Our cat had a litter of kittens a few weeks ago. They’re awfully cute! Believe it or not, there’s a spiritual lesson to be had from observing the kittens. My wife and I were discussing it the other day and I have to credit her with the analogy. It ties in beautifully with something I was trying to explain to a very hostile, anti-Mormon bigot a couple of years ago as well as some comments on a couple of recent articles.
When our kitty was getting close to having her litter arrive, we improvised a place for her to deliver them comfortably. We took a plastic laundry basket, put some towels and a baby blanket in the bottom and then we draped a quilt over the top of it so she could get in and out easily. When it became apparent that she was in labor, we placed kitty in her little “birthing basket” and she seemed very happy with it. Several hours later, we had five new, adorable additions to the family.
For the first couple of weeks, the new arrivals’ eyes were closed, so everything they did was by instinct and scent. Their entire world gravitated around getting to “mommy” to feed whenever she was near. The rest of the time, they slept and were largely unaware of anything else. Their entire universe was the size of a laundry basket and totally dark.
About two weeks ago, their eyes popped open and they became aware of one another. Daylight! Their awareness of their world expanded tremendously. Playtime immediately began. They still slept most of the time, but when “Mama Kitty” wasn’t around, they pounced on each other and wrestled playfully. They’re very entertaining!
Shortly thereafter, we came in to find that they had tipped over their laundry basket and “escaped” the confines of their “world” momentarily. We found a large cardboard box with higher sides, which gave them more room to lounge around and to play. They still needed boundaries, but it was time to expand them somewhat. Even though they experienced a broader reality, they were unprepared to deal with it. There was the potential of injury to them or perhaps even losing one of them.
Now, they are able to stand up on their “tip-toes” and look over the edge of the box. We know that it will soon be impossible to keep them confined. To prepare them for that time, we take them out individually and sometimes in small groups to let them explore and interact with the rest of their environment. Soon, they’ll learn where the litter box is and where the food dish is. They’ll learn the locations of the dog’s dish and the kitchen table. They’ll learn to not jump on top of the toilet without looking to see if the lid is up. They’ll acclimate quickly, but gradually to the larger “universe” of the house.
The other day, my wife carried one of them outside to show to a family friend. This was the first time any of this litter of kittens had gone out of the house. If kittens could talk, imagine what this kitten would have said to the others. He was transported beyond the bounds of his little box-world, the one he and all the others had experienced. He passed into a much larger place, filled with a glorious light. There he heard and saw things never before imagined. Then he came back with a knowledge that the others lacked.
Even if he could speak and his siblings could understand, would they reject him and make him an outcast? From their senses, they have a limited understanding of what the world truly is and what lies just beyond the boundaries of their current “reality.” At this moment, any of them could have the same experience, but only one of them was “chosen” to have the experience. If he could communicate what he saw and heard, some would not believe because it is beyond their experience but, perhaps a few would believe in the marvelous things he had to tell. In the end their tendency to believe or not believe has no impact on the actual reality of what exists beyond the bounds of their box.
In some way, our spiritual growth happens that way. The experience of our little kittens is a metaphor for our own experiences with the Infinite. We enter this life embedded with some instincts. We react to light, loud noises, the sensation of falling, heat, cold, dampness, etc. As we grow, our awareness expands from our home to our yard, to the neighborhood, and on to the city, nation, and world around us. We become aware of others. At first, we cling to those on whom we depend, then our circle broadens to family, friends, neighbors, and eventually classmates, co-workers or even strangers.
Some of us may live out our lives in a small town or a big city. Others may travel the world and see things we never imagined. Astronauts, who have what is perhaps the most “elevated” perspective available to the natural senses, often speak in reverential terms of seeing the earth with its thin veil of an atmosphere and the geographical features without lines of longitude, latitude, or national borders.
How much more does God, our Creator see? How much more can he show us that is beyond our current experience? I am often touched by this passage in the Book of Abraham, where the Lord touches Abraham’s eyes and he sees stars, the universe, and the entire earth.
“Thus I, Abraham, talked with the Lord, face to face, as one man talketh with another; and he told me of the works which his hands had made; And he said unto me: My son, my son (and his hand was stretched out), behold I will show you all these. And he put his hand upon mine eyes, and I saw those things which his hands had made, which were many; and they multiplied before mine eyes, and I could not see the end thereof.” (Abraham 3:11-12)
Mortal life is a process whereby our awareness tends to move us from one “box” to a series of increasingly larger ones. Perhaps you recall learning subtraction in your early school years and the teacher told you that you couldn’t subtract the larger number from the smaller. Then, just a few years later, you learned about negative numbers and suddenly, you added to your capabilities the power to subtract a larger number from a smaller one. The truth was there all along, but you weren’t prepared to receive it yet. There were certain fundamentals you had to perfect first.
The limitations placed upon us are determined by our maturity which, in turn, governs our reactions when light and truth are placed before us, and influences the choices we make between them. We can impose a small, rigid, narrow box upon ourselves and say, “This is my truth. This is my universe. Whatever doesn’t fit into it, I will reject.”
