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The world’s views on marriage differ greatly from eternal truth.  In Matthew 19:3-9, the eternal truths regarding God’s views on marriage are clearly laid out by the Savior.  God created male and female in his own image, and exhorted them to multiply and fill the earth.  The Lord ordained marriage and families. “They twain shall be one flesh, and all this that the earth might answer the end of its creation” (D&C 42:15-16).

I love the “Theology of the Family” taught by Julie B. Beck, and how it relates to the Plan of Salvation.   It is based on the Creation, the Fall, and the Atonement, which are also known as the pillars of eternity.  According to this theology, the answers to the objectives of these basic pillars revolve around the family.

What was the purpose of the Creation?  To form an earth where a family could live.
What was the purpose of the Fall?  The Fall provided a way for the family to grow.
What was the purpose of the Atonement of Jesus Christ? The Atonement allows for the family to be sealed together eternally.

The Creation of an Earth Where a Family Could Live

Sister Beck says,

“It was a creation of a man and a woman who were the two essential halves of a family. It was not about a creation of a man and a woman who happened to have a family. It was intentional all along that Adam and Eve form an eternal family. It was part of the plan that these two be sealed and form an eternal family unit. That was the plan of happiness (Julie B. Beck, Teaching the Doctrine of the Family, Address to Seminaries & Institutes, August 4, 2009).

Genesis 1:27 reads: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.” Clearly, God created man and woman to bear his image.  To look like him.  To be like him.  What an amazing statement after we have just beheld the creation of a marvelous world complete with all the amenities.  We have been awed by the power and planning and scope of such a project.  And the crowning creation is a being who is “in the image” of this all-powerful creator?  We cannot comprehend such a thing.  And yet it is so. 

When I was first learning to read Genesis 2:18 in Hebrew, I noticed a lot of things.  One of which is that woman is not created at the same time as God created man, but only after Adam has been created and placed in the Garden of Eden and then commanded not to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil.  God concludes that it is not good for man to be alone and makes a companion for him.  The text reads: “And the Lord God said, it is not good that the man should be alone, [therefore] I will make him a help meet for him.”  After repeating seven times that God saw that “it was good” after he had created the earth and everything on it in Genesis 1, suddenly we are informed that it was “not good” that man be alone.  It was not just “not optimal” but it was in complete opposition to the way God was used to doing things.  This is startling news indeed. 

Something was terribly wrong with the man being alone.  So what exactly is a “help meet for him?”  I had learned to understand these archaic English words as “helpmate.”  The woman is supposed to be a helper suitable for the man.  I thought it meant that woman was supposed to make his dinner and hand him the wrench when he was changing the oil in the car.  Helper has the connotation in English as an assistant of lesser status.

That is not at all what these words are intended to convey.  “Help meet for him” in Hebrew is ezer kenegdo.  As I studied the definitions of these Hebrew words, I decided that they actually meant something very different from the way I had understood them for years.  When God decided to create another creature so that man would not be alone, he did not merely make a helper for him — he made an equal partner. 

In Hebrew the word ezer describes an equal, if not a superior.  Ezer in the Old Testament is most frequently used to describe how God is an ezer to man.  It definitely does not have the connotation of a “mere helper” in any of the cases in which it is used.  A more accurate translation would be a “power” or “strength.”  Etymological evidence indicates that ezer originally had two roots, one ‘-z-r meaning “to rescue,” “to save,” and the other g-z-r meaning “to be strong.”  The verb azar means “to succor,” “to save from extremity,” “to deliver from death.”  It refers to the actions of one who gives water to someone dying of thirst, thus saving his life. 

The second word which caught my attention in the Hebrew of Genesis 2:18 was the word kenegdo, which traditionally had been translated as “meet for” or “fit for.”  Because kenegdo appears only once in the Bible, scholars had little upon which to base their translations.  Neged was one of the first words I had learned in Hebrew and I learned its meaning as “against.”  I thought it was very strange that God would create a companion for Adam that was “against” him!  Later, I learned the word could also mean “in front of” or “opposite.” This still didn’t help that much.  Finally, it was explained as being “exactly corresponding to” as when you look at yourself in the mirror.  Any way you look at it, the meaning intended by the original Hebrew was totally lost.  Good wives all want to be “helpmates” but completely miss the fact that the scripture clearly states that God created woman to be an equal partner to her husband, exactly corresponding to him in every way.

