Heaven Is Here, If You Want It

To read the Gospels is to become obsessed with a vision. And the name of the vision is “the Kingdom of God,” or, sometimes, “the Kingdom of Heaven” or just “the Kingdom.” It is the most powerful vision in any of the standard works, where it occasionally also goes by the name of “Zion.” It is the focus of most of Christ’s parables and of the vast majority of His teaching and ministry. And it remains one of the most poorly understood concepts in the churches that use his name.

And here is the root of the misunderstanding: throughout his ministry, Jesus tried to describe what the Kingdom looked like—how people who understand the vision act towards each other and how they orient themselves toward God. We have taken that simple description and turned it into a prescriptive list of things that we have to do to earn a place in something called “heaven.” In the process, we have turned consequences into rewards and instructions on how to live into checks that can only be cashed after we die. For centuries, Christians have been trying to earn the very thing that the New Testament instructs us to build.

Imagine if we did something similar with the advice we often hear today. I know that, if I want to lose weight, I have to do two things: I have to eat fewer calories and do more exercise. There is nothing magical about this; it is a simple statement of cause and effect, of an action and its consequences. I am not trying to earn the blessing of a slim figure through my willpower and virtuous eating and exercise behavior. I am simply doing math with food. Heaven, it turns out, works the same way.

In the New Testament Jesus uses “Heaven,””the Kingdom of Heaven,” and “the Kingdom of God” interchangeably—not to refer to an afterlife or a reward, but to describe a society that we can have any time we want it. Two of the parables in this week’s lesson, the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant and the Parable of the Good Samaritan, directly address the question of how to construct God’s Kingdom on earth.

The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant
The parable in Matthew 18:21-34 comes in response to Peter’s earnest attempt to quantify Jesus’s message on forgiveness. Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times?” (18: 21). Peter no doubt sees seven forgiveness as generous. But Jesus immediately identifies the problem–not with the number, but with the transactional nature of Peter’s question. He answers that Peter must forgive his brother “70 times 7 times”–and then he immediately launches into a parable, lest Peter start setting up a chart with 490 forgiveness squares.

Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened unto a certain king, which would take account of his servants. And when he had begun to reckon, one was brought unto him, which owed him ten thousand talents. But forasmuch as he had not to pay, his lord commanded him to be sold, and his wife, and children, and all that he had, and payment to be made. The servant therefore fell down, and worshipped him, saying, Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. Then the lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt. (18 :23-27)

The big trick here for modern readers is to recognize just how enormous a sum 10,000 talents was. The standard weight of a talent in the Roman Empire was about 75 pounds. So 10,000 talents of gold would be 750,000 pounds, with a 2023 value of around 15 billion dollars. But this isn’t really the point. It is an amount that would have been unfathomable to Jesus’s audience, like “eleventy trillion dollars” or “all the money in the world” would be to us. It is designed to make transactional righteousness seem impossible–because it is.

The amounts are unimportant because Jesus is talking about a way of being that is godly, but not manly. God’s love is unconditional, and his forgiveness is unlimited, because that is what being God means. And it is also what it means to live in the Kingdom of God. There is nothing transactional about any of this. If we are going to create a good society to live in, people are going to have to forgive each other rather a lot because, no matter how hard we try, human beings obstruct, offend, insult, inconvenience, and otherwise get in the way of other human beings. If we cannot learn to forgive, then, wherever we live will not be heaven. It will be something else. That’s how consequences work.

The Good Samaritan
Jesus gives the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10, in response to the question, “who is my neighbor?” which is itself a response to His statement that the two great principles of Eternal Life are “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself” (Luke 10:27).

This setup is important, because the “certain lawyer” is, like Peter in the earlier example, trying to find a way to define a transaction that will result in a reward. He wants to know who he has to love if he wants to earn his way into heaven. The main thing that Jesus tells him is, “that’s not how this works.”

And Jesus answering said, A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. And by chance there came down a certain priest that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side.

But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him. And went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. And on the morrow when he departed, he took out two pence, and gave them to the host, and said unto him, Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again, I will repay thee. Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves? (18:30-33)

The parable, of course, derives much of its strength from an ethnic conflict that his audience would have understood immediately. We can imagine our own comparables, but that isn’t really the point. The point is that the commandment to “love thy neighbor” comes without limits. Your neighbor is everybody. Full stop.

