John 10:10 — ‘I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly’ — LeGrand Baker

It is difficult to know whether the Savior is talking about an abundant life here or hereafter. But that is probably a moot question, because this life and the next are a continuum. The experience we call death appears to us to be a break in life’s continuity, but in terms of our eternal Self, this world and the next are a package deal.

9 I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture.
10 …. I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.
11 I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep.
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14 I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine.
15 As the Father knoweth me, even so know I the Father: and I lay down my life for the sheep.
16 And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.
17 Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again.
18 No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of my Father (John 10:9-18).

The words that follow the Savior’s statement are about the power of his resurrection, so the context suggests that the “abundant life” he promises to the faithful is a quality of being that can only be experienced by those whom the scriptures call “the pure in heart” (3 Nephi 12:8; D&C 56:18, 97:15-21). We get to leave this body when it is no longer functional, but our spirits remain the same. Our memory of this world as well as our agency, personality, and integrity all remain intact. On the day we die, the person we have become, is the person we still are. Amulek’s famous words teach that principle very plainly.

32 For behold, this life is the time for men to prepare to meet God; yea, behold the day of this life is the day for men to perform their labors.
33 And now, as I said unto you before, as ye have had so many witnesses, therefore, I beseech of you that ye do not procrastinate the day of your repentance until the end; for after this day of life, which is given us to prepare for eternity, behold, if we do not improve our time while in this life, then cometh the night of darkness wherein there can be no labor performed.
34 Ye cannot say, when ye are brought to that awful crisis, that I will repent, that I will return to my God. Nay, ye cannot say this; for that same spirit which doth possess your bodies at the time that ye go out of this life, that same spirit will have power to possess your body in that eternal world. (Alma 34:32-34).

Modern revelation modifies Amulek’s teachings to show that people do have an opportunity to repent in the post-mortal spirit world. I believe he understood that, but his teaching the apostate Zoramites was neither the time nor the place to offer that as an option. {1}

It is often true that people in our time, like the Zoramites, worship a God that is patterned after themselves. When that is so, the God always hates the same people we hate and likes the people who are “on our side.” For example, when I was a boy I read (and history seemed to confirm) that “God is an Englishman.” A similar example is that during the first and second world wars, Christians on both sides prayed to the same God that he would destroy their enemies. Individually, we justify our prejudices by the belief that God shares those prejudices and condones our acts of bigotry. Unkind people worship a ridged and unkind God. People without standards feel justified by a God who also has none, just as Nephi said.

8 And there shall also be many which shall say: Eat, drink, and be merry; nevertheless, fear God—he will justify in committing a little sin; yea, lie a little, take the advantage of one because of his words, dig a pit for thy neighbor; there is no harm in this; and do all these things, for tomorrow we die; and if it so be that we are guilty, God will beat us with a few stripes, and at last we shall be saved in the kingdom of God (2 Nephi 28:8).

Those beliefs change nothing that is eternal. God, his love, his justice and mercy are all constants. Our rationalization does not change that. A morbid or greedy person cannot experience selfless joy or believe it is genuine when he sees it in other people. Similarly, a person whose life is dominated by evil, cannot tolerate righteousness in others.

But it is possible that we can tap into God’s reality to understand his nature, and when we do, our lives reflect what he is. Heber C. Kimball explained that very well.

I am perfectly satisfied that my God is a cheerful, pleasant, lively, and good-natured Being. Why? Because I am cheerful, pleasant, lively, and good-natured when I have His Spirit. That is one reason why I know; and another is the Lord said, through Joseph Smith, “I delight in a glad heart and a cheerful countenance.” That arises from the perfection of His attributes; He is a jovial, lively person, and a beautiful man. {2}

The kind of God we worship defines our character, and, as Hugh Nibley explained, our character defines our present and our future Self.

The essence of wickedness is meanness [selfishness]. There’s the passage from John Donne that John F. Kennedy used to like to quote: “A dog starved at his master’s gate portends the ruin of the state.” If a man lets his dog starve, he’s that kind of person. Or as Heraclitus would put it: “A man’s character is his fate.” You can tell what’s going to happen if you know who the man is and what kind of character he has. It’s going to lead to a tragic end or a happy end as the case may be. This is it; it’s the character. We read the passages. That’s the kind of people they were. That was what was wrong. It wasn’t the Babylonians or the Egyptians that worried them; it was the people themselves. As Solon said, “These people themselves have brought this ruin upon their state.” They are full of lust; they can never get enough. They rob each other and steal from the state like bandits, etc. It’s the same thing here in our world. It’s that kind of world. {3}

That says it all: “A man’s character is his fate.” The abundant life Jesus promised is a product of one’s character. The Prophet Joseph said essentially the same thing when he taught that we must be authorized to believe. {4} That authorization comes through adherence to validating covenants and ordinances, and living to qualify us to have Holy Ghost be our tutor and mentor. If we will permit it, the Savior’s Atonement will enable us to cleanse and purify our characters by the gift and power of the Holy Ghost. That qualifies us to know and live an abundant life, but only those who are faithful to their covenants are able to accept, appreciate, and be a part of that fellowship.

