In his parable of the piano, Geoff is trying to negotiate the roles of the individual spiritual agent in relation to the role of God in the Atonement and Exaltation (I am in the camp that believes (as apparently Geoff agrees) that one cannot successfully talk about one without invoking the other). Specifically, God gives everyone a piano that they could not get on their own and then God spends years and years training up the kid in piano, giving all the necessary skills, guidance, instruction, encouragement, discouragement, etc. necessary to get the orphan (us) to be as good a piano player as the instructor is. This places the responsibility for our salvation squarely on our shoulders; Although God gave us the piano as a gift, we must learn to play it individually. He cannot play it for us. (Geoff, please correct me if I am misinterpreting here).
If anyone has been following this debate (as I am sure you all are), you will note that whenever I disagree with Geoff, I initially point out that I mostly agree with him and find his parables helpful (his comments here reinforce that impression). Since patterns must be followed, I will do the same here. Taken individually, I agree with all of the sentences in the above paragraph. I just think that the sum is greater than the whole that paragraph creates.
Part of the issue comes from teaching. What I do best is teach. I am better at it than I am at research, critical thought, or any of the qualities necessary in academia. I enjoy it more than many of them, too. However, I know that I do not ultimately teach anybody anything (as I think most good teachers would agree). Humans are not computers and simple input/output doesn’t take place. Let me take, for a proof text, D&C 50:10-14, a passage important to teaching in the mission field and elsewhere.
10 And now come, saith the Lord, by the Spirit, unto the elders of his church, and let us reason together, that ye may understand;
11 Let us reason even as a man reasoneth one with another face to face.
12 Now, when a man reasoneth he is understood of man, because he reasoneth as a man; even so will I, the Lord, reason with you that you may understand.
13 Wherefore, I the Lord ask you this question—unto what were ye ordained?
14 To preach my gospel by the Spirit, even the Comforter which was sent forth to teach the truth.
I find this passage instructive for two reasons. First, God flat out says that he is going to take a moment and speak to us at our level, that he is going to appeal to our sense of reason. Second, it delineates the role of the teacher and the Spirit in learning. I preach; the Spirit teaches. Some may reasonably restrict this division of responsibility to only Gospel teaching (for it is here that we say the Spirit is essential). I don’t buy it. All teaching consists of trying to come up with example after analogy after metaphor after rule (ad nauseum) until the student has a eureka moment. All teaching is an episode of blind leading blind until an epiphany takes place and understanding is achieved. I don’t believe that this ever happens without the intervention of the Holy Ghost (who carries knowledge to the heart and mind). I can talk until I am blue in the face and it will be entirely possible that a student will get nothing out of it. While some amount of content in a class is dependent on me, whether or not the student gets anything out of it is entirely dependent on them.
So, how do students facillitate these useful eureka moments? They do what I ask them to do. They read and they think. They come prepared to class. However, it is fairly common for well-prepared students to leave well-presented lessons confused. Without this revelatory moment, nothing gets wholly communicated (I also think that the Holy Ghost is necessary for all true communication, but let’s set that aside for now).
What does any of this have to do with the piano? How do students learn? A combination of themselves and this divine intervention. As we seek to draw near to God, we are changed in a thousand little ways. Tiny daily gifts of grace are available to slowly remake us into better people. We do our part by becoming submissive to God’s will and enduring in the changes that have been made (to whatever degree this is possible). God does the actual changing. I do not think that we can become Gods without an atonement. Our nature must change for us to be exalted. However, the changing is affected by God. We are willing participants in His work, not the other way around. I would extend this to our own salvation.
Pres. Benson said, “The Lord works from the inside out. The world works from the outside in. The world would take people out of the slums. Christ takes the slums out of people, and then they take themselves out of the slums. The world would mold men by changing their environment. Christ changes men, who then change their environment. The world would shape human behavior, but Christ can change human nature.” What should we understand him to mean? He does not seem to be saying that people drive the changes they experience. I am particularly interested in the last sentence. God does change human nature. We are different now than we were before we came to this earth and, presumably, we will be different when we leave. Our work here on earth is becoming more like how we ought to be when we leave. We do this work by submitting our will to God and thereby allowing Him to change us.
The submitting of our will to the Father is the primary work that we have in this life. It is a long, painful process that involves a truly broken heart and a wholly contrite spirit. Godly works that we can see are symptoms of this slow change. In some cases, they can help prepare us for further change; in all cases, they are the outgrowth of spiritual changes that the Lord is working on us. Remember that the Lord is not interested in our outward changes alone, it is the thought that counts. How do you make yourself want something that you don’t honestly want? I don’t believe that anyone, having entered this world, wishes to surrender their agency. But this is specifically what God asks us to do. It is insufficient to just go through the motions and say the proper things. Geoff is right to say that it is worthless unless we become the new creature. But we are still just creatures at this stage; it is God who creates.
The problem with the lines that we have drawn is that they foster more misunderstanding than understanding. The accusation is that “piano” mormons are insufficiently humble, that under their system people theoretically could save themselves. I don’t think that this is what Geoff believes (why else make the piano initially unattainable?). The counter-accusation is that “gift” mormons are lazy or mediocre, seeking to let God do all the work. I think that this is also a mis-statement. What I have been trying to express is that both systems are fairly correct, so long as they take into account the usefulness of the other system (it really does turn out that we need faith and works). Our primary work is the submission of our will to God so that he can make us, through grace in the form of spiritual gifts, in his image. It is a joint project. As we submit, God works 1,000 (or more) little changes in us.
Joseph Smith said, “[B]y learning the Spirit of God and understanding it, you may grow into the principle of revelation, until you become perfect in Christ Jesus.” If this is a good metaphor, the question should be, “Who controls our growth? According to whose timetable does it occur? What can we do to start or stop it in ourselves?” At Geoff’s blog, we exchanged the following pair of sermon on the mount scriptures:
Matt 6:27 Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature?
Matt 6:33 But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.
Who is doing the adding? If it isn’t us, who must it be? As we seek the kingdom of God, we are changed. I just think that it is foolish or prideful to assume that we are the ones who generate the change. The best that we can hope to do is to try to generate conditions favorable to change (like doing your homework in class) and working to maintain those conditions until the change takes place (enduring to the end?). It is God who makes us like God.