And they journeyed from mount Hor by the way of the Red sea, to compass the land of Edom: and the soul of the people was much discouraged because of the way. And the people spake against God, and against Moses, Wherefore have ye brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? for there is no bread, neither is there any water; and our soul loatheth this light bread. And the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and much people of Israel died. Therefore the people came to Moses, and said, We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord, and against thee; pray unto the Lord, that he take away the serpents from us. And Moses prayed for the people. And the Lord said unto Moses, Make thee a fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole: and it shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live. And Moses made a serpent of brass, and put it upon a pole, and it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived. (Num. 21:4-9)
And he did straiten them in the wilderness with his rod; for they hardened their hearts, even as ye have; and the Lord straitened them because of their iniquity. He sent fiery flying serpents among them; and after they were bitten he prepared a way that they might be healed; and the labor which they had to perform was to look; and because of the simpleness of the way, or the easiness of it, there were many who perished. (1 Ne. 17:41)
And the God of our fathers, who were led out of Egypt, out of bondage, and also were preserved in the wilderness by him, yea, the God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, yieldeth himself, according to the words of the angel, as a man, into the hands of wicked men, to be lifted up, according to the words of Zenock, and to be crucified, according to the words of Neum, and to be buried in a sepulchre, according to the words of Zenos, which he spake concerning the three days of darkness, which should be a sign given of his death unto those who should inhabit the isles of the sea, more especially given unto those who are of the house of Israel. (1 Ne. 19:10)
And now, my brethren, I have spoken plainly that ye cannot err. And as the Lord God liveth that brought Israel up out of the land of Egypt, and gave unto Moses power that he should heal the nations after they had been bitten by the poisonous serpents, if they would cast their eyes unto the serpent which he did raise up before them, and also gave him power that he should smite the rock and the water should come forth; yea, behold I say unto you, that as these things are true, and as the Lord God liveth, there is none other name given under heaven save it be this Jesus Christ, of which I have spoken, whereby man can be saved. (2 Ne. 25:20)
And now behold, I ask of you, my brethren of the church, have ye spiritually been born of God? Have ye received his image in your countenances? Have ye experienced this mighty change in your hearts?… I say unto you, can ye look up to God at that day with a pure heart and clean hands? I say unto you, can you look up, having the image of God engraven upon your countenances? (Alma 5:14,19)
And thus, if ye will not nourish the word, looking forward with an eye of faith to the fruit thereof, ye can never pluck of the fruit of the tree of life. (Alma 32:40)
But behold, this is not all; these are not the only ones who have spoken concerning the Son of God. Behold, he was spoken of by Moses; yea, and behold a type was raised up in the wilderness, that whosoever would look upon it might live. And many did look and live. But few understood the meaning of those things, and this because of the hardness of their hearts. But there were many who were so hardened that they would not look, therefore they perished. Now the reason they would not look is because they did not believe that it would heal them. O my brethren, if ye could be healed by merely casting about your eyes that ye might be healed, would ye not behold quickly, or would ye rather harden your hearts in unbelief, and be slothful, that ye would not cast about your eyes, that ye might perish? If so, wo shall come upon you; but if not so, then cast about your eyes and begin to believe in the Son of God, that he will come to redeem his people, and that he shall suffer and die to atone for their sins; and that he shall rise again from the dead, which shall bring to pass the resurrection, that all men shall stand before him, to be judged at the last and judgment day, according to their works. (Alma 33:18-22)
Yea, and cry unto God for all thy support; yea, let all thy doings be unto the Lord, and whithersoever thou goest let it be in the Lord; yea, let all thy thoughts be directed unto the Lord; yea, let the affections of thy heart be placed upon the Lord forever. (Alma 37:36)
O my son, do not let us be slothful because of the easiness of the way; for so was it with our fathers; for so was it prepared for them, that if they would look they might live; even so it is with us. The way is prepared, and if we will look we may live forever. And now, my son, see that ye take care of these sacred things, yea, see that ye look to God and live. Go unto this people and declare the word, and be sober. My son, farewell. (Alma 37:46-47)
And this shall ye do in remembrance of my body, which I have shown unto you. And it shall be a testimony unto the Father that ye do always remember me. And if ye do always remember me ye shall have my Spirit to be with you… And this shall ye always do to those who repent and are baptized in my name; and ye shall do it in remembrance of my blood, which I have shed for you, that ye may witness unto the Father that ye do always remember me. And if ye do always remember me ye shall have my Spirit to be with you. (3 Ne. 18:7,11)
And my Father sent me that I might be lifted up upon the cross; and after that I had been lifted up upon the cross, that I might draw all men unto me, that as I have been lifted up by men even so should men be lifted up by the Father, to stand before me, to be judged of their works, whether they be good or whether they be evil—and for this cause have I been lifted up; therefore, according to the power of the Father I will draw all men unto me, that they may be judged according to their works. (3 Ne. 27:14-15)
Look unto me in every thought; doubt not, fear not. Behold the wounds which pierced my side, and also the prints of the nails in my hands and feet; be faithful, keep my commandments, and ye shall inherit the kingdom of heaven. Amen. (D&C 6:36-37)
What all of this means
Abinadi said to the priests of Noah:
I know if ye keep the commandments of God ye shall be saved; yea, if ye keep the commandments which the Lord delivered unto Moses in the mount of Sinai, saying:
I am the Lord thy God, who hath brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shalt have no other God before me. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing in heaven above, or things which are in the earth beneath.
