Seeing Your Life Through God’s Eyes
Aloha! As Susan explained, 2020 is the bicentennial of the First Vision. So we decided to speak about developing spiritual 20/20 vision in 2020. I have called my talk “Seeing Your Life Through God’s Eyes.”
I. Personal Perspectives from the First Vision
To see our lives through God’s eyes is to see with 20/20 spiritual vision. Joseph gained such perspective on his life in the First Vision. This personal perspective is less evident in the familiar 1838 Pearl of Great Price account than in the earliest, 1832 account. The canonical version focuses on the doctrinal significance of the Vision: that the Father and Son are two separate beings; that they have tangible bodies; and that the true church was not on the earth.
By contrast, the 1832 version focuses on Joseph’s relationship to and standing before God. In the earliest account, Joseph explains that he went into the grove worried not only about which church was true, but about what he called “all-important concerns for welfare of my immortal soul.” The revival meetings that he had been attending would have naturally raised such troubling existential questions in his heart along with the ecclesiastical question of which church he should join. Joseph writes:
”My mind became exceedingly distressed, for I became convicted of my sins. . . . I felt to mourn for my own sins. . . . Therefore, I cried unto the Lord for mercy, for there was none else to whom I could go and obtain mercy.”
Joseph went into the grove not expecting to see God but hoping to learn how God saw him and to receive forgiveness.
And this happened. Joseph’s heart was filled with joy as he learned that God knew him by name, that he forgave him of his sins, and that the Lord was with him. Here is how Joseph described the Lord’s appearance in 1832:
“he spake unto me, saying, ‘Joseph, my son, thy sins are forgiven thee. Go thy way, walk in my statues, and keep my commandments. Behold, I am the Lord of glory. I was crucified for the world, that all those who believe on my name may have eternal life”
Other accounts confirm that the Lord told Joseph that his sins were forgiven. What comfort and joy this must have brought to a boy worried about “the welfare of my immortal soul.” As a result of the vision, Joseph exclaims: “My soul was filled with love, and for many days I could rejoice with great joy. The Lord was with me.”
So, yes, Joseph learned in the First Vision that God had a body, that the Father and Son were two distinct beings, and that he should “go after” none of the churches. But he also learned that God knew him by name, loved him, forgave him, and was with him. The First Vision began to clarify Joseph’s vision not only of God, but of himself. He began to see himself with 20/20 spiritual vision through God’s eyes.
II. “Face to Face”
A marvelous statue of the First Vision here on campus, entitled “Face to Face,” helps us imagine how Joseph saw God and God saw him.
The artist fashioned the sculpture so that viewers look up and see the Father and the Son as Joseph might have seen them. Notice the extraordinary physicality of these heavenly figures: one senses skeletal structure, musculature, ligaments, and veins under the skin. These are clearly embodied beings. They are also loving beings. Notice the expression on their faces. Their countenances are neither stern, nor solemn, nor indistinctly clouded in glory. They are clear, kind, and compassionate. One can easily imagine such beings calling Joseph by name, saying “Joseph. Thy sins are forgiven thee.” The statue thus helps us imagine how Joseph saw the Father and the Son.
It also invites us to imagine how the Father and Son saw Joseph. Joseph is rendered in very human terms. He looks like a country farm boy. He wears a working boy’s clothes. There is even a hole in one of his shoes. The hole is barely discernible in our model but obvious in the full-sized original in the Conference Center. This is my favorite detail. To me, it symbolizes that Joseph came to this glorious theophany as a regular boy, with normal human imperfections. He is not yet the adult prophet he would become. He is a farm boy with a hole in the sole of his shoe matching the flaws in his soul. In this respect, he is very much like us—someone still on the path to perfection.
Yet God saw the potential in this boy with the hole in his shoe and helped Joseph see it too. In the First Vision and those that followed, the Lord helped Joseph to see himself as he was, is, and could become. Beginning with the First Vision, the Lord helped Joseph glimpse this fuller vision of himself: his premortal nobility, his mortal mistakes and mission, and his future greatness. To see one’s life in this way is to see with 20/20 spiritual vision!
III. Seeing Ourselves as God Sees Us
Learning to see ourselves as God sees us is essential for all of us. And especially for those of us who struggle with perfectionism. Many of us are prone to exaggerate our failings, worry about our weaknesses, and doubt our mortal mission. Note that I said “us,” for I count myself among those who sometimes struggle with the pitfalls of perfectionism. Like many of you, I have to shut my ears against the insistent and insidious whispers “Would’ve! Could’ve! Should’ve!”
Sensing this, a former academic vice president at BYU who also had an over-developed sense of guilt, upon inviting me to serve as his associate VP, shared a cartoon from the New Yorker that he had pinned above his desk.
