I became fascinated with the garment industry. Owing to the dynamic nature of fashion, the industry had developed avenues for new products to reach consumers quickly. It was hard to predict which new style would catch fashion’s fickle eye, so there had to be means available for undercapitalized designers to produce and deliver their hot new looks to market. Consequently, the machinery of the free enterprise system kicked into gear for anyone who could snag an order from a strong retailer. Fabric suppliers would typically provide goods on sixty-days trade credit to allow time for the order to be produced, and financial institutions would factor (buy) the invoice to the store as soon as the goods shipped, providing the funds to immediately pay the mills and sewing factory, even though the retailers would not pay the invoice until a month or two later. I had never seen an industry in which someone could make a lot of money so quickly with such a small amount of capital to start with. The industry has changed a lot over the past thirty years, so it is much more difficult for a new clothing start-up to succeed today. But back then, my entrepreneur spirit could not resist the siren call of large, fast profit.
My analytical mind engaged in finding problems in the industry, knowing that I would create value if I could find solutions. I identified three major challenges: 1) fashion is fickle, so what is hot today may be worthless tomorrow; 2) the margins are very thin unless you have strong logo appeal, and it typically takes good connections or millions of dollars to create this logo appeal; and 3) success can lead to failure because major retail chains often overbuy styles that are selling at high margins in the boutique stores and then slash prices once the sales volume slows down. I missed the fourth problem: whatever can make quick money attracts unethical people.
My solution was to avoid the fickle nature of fashion and stick with denim, which was just beginning to attract fashion designers. Jordache had recently spent millions of dollars on an ad campaign to launch their sexy, tight-fitting jeans. I didn’t have that type of money to risk up front, so I decided to license a recognized logo and pay royalties after the clothes sold. A salesman mentioned that he felt college logos would find their way off campus onto Main Street. He was right. A couple of years later, J.C. Penney and other major retailers started carrying college logo merchandise. So I created the company Student Body Jeans and set about licensing all the major college logos in the country for use on denim jeans, shorts, and jackets. I ended up with licenses from over sixty major universities. You name the school and I had the license: USC, Notre Dame, Harvard, Kentucky, Alabama, et cetera. Licensing college logos also solved the industry problem of overdependence on major retailers. College bookstores sell a lot of merchandise and provide a third leg to stabilize the garment market, which typically rested on boutique stores and department stores.
All I needed was to find a “garmento” who could produce the goods. I met a number of fascinating individuals. One of them was Stanley Foster, who owned the famous Hang Ten logo. He told me the fascinating story of his success. He was managing a furniture store when he married into the Ratner family, who owned the largest clothing company west of the Mississippi. After working in the family men’s suit business for several years, he became the president when his father-in-law retired. Soon after, he told his father-in-law that he had just purchased a clothing company for three million dollars. His father-in-law said, “Great, let’s go see the factory.”
Stan replied, “There is no factory.”
“OK, let’s go to the warehouse to see the inventory.”
“There’s no warehouse.”
“Well, what did you buy?”
Stan Foster held up the Hang Ten logo.
At this point in the story, Mr. Foster chuckled and told me that his father-in-law wondered how his daughter could have married such an imbecile and how he himself could have been such an idiot as to put him in charge of the company. Mr. Foster soon got his payback, earning several times that amount the first year and building the business into a $200 million retail juggernaut. Mr. Foster knew how to spot trends and understood the value of leveraging a strong logo across multiple market categories. He seemed to like me and was interested in getting his son-in-law involved in my venture, but nothing materialized.
I eventually hired a garmento in New York for $15,000 a month (about $50,000 in 2022 dollars) to be in charge of the production. I worked with pattern makers and fit models to design great-fitting fashion jeans, shorts, and awesome-looking jackets with the school’s logo embroidered on the back. I rented a showroom in the denim section of Los Angeles’s Fashion Mart and hired an experienced salesman. We were up and running with orders flowing in.
However, the garmento disagreed with my whole marketing strategy. He felt our products were so good that we should be selling them exclusively in university bookstores for three times the price. I insisted that our target market was the general public loyal to their alma mater or local university and that we needed to keep the price down to attract this larger market. He didn’t see my vision, so he surreptitiously started his own company, Student Union Jeans, and took copies of each of our embroidery tapes that I had spent over $100,000 to produce and our patterns, raised $2 million from investors, and started to market to the bookstores.
