……… He lives and He loves us, and I pray "that when he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is". In the name of our Master, Jesus Christ, amen.
David Rolph Seely
Created in the "Image and Likeness of God"
David Rolph Seely
David Rolph Seely
I am honored to be here today to address you. I have been blessed with goodly parents, a noble and accomplished wife, and valiant children. I am especially honored to be here with my colleagues and with you, the students of Brigham Young University. Many devotional talks through the years have shaped my life.
Brother Hugh Nibley, one of the great teachers at Brigham Young University, used to describe our lives like going to a Broadway play. Arriving late, we miss the opening—and, leaving early, we miss the ending. To complicate matters, instead of being spectators when we arrive at the play, someone pushes us onstage and we hear a voice saying, "Do something intelligent." His point was that in order to "do something intelligent" with our lives on stage, we need to know the beginning and the ending of the play—and we only get that information through revelation.
In the Beginning
In the spirit of Brother Nibley's parable, let us sketch out, based on the scriptures, the beginning, the middle, and the end of the play in order to help us "do something intelligent."
In the beginning, the crown of Heavenly Father's creative work was the creation of the man and the woman: "So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them". This statement teaches us of our divine origins and that from the beginning "the measure of our creation" is to be like God.
Biblical scholars explain the two Hebrew terms behind the words image and likeness as references to being created in the form of God as well as to having His divine attributes. President Dieter F. Uchtdorf summarized what we have learned from modern revelation when he taught: "We are created in the image of our heavenly parents; we are God's spirit children." Whereas in ancient Near Eastern temples it was common to have the image of the god in that god's temple, in the Garden of Eden the image of God is found in the man and the woman. The biblical story further explains Adam and Eve's purpose. As bearers of the divine image, Adam and Eve were to be representatives of God in His creation to "multiply, and replenish the earth" and they were to care for the earth and the creatures therein.
The effects of the Fall made it possible for Adam and Eve to experience mortality with agency through which they could be tested and tried in order to become like their Creator. Armed with the knowledge of good and evil, Adam and Eve were able to exercise faith and obedience in discerning between good and evil and in choosing the good. According to Mosiah 3:19, we too must discern and choose either "the natural man," which "is an enemy to God," or yield "to the enticings of the Holy Spirit" to become "a saint through the atonement of Christ".
Mosiah 3:19 is one of my favorite scriptures. In the summer of 1968 I was sitting with my Grandmother Payne at the Manti Pageant. I was fourteen, and it was the day that she would ruin my life. We had arrived early, so we had time to visit.
Grandma Payne was always interested in our lives, and she asked me, "David Rolph, what are you planning to do with your life?"
Being a child of the sixties, I thought long and hard before revealing my well-thought-out plans to a grown-up a member of the Establishment. But I took the risk, and I carefully began to explain how I planned to leave our warlike and corrupt and materialistic society and retire to the woods to study the outdoors and to learn to play the guitar and to write poetry. I concluded my short sermon, declaring somewhat innocently, "I am going to be the natural man."
She smiled at me, almost incredulously, and said, "Boy, are you in trouble! Don't you know that the Book of Mormon teaches that the natural man is an enemy to God?"
I have never forgotten that day. It changed my life. I always read this passage with a smile and I learned that it is risky to tell your plans to an adult.
Throughout history the Lord has commanded His children to be like Him. In the Old Testament He commanded, "Ye shall be holy: for I the Lord your God am holy". In the meridian of time Jehovah, the God of the Old Testament, came to earth to show us the way, to live among us, and to accomplish the Atonement and make it possible for us to return to our Heavenly Father. Jesus repeated the commandment to be like God, in whose image and likeness we were created: "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect".
In the final scene of our play, the Savior returns in His glory to judge us, to see if we have "filled the measure of our creation". Elder Dallin H. Oaks has taught: "The Final Judgment is not just an evaluation of a sum total of good and evil acts what we have done. It is an acknowledgment of the final effect of our acts and thoughts what we have become. "
Let us now turn to another scripture. In Moses 1, God dramatically introduced Himself to Moses by showing him the splendor and glory of His creations. And then He said, "And I have a work for thee, Moses, my son; and thou art in the similitude of mine Only Begotten". Here the Lord teaches Moses and us that he is His son and reminds him of his divine potential, being created in the similitude of the Son. He then reveals to Moses the ultimate purpose of creation: "For behold, this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man".
