The Reason for the World

KC Kern Culture, Mormon, temple, theology 7 Comments

picture-7.pngContinuing the disclosure of my musical hobbies, I enjoy playing the piano. I haven’t taken lessons for several years, but I’ve got a nice little Yamaha keyboard in my room, and I often load up an iTunes playlist and jam along. So when it comes to contemporary music, I tend to have a soft spot for artists who successfully use the piano as their lead instrument—the obvious examples being Billy Joel and Elton John. There has been a quiet alternative movement in the contemporary music scene that has developed into what is termed “piano rock,” led by such artists as Coldplay, Keane, Ben Folds, Something Corporate, and others. One such artist that has particularly caught my attention is John Ondrasik, who goes under the stage name “Five for Fighting.” His 2006 album called “Two Lights” features a single called “The Riddle.” This song’s lyrics (published at the bottom of this post) explore a number of ideas, all relating to the theme of discovering the purpose of life. As I carefully studied the lyrics and read along with the song, I became aware that it has some very profound spiritual overtones, and some implications that are strikingly congruent with Mormon theology.

The song presents a somewhat abstract narrative that describes a man’s relationship with his father, and then with his son, mixed with some allusions to his wife. The first verse beings with the man speaking to his father, and asking him the foundational philosophical question: “What’s the sense in life?”

This brings to mind the account in the Pearl of Great Price, when Moses, having seen all of God’s creations, asks:

“Tell me, I pray thee, why these things are so, and by what thou madest them?” (Moses 1:30)

In the song, the man’s father essentially answers by saying:

“Here’s a riddle for you, Find the answer.”

Likewise, the Lord also replies in cryptic terms, by saying:

“For mine own purpose have I made these things. Here is wisdom and it remaineth in me.” (Moses 1:31)

The song continues by describing the man’s search and discovery for the purpose of life. In a later exchange, the lyrics quote his son, who says:

“Dad, I’m big, but we’re smaller than small; In the scheme of things, well, we’re nothing at all.”

This bears notable resemblance to Moses’ reaction, when after contemplating the scope of God’s works, he breathlessly declares:

“Now, for this cause I know that man is nothing, which thing I never had supposed.” (Moses 1:10)

The lyrics do provide an answer to the riddle. Through his interactions with his loved ones, he realizes that:

“There’s a reason for the world: You and I.”

So, according to this song, the “reason for the world” is “you and I.” The connection between these lyrics and Mormon theology gains greater depth when we consider what our scriptures tell us about the purpose of the earth.

Please bear with me as I play doctrinal dot-to-dot here. I believe that the scriptures have a number of telling clues that, when considered in their proper context, provide a beautiful, moving, and satisfying answer to the great question of why the earth exists. And perhaps surprisingly, the message of this song is right in line with it.

We can begin looking for answers by exploring one of the most significant scriptures in Mormonism, Malachi 4:5-6:

elijah“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord: And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.”

This scripture’s magnitude is apparent when we consider the fact that it is included in one form or another in all of our standard works: Old Testament (Malachi 4:5-6), New Testament (Luke 1:17), Book of Mormon (3 Nephi 25: 5-6), Doctrine and Covenants (D&C 2:1-3), and Pearl of Great Price (JS-H 1:38-39).

But it is critical to notice the differences that exist in the various versions. Joseph Smith noted that the angel Moroni: “quoted the [6th] verse differently:

‘And he shall plant in the hearts of the children the promises made to the fathers, and the hearts of the children shall turn to their fathers. If it were not so, the whole earth would be utterly wasted at his coming.’”

The phrase “lest I come and smite the earth with a curse” is replaced with “If it were not so, the whole earth would be utterly wasted at his coming.”

