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Author: Dan McDonald

Loving God Means Loving Yourself

Loving God Means Loving Yourself

“For behold, he said: Thou art angry, O Lord, with this people, because they will not understand thy mercies which thou hast bestowed upon them because of thy Son.” (Alma 33:16.)

And then, not so suddenly, it dawned on me that salvation is not about changing how God feels about me. It’s about changing how I feel about God and myself, which are synonymous. It’s discovering that loving God means loving myself.

Jesus claimed complete identity with God.  (John 10:30-39; John 14:7-11.)  “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father,” said Jesus. (John 14:9.)  He claimed that he and God were one and the same. (John 17:21-22.)

Can you imagine how your family, friends and neighbors would react if you made a similar claim? This is precisely why Jesus was labeled “demon-possessed and raving mad.” (John 10:20.) 

Remarkably, Jesus saw you as an extension of himself. Jesus said, “I am the vine; you are the branches.”  (John 15:5.) His great intercessory prayer was that we “may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.”  (John 17:20.)  His greatest desire was “that they may be one as we are one—I in them and you in me.” (John 17:22-23.) The greatest yearning of Jesus is that you might stop seeing yourself as separated from him!

Jesus tries to communicate his oneness and solidarity with you through the ordinances. Hence, at baptism you were immersed in him, the living water. (John 7:37-39.) You eat his flesh and drink his blood each week, literally, chemically and biophysically having him become part of you.  (John 6:53-56.)  You are called by his name—again, merging your identity with his. (Mosiah 5:7-9; see also Alma 5:14; Alma 46:15; D&C 20:77, 79.)

Jesus also does this through his teachings. He tells you that whatever you do to others you do to him (and that whatever others do to you, they do to him).  (Matthew 25:40, 45; Mosiah 2:17.) In countless scriptures which, for whatever reason, we tend to bury and never discuss, you are reminded that God can possess and dwell in your body. (John 6:56; Acts 7:48; 1 Corinthian 3:16; 2 Corinthians 6:16; 2 Timothy 1:14; Galatians 2:20; Ephesians 3:17-19; 1 John 4:12-13; Alma 34:34-36; D&C 130:22.)  How many ways can Christ say that he is with us … that he is part of us!!!

You are part of the divine energy, power, or influence that proceeds from God through Christ and gives life and light to all things.

As you move towards full acceptance of this reality, you discover you are part of the divine energy, power, or influence that proceeds from God through Christ and gives life and light to all things. Your very spiritual DNA is the same as his, the light of Christ, which “proceedeth forth from the presence of God to fill the immensity of space.” It is “the light which is in all things, which giveth life to all things, which is the law by which all things are governed” (D&C 88:12–13; see also D&C 88:6-11; Moroni 7:16, 18.).  Jesus said, “I am the light of the world.”  (John 8:12; 1 John 1:5; Ephesians 5:14.)  You are an extension of this light and love, just like Jesus said. You, too, are the light of the world! (Matthew 5:14.)

This same force of light and love was enfleshed at the birth of Jesus.  (John 1:1-14.)  It was enfleshed at your birth, too. You were formed from the same mold!  (Genesis 1:27.)

Being awakened to your inherent light, feeling beloved, feeling worthy, feeling good enough, feeling hope, feeling adequate … that is atonement.  That is salvation.  Atonement is awakening to the knowledge that nothing can separate you from the love of God.  (Romans 8:31-39.)  It’s not about changing God’s mind about you.  It’s about changing your mind about God. It’s about remembering who you are and accepting the reality that you are good enough for God.

Unfortunately, much of religion has become so toxic, beating in to you the idea that you’re never quite good enough, that you’re never fully worthy, that you can always do better. No wonder we have an epidemic of anxiety, depression and suicide on our hands! What kind of parent would send such toxic messaging to her or his child? If you are stinging from the venom of shame and inadequacy can the antidote be found by casting your gaze in a different direction … by choosing to see things differently … by believing in a different message … by seeing the message or Messenger differently? It can’t be that easy … can it?

