A really serious challenge

A really serious challenge May 17, 2024


The anonymous "Master of Ravenna," on the Christmas story
Byzantine mosaic of “The Three Wise Men” (ca. AD 526), in the Basilica of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna, Italy
(Wikimedia Commons public domain photo by Nina Aldin Thune)

Just in time for the weekend, two new articles have appeared on the website of the Interpreter Foundation:

““One Drop of Salvation from the House of Majesty”: An Analysis of the Revelation of the Magi and Restoration Scripture,” written by Spencer Kraus

Abstract: An early Christian text called the Revelation of the Magi presents itself as a history of the Magi before and after the birth of Jesus Christ. This text offers important insights into how the early Christian world may have conceptualized how other nations outside of Israel similarly looked forward to the advent of the Messiah, how they worshiped God, and how they knew who their Savior would be. The Book of Mormon similarly presents itself as text written by early believers in Jesus Christ. It is centered primarily around two civilizations outside the land of Israel who knew who Jesus was, worshiped him, and prophesied about him. Both texts begin with similar premises, and each shares a remarkable level of consistency in matters of doctrine and narrative. Furthermore, the Revelation of the Magi contains citations from a book of Adam that have striking similarities to details revealed in other Restoration scripture regarding Adam and his children. While the Revelation of the Magi is not scripture, it is nonetheless a text that many modern readers will find beneficial in highlighting beliefs of early Christians.

“Interpreting Interpreter: Magi-cal Insights,” written by Kyler Rasmussen

This post is a summary of the article ““One Drop of Salvation from the House of Majesty”: An Analysis of the Revelation of the Magi and Restoration Scripture” by Spencer Kraus in Volume 61 of Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship. All of the Interpreting Interpreter articles may be seen at https://interpreterfoundation.org/category/summaries/. An introduction to the Interpreting Interpreter series is available at https://interpreterfoundation.org/interpreting-interpreter-on-abstracting-thought/.

The Takeaway: Kraus outlines the early Christian text Revelation of the Magi, exploring the common elements that text shares with the Book of Mormon and modern revelation, including affirmations that divinely granted knowledge of Christ was available outside of Jerusalem, and that the words and language of the earliest patriarchs were recorded and transmitted across generations.

Robert Frost's yellow wood?
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood. (Wikimedia Commons public domain photo.)

In response to my blog entry of yesterday, a reader who goes by the moniker of “Occam’s Razr” sent me a link to a remarkable passage in the October 1946 General Conference address that was given by President George F. Richards (1861-1950) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.  (Incidentally, President Richards was the father of Elder LeGrand Richards [1886-1983], who also served in the Quorum of the Twelve and whom some here may remember.). Here is the passage in question:

Then a few years ago, at the closing of a conference of the St. Johns Stake, we had had a wonderful conference I thought, and I was very happy on retiring. I was sleeping in the home of the president of the stake, Brother Levi Udall, and that night I had a remarkable dream. I have seldom mentioned this to other people, but I do not know why I should not. It seems to me appropriate in talking along this line. I dreamed that I and a group of my own associates found ourselves in a courtyard where, around the outer edge of it, were .German soldiers—and Fiihrer Adolph Hitler was there with his group, and they seemed to be sharpening their swords and clean- ing their guns, and making preparations for a slaughter of some kind, or an execution. We knew not what, but, evidently we were the objects. But presently a circle was formed and this Fiihrer and his men were all within the circle, and my group and I were circled on the outside, and he was sitting on the inside of the circle with his back to the outside, and when we walked around and I got directly opposite to him, I stepped inside the circle and walked across to where he was sitting, and spoke to him in a manner something like this

“I am your brother. You are my brother. In our heavenly home we lived together in love and peace. Why can we not so live here on the earth?”

And it seemed to me that I felt in myself, welling up in my soul, a love for that man, and I could feel that he was having the same experience, and presently he arose, and we embraced each other and kissed each other, a kiss of affection.

Then the scene changed so that our group was within the circle, and he and his group were on the outside, and when he came around to where I was standing, he stepped inside the circle and embraced me again, with a kiss of affection.

I think the Lord gave me that dream. Why should I dream of this man, one of the greatest enemies of mankind, and one of the wickedest, but that the Lord should teach me that I must love my enemies, and I must love the wicked as well as the good?

[For the text of President Richards’s remarks, see here.  An audio recording is accessible here, and, although (for me, at least) the recording cut out before it reached the relevant passage, I must say that I was struck by the vocal similarity of the father, George, to the son, LeGrand, with whose instantly recognizable voice and speaking style I grew up. “Occam’s Razr,” by the way, says that he came across President Richards’s dream in Dennis Horne’s book I Know He Lives: How 13 Special Witnesses Came to Know Jesus Christ.]

