In Proverbs we read: "It is the glory of God to conceal a thing." Proverbs 25:2
The master teachers and prophets down through the ages have often had to adjust the wording of their teachings so everything they literally teach is true, yet within these teachings are inner thoughts that are concealed to later be revealed by the Spirit of truth.
This was the case with the parables of Jesus. The people heard them and thought that they were just sweet simple little stories, yet Jesus told his disciples "hearing they hear not, neither do they understand." In other words, he told them that there were deeper meanings in the parables than meet the eye.
This is also the case with many of the scriptures. For thousands of years people have read them and incorporated the obvious meaning. This obvious meaning spoke to their consciousness, culture and point in evolution, but the core meaning was often different than it seemed to appear. The hidden meaning was generally an idea that their hearts were not prepared for, but would be someday.
Let us take for example the principle of punishment for sin which, in the true reality, is merely an effect of some cause. In the Bible it was written this way: "But he that shall blaspheme against the Holy Ghost hath never forgiveness, but is in danger of eternal damnation." (Mark 3:29) Then the Mormon scriptures give a similar meaning:
"That ye may not be cursed with a sore cursing; and also, that ye may not incur the displeasure of a just God upon you, unto the destruction, yea, the eternal destruction of both soul and body." II Nephi 1:22
"...and not choose eternal death, according to the will of the flesh." II Nephi 2:29
"And he spake plainly unto them, that he had been deceived by the power of the devil. And he spake of hell, and of eternity, and of eternal punishment." Jacob 7:18
"And they that believe not unto eternal damnation; for they cannot be redeemed from their spiritual fall, because they repent not." D&C 29:44
All of these scriptures make it sound as if the bad buys are going to suffer whatever damnation is for all eternity, but such is not the case. There are many who already know within their hearts, that if God is truly a loving Father, he would torment no one forever and ever. The interesting point is that this point was clarified through the translator of the Book of Mormon himself. Here is a revelation Joseph Smith received:
"Wherefore, I revoke not the judgments which I shall pass, but woes shall go forth, weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth, yea, to those who are found on my left hand.
"Nevertheless, it is not written that there shall be no end to this torment, but it is written endless torment.
"Again, it is written eternal damnation; wherefore it is more express than other scriptures, that it might work upon the hearts of the children of men, altogether for my name's glory.
"Wherefore, I will explain unto you this mystery, for it is meet unto you to know even as mine apostles.
"I speak unto you that are chosen in this thing, even as one, that you may enter into my rest.
"For, behold, the mystery of godliness, how great is it! For, behold, I am endless, and the punishment which is given from my hand is endless punishment, for Endless is my name. Wherefore?Eternal punishment is God's punishment. Endless punishment is God's punishment." D&C 19:5-12
What are we told here? We are told that "Eternal" and "Endless" are two names that God uses and because He created the laws of cause and effect that all punishments (or effect) are Eternal because the creator of them is Eternal. The explanation "is that it is not written that there shall be no end to this torment, but it is written endless torment."
So what have we here? Both the Bible and Book of Mormon are written in such a way to make it sound as if there will be punishment of eternal duration, but when the truth is revealed, we learn that it was in the plan of God to allow it to sound that way to have an effect on the hearts of struggling humanity.
The same is true of reincarnation. There have been many teachers who have understood the truth of this teaching, but have written to make it sound like there is only one life. Such teachers have wanted to avoid the negative effect on the average person of turning apathetic in hope of waiting for his next life to make the great effort.
Even the recent book A Course in Miracles cleverly does this. It makes it sound like there is only one life, but if you read it carefully you will see that it is not really saying this at all. But to create the effect desired by the author, the doctrine of multiple lives had to be avoided.
Joseph Smith discouraged the belief in reincarnation to the masses yet veiled it in his writings calling it "eternal lives." He also taught it privately as evidenced by the following: "During our talks he (Lorenzo Snow) told me that his sister, the late Eliza R. Snow Smith was a firm believer in the principle of reincarnation and that she claimed to have received it from Joseph the Prophet, her husband. He said he saw nothing unreasonable in it, and could believe it, if it came to him from the Lord or his oracle." (Diary of Orson F. Whitney June 8, 1889)
Fortunately, humanity has evolved to the point that the major truths no longer need to be veiled in mystery, but can be plainly taught. I am indeed thankful to live in this time where we can learn with plainness and give out what we have received without fear of being thrown to the lions the next day.
So what have we established so far? Hopefully we have created the point that what the scriptures seem to say may not be what they are really saying. It appears from the scriptures that there will be punishment of eternal duration. The Truth: There will be an end to any punishment or suffering. It appears that Jesus "saved the world from sin." The Truth: He did, but not in the way people think. He merely demonstrated truths that will eventually deliver the world from certain errors. It appears that when we have forgiveness of sins that effects disappear. The Truth: True forgiveness of sins, as taught in the scriptures, means to recognize your mistakes and cease making them. This dispels fear and guilt which are created by illusion and have no real existence; but effects which are real, remain until they are neutralized by new cause.
Finally we are brought to the core of Sterling's question, about baptism and atonement, but I thought it was necessary to prepare the hearts of believers of scripture for the possibility that the truth may be different than it seems to appear.
Copyright 1999 by J.J. Dewey, All Rights Reserved