Editor’s Note: This is the fifth article in a 12-part Tuesday/Thursday Meridian Series that explores some of the most remarkable and exciting doctrines of the Restoration. Read the two-part introduction to this series here, and here, and read article 1 here, and article 2 here, and article 3 here, and article 4 here.
This series poses fundamental and intentionally provocative questions about the doctrines of the Restoration, and in many cases includes the author’s own interpretation of certain Gospel beliefs and principles that do not pretend to be official doctrine of the Church and that are necessarily endorsed by Meridian Magazine. The intent is to stimulate thought and questions that will lead each of us to our own conclusions.
Cover image via History.ChurchofJesusChrist.org
Defining Means and Ends
The dictionary defines “means” as an action, or system, or power by which a result or desired “end” is achieved. In more scriptural language the means is the cause or the force by which an end is “brought to pass.”
It is not always easy to distinguish the effect from the cause, or the goal from the plans, or the destination from the journey, or the illness from the symptoms, or the end from the means.
And failure to make this distinction can affect our ability to make good choices and to orchestrate and implement our best lives.
A piano student who is asked what her goal is, may say “To practice for an hour every day.” But in fact, that is a plan and not a goal, and if she does not have a clear goal, she has less chance of being motivated to implement her plan. A goal is a destination, and a plan is a path. If the student decides that her goal is to be able to play every piece in Piano Book 2 without a pause or mistake, then her plan to practice for an hour each day will have incentive.
A sea captain in a dense fog, on his way to a certain destination, sees on his radar a vessel that is in his path, so he radios “Get out of my way—change your course.” The answer comes back “No, you change course.” The captain is angry and says “I am a mega-tanker, change course now!” But the next answer brings a paradigm shift and forces the captain to differentiate his course from his destination, “I am the Lighthouse, you change course.”
Mistaking our symptoms for a cause, we might treat ourselves with pain killers and not seek or discover what illness was causing our pain.
Thinking that poverty was to blame for broken families might bring government to move in directions they would not go if they understood that broken families are in fact the key cause of poverty.
Which is most important?
What matters most—The cause or the effect? The plan or the goal? The Means or the End? And if they are both essential, how do we tell one from the other? Usually, whether in material or spiritual things, just asking the question leads us to the right answer.
Making the question spiritual, we now ask the biggest question of all, Is Christ the end or the means.
The instinctive answer, for most of us is “both.” Christ is everything. He is the end that we want to strive to be and He is the means by which we can move toward getting there.
But jumping to that conclusion might cause us not to search (including the scriptures) or pray as hard as we might for a more specific answer; it might keep us from trying to more clearly separate the end from the means and discover the relationship between them.
Separating One from The Other Magnifies Both
The destination of our journey, according to God’s word both anciently and through His prophets today, is Exaltation. Exaltation means the destination of the covenant path. It means both eternal life and eternal lives. It means returning to live with our Heavenly Parents in the highest part of the Celestial Kingdom.
This is the end.
And the indispensable means, and the only path to that end is Christ.
Does it diminish or demean the Savior to think of Him as the Means rather than the End?
Or, is the ultimate worship of Christ an understanding that He—His life and His death and His Atonement and His implementation of the Father’s plan—is the only path, and a path that we cannot trod without being saved by Him.
If the Plan of Salvation were a play, it is Christ who plays all of the lead roles—Creator, Jehovah, Intercessor, Savior, Teacher, Ultimate Example, and Judge. Christ is the means whereby the seemingly impossible is brought to pass.
Christ has always been the Means. Perhaps the moment in the Pre-existence when we “shouted for joy” was when we realized that we would not only be able to experience mortality and all of the learning and mistakes that it would entail but also, through the means of His Atonement, be able to return to our Heavenly Family. It was the means whereby an end that seemed impossible could be obtained. I believe it was when we understood that that we shouted for joy.
The best one-word statement of the End is “Return” and it is our Heavenly Parents we are returning to, a goal or an effect or a destination that was and is completely unreachable, even incomprehensible, without the Means of the plan and the implementation and the sacrifice of our incomparable Elder Brother Jesus Christ.
This belief paradigm—Christ as the Indispensable Means— increases our awe of and dependence on Him. It increases our personal gratitude and debt to Him. It magnifies our motivation to follow Him. It deepens our love and personal adoration of Him. It burns within us a desire to, bit by bit and piece by piece, become more like Him.
