Monthly Archives: September 2009

The Church and a Global Flood

Recently, the LDS Newsroom published a helpful guide to determining whether or not a teaching or idea is “doctrinal” in the LDS Church.

Here is the pertinent criteria:

With divine inspiration, the First Presidency (the prophet and his two counselors) and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (the second-highest governing body of the Church) counsel together to establish doctrine that is consistently proclaimed in official Church publications. This doctrine resides in the four “standard works” of scripture (the Holy Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price), official declarations and proclamations, and the Articles of Faith. Isolated statements are often taken out of context, leaving their original meaning distorted.

With that in mind, let’s see whether or not the teaching of a Global Flood for Noah’s ark is “consistently proclaimed in official Church publications”.  For comparison sake, I will also list every reference to a Local Flood possibility in official Church publications.

Emphasis is added for all of these.

Is not today much like Noah’s day when the population of the earth was wiped out in the flood and but eight righteous souls were spared?   Some doubt that there was a flood, but by modern revelation we know that it did take place.

Elder Mark Petersen, “Follow the Prophets”.  October 1981 General Conference

The Lord further indicated that all flesh was corrupt in those days, and so he brought forth the flood and destroyed all flesh except Noah and his family. Therefore, we are all descendants of righteous Noah. But the family concept is under very serious attack today all over the world.

Elder Hartman Rector, Jr., “Turning the Hearts”. April 1981 General Conference.

There was the great Flood, when waters covered the earth and when, as Peter says, only “eight souls were saved” (1 Pet. 3:20).

President Gordon B. Hinckley, “If Ye Are Prepared, Ye Shall Not Fear”. October 2005 General Conference.

Another one was Noah, who was chosen to be the second father of the human race here on earth, after the flood.

Elder William Bennett, “Covenants and Blessings”. October 1975 General Conference.

Two generations later the Lord was so pained by that generation “without affection” (Moses 7:33) that he opened the windows of heaven and cleansed the entire earth with water.

Jeffry R. Holland, “A Promised Land”. Ensign, June 1976.

Here is what college-age LDS students are taught in the Church published curriculum of the Church Educational System (including Institute and BYU classes):

(4-15) Genesis 7:19. How Could the Flood Cover the Entire Earth, Including Mountains? What Was the Significance of This Immersion?

“I would like to know by what known law the immersion of the globe could be accomplished. It is explained here in a few words: ‘The windows of heaven were opened’ that is, the waters that exist throughout the space surrounding the earth from whence come these clouds from which the rain descends. That was one cause. Another cause was  ‘the fountains of the great deep were broken up’—that is something beyond the oceans, something outside of the seas, some reservoirs of which we  have no knowledge, were made to contribute to this event, and the waters were let loose by the hand and by the power of God; for God said He would bring  a flood upon the earth and He brought it, but He  had to let loose the fountains of the great deep, and pour out the waters from there, and when the flood commenced to subside, we are told ‘that the fountains also of the deep and the windows of heaven were stopped, and the rain from heaven was restrained, and the waters returned from off the earth.’ Where did they go to? From whence they came. Now, I will show you something else on the back of that. Some people talk very philosophically about tidal waves coming along. But the question is—How could you get a tidal wave out of the Pacific ocean, say, to cover the Sierra Nevadas? But the Bible does not tell us it was a tidal wave. It simply tells that ‘all the high hills that were under the whole heaven were covered Fifteen cubits upwards did the waters prevail; and the mountains were covered.’ That is, the earth was immersed. It was a period of baptism.” (John Taylor in Journal of Discourses, 26:74–75.)

Orson Pratt declared:
“The first ordinance instituted for the cleansing of the earth, was that of immersion in water; it was buried in the liquid element, and all things sinful upon the face of the earth were washed away. As it came forth  from the ocean floor, like the new-born child, it was innocent; it rose to newness of life. It was its second  birth from the womb of mighty waters—a new world issuing from the ruins of the old, clothed with all the  innocence of this first creation.” (In Smith, Answers to Gospel Questions, 4:20.)

“The earth, in its present condition and situation, is not a fit habitation for the sanctified; but it abides
the law of its creation, has been baptized with water will be baptized by fire and the Holy Ghost, and
by-and-by will be prepared for the faithful to dwell upon” (Brigham Young, in Smith, Answers to Gospel
Questions, 4:20).

Here is what is taught to adult members of the Church in their Church Sunday School classes:

b. Genesis 7:11–24; 8; 9:8–17. It rains for 40 days and 40 nights (Genesis 7:11–12). All people and creatures that are not on the ark die, and the waters cover the earth for 150 days (Genesis 7:13–24). When the waters recede, Noah, his family, and the animals leave the ark (Genesis 8:1–19), and Noah offers sacrifice to the Lord (Genesis 8:20–22). The Lord establishes his covenant with Noah and sets the rainbow as a token of the covenant (Genesis 9:8–17; note that the Joseph Smith Translation of verse 15 states that the covenant was between God and Noah, not between God and every living creature).

