It is possible that I accidentally taught false doctrine to my students at BYU yesterday, so I am going to put what I said before you, my discerning audience, and allow you to help me decide if a retraction, a clarification, or an affirmation is in order. It made sense at the time, but I was speaking off the cuff and further research has cast some doubt. I have given my students an assignment wherein they are to explain how Christ is both the Father and the Son. We talked about this a bit and then I made the following statement, relying, primarily, on Hebrews 10.
We mortals had no direct access to God, the Father, prior to the Atonement of Christ.
I pointed out that direct commands to address the Father in prayer (this being our primary means of direct contact today) are not present until the Last Supper (a point that I later discovered was wrong, see below). Then I went into the temple imagery found in Hebrews 10, wherein we are symbollically brought into the Holy of Holies ourselves, passing through the torn veil (Christ’s body) and purifying through the sprinkling of (Christ’s) blood. Not only does Christ’s sacrifice, as the great High Priest, allow this to occur, but, symbolically, we all become our own High Priest, able to enter God’s direct presence without intermediaries.
This is a good theory. I think that there may be something to it, but, sadly, there are a couple of facts that stand in the way.
First of all, the apparently earliest Biblical mention of praying to the Father directly comes at the Sermon on the Mount (or however you prefer to refer to the sermon that includes the Lord’s Prayer). Clearly, Christ is here encouraging his disciples to pray to the Father. Moreover, Christ has previously encouraged his disciples to pray in their closet unto the Father. Now, there are two ways of taking this: first, one could argue that prayer has always been directed to the Father without mediation; second, Christ is speaking the lingo of the culture that he finds himself in. Referring to God as the Father is acceptable within an Old Testament context, so it is believable that this is simply a common usage. In any case, biblically, I think that a case can be made for a lack of direct contact with God the Father prior to Christ’s coming to earth, if not the enactment of the Atonement per se.
The second, and more damaging, datum comes from the Book of Mormon. In 2 Nephi 32 & 33, Nephi repeatedly cites the concept of praying to the Father in the name of Christ. This seems to clearly parallel the distinction that we make today. This is the only pre-Christian evidence that I can find for this concept being taught, but it is a powerful evidence against my theory. Unless, any of the following explanations are plausible:
1. The doctrine of the Father and the Son being one is made more explicit in the Book of Mormon than in the Bible. This may be a case where Nephi is seeking to make this same point by saying that the Father, in prayer, should be addressed while using the name of Christ. This seems weak to me.
2. This is one of those moments when Nephi is inspired to speak to our times directly (or to his descendants) and he knew that this doctrine would be in place when people began to read this. Working against this sort of explanation is the tone of the sermon. Nephi appears to be in direct discourse with the audience he is speaking to, disputing with them over their concerns and misrepresentations. However, it is never entirely clear who the audience is, so this explanation may work. It is, however, not a whit stronger than explanation #1.
So, you see my problem. I feel like any attempt to re-read this in a way that is friendly to my theory wrenches the scriptures beyond plausible understanding. That said, we do have a long tradition of belief in Christ being an intermediary in our dealings with God, the Father. Although we believe that God, the Father, is the ultimate object of our worship and the prime mover of divine action, it is Christ who actually fulfilled the Atonement, who directed the creation of the world, etc. In our descriptions of the Terrestrial Kingdom and the Celestial Kingdom, it seems that we are able to interact with Christ in both Kingdoms, but we are only able to fully interact with God, the Father, in the Celestial Kingdom. Some aspects of Temple ceremony also support this reading (although there are counter arguments to be found there, too).
Am I being too dogmatic or systematic on this topic? Especially since there seems to be some evidence for direct prayer to the Father both before and after the coming of Christ (at least in the Americas)? Or is it a good enough idea to require a new reading of 2nd Nephi?
What do you think?