One of the things I love about the restored gospel of Jesus Christ is its elegant self-consistency: the doctrines and practices fit each other. Indeed, the degree of agreement between the Holy Bible and modern scriptures is, to my mind, nothing short of miraculous.
As an academic, I’m committed to questions and answers—one of my favorite sayings is, “Always chew your truth thoroughly; never swallow it whole.” The idea is that we should use our faculties to compare assertions with our experiences so as to catch inconsistencies, because truth is self-consistent (i.e., assertions A and not-A cannot both be true). From this viewpoint, I find much of religion unsatisfying, but I have no such dissatisfaction with the doctrines of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
One example I find particularly gratifying is the uniquely LDS response to the so-called Problem of Evil: How can God, being perfectly good, all-powerful, and all-knowing, have created a world containing evil? In syllogistic terms, it might go like this:
Major Premise: God created everything that exists.
Minor Premise: Evil exists.
Conclusion: God created evil.
Major Premise: God is perfectly good, all-powerful, and all-knowing
Minor Premise: Any perfectly good, all-powerful, and all-knowing being would never create evil.
Conclusion: God did not create evil (or more specifically, evil does not exist).
Thus are most Christians—most religions, actually—stuck. Many of my academic friends are non-Christian, even entirely irreligious, for precisely this reason. They see this fundamental inconsistency: either evil is some kind of fiction, or God is somehow not what we thought.
Now, enter Joseph Smith and the restored gospel of Jesus Christ: “Man was also in the beginning with God. Intelligence, or the light of truth, was not created or made, neither indeed can be” (Doctrine and Covenants 93:29). Thus we discover that God, although perfectly good, all-powerful, and all-knowing, is not the Uncaused First Cause that Aquinas asserted. We lesser beings “have no beginning; [we] existed before, [we] shall have no end, [we] shall exist after, for [we] are gnolaum, or eternal” (Abraham 3:18). Next we discover that, although God “rules in the heavens above, and in the earth beneath” (Abraham 3:21), He loves us so perfectly (per John 3:16) that He took us as He found us (see Abraham 3:21) and is glorifying us each into the most joyful beings we can be (per 2 Nephi 2:25 and Doctrine and Covenants 88:27-32). He didn’t create evil; each of us is our own, small, uncaused first cause of evil (as well as our poor pittance of good). Thus, Christ’s Atonement stands not as the poorly sanitized human sacrifice of pagan ritual that some of my irreligious friends perceive but rather as the Great Healing of us eternally flawed—damned—beings who, despite our fatal weakness, are nevertheless capable of great joy.
Another extraordinary example of the miraculous truth of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ is the uniquely LDS response to the question of free will versus determinism: how can humans, as creations of an all-powerful God, have free will? Either God’s omnipotent creative act irrevocably determines our ultimate destiny and every waypoint leading to it, or He isn’t omnipotent after all.
Again comes the perfect truth of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. Per the scriptures referenced above, we see that eternal, uncreated human intelligences interact with God as existentially independent agents. God most assuredly could run us all like robots, but His will that we each be perfected to our ultimate joy leads Him to give us life, knowledge, agency, and commandments (see Moses 7:32-33), the ingredients of joy. Thus we have agency, or what I sometimes call “self-determinism.” Yes, our ultimate fruition is already determined, but by our own eternal natures. True, this could be called determinism, but I hope it’s clear that it isn’t the determinism of traditional western thought: rather it is each of us blossoming through God’s love into all the unique splendor of which each of us has been individually, uniquely capable from all eternity. What could be more free? What could be more beautiful?
My testimony is fundamentally spiritual: I know by the transcendent witness of the Holy Spirit that the restored gospel is true, that Christ is my savior, and that He leads His church today. However, with that knowledge I also find inestimable comfort in the manifest consistency of the restored gospel, and I totally identify with Brigham Young’s statement: “I feel like shouting hallelujah, all the time, when I think that I ever knew Joseph Smith, the prophet whom the Lord raised up and ordained, and to whom He gave keys and power to build up the Kingdom of God on earth and sustain it” (Journal of Discourses 3:51).
Thomas Hilton has served since 2003 as chairman of the Management Information Systems Department in the College of Business at the University of Wisconsin—Eau Claire. From 1998 to 2003, he was Director of Graduate Programs in the Department of Business Information Systems at Utah State University, where he had taught since 1986.
He received his B.A. degree in English composition and literature and his Ph.D. in instructional science and technology with an emphasis in computer information system development, both from Brigham Young University. He has done additional, postdoctoral, study at the University of Minnesota, the University of Baltimore, and the University of South Carolina.
During 1997-1998, Professor Hilton served as president of the International Association for Computer Information Systems.
Posted March 2011