More quotes, little ambiguity.

There is a third group of people—those who accept the literal message of the Bible regarding Noah, the ark, and the Deluge. Latter-day Saints belong to this group. In spite of the world’s arguments against the historicity of the Flood, and despite the supposed lack of geologic evidence, we Latter-day Saints believe that Noah was an actual man, a prophet of God, who preached repentance and raised a voice of warning, built an ark, gathered his family and a host of animals onto the ark, and floated safely away as waters covered the entire earth. We are assured that these events actually occurred by the multiple testimonies of God’s prophets.

Donald Parry, “The Flood and the Tower of Babel”.  Ensign, January 1998

Following the Flood, Noah and his three sons and their wives received a calling much like that given to Adam and Eve. They were commanded to “multiply and replenish the earth,” which would fulfill a prophecy made by Methuselah “that from [Noah’s] loins should spring all the kingdoms of the earth” (Moses 8:3). As the Prophet Joseph Smith explained, “Noah was born to save seed of everything, when the earth was washed of its wickedness by the flood.” 11 Noah fulfilled his specific calling just as Adam and Eve did in opening earth life and as the Savior did in redeeming earth life.

The Flood covered the whole earth (see Gen. 7:19–23).

Joseph B. Romney, “Noah, The Great Preacher of Righteousness”.  Ensign, February 1998

The worldwide flood of Noah’s time has been accepted as a benchmark historical event by Jews and Christians for thousands of years—and similar traditions appear among the Greeks, Mesopotamians, and some American Indian tribes. Yet the story is regarded skeptically today in our secular world. Most current geology texts ignore the Flood, ridicule it, or use it as an example of prescientific superstition.

Consequently, Latter-day Saints and other Christians sometimes find the apparent conflict between their faith in the scriptures and their education puzzling. The account of Noah’s flood is a typical illustration of the differences which occur between scriptural information and modern secular teachings about the history of the world.

F. Kent Nielsen, “The Gospel and the Scientific View: How the Earth Came to Be”. Ensign, September 1980

In prayer Noah asked the Lord never to destroy the earth again with flood. Noah’s prayer was answered; the Lord promised Noah that He would never again destroy the entire earth by flood. From that time forth the rainbow would be a symbol of that promise.

“Noah and the Ark”. Liahona, September 1984

These people were so wicked that they were no longer allowed to pollute the earth by their presence on it or to bring innocent spirits into its decadent environment. The Lord decreed that all living things would be destroyed by flood, with the exception of a faithful few who would be spared so that God could begin anew his creative work and reestablish his covenant among men.

Kent P. Jackson, “An Age of Contrasts: From Adam to Abraham”. Ensign, February 1986.

According to the Old Testament, Noah found favor with the Lord and was commanded to build an ark to preserve human and animal life during the Flood (see Gen. 5–9).

Rex C. Reeve Jr., “A Latter-day Testament of Biblical Truth”. Ensign, January 2001.

The history of the peopling of the earth is really a history of the scattering of the descendants of Noah, who is sometimes referred to as the “second father of mankind.” This general scattering began soon after the Flood when the sons of Noah and their children began to spread forth “in their lands, … after their nations” (see Gen. 10:5, 20, 31) and was greatly accelerated at the time of the Tower of Babel, when the Lord confounded the people’s language and did “scatter them abroad upon the face of all the earth.” (Gen. 11:9.)

Lane Johnson, “Who and Where are the Lamanites?”. Ensign, December 1975.

Is not today much like Noah’s day, when the population of the earth was wiped out in the Flood and but eight souls were saved? (see Genesis 7; 1 Peter 3:20).

Elder David E. Sorensen, “Preisthood, Agency and Black Power”. Ensign, September 2007.

*This is a bonus one.  Proponents of a “Limited Flood” have to explain what, exactly, God was covenanting with Noah.  No more local floods?  And what about all the other people living all over the world?

The Lord made a covenant with Noah, and the rainbow became the token of that eternal covenant with all mankind. (See Gen. 9:13.)

Elder Howard W. Hunter, “Commitment to God”. October 1981 Conference.

Just to be fair, I will also include every reference in a Church publication to a Local Flood, or the possibility that the flood wasn’t global:

[crickets chirping]

There aren’t any that I could find.  Let me know if you have better luck.


Filed under Doctrines, Teachings, Policies and Traditions

Why we can’t pay for our own sins

At some point, it may occur to Christians (and potential Christians) that the whole deal might be a bit easier if we could just pay for our own sins.  Come judgement day, we are told all the bad stuff we did, and told how much we have to suffer in order to gain exaltation.  We suffer until the price is paid, and then go on to exaltation (or whichever kingdom we’re interested in).

