Sunday Sermon: Creation

My wife, Kristine K. (disambiguation: not the same as Kristine) gave this sermon today in the Slate Canyon 13th Ward in Provo.

“[When] in the beginning God created the heaven and the earth . . . the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep . . . the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light; and there was light” (Gen 1:1-3). [1] In this opening scene of creation, I picture “the Spirit of the Gods . . . brooding upon the face of the waters” (Abr. 4:2), in a way, as a feeling out or trying to get a sense of what is out there. Then realizing that they need a clearer view of the materials they have to work with, the Gods utter, “Let there be light.” What is revealed in that primordial light is primordial chaos—a watery wasteland. I’m sure the Gods realized—maybe in that moment, maybe before—that their work would be difficult, that it would be a long and arduous process. In his book Reflections of a Scientist, Henry Eyring informs us that it takes an average of 250 years to deposit one foot of sediment, or roughly 112 million years to deposit all known sediments. [2] In fact, the Book of Abraham says that after the Gods “prepar[ed] the earth to bring forth grass” (4:11) or “prepared[ed] the waters to bring forth . . . the moving creatures (4:20),” they “watched those things which they had ordered until they obeyed” (4:18). [3]

There might be a pattern for our lives in this narrative. In the Book of Abraham, the Gods say, “We will go down, for there is space there, and we will take of these materials, and we will make an earth whereon these may dwell” (3:24). Joseph Smith, in his King Follett discourse, taught that “God himself had materials to organize the world out of chaos”—that the Hebrew word “bara,” translated as “created” in the Old Testament, means “to organize.”  So rather than creation ex nihilo, or “out of nothing,” “the Gods came down and organized and formed the heavens and the earth” (4:1). Joseph Smith suggests further that these materials could neither be created nor destroyed. [4]

In a similar fashion, each of us is given the circumstances of our lives, the “material,” if you will, for creating our lives. Some may be of our choosing, but more often we play the hand we’re dealt. Realizing that each of our lives is made up of unique circumstances—that the way we see and make sense of the world around us is shaped and formed by our experiences, the family we happen to be in, our genetic makeup, our environment—can help us deal with ourselves and the differences we find in each other with more love and compassion. In the arts, the term “bricolage” refers to “the construction or creation of a work from a diverse range of things that happen to be available.” On our way home from church in Chapel Hill, we would pass a house with a rhinoceros in the front yard—a rhinoceros made entirely from various scraps of metal. Someone had taken a pile of metal scraps, a gear here, some nuts and bolts there, a hub cap or a rake head, and painstakingly created a life-size rhinoceros. I love looking at these kinds of sculptures up close and recognizing all the different and interesting individual pieces that go into making something that when you step back looks like a cohesive whole. So rather than looking at the pile of junk in our lives and saying, “eh, it is what it is,” we have the power and responsibility to take that pile of junk and make something beautiful (and maybe even useful) out of it.

The scriptures are full of ordinary folks whom God calls to perform his marvelous works. They protest, “I am slow of speech” (Exodus 4:10), “I am weak in writing” (see Ether 12:23), “O wretched man that I am! . . .my heart sorroweth because of my flesh” (2 Nephi 4:17), “there was given to me a thorn in the flesh” (2 Cor. 12:7). But he calls them anyway. The Lord promises that his “grace is sufficient.” After Moroni laments that his words might be rejected by the Gentiles for their weakness, the Lord promises, “And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them” (Ether 12:27). I think we all have experienced enough weakness in ourselves to know that like the people of Alma, our burdens will not always be taken from us (see Mosiah 24), but that God, the master of bricolage, can make out of our humble and often fumbled efforts, something beautiful and maybe even useful. The individual pieces of our lives give our lives its texture. But we also need to step back from the small individual pieces, the thimble, the spool, the nuts and bolts, to see the cohesive whole that God has created. Also, we should step back from the nuts and bolts we see in others to see the whole of them, as well. Later in Ether 12, we see that Moroni was not necessarily made stronger in writing, but that the Gentiles, upon receiving his words, would need to have charity. Charity will open the hearts of the readers to his words (Ether 12:33-37).

Jacob chapter 4 also mentions this idea of weakness: “[T]he Lord God showeth us our weakness that we may know that it is by his grace” (4:7) that we can accomplish great works of faith. Later in the chapter he tells us that the Spirit “speaketh of things as they really are” (4:13). Just as the Gods shed light onto the primordial chaos, we have to see clearly before we can create or recreate in our lives. As someone who suffers from migraines, I can attest that darkness can be a comfort at times, but if we are to move forward, there has to be light. We should seek to shed light on ourselves; we should seek to see things “as they really are.”