The Roles within the Means
Let’s revisit all of the aspects or components of the Means that Christ is: We must try to see Him as the God who played and plays all of the major roles in the three act play of our premortal life, earth life, and afterlife. Consider the sheer number and variety of the roles he plays to perfection:
- A great intelligence prior to the creation of this world.
- The firstborn spirit son of our Heavenly Father.
- A great and loyal leader in the spirit world.
- The leading advocate of the plan of agency and redemption for this mortal existence, and the one who insisted that all credit and glory be given to the Father.
- The accepted volunteer for the supremely difficult and self-sacrificing implementation of that plan of agency and redemption.
- The creator of this world.
- The light of this world.
- The Light of Christ which permeates the universe
- Jehovah, the God of the Old Testament.
- The Only Begotten Son of the Father in the flesh.
- The only perfect being ever to live.
- The head of the original Church of Jesus Christ.
- The teacher of the full gospel (“good news”).
- The Savior and Redeemer of the world who willingly gave his life for us all.
- The first fruits of a glorious resurrection, which, because of him, will apply to us all
- The “Enabler” who, through the Atonement, enlarges our capacities
- The Great and Last Sacrifice who paid for our sins
- The “Empathizer” who, because of Gethsemane, understands us like no oter
- The direct, resurrected teacher of the gospel to his “other sheep”—in other parts of this world, in the spirit world, to the lost ten tribes
- The Mediator and Advocate with the Father.
- The revealer and restorer of the fullness of his gospel.
- The Lord who will come again and reign during the Millennium.
- Our judge.
- Our Father, if we accept him and live his commandments.
Sometimes little children (whom Christ told us to be like) can say simply what we try to say complexly, as when I asked my four-year-old daughter:
“Who is Jesus?”
“Why did he come to earth?”
“To show us how to love each other and to show us how it works when we die.”
“What is he doing now?”
“Taking care of us from way up there.”
Jehovah, the Hardest Role or Means to Understand
But what of role # 9 above? As Jehovah, was He really the vindictive, jealous God that the Old testament seems to describe? Certainly, this is not a role that fits the play.
Of course, we know that he was not different then, for He is unchanging and constant in every way and most certainly in his love for all.
We must remember that all writing is done through the eye of the beholder, through the lens of the times and the culture, and through the intentions of the writer and his knowledge of the understanding, the perspective, and the language of the people he is trying to influence.
For these and other related reasons, The Prophets and other writers of the Old Testament interpreted, described, portrayed, and wrote of God’s (Jehovah’s) unchanging and unconditional love for all mankind in very different ways than we would today. It is hard for us to imagine the culture and feelings and norms even of Joseph Smith’s times 200 years ago; so trying to empathize and grasp the society of the Bronze Age—and to understand the paradigms of Israel 4,000 years ago may be impossible. We know that people thought differently about right and wrong, about reward and punishment, and even about what made a person, or a culture, or even an idea good or bad. So, we have to go by what we now know about God and conclude that his boundless love, forgiveness, and light touched everything and everyone then as it does now, but was interpreted, metaphor-ed, and presented is a very different way, through a lens or a filter that highlighted justice and punishment more than mercy and salvation.
We should also remember that the Old Testament we have is not the Old Testament as originally written—that many plain and precious parts have been lost, the most precious being about Christ and His coming. The Premortal Christ in the Book of Mormon is portrayed in dramatically different terms than the Lord of the Old Testament.
As theologian Richard Rohr says, we, today, must try to read all scripture “in the light of Jesus… where mercy trumps justice, love prevails over enmity, and the real nature of God is revealed. Once the knowledge or anticipation of, or the faith in Christ is perceived, either in prophecy of His coming or in His embodied presence, the entire narrative changes.”
Thus, we read the Old Testament for the morals of its stories, for its commandments and principles and for its prophecies of Christ, and we never read it in a way that doubts the complete and everlasting love of the Lord.
And we see our Lord Jesus Christ as the Indispensable Means to all that is good and all that our Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother want to give us.
Please comment with thoughts or questions, and join me here on Thursday for Article 6 which is called True or False? (Five Popular Beliefs that we Should Question).
Richard Eyre is a #1 New York Times Bestselling Author who served as Mission President in London. He and his wife Linda are frequent Meridian contributors.