Of course, once I discovered what was happening, I canned him. When I confronted him and reminded him of the confidentiality/noncompete agreement he signed, he laughed and said that if I sued him, by the time my lawsuit was over, he would have made millions and hidden all of it, and I wouldn’t see a dime. I realized I didn’t have the time or resources to become embroiled in a lawsuit because I had orders to fill with cancellation dates staring me in the face. My greatest concern was that I was left without any production as all the factories had long-standing relationships with this scoundrel.
I immediately contacted the local denim factories in Los Angeles and negotiated orders for them to fill. Unfortunately, they recognized a desperate novice when they saw one, and instead of producing the goods on schedule, they raised the price and delivered late. Without shipments, I had no cash flow, and my reserve was running out. I should have scaled back and selected half a dozen popular schools to concentrate on, but my pride would not allow me to cancel orders from across the country, creating a void for my nemesis to fill.
I sold our three rental properties to buy time, but it was not enough. Everything started falling apart, and I realized that we were not going to make it. I confided my situation to the manager of a showroom down the hall who had been friendly with me. He said that our product was too good to let it die and suggested that I talk with his brother, the owner of Braxton Jeans, which he sold in his showroom. He, however, was not on speaking terms with his brother, so he needed a way to introduce me. He introduced me to Mr. Miller, the retired president of Marshalls Department Store. Mr. Miller concurred that we had a good product with a viable market and agreed to introduce me to Peter Ma, the owner of Braxton Jeans, who he had a close relationship with. Mr. Miller was the first person to give Peter an order, which launched his successful career in the apparel industry.
After I met with Peter and told him my story, he shook his head and said, “You are too nice of a guy to make it in the garment industry. You should stick with finance and real estate, which you know best, and leave the garment industry to people like me. By the way, I am looking at buying a number of commercial properties out of bankruptcy from the owner of Pioneer Chicken. I will pay you to check them out.” And so, a new chapter of my life began as a financial consultant to Mr. Ma. Even though Peter did not always follow my advice―I was too conservative for him―he valued my input.
By this time, I was broke and our home was in foreclosure. On one occasion, I decided to drive to Los Angeles to ask Peter to pay me for some work, knowing that I did not have enough money to buy gas to return home if I didn’t get paid. So I brought a squeegee with me just in case I needed to wash car windows for tips at a service station to buy gas.
This was a very difficult time financially. It was particularly hard on my wife, who depended on me to provide for her and our six young children. She and her brother and sister were raised in a nine-hundred-square-foot home by their frugal widowed mother on Social Security and veteran benefits, who managed to save enough money to send her three children to college. Our boom-or-bust life was foreign to her steady, reliable upbringing, but she supported me emotionally as best she could.
We were able to find a buyer for our home before the scheduled foreclosure, so we needed to find a new place to live. Driving from Escondido, in San Diego County, to Los Angeles on a regular basis was time consuming. So we looked in various LA suburbs but couldn’t find anything we felt comfortable renting. One morning I told Jean that I got a good feeling when I drove by Mission Viejo in Orange County on my way home from Los Angeles and suggested we check it out, even though it was still quite a distance from downtown Los Angeles.
We took our two youngest sons, who were not in school, and drove up to Mission Viejo in our rundown Oldsmobile to find a house. The first house we looked at had just been remodeled with white carpet and white flat paint. We were sure they would not even consider renting to us when we told them we had six children, and I knew our credit was ruined. After driving around looking at several rentals all day, I asked Jean if she felt good about any of the houses we had looked at. She said, “Yes, the first one.” So we drove back to see if they would rent us the home. The wife answered the door, looked at us, and said, “Just a minute.” She turned and yelled to her husband in the other room, “Hang up the phone! That nice couple has come back. Don’t rent the house to those other people.”
Losing our fortune and being destitute and nearly homeless turned out to be among the greatest blessings of our life. We would not have moved from Escondido to Mission Viejo without this financial catastrophe. God picked us up and sat us down in this specific house for our children’s eternal welfare. Mission Viejo was a community full of families with a lot of parental support and active religious participation. In large part as a result of this parental support, the high school received the United States Department of Education’s highest award for excellence three times while our children attended there. The high school’s football team was ranked second in the nation when our son played on the team. Its band, drumline, color guard, choir, drama, Academic Decathlon and Model United Nations teams often competed for top national positions. Each year several dozen students graduated with the honored International Baccalaureate diploma. Unlike in Escondido, where most of the youth struggled with large problems, in Mission Viejo, most of our children’s friends were well adjusted. When the teenagers in our church congregation presented a high-quality original musical, they had nearly one hundred youth involved onstage. Thanks to hours of sacrifice by many men and women in the community, our four sons earned the rank of Eagle Scout. Without hesitation, I can say that this was the best place in the world for us to raise our family. Sometimes God needs to hit us on the head to get us to move so that we will receive the blessings he offers us.