If you discuss this with any Christian, the simple answer must be “No,  we can’t pay for our own sins, because if we could, we wouldn’t need Jesus and the whole gospel is pointless.”  Since the whole selling point of Christianity is the idea that  “You need Jesus”, considering other options is just bad salesmanship.

But since I’m not on my mission anymore, I’m not worried so much about salesmanship.  So let’s think about this.

What if, theoretically, it might be possible for someone to “pay” for their “sins”?  And what in the universe makes us think it isn’t possible?

First, the Plan of Salvation requires that there be some universal “entity” that is more powerful than God, and keeping God from just forgiving us of our sins outright.   One of the fundamental ideas of the Plan of Salvation is that God would love for us to return to live with Him, but there’s something more powerful than Him that keeps Him from forgiving us our sins.

For some reason, this entity (I’ll call it “Justyce”) determines whether or not someone is allowed to become God-like (and receive Celestial Glory).  Justyce has a set of universally applied rules for humans that want to progress and become more god-like.  If a humanoid spirit breaks any of these rules, Justyce will not allow God to exalt them.

Justyce has communicated these rules to God somehow, so God is able to communicate the rules to humans living on Earth.  Presumably, if any human were able to live their entire lives without breaking a single rule, they would be allowed by Justyce to receive exaltation, and everything would be great.

But for some reason, Justyce’s rules happen to include a few things that are common in the human experience.  Even without knowing them, everyone, everywhere is able to figure out how to break the rules and make themselves unworthy for exaltation.  The only exception appears to be young children and the mentally disabled; Justyce understands that some people break the rules but don’t understand what they’re doing, so it’s OK.  But people who break the rules as adults are still held accountable, even if they were never told the rules.

So, with Justyce’s rules, we would have a 0% success rate for exaltation for eligible persons.

Luckily, there is a loophole that allows people to have broken Justyce’s rules, but still achieve exaltation.  And luckily, Justyce has told God about this loophole.  For some reason, people are allowed to become exalted, even if they have broken Justyce’s rules, if a perfectly sinless human can be found, and he undergoes a terrific amount of suffering.  If that can happen, Justyce will allow people who have sinned to be exalted by God.

Another part of the deal is that God then gets to make up his own set of rules for the people who have sinned but want to become exalted.  Once the sinless human has “suffered” for all the sinners, then the sinners only get to be exalted if they follow these new rules set forth by God.  As instituted by the God of Earth, these rules involve things such as baptism and Temple Ordinances.  I’m not sure if Justyce cares about these things.

Which brings us to the point of the thread:

Why can’t sinners “pay” for their own sins, so Justyce will allow them to be directly exalted without needing someone else to suffer for them?

Based on our knowledge of the atonement, “paying for sins” seems to involve two factors: the degree of suffering, and the period of time.

Presumably, there is a universal algorithm such that some degree of total suffering is sufficient to pay for a certain degree of sins.  And once the sins have been “paid” for, the suffering stops (were this not the case, Jesus would be suffering for an infinite amount of time).  Based on my knowledge of pain and suffering, I suspect the algorithm looks like this:

Total suffering = (degree of pain)*(length of pain)

We understand that Christ was able to complete the suffering for every sin ever committed by every human by suffering a severe degree of pain (say, on a scale of 1-10, a “9.5”), for a few hours of Earth time (say, 600 minutes of Earth time).  Thus, Christ’s suffering would be the equivalent of “5700 degrees” of pain.

Considering that these 5700 degrees was sufficient for the billions and billions of people who ever lived on Earth, we can guess that the individual penalty for every person would be a small fraction of the pain suffered by Jesus.

Thus, we might ask why Justyce can’t let us suffer [i]that[/i] degree of pain.  At the end of our life (and judgement day), we are given an accounting of every one of Justyce’s rules that we broke, and we are told what degree of suffering is necessary to pay the price for these infractions if we want to be exalted.

Additionally, we could even be given the choice to vary the degree of pain and the length of suffering, so that we could take our medicine all at once, or stretch out lesser pain (say, a mild toothache) over millions of Earth years.  As infinite beings, there is no limit to the length of suffering we could endure in the afterlife.

(Additional note:  Some may argue that there is no super-god entity that is calling the shots, and that God learned about the plan of salvation and the “Atonement” option some other way.  But how?  Unless something told him about it, the only other way to figure out that the suffering of a sinless human would make it possible for sinful humans to get exalted would be trial and error.  Thus, there would be infinite cycles of creation-human experience-death-judgment where they would try different things to figure out what it takes for sinful humans to be able to somehow get around their sinful nature.)

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