The Spirit is Willing, but the Flesh is Weak
It has been said that we are not human bodies that have spiritual experiences, but spirits that are experiencing human bodies. Of course this is true (see D&C 93:29). But the nature of this life is such that we are meant to forget this existential truth. Not only can we not recall this fact, but God seems to have deliberately situated mankind in a way wherein there appears to be no empirical proof of it. In other words, what’s to blame when modern man does not believe in spiritual things? The answer is both simple and profound: their unbelief.
The ancient prophet Mormon understood the nature of this overarching paralyzer when he attributed it as the principle reason that miraculous things cease to occur in the lives of individuals and nations:
“Deny not the power of God; for he worketh by power, according to the faith of the children of men, the same today and tomorrow, and forever. And again, I exhort you, my brethren, that ye deny not the gifts of God, for they are many….
“All these gifts of which I have spoken, which are spiritual, never will be done away, even as long as the world shall stand, only according to the unbelief of the children of men…. If the day cometh that the power and gifts of God shall be done away among you, it shall be because of unbelief” (Moroni 10:7-8,19-20,24, emphasis added).
“It is by faith that miracles are wrought; and it is by faith that angels appear and minister unto men; wherefore, if these things have ceased wo be unto the children of men, for it is because of unbelief, and all is vain” (Moroni 7:37, emphasis added).
The foregoing verses show plainly that it is unbelief—or the lack of faith (there’s no more a concise word for that in English than “unbelief”)—that is the primary impediment to those experiences that constitute proof of spiritual reality. So if someone desires to understand how they are in fact first-and-foremost a spiritual being, with capabilities far beyond their daily acquaintance, they must allow themselves to believe.
Hope and Faith
Hope cannot become the all-powerful force of faith without a key ingredient: truth (see Alma 32:21). For example, hope in Santa Clause while staring at a fireplace on Christmas Eve will never result in a rotund man in a red suit coming through it no matter the effort of mind accompanying said hope—such effort can never amount to faith because, though Santa Claus is unseen (as all spiritual things are to the natural eye), he is not “true.”
Truth cannot be manufactured. That which is true simply is; that which is not true simply is not. If rightly considered: to believe in and act upon something that is true is to manifest faith in the truth; the opposite—to believe in and act upon something that is not true—is to manifest unbelief in the truth. Thus the disciple of the Great High Priest must gain one key power in order to banish their unbelief and unlock the power of faith and miracles in their life: it is the power to “see” that which is true. If one can begin to rightly discern the truth of all things, one is enabled to convert superstition into superpower, raise dead works into living works, and do anything that is expedient in Christ (see Moroni 7:33).
(“But,” you might be asking yourself, “how can I gain the power to ‘see’ the truth and thus overcome unbelief if the presence of my unbelief in the first place is keeping me from having spiritual experiences?” Valid question. Pay attention for the answer after a little more instruction [hint: the answer will come at the end].)
Seeing by the Light
The doctrine that unlocks the “how to” of seeing ‘that which is true’ is called the doctrine of the light of truth, or the light of Christ. Pay close attention to its described function in the following verses:
“Jesus Christ [is]…the light of truth; which truth shineth. This is the light of Christ. As also he is in the sun, and the light of the sun, and the power thereof by which it was made. As also he is in the moon, and is the light of the moon, and the power thereof by which it was made; as also the light of the stars, and the power thereof by which they were made;… and the light which shineth, which giveth you light, is through him who enlighteneth your eyes, which is the same light that quickeneth your understandings; which light proceedeth forth from the presence of God to fill the immensity of space—the light which is in all things, which giveth life to all things, which is the law by which all things are governed, even the power of God who sitteth upon his throne, who is in the bosom of eternity, who is in the midst of all things” (D&C 88:5-9,11-13, emphasis added).
This light that emanates from ‘the presence of God to fill the immensity of space’ is here explicitly described as both an unseen, animating power that connects all living things and at the same time the seen, visible light that illuminates that which can be seen with physical eyes. Indeed, empirically discernible light is one aspect of the light of truth. Its presence before an intelligence is what constitutes that intelligence’s first moment of eternal awareness:
“(The Gods) comprehended the light, for it was bright; and they divided the light, or caused it to be divided, from the darkness” (Abraham 4:4).
It is this physical, or temporal, aspect of the light of truth that enables an unbelieving skeptic or atheist to rightly discern the features of some object he or she may be studying. Without light, who could comprehend the world around them, let alone themselves? Of course no one could comprehend a thing without light; it is fundamental to the very notion of existence as we comprehend it.
Why all this exposition about physical light? For, as physical light is the substance of daily experience, it becomes the necessary place from which all other aspects of the light of Christ, or the light of truth, may be rightly comprehended.