God, knowing that Adam couldn’t fight the battles of earth life alone, created a companion for him who would fulfill both of these meanings of ezer.  Woman would be a “strength” to him in helping meet all the challenges that earth-life would launch at them — pain, toil, discouragement, rebellion, burnout, and faltering faith.  And at times she might even “rescue” him with precious insights into the meaning of their trials, or “save” him from discouragement or despair.  God created the woman to be an ezer to man.  To strengthen AND to save.  She is his greatest ally.  This is one reason why marriage is ordained of God.

Glen L. Pace came to similar conclusions and shared them in an address he gave at BYU (“The Divine Nature and Destiny of Women,” Brigham Young University 2009-2010 Speeches, given 9 March 2010).

I believe the Father’s statement “It is not good that the man should be alone” (Genesis 2:18) had a much more profound meaning than the obvious biological implications. It also went further than providing Adam with “company.” Adam’s ability to obtain the purification necessary to get back into the presence of God was dependent upon his continuous association with Eve.

Remember what Adam said when Eve stood beside him for the first time: “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife, and they shall be one flesh” (Abraham 5:18).

Many years after the creation of Adam and Eve, Paul said, “Nevertheless neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 11:11).

In the Doctrine and Covenants we read:

In the celestial glory there are three heavens or degrees;

And in order to obtain the highest, a man must enter into this order of the priesthood [meaning the new and everlasting covenant of marriage];

And if he does not, he cannot obtain it. [D&C 131:1–3]

Why can’t he obtain it? It’s not just because he didn’t obey a celestial commandment. It’s because he didn’t become a celestial being. There is a limit to our spiritual development as long as we are single. There is a spiritual development that can only be obtained when a man and a woman join their incomplete selves into a complete couple. Just as conception requires the physical union of male and female, perfection requires the union of the very souls of male and female.

Elder Richard G. Scott has said:

In the Lord’s plan, it takes two—a man and a woman—to form a whole. Indeed, a husband and wife are not two identical halves, but a wondrous, divinely determined combination of complementary capacities and characteristics. (Richard G. Scott, Ensign, November 1996, 73-74).

Men and women can accomplish marvelous things alone. However, they are incomplete until united intellectually, emotionally, physically, and, most important, spiritually.

According to Elder Pace, “melding our divine natures is a necessary element in bringing about perfection.” These natures are complimentary to each other and absolutely necessary in creating the perfection worthy of exaltation. 

The Fall was The Process by Which Mankind Became Mortal

Lehi taught that only through the Fall could Adam and Eve have children (2 Nephi 2:23). Sister Beck explains, “Through the leadership of Eve and Adam, they chose to have a mortal experience. The Fall made it possible for Adam and Eve to have a family, to have sons and daughters. They needed to grow in numbers and grow in experience. The Fall provided that for the family.”

The Atonement Allows for the Family to be Sealed Together Eternally

Sister Beck continues:

[The Atonement] allows for families to have eternal growth and perfection. The plan of happiness and the plan of salvation was a plan created for families. When we speak of qualifying for the blessings of eternal life, we mean qualifying for the blessings of eternal families. This was Christ’s doctrine and this is some of what was restored that had been lost—understanding and clarity about family. Without these blessings, the earth is wasted. When did we learn that?

Section 2 in the Doctrine and Covenants is the only part that we have in the Doctrine and Covenants that Joseph Smith recorded from his visits with the angel Moroni.  It says:

“Behold, I will reveal unto you the Priesthood, by the hand of Elijah the prophet, before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. “And he shall plant in the hearts of the children the promises made to the fathers, and the hearts of the children shall turn to their fathers. “If it were not so, the whole earth would be utterly wasted at his coming” (vv. 1–3).