The essence of God’s spirit is light, truth, love, and goodness. This essence is what is in all things, quickens all things, and governs all things; it is the power by which all things were created; it gives life to all living things; and it is the light or intelligence of man. This is the force that governs the elements and is integral to their existence. It is the unifying principle that physicists are trying to identify.
I refer to this essence, energy, or intelligence as the light of Christ because he is unified with the infinite and all truth and goodness. Christ is the source of all light and truth. This intelligence, or the essence of our and God’s spirit, is light and truth, and the more we seek light and truth, the more we receive and the closer we come to God until we are united with Him as Christ is united with his Father. What we refer to as inspiration is often simply our becoming more in tune with this light of Christ, or intelligence.
When God breathed into Adam his spirit, man became a living soul, created not only in God’s image but also with divine potential. (Genesis 2:7). We all have a spark of His divinity in us. This portion of God’s essence that is allocated to man incorporates an ability to make choices. It is intelligent. We were created to act and not just react. This is our purpose: to decide, act, and develop that portion of God’s essence that He has given to us and bring more glory to Him through this process. Our free will also establishes our condemnation if we choose to reject this light of Christ. However, as we cleave unto light, we receive more light; as we accept truth, we receive more intelligence; as we share love, God endows us with more of His love.
This is how God is glorified. As we accept God and his goodness, more love is created in the eternities, which is the essence of God’s spirit. Thereby, God receives more glory through our development in becoming more unified with him. Interestingly, the more unified we become with God, the more we also are edified by the goodness of others. Hence, jealousy and envy are incompatible with the Spirit of God.
There are three analogies that I like to use to demonstrate the concept of the Light of Christ. Each is far from perfect and has its own limitations, but I believe they are still helpful in understanding this principle.
The first I call wave theory. When two waves meet, they combine and become one bigger wave. However, each wave has its own frequency, or rate at which it moves, which also relates to the horizontal distance between the top and bottom of the wave. The goal, then, is to become in tune with God’s frequency so we are on the same wavelength with Him. In this process, He not only lifts us, but, to some small degree, we also glorify God.
The second example is light itself. I do not believe it is by happenstance that God frequently refers to Himself as the light of the world. Light is the source of life. It enables us to see and understand truth. Interestingly, Einstein’s theory of relativity teaches that time stops at the speed of light. Theoretically, God may exist in a dimension operating at the speed of light so that all things are present before Him: past, present, and future. That also is a great way to define truth, which is another way to refer to God.
Similar to the wave theory example, adding more light enhances the light that already exists. Turning more lights on in a room does not detract from the first light but simply adds to it. Using a match to light candles on a birthday cake only perpetuates and augments the flame from the match and brings more smiles to the faces of those present. Likewise, as we accept the light God shares with us, more light, truth, goodness, and love exist, which glorifies God.
I personally like the third example of an orchestra as mentioned in an earlier essay, in which a manufacturer of color printers ran an advertisement using a tune played by one instrument and then a few more, until a full orchestra was playing a symphony. The first tune was nice, but it kept getting better. Likewise, as we become united with God, we do not lose our own identity, but our individuality enhances the glory of God. A violin is complemented by an oboe and drums, each playing something a little different yet all following the conductor to make beautiful music. Likewise, if we follow the eternal conductor, our existence will enhance the quality of existence for others following God, to our mutual benefit and the glory of God. Additionally, even though the conductor is at one with the music they are creating, he and the musicians do not lose their personal identities.
Because the essence of God’s spirit exists throughout eternity in all things, He does not lose His own personal identity. He is an entity as individual as you or I. To this I personally testify. Similarly, we will not lose our identities as we become more unified with Him.
As we seek light and truth, we need to learn that there is one great truth, one great reality that transcends all other truths and incorporates them into one comprehensive whole. That truth is the atonement of Christ. Christ’s atonement is infinite and more encompassing than we realize. He created all things that exist by distributing and organizing that essence I call intelligence or the light of Christ into various creations. This spirit essence is intrinsically connected with light, truth, and goodness. It is why the elements and all creation obey the laws of physics. Because their nature comes from God, they consistently obey. Now how does this apply to the atonement?
