The Glory of God is Intelligence, the Revelation of God is Love
Over the course of my life, I have come to appreciate the love God holds for humankind as expressed in a formal statement authored by the First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints dated February 15, 1978, entitled “God’s Love for All Mankind.”i This important official statement made by the governing quorum of the Church clarifies truths that form a central part of my testimony: God is our Father, God provides authority and covenant whereby we may bind ourselves to Him, God provides prophetic guidance to His children. The statement says:
Based upon ancient and modern revelation, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints gladly teaches and declares the Christian doctrine that all men and women are brothers and sisters, not only by blood relationship from common mortal progenitors but also as literal spirit children of an Eternal Father.
This guidance takes the form of revelation concerning correct doctrinal and ritual, but also comes in the form of revealed moral instruction. I believe that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints alone possesses the priesthood authority to perform covenant ritual, and the prophetic keys necessary to reveal pure doctrine. The uniqueness of the Church in terms of ritual and doctrine is complimented by a broader connection it shares with faiths around the world regarding moral issues. God has been, and always is, a source of moral light and truth, a guide to happiness for all humans, no matter when they lived, no matter where they lived. This is made clear in the same First Presidency statement:
The great religious leaders of the world such as Mohammed, Confucius, and the Reformers, as well as philosophers including Socrates, Plato, and others, received a portion of God’s light. Moral truths were given to them by God to enlighten whole nations and to bring a higher level of understanding to individuals.
As a student of humanity (as an historian and observer of peoples) I have come to deeply appreciate the great moral contributions made by philosophers and religious leaders throughout the history of humankind. The life of an academic, the life of the intellect, is deeply rewarding. I have the privilege of surveying the great conversation carried on by thinkers, teachers, and prophets from the remote past down to the present, in which individuals and societies struggle over and over again to answer fundamental questions of existence: What am I? How can I find meaning and happiness in my life? What is justice, and how can I help establish it? What are my responsibilities to myself, to my family, and to my neighbors both near and far? I have profited greatly from studying how Muhammad, Confucius, Socrates, Plato and many other persons struggled to find meaningful answers to the questions of existence. To me they are prophets of morality who have helped to clarify and compliment the moral teachings of my own religion. Having read their teachings over the years of my academic training and my teaching career, I cannot express a testimony that does not include them as well as the great teachers and prophets in my own tradition such as Joseph Smith, Paul, Moroni, Abraham, Ruth, Mary, and others. Truly all of these teachers were moral prophets who were given truths by God to enlighten whole nations and to bring a higher level of understanding to individuals.
A conversation I had with Saalim, my Coptic landlord in Mohandaseen (Cairo) in November of 2004 comes to mind: “how much better the world would be if all people lived the best teachings of their religion.” If the moral heritage of Buddha, Confucius, Muhammad, Socrates, and many other moral prophets were practiced with pure intent of heart I believe that we would enjoy greater happiness throughout the world. This requires the establishment of a common worldview in which we accept and celebrate the goodness of our neighbors and in which I, as an individual, take the initiative in loving and respecting others, whether or not they are of my faith. I have learned this lesson from such diverse sources as,
Lao Tze: “Cultivate virtue in your own person, and it becomes a genuine part of you; cultivate it in the family, and it will abide; cultivate it in the community and it will live and grow; cultivate it in the state and it will flourish abundantly; cultivate it in the world and it will become universal…. How do I know about the world? By what is within me.” sup>ii
Buddha: “All men tremble at punishment, all men fear death; remember that you are like unto them, and do not kill, nor cause slaughter.”iii
Muhammad: “No one of you is a believer until he desires for his brother that which he desires for himself.”iv
Confucius: “Now the man of perfect virtue, wishing to be established himself, seeks also to establish others; wishing to be enlarged himself, he seeks also to enlarge others.”v
Plato: “Now goods are of two kinds: there are human and there are divine goods, and the human hang upon the divine; and the state which attains the greater, at the same time acquires the lesser, or, not having the greater, has neither.”vi
Gordon B. Hinckley: “Be respectful of the opinions and feelings of other people. Recognize their virtues; don’t look for their faults. Look for their strengths and their virtues, and you will find strength and virtues that will be helpful in your own life.”vii
A combination of the teachings and covenants of my faith, and academic studies that introduced me to the profound teachings of such moral prophets, has led me to two conclusions. First, loving God is the origin of meaning in mortality, and, second, love of others is the origin of happiness and contentment in this life. God is, among other things, the Great Academic, the Student of all things, and the Instructor in all truth. God’s great intelligence is one of the sources of his godhood, as expressed in a revelation given to Joseph Smith, “The Glory of God is intelligence, or, in other words, light and truth” (Doctrine and Covenants 93:36).
If the glory of God is intelligence, then I have discovered over the course of my life that the revelation of God is love. My love of God must turn outward toward my neighbor, on an individual level, with what Christ called “the least of these thy brethren” and sisters (Matt. 25:40), as my beloved object. This teaching is also included in the February 15, 1978 First Presidency statement:
Our message therefore is one of special love and concern for the eternal welfare of all men and women, regardless of religious belief, race or nationality, knowing that we are truly brothers and sisters because we are sons and daughters of the same Eternal Father.