I have indicated here on several prior occasions that I’m inclined to a quasi-universalism.  I believe in a Heavenly Father who loves his children with a love so intense and powerful and pure that I doubt that any mortal can really comprehend it, let alone be capable of it.  Moreover, I take very seriously what the apostle Paul says at 1 Timothy 2:4, a passage that I cited a few days ago in a different context: (though I quote it here, for the sake of clarity, in the New King James Version): God “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”

I know that no even reasonably decent earthly parents want anything less than the best for their children, and that they would welcome the return of a prodigal at any point, whether early or late.  And I can’t imagine that our Heavenly Parents are less loving than we are.

Some, wishing to test the limits of my “quasi-universalism,” have posed to me the question of Adolf Hitler.  And understandably so, because he is about the most challenging specimen imaginable.  I always respond that, even in his case, I simply don’t know; it is not my place to judge any other person’s ultimate destination.  That is God’s role, not mine.  I simply don’t know in any particular instance — not even Hitler’s — what factors made a person who he is.  What combined aspects of childhood upbringing, traumatic psychological experience, flawed moral training, intellectual ability, social pressure, mental illness, defective education, brain chemistry, or the like led a person to act in a particular way?  I simply can’t wholly know.  It’s beyond my pay grade, and I feel no obligation at all to issue definitive pronouncements on the subject.

Now, as I say, Hitler’s case presents a particularly steep mountain to climb for a quasi-universalist.  Please note the date of President Richards’s conference address:  October 1946.  The deaths of Hitler’s victims were still fresh in the memories of millions of family and friends.  The ghastly wreckage of Europe was still very visible.  The economic consequences of the war — rationing, and the like — still ravaged the lives of many.

Moreover, if (as the scriptures seem to suggest and as hundreds of near-death accounts seem to confirm) we will all experience at least one comprehensive “life-review” after death in which we will actually feel the effects of our actions upon others, Hitler’s life-review seems likely to me to have been an excruciating one.  Which means that he definitely did not simply transition into a pain- and guilt-free heaven after having directed the horrific deaths of millions of innocent people.

Whether Adolf Hitler actually has a chance at salvation, I do not know.  I would hate to be standing in his shoes.  I would especially hate to stand before God in his shoes.

Still, I’ve long loved and often cited a comment of the late Pope St. John Paul II:  When asked whether a Christian must believe in Hell, he replied “Yes.  But we can hope that it will be empty.”

Sadly, though, I doubt that it will be empty.  The so-called “sons of perdition” seem to me to be individuals who, even at the end, rather than admitting that they were wrong and rather than repenting, will shake their fists at heaven and curse God.  Such people will be few, but I suspect that there will be at least some.

Is this even conceivable?  Yes, I think it is.  I may be alone in this admission, but — although I’m essentially a temperate Type-B personality, and almost the polar opposite of the myth of the perpetually angry monster, the seething mass of never-ending rage, that has been conjured up for me by my Malevolent Stalker and his apprentices over at the Peterson Obsession Board —  I can think of a few times in my past where (for a brief period, at least) I’ve been so angry about something  that I’ve chosen to respond in ways that have actually been to my own hurt and cost, rather than to yield up my anger.  Now, I’m not very good at holding grudges; there are others who are far more adept than I am at doing so.  Accordingly, I can imagine that there might be a few who will self-destructively nurse their prideful grudges against God all the way into the eternities.  These will be the “sons of perditions.”  As so very often, I like the way that C. S. Lewis puts it in The Great Divorce:

There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, in the end, “Thy will be done.” All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. To those who knock, it is opened.

I’m struck by President Richards’s remark to “Hitler” in his dream:  “”I am your brother. You are my brother. In our heavenly home we lived together in love and peace.”  I’ve thought often along these lines:  Even the worst persons in this life are children, sons and daughters, of God.  None of those who chose Satan in the pre-mortal council made it to this life; every one of us on earth “passed” our first estate.  And yet, what a wreck some of us have made of our mortal probations!  All of us, of course, have fallen short.  But some lives, seen in the light of their antemortal divine promise, are absolutely tragic, whatever their ultimate destination turns out to be.  And this should make us feel not merely anger at them, but deep, deep sorrow for them.

I think, in this context, of the testimony of Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon:

And this we saw also, and bear record, that an angel of God who was in authority in the presence of God, who rebelled against the Only Begotten Son whom the Father loved and who was in the bosom of the Father, was thrust down from the presence of God and the Son, and was called Perdition, for the heavens wept over him—he was Lucifer, a son of the morning. And we beheld, and lo, he is fallen! is fallen, even a son of the morning!  (Doctrine and Covenants 76:25-27)



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