Junior Ganymede
We endeavor to give satisfaction

What the Logos Teaches Us About God, Creation, and Apostasy

September 22nd, 2014 by G.

Action Words

Action Words


Here is Nephi talking to his brothers:

And ye also know that by the power of his almighty word he can cause the earth that it shall pass away; yea, and ye know that by his word he can cause the rough places to be made smooth, and smooth places shall be broken up.

This verse takes on a different complexion when we remember that Jesus is the Word. By the power of Jesus the Godhead can cause the earth to pass away, make the rough places smooth, and break up the smooth places.

No one has a slam bang obvious explanation for why Jesus is called the Word. Christians have been gnawing away at the problem for a long time, with some very interesting answers and some that are less so. Words—communication—seem to reflect Jesus’ dual nature as a mortal and as a divine being. Maybe that has something to do with it.

But maybe we don’t understand Jesus as the Word very well because we don’t understand words very well. These days we mostly think that words are for explaining things and for making arguments. But the verse from Nephi points us in a different direction. Words are powerful—they do things. They are how authority makes things happen. They are what commands are made of. Read Nephi’s whole sermon in Chapter 17. This way of understanding what words are for is all over the sermon. He says that Moses performs miracles by his word. Words are God’s mastery:

And it came to pass that according to his word he did destroy them; and according to his word he did lead them; and according to his word he did do all things for them; and there was not any thing done save it were by his word.

First Nephi 17:31

Not all power requires words. A bulldozer wordlessly moves dirt around. The bulldozer isn’t in a hierarchical relationship with the dirt, in fact it isn’t in a social relationship with the dirt at all, it lacks authority, so no words are needed. But the kind of power that we call authority does require words. The difference from physical power is that the physical power proceeds from a chain of physical causes. There is no will or choice in what the dirt does. But the authority’s power is his ability to get other free agents to act, more or less voluntarily, because he has directed them too. Because his power relies on other people, it needs communication, which usually means words. So when John calls Christ the Word, he is identifying Jesus with a particular kind of power—power through the obedience of free agents. Which means that John 1:1-3 may be one of the most fundamental supports of the LDS view that creation did not proceed ex nihilo. There are no words if there is no one to listen.

Jesus is not the Great Explainer, or the Great Logician. Based on what words are used for in the scripture, He is the Commander. He commands.

In the scriptures, words are also used to comfort (“rough places made smooth”). Words offer solace and hope. Christ is the Commander and the Comforter.

Don’t take my word for it. Read the scriptures. It is remarkable how little God sets about explaining things. Most of the great passages of reasoning in the scriptures come from prophets. When God speaks, he speaks to command or to comfort or to chastise. He speaks to act through relationships or to heal souls. His words are active.

(For a very related series of posts on the gospel world view as opposed to the rational, liberal-democratic world view, see Jeff G.’s work over at New Cool Thang—this is a good introduction to it . This essay is also getting at something similar, and I continue to think about this related. tantalizing discussion, especially starting with the comment by “Scientism”

I believe that misunderstanding the Word is at the root of a lot of apostasy. We have questions—about church history, about doctrine, about some church practice, about the existence of evil, or mostly just about some injustice and suffering we’re exposed to. We cry out ‘Why?’ And when God says “Take the sacrament and visit the sick,” and when He says, “peace be unto you,” we think He hasn’t answered.

Comments (13)
Filed under: Deseret Review | Tags: , , , , , ,
September 22nd, 2014 12:05:31

September 22, 2014

It sounds like you’re saying that words have power only when there are obedient free agents. In that case, in what way can the Word, Jesus, “cause the earth to pass away”? Are you saying it’s only by some kind of a physical power, and not by his authority, that he may do so?

September 22, 2014

The physicist John Wheeler, coined the phrase, “It from Bit”, meaning that information was what was most fundamental in our universe.

One thing I have studied lately, is how the Scriptures define such terms as Light, Spirit, and Truth. There seems to be a lot of overlap between all of those, as if suggesting that spirits are composed of truth, and that truth is spirit in some state. If I take that seriously, embracing/incorporating a lie, would be a potentially fatal act for our spirit bodies.

With regards to your last paragraph, about what God commands, I see something similar in teaching. I teach math for my day job, and I can see that students learn far more from doing the homework, than they do from studying. Not that study isn’t important as well, but they learn best from doing.

So yes, studying the scriptures is important, but even more so, is keeping the commandments, both those proactive and those restrictive.

September 22, 2014

three possibilities
1) I’m wrong, or at least over-generalizing
2) angels and other supernatural entities
3) Orson Pratt style monads and/or an intelligent, agent-like earth/universe

great comment. I like the thought about truth, light, and spirit all living in the same concept-space

September 22, 2014

In that case, in what way can the Word, Jesus, “cause the earth to pass away”?

Because the elements obey Him. I don’t know if you can say the elements have agency, per se. There is scripture passage in the D&C that says that Earth “fulfills the measure of its creation” because it obeys God, therefore it will be celestialized. There are other parts that say, or at least imply, that all non-human animals will be resurrected to celestial glory because they fulfilled the measure of their creation.

I don’t believe that animals or elements have agency, I don’t believe they were designed or intended to. But the key phrase is “fulfilled the measure of their creation.” I think “measure” in that sense means “intent” or God’s intention in creating them.

