to let go, get out of the way, and thus live it … for this I pray.

Victimhood

Victimhood

During the apex of my physical suffering, I found myself in court, not in my usual role as a lawyer, but as a defendant in a $1 million malpractice lawsuit.  There was no merit to the lawsuit.  But there I was in court, listening to my lawyer argue why the case against me was baseless and should be dismissed.  There I was, barely holding on to life, and listening to the hum and whirl of my infusion pump push formula into my small bowel through my feeding tube, feeling quite angry and quite justified in my anger and self-pity.  The case was dismissed as meritless.  But the anger I felt towards the former client and friend who had betrayed me in my darkest hour lingered.

Victimhood, at its core, is a rejection of the Victim—Jesus Christ—supplanted by the trinity of victimhood: Attention, Admiration and Affirmation.

The former client that betrayed me didn’t seem to care.  He was looking for an easy way to avoid a $1 million judgment against him (in a fraud lawsuit) that he couldn’t pay.  I didn’t lose his case.  I dropped his case after this client stopped paying me and owed me thousands of dollars in unpaid attorney’s fees.  Then, more than 18 months later, another lawyer, who didn’t have malpractice insurance, finished the case and lost.  So, my former client apparently told the lawyers that sued him to sue me for malpractice because he knew I had insurance.  A story of my alleged wrongdoing was fabricated, the body of my work was falsified and then it (and my large insurance policy) was cast into the waters for the sharks to attack.  Fortunately, the judge saw through the subterfuge and tossed the case out.  I won the case.  But would I lose my soul?

I always had two choices ….

No matter how I looked at it, I always had two choices.  I could hate or I could love.  I could forgive or I could hold a grudge.  I could move on or I could seek revenge (if only just reimbursement for the $15,000.00 deductible I had to pay the insurance company for my defense attorney which was a devastating financial blow in light of all my medical bills, not to mention the thousands of dollars this guy owed me).  What should I do?

I learned that there is no joy in victimhood.  In fact, the longer you cling to your status as victim, the more you will suffer.  Yet we see more and more victims every day.  They are all around us.  They are everywhere.  We all know one.  They are like crack addicts, just waiting to get their next fix of sympathy or pity.  But the narcotic effects of attention wear off quickly and soon the victim clamors for another round of condolences.  Complaining.  Crying.  Shouting.  Raging.  Whatever it takes to get that next hit.  But it’s never enough.

It’s a ravenous, insatiable beast.  It becomes an addiction.

Perhaps that’s because victimhood, at its core, is a rejection of the Victim—Jesus Christ—supplanted by the trinity of victimhood: Attention, Admiration and Affirmation.  Victimhood is the polar opposite of everything Jesus offers you.  The victim wants to be thirsty and parched.  But Jesus says if you come to me you’ll never be thirsty again.  (John 4:14.)  The victim wants to be hungry and starving.  But Jesus says come to me and you’ll never be hungry.  (John 6:35.)  Jesus was wounded so we could be healed.  (Isaiah 53:5.)  The victim rejects healing so as to remain wounded.  Jesus was the great and final sacrifice.  (Hebrews 10:1-18.)  In contrast, the victim is the continual and insatiable martyr, egotistically substituting himself for the Savior.

The narcotic effect wears off quickly and soon we clamor for another round of condolences.

Why do we choose victimhood?  And, make no doubt about it, victimhood is a choice.  Like the choice to shoot up or choose any other false substitute for the atonement of Jesus Christ to ease your pain, it’s a very sinister and self-destructive choice that will take you to very dark places.  It’s a ravenous, insatiable beast.  It becomes an addiction.

Jesus taught, “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.”  (Matthew 5:44.)  Why?  Not because it is some grand requirement to get into heaven.  But because it will make you happy … now.  It’s actually very good therapy.  It’s wise living.

Victimhood is the conscious decision to turn your back on the cross and move far enough away from it that the only mournful voice of pain you hear is your own.

What was I going to do when I saw this friend and former client?  I would run in to him a lot.  In fact, I would see him at church every Sunday.  I decided to experiment upon God’s word.  I stopped praying that God would change him and I started praying that God would change me.  I prayed that God might fill my heart with empathy, compassion and charity and remove the hatred and anger I felt.  I prayed for the courage to hold my tongue.  I prayed for the strength to love.  And the next time I saw him, I hugged him.

I hugged him ….

What did that feel like?

It felt like I was in a holy place.  I felt love.  I felt the love of God come through me and empower me.  I felt his presence, telling me that everything would be okay.  I felt God tell me that I didn’t have to trust this person ever again.  I didn’t have to have a relationship with this person ever again.  I didn’t have to excuse what this person did to me or deny that it hurt me.  I didn’t even have to like this person.  I just had to love him.  And there’s a big difference.

Victimhood is the conscious decision to turn your back on the cross and move far enough away from it that the only mournful voice of pain you hear is your own.  Not only that but this self-imposed distancing also requires aiders and abettors to feed the hungry, self-centered werewolf that hatred and anger make of us all, thus drawing others away, too.  In contrast, the decision to let go of your victimhood and love is unitive, filling and fulfilling.  It is transformative, ennobling and uplifting as you experience the incredible love of God flowing through you and lifting you to higher ground.

Embracing the sinner is embracing the bloody and wounded Christ.

Embracing the sinner is embracing the bloody and wounded Christ who suffered, bled and died for him and said, “[i]nasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”  (Matthew 25:40.)  As difficult as it is, I would much rather hold on to the Victim than the dark and endless abyss of victimhood.

For more ideas and discussion on this and other related issues, please read my books Gethsemamnesia and Built to Love, available now in paperback.