The cartoon depicts a mousy-looking middle-aged bald man, with a bead of sweat rolling off his forehead, standing before the Judgment Bar. God says: “No, no, that’s not a sin either. My goodness, you must have worried yourself to death.”
The man in the cartoon learns to see himself as God sees him, as we all must. He has his spiritual vision corrected to 20/20. As did Joseph, more than once.
For example, on the night of 21 September 1823, Joseph says he again felt “condemned for my weakness and imperfections.” As he prayed, the angel Moroni again called him by name, reassured him of God’s love, and revealed his mission to translate the Book of Mormon. This second vision thus helped restore Joseph’s 20/20 spiritual vision.
Another example: When Joseph lost the 116 pages, God again called him by name—this time, however, to help him see a weakness more clearly: “you should have not feared man more than God. . . . Behold thou art Joseph” (D&C 3:7,9). The Lord sometimes corrects our vision by fixing our tendency to magnify minor flaws; at other times he helps us see more clearly flaws that we may be inclined to overlook or minimize. Achieving 20/20 spiritual vision can require correcting both sorts of distortions.
IV. The Doctrine of the Acceptable Sacrifice
As we come to see who we are in God’s eyes and know that the course we are pursuing accords with his will, we are prepared to sacrifice everything for him. He then confirms that our sacrifice is accepted. (See Lectures on Faith, ch. 6) For when we “offer [our] whole souls as an offering unto him” (Omni 1:26), the Lord accepts our offering, even if it is imperfect. As our Advocate and Intercessor, he makes up the difference.
I call this the doctrine of the acceptable sacrifice. We need to understand this doctrine if we are to understand how God sees our lives. The doctrine of the acceptable sacrifice can both inspire us to reach for the heights and comfort us when we fall into the depths. The doctrine seems particularly needed in our day when so many are weighed down and discouraged by false notions of perfectionism. So I shall spend the rest of my talk discussing it.
The Lord provides the fullest explication of the doctrine of acceptable sacrifice in the first revelation given in Nauvoo (D&C 124). In this revelation, the Lord helps the Church come to terms with its failure to build a temple and establish Zion in Missouri:
49 Verily, verily, I say unto you, that when I give a commandment to any of the sons of men to do a work unto my name, and those sons of men go with all their might and with all they have to perform that work, and cease not their diligence, and their enemies come upon them and hinder them from performing that work, behold, it behooveth me to require that work no more at the hands of those sons of men, but to accept of their offerings.
51 Therefore, for this cause have I accepted the offerings of those whom I commanded to build up a city and a house unto my name, in Jackson county, Missouri, and were hindered by their enemies, saith the Lord your God.
Then the Lord applies this consoling principle to all those who try their best but fail, including you and me:
53 And this I make an example unto you, for your consolation concerning all those who have been commanded to do a work and have been hindered by the hands of their enemies, and by oppression, saith the Lord your God.
To generalize, we might say this: the Lord takes the intent for the deed when we try our best, our very best, to obey Him. When offer our all on the altar, he makes up the difference. This accords with the doctrine of acceptable sacrifice.
V. Examples of Acceptable Sacrifices
Let me now conclude by illustrating this doctrine with several concrete examples. I hope these will both inspire and comfort you.
DEREK REDMOND: When I think of the doctrine of the acceptable sacrifice, I recall Derek Redmond’s 400-meter race in the 1992 Olympics.
About a third the way into the race, Redmund pulled a hamstring. He grabbed the back of his leg and fell to his knees, grimacing in pain. The crowd was stunned. What happens next brought them to their feet. Derek Redmund got up and began to hop on one leg toward the finish. Then a man from the crowd pushed through the guards to join him. It was Derek’s father. He put his arm around his weeping son and they crossed the finish line together.
Derek Redmund did not win his heat, but in a deeper sense, he did win because he laid his all on the altar of Olympic glory. And though Olympic judges may not award gold medals for effort, surely the God of Heaven does, for He looks not “on the outward appearance, but . . . on the heart (1 Sam. 16:7). We can see an image of our Father in Heaven in Derek’s father. Our Father wants us to do our best. He cheers us on. But ultimately it doesn’t matter if we win the race. We have won in his eyes if we have tried our best. And if we stumble and fall, Our Father is there to help us hobble to the finish line and to celebrates our performance with crowns of glory that will never fade.
But we must lay our all on the altar, as Derek Redmund did. Or as these female marathoners did, to cite two more examples. Here is Gabriela Andersen-Schiess in the 1984 Olympics as she staggered across the finish line, suffering from severe dehydration. Here is Hyvon Ngetich crawling the last 50 meters of a marathon, with a wheelchair trailing behind her in case she completely collapsed. I mention these examples lest anyone suppose that by saying that God gives an “A” for effort, Heaven awards easy “A’s.” The only acceptable sacrifice is one borne of complete consecration, where we lay our all on the altar.