The word “wasted” suggests that something’s function was not carried out effectively—that its purpose was not fulfilled. It becomes clear from these verses that Elijah’s mission is critically linked to fulfilling the purpose of the earth’s existence, the “reason for the world,” if you will. If Elijah had not come, the earth would have been a complete waste—void of purpose or reason—“smitten with a curse” as it were. It would seem that Elijah’s mission holds the key to resolving our planet’s existential crisis.

If that’s the case, The next logical step in pinning down the “reason for the world” would be to examine the mission of Elijah and its ramifications. The concept of “turning the hearts of the fathers to the children” has seems almost to have become synonymous with temple work. Elijah appeared in the Kirtland Temple in 1836 and delivered the keys of sealing to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery. Regarding this, Joseph explained:

“The earth will be smitten with a curse unless there is a welding link of some kind or other between the fathers and the children, upon some subject or other—and behold what is that subject? It is the baptism for the dead.” (D&C 128:18)

Baptism for the dead? Is it just that simple? No. Joseph was clearly aware that baptism, by proxy or in person, is not simply a ritual that needs to be performed for the sake of performing it, but is rather an encapsulation of an array of deeper concepts and implications. One emphatic element of the restoration is the concept of covenants: their importance, and their significance. Joseph himself is reported as having said:

“You might as well baptize a bag of sand as a man, if not done in view of the remission of sins and getting of the Holy Ghost. Baptism by water is but half a baptism, and is good for nothing without the other half—that is, the baptism of the Holy Ghost.” (History of the Church, 5:499)

From here, we would do well to go over what function the Holy Ghost plays in the covenantal process. In this context, we learn that “all covenants…that are not made and entered into and sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise…are of no efficacy, virtue, or force…” (D&C 132:7) When we consider Joseph’s “bag of sand” statement in this light, he seems to be indicating that the Holy Ghost is essential to the baptismal ordinance, because it is the means by which the covenant is sealed, activated, or legitimized. It brings forth the intended effects of the covenant.

With this in mind, lets examine what this baptismal covenant is, and what is means. The typical “Sunday School answer” tells us that a covenant is “a two way promise.” A discussion usually ensues that includes listing some commandments. The scriptures do in fact make it clear that entering into a covenant relationship involves accepting a law. Paul explains this in Hebrews 8:10:

“For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people.”

In the case of the baptismal covenant, it involves accepting the law of Christ. So how is Christ’s law fulfilled? The simple answer is found in Romans 13:8:

“Love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law.”

That’s it! As we dig through these doctrinal layers, this is what it boils down to! Elijah came to provide the impetus for a process that, if carried out correctly, creates a framework whose sole purpose is to establish love among one another.

This becomes more clear when we take in the counsel and instruction of John the Beloved:

“Let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God.
He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.” (1 John 4: 7-8)

Knowing love is knowing God. And knowing God is the definition of Eternal life. (see John 17:3)

We often see the administrative and legalistic aspects of priesthood doctrine and ordinances. However, as Joseph made clear, we might as well be dealing with bags of sand if we don’t place due attention on what the Holy Ghost, the covenant, and the law point directly to: love.

Back to the song lyrics, we can now appreciate a special line that comes in response to the quest to find “the reason for the world.” He tells his son: “You’re looking for a clue: I love you free.”

He continues by expressing the transcendent resolution that comes when a paradox ceases to be resisted and instead is embraced:

“I guess we’re big, and I guess we’re small.”

And the effects that the power of love has in transforming someone’s outlook on life:

“If you think about it man, you know, we got it all.
Cause we’re all we got on this bouncing ball,
And I love you free; I love you freely.”

When I consider all these elements, I am deeply inspired by how the pieces fit together. Charity, the “greatest of all,” is both the means and the ends of spiritual progress. The keys and authority restored through Joseph Smith, particularly those delivered through Elijah, began the process of temple building and temple ordinances. These temples provide a framework of covenants, laws, and blessings, which are designed to bring salvation to those who enter therein. But the critical link that is sadly often overlooked is the love that must be present—the link between the covenant and the receipt of salvation. If abiding by the laws and principles of the gospel do not generate love, then the obedience is “utterly wasted.” Temple attendance that does not strengthen our interpersonal relations with others is “utterly wasted.” Indeed, sealings, baptism, priesthood, and commandments are all vehicles designed to bring us to the destination of love; if they do not, they are “utterly wasted.”