What are the promises made to the fathers? Who were the fathers? The fathers were Adam, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Noah—those ancient prophets who understood the doctrine of eternal families. The promises of the children made to the fathers was that their hearts would turn to their fathers. Their hearts would be turned to the blessings of eternal life that they could have. This is talking about temple blessings—temple ordinances and covenants without which “the whole earth [is] utterly wasted.”

The Proclamation on the Family was written to reinforce that. It was written to talk about the family being central to the Creator’s plan. Without the family, there is no plan, there is no reason for it.

Elder Hales said this about marriage: “The family is not an accident of mortality. It existed as an organizational unit in the heavens before the world was formed. Historically it started on earth with Adam and Eve as recorded in Genesis. Adam and Eve were married and sealed for time and all eternity by the Lord, and as a result their family will exist eternally.”

To me, this is powerful and clear doctrine, difficult to misunderstand.

President Benson said this:

This order is described in modern revelation as an order of family government where a man and a woman enter into a covenant with God, just as Adam and Eve, to be sealed for eternity, to have posterity, and to do the will and work of God throughout their mortality. This order of the priesthood has been on the earth since the beginning, and it is the only means by which we can one day see the face of God and live. (As quoted by Julie Beck, ibid.)

President Russell M. Nelson has spoken about the Lord’s plan for marriage.  (Ensign, November 2008, 92-95).

The subject of marriage is debated across the world, where various arrangements exist for conjugal living…  Marriage between a man and a woman is sacred—it is ordained of God…  While salvation is an individual matter, exaltation is a family matter. Only those who are married in the temple and whose marriage is sealed by the Holy Spirit of Promise will continue as spouses after death and receive the highest degree of celestial glory, or exaltation. A temple marriage is also called a celestial marriage.

The family proclamation helps us realize that celestial marriage brings greater possibilities for happiness than does any other relationship. The earth was created and this Church was restored so that families could be formed, sealed, and exalted eternally.

Scriptures declare that “it is lawful that [a man] should have one wife, and they twain shall be one flesh, and all this that the earth might answer the end of its creation.” Another affirms that “the man [is not] without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord.” Thus, marriage is not only an exalting principle of the gospel; it is a divine commandment.

Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard – Matthew 20:1-6

What does this parable suggest about the Kingdom of Heaven? When I first read this parable as a young woman, I wondered about the fairness of God.  But I missed the whole point.  I love the way Jeffrey R. Holland explains the meaning of this parable:

This parable—like all parables—is not really about laborers or wages any more than the others are about sheep and goats. This is a story about God’s goodness, His patience and forgiveness, and the Atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is a story about generosity and compassion. It is a story about grace. It underscores the thought I heard many years ago that surely the thing God enjoys most about being God is the thrill of being merciful, especially to those who don’t expect it and often feel they don’t deserve it.

My beloved brothers and sisters, to those of you who have been blessed by the gospel for many years because you were fortunate enough to find it early, to those of you who have come to the gospel by stages and phases later, and to those of you—members and not yet members—who may still be hanging back, to each of you, one and all, I testify of the renewing power of God’s love and the miracle of His grace. His concern is for the faith at which you finally arrive, not the hour of the day in which you got there. (Ensign, May 2012, 31-33)

What Lack I Yet?  Matthew 19:16-22; Mark 10:17-27

I love the insights shared by Elder Larry R. Lawrence on the Quorum of the 70 in October 2015:

Let’s consider the New Testament account of the rich young ruler. He was a righteous young man who was already keeping the Ten Commandments, but he wanted to become better. His goal was eternal life.

When he met the Savior, he asked, “What lack I yet?”

Jesus answered immediately, giving counsel that was intended specifically for the rich young man. “Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and … come and follow me.”4

The young man was stunned; he had never considered such a sacrifice. He was humble enough to ask the Lord but not faithful enough to follow the divine counsel he was given. We must be willing to act when we receive an answer.

