“The entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’…The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” Galatians 5: 14, 22-23
Section 93 of the Doctrine and Covenants is, in my opinion (which is correct), one of the most radical, beautiful works of theology ever written. While I could happily do a whole series about it, there is one particular part of it I want to draw upon for the sake of this series.
The revelation in Section 93 starts with describing the nature of Christ, his greatness and glory and goodness. This is familiar and comforting language describing God. So far so good. Generally, however, the language that describes God is used to show how very, very different God is from humanity (who, the interpretive narrative often interjects, are kind of gross but whom God seems to inexplicably love sometimes anyway). Section 93, however, goes in a very different direction. Jesus, the revelation says, was with God before the world was, became perfect because he learned a bit at a time, and is made of the spirit of truth, the same as God. These traits are what define him. Again, other than the teaching that Christ needed to learn (which deserves plenty of attention), this is pretty standard stuff. But here Christ adds something of paradigm shifting importance. These same things that are true of Christ are true of all of us. We, too, were with God before the world was created. We, too, become perfect by learning a little at a time. And we, too, are made of the spirit of truth, just as God is.
There is much that can be discussed about how vital this revelation is to Latter-day Saint doctrine, but there is one in particular that is important for our discussion here. We are made of spirit. This matters because so often we talk about the spirit as being something outside of and very different from ourselves. There’s this idea that’s been around for thousands of years that the material world and the spiritual world are separate from, even at odds with each other, and so when a spiritual event happens it must, almost by definition, be something that is transcendent from the material world and our normal experience somehow. There are all kinds of stories to back up this kind of thinking. After all, it is the experiences that are outside of the ordinary that get recorded in scripture and discussed in church. These stories are important, and yet the stories we tell can create boundaries as well as give hope. If our language concerning the spirit only associates it with inexplicable or otherworldly events, then we come to assume that is the only way the spirit works.
But what if the spirit doesn’t always have to lift us out of the material world into transcendence? What if there are times, what if most of the time, the spirit we experience feels as natural to us as eating or laughing or sleeping? Because the spirit is actually what is similar between us and our Heavenly Parents connecting to each other. Because the spirit of which we are made is the same spirit as the one that comes from God, and so when God’s spirit connects with us it is connecting with its like. We are still learning and growing, and there are many times when the spirit corrects us and teaches us new things, but these experiences are not always going to be jarring. Many times they may be so natural we won’t even be aware of how important they are.
The whole purpose of the spirit is to help us to love each other. The spirit is connection to our Heavenly Parents that in turn connects us to each other because we are family. That’s it. Everything that the spirit teaches and prompts is about that: uniting the family of God. The spirit is not something that is separate from us. It’s not a coach sitting in our head whispering at us to make sure we get all the answers right in some great final in the sky or else we go to hell. It’s connection. It’s love. It is kindness, forgiveness, joy, peace, gentleness, patience, and self-control. That means when we experience these things we are experiencing the spirit.
We constantly ask the question when we feel to go in a certain direction or act in a certain way “is it from God or me”? That’s a really, really good question if what we are wanting to do is something selfish or cruel or thoughtless or would break covenants we’ve made. If we are feeling a compulsion to show some “tough love”, or to judge or hurt ourselves or others or break commandments then YES! Stop and wonder and pray about whether or not this is from the spirit! But so often we freeze over this question when what we feel or think to do is something good; an act of kindness or generosity. What if those thoughts do originate with us? Does that mean they are any less from the spirit? Or does it just mean that our spirit is connected with that of our Heavenly Parents and family, living freely as it is meant to do by drawing us to each other.
The purpose of today’s post is to set this foundation of what the spirit is because it is essential for understanding where this series is going to go. The purpose of the spirit is love. The outcome of the sprit is the fruits of love. We may be able to experience the spirit without being aware it is the spirit, but awareness is important because with it we can start using the spirit more purposefully–after all, we are meant to be thoughtful agents of the spirit ourselves, not just to be acted upon by it. That’s why this discussion matters. As we will see in coming posts, the good that we can share and experience by the spirit is vast, perhaps limitless. It can be through scientific discovery, a course we are studying, a mundane job, a friendship, a hobby, a book we are reading, trials, even doubt, because all of these things and infinitely more can bring us closer to each other and God in our own, unique ways. (It won’t always look the same. Personality, genetics, and history all play a role in what love looks like from each person. This is why the spirit is discovered through experimentation, because there is a deeply personal element to it as well as commonalities.) The important thing is to look at the patterns that produce the fruit of the spirit in our lives, because those patterns are how the spirit speaks to us personally. The language is made manifest in the outcome, and the outcome is love.
[Next week: Messiness is Next to Godliness]
I think you make a very important point: that we shouldn’t expect an encounter with the spirit to be jarring–especially those who have a long history of trying to live the gospel. There are the more rare events–as when the Lamanites were converted–when people fall to the ground and whatnot. But for the most part the influence of the spirit is both subtle and soothing. Indeed, sometimes the workings of the spirit are so subtle that it’s only through hindsight that we’re able to detect it’s influence. Neal A. Maxwell once counseled the saints to take stock of their insights on occasion. It’s such a simple and yet powerful practice–powerful because by so doing we are able to track the almost imperceptible growth we experience through the influence of the spirit.
That said, I think the general subtly of the spirit is an indication of what seems to be the controlling idea of your post. Not only is the quietness of the spirit a manifestation of the Lord’s care for the agency of his children it could also be a product of familiarity–as you suggest. The spirit is known after all as the “comforter.” And so we shouldn’t be surprised by it’s gentleness, quietness, or subtlety. Because it resonates those elements that comprise our deepest selves–the selves that we have been for a very long time.
Thanks for this series.
Have you though about doing a series on Section 93?
Thanks for this series. When I studied D&C last year, I was struck by the power of the spirit of Christ, how it is all encompassing, light and truth. I had gotten the feeling before at church that it was like a poor second cousin to having the real gift of the HG that only members receive. What do you see as the difference between having the gift of Holy Ghost and the spirit of Christ that all have? Do you see additional benefits to having the gift of the holy ghost?
Jack, maybe I will do section 93 for my next project :)
Sara, those are really good questions; thank you for bringing them up. I think they need enough space to address thay I will address those in the next post.
This is great stuff and I agree with your main points. I did find myself asking pretty much the same question as Sara: how does “the spirit” as you use it relate to the Holy Ghost, who we’ve traditionally conceived as a personage of spirit with a spirit body that looks human, apparently male, with presumably his own personality and agency?
But we use “spirit” in many different ways. For example, when we say “the Spirit of Christ” we mean something completely different from when we say “Jesus’s spirit reunited with his body when he was resurrected.” (And is “the light of Christ” the same as “the Spirit of Christ”?) Then there’s the “the spirit of Elijah” or “the spirit of prophecy.” Not everyone identifies “The Spirit of the Lord” with the Holy Ghost, though I generally do. Is it important that the sacrament prayer promises us “his spirit”, meaning Christ’s, rather than the Holy Ghost? The way we use the term isn’t terribly consistent or systematic, which probably reflects our limited mortal understanding. I look forward to hearing more.
What I’ll be pondering the most, though, is your insight that the more we allow the Spirit to change us, the more aligned with it we will be and the less different from usual its influence will feel.