A human, in order to fulfill the measure of his creation, must use his agency correctly, according to God’s will. Humans who die without having obtained agency (ie, born infirm or die too young) could be said to still have fulfilled the measure (intent) of their creation, and therefore go on to resurrected glory.

September 22, 2014

G, I like your final paragraph. Heterodox LDS and non believers alike seem to not understand the God of the Bible. in Lectures on Faith, JS said that a -correct- understanding of the attributes, character and perfections of God was necessary to have faith. it seems like their lack of faith is based on a misunderstanding or a non-understanding of what the Bible says.

The heterodox believe wrongly. The non-believers misunderstand what is written and say that they can’t believe in a God that does X or doesn’t do Y. But their assumption that if there is a God then He must do X and not do Y is based on a faulty understanding or a non-understanding of what the scriptures describe as God’s character, perfections and attributes.

I was once talking with an LDS person who accepts the basic foundational truth claims of the church, but rejects some of the teachings of prophets since JS. And I realized that the reasons for his rejections were based on not accepting or not understanding what the scriptures and JS taught about the character/personality/etc of God.

The answers/rejoinders to all his objections were obvious to me, but seemingly nonsense to him, because we had very different ideas about who or what kind of being/personality God is, or should be, as described in the scriptures.

there is also a seeming lack of imagination among heterodox/nonbelievers, or an inability to connect the dots in the scriptures. They can’t imagine how to reconcile seemingly contradictory descriptions of God in the scriptures. For instance, in the case of the sacrifice of Isaac, they seem to ignore that God has the power of resurrection/re-animation, which Paul connects to the sacrifice in his letter to the Hebrews.

September 22, 2014

“The non-believers misunderstand what is written and say that they can’t believe in a God that does X or doesn’t do Y. But their assumption that if there is a God then He must do X and not do Y…”

Should have read:

“The non-believers misunderstand what is written and say that they can’t believe in a God that does X or doesn’t do Y. But their assumption that if there is a God then He must do Y and not do X…”

Bruce Charlton
September 23, 2014

@G “And when God says “Take the sacrament and visit the sick,” and when He says, “peace be unto you,” we think He hasn’t answered.”

Yes, but He doesn’t always or most-often say just that. (Not least because it may be impossible in some situations.) Indeed, as I understand, He sometimes does give very specific, valid and directly-helpful answers to Why?

On the other hand, sometimes He does not – sometimes because the question is ill-formed and can only lead to false/ misleading answers, sometimes because it is better for that person not to be told, sometimes because the person is not really listening for an answer. (And for other reasons.)

Asking questions is good IF a major element of the process is understanding what are the right and proper questions. Asking questions per se is not necessarily good, and may be extremely bad.

(This should be obvious, but isn’t. Modern secular people say (and maybe believe) that questioning is ‘a good thing’ in and of itself; but that is nonsense – just like saying that ‘reading’ is a good thing is nonsense: it depends what you read, it depends what questions you ask.)

September 23, 2014

And why you ask, and what answers you are open to.

September 23, 2014

A popular quote in some circles is the one attributed to Socrates, which goes something like “The unexamined life is not worth living.”

Socrates probably did, in fact, say something like this, though of course he said it in Greek and we have it only second-hand through Plato. Still, there is a frightening message there that most of those who repeat the quote with approval have completely missed:

“Examined” in this context means “put on trial.” I think Socrates meant that life in the absence of an Examiner was pointless. He confronts us with the unavoidable choice between theism and nihilism.

Either there is no Examiner, and life is ultimately pointless. Or there is an Examiner, and the terrifying prospect of being put on trial for one’s soul, where there is no hope of any of us giving an adequate answer. The only good news is the Good News, it is good news indeed — in a similar sense to hearing that major surgery followed by extended and painful physical therapy has an excellent chance of saving your life and restoring you to good health and fitness.

Socrates and Plato did not, of course, know about the Good News. They still thought the terrifying prospect of an Examiner was better than oblivion, in which they were wiser than many our contemporaries.

We must question God if we are to know Him. And we must do it knowing He will ask hard questions of us. We can do this now, and abide by the answers, with the assurance that He will then be content with a few token questions when we face him after this life (who hath ears to hear, let him hear); or we can put it off, and face the full examination later.

September 23, 2014

That’s another meaning of the Word: judgment. The voice that says “my friend,” the voice that says “when I was hungry, ye gave me to eat,” or the voice that says “depart ye from me, I never knew ye.”

Bruce Charlton
September 23, 2014

Vader – Not sure if you read my blog, but I wrote about Socrates recently


If the early descriptions of Socrates by Plato are assumed to biographical (but not the later) then it is clear that he was an devoutly religious man and an inspired prophet; his attitude to Apollo was very like it would have been had he been talking of Jehovah (you could swap the concepts and hardly notice). Very much a pagan prefiguring of Christianity.

September 23, 2014

@BC, I had similar thoughts, re pagan prefiguring of Christianity, while reading Epictetus’ Enchiridion and Golden Sayings.

I realize Epictetus was born in the Apostolic era, 55 AD, and died in 135; so it wasn’t so much _pre_figuring Christianity, but it was long before official Roman acceptance of Christianity.

Epictetus helped me synthesize and process some aspects of Christianity I was having problems with.

Ivan W.
September 23, 2014

I’m not sure if it changes much, but the “unexamined life” phrase could be translated “unexamining life” instead.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.