Christ descended below all things to make all things subject to him. While Christ was in the Garden of Gethsemane, he bore the weight of all of the hurts and wrongs throughout the history of the world. Christ was fully human as well as divine, and the pain and anguish he felt was as real as the pain, miniscule in comparison, that we suffer when we are injured. His pain was so excruciating that he bled from every pore of his human body. No mortal could endure such agony. Christ was only able to live through this experience because he had power over death. Even then, he pleaded to have the bitter cup removed from him, if possible. Nevertheless, he submitted to his Father’s will and drank it up. (Luke 22:42).
Christ had a choice to make. He could escape the excruciating pain caused by sin throughout the world’s existence and the agonizing death by crucifixion, but instead, because of his love for God and for each of us, he chose to submit to God’s will and bear it. Christ used his free will and chose to become unified with love, compassion, and goodness while He was in the midst of suffering incomprehensible anguish caused by all of us, the very individuals for whom He had compassion, while suffering through this ordeal. What goodness! What love! How marvelous! How incomprehensible! No words can describe the wonder of it all.
Christ remained true to his essence while he carried the weight of the whole universe on his shoulders. He swallowed up all pain, suffering, evil, error, sickness, and even death itself, through the power of his infinite love. In this process, all things became subject to him because all things are created out of this essence. He can heal a broken heart, fix a ruined life, and raise us from the dead. Because he is so good, he is all powerful. His unity with the essence of God (love, truth, and goodness) makes all things subject to him because all things are created out of this essence or intelligence—the light of Christ—that remains in them.
The whole purpose of our existence is to become more like God by following Christ’s example and to develop our divine capacity to love so we can increase our unity with the Divine. God’s goal then is to convert us from our natural sinful state into an eternal loving state in unity with Him.
We need not become discouraged, thinking this is impossible, because it is not all up to us. In fact, it is a free gift from God, if we are willing to receive it and let God have His way with us. Now, that is the difficult part, but God will empower us to succeed as we strive to follow Him. He promises that if we seek Him, we will find Him and that He will bless us with His love to heal our souls as we follow Him. (Matthew 7:7-8). Once we feel God’s love and acceptance, He fills us with hope, which empowers us to move forward and endure difficulties.
Just like Christ, we have a choice to make. Will we listen to that voice inside us, the light of Christ, that tells us what is right and true, or will we ignore it and pursue other paths that are shallow and empty? The choice is ours. As we choose to draw closer to God, it becomes easier to follow Him. Just as a magnet has more effect on a piece of metal as it gets closer, God has more influence on our lives as we choose Him.
Some of the choices we must make may be very difficult. Will we follow the Savior and choose love and forgiveness while we are in the midst of being betrayed or falsely accused? Will we trust God enough to let go of a legitimate complaint and let Him fight our battles? Will we stand up and humbly, yet courageously defend the truth when it is unpopular? The issues are numerous yet very personal to each individual and must be faced as part of the refining process whereby God purifies our souls and brings us more into unity with Him. That is why we are told to rejoice in tribulation. (Romans 5:1-5). As we deal with challenges, we learn to rely more on the Lord and to trust Him so that He can convert us to become more like Him, and we can participate in His glory. The ancient Christian martyrs testified that they drew closer to their Savior as they yoked their life to his and suffered with him, many even in death.
The choice is ours, but as we choose to follow Christ, God will heal our souls of the emotional black holes that pull us down. He will fill us with His love and glory. It is well worth the effort. If we seek Him, we will find Him and bask in the joy of His love and glory.
Looking back at my life, I realize that I spent a lot of effort trying to prove my self-worth. I have learned that responding to a need for validation is evidence we are on the wrong path, leading us away from God and His happiness.
When we were born here on earth, we were separated from God and the direct influence of His love. Some individuals refer to this as a veil or curtain of forgetfulness that keeps us from remembering our pre-earth existence with God. This separation from God and His love creates a void inside us that acts like a vacuum, drawing us in and making us self-centered.
Self-centeredness is the father of sin. Sin is nothing more than any action contrary to the will of God. It is God’s will that we become like Him, so any un-Godlike activity is sin. Consequently, all sin, in essence, is an expression of pride (our will versus God’s will). Pride is actually the only real sin. All sins are nothing more than pride expressing itself in various forms.