President Harold B. Lee taught, “Every one of us, if we would reach perfection, must [at] one time ask ourselves this question, ‘What lack I yet?’”

The Holy Ghost doesn’t tell us to improve everything at once. If He did, we would become discouraged and give up. The Spirit works with us at our own speed, one step at a time, or as the Lord has taught, “line upon line, precept upon precept, … and blessed are those who hearken unto my precepts, … for unto him that receiveth I will give more.”6 For example, if the Holy Ghost has been prompting you to say “thank you” more often, and you respond to that prompting, then He may feel it’s time for you to move on to something more challenging—like learning to say, “I’m sorry; that was my fault.”

A perfect time to ask, “What lack I yet?” is when we take the sacrament. The Apostle Paul taught that this is a time for each of us to examine ourselves.7 In this reverent atmosphere, as our thoughts are turned heavenward, the Lord can gently tell us what we need to work on next.

I would like to suggest that each of you participate in a spiritual exercise sometime soon, perhaps even tonight while saying your prayers. Humbly ask the Lord the following question: “What is keeping me from progressing?” In other words: “What lack I yet?” Then wait quietly for a response. If you are sincere, the answer will soon become clear. It will be revelation intended just for you.

The Spirit can show us our weaknesses, but He is also able to show us our strengths. Sometimes we need to ask what we are doing right so that the Lord can lift and encourage us. When we read our patriarchal blessings, we are reminded that our Heavenly Father knows our divine potential. He rejoices every time we take a step forward. To Him, our direction is ever more important than our speed.

If spiritual growth is not a priority in our lives, if we are not on a course of steady improvement, we will miss out on the important experiences that God wants to give us. (See Ensign, November 2015)

In thinking about this rich young man, I observed some behaviors that hit very close to home. When I was young, I wanted a giant “checklist” that I could accomplish to ensure that I would “make it” to the celestial kingdom.  I would have made a very good Pharisee, I think.  This rich young ruler had mastered a “checklist,” but he hadn’t changed his nature.  He didn’t have the law “written upon his heart” as Jeremiah describes.  He still had strong ties to the things of this world. He had mastered what he did but he had not changed his heart – the person he was. Because of this, he ended up walking away from the Savior in sorrow.

How can this apply to us? Do we have the courage to ask the question, “What lack I yet?” and be willing to follow the answer we receive?  Sometimes this requires us to step outside our comfort zone and enter unfamiliar territory.  The question asked by the rich young ruler is how he could gain eternal life.  Eternal life is life such as God Himself lives. The word for eternal is aionios, which does not mean lasting forever, but means “such as befits God.”

I love what the Barclay Study Bible says about this:

The great characteristic of God is that he so loved and he gave. Therefore, the essence of eternal life is not a carefully calculated keeping of the commandments and the rules and the regulations; eternal life is based on an attitude of loving and sacrificial generosity to our fellow-men. If we would find eternal life, if we would find happiness, joy, satisfaction, peace of mind and serenity of heart, it shall not be by piling up a credit balance with God through keeping commandments and observing rules and regulations; it shall be through reproducing God’s attitude of love and care to our fellow-men. To follow Christ and in grace and generosity to serve the men for whom Christ died are one and the same thing.

In the end the young man turned away in great distress. He refused the challenge, because he had great possessions. His tragedy was that he loved things more than he loved people; and he loved himself more than he loved others. Any man who puts things before people and self before others, must turn his back on Jesus Christ.

I wonder if this Church of Scotland minister knew he was writing a great commentary of a beloved Book of Mormon scripture – Mosiah 2:17 “When ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God.”

The Prayer of the Publican (Tax Collector)    Luke 18:9-14

In the time of Jesus, the devout prayed three times daily – at nine, at noon, and at three.  It was believed that prayer was especially efficacious if it was offered in the temple.  Thus, many went to the temple courts to pray during these hours. Jesus tells us a parable of two men who offered prayers. He was speaking to “certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others.” Jesus spoke often of the issue of righteousness, pleading with His hearers to understand their utter inability to be righteous enough to attain the kingdom of heaven. (See Mosiah 2:21) This knowledge was essential if they were to understand His mission on earth, which was to save sinners—those who knew they could not save themselves. 