These passages remind us that creation as described in the Bible is not just an event but is a process that continues to this day. This was eloquently stated in a BYU devotional years ago by one of my good friends, Professor George S. Tate:
Wasn't the Creation completed a very long time ago? Yes, in a sense it was. . . . But in another sense, creation is ongoing, since its aim has not been fulfilled. If it is God's "work and his glory" to "bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man", creation is not complete until we have fulfilled the measure of our creation.
The scriptures record God's continued creation of His children through covenant, and covenant is very important. I was reminded this morning of a Jewish midrash on Exodus 19, which recounts how the children of Israel were gathered at the foot of Mount Sinai, prepared to receive the law. The midrash describes how God impressed upon the children of Israel the weight of the covenant they were about to enter into. He uprooted Mount Sinai and lifted it in the air, where it hovered like a barrel over the children of Israel. And then God emphasized the crushing weight of the mountain and said, "If you accept the Torah, all is well; if not, here will be your grave." As I walked in the building this morning, I looked up, and I want to tell you that, to me, this has felt like the weight of Mount Sinai.
The Lord uses covenant in the process of the spiritual creation of His children. Adam and Eve were required to be born again through water, the Spirit, and blood. Ancient Israel is described as "the work of mine hands" created at Mount Sinai and, throughout her history, as being shaped and formed as the clay in the hand of the potter. And Jesus taught that we must be born again "of water and of the Spirit". Our lives, then, are about creation. They are about what it is we are becoming.
The Master and His Apprentices
Several years ago I began a discussion with the Lord that has proven to be a pivotal point in my life. One day, in a moment of serious self-reflection—which we commonly call a midlife crisis (and which for some of us began the day after our missions and continues to the present)—I sat down to determine if I had done anything significant with my life. I asked myself and the Lord this simple question: "What is my masterpiece? What is the culmination of all of my years of training and hard work?" As a young person I longed to be an artist or a musician, but after years of study and practice I concluded that my talents lay elsewhere. But still I continue to think of producing in my life a "masterpiece."
The Lord responded to my question with three thoughts.
First, He said to me that my task was to fulfill the measure of my creation—to be in the image and likeness of God, to be holy and perfect like Him. I walked over and looked into my spiritual mirror, and the result was not encouraging.
He then told me that my greatest work was to be my wife, Jo Ann, and my children.
And then the Lord said to me, "But you are not a master, so why do you think you can produce a masterpiece? You are just an apprentice in my workshop."
Having always been a lover of great art (my son in this room has walked every hall of the Louvre with me—it took us three days), I have been familiar with the institution of the apprentices that worked in the shops of the master artists and craftsmen. Especially during the Renaissance the great artists had workshops in which they employed apprentices to help them produce their masterpieces. Leonardo da Vinci served as an apprentice in the studio of Verrocchio, Michelangelo in the studio of Ghirlandaio, and Raphael in the studio of Perugino. The apprentices sought engagement in the workshops to do three things.
First, they came to get to know the master, his values, and his personality and to see up close how he produced his masterpieces.
Second, they came to learn from the master by doing. They began by doing the mundane jobs: sweeping the shop and preparing the pigments and the panels. As they progressed in skill, they were given more responsible tasks: painting backgrounds or minor figures, thus participating in the creation of great masterpieces.
Third, the apprentices came because they aspired to become like their masters. They hoped that by knowing the master and working by his side, they could one day become masters themselves.
Remember the Lord's conversation with Moses: "And I have a work for thee, Moses, my son; and thou art in the similitude of mine Only Begotten". In Heavenly Father's workshop, we, like Moses, are both God's masterpieces in process—"in the similitude of mine Only Begotten" as well as His children, His sons and daughters, whom He has engaged in His workshop as apprentices, saying, "I have a work for you."