We can seek to understand things as they really are by seeking to understand creation itself. We have the creation accounts in Genesis and the Pearl of Great Price, but we also have the findings of science. We can see these as contradictory, or we can see them as each shedding light onto the subject. In Reflections of a Scientist, Henry Eyring says,

God has left messages all over in the physical world that scientists have learned to read. These messages are quite clear, well-understood, and accepted in science. That is, the theories that the earth is about four-and-a-half billion years old and that life evolved over the last billion years or so are as well established scientifically as many theories ever are. So, if the word of God found in the scriptures and the word of God found in the rocks are contradictory, must we choose between them, or is there some way they can be reconciled? . . .

The fundamental principle that has guided my religious life is that I need believe only what is true. The gospel is the truth as learned or discovered by whatever means and tools I can lay my hand or mind on. I appreciate the scriptures for their insights into how to love God and my neighbor and how to learn obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel. These teachings are precious to all devoted Latter-day Saints. However, the brevity of the scriptures about God’s methods of creation indicates that this may be a subject we will understand sometime but do not need to worry about for the time being: ‘Yea, verily I say unto you, in that day when the Lord shall come, he shall reveal all things—things which have passed, and hidden things which no man knew, things of the earth, by which it was made, and the purpose and the end thereof—things most precious, things that are above, and things that are beneath, things that are in the earth, and upon the earth, and in heaven’ (D&C 101:32-34).

In the meantime, I think it is perfectly appropriate for us to study and learn as much as we can about this wonderful place God has prepared for us. . . .

In my opinion it would be a very sad mistake if a parent or teacher were to belittle scientists as being wicked charlatans or else fools having been duped by half-baked ideas that gloss over inconsistencies. That isn’t an accurate assessment of the situation, and our children or students will be able to see that when they begin their scientific studies. (Eyring, 61-62)

It seems that these ideas—needing to believe only what is true, and seeking to learn widely—could be transferred to many other areas as well. Joseph Smith said, “We should gather all the good and true principles in the world and treasure them up” (TPJS, 316). And from Lowell L. Bennion: “Religion is not the only approach to truth or to an understanding of life. Life is exceedingly complex, intricate, and far beyond man’s ability to comprehend. We need to look at it from all sides: through the eyes of the scientist, the artist, the poet, the philosopher, simple folk of common sense, and the prophet. No one of these can give us a full view of life.” [5]

One way we shed light on ourselves and others is through our stories. I think sharing our stories has power to bind us together. Every Fast Sunday we have the opportunity to share with each other our stories—we make ourselves vulnerable as we share our experiences of the divine. And as we come to know each other’s stories, we come to know each other and love each other. I think of one woman who shared her experience of depression and how the memory of feeling God’s love pulled her through times when she couldn’t feel it; another woman was courageous enough to declare the fragility of her testimony—that she had the desire to believe, but lacked the certainty many of us possibly take for granted. In these moments, the vulnerable sharing of ourselves, we become connected, and we begin to see the world through new eyes. If, for example, we have experienced depression, we can possibly take comfort that we are not alone; but if we have never experienced depression, we can see for a moment what life looks like from another’s eyes. This can teach us compassion and can deepen our connection to each other. Perhaps this is part of the reason Christ had to experience all that we experience—not just to know what it feels like, but to know us, and by knowing us he was able to serve us in the ultimate way.

Sometimes this shedding of light, either on a particular subject or on ourselves, tears down our previous notions or even beliefs. When this happens, we have to rebuild. Author Lauren Winner writes in her book, Still:

My friend Ruth’s mother once told her, ‘Every ten years you have to remake everything.’ Reshape yourself. Reorient yourself. Remake everything. What struck Ruth about this was not just the insight, but the source: she had imagined that her mother, her steadfast, loving mother, was static, was always the same. She didn’t know that her mother had remade everything seven times, eight times. Sometimes the reshaping is not big, not audible; not a move, a marriage, a child, a heroic change of course. Sometimes it is only here inside, how you make sense of things. Sometimes it is only about who you know yourself to be. [6]

I don’t have any great insights on this rebuilding process. All I know is that it will require patience—with yourself, with others, even with God. Abraham 4:17-18 reads: “And the Gods set them [the lights] in the expanse of the heavens, to give light upon the earth, and to rule over the day and over the night, and to cause to divide the light from the darkness. And the Gods watched those things which they had ordered until they obeyed” (emphasis added). Sometimes after we start the process of rebuilding something, we have to be patient and watch and wait for things to play out. Maybe it doesn’t work, and we have to start the process over again.