Once again, this is not a transactional commandment. By definition, “the Kingdom of Heaven” is a society where people act like the Good Samaritan. Societies in which people act like the Priest and the Levite are very different, as are societies in which everyone acts like thieves.

The overall message of these parables is very simple: take care of each other and learn how to forgive, and you can have heaven any time you want it. The power of the vision is the suggestion that we can actually do it if we all do it together. And Latter-day Saints believe that such a society has been created twice in the history of the world: the antediluvian City of Enoch (Moses 7) and the 200 years following Christ’s appearance in the Book of Mormon (4 Nephi). Perhaps the most powerful message of the Restoration is that we can do it again.


  1. tracydhawkins says:

    This gets confusing for me when dealing with alcoholic family members. I go to AlAnon and learn to Detatch with Love, Set Boundaries, and be less co-dependent. Then I go to church and get confused again. What are your thoughts?

  2. Tracy, I think that one benefit of not looking at forgiveness as a transaction, or as a regulative commandment, is that questions like this change their focus. It moves the discussion out of the ethical realm (“you need to forgive because it is moral/right/a commandment to forgive others”) and into a purely practical realm (“I need to get better at forgiving because I want to live in a society where people are forgiving”). That is a long-term goal, and it takes all of our life to learn how to balance various conflicting factors, one of those being personal boundaries

    And it also means that people need to be tolerant with you when you are trying to set those boundaries and navigate difficult, often conflicting desires. Problems are easy to solve if you solve them in isolation. It is easy to say, “forgive people because that is important” if you don’t have to deal with questions like, “but what if a person won’t think I have forgiven them if I don’t let that person trespass my boundaries or ask me to do things that are bad for my spiritual or emotional health.” A blog post, by its very nature, looks at questions like this in isolation. But the reason I think we should talk about these things pragmatically rather than as absolute ethical points is that these questions never occur in nature without other questions. So we need to have grace for each other as we negotiate these kinds of competing demands.

    I do not know you personally, but the very fact that you are asking this question tells me that you are taking the injunction to forgive seriously and that you are looking for ways to reconcile it with other things, such as your own mental and spiritual health, that you also take seriously. Take as long as you need to figure out the best way for you to reconcile these things. You have a whole lifetime to figure these things out, and you should trust your instincts. I believe that forgiveness is important, but I also believe that forgiveness does not always look like the people who have offended us think that it should look. Especially if they think that forgiveness looks like putting ourselves in a position to be abused.

    I hope that is helpful. Your question is exactly the right question, and the answers are complicated and can be the work of a lifetime.

  3. tracydhawkins says:

    Thank you very much.

  4. Rockwell says:

    I don’t usually have much to say about devotional posts these days but you have got me on this one, which treats the topics that I like best about the church and Christianity in general. Well done. Well said. Fifty points for Gryffindor, or whatever your house is.

  5. No, unfortunately, we can’t have Heaven anytime we want it, and don’t have what we need now to bring it about.

    Hate to rain on the parade… but there is a hopeful message in that downer of an opening sentence.

    The two examples the OP gives of Zion communities – Bountiful and Enoch’s Zion – actually give a bit of a different picture of what is required to bring about Heaven on Earth. Yes, being nice and treating others well is important, obviously, as that is what heavenly beings apparently do. But those alone will get you no closer to having Zion here than deciding one day you’d like to build a tower. There have been righteous people in every age who have never experienced Zion in their lifetimes… in fact, sometimes they experienced the exact opposite in trying to live good lives in a world ruled by The Enemy.

    The common overall theme, actually, in both of these examples that seems to have been overlooked is this: Extreme cases of divine intervention (i.e., miracles) were required for Zion to even have a chance of being established, and those acts of divine intervention happened on God’s timeline. For those at Bountiful, Jesus had to destroy almost an entire civilization in order to give the remaining inhabitants a chance at it. For Zion, God had to give Enoch power over the Earth to keep the people of God protected from their enemies. In both cases, power that enabled the righteous to be separated and protected from the wicked was needed for Zion to be established.