When the Israelites were bitten by “fiery flying serpents … he prepared a way that they might be healed; and the labor which they had to perform was to look; and because of the simpleness of the way, or the easiness of it, there were many who perished.”  (1 Nephi 17:41.)  All they had to do was look to the brazen serpent—a type of Christ (John 3:14-15)—but they wouldn’t look because they thought that was just too easy.  (Alma 33:19-20.) Surely the God they thought they knew wouldn’t make it so easy!  The God they knew made things much more difficult.  The God they thought they knew made everything complicated and expected more from them. Ironically, it was their toxic ideas about God that killed them, not the venom.

Likewise, your toxic ideas about God—not the inevitable venom of life or the toxicities you have absorbed—is what ultimately kills you!

So I ask, will you believe that by seeing things a different way you can be healed of your insecurities, your anger, your wounds, your toxicities, your hurts, the venomous ideas and toxic beliefs you have held inside of you?  I ask, “if ye could be healed by merely casting about your eyes that ye might be healed, would ye not behold quickly, or would ye rather harden your hearts in unbelief[?]” (Alma 33:21.)

Can you see that if Jesus is who he said he was, then you are who Jesus says you are? (Psalm 82:6; John 10:34.)  You are one and the same, different aspects of the same reality! Branch to vine. Light inside of Light. You are the beloved son!  You are the beloved daughter!  You are good enough. When God said, “This is my beloved son [or daughter], hear him [or her]” he was talking about you! He was asking you to listen to your inner light … the Christ buried in the womb of your innermost self.

The discovery of your own true identity is synonymous with the discovery of God. This will come to you as the still, small voice of assurance from deep inside that trusting yourself is trusting God. That loving yourself is loving God. I love how John Philip Newell described it: “Christ’s soul and our soul are like an everlasting knot. The deeper we move in our own being, the closer we come to Christ. And the closer we come to Christ’s soul, the nearer we move to the heart of one another. In Christ, we hear not foreign sounds but the deepest intimations of the human and the divine intertwined.” 

As a father, my greatest heartache is seeing my children suffer needlessly because they simply aren’t aware of how wonderful, worthy, capable, and loved they really are. The greatest gift they could give me is to confidently love themselves. Our identities … our hearts … they are so intertwined that when they wound themselves, it wounds me deeply. When they are bruised, I am bruised. When they are broken, I am broken. But there is no greater hurt than when they can’t love themselves. Don’t you think your Heavenly Father feels the same way about you? Now can you see that loving God means loving yourself?

Deny not the gifts of God! (Moroni 10:8.) If the atonement is a gift, you shouldn’t have to earn it. In fact, you can’t and won’t. (See 2 Nephi 2:4 ; 2 Nephi 25:23; 2 Nephi 26:27 ; Mosiah 2:20-21) Believe that “ye by the grace of God are perfect in Christ[.]” (Moroni 10:33.) Then live your days not to earn God’s love but to reveal it; not to merit God’s love but to share it. Show people who you really are and you’ll show them who God really is. If “come follow me” means anything, it should mean that.

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

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.

Your humanity matters more than your theology.

Your humanity matters more than your theology.

It is time for men and women of good will, from all walks of life, and from all faith traditions to set aside their theological differences and become built to love.  It’s time to quit being like the Levite and the priest—with our noses so buried in tradition and theology that we overlook or pass by the wounded and the weary along the roadsides of life.  We must become more like the Samaritan, who demonstrated pure love.  (See Luke 10:25-37.) The time has come to set aside the lesser doctrines and focus on the “weightier” matters.  (Matthew 23:23.)  Love!  Love, my dogma-oriented friends, is the gospel of Jesus Christ, not a series of rules, regulations, traditions, practices, tenets, theologies, duties, creeds, assignments and so on.  To Jesus, how you feel and then act toward others is so much more important than what you believe.  Your humanity matters more than your theology.

Why do you think Jesus repeatedly made the theologically-apostate Samaritans or publicans the heroes of his stories?

I love the way James puts it.  “Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble.  But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?”  (James 2:19-20.)  In other words, “Do you think you worship the true God?  Your faith is monotheistic?  Big deal, the devils also believe in one god.”  God doesn’t care if your theological conception of him is correct if you can’t visit the sick, feed the hungry and clothe the naked.  “What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? Can faith save him?  If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit?”  (James 2:14-16.)  “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction ….”  (James 1:27.)