The study of the Middle East and of Islam, spanning more than thirty years of my life, together with my experience living among Muslims, helps me comprehend that the love of fellow humans is best expressed at the level of the individual. I have a diary of the teachings I have received from my interaction with Muslims, my friends of another faith, many of whom are moral prophets in their own right. I would like to share one story that illustrates how blessed I have been to associate with friends of other faiths, and the important moral truths I have learned from them.
In December of 2004 I took my family to the Giza pyramids. I had already visited the site with my wife, and while she gave our children and my father a tour, I took the opportunity to converse with my driver, Mr. Ahmed al-Sharifi, a devout Muslim and friend. The day was clear enough that I could discern the silhouette of the step-pyramid of Djoser to the south, in distant Saqqara, built around 2630 B.C. The pyramids of the fourth dynasty, the Great Pyramid of Giza among them, were next to me. My eyes wandered from this plateau out to the Nile valley, across Cairo toward the Muqattam hills, while I reflected on the history of Egypt from pharaonic times to the present. I was moved by the thought that I could stand in a single spot and view the monuments of nearly five thousand years of human history.
I turned to Mr. Ahmed and asked, “what is it like to live in a place like this, where the march of human history surrounds you so strikingly?”
His eyes searched the valley as mine had, and in a few moments he said, min at-turaab, ila at-turaab, “from the dust, to the dust.” He was right. The monuments of human greatness were crumbling before our eyes, had we the power to discern the gradual process of erosion and decay.
This troubled me, and I asked, “If all this will pass into dust, is there nothing that endures?”
Pointing to himself he simply said, nafsii, “my soul.” Then pointing at me, and then gesturing outward at the broad and fertile Nile plain and the great city of Cairo and its millions of inhabitants he said, Nafsuk, nafsuhu, nafsuha, “your soul, his soul, her soul.”
The very economy of language he employed and nuanced meanings in Arabic, moved me to a new level of awareness of who I was, where I was, and the multitudes of individual humans that surrounded me. “All the years of study, all the time spent abroad, all the books read, all of that prepared me for this moment,” I thought. This was the moment when the fruits of prolonged academic study combined with years of Church membership and my love of God to confirm the truths I already knew, and bring them more fully into my consciousness: “Behold, this is my work and my glory, to bring to pass the immortality and eternal live of man (Moses 1:39)”—if possible, of every individual that has lived, lives, or will live on this planet.
My academic life, my intellectual life, my spiritual life, my Church life, and my travels brought me to see and know that “the worth of souls is great in the sight of God” (Doctrine and Covenants 18:10), and that if I “bring, save it be one soul” into the Kingdom of God, how great will be my joy (Doctrine and Covenants 18:15-16). I am increasingly committed to using my academic studies and experience to help me love humans at every level, in every place, and in every time, to focus on my soul, your soul, his soul, and her soul. I thank God that I have had the learning and experience, in Church, in school, and abroad among my fellow pilgrims-in-mortality, that leads me to know that God is love, and that I am happiest when I follow His example in loving all humankind collectively and individually.
i “Statement of the First Presidency regarding God’s Love for All Mankind,” Feb. 15, 1978. This statement is referenced in an April, 2006 General Conference talk given by President James E. Faust, entitled “The Restoration of All Things,” at http://www.lds.org/conference/talk/display/0,5232,23-1-602-21,00.html
ii Tao The Ching, John C.H. Wu, transl. (St. John’s University Press, 1961; reprinted by Barnes & Noble, 1997), 111.
iii Given the ubiquity of internet access, I have tried to use web-based translations as much as is possible for the reader’s convenience. http://www.fullbooks.com/The-Dhammapada.html .
iv http://ahadith.co.uk/nawawis40hadith.php, no. 13.
vii Quoted in James A. Toronto, “An LDS Perspective of Muhammad, Ensign, August 2000, 51.
David D. Peck received a Juris Doctor degree from the S. J. Quinney College of Law at the University of Utah (1988), and a Ph.D. in the history of the modern Middle East from the University of Utah (2003). Dr. Peck practiced law full time in Utah, Idaho, and Hawaii from 1988 through 1995, leaving active practice to accept a position at Brigham Young University-Idaho. He teaches courses on diverse subjects as reflected in his educational and professional background including U.S. constitutional history and law and the history of the Middle East. Dr. Peck has contributed articles to the Oxford Encyclopedia of the Modern World on the Mixed Courts of Egypt and on Edward Said’s theory of Orientalism. In addition to textbook publications, his writing often focuses on making world religious traditions more accessible to a Mormon audience, e.g., “Mormonism and Eastern Mysticism,” Dialogue: a Journal of Mormon Thought, vol. 21 no. 2 (Summer 1988), “Chaining the Demons, Liberating the Soul: Fasting in Islam,” Perspectives: Expressing Mind & Spirit, vol. 4 no. 2 (Autumn, 2004), “The Rites of Shiva: Joy and Rejoicing in Your Posterity,” Perspectives: Expressing Mind & Spirit, vol. 8, no. 1 (Spring, 2008), and “Lights Amid the Darkness: Creating the Canon of the New Testament,” Perspectives: Expressing Mind & Spirit, vol. 8, no. 2 (Autumn, 2008). He studied Arabic in Egypt and Tunisia. Dr. Peck has been awarded a Fulbright Lecture Fellowship to India for 2010-2011. He is currently President of the BYU-Idaho Faculty Association.
Posted April 2010