    In addition to this general protective power, power or glory of Heaven given directly to the people seems to also be necessary before anything like Zion can come about. In Bountiful, Jesus bestowed on them the Holy Ghost, gave them food and drink he brought from Heaven (and which had, I believe, a profound impact on both their bodies and spirits from that time forward), and provided them with disciples blessed with immortality, who saw Heaven, and remained among the people working mighty miracles. For Zion, we have fewer details, but it says that the ‘glory of the Lord’ was on these people, and I imagine very similar miracles being performed.

    Gifts and miracles will be provided that will help us build Zion again. They are mentioned very specifically in the Book of Mormon. We don’t have them yet, and so no matter what you do, Zion is going to wait. This should hopefully take some pressure off feeling that we and others ought to ‘be better’ in order to get a result, and likewise feeling animosity toward ourselves and others when perceived failures seem to be the cause of why things aren’t better now. Without those things that we need, I don’t think we even know enough to know exactly what ‘be better’ should fully entail. We lack the stories to know even what we should worship and how we should do it.

    Counterintuitively, rather than pretend we can bring about Zion through our actions, it would be better to do as Moroni counseled: Awake to our awful situation. We do not have the power we need, and the earth is ruled by everything, pretty much, that Zion is not. Pretty bad. But that awakening can be a hopeful one, in realizing that we have promises that the power will come down from Heaven when we most need it, to few scattered across the earth, and that this will be the beginning of the story that ends with Heaven and Earth reunited as one.

    So, what to do in the meantime? Live in hope, and yes, do all of those nice things for each other, but don’t be fooled into thinking that will bring Heaven. At some point we will have the power and the tools required to build Zion, and so I guess we should also try and position ourselves to receive those blessings in a positive way, as apparently there may be many who won’t, for whatever reason.

    I would also put away your bibles for a period of time – they, or how you are using them, are likely doing more harm than good at this point. The Book of Mormon would be the best source, but even that is so loaded with a couple centuries of traditions, alterations, and approved interpretations that it might be hard to see things in new ways.

    It may just be a matter of holding on for a bit as best we can and starting to believe in and pray for the promised blessings and miracles, fully recognizing the powerlessness of our current circumstances, but desiring to do good nonetheless.

  6. Rockwell says:

    WW, take 20 points from Slytherin. Sorry.

  7. WW, I’m not sure I understand your comment and I know I’m not a mind reader. The following comment was prompted by your comment–it is what came to my mind–but is not intended as a response or argument directed toward you.

    When discussing Heaven on Earth or Zion, there is a common argument that this is the time for personal righteousness and that the Millenium or Second Coming is the time for systemic change. I acknowledge that topics of systemic racism and sexism and heterosexism (for three hot examples among many) can be controversial in our community. Many of us want to stop at the “don’t hate” version of those -isms and not proceed to the systemic discussion of making things better. And I acknowledge that the discussions when we do engage are difficult and even painful. But my sense of God’s big Heaven on Earth or Zion project is that those are the very issues we are called to grapple with, in the here and now. On this earth. In 2023. It’s hard to read the story of the Good Samaritan any other way. “Who is my neighbor?” and the Second Great Commandment don’t give me leeway to wait for Christ to fix things.

  8. And feeding the hungry and housing the unhoused and not killing each other and more. It’s a long list. We’d better get busy.

  9. Left Field says:

    I think the revelation at the Fishing River makes clear that it was only the personal failures of the people of Zion’s Camp that prevented the redemption of Zion. And that we are still waiting “for a little season” for us to finally get our act together.

  10. A thought for Tracy: forgiveness is about the past, while detaching, setting boundaries, etc. are about the future. It’s entirely possible to say “I love you, I forgive for hurting me in the past, and I will do what I need to do to make sure you cannot hurt me again in the future.” Even if that includes cutting off contact.

    I wish you well in an extremely difficult situation.

  11. And how does this all bring about heaven while I recently watched my father die slowly over the past 5 years? We are stuck in the telestial kingdom for now, which is a kingdom of death, decay and scarcity. No amount of happy thoughts can overcome that. There is no “heaven right now, if I want it.”

  12. it's a series of tubes says:

    Lily, I grieve for what you have suffered and are suffering. You know by your own experience that what Michael writes here is magical thinking, not the truth.

  13. Rockwell:

    You can deduct even more if you want… and you can also keep staring in your own Mirror of Erised for as long as you want, also. Must be a nice view.


