The dominion of God’s people upon the earth seems to have been numerically small throughout most of history.
I’ve often heard people question why that is. Of the billions that have lived, very little have had access to God’s commandments in their purity (as we understand them) and even His own people have gone through cycles of apostasy and rebellion. Shouldn’t the world be filled with billions of believers with cities and nations of Zion everywhere, or at least ONE Zion somewhere? Instead we see a history of war, violence, suffering, poverty, disease, tyranny and oppression with tiny pockets of enlightenment or restoration here and there.
Is God inefficient or is something else going on? Perhaps the purposes of the Lord can and do go on in the lives of billions with an absence of understanding God’s plan of happiness. How well do the Latter-day Saints themselves really understand the plan, and I mean really understand? It seems that despite the degree of truth that we respectively possess, the entire human family, including Latter-day Saints, have only a small portion of the total picture.
I’ve recently used this quote from Joseph Smith, but I think it is applicable and deserves repeating:
“But while one portion of the human race is judging and condemning the other without mercy, the Great Parent of the universe looks upon the whole of the human family with a fatherly care and paternal regard; He views them as His offspring, and without any of those contracted feelings that influence the children of men, causes “His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.” He holds the reins of judgment in His hands; He is a wise Lawgiver, and will judge all men, not according to the narrow, contracted notions of men, but, “according to the deeds done in the body whether they be good or evil,” or whether these deeds were done in England, America, Spain, Turkey, or India. He will judge them, “not according to what they have not, but according to what they have,” those who have lived without law, will be judged without law, and those who have a law, will be judged by that law. We need not doubt the wisdom and intelligence of the Great Jehovah; He will award judgment or mercy to all nations according to their several deserts, their means of obtaining intelligence, the laws by which they are governed, the facilities afforded them of obtaining correct information, and His inscrutable designs in relation to the human family; and when the designs of God shall be made manifest, and the curtain of futurity be withdrawn, we shall all of us eventually have to confess that the Judge of all the earth has done right.” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 218)
If there’s a backup plan already in place for everyone, then why preach the gospel at all? Why go through all the trouble of revealing the gospel if the end result influences so few people directly?
We are to be leaven
It seems that almost everywhere in the scriptures, we see leaven used to imply an agent of corruption. Even in the Webster’s 1828 dictionary a definition defines leaven as, “Any thing which makes a general change in the mass. It generally means something which corrupts or depraves that with which it is mixed.”
Jesus uses leaven as a symbol to represent hypocrisy: “Beware ye of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.” (Luke 21:1)
Yet in another place, Jesus uses leaven to represent the kingdom of heaven, “Another parable spake he unto them; The kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven, which a woman took, and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened.” (Matt. 13:33)
First off, this is a great example of how the same symbol can be used to represent both good and bad.
Secondly, it is a great illustration of how God intends for his influence in the world to work. The huge wad of dough is the world and to cause the whole to rise, he adds a little leaven. He initiates a work through a servant or servants, then gives them instructions and the leavening process begins.
The leaven becomes permanently mixed with the dough and causes it to rise and fill with tiny pockets of air, wind, breath, the Spirit.
Terryl Givens made this point in a podcast interview with John Dehlin; I’ve transcribed the relevant portion here:
“In other words, Joseph seemed to be suggesting that there is this ‘reservoir’ of truth and beauty throughout the Christian world and even beyond, and his job was to try to select from these scattered fragments of Mormonism and reconstitute them into an institutional church. But the point is, God has made abundant provision for there to be sources of inspiration, truth, and beauty throughout culture and throughout history; Mormons don’t have the monopoly. […]
So that’s the first point I would make, this so-called narrowness of Mormonism isn’t the problem that we think it is, because nobody is claiming, or nobody should be claiming, a Mormon monopoly on the avenues to these truths and what they represent. Second of all, I think if I go back to my statement about the most important part of the institutional church being the ordinances of the temple, then you don’t need a church of 2 billion people if your role is to serve as custodian to those rituals and make them available, and also provide the means whereby their benefits can be extended to the entire human family; either vicariously now or throughout the Millennium or however you expect that’s it’s going to be fulfilled.
And then finally, if you return to what I said earlier about Mormon universalism then you don’t have to be a member of the institutional church to secure your salvation. So I think the image is much more apt to think of Mormonism in the way that Christ referred to the leaven in the bread. All it takes is a little bit of leaven, and Mormonism is here to provide that, as I understand it.” (Found in Part 3 of the interview – link to audio.)
All this raises some fascinating points to ponder:
- Were Adam and Eve the leaven of this world, both corrupting then filling it?
- How many cultures, governments and societies on this earth have been unknowingly influenced by a servant of God at some point?
- Is it entirely necessary for every single human being to be a “member of God’s church” in this life? The unique LDS doctrine that all shall have access to the fulness of the gospel in this life or the next certainly illustrates the mercy and justice of God. How does this perspective influence how we interact with different religious traditions?
- How can the symbolism of leaven help us as we interact with other people? How can we help people rise? I think of this quote from Joseph Smith often, “If I esteem mankind to be in error, shall I bear them down? No. I will lift them up, and in their own way too, if I cannot persuade them my way is better; and I will not seek to compel any man to believe as I do, only by the force of reasoning, for truth will cut its own way.” (Joseph Smith, in History of the Church, 5:499)