Dishonesty is usually motivated by a desire for approval or by selfishness. Decadent behavior results from a self-indulgent attitude. Violence is often an overreaction to something one is hypersensitive to or comes from a disregard for others. Vanity and the desire to be popular result from the craving to fill a void in our lives.
Interestingly, depression is a sister of pride because it often involves being too self-absorbed. Consequently, depression is the opposite side of the same coin as pride. Even trying to prove our self-worth through good works is a form of pride that is actually counterproductive. Improper behavior can usually be traced back to a desire to gratify some selfish impulse or to avoid some personal emotional issue. Interestingly, catering to any selfish interest only exacerbates the need for self-gratification. It does not solve the underlying cause but makes it worse.
Only God can fill the emotional hole inside us. As we engage in un-Godlike behavior, we move away from God, making the void in our life even greater. As we continue down this cycle of a self-centered approach to life, we become more miserable and unhappy until the quality of our life implodes, and we are left alone with nothing but ruined relationships.
There is, however, balance in the universe. So, along with the enticement to do evil, there is a comparable impetus to find God. Without this quest, we would not allow God to convert us to become more connected with Him. We need to be separated from God in order to exist in an environment where we are motivated to seek Him with sufficient intensity that we will allow Him to convert us. So, the very void that creates the environment for temptation and sin also acts as the impetus for positive change. This life is intended to be a metamorphosis in which we change and mature into the creature God desires us to become.
Change is often painful, so we resist it. Hence, we need an environment in which we are enticed by both good and evil. We choose what to follow. Hopefully, we learn from experience to choose the better part. Otherwise, we will relive our negative experiences over and over again and never resolve our issues so we will be able to move forward. The key to personal progress is seeking light and truth. The very emptiness inside us that draws us in to become self-centered acts as the catalyst to motivate us to turn to God. If we truly seek God, we will find Him, and He will convert us to become more like Him.
In this process of learning by the things we suffer, the Savior eliminates and offsets the consequences of our wrong choices. He lifts the burden (guilt) of our sins and also heals the effect (injury) sin has on us and on others. That is the miracle of the atonement. As we come unto Christ, he heals our souls by filling the void inside of us with his love. However, we must turn from a self-centered life to look out and up to God.
Consequently, whenever we respond to the void inside (a need for validation and control) instead of following light and truth, we pull in and away from God and His happiness. Are our actions being motivated by a fear of not being good enough, not being valued, or not being in control? If so, we need to let go and turn our hearts over to God so He can fill them. It is the only way to heal our souls. Otherwise, we will continue to live with our same old issues being expressed in a variety of ways. We progress toward God by facing our fears and not reacting to them. Instead, we need to choose goodness (light and truth) and let go of our fears. We need to respond to the inner voice that tells us to do what is right. As we follow that inner voice, we will learn to better recognize its promptings over time. However, we must first try to obey God’s commandments, which are similar to a parent calling to his child to get out of the street because a car is coming. Otherwise, how do we expect to recognize the whisperings of His Spirit if we ignore the warnings that He gives us?
God wants us to draw closer to Him. Once He has our attention, He will often whisper His will to us so that we will need to listen intently and draw closer to Him in order to understand the things that He whispers to us. As we draw closer and closer to God, we are thus able to understand His will more and more, and in the process, we become more like Him. As we come unto the Savior and follow him, we have more peace and happiness in this life, and after we leave this phase of existence, we will become joint heirs with Christ of all that our Heavenly Father has (see Rev 21:7). This is a much better outcome than seeking validation in our own way.
The whole purpose of our existence is to develop our capacity to love so that we can increase our unity with the Divine to realize a more fulfilling eternal existence full of incomprehensible joy with family and loved ones. That was the essence of Christ’s great intercessory prayer uttered shortly before his crucifixion. As recorded in John, chapter 17, Christ prayed for them also which shall believe on me through their word; That they all may be one; as thou, Father art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us. . . . [T]he glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one. . . . I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one . . . that the love wherewith thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them.
This was Christ’s supplication at the start of the process we appropriately refer to as the atonement—or, in other words, at-one-ment with God. The atonement is the whole foundation of Christianity. It is the gospel or good news that Christians proclaim to the world.