How Do We Become in the "Image and Likeness of God"?
I believe the metaphor of the master and his apprentices can help us better understand how we can become God's masterpieces His children in the "image and likeness of God."7 Just like an apprentice in a workshop, our first step is to get to know the Master. The Prophet Joseph Smith taught: "It is the first principle of the gospel to know for a certainty the character of God" and to have "a correct idea of his . . . perfections, and attributes." We know that we can come to know the Lord by studying the scriptures, through prayer, and by associating with others who know Him.
In order to help us to know the Master, Heavenly Father sent His Only Begotten Son to earth to reveal to us the Father: "The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do". Thus Jesus Christ came to earth as Heavenly Father's masterpiece in His image as well as in the image of a man, and through His Atonement Jesus Christ became the Master of the workshop. What we learn from the life of the Savior is that His primary attribute is love. He loves His Father and He loves us, and He expects us, as His creations and as His apprentices, to love one another: "By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another".
Through reading the accounts of the life of the Savior we can learn what He is like, what He values, and how He treated others. The Apostle Peter gave us an example of the power of knowing the Savior. Recall with me the account in Matthew when the Savior, who was walking upon the stormy sea, invited Peter to walk on the water with Him. When Peter left the boat and began to go to Jesus, the text records:
But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me.
And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him, and said unto him, O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?
Later, after the death and resurrection of the Savior, Peter found himself the head of the Church. Fearless in the face of persecution, Peter was teaching at the temple with John when a lame beggar asked for alms. Peter, following the example of the Savior, stretched out his hand and said:
Silver and gold have I none; but such as I have give I thee: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk.
And he took him following the example of the Savior on the Sea of Galilee by the right hand, and lifted him up.
The second step is learning in the workshop by doing. Latter-day Saints are familiar with the gospel of doing: we do good works, we do our home teaching and visiting teaching, and we even call temple worship "temple work." The scriptures are replete with commandments of doing or not doing. The Savior simply said, "Come, follow me". By imitating the life of Jesus we learn obedience, compassion, love, and how to treat our fellows as if they were the Master: "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me".
As we become skilled apprentices, we come to realize that the Master has given us a breathtaking responsibility in the workshop. In the beginning, Adam and Eve were commanded to "multiply, and replenish the earth", and they were given the gift of procreation—to create the bodies for the spirit children of our heavenly parents, in the image of God. This sacred gift of procreation is one of the greatest gifts imaginable and gives us the power to work as co-creators with God.
Jeffrey R. Holland described this role as follows:
You will never be more like God at any other time in this life than when you are expressing that particular power. Of all the titles he has chosen for himself, Father is the one he declares, and Creation is his watchword—especially human creation, creation in his image.
Genesis 5:3 records, "And Adam . . . begat a son in his own likeness, after his image." Here is where the fun begins, as Heavenly Father has given us the privilege of creating these children in our image as well. The results can be both spectacular and comical. When we first held our babies, we would greet each new spirit with wonder, and then we would begin to note the distribution of the genes from our families. As we raise our children in the image and likeness of God, we are shocked as they assume our image and likeness as well. One morning, a few days after I finished a grueling two years working on my dissertation, we were lying on our bed when our darling two-and-a-half-year-old son raced into the room and began jumping on the bed, gleefully shouting, "I am sure glad that darned dissertation is done!" But he didn't say "darned"!
Several years later our family was living in New York City for the summer, and we were attending a scholarly workshop together with lots of other aspiring scholars. Many of my colleagues were Christian, and one week we decided to perform an ecumenical gesture by attending the Riverside Church with my Christian colleagues. We got up in the morning and announced to our children that we were going to the Riverside Church, and our little boy said, "Wow, I really don't want to put on my crunchy clothes today, and I really don't want to go to that church." First I pleaded. Then I just grabbed his arm and dragged him out the door. As we got to the Riverside Church and went through the entrance, we looked in and realized that people had not brought their children to this meeting. The two thousand people in the church were sitting there quietly, waiting for the beginning of the meeting, and my five-year-old son shouted out, "But Daddy, this isn't even the true church!" So much for the ecumenical gesture of the Seelys that week.