Doctrine, dogma … that’s not love.  Having a correct theological understanding … that’s not love.  That’s not at the core of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Why do you think Jesus constantly railed on those of his own faith tradition, the Pharisees?  Why do you think Jesus repeatedly made the theologically-apostate Samaritans or publicans the heroes of his stories?  Because what you feel matters so much more than what you believe.  Right action trumps right belief every single time.  The religion of Jesus was the religion of love and common human decency, not dogmas, programs or theologies.  Feeling love for others, showing love for others … those were the “weightier” matters to Jesus.

It’s time to get our priorities straight.  It’s time to build God’s kingdom, not by converting the world to the theologically precise concept of God but to the theologically abstract and universal concepts that Jesus taught—common decency, respect and love.


Instead of focusing on what divides us, we should be striving to find common ground, looking for what unites us.

I call upon you, as an individual, to become built to love.  But I also call upon leaders of churches and congregations everywhere.  I call upon pastors, priests and preachers.  I call upon bishops, cardinals and ministers.  The time has come to set aside your theological differences to the degree necessary that you can work together to stem the dark tides of evil, terrorism and hatred rising in the world today.  If we remain divided, we remain distracted.  If we remain distracted, evil will continue to grow.  It is incumbent upon us, as disciples of Jesus Christ, to rise above our theological differences and work together to stem the tide of evil and hatred in the world today. Instead of focusing on what divides us, we should be striving to find common ground, looking for what unites us.

People of faith everywhere should be pooling their resources to feed each other and the world.  Instead of spending millions on self-serving ministries, we need to work together to better take care of the sick and eradicate the proliferation of disease.  Instead of kingdom builders we need builders of the Kingdom.  Instead of using so many of our resources to compete for converts, we ought to be using more of our resources to educate and heal the world, dig wells that provide clean water, and clothe naked children.  We ought to be diverting more of our resources to building up and nurturing humanity.  Wouldn’t we bring more people to Jesus Christ if we showed the world what being a disciple of Jesus Christ truly meant?  Wouldn’t they see the good that we Christians can do and want to be a part of something so great?  The world won’t care what we know until it knows how much we care.

It’s our choice.  The world will change either with us or without us.  Jesus Christ will come again and he will have a world that is ready to receive him.  He will have a world that is built to love.  Our hearts will be softened and knit together in unity and love, either by the calamities and destruction that is foretold or through our own volition.  The choice is ours.

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

What happens when the love of authority becomes more important than the authority of love?

What happens when the love of authority becomes more important than the authority of love?

The recent visit of President Nelson with Pope Francis reminds me of what some have referred to as the main difference between Catholics and Mormons.  Catholics believe the Pope isn’t infallible even though that is official Catholic doctrine. Mormons believe their prophet is infallible even though that isn’t official Mormon doctrine.  If we’re being honest, most Mormons equate obeisance to church leaders and authority with “faithfulness.”  But is loyalty to leadership really a qualification for true faithfulness?

I’ve been pondering Section 121 of the Doctrine and Covenants for more than two decades now.  It is a brilliant masterpiece.  I accept it as scripture.  However, as with all truth, it also raises many difficult and ponderous questions, especially for the modern Church and those who profess to love it.  Here are a few of mine.


Are we promoting compliance and obeisance to priesthood authoritarianism (and calling that faith) instead of promoting faith in Jesus Christ?

If “no power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood” (D&C 121:41) then why do we place so much emphasis on priesthood authority claims?  If no power can be maintained by virtue of the priesthood and if no power ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood then why do we place so much emphasis on sustaining priesthood authority, and is it ethical and right to do so?  If no power can be maintained by virtue of the priesthood and if no power ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood then why is there so much emphasis placed upon priesthood authority, priesthood keys, restoration of the priesthood and such?  If neither power nor influence among people can be attained or maintained that way then why do we even try to do it that way to begin with?  Is this, perhaps, one of the reasons why people are leaving the Church?  Will the Church lose power and influence by placing so much emphasis on the importance of priesthood authority?  If we accept the truth of D&C 121:41 there seems to be an obvious answer to this question.

If “it is the nature and disposition of almost all men” to exercise unrighteous dominion “as soon as they get a little authority” (D&C 121:39) then wouldn’t it also be the nature and disposition of almost all churches and church leaders to do likewise as soon they get a lot of authority?  If it is the nature and disposition of almost all men to exercise unrighteous dominion as soon as they get a little authority then wouldn’t it be wise to listen with compassion and patience to those who claim they have been injured by the misuse or abuse of authority?  And wouldn’t it be a good and healthy thing to downplay rather than overplay the importance of priesthood authority?