There is an ancient saying in the Eastern Orthodox Church: “God became man that men may become gods.” This saying comes from the writings of the early Christian fathers, including the apologist Irenaeus, bishop of Lyons (c. 130–202). He wrote that God “became what we are in order to make us what he is himself” (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 5, pref.). Irenaeus also said, “If the Word became a man, it was so men may become gods.” He added, Do we cast blame on him [God] because we were not made gods from the beginning, but were at first created merely as men, and then later as gods? Although God has adopted this course out of his pure benevolence, that no one may charge him with discrimination or stinginess, he declares, “I have said, Ye are gods; and all of you are sons of the Most High.” . . . For it was necessary at first that nature be exhibited, then after that what was mortal would be conquered and swallowed up in immortality.
(Irenaeus, Against Heresies 4.38 (4); see also Against Heresies Book III, Chapter 19)
There were many other references to God lifting mankind up to become divine in the writings of the early Church fathers. At about the same time that Irenaeus taught, Clement of Alexandria (c. 150–215), wrote: “Yea, I say, the Word of God became a man so that you might learn from a man how to become a god” (Clement of Alexandria, Exhortation to the Greeks, 1). Clement further stated If one knows himself, he will know God, and knowing God will become like God. . . . His is beauty, true beauty, for it is God, and that man becomes a god, since God wills it. So Heraclitus was right when he said, “Men are gods, and gods are men.”
(Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, 3.1; see also Stromateis, 23)
Clement of Alexandria also stated that “he who obeys the Lord and follows the prophecy given through him . . . becomes a god while still moving about in the flesh.” The Christian philosopher Justin Martyr (c. 100–165) insisted that in the beginning, men “were made like God, free from suffering and death” and that they are thus “deemed worthy of becoming gods and of having power to become sons of the highest” (Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, 124). Additionally, Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria (c. 296–373), stated his belief in literal deification: “The Word was made flesh in order that we might be made gods. . . . Just as the Lord, putting on the body, became a man, so also we men are both deified through his flesh, and henceforth inherit everlasting life” (Athanasius, Against the Arians, 1.39, 3.34). Athanasius also observed, “For the Son of God became man so that we might become god” (St. Athanasius, On the Incarnation: De Incarnatione Verbi Dei, 54, 3: PG 25, 192B).
The concept of deification is not limited to Eastern Orthodoxy and early Christianity. The magnitude of this teaching is so great that it still casts a shadow on modern Western Christian thought, both Catholic and Protestant. C. S. Lewis, arguably the most influential Christian writer of the twentieth century and the author of The Chronicles of Narnia, put it well when he wrote:
Now, the whole offer which Christianity makes is this: that we can, if we let God have His way, come to share in the life of Christ. . . . If we share in this kind of life, we also shall be sons of God. . . . Every Christian is to become a little Christ. The whole purpose of becoming a Christian is simply nothing else. . . . He said that we are “gods” and He is going to make good His words. If we let Him—for we can prevent Him, if we choose—He will make the feeblest and filthiest of us into a god or goddess, a dazzling, radiant, immortal creature, pulsating all through with such energy and joy and wisdom and love as we cannot now imagine, a bright stainless mirror which reflects back to God perfectly. . . . His own boundless power and delight and goodness. The process will be long and in parts very painful, but that is what we are in for. Nothing less. He meant what He said.
(C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, p. 177)
This renowned Christian writer recognized that the essence of Christianity is our conversion to become as God, even though he did not believe that we would literally become a god.
God’s goal is to convert us from our natural sinful state into an eternal loving state. He wants to turn us into a god. This is no small undertaking. Only God can create a child of God whom He can convert into a “god” and, as Paul says, a “joint-heir” with Christ. We must be born again into a new life in Christ in which our very nature is changed. We naturally resist this conversion. We are our own obstacle.
God wants all of us to become united with him. Likewise, our main goal should be to seek fulfillment through our Creator by becoming like Him. Accordingly, in order to reach our full potential of becoming like God, we need to know what God is like. The scriptures teach us that God is love, light, and truth. Consequently, if we are to become like God, we must also incorporate love, truth, and goodness into our very being so that they become synonymous with our identity.
How can this be achieved? Only God can do it. But it can only happen if we truly want it. It is not something that God grants without our request. God will not fill a closed heart. He can pour his love all over us, but it will just run off like water being poured on top of a closed jar until we open ourselves up to Him. God will force no man to heaven. Hence, God’s love is something that we must seek with enough desire and consistency that when we find it, it becomes part of our very nature.
This was not possible while we basked in God’s love when we were in his presence before we were born. We could not seek light, truth, and goodness in our premortal state because we were already surrounded by it. Hence, the only way for us to grow and mature and truly become like God was for us to leave His presence so that we would feel the need and drive to seek these attributes in order to make them part of our personal being. Before we can look for something, it must be lost. Before we can seek God’s love, we had to lose it. That is why there is a veil placed between our mortal life and our preexistence with God. This creates a void that must be filled. So the quest begins.