Now Abinadi said unto them, Have ye done all this? I say unto you, Nay, ye have not. And have ye taught this people that they should do all these things? I say unto you, Nay, ye have not. (Mosiah 12:33-37)
If you take a bunch of planets (gods) and line them up, putting one of the largest (Jehovah) out in front and all the others behind it, none of the other planets will be seen, only the one right in front of you. If the first planet is exceedingly close to the point of observation, it will fill up a large portion of the sky, so that it will always be visible, no matter in which direction you are looking. Even when not directly looking at it, our peripheral vision will always have the planet in sight. Only by turning our eyes downward towards the ground (towards hell), will the planet’s image no longer be in sight.
Man is designed to operate with God in our sight. Obviously, we can no longer do that. God cannot be seen with our physical eyes and the planets have all moved so that the heavenly God is no longer in our view, filling up the sky, nor the other gods. But that is okay since we are here to walk by faith, meaning that we are now to imagine God in our heads and to keep the image of God always with us.
The ancients were commanded not to make physical images of God or gods. Instead, they were to use the imagination capacity of their right-brain-heart to create a spiritual image of God which they were to keep always before them in all that they saw. When one converted to Christ, that image now became the image of Christ, which one was to continually look at.
And when my father saw that the waters of the river emptied into the fountain of the Red Sea, he spake unto Laman, saying: O that thou mightest be like unto this river, continually running into the fountain of all righteousness! (1 Ne. 2:9)
Alma taught that there was a two-step process to planting the word, which was the atonement, in one’s heart. You had to create the image of the Son of God in your heart, keeping it there before your sight continually, and you also had to believe in the Son of God. (See Alma 33: 22 above.) All of Christianity understands the part about believing in the Son of God, but we all have misunderstood the part about seeing His image.
Christ on the cross is the image
Jesus Christ upon the cross is the image we are to imagine. This image appeals to both sides of our brains. It is concrete, appealing to the right-brain-heart and it is symbolic, appealing to the left-brain-mind. It represents the atonement, the broken heart and the contrite spirit. It also represents godly sorrow for sin. It contains the body of Christ, which is remembered during the bread portion of the sacrament, and the blood of Christ, which is remembered during the wine portion. It contains the wounds in His side and the prints of the nails in His hands and His feet, per D&C 6:37. It is a lifted up Christ, causing one to look up at Him, putting the one creating the image below Christ, in a position of humility. Also, being raised up, it is an ensign, calling attention, or drawing the attention of men to it.
Physical images are not good enough
Carrying crucifixes and hanging crosses around, as well as other physical images of Christ on the cross, does not have power to generate faith. Faith being a spiritual principle, it requires a spiritual image and effort (or labor) to generate it. The human brain was designed with the capacity to create imaginary images and super-impose them upon all that we see for this very reason, that mankind could have a way to walk by faith on earth, as we walked by sight in the heavens, even with the image of God always, or continually, or continuously before us.
Making God number one
Always remembering Christ on the cross puts God as the number one priority in a person’s life. That simple spiritual labor on our part, combined with belief on the Son of God, another spiritual labor, causes the Holy Spirit to come upon us and work upon our hearts, softening them and creating the broken heart and contrite spirit, giving us sorrow for sin and the accompanying weeping, and allowing us to pray in the Spirit (see D&C 46:28-32.)
Without the image of God continually before us, other images, even physical ones, become the priority. In other words, although physical idolatry may not be committed, spiritual idolatry occurs if other images come before the image of God, so that when we look we do not see God. This is how almost the entire world lives: without seeing God in the world.
The corrective is to begin to “awake and arouse your faculties” (Alma 32:27) and to look “forward with an eye of faith” (Alma 32:40), creating the image of God, even that of Jesus Christ the Son of God hanging upon the cross, through your imagination, and to keep that image always super-imposed on all that you see.