Seeing with Spiritual Eyes, Even the Third Eye
As demonstrated above, the light of Christ, or the light of truth, illuminates all things so that their true appearances may be known. On the level of material matter, this means that light rays from a source, such as the sun or lightning, bounce off of various molecules, some wavelengths being absorbed in the process, and eventually make their way into the eyes of a person, revealing some tiny aspect of the thing that reflected the ray of light into the eyes. Repeat this process innumerable times at varying angles and over the whole surface of the reflecting object and the ocular sensors in the eyes of the beholder are able to compute a form or image for that object. This is generally accepted as the way in which life is visually processed. But this is relative to material matter. What about immaterial matter? The Lord had somewhat to say on that through the prophet, Joseph Smith:
“There is no such thing as immaterial matter. All spirit is matter, but it is more fine or pure, and can only be discerned by purer eyes; we cannot see it; but when our bodies are purified we shall see that it is all matter” (D&C 131:7-8, emphasis added).
So am I proposing that the light of Christ also illuminates the world of spirit? Yes. And as the prophet revealed, the rays of spiritual light (of which physical light is an aspect) can only be discerned by ‘purer eyes.’ All people possess these ‘purer eyes’ for they are the eyes of their spirits, and all people are animated by their spirits (remember, ‘first-and-foremost’ “man is spirit” [D&C 93:33]). Moses backs up this statement with his personal experience, when he said:
“Mine own eyes have beheld God; but not my natural, but my spiritual eyes, for my natural eyes could not have beheld; for I should have withered and died in his presence; but his glory was upon me; and I beheld his face, for I was transfigured before him” (Moses 1:11).
Due to wickedness at both a societal and an individual level, most people never see with purer eyes. Moses said he was ‘transfigured’ before he could see with his spirit eyes; Joseph said that our bodies must first be ‘purified.’ So either God comes to you and changes your mortal state or your mortal state is changed as you come to Him—but the point is that without a change, normal mortal bodies are not allowed to see by the eyes of the spirit—that is, the veil of the mortal tabernacle is designed to block comprehension of that which the spirit may view. It will be recalled that at the start of this essay it was stated that the nature of this life is such that we are meant to forget the truth that we are spirits experiencing human bodies. This is God’s intentional design default for this probation.
It should be noted, however, that nothing in this means that our spirits are dormant, as if while we walk and talk in mortality our spirits sleep within our bodies in some shut-eyed fetal state. No, the eyes of our spirits are open, but we comprehend not the light they see while in the flesh of mortality unless a choice is made to first believe.
“Behold, here is the agency of man, and here is the condemnation of man; because that which was from the beginning is plainly manifest unto them, and they receive not the light. And every man whose spirit receiveth not the light is under condemnation” (D&C 93:31-32).
Indeed, the eyes of our spirits are always “seeing,” but the veil of the impure body of flesh stands in the way of comprehending what is “seen.” It is not a coincidence to this principle that the scriptures employ language associating the veil with unbelief, which acts as a cloud upon the mind and understanding of man (see D&C 67:10; 110:1; Ether 4:15; Alma 19:6 for example).
Not With the Natural Mind, but With the Spiritual
The key to begin learning how to “see” with spiritual eyes is to understand how spiritual sensory information is relayed to the physical mind. For instance, Nephi teaches that when angels speak, it is comprehended by mortals as “the power of the Holy Ghost” (see 2 Nephi 32:3). Insofar as angelic ministration is typically unseen, it should be recognized that the mortal frame seldom hears audible words from these messengers but instead a sensation is interpreted with meaning, which we call a “prompting” or “burning” of the Holy Ghost. President Joseph F Smith taught that it is in fact those that have passed on into the spirit world before us and who love us that most often are the instruments of such promptings (see Gospel Doctrine, Deseret Book Co. [Salt Lake City: Utah], 1970, pp. 435–36). And as this is the case with the sense of “hearing” by our spirits, what of the other senses in spirit, such as sight? The scriptures again paint the answer for us:
“And again, I exhort you, my brethren, that ye deny not the gifts of God, for they are many; and they come from the same God. And there are different ways that these gifts are administered; but it is the same God who worketh all in all; and they are given by the manifestations of the Spirit of God unto men, to profit them.
“For behold, to one [and to another] is given by the Spirit of God that he may:
- Teach the word of wisdom…
- Teach the word of knowledge…
- [Have] exceedingly great faith…
- [Experience] the gifts of healing…
- Work mighty miracles…
- Prophesy concerning all things…
- [Experience] the beholding of angels and ministering spirits…
- [Speak] All kinds of tongues…
- [Give] the interpretation of languages and of divers kinds of tongues…
- [Et cetera.]