The Pharisees, on the other hand, thought their own goodness was so impressive that it could not fail to make them acceptable to God. They held rigorously to the ceremonies and traditions of the law, making a public show of their religiosity, all to be seen by other men, many of whom they despised as being beneath them. The Pharisee in the story is the epitome of one who is self-justifying. Notice that his prayer has no elements of confession. He does not ask forgiveness for his sins, perhaps because he believes he has nothing to confess. Nor is there any word of praise or thanksgiving to God. His prayer is all about him. Even the prayer he does offer is designed to exalt himself and place himself above others whom he treats with disdain. Going to the temple to pray with the condition of his heart as it was, he might as well have stayed home. Such a “prayer” is not heard by God. 

Unlike the Pharisee, who stands boldly in the temple reciting his prayers of self-congratulation, the tax collector stood “afar off” or “at a distance,” perhaps in an outer room, but certainly far from the Pharisee who would have been offended by the nearness of this man. Tax collectors, because of their association with the hated Romans, were seen as traitors to Israel and were loathed and treated as outcasts. This man’s posture spoke of his unworthiness before God. Unable to even lift his eyes to heaven, the burden of his guilt and shame weighed heavily upon him, and the load he carried had become unbearable. Overcome by his transgressions, he beats his breast in sorrow and repentance and appeals to God for mercy. The prayer he speaks is the very one God is waiting to hear, and his attitude is exactly what God wants from all who come to Him. In fact, the King James translation does not do justice to his humility for the Greek actually says, “O God be merciful to me – the sinner,” as if he was not merely a sinner, but a sinner par excellence. It was that heart-broken prayer which won him acceptance before God.

The tax collector exhibits precisely what Jesus spoke about in the Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3). Being poor in spirit means admitting we have nothing to offer to God to atone for our sin. We come to God as empty, impoverished, despised, bankrupt, pitiable, desperate beggars. The tax collector recognizes his sinful condition and seeks the only thing that can bridge the gap between himself and God. “Have mercy on me,” he cries, and we know from the end of the parable that God heard his prayer for mercy and answered it. Jesus tells us in verse 14 that the tax collector went away justified (made righteous) because he had humbled himself before God, confessing that no amount of works could save him from his sin and that only God’s mercy could. 

Elder Dale G. Renlund made this comment on the parable: “The message for us is clear: a repenting sinner draws closer to God than does the self-righteous person who condemns that sinner.”

Elder Maxwell often urged us to adopt the only comparison which matters: our potential. Said he, “Comparing what we are with what we have the power to become should give us great spiritual hope” (Neal A. Maxwell, “Becoming A Disciple,” Ensign, June, 1996, p.12).

In our lives today, we do not see other people praying at the temple and publicizing their virtues. We don’t even have to leave our homes to see people with “perfect lives.” We just have to consult the latest social media on our cell phones.  This “sharing” sometimes leads us to “compare” our seemingly drab lives with others’ lives, and this can lead to “despair.”  The “Share-Compare-Despair” phenomenon is rampant and toxic to our sense of Divine Worth.  We should wisely discern that we are seeing others at their best, and not compare them with our early morning selves with bedhead and bad breath.  My Gram used to say, “Count your blessings and not your golf strokes.” 

I want to conclude with this quote from Meridian Magazine. This is the only comparison we should ever make.

Long ago, one man–The Man of Holiness–bore our burdens so that we might bear up and be drawn to Him. He joys in our success. He mourns with our griefs. He succors our sorrows. Since no other person compares to the Savior, we should recognize that to compare ourselves with anyone else is to short-side our own vast potential. The Lord loves us so much that He descended below all things that we “may become the sons of God; that when he shall appear, we shall be like him…” (Moro. 7:48). That is the only comparison worthy of emulation: our true potential. (William J. Monahan, Sept. 24, 2010, Meridian Magazine)