Church Talk: Joseph Smith and the Importance of a Physical Body

I gave this talk Fall 2015. It and the talk I will post next represent two foundations of my belief system: one, the positive nature of the physical existence; two, the non-legalistic nature of Christ's teachings. 

When I was growing up, the Young Women’s motto was a scripture: “For behold, this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” from the Book of Moses, Moses 1:39.

Joseph Smith received the Book of Moses as revelation during his translation of the Bible. This translation was never completed though parts of it were published in 1851. The Book of Moses can now be found in the Pearl of Great Price, which includes the Book of Abraham, the Articles of Faith, and Joseph Smith History. The Book of Moses covers Genesis 1-6 (technically, Genesis 1:1-6:13).

Joseph Smith began the translation of the Bible, which led to the Book of Moses, in 1830. He was very busy in the 1830s. The translation of The Book of Mormon was completed in 1829 and published in 1830. The Church was established April 6, 1830. Joseph Smith received numerous revelations at this time, many of which can be found in the Doctrine & Covenants.

These revelations, the translation of The Book of Mormon, and the Book of Moses restore important doctrines—specifically, doctrines related to the physical resurrection.

Members of the LDS church believe that all people will be resurrected after death. They will have a physical, perfected form. I personally believe that when I am resurrected, I will have real red hair (it will involve tweaking only a few genes!).

We desire to have these physical, perfected bodies because Heavenly Father has a perfected body, made of matter. We cannot fully understand His body. After His resurrection, Jesus Christ deliberately kept marks of his crucifixion as a witness to His identity and acts. The exact nature of the perfected body is unknown; we do know it is composed of flesh and bone. D&C 130:22.

Why was the doctrine of the physical resurrection lost?

After Jesus Christ’s ministry, crucifixion, and resurrection, the gospel was taught by the apostles led by Peter. Paul, the great missionary, also spread these truths throughout the Mediterranean World. As the apostles were killed one by one, including Peter and Paul, the doctrines were lost or changed. People attempted to put pieces back together without the priesthood, i.e. without prophetic revelation. They were puzzled by many things—such as the physical resurrection.

The physical resurrection was challenged in large part by what became known as Gnosticism, which finds its roots in Greek philosophy. The Gnostics were troubled by the physical body, including the idea that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, would choose to be born to a mortal woman and choose to take on physical form. Dallin H. Oakes explains, “The tangible, personal God described in the Old and New Testaments was replaced by an abstract [being].” The Gnostics saw the spirit as incorruptible and the body as corruptible. They saw the physical experience as a mistake.

Joseph Smith challenged these false ideas when he restored our understanding of the purpose of mortality. The Book of Moses opens with a discussion between Jehovah and Moses. Moses wishes to understand the purpose of mortality: Moses 1:30. In answer, Jehovah reveals God’s plan. How the earth was created is less important than why: Moses 1:39. We learn from the Book of Moses and The Book of Mormon that the physical resurrection is tied to the creation and to Adam and Eve.

We know from the Book of Moses, which restates Genesis 1, that the physical world is good—Moses 3:2—which includes endowing Adam and Eve with physical bodies although those bodies are not yet mortal.

When Adam and Eve left the Garden of Eden, they gained mortal bodies. In Moses 5, they both reflect on this experience and rejoice in it. As a result of leaving the Garden, their eyes were opened, and they could have children. They also came to fully understand God’s plan. Eve declares in verse 11, “We . . . know . . . the joy of redemption.” Adam states in verse 10, “In this life I shall have joy and again in the flesh I shall see God.”
Sidenote: In CTR class, Logan asked me, “Why did they have to leave the Garden of Eden?” After all, the Primary picture of Adam and Eve strolling through a garden with sprawling tigers looks awfully inviting! I used the explanations from my talk, but they didn’t work on a 5-year-old brain. Finally, I said, “Do you know what it means to ‘progress’? Adam and Eve couldn’t progress in the Garden of Eden.” He looked a little puzzled, so I added, “You know how you grow older and go to school. You progress. Adam and Eve had to leave the Garden of Eden to go to school.” And the light-bulb came on!
When Adam & Eve left the Garden of Eden, two things occurred. They gained mortal bodies, meaning they would die—like us. And they and their children gained the ability to willfully sin. To willfully sin is to sin knowing the difference between good and evil. Wrongdoing committed in a state of innocence is not sin—consequently, Mormons do not baptize children under the age of 8; they are not yet accountable. Moses 6:54 states that “children are whole from the foundation of the world.”

But we adults are liable for our behavior as we know from Article of Faith 2. We are “agents unto ourselves.”

So in mortality, we die and we make mistakes. How can we hope to overcome physical and spiritual death? How can we hope, like Adam, to “see God in the flesh”?

We can hope through the Atonement of Jesus Christ. The Atonement conquers the death of the physical body; it also conquers sin. The physical resurrection is necessary to BOTH parts of this process.

Alma 40:23 reads, “The soul shall be restored to the body, and the body to the soul.” 2 Nephi 9:13 tells us that together spirit and body form a “living soul.” And direct revelation to Joseph Smith in D&C 93:33-34 states clearly that when body and spirit are separated, “man cannot receive a fullness of joy.”

Without a resurrected body, we cannot be judged. Therefore, without a physical resurrection, repentance and spiritual progress cannot be assessed. The physical resurrection is VITAL to what is referred to as the Plan of Redemption, Plan of Salvation, and, my father’s favorite, the Plan of Happiness 😄.

The doctrine of the physical resurrection is extraordinary! How privileged we are to understand—because of Joseph Smith—that the mortal experience is NOT an accident and having a mortal body is NOT shameful.

To gain a mortal body—to go through the mortal experience—is NOT to be corrupted, as the Gnostics maintained. It is a necessary and constructive part of our journey. Both the spirit and body bring positive attributes to our existence as a “living soul”—the spirit because it can receive inspiration from God and be influenced by the Holy Ghost; the body because it is a humbling influence on the spirit. Our spirits are prone to pride and have been since pre-mortality. But pride has a hard time contending with the realization, “I’m getting older. You know, I think I need new glasses.” Practical reality is a steadying influence on the spirit!

The body also enables us to enjoy life.

I have been teaching in Primary for the last six months or so. I teach Sunbeams and CTRs. The lessons in these manuals remind me of the marvelous world we live in. We have lessons about choosing the right and Joseph Smith and prayer. We also have lessons about how God loves all people everywhere. And we have gratitude lessons about the wonderful world we live it, lessons titled, “I am Thankful for Water.” “I am Thankful for Animals.” “I am Thankful for My Hands.”

One of my favorite Primary songs is “My Heavenly Father Loves Me.”

Whenever I hear the song of a bird
Or look at the blue, blue sky,
Whenever I feel the rain on my face
Or the wind as it rushes by,
Whenever I touch a velvet rose
Or walk by our lilac tree,
I'm glad that I live in this beautiful world
Heav'nly Father created for me.

He gave me my eyes that I might see
The color of butterfly wings.
He gave me my ears that I might hear
The magical sound of things.
He gave me my life, my mind, my heart:
I thank him rev'rently
For all his creations, of which I'm a part.
Yes, I know Heav'nly Father loves me.

What amazing reminders these are of the glorious world in which we live!

We are meant to be here. And we understand why in large part because of Joseph Smith. “The mind of Joseph Smith,” said President Hinckley, “tutored by the God of Heaven, encompassed all humankind of all generations.”

I am thankful to Joseph Smith for providing the Book of Moses, so I could have Moses 1:39 to sustain me through my life. “For behold, this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.”

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