    Let me see if this helps clarify my comment – my inability to say anything concisely or clearly is likely at fault here.

    I have read enough on here to understand that it is a strong desire for many to root out all levels of unrighteousness they see in other people or groups.

    I think, however, that perhaps there are too many beams that remain in our eyes to see clearly and state confidently what ought do be done differently. Perhaps take my comment as something that suggests believing in and praying for the miracles and gifts we need in order remove those beams, have scales of darkness and unbelief drop from our eyes, and then be able to see as we ought to is perhaps the better course here.

    Unbelief seems to be our block, if anything. The Book of Mormon itself wasn’t even intended, I don’t think, as a tool to tell us how we should be different. It was meant to try our faith and build belief, and with that belief other gifts including words, books and stories would come that these would help us with the question of what to do and be. We don’t have those things, the original Mormon experiment Joseph Smith tried to make work largely failed in its original intent, and here we are today reaping the fruits, or the lack thereof. That is our situation, unfortunately, as I see it.

    We are lost, and the humility to see that may go some way to being found again. So, if we want to ‘do’ something, maybe we start there. Belief follows, and then other really good things.

    Left Field:

    Good reference. Could be as you say. I might interpret the utter failure of Zion’s Camp a little differently, in that it actually illustrates the fact that the people did not have the power yet required to redeem Zion. Perhaps a learning experience for those involved that without the gifts that accompanied other Zion communities, their efforts were in vain and would always be overturned or coopted by evil. But that obviously supports the point I am trying to make, so very easy for me to see it that way, correctly or not.

  14. Tubes, I am very open to the possibility that I am wrong, and that the way I am interpreting Jesus’s words in the New Testament is incorrect. However, it seems strange to label as “magical thinking” the belief that human beings are largely responsible for solving our own problems and making our own societies better instead of waiting for someone to come down from the sky and miracle all of our problems away.

    In most of the circles that I travel in, such an argument would be called “not magical thinking.”

  15. Olde Skool says:

    Lily, I’m deeply sorry for your loss. Having recently concluded a similar, and similarly dispiriting, journey with my late spouse, I think I understand something of what you’re feeling here. I would like to offer two points that, for me, help to reconcile the very real sorrow you’ve expressed here with the invitation the OP offers us:

    1. At no point does the Gospel Michael reads here suggest that the “Kingdom of God” is defined by ease. What the text says, and what the OP teases out, is that insofar as we allow ourselves to be transformed into the kinds of people who care for one another in a godly way, we might achieve the kind of society that is aligned with heaven. That won’t prevent us from experiencing terrible shocks and sorrows, but it might give us access to an abundance of care and love that sustains us as we grieve.

    2. In a wonderfully insightful talk from the 1970s published by the church a few years ago in AT THE PULPIT, Francine Bennion notes that God’s own state of being does not exclude sorrow and challenges. She relates this story (with apologies for my awkward formatting):

    A group of BYU Honors students was discussing Voltaire and “the best of all possible worlds. “Tell me,” I said, “what you consider to be the best of all possible worlds.” “It would be like the celestial kingdom.” “What is that like?” “Well, there won’t be problems like we have here.” “What kind of problems?” “Well, for one thing, everyone will be—happy. There won’t be any unkindness. No one there will be rejected or abused, or laughed at, or ignored.” “Oh,” I said. “Are you suggesting that God experiences none of these things now?” And then there was silence, for a moment.

    (The whole talk is here: https://www.churchhistorianspress.org/at-the-pulpit/part-4/chapter-43?lang=eng)

  16. For me, one of the most productive ways to think about eternal life is as the life of those who are devoted to suffering and rejoicing with others. This is where love leads us. Rejoicing with us and suffering with us are the essence of what God does (in heaven). Rejoicing and suffering together are the essence of what Jesus’s gospel asks us to do. If we do this well, how is this different from heaven?

  17. Rockwell says:

    WW, I should say that like Harry, you can choose your house if you don’t like slytherin. I’m not a sorting hat. I realized after I wrote the comment that assigning someone to slytherin could be offensive, which would be
    an ironic way to respond in favor of the OP.

