Imagine if you met a scientist one day who said to you: “Hi! My name is Jack, and I own gravity!”
You’d probably just snigger and walk away. Rightly so, for although science prides itself on trying to discover the immutable laws of the universe, it can lay no claim to them. They existed before science, even before the birth of man.
Similarly, I think it’s important for us as members of the church to realise that the church has no monopoly on true principles. It can be a great source of principles, it can be a treasure trove of them, guiding us to a wide variety of them, but in no way can it claim ownership of them.
Things that transcend even God
It is Mormon doctrine that there are things in the universe that transcend even God. God himself is subject to certain eternal laws that cannot be changed.
The simplest and most easily identifiable example of this is the Atonement of Jesus Christ. For some reason, beyond our comprehension, due to some eternal law, an atonement was necessary for the salvation of man. God could not do this by himself, he had to send his son to atone for us to do something that he was not capable of doing himself.
Another good example of this idea is D&C 82:10: “I, the Lord, am bound when ye do what I say; but when ye do not what I say, ye have no promise.” — in this verse the Lord states that he is bound (by something) to bless us when we do what he says. This is corroborated by the verse in D&C 130:20-21:”There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated— And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated.”
In this case it shows clearly that God is subject to this law. Whether or not he was the one who created it is irrelevant; he is now subject to it. There is something (eternal law) which transcends even God. “Irrevocable” also indicates that God, notwithstanding his immense power, is not able to revoke this law. (This and other similar examples are good illustrations of the so-called “omnipotence paradox”, the idea that omnipotence is a self-contradictory idea.)
Science, technology and miracles
In his recent general conference talk, President Uchtdorf told the story of a hypothetical scenario:
Suppose you were able to travel back in time and have a conversation with people who lived a thousand or even a hundred years ago. Imagine trying to describe to them some of the modern technologies that you and I take for granted today. For example, what might these people think of us if we told them stories of jumbo jets, microwave ovens, handheld devices that contain vast digital libraries, and videos of our grandchildren that we instantly share with millions of people around the world?
Some might believe us. Most would ridicule, oppose, or perhaps even seek to silence or harm us. Some might attempt to apply logic, reason, and facts as they know them to show that we are misguided, foolish, or even dangerous. They might condemn us for attempting to mislead others.
But of course, these people would be completely mistaken. They might be well-meaning and sincere. They might feel absolutely positive of their opinion. But they simply would not be able to see clearly because they had not yet received the more complete light of truth.
Imagine instead of telling others of our technology that we could show them how it works. Imagine going back 100 years ago and showing someone a Skype phone call — that you can speak in real-time to anyone around the world and see their face clearly on the screen. It would likely seem a miracle to them. Similarly if we could go into the future and see what technology awaits us in even five or ten years from now it’s likely we’d be very surprised, even thinking that it is a miracle what mankind is yet to discover.
Yet all of this technology is nothing more or less than a mastery of physical laws. Engineering is using the knowledge of physical laws to create technology — it has taken our understanding of the universe and matured it to the stage that we can create technology based on those immutable laws (for example, using our knowledge of how electricity works to create the transistor).
Similarly the goodness attained by the church is no miracle. There are eternal principles that govern how we become happy, and by living those we can attain to greater happiness.
We seek after these things
“If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.” (AOF 13)
I think it’s a worthy goal to live a life in search of true principles with the idea to apply them. True principles assist us and those around us to be happier, more productive people. True principles lie at the very heart of our doctrine. Here are some final quotes concerning the relationship between true principles and the doctrines or teachings of the church.
“I teach them correct principles, and they govern themselves.” — Joseph Smith
John 7:17: “If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.” — a statement by Jesus that by applying the “doctrine” (which ultimately results in doing things like living the principles he taught) we will eventually, through some means, come to know that the doctrine is true and “of God”.
“We should gather all the good and true principles in the world and treasure them up, or we shall not come out true Mormons.” — Joseph Smith
Though the church is full of true principles (and for many that is a tell-tale sign of its inherent truthfulness) neither it, nor we nor even God can lay absolute claim to them. They are truths and laws that transcend all of us.