Meanwhile, our Heavenly Father patiently waits for us to come to him and ask him the important questions of life, death, our purpose here, and the meaning of it all. He has the answers and he guides us through the process, protecting us, nurturing us, and encouraging us to move forward. The final “box” to which he seeks to guide us is infinitely large. He prepares us for that by degrees, one step at a time.
“Whom shall he teach knowledge? and whom shall he make to understand doctrine? them that are weaned from the milk, and drawn from the breasts. For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little….” (Isaiah 28:9-10)
Some of us are unwilling to patiently undergo this tutelage. Some abandon it all together, claiming there is no God, no revelation, no angels, visions, etc. When they do so, they set up the walls of their box to be just “so big” and they will not consider anything beyond it.
Men of faith have established churches, sects, and denominations that confess the existence of a Supreme Being, but they also build a box. They established creeds that say, “Our God fits in this rigid, inflexible box and he cannot transcend the bounds that we have set. They say that God spoke to men in the past, but they forbid him to speak again. Doing so would violate their creeds and destroy the box that they have so carefully constructed and adorned. The box becomes more precious than the truths it could hold.
About two years ago, I encountered an Evangelical Christian who had been filled to the brim with hateful anti-Mormon teachings from his pastor. When I showed up in a discussion group that consisted mostly of so-called free-thinkers, atheists, pantheists, and agnostics, the man turned his efforts from sharing a positive message about his own faith to attacking Mormonism. Guided by his minister, he returned week after week with new lies, distortions, and out-of-context half truths to attack my beliefs. On one of those occasions, he said derisively that the “God of Mormonism was too small for him to worship.”
It struck me as ironic because this man had constructed a narrow, rigid, Evangelical “box” for his faith. He had been an alcoholic and had an abusive relationship with his former spouse and children. He had an aggressive, controlling personality. He had devised a faith-box that gave him control over what God would do or say ever again. There would be no more “surprises.” He had God under his thumb, exactly where he wanted him. His problem with Mormonism came because we proposed some truths that didn’t fit into his box. They were scripturally sound, biblical, and yet he felt that these truths threatened the very existence of his own carefully constructed box
Atheists and those who claim to be free-thinkers often construct a box that allows the sides to expand infinitely, but they refuse to allow the box to expand upwards towards God. They don’t look “heavenward” because they have already discounted the possibility that something is there. As a result, they end up in the situation paul described in his second letter to Timothy: “Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (2 Timothy 3:7)
Imagine a religion-box that could be re-sized every time new truths were revealed? Imagine a religion that did not try to stuff God in the box, but instead tried to keep expanding its box in every direction to contain the infinite light and truth that will ever be available. It’s most fundamental premise is that God lives, speaks, reveals, and communicates to those who have “ears to hear.” Our ninth article of faith says:
“We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.”
A casual observer might regard the Articles of Faith of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and consider them to be a creed of sorts. They are statements of belief, but there is a substantial difference between them and the creeds of men. The Articles of Faith don’t pose any limitations on what God can do or on what we will expect from him. The only “limitations” mentioned in them are qualifiers that take into account human errors.
For example, we believe the Bible is the word of God so far as it is translated correctly. We don’t lock ourselves into the position of saying the Bible is inerrant and that we are bound to believe the mistranslations and errors. God expects us to renounce error, misinterpretations, and false assumptions whenever new truth reveals those things. As new revelation comes, we have been in the situation of having to “reset” our assumptions. It is renewing and transformative when that happens.
History is full of priests, clerics, scribes, and Pharisees who sought to codify God’s word and preserve it. They feared man would corrupt it and, despite their efforts, some corruption occurred anyway. In their zeal to preserve the “inerrant” word, they went to extremes. They aligned themselves with secular rulers to obtain authority to punish heretics and use the power of the state to enforce orthodoxy. The state used these practitioners of priestcraft to lend moral authority to the rulers. Whenever any new luminary, oracle, or prophet would appear, they would subject him to cruel persecution. A God who continues to speak complicates the job of constructing a nice, secure, sturdy box.
Even among the faithful believers who accept God’s prophets, there will be tests and trials. When new revelation comes, it may be startling. It may change long-held assumptions that we may have considered eternal truths. That is no contradiction. Truth is what it is and our perspectives about it may change as our box expands. It is unwise to ever decide that we have all the truth we’ll ever need. Just remember that 1 minus 3 is negative 2 and how you came to that knowledge in steps.
Like our family’s kittens, our world will expand as fast as we are able to receive it. Under his loving eye, our Heavenly Father will guide us and nudge us forward inasmuch as we desire to know his will and do it. So long as we are willing to keep an open eye and an open mind, there are wonderful things in store for us.
“For since the beginning of the world men have not heard, nor perceived by the ear, neither hath the eye seen, O God, beside thee, what he hath prepared for him that waiteth for him.” (Isaiah 64:4)