Why I don’t think Jesus was perfect

In elders quorum this week, someone mentioned the idea that Jesus led a perfect life. It’s a common idea I have heard expressed often in the church.

I don’t agree with it.

At the end of Matthew 5, during the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said the following:

Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.

When we hear the word “perfect”, we normally interpret it to mean “without fault”. In the context Jesus used it, however, it likely means something else. In the original Greek version of Matthew 5:48, the word we translate as “perfect” was teleios.

This word means something less like having no defects or faults and more like complete in all its parts, full-grown, or mature. It is derived from the Greek telos, which means the end, completion, or product.

It seems, then, that Jesus isn’t instructing us to be spotless, without blemish, or defect free. It seems that he was telling us to be something else.

If he were telling us to be without fault, then why use only God as the one to whom we should look as the ideal? Why exclude himself? After all, Peter taught us in 1 Peter 2:22 that Jesus “did no sin”.

On that note, notice the Sermon at Bountiful (3 Ne. 12:48), where Jesus addressed the Nephite multitudes, and where he modified his counsel by including himself:

Therefore I would that ye should be perfect even as I, or your Father who is in heaven is perfect.

This seems to imply that even Jesus didn’t consider himself perfect when he started his ministry.

Something must have happened between the start of Jesus’s ministry and when he visited the Nephites to prompt him to include himself.

In D&C 93, we learn from John the Beloved that even though Jesus was full (or complete) of grace and truth, he did not start out that way. In fact, verse 13 says that he “continued from grace to grace until he received a fulness.”

Also, we learn in Luke 2:52 that between the ages of 12 and 30 (when he began his ministry), Jesus increased in wisdom, in stature, and in favour with God and man. This is inline with D&C 93, strengthening the idea that he improved himself in stages.

While certainly Jesus was sinless—as I stated above—that doesn’t mean he was perfect. Perfection is something else entirely, and I believe that the scriptures are clear in saying that while Jesus was free of blemish, he was not perfect.

How I define heaven might surprise you

When you hear the word “heaven?”, what comes to mind?

Do you envision heaven and hell as two different places—one for the righteous and one for the wicked—as the traditional Christian belief tends to be?

Perhaps you interpret “heaven” as it appears in the scriptures to mean the paradise in the Spirit World.

Or maybe you think “heaven” equates with Celestial Kingdom.

Here’s what I think, and let me know if you happen to believe this, too.

When I hear the word “heaven”, this is what comes to mind. To me, “heaven” refers to all the degrees of glory: celestial, terrestrial, and telestial.

The way I see it is that if the vast majority of people who have lived on this earth will inherit one of the degrees of glory, then it seems they will be better off than life here on earth.

Defining “heaven” as including all three degrees of glory also makes the concept of heaven more universal, and a universal heaven is something I can get behind.

How about you? How do you define “heaven”?

Is it apostasy to believe something the prophets don’t believe?

Something I’ve been thinking about lately is the role of prophets in the LDS church. It goes without saying, I think, that they act as God’s mouthpiece, dictating to us what God would have us know as a collective body.

Something that seems less clear to me is their role in interpreting scripture.

When one of the 15 prophets, seers, and revelators uses a scripture in general conference, for example, to illustrate or prove a point, is that divine endorsement of that interpretation? Can we safely assume that what they say is God’s intention when that scripture was originally revealed?

Assuming yes, then are Latter-day Saints whose beliefs differed from that interpretation bound to change their personal beliefs to match that interpretation?

Is it apostasy to interpret a scripture differently from how a prophet interprets it? Should beliefs among Mormons be homogeneous or is it completely acceptable to believe different things?

27 things in the Mormon Church’s new articles I never learned growing up

Over the past year or so, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been releasing articles on particular topics through their website.

I have personally found several of the articles encouraging because they cover things I never learned growing up: things I learned only as an adult and only through blogs, podcasts, and anti-Mormon websites.

I don’t know why I never learned these things. What I do know is that I never learned them in Primary, Sunday School, Aaronic Priesthood classes, Seminary, or Institute, or even on my mission. I never read them in a church magazine (although recently a handful of them have appeared in Ensign issues) or lesson manuals.