That is what this phase of existence is all about. The big test is to determine the extent to which we will seek the essence of God, which can be found in our divine nature. We will reap the reward of our life’s labor to find God by receiving glory to the extent that we find and accept Him. The more light and truth (intelligence) we obtain in this life, the more we will have in the next phase of existence as we continue in our quest to become like God.
It will not be easy, for that which is easily obtained is easily discarded, while that for which we struggle sticks. Hence, the purpose of life is to struggle through difficulties in order to help us discover the true source of happiness and to give us enough experience so that we have the opportunity to seek God so intently that we integrate His characteristics into our very soul so that we will become more like Him.
Humility is the key that unlocks the treasures of eternity. I discovered that if I ask myself why I did something—or, better yet, why I am doing something—I can be more sensitive to His inspiration and draw closer to God. I simply ask myself, “Am I saying or doing this because I am afraid of rejection, want to look better to others, or to control the situation?” Then I stop and listen for the still, small voice to direct a better way. Through patient application of this approach, I am learning to be more receptive to inspiration and to draw closer to God.
As we learn to give our lives to God, we actually find our true identities. As we seek truth and goodness, we allow God to fill our souls with his love. Love evaporates fear and fills the emotional voids in our lives, and we are liberated from the fears that hold us down. True humility actually creates real confidence as we draw closer to God while pride, on the other hand, is simply a deluded sense of significance to counterbalance the emptiness we feel inside.
Challenges in life are blessings if they help us discover the path to God. Most of us need weaknesses so we will have problems that will humble us and make us more receptive to God’s will.
The key, then, is to turn to God while we are in the midst of our despair and seek to truly do His will instead of allowing our emotional fears to control our lives. God, then, will set us free. If we let God have His way with us, He will raise us up to become united with Him so we can enjoy all that He is and has.
Reminiscing about this experience, I recalled an elderly gentleman telling me a fictional story of a Persian prince who wanted to be known as the wisest and most knowledgeable ruler of all time. So, he commissioned the intellectuals in his kingdom to gather all the knowledge in the world. Several decades later, the head of the commission informed the prince, who now had become king, that they had completed his charge and had built a great library containing all the information that was known in the world.
Excited, the king followed the wise man to the large edifice so he could learn all there was to know. However, the king quickly became discouraged when he saw how much material there was to learn. There was no way he could comprehend all this information in his lifetime, even if he dedicated all his time to study. Yet he did not want to abandon his quest to be regarded as the wisest ruler in history. So, he charged the committee of wise men to condense all this data down to only material facts and formulas.
A number of years later, the senior advisor again approached the king and informed him that the commission had completed the task and condensed all this knowledge so it was now contained in just one large room. Again, the king was discouraged because he realized that it would still require a great deal of time and effort to learn all this material. So, the king again instructed the wise men to condense all this information down to just the most material and relevant facts and wisdom of the ages. Again, they labored for years to abridge and consolidate this data down so it could fit in one large book.
The chief intellectual again informed the king of their great accomplishment in consolidating all this knowledge and wisdom so it could be contained in one book. However, shortly after the king began to study this encyclopedia, he realized that it still would require a great effort on his part to assimilate all this information. So, he again instructed his wise men to condense all this truth and knowledge. This time, the king told them to distill all the material down to just the essence of all wisdom.
After consulting with his colleagues for several days, the wise man returned and informed the king that they had completed their assignment. The essence of all wisdom was contained in a simple sentence: “There is no such thing as a free lunch.”
Despite the intended humor in this story, I have learned over the years that there is great wisdom in internalizing the simple truth that we can’t get something for nothing. It may appear that some people do, but there are always hidden costs and unintended consequences associated with trying to obtain something without a fair exchange of value. Regardless, it appears to me that the foolish desire to obtain something for nothing dominates the lives of many people. It is as if they are striving to find a shortcut to a life of luxury and ease without any consequences or having to pay for it. However, that quest is as futile as searching for a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow.
When God expelled Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden, He told Adam (and all his posterity) that he would eat bread by the sweat of his brow all the days of his life. (Genesis 3:19). I believe that most people view this as a great curse, but I think God was simply telling us the rules of the game of life. I do not view this so much as a punishment but rather as instruction on how to live and get ahead in life. We need to exchange something of value (work) in order to receive something else of value which we want in return. These are the playground rules, and there are always adverse consequences when we ignore them.