    Interesting that you bring up the mirror of erised, that shows a person’s deepest desire. Some people (I think fewer than most people think) may simply desire to eat drink and be merry. Another person’s deepest desire might be to see the wicked get what’s coming to them. Both people are probably looking at a reflection that doesn’t reflect reality.

  18. Michael, I love this essay and line of thought. Jesus, in Matthew 6 recites, what we have come to know as “The Lords Prayer”. Beginning is verse 10, he says, “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on Earth, as it is in Heaven”. There is actually a ton to unpack in that short stanza, but I think it’s clear that Jesus’ mission was to empty himself of his divinity, descend below all things, becoming human in the most realistic sense. He was bringing Heaven to Earth, so Earth could be brought to Heaven.

    I think, unfortunately, Christianity has largely skipped the clear message Jesus imparted throughout his mortal ministry, that Heaven begins here, and if we are unable to engage in the creative process of Heaven building, then there will be no Heaven to escape to in the hereafter. Heaven, to me, is not the arbitrary reward for having passed mortalities summative test, but rather, the creation of the types of people and relationships that constitute Heaven.

    It often appears that we have made the gospel an effort to perfect the imperfectible. The brilliance of our mortal experience is found in its imperfections, those are the very crucibles that draw out our capacity to become like God. It’s not meant to transform people into beings worthy of love. On the contrary, it’s the perfect environment to teach us to love as he does, not because things are perfectly lovable, but precisely because they are not.

  19. Rockwell:

    No worries. I am definitely aware that running counter to the BCC priesthood on this site is perilous to begin with, and when the OP is arguing for us to be nicer in order to bring about Heaven, then any objection to that is bound to get a downvote or two (since who in their right mind would argue with that?). Makes sense to me.

    Glad you got my Erised reference, though. How you applied that is also exactly how I think of it… all of us trapped in front of a distorted view of reality based on what we want to see (while also telling others what is real and thus how they ought to see and be!). I consider myself also trapped in front of that same mirror at present, for what its worth.

    The fact remains in all of this that the OP isn’t the first person to run with the idea that if we are all just better and nicer to each other then – abracadabra – Zion! Its a well worn path. My guess is the number of groups who have tried this with serious intent is not small, and we all know how many of those succeeded.

    We need miracles and massive help from Heaven itself in order for there to be any hope of Heaven actually being here on Earth. That is why Moroni, think, included the words of his father in proclaiming a God of Miracles (Moroni 7).

    Other than that, I guess all I can say is Mars sure does look bright tonight.

  20. Kristine says:

    “The fact remains in all of this that the OP isn’t the first person to run with the idea that if we are all just better and nicer to each other then – abracadabra – Zion! ”

    I mean, that’s one way to paraphrase prophets… Seems a little disrespectful.

  21. It’s interesting how the Savior inverts the story so that the “neighbor” is the one doing the serving rather than the one being served. My guess is that the guy traveling to Jericho was a Jew–and so the Priest and the Levite actually fail to serve one of their own.

    And so when the Savior tells how it was a Samaritan that showed compassion what he’s emphasizing more than anything else (IMO) is that keeping the law goes beyond living the code–so to speak. Because it was an outsider — one who knew nothing of the Law of Moses — who live it better than those who did know it.

    “On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” And those two commandments are first and foremost about love.

  22. Kristine:

    No, I am not paraphrasing prophets. I am paraphrasing all of the non-prophets – the ones that don’t think God and miracles are required to create Zion, and take the more humanist view that the OP is expressing.

    You will definitely have a nicer group of people and a nicer place to live if everyone acts nicer to each other. I don’t think you need bible stories or prophets to tell you that. But it won’t be Zion or Heaven.

  23. WW:

    While I understand your sentiment that heaven requires more than just people being nicer to each other, it requires miracles made possible by divine power–I think you may be looking past the mark, or possibly completely missing the mark altogether. Miracles, absolutely, yes, please bring them on, show me the miracles. But, often, the greatest miracles are the simplest ones, the ones that are slowly occurring on a daily basis, the ones that are right in front of our faces, that we fail to see because they are not what we are looking for.

    If we are not careful, we will miss Jesus for the same reasons the ancient Jews did, because we will fail to see that his greatest miracle is the power to transform the human heart. It’s no small task to extricate the toxic biases, personal preferences, cultural conditioning, false beliefs and ideas, and every other unholy thing that makes it impossible for heaven to exist. So, yes, for everyone to be nice to each other might be the greatest miracle of all. And the result, Heaven!