I present below several recent articles and direct quote from each showing facts and ideas I had to learn through non-official channels. Continue reading 27 things in the Mormon Church’s new articles I never learned growing up

Admitting You Have a Problem Will Be the Best Feeling You’ve Ever Had

You know that feeling you get when you make a good decision? It’s a deeply satisfying thing, isn’t it? And it can sure be elusive – after all, you only ever know a decision was the right one long after you make it. Same thing with bad decisions, for that matter; hindsight is 20/20, after all.

But what if there were decisions you could make that could be guaranteed to have a positive impact on the trajectory of your life?

Well, it would be a lie. Nobody can make such claims. But what I can tell you is that admitting to your personal problems could be one of those decisions. It might not feel like it, and you might not really know right away, but I can personally guarantee that you’ll feel as though a weight has been lifted, and even more importantly, you’ll feel as though you’ve taken control of your life. I can imagine few things in life more rewarding than feeling a degree of balance and control return to your life.

So what kind of stand am I talking about making? Let’s start with the most obvious. The 2012 edition of the Treatment Episode Data Set indicates that some 1.5 million teenagers in America could be considered to have a substance dependency. Just over half of them – about 51.2% – had been referred to some kind of alcohol or drug treatment program by a court.

The thing is, I’m not just talking about chemical dependencies here, although that’s obviously the most well-known sort of addiction. Here are a few others: There’s every reason to think that certain types of video games can be addictive. Sex and porn can be addictive. Even relationships – particularly unhealthy ones – can be addictive.

In case you think I’m speaking hypothetically here, you should know that some of the men in my family have struggled with alcoholism over the years. Too many of them spent too many joyless days by themselves after their closest family members couldn’t be around them any longer. They think of the lost time, lost money, squandered ambition, and missed opportunities over the years, and the regret is sometimes enough to overshadow even the satisfaction of having made a change.

But they did change. Others might make their own personal admission of weakness long before they did, and good on them.

Life is full of temptations. I won’t tell you for a moment that some of them aren’t worth pursuing – responsibly, in moderation, or in the right company – but a great many more will turn your world upside-down and inside-out.

Furthermore, I won’t tell you that there’s an orderly and clearly delineated multi-step program that works for everybody. The Church-sanctioned 12 step program is a great place to start, but like all matters of faith, how you interpret its teachings and put them into action are wholly and decidedly yours.

Know, too, that self-deception is not one of the 12 Steps.

I’m not going to drag this on for much longer. What I’ll leave you with is this: if there was something tugging at your conscience while you read this article, know that it’s probably time to address it. Doing so might be the start of a painful road toward recovery, but the feeling of relief will be an immediate and lasting reward.

Image Credit: Flickr (via Creative Commons)

What Does Jesus Have to Do With Moving Violations?

The relationship between America and religion has been quite interesting to watch over the country’s relatively short history. After all, some could say the country was founded by the Pilgrims: those seeking freedom from religious intolerance. Of course, the Lenape, the Lakota and the Navajo, among many others, were here first. But that’s a different article.

Founded on the ability of its citizens to practice religion peacefully – no matter what religion that happened to be – there’s a saying we all know that’s supposed to inform government decisions: the separation of church and state. In other words, while those who lead are free to believe in whatever they’d like, they can’t use their power to force people to believe similarly.

Which brings us to an interesting case that’s sprouted up in Indiana.

Does Jesus write traffic tickets?

In August, Ellen Bogan was pulled over in Union County for an alleged traffic violation.

Everything seemed to be perfectly normal. In fact, some could argue it worked out even better than normal for Bogan, who received a warning instead of a ticket.

But just before Bogan thought the traffic stop was winding down, Indiana State Police Trooper Brian Hamilton decided to ask her a series of questions: Does she go to church? Does she believe in Jesus Christ? Does she realize Jesus died for her sins?

“It’s completely out of line and it just – it took me aback,” Bogan recently said. After those questions were asked, Hamilton allegedly took out a religious pamphlet from his cruiser before presenting it to her and letting her go on her way.

Partnering with the American Civil Liberties Union, Bogan filed a lawsuit against Hamilton in a federal court in September. It remains to be seen how that case will unfold, and in the meantime, the police department says it’s taken some sort of disciplinary measures. But that statement lacked specifics.

What’s going on here, anyway?

At the very basic level, Hamilton should be ashamed of himself for his actions after pulling Bogan over.

Even though he might have been well-intentioned, the fact is that as an officer in uniform, he is a representative of the government. More specifically: a government that prides itself on keeping church and state affairs separate from one another.