PAUL: When I think of runners like this, I am reminded of the apostle Paul, who in his final epistle compares himself to a runner. Paul was not perfect. Like many who suffer from stubborn addictions or intractable spiritual afflictions, Paul knew what it was to have a “thorn in the flesh,” which God never removed despite Paul’s repeated pleadings (see 2 Cor. 12:7). Yet Paul faithfully soldiered on. His faithfulness reminds me of our beloved brothers and sisters who cling to their covenants while experiencing same-sex attraction. At the end of his life, imprisoned and facing a martyr’s death, Paul is confident that the Lord will accept the offering he has laid so valiantly on the altar. He writes:
For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing. (2 Tim. 4:6-8)
Here Paul compares himself to an athlete in ancient Hellenic games—a wrestler who fights a good fight and a runner who finishes the race. In such contests, the winner (and there could only be one!) was crowned with a laurel wreath. Paul trusts that God has laid up a crown for him—not a fading crown of laurels but an eternal heavenly crown. He is a champion in Heaven’s eyes. And Paul reminds us that our gracious God gives out crowns to ALL who love him. For unlike Olympic athletes, disciples of Jesus Christ are not in competition with each other for a place on the winner’s stand. Our Father has a mansion for all who give their all.
PRODIGAL SON: When I think of the mansion God has prepared for those who make an acceptable sacrifice, I remember the image of the Prodigal Son in this painting at the BYU Museum of Art. Note that the Father has come running all the way down the steps to embrace his errant child. The Prodigal, by contrast, has placed just one foot on the lowest step. It is a humble offering by a weary, sin-sick soul. But the father accepts this offering with a loving embrace! As I hope he will accept you and me even if we arrive home with holes in our shoes, or with no shoes at all, like the bedraggled Prodigal. We can still look forward to his embrace and listen for the consoling words he uttered to young Joseph: “Thy sins are forgiven thee. Behold, I am the Lord of glory. I was crucified for the world, that all those who believe on my name may have eternal life.” Welcome home.
BRIGHAM YOUNG: When I think of such a welcome home by those who make an acceptable sacrifice, I recall what the Lord said to Brigham Young when he finished his mission to England. The Lord told Brigham Young when he returned home from his mission to England in 1841, “your offering is acceptable to me. [For] I have seen your labor and toil in journeying for my name” (D&C 126:1-2).
I encouraged my missionaries in Brazil, as they prepared to leave the mission field, to seek this same consolation from the Lord about their missions, by laying their mission on the altar and asking the Lord to accept their offering. And sometimes during rough months, I also reminded my missionaries that they need not feel like failures if they failed to meet baptismal goals as long as they were truly consecrated. Their most important goal should always be to render an offering accepted by the Lord. And they had the privilege and responsibility to discover whether they had met this goal for themselves.
ATHELIA SEARS TANNER: Finally, when I think of the doctrine of the acceptable sacrifice I think of my beloved 99-year-old mother, who died on Thursday. What an offering she laid on the altar!
I know no one who has loved the Savior more. Her feelings for Christ were deep and poignant. And perhaps for this reason, as she bore her testimony she would often weep at the thought that she had, in some measure, added to the Savior’s suffering. In one of the written testimonies she left her posterity, she writes:
“At times I have pondered the pain and agony [Jesus] suffered for the sicknesses and sins of all mankind. . . . And I have wept in realizing that I, too, have been guilty of causing so much pain to Him who loves me so completely.”
Yet, although my mother would worry and weep over the pain her sins may of caused the Savior, she also knew—knew in an intimate, personal way—that God loved her. She had 20/20 vision of this. Thus she joyfully anticipated meeting the Savior and the Father again, face to face. Here is the conclusion of her testimony:
I know that Jesus Christ is my Savior, my Redeemer and my Advocate to the Father. But above all, I know that He is my friend. With the loving help of my Heavenly Father and His Beloved Son, Jesus Christ, I hope that I can live worthy not merely to see both of them when I die, but to live with them eternally.
I am confident that mom’s life has been accepted. She has been welcomed home into the Savior’s loving embrace. In the words of an old gospel song she loved: she now walks with him, and she talks with him, and he tells her she is his own.
Mom no longer “sees through a glass darkly . . . but face to face.” She has perfect vision: she knows as she is known and sees herself as God sees her. (See 1 Cor. 13: 12)
VI. Concluding Testimony
It is my testimony that if we, as my mother, keep our covenants and offer our whole souls to God, although we are not perfect, God will accept our sacrifice. For in the end we are all beggars when we knock on the portals of Heaven. We all have thorns in the flesh that will require celestial excision. But no blessing will be denied to those who truly love Him.
I so testify in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.