  24. WW,

    Let’s clarify the thing that we actually disagree about, just so that, going on, we are arguing about the right things. I think we both agree that the moral messages of the parables are intended to teach people who to create a better society, and that if everyone accepted these suggestions and put them into practice, the world would be a better place than it is now. I think we both also agree that it would not be a perfect word because human beings are not capable of perfection. What we would be trying to create is the best society that human beings are capable of producing through their own efforts.

    We disagree on the question of whether or not “the best society that humans are capable of producing through their own efforts” is what Jesus meant by “heaven” (or “the kingdom of heaven,” or “the kingdom of god,” which are used interchangeably in the New Testament).

    To me, this is very clearly what he meant to say. One of the well-documented issues in the text is that the disciples constantly misunderstand what being the Messiah means. They expect Jesus to do what the Maccabees did when they overthrew Antiochus, or what Cyrus did when he conquered Babylon. The Messiah was supposed to lead a revolt against Rome and restore the United Monarchy to its original borders and inhabitants, which was more or less what his audience would have considered a perfect society.

    Jesus constantly pushed back against this expectation (see here for example). He said that his mission was different, and he said that changing the world was something that people were responsible for doing. And he explained how. Changing the face of the empire isn’t what brings about the Kingdom of God. Changing ourselves does.

    When Jesus died, however, his followers did not give up their incorrect eschatological assumptions–they just shifted them until “when Jesus comes back,” which they all believed would occur in their lifetimes. And this is when the modern concept of “heaven” was born. It happened when the things that Jesus said about building a better world got combined with the eschatological expectations that were frustrated when Jesus did not fulfill them. The things that Jesus was very clearly saying about what we need to do right now were shifted to the afterlife and the end of the world, where they have remained ever since.

    Also, I want to be clear about my own position. I am not a social reformer, or a philosopher, or a theologian. My job is not to design a perfect society. I am a literary critic, and my whole training and professional emphasis has been oriented towards reading stuff and trying to figure out what it means. This series of posts that I am doing reflect years of careful reading and texual analysis. I don’t expect you to agree with this (what a dull world we would have if we always agreed with each other). Disagreement is part of the process that makes ideas better, so I always appreciate your thoughtful critiques.

    I just like to be very clear about the proposition that we are disagreeing about, which, from my perspective, is that Jesus’s parables are designed to teach human beings how create the best society that is within their power to create, and this is what he meant by “heaven.”

  25. In my reading of New Testament this year (the Gospels anyway) I thought that I would set aside all of the commandments that I knew, and see if I could pick out exactly what Jesus taught. What would I change? And Jesus teaches surprisingly little. He teaches the sermon on the mount, that pharisees are hypocrites who have missed the mark, that rich people won’t make it into heaven, that he’s the son of God who will be sacrificed but raised on the third day, that he will come again, and what the Kingdom is like. There are a lot of parables about what the Kingdom is like (Oh, and I guess there’s some stuff at the end about feeding sheep).
    Jesus doesn’t tell us how we should live the Sabbath. He says that through him the Law will be fulfilled, but doesn’t give any more details as to what that entails. He doesn’t tell us how to worship God. He doesn’t mention anything about temple work or family history. Nothing about how to follow him; just that we should follow him.
    So thank you for this focus on the Kingdom of God. Because that seems to have been Jesus’s focus as well.

  26. WW–early LDS prophets, particularly JS and BY, clearly taught that God would come AFTER the Saints established Zion. They regarded building Zion as very much a human project. Divine assistance? Grace? Sure. But eschatological elimination of enemies was not something they expected before they set to building. That eschatology is borrowed later from other American Christians. So when you mock the idea that building Zion is a project humans can undertake in the present, I think you’re discarding a lot of what is precious in the Restoration. And when you attack your fellow Saints for interpreting the New Testament in very much the same way that Joseph Smith did, it seems like you’re compounding the error.

  27. Todd S:

    It could be that I am missing the mark. Or it could be that I am trying to redirect the target altogether and a comments section where perfect strangers are trying to talk to each other in short(-ish) form is not a great format for that. Hard to really understand each other, I think.