However, the underlying motivation for so many of our actions seems to be a misguided quest to return to the ease of the Garden of Eden. We want to live life without any cares, and when we desire something, we want to receive it immediately without any effort. If we are hungry, we simply want to reach up and pluck some tasty fruit off a tree and enjoy it.
We are constantly looking for ways to receive something for nothing. This is why so many individuals are seduced by gambling, get-rich-quick schemes, multilevel marketing programs, and a welfare lifestyle. Invariably, the result is disappointment and often financial ruin. I have learned from sad experience that regardless of the venture, investment, or opportunity, whenever the real underlying motivation to participate is to obtain a financial reward that is not commensurate with the value provided, I will be disappointed. However, when I focus on creating value, things work out, and I have sufficient resources for my needs and eventually even enough for some of the luxuries of life.
It is fine to want nice things in life. But we run into problems when we try to obtain them without earning them. We create these problems because our efforts are not based on true principles. If we are not living in reality, we will run into problems when we bump up against it. The school of hard knocks is a tough but effective teacher. Conversely, as we live according to true principles, we become free.
One of the main purposes of life in this physical world is to help us more fully learn the law of the harvest. There are consequences for our actions, and we reap what we sow. The cause and effect of this physical world reenforces the truth of this principle very effectively and dramatically. Break the laws of physics, and there are immediate consequences. For example, a while ago, I was not very careful while standing on a ladder to get something out of our attic. As a result, I fell and hit my hip and head on the hard concrete garage floor. So, for the following week, every time I took a step, I was reminded of the consequence of my foolish action.
God has decreed that His blessings come from obedience to the law on which that blessing is based, even if it is supplication for grace. The principle of cause and effect applies as much in the spiritual realm as it does in this physical world. Consequently, God uses physical laws to help us learn this principle so we can apply it in the spiritual arena.
Therefore, we are attempting to avoid one of the main purposes of our existence here on earth whenever we try to find a shortcut and circumvent the eternal principle that one needs to give value in order to receive value. Our quest for Eden is misguided, and we will eventually be disappointed if we continue down that path. Unfortunately, the consequence of this course of action is not always readily apparent to those traveling along the path of life. Regardless, the eventual outcome is still sure, whether it be the loss of time, energy, and money pursuing a fantasy or the disruption of normal family life for the few who actually win the lottery. Disappointment invariably follows.
The grass often seems greener on the other side of the fence. Consequently, so much of our time, energy, and money is spent pursuing the dream of a life of luxury and ease and our efforts to get there overnight. Many individuals strive to retire as early as possible, only to discover that the grass really isn’t greener after they have gone out to pasture. They soon become disenchanted with their life of leisure. They realize that God’s decree that we will eat bread in the sweat of our brow all the days of our life still applies because man has an innate need to create value and contribute in order to maintain a healthy self-worth and find fulfillment.
The human desire to create comes from our divine nature that struggles to expand and express itself. Consequently, when we squelch that instinct or fail to make the effort to develop it, we are suppressing a divine part of our character. There is great satisfaction in completing a task and knowing you did a good job. God himself looked at the earth He created and acknowledged that it was good. (Genesis 1).
I am convinced that work is an eternal principle that actually helps us experience joy and fulfillment. I believe the common conception of heaven being a boring place where we all sit around on clouds doing nothing but play harps all day is a delusion and results from our misguided quest for Eden. I personally believe that in heaven we will actually experience an enhanced ability to express our divine nature through unlimited opportunities to create. While we are here on earth, we can learn to connect with God through our efforts to create value for the benefit of others. Many persons in the Renaissance and Romantic Period proclaimed that they had discovered a connection with the Divine through the arts. Once we recognize that work is an expression of our divine nature, we can learn to realize serenity in performing even mundane tasks.
Our misguided quest to find Eden distracts us from our eternal mission to become like God. If we truly seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, we shall discover Him inside us, inspiring us to excel and bless our fellowmen. We will realize the peace and tranquility that comes from knowing our daily tasks are pleasing to God. We will enjoy satisfaction from doing a good job, regardless of how menial. Then, if we seek riches, we may obtain them, but affluence will not be the end goal. Instead, we will realize that wealth is simply a tool that God can use to accomplish His purposes of blessing the lives of those less fortunate than ourselves. Regardless, our divine yearnings to create will find constructive ways to be fulfilled.