Because of what they represent, most law-abiding Americans are going to be pretty scared during even the most routine of interactions with police officers. After all, state troopers are physical manifestations of law enforcement. We are taught from an early age to respect and/or fear them, lest there be consequences.

And that respect usually entails listening to what they have to say and keeping quiet in order to not dig yourself into an even deeper hole.

Bogan did what most smart Americans would do: behaved cordially and kept quiet. But the experience to her, a non churchgoer, was so odd that she couldn’t let sleeping dogs lie. And I guess that’s understandable given today’s political climate.

But at the end of the day…

While Hamilton was clearly out of line here – after all, officers aren’t allowed to detain you for longer than they need to if you’re not going to be arrested for a crime – let’s keep in mind that his actions, no matter how you want to phrase them, aren’t grievous.

We of course can’t just hop into Hamilton’s mind and understand exactly what was going through it at a certain point, but it appears as though his offense is pretty minor in the grand scheme of things. Just consider the case of Daniel Holtzclaw, an Oklahoma City officer accused of sexually assaulting women he pulled over.

Police officers are humans, too. Even the calmest, coolest and most collected officer will from time to time remember that he or she is more than a badge and a gun. That officer will show attributes that make him or her, well, human.

So is this story so outrageous because Hamilton was trying to convert a constituent to his religion? Would it be a nonstory if he asked Bogan whether he’d buy Girl Scout cookies that his daughter was trying to sell? Or would that be going over the line, too?

I have to admit: I do expect things to be different in the private sector. I’ve been accosted about my contribution to global warming while shopping at a local business. I didn’t really expect it, but that’s Free Speech at work. Perhaps the better example would be another public servant, such as a teacher. Should teachers be able to proselytize to their captive audience? Of course not; some of the teachers I respected the most over the years were the ones who were obviously opinionated but didn’t let their feelings enter into their work “personas.”

The bottom line here is that, as a country, we are too easily offended by just about everything. There was even a considerable uproar over a recent Jeopardy! category called “What Women Want.” While the category might have been poorly conceived, particularly in today’s perpetually offended society, take a step back and realize that the family-oriented quiz show likely wasn’t trying to make some grandiose political commentary on a touchy subject.

The easier answer? The producers made a mistake.

While Hamilton was certainly in the wrong in this particular scenario, is it really that big of a deal? Did anyone else come forward to say that the trooper had done the same thing to them? Would people care if an atheist asked a religious constituent whether he or she believed in no god?

We will never live in a perfect society. But with all the other craziness going on across the globe, it might be time for America to take a deep breath and pick bigger battles.

Image Credit: Keoni Cabral (via Flickr)

Hello, Readers! Please Allow Me To Introduce Myself

Kim was already kind enough to welcome me formally to Our Thoughts, but I wanted to take a moment to tell you a little bit more about myself.

My name is Daniel Faris. I’m 25 years old and I live in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. I graduated from the Writers Institute at Susquehanna University in 2011. I’ve been making my living as a freelance journalist and ghostwriter ever since, as well as helping out with the marketing efforts of local businesses like Kramer CAT and more nationally recognized brands such as Earbits. My work has appeared on Forbes, the London School of Economics & Political Science, and a number of pop culture blogs.

I’ve come to Our Thoughts to share my musings and experiences as a struggling Christian. I grew up attending church, but have always had difficulty applying the tenets of faith to my life in a practical, personal way. My years at college also saw me drifting further from the church and from faith in general.

I’ve flirted with atheism throughout the years. I’ve doubted and wondered whether there was any room in my life for the God my parents taught me to fear when I was a child.

And, yes, I still doubt. Regularly. But faith is nothing without doubt to compare it with, yes?

As for my intentions for the site, I plan to share, in my time here, some of the ways that my faith has, in turns, been tested and reaffirmed over the years.

I’ll also make a point of exploring faith through the lens of modern music. I listen almost exclusively to secular artists these days, and I’m continually surprised to find theological discussions in the most unlikely places.

Anyway, I suppose that’s a suitable introduction for now.  I’ll be back soon for my inaugural post: a look at a former death metal band whose discovery of the phrase “musically uninhibited” has given their music a thoughtfulness and a renewed clarity of purpose.

Stay tuned.

In the meantime, feel free to connect with me on Twitter and Google+, or stop by my music blog, The Sound of Progress.