    And yes, I do believe that there are ‘miracles’ and graces from heaven all around us. I see those in my life, and sounds like you do as well.

    But I also believe that people in general, and Mormons specifically, have gone to great lengths to redefine what miracles are in explaining away their absence. I mean the ‘real’ miracles. It even comes out in how and what we teach. For example, the OP has done a significant amount of work in giving us insight into what he believes Jesus taught, but not so much, if anything, about the miracles he performed. Even miracles that are mentioned are brought up more as the same type of teaching moments, how we should act differently in our own life in learning about the miracle, etc., as opposed to being discussed under (in my opinion) the correct context of God himself showing Men the power of heaven and what heavenly beings do. I think this is because if we spent time talking about the miracles in that way, we would keep coming back to the uncomfortable question of “Well, where are they now?”.

    Moroni went to some effort to describe what miracles we should still be seeing today (perhaps in anticipation of modern man’s knack for redefining and rationalizing things). And that they would be distributed in different ways among many people.

    I don’t see them today – the things that should be among us if we believe in a God that is the same always (which I do).

    Please, if anything, read my comments as coming from someone who is tired of the pretending. I am tired of people pretending that they speak for Jesus when they don’t. I am tired of people pretending that they know the path you should follow based on how they are interpreting the bible, or scriptures, or whatever. I am tired of people pretending that that gifts that should be among us are really here, when in reality their absence is deafening.

    Our issue as Gentiles is one of Unbelief, and we are lost and sitting in darkness. How does this get fixed? I would be a hypocrite if I said I knew the answer based on what I just wrote above. I don’t know exactly. I don’t think we just believe more or try to be better. I mean, I guess trying helps, but everyone seems to interpret what that means differently today, just as Joseph Smith observed in his day.

    My hope comes down to the one that I find in the Book of Mormon, as I read it. That new stories will be given to us, and these will be the basis for our healing and the journey from Unbelief to Belief. These include: The Book of the Lamb, The Book of the Seer (can’t think of a better name for it), The Brass Plates, The writings from the Stone (in Alma 37… if different from the Book of the Seer), Jesus’ greater words at Bountiful, and the writings of the Brother of Jared. Probably many more not mentioned.

    These have been prepared and preserved (again, in my opinion) for a day when we would need them most – when the whole world is in an awful state of Unbelief as exhibited by the inability of even one of us to show the gifts of heaven here today. Like a light shining forth to us prisoners who sit in darkness, these stories will give us the knowledge and tools we need to beat back that darkness. We will know what to believe in again, our faith will be restored, the gifts and miracles that accompany that faith follow, and with those gifts… well, that is the abracadabra Zion part, as I see it.

    So part of it is really waiting, unfortunately. At least that is what I have come to terms with. I used to think that we could help make things go faster – be better, believe more or harder, or whatever – but I don’t think this is the case. I believe the forces for good are extremely active, both in heaven and on earth, but we are asked to still wait.

    In the meantime, we do all the good things, of course, in helping our fellow prisoners (in this I agree with the sentiment of the OP), but also recognize that our deliverance will come from Heaven while also having the faith and belief in the promises that this help will come (it seems that is where our belief needs to start), and to stop pretending we can get ourselves out of this mess with what we currently have.

    I guess that is the basis for my disagreement with this particular post, specifically, and some of the OPs writings more generally, if I try to put my finger on it.

    Sorry for the long comment(s) – a comment section probably isn’t the best format for this as I mentioned. But I am just so tired of all of this.

  28. Michael (strange not to call you ‘the OP’…):

    At the hope of not littering your comment section with even more comments that are far too long, see my comment to Todd S. above, and see if that can also double as an answer in framing where you and I are finding some disagreement?

    I guess the other thing that isn’t helping us is that my current view is the bible is mostly junk, and you are a scholar of it… so, you know, probably a bit of a divide there as well that could be also causing some issues.

  29. WW,

    Just to address your thoughts on miracles–I’m of the opinion that if we were to create an account of all the miracles that have happened among the saints over the last year it would be to the size of a telephone book. Of course, most of them would be small miracles. But there would also be many notable ones too–and even a few as great as any recorded in the New Testament.

    Miracles are still happening. It’s just that they’re rarely mentioned in real time because of their sacred and personal nature–especially as the church gains greater visibility in the world.