Shouldn’t we be talking more about the keys to loving and less about loving the keys?

Are the truths in Section 121 of the Doctrine and Covenants truths that we really don’t believe?  Have we supplanted these truths with a well-entrenched and de facto doctrine of infallibility?  By emphasizing priesthood and priesthood authority are we rendering the Church impotent and powerless for future generations since “no power or influence can or ought to be maintained” that way?  Are we promoting compliance and obeisance to priesthood authoritarianism (and calling that faith) instead of promoting faith in Jesus Christ?

If “power or influence can or ought to be maintained … only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned” (D&C 121:41) wouldn’t we be better served as a Church to de-emphasize the love of authority and emphasize the authority of love?  If “power or influence can or ought to be maintained … only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned” shouldn’t we be talking more about the keys to loving and less about loving the keys?

In fact, if no power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, then why are keys even that relevant?  Is it possible to accept the fact that the keys of authority are necessary (which I do) but not sufficient, as Section 121 seems to suggest? And, if this is true, then why all the fuss about why they are necessary to begin with?  If real power and real influence is attained another way then shouldn’t we be pursuing and emphasizing this other way?

When will our “confidence wax strong in the presence of God?”  (D&C 121:45.)  When will “[t]he Holy Ghost … be [our] constant companion, and thy scepter an unchanging scepter of righteousness and truth?”  (D&C 121:46.)  When our bowels are “full of charity towards all men.”  (D&C 121:45.)  Therein lies real power and influence.

The more I read about the mass exodus from organized religion, I can’t help but wonder if part of the problem is what the prophetic Soren Kierkegaard termed (almost two centuries ago) the “deification of the established order.” In his critique of the Danish state church, Kierkegaard pointed out that in continually making itself commensurate with God the church was actually destroying true spirituality and replacing it with an unsustainable and hollow religiosity.

In Kierkegaard’s view, requiring believers to continually accept the divine authority of the church and its inherently flawed leadership led to a distorted view of and relationship with God that, ironically, drove people away from the church and into secularization for the very reason that they (and the church) equated the church with God. Equating the church with God ultimately leads to alienation from God because, being inherently flawed, the church (and thus God) will eventually be exposed as something other than what it purports to be, thereby leading to disenchantment and disconnection.

People are incapable of separating the church from God when the church is continually claiming that it IS, for all intents and purposes, God. Hence, when the church lets them down, God lets them down. Also, people accept progress and advancement in status within the church organization and social structure as genuine spiritual progress when, in reality, it is nothing more than ego-feeding social security and social advancement.


All are alike unto God. By virtue of our baptismal covenants we are all “special” witnesses of the Lord Jesus Christ. All of us are the Lord’s anointed.

“Deification of the established order is the secularization of everything!” Kierkegaard warned more than a century ago. And look what has happened to churches in Western Europe since and what we now see happening in North America as we speak! If you haven’t read Kierkegaard’s thesis, you should. I think there is much the modern church can learn from this.

One thing I would like to see is for the culture of the church–the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:12-27)–to move away from continually deifying the established order. We can do this not by leader-bashing but by treating everyone the way we would treat an apostle or prophet and ridding ourselves of any semblance of caste, rank or stratified importance, which is not pleasing to the Lord. (Luke 11:43.) All are alike unto God. (2 Nephi 26:33.) By virtue of our baptismal covenants we are all “special” witnesses of the Lord Jesus Christ. (Mosiah 18:9.) All of us are the Lord’s anointed and we share the same name. (Mosiah 5:7; see also Alma 5:14; Alma 36:23–26; Alma 46:15; D&C 20:77.)

We can change by learning and humbly accepting that religiosity and spirituality are not synonymous. We can do this by stripping ourselves of the arrogant viewpoint that righteousness consists of Phariseetical-like compliance with orthodoxy and outward piousness. We can do this by changing our conversations in church meetings and social media from being grounded in authority and the love of authority to ones that are grounded in the power and authority of love. We can do this by quietly living lives of love, compassion and service, secretly revealing God to others the way that Jesus taught. (Matthew 6:4.) That is speaking with the authority of love, which is the greatest power on earth and an authority that we can all wield.

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