One of the most exhilarating jobs in the workshop is to work with Heavenly Father's children in the creation of families. And it is here that our family has experienced the grandest of adventures. But helping to create Heavenly Father's children in His image and likeness is not confined to parenthood. Throughout our lives we become co-creators with the Master in our relationships with all of those around us: our families, friends, mission companions, roommates, colleagues, teachers, and students, as well as those we visit teach and home teach.
Let me share with you several important things that I have learned in the workshop as we have worked as co-creators with the Master. The image and likeness of God is not to be found in outward appearances it is to be found in our hearts. In our modern culture, especially in the media, there is overwhelming attention and concern given to "image," which is almost always a reference to outward appearances. A powerful story in the scriptures addresses this issue. When the prophet Samuel was sent to find the Lord's anointed among the sons of Jesse in Bethlehem, he examined the seven eldest sons of Jesse, expecting to find among them the next king of Israel. He was disappointed to find that none of them was the one the Lord had chosen, and he finally had Jesse send for his youngest son, David. The Lord then taught us a lesson that should pierce our souls: "For the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart". The Lord wants us to learn to see ourselves and each other as He sees us: not looking on outward appearances but looking on the heart. In our search for friends, associates, and, most important, our future spouses, we need to learn to see each other "not as man seeth" but as "the Lord looketh on the heart."
Another thing I have learned in the workshop is that being created in the image and likeness of God does not mean that we are all the same. As spirit children of Heavenly Father, we come to earth with our individuality. Heavenly Father tells us that He has blessed us with different spiritual gifts:
For all have not every gift given unto them; for there are many gifts, and to every man is given a gift by the Spirit of God.
To some is given one, and to some is given another, that all may be profited thereby.
James E. Faust taught:
We do not lose our identity in becoming members of this church. . . . We say to all who have joined the Church, keep all that is noble, good, and uplifting in your culture and personal identity.
As we look through the scriptures, we see the way that the Lord has made use of many different individuals: in the Old Testament there was a Moses and an Aaron, a Ruth and an Esther; in the New Testament a Peter and a Paul, a Mary and a Martha; and in our day a Joseph Smith and a Brigham Young, a Gordon B. Hinckley and a Thomas S. Monson.
In the workshop we come to appreciate that the Lord's masterpieces are created through a great price. Abraham demonstrated the ultimate faith in God when he took his son Isaac to sacrifice him on Mount Moriah. The Lord exclaimed, "Now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me" On that day Abraham showed us the image of God the Father when he, like his Heavenly Father, demonstrated his willingness to sacrifice his beloved son, and Isaac showed us the image of God the Son as he willingly submitted to the will of his father.
We are surrounded by many who have taught us by example the principles of faith, obedience, and sacrifice. In the Lectures on Faith we are taught, "The faith necessary unto the enjoyment of life and salvation never could be obtained without the sacrifice of all earthly things."
My grandfather J. Leo Seely received a mission call in 1914 to serve the Lord in Ireland. He left his wife and little children for two years. The depth of his sacrifice has become clear to us as we have read their letters. Upon his return he grabbed my grandmother in an embrace, and his little daughter Ina, who hadn't seen her father for years, raced out to chastise this unfamiliar man, shouting, "You naughty man, leave my mother alone!"
Because of the power of this man's example and that of my noble grandmother, my father served a mission, and then over fifty of his grandchildren and now his great-grandchildren have gone forth to serve the Lord in missions that cover the world. Great-Great-Grandfather Bramall crossed the plains seven times and served five missions to England. And Great-Grandmother Sumsion began a great tradition of sister missionary service followed by her daughter, her granddaughters, and now her great-granddaughters. As we watch our children—and as you watch your friends and families—open mission calls, we see the image of God in a person who is willing to follow in the footsteps of the Savior to sacrifice for the salvation of His children. They have the faith and the courage to go wherever the Lord calls them.