I believe that experiencing love is the closest thing to experiencing godliness that is available to us in mortality. Genuine love, in all its forms: parental, fraternal, filial, charitable, platonic, and romantic; are gifts from God. They are glimpses into heaven, samples of Godhood. Is it any wonder then that salvation is described as a “family affair”? You cannot be saved alone, because you cannot love alone. The actual power that seals and saves is the love that exists between people; covenants, priesthood, and keys are simply designed as an administrative framework to bring us to this end.

So back to considering that Elijah’s mission is inseparably connected to the earth’s reason for existing, as we think of those people we love most, and the personal growth and fulfillment we have experienced through our interactions with them, we can comfortably sing along in agreement with the song:

“There’s a reason for the world: You and I.”

There was a man back in ‘95

Whose heart ran out of summers,
But before he died, I asked him:

Wait, what’s the sense in life?

Come over me, come over me.

He said:

Son why you got to sing that tune?
Catch a Dylan song or some eclipse of the moon,
Let an angel swing and make you swoon,

Then you will see… You will see…

Then he said:

Here’s a riddle for you,

Find the answer.

There’s a reason for the world,
You and I—

Picked up my kid from school today,

Did you learn anything?

‘Cause in the world today,
You can’t live in a castle far away.
Now talk to me, come talk to me.

He said:

Dad, I’m big but we’re smaller than small,

In the scheme of things, well we’re nothing at all.

Still every mother’s child sings a lonely song,

So play with me, come play with me!

And hey Dad,

Here’s a riddle for you,

Find the answer.

There’s a reason for the world

You and I—

I said: Son for all I’ve told you,

When you get right down to the reason for the world—
Who am I?

There are secrets that we still have left to find,
There have been mysteries from the beginning of time.

There are answers we’re not wise enough to see,

He said… You’re looking for a clue, I love you free—

The batter swings and the summer flies,

As I look into my angel’s eyes.
A song plays on while the moon is hiding over me,
Something comes over me—

I guess we’re big and I guess we’re small,

If you think about it man, you know, we got it all.
‘Cause we’re all we got on this bouncing ball,
And I love you free; I love you freely.

Here’s a riddle for you, find the answer
There’s a reason for the world:
You and I.

You can now listen to the song and read along with the lyrics posted above.

If you enjoy the song, please support the artist by purchasing it on iTunes or on Amazon.com for $0.99.

Comments

comments

Comments 7

  1. Great analysis! Thank you.

    Another scripture that fits well with your commentary:

    And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.
    And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing. (1 Cor. 13:2-3)

    Charity we know is the “pure love of Christ” (Moroni 7:47). We can know everything (omniscience), including the temple ordinances (mysteries), all faith (omnipotence), and even given all away (consecration), including our own lives, but if we don’t have love, pure love, we have utterly wasted the purpose of this earth. One cannot become like Christ without love. God would be nothing if it were not for His love.

  2. My wife and I broke up once before we got engaged. It was a really sad time for both of us. Unknowingly we had both written messages to eachother from Corinthians 13 as we parted ways. We knew upon reading eachothers messages apart from eachother that we had found unconditional love in eachother and thus Christ in eachother:

    Love is patient
    love is kind.
    It does not envy
    it does not boast
    it is not proud. 5It is not rude
    it is not self-seeking
    it is not easily angered
    it keeps no record of wrongs
    Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.
    It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
    Love never fails.

    Thank you for the post KC. I wish we could live up to your message.

  3. Pingback: What Transcends the Temple? | LDS Temple Study Blog - Sustaining and Defending the LDS (Mormon) Temple

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