Lauren Winner’s book is about her journey through an ebb of faith. Toward the end she writes:

From this place now—not in the midst of the marital maelstrom; not in the middle of discovering God’s abstraction, but a little while later—in this clearing, I can begin to see those people and stories and words that held me to something resembling the Christian faith; that hold me still, if sometimes with a loose stitch.

It turns out the Christian story is a good story in which to learn to fail. As the ethicist Samuel Wells has written, some stories feature heroes and some stories feature saints and the difference between them matters: “Stories . . . told with . . . heroes at the centre of them . . . are told to laud the virtues of the heroes—for if the hero failed, all would be lost. By contrast, a saint can fail in a way that the hero can’t, because the failure of the saint reveals the forgiveness and the new possibilities made in God, and the saint is just a small character in a story that’s always fundamentally about God.”

I am not a saint. I am, however, beginning to learn that I am a small character in a story that is always fundamentally about God. (Winner, 193-94)

The Björk song “Unravel” poignantly describes a process of recreating:

While you are away
My heart comes undone

Slowly unravels
In a ball of yarn

The devil collects it
With a grin

Our love
In a ball of yarn

He’ll never return it

So when you come back
We’ll have to make new love

What we rebuild will never be the same as what has been torn down. The materials we have at hand might be different, or we might have to reassemble them in a new way—the thimble we used here may have to fit somewhere else, and we may have lost the hub cap altogether. But we can rebuild. May we have the courage and the patience with ourselves to create of our lives what the Lord would have us build, and may we help others along the way.

Notes

[1] I’ve adapted the King James Version to reflect the possibility that the opening phrase in the Hebrew can be read as a temporal clause.

[2] Henry Eyring, Reflections of a Scientist (Salt Lake City: Deseret, 1983), 54. Subsequent references in text.

[3] The Moses account says, “I, the Lord God, created all things spiritually, before they were naturally upon the face of the earth” (Moses 3:5). I find it interesting that the parallel to spiritual creation is not physical creation as we sometimes express it but natural creation. This and these passages in Abraham stating that the Gods prepared the earth and the water seem to suggest that they are creating the conditions for life to come forth naturally, giving space for current scientific knowledge.

[4] Bullock Report, 18. From Wikipedia: “The word ‘bara’ is translated as ‘created’ in English, but the concept it embodied was not the same as the modern term. In the world of the ancient Near East, the gods demonstrated their power over the world not by creating matter but by fixing destinies: so the essence of the ‘bara’ which God performs in Genesis concerns bringing ‘heaven and earth’ (a set phrase meaning ‘everything’) into existence by organising and assigning roles and functions.” 

[5] Lowell Bennion, An Introduction to the Gospel (Salt Lake City: Deseret Sunday School Union Board, 1955), 261.

[6] Lauren F. Winner, Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis (New York: HarperOne, 2012), 31-32. Subsequent references in text.

Comments

  1. Jason K. says:

    Reader, I married her…

  2. So incredibly poignant and beautiful. Very well written, Kristine! How you wrapped up– it was exactly what I needed to hear.

    “What we rebuild will never be the same as what has been torn down. The materials we have at hand might be different, or we might have to reassemble them in a new way—the thimble we used here may have to fit somewhere else, and we may have lost the hub cap altogether. But we can rebuild. May we have the courage and the patience with ourselves to create of our lives what the Lord would have us build, and may we help others along the way.”

    Amen, amen, amen. Truer words have not been spoken.

  3. Bjork! Wonderful.

  4. So much doctrine that resonates in my soul. Thank you.

  5. Kristine, thank you for your beautiful companion sermon with Jason’s. I believe the purpose of life is to learn how to be ever more powerful creators of all that is good. I believe that as powerful creators all, this is our stewardship, our opportunity, our divine potential and inheritance.

  6. Beautiful Kristine!

  7. Dan Mudrick says:

    Lovely talk Kristine! Your approach to the doctrinal questions resonates with me, and I love the personal applications. Thanks for sharing.

  8. J. Stapley says:

    To make and remake. Good stuff. Thanks, Kristine.

  9. I’m impressed that you threw some good Henry Eyring quotes from Reflections of a Scientist into a Sacrament meeting talk in Utah County. If your ward’s anything like most Mormon Corridor wards, that move had to take some guts.

    I’m also impressed that you used that out-of-print book instead of the watered-down substitute that’s been more recently released. Henry Eyring said it like it was…

  10. I love your insights here. This must have been one kick-donkey sacrament meeting.

  11. Olde Skool says:

    Wonderful. Bjork and full Eyring in one talk. Lucky ward. Lucky us!

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