“And all these gifts come by the Spirit of Christ; and they come unto every man severally, according as he will…. All these gifts of which I have spoken, which are spiritual, never will be done away, even as long as the world shall stand, only according to the unbelief of the children of men” (Moroni 10:8-17,19, bullets added).
That’s right: the various manifestations of the spirit of God through men and women in the forms of these gifts constitute a natural mind reaction to a spiritual mind action. For some, they actually are allowed to see what their spirit can already see, such as angels and other spirits of purer matter; for others, the true form that the future will take is illuminated to their understanding just as if they were surveying a landscape before them; and still others understand the words of another’s heart, as our spirits naturally would, but recognize the phenomena as the words of their own mortal language. To whatever degree of purity God is enabled to work through your physical body, He will thin the veil and allow the senses of your spirit to touch the natural mind if you are believing and have faith.
So How Does It Work?
The scriptures indicate that all things born into mortality have their existence first in spirit (see Moses 3:5 for example). Furthermore it is understood that these spirits are in some manner begotten by a spiritual parentage, which parentage in the case of the spirits of mankind is known as God the Father (see Hebrew 12:9). But within the spirits of all there is yet a deeper substance, a measure of of independent, uncreated animating power—a thing to ultimately act as opposed to a thing to be acted upon (see 2 Nephi 2:13-14)—which may be called intelligence:
“Man was also in the beginning with God. Intelligence, or the light of truth, was not created or made, neither indeed can be. All truth is independent in that sphere in which God has placed it, to act for itself, as all intelligence also; otherwise there is no existence” (D&C 93:29-30, emphasis added)
And the key to this exposition on intelligence is to understand that this intelligence, which is at the core of each living thing including ourselves, is definable as a function of something that should sound familiar (hint: it was in the scripture quoted above): the light of truth! This is also expressed as “light and truth” (see D&C 93:36). Remember: the light of truth is the light of Christ.
So the whole soul of a man or woman is something like a Russian nesting doll with three basic layers that we may overly simplify as follows:
Think of it: you are actually an eternal entity of light currently experiencing existence through the double lens of a body of spirit encased in a body of flesh. Going back to the discussion of non-physical senses, now the question has become this: how does intelligence see? We have a hint in this obscure quote from Joseph Smith:
“Joseph Smith reportedly said in 1826, while under examination in a court of law, that when he first obtained his personal seerstone he placed it in his hat, and discovered that time, place, and distance were annihilated; that all intervening obstacles were removed, and that he possessed one of the attributes of Deity, an All-Seeing Eye” (Matthew B. Brown, Plates of Gold, Covenant Communications (American Fork, Utah), 2003, p. 167).
Brigham Young confirmed the saying:
“When Joseph had a revelation he had, as it were, the eyes of the Lord. He saw as the Lord sees” (Ibid.).
It appears that a seer is capable of somehow seeing not by physical sight, and not even just by spiritual sight (the beholding of spirit matter, etc), but with the eyes of his intelligence, penetrating through and connecting to the light of truth that is in all things regardless of where it is in space or time. Why God designs some to possess this gift naturally while others may never attain to this ability is a topic for another essay; but there’s a final concluding fact to consider: just as, while we walk and talk in mortality, our spirits are not asleep within our bodies in some shut-eyed fetal state, neither are our intelligences.
And because within all of us is a portion of the light of truth, every living thing is connected with an instantaneous, powerful link that defines who and what we are at the most fundamental level. True it is that we are individuals on different paths making different choices, but we are also made of the same thing as God and Christ are. Each of us as old; each of us as eternal. Where natural ability is not present, each of us possess powers and abilities through the spirit and light of Christ that merely await our belief and our purity to awaken.
This then is the foundation to understanding the compatibility of folk “magick,” priesthood power, extra- or inter-faith miracles, mysteries of the plan of salvation, the use and operation of divining instruments, etc.
More blog posts on all these things to come.
(Answer to the question above [I told you it would come at the end!]: increased spiritual vision to discern the truth comes by keeping the commandments of God. It makes sense: if you want to see as the Great Optician sees you must do as He prescribes; for, as the scripture says, “He that keepeth his commandments receiveth truth and light, until he is glorified in truth and knoweth all things” [D&C 93:28]. In other words, if you harbor unbelief and desire proof of your spiritual nature and abilities, keep the commandments of God with real intent and that proof will come. And if you believe you are keeping the commandments and still not receiving proof, then make sure you’re not confusing the precepts of men via church culture with the commandments. Here’s a hint: if you are not actively fighting to sacrifice the things of this world then you’re not actually keeping the commandments, no matter what your leaders may say or do.)