Moroni explained that a purpose of the Nephite church was to help its members achieve that end.

4 And after they had been received unto baptism, and were wrought upon and cleansed by the power of the Holy Ghost, they were numbered among the people of the church of Christ; and their names were taken, that they might be remembered and nourished by the good word of God, to keep them in the right way, to keep them continually watchful unto prayer, relying alone upon the merits of Christ, who was the author and the finisher of their faith (Moroni 6:3-4).

That cleansing authorizes us to believe and also authorizes us to know what to believe. The Prophet Joseph taught,

18 Whatever principle of intelligence we attain unto in this life, it will rise with us in the resurrection.
19 And if a person gains more knowledge and intelligence in this life through his diligence and obedience than another, he will have so much the advantage in the world to come (D&C 130:18-19).

I take it that the “principle of intelligence” means something very different from “street smarts” or even a college education. It has more to do with character and being qualified to know, to believe, and to do.

40 For intelligence cleaveth unto intelligence; wisdom receiveth wisdom; truth embraceth truth; virtue loveth virtue; light cleaveth unto light; mercy hath compassion on mercy and claimeth her own; justice continueth its course and claimeth its own; judgment goeth before the face of him who sitteth upon the throne and governeth and executeth all things (D&C 88:40).

In the most comprehensive sense, the principle of our intelligence is who/what we are. In this life, we live only in the moment. Our experiences in those moments are as fleeting as time. We can never re-live them again. If they were pleasant we can seek to recreate them in our memory or seek to replicate them in a different time, but once the moment is gone, it can never come back again. Past accomplishments and/or mistakes are who we were, but no longer who we are. The past events define and mold us, but only if we insist on pulling their ghost along with us into our present. The ghosts live only in our uncertain memories, but even our memory is a selective illusion. Notwithstanding the ghosts, we are no longer the person who once succeeded or failed. Rather, we are only the person we are just now.

Many ancient and modern philosophers believe that this whole life is an illusion. That belief is understandable because our past is as gone as a forgotten dream. And the future never will be.

When I was on my mission in England, the Archbishop of Canterbury published an Easter message that defined his belief in eternal life. He wrote that when we dream, the experience seems real even though there are no rules about time or place. He suggested that as we die and our body grows cold, we may dream a dream that seems to go on forever. He wrote that the advantage of living a good life would be to have a final pleasant dream as our minds fade into a blissful nothingness.

That is not the abundance of life the Savior promised, but neither is the abundance that our modern culture creates.

We can go to a movie, sit in the dark for a couple hours watching the product of someone else’s imagination, and can artificially stimulate virtually every emotion we can experience in the real world — love, hate; anxiety, security; fear, peace — all can be experienced there. Because those emotions are a counterfeit, we have a right to wonder what they really are. But there is one feeling that is outside those emotions and cannot be artificially created, not even within ourselves. That is the sure witness of the Holy Ghost that Jesus is the Christ. The quality of the pure joy that accompanies that assurance is different from any emotion we can self-generate. When one is acquainted with that joy, then one knows his soul has touched the purest form of eternal reality.

Only when we have nothing real to hang on to is life an illusion and the past an irretrievable dream. But when one knows with absolute certainty that Jesus is the Christ, then upon that rock one can build a superstructure of truth that will withstand the ages. I know that the Savior is real because his love defines my own reality. I love therefore I am. I love others and they reciprocate; therefore, I know they are real also.

Only those who have never experienced it will challenge the assertion that persons who know the gospel and live it fully have richer and more fulfilling lives than those who do not. The Savior’s metaphor is sheep grazing peacefully and securely under the watchful eye of their shepherd. It portends peace, security in one’s sense of Self, the assurance of belonging, and the ability to give and receive love. These are the qualities of an abundant life in this world and they surely are also the basic qualities of joy in the world to come.

An abundant life is a present and eternal fellowship with the Savior, our families and our friends. It is a forever intimate togetherness — a forever not-being-alone.
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FOOTNOTES

{1} I think it is reasonable to assume he understood Isaiah 61, especially since the Savior referenced it in the Beatitudes.

{2} Journal of Discourses, February 8, 1857, 4:222.

{3} Hugh W. Nibley, Teachings of the Book of Mormon, Semester 1, Transcripts of lectures presented to an Honors Book of Mormon Classat Brigham Young University1988-1990, (Foundation for Ancient Research & Mormon Studies [F.A.R.M.S.], 1993), 74.

{4}George A. Smith, while serving in the First Presidency, reported: “Joseph Smith taught that every man and woman should seek the Lord for wisdom, that they might get knowledge from Him who is the fountain of knowledge; and the promises of the gospel, as revealed, were such as to authorize us to believe, that by taking this course we should gain the object of our pursuit.”

Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith, A Course of Study for the Melchizedek Priesthood Quorums of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, [Melchizedek Priesthood manual] (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2007), 266.

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