Esau is another unheralded example of one who showed us how to shape our lives in the image of God. When his brother, Jacob, tricked him out of the birthright, Esau was enraged to the point of seeking to kill his brother. After many years of avoiding each other, there was a dramatic moment when Jacob encountered his brother. Jacob, fearing for his life, prepared gifts for his brother. When the moment of the encounter came and Jacob met his brother, Esau unexpectedly forgave him. Looking into Esau's forgiving face, Jacob exclaimed, "For therefore I have seen thy face, as though I had seen the face of God".
The image of God is forgiveness. As Brother Nibley always used to remind us, "The two things you can do in life are to repent and forgive."
The third step of our apprenticeship is the most important and perhaps the most difficult. Ultimately we are commanded to "be holy" and to "be perfect" like the Master. As we live the gospel and fill our lives with knowing and doing, something miraculous happens to us: we begin to become like the Savior and like our Father in Heaven. But we cannot complete the process of becoming like God on our own. Only the Master can make a masterpiece, and only He can make us in His own image.
Let me tell you about something I love. There is a fragment of a Dead Sea scroll from Cave 4 at Qumran that I had the privilege to work on several years ago. It is a piece of a hymn called Barkhi Nafshi— "Bless, O My Soul." One cold winter day I was in the workroom at the Shrine of the Book in Jerusalem examining this fragment. It had not yet been mounted in a protective frame, and a gust of wind came through the window and blew the fragile fragment onto the floor. Horrified, I quickly got a large piece of paper and knelt down to scoop it up. As I stood to put it back onto the table, I was overcome with emotion—holding in my hands this precious piece of the past, a piece of leather that contained the hymn of praise from a Jewish author two thousand years ago. In this fragment of text the ancient hymnist expressed the mystery of acquiring the attributes of God: "Bless, O my soul, the Lord. . . . He has been gracious to the needy, and he has opened their eyes to see his ways, and their ears to hear his teaching. And he has circumcised the foreskins of their heart". Paraphrasing from Deuteronomy, another sacred text that I love, the ancient author of this poem acknowledges that it is only God who can, through His grace, open our eyes and ears and change our hearts.
This doctrine is taught throughout the scriptures. The Lord says in Ezekiel, "A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you". And Paul describes the death of "our old man" and the birth of the new that we experience at baptism.
Occasionally things go wrong in the workshop, and we, as the Master's masterpieces in progress, become distorted or deformed. Sometimes the problem is sin—giving in to the enticings of the natural man. Sometimes it is discouragement, disappointment, sickness, or death. The Master of the workshop came to earth and, as explained by Alma, experienced mortal "infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities". He has the power to cleanse us, to heal us, and to restore us to His image and likeness, for the Atonement "brings about the bowels of mercy" that "can satisfy the demands of justice, and encircles them in the arms of safety"
I testify that the power of the Atonement is real and that His "grace is sufficient". As we call upon our Father in Heaven in repentance, through the power of the Savior's Atonement we can find forgiveness. Through the Holy Ghost He can send encouragement and comfort. We as apprentices in the workshop should remember that, as my daughter says, "often the Holy Ghost needs helpers." We can help the Master by reaching out to those around us, offering forgiveness, encouragement, and comfort.
At this very moment in our lives we are in the process of creation—of choosing between the natural man and between becoming, through the power of the grace of our Savior, individuals in the image and likeness of God. As apprentices in His workshop, the Lord has called us to work with Him in producing His masterpieces—His children in His own image. We do so as families, as mothers and fathers, as sons and daughters, as brothers and sisters in the gospel, as missionaries, as teachers and students and through service to our fellowman. There is great joy in the workshop as we see the miraculous growth and the changes of heart that occur through the power of the Atonement. The eternal and enduring masterpieces that we produce in our lives are not works of art or music or scholarly books or articles—they are the people around us. As we help the Master with His masterpieces, we are engaged in His work and His glory: "the immortality and eternal life of man."
I find joy in being an apprentice in the Savior's workshop, and I aspire to be like Him. As we work in the Lord's kingdom, serving His children, we can become like Him.
I love the Lord Jesus Christ. I testify that He lives and He loves us, and I pray "that when he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is". In the name of our Master, Jesus Christ, amen.