  30. Geoff - Aus says:

    So a society where there is love and support for each other, where there are no poor, or rich, and little or no contention.
    How to create that;
    1. Universal healthcare
    2. Capitalism is very regulated, so wealth is much more evenly divided.
    3. No violence, no guns.

    There are many countries around the world that are much closer to Zion than America. Those of us who live outside America are amazed at how you have created/accepted ideas that move you further from Zion.

    One is that small government is best. Which gives power to the wealthy. And that governments helping people are taking away the agency of others. Not if they agree, which they can choose to.

    If the poor have equal access as the wealthy they are less poor. Two examples. All beaches are owned by the government in Aus. like national parks. And developed with toilets, showers, bbqs and picnic areas. There are no poor ar rich on Australian beaches.

    This week I went into hospital for a preventative proceedure that costs $3500 ish in America. I showed my medicare card and signed a form. There are no rich or poor in Australian public hospitals.

    We recently had an election in NSW. By 9.00pm the experts were predicting a change of government. The looser came out and congratulated the winner, said he was a man of integrity, and urged his followers to support the new government. The winner thanked the looser for his integrity, hard work, and attempt to help the people of the state.

    It is disturbing that America is the most outwardly christian first world country but also the least zion like. If I were a returning Christ I would not return to America, unless it changes a lot.

    If you look at the happiness index (happiness = most zion like) Australia is 11th. I was surprised the US was as high as 19th. Perhaps Americans judge the happiness differently. When we visit America there is stress in the air, zion is peace.

  31. J. Mansfield says:

    Mary Chapin Carpenter did a nice rendition of the stress of American air mingled with love for the place.

    Goodnight America

  32. J. Mansfield says:

    I left a comment that is in moderation, likely due the URL in that comment linking to a Mary Chapin Carpenter song and BCC’s love/hate relationship with the internet. And then I looked at the title on the browser tab, “Heaven Is Here, If You Want It,” and for a second I mistakenly thought the tab was for another MCC song, because a title like that could be one she would use.

  33. WW,

    It seems to me your waiting game of doing little until more miracles appear is a very cynical kind of magical thinking. Or maybe it’s just an accurate critique of the failed Mormon experiment and not an actual belief?

    I could spend a lot of time telling the Wright brothers that their attempts to make a heavier than air flying machine are futile and to “stop pretending we can get ourselves out of this mess with what we currently have”, or, you know, I could shut up and get out of the way of the people who are building the flying machines. It’s more than pessimistic, you’re telling others to also stop trying and play an idle waiting game. Why?

    Personally, I’m ambivalent regarding what you want to define as miracles, and why you think there’s any difference between people’s experiences of such yesterday vs today, I’m far more interested in things we can actually measure , and the narrative myths of people who believed the sky was a literal dome above our heads doesn’t strike me as super reliable basis for measuring any modern phenomenon, but I would bet good money that people of faith experience what they think of as miracles as often as anything.

    But as OP pointed out, the point is that the eschatological shift of Heaven as a distant location misses the mark most certainly, so a reliance on “miracles from heaven” that depends entirely on this interpretation are then also missing the mark.

    If you already believe the Bible is mostly bunk, why have you selectively decided to believe that certain claims about miracles and Zion societies are true?

  34. Your food allergy says:

    You don’t have to wait to die
    You can have it all anytime you want it
    Yeah the kingdom’s all inside

  35. it's a series of tubes says:

    human beings are largely responsible for solving our own problems and making our own societies better

    Michael – sorry for the delayed response, but to be clear – I absolutely agree with the above. We can and must work as if it all depends on us. But ultimately, a celestial society requires more than that – it requires a specific gift given by God as set forth in Moroni 7.

  36. Michael – sorry for the delayed response, but to be clear – I absolutely agree with the above. We can and must work as if it all depends on us. But ultimately, a celestial society requires more than that – it requires a specific gift given by God as set forth in Moroni 7.

    I understand your point, and it is a perfectly legitimate point to make. My objection is simply with your use of the term “magical thinking.” In standard English usage, expecting specific gifts from a divine being as promised in scriptural texts is what “magical thinking” means. Believing that things must be done without the aid of extra-natural forces is what “not magical thinking” means. I just want us to get our terms right.

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