There is a term that the scriptures use to refer to something in us that separates us from God. It is called the “natural man,” or at times the “carnal mind.” What is this? And how can a correct understanding of it help us commune with and become one with God?
The most often quoted scripture that talks about this is Mosiah 3:19.
For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father. (Mosiah 3:19)
On a first reading, this may sound strange and confusing, and may be easily misunderstood. The “natural man” is an enemy to God? Why is that which is “natural” an enemy? Does God not want us to be natural? Does God want us to be something unnatural? Is God unnatural? Must we strive to be wholly something that we are not, that God has not given us in our original natural state? Do we need to change to be some kind of unnatural being to become a Saint, to enter God’s presence? Why is nature an enemy? Didn’t God create nature? You can see how this might get very confusing, and lead us to an incorrect understanding of what will bring us into harmony with God, and into God’s presence.
There are other scriptures that refer to the “natural man.”
For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. (1 Cor. 2:11-14)
This begins to help with our understanding. The “natural man” consists of humanity’s “wisdom,” of the “world.” Such a human thinks they know better, and that the things of God are foolishness. It is the world’s wisdom, humanity’s learning.
For they are carnal and devilish, and the devil has power over them; yea, even that old serpent that did beguile our first parents, which was the cause of their fall; which was the cause of all mankind becoming carnal, sensual, devilish, knowing evil from good, subjecting themselves to the devil. (Mosiah 16:3)
Being of the “natural man” means being subject to the “devil,” to being beguiled, to being deceived by error and illusion, to gratifying oneself, and being selfish.
And now, my son, all men that are in a state of nature, or I would say, in a carnal state, are in the gall of bitterness and in the bonds of iniquity; they are without God in the world, and they have gone contrary to the nature of God; therefore, they are in a state contrary to the nature of happiness. (Alma 41:11)
The “natural man” is a state of being “carnal,” or concerned with one’s own self, one’s own body, the gratification of one’s own flesh, one’s own needs and desires, particularly one’s own physical desires, which causes anger, hatred, sadness, and bitterness. Such a state is contrary to the “nature of God,” contrary to the “nature of happiness.” So there was something that must have happened the caused our “natural man” to become separated and different from the “nature of God.” The “natural man” is not in harmony with the “natural God.”
O Lord, thou hast said that we must be encompassed about by the floods. Now behold, O Lord, and do not be angry with thy servant because of his weakness before thee; for we know that thou art holy and dwellest in the heavens, and that we are unworthy before thee; because of the fall our natures have become evil continually; nevertheless, O Lord, thou hast given us a commandment that we must call upon thee, that from thee we may receive according to our desires. (Ether 3:2)
Through the Fall, our natures became “evil continually,” or that which is contrary to the “nature of God.” So our “nature” changed through the Fall. But what was the nature of this change in nature?
And again, verily I say unto you that it is your privilege, and a promise I give unto you that have been ordained unto this ministry, that inasmuch as you strip yourselves from jealousies and fears, and humble yourselves before me, for ye are not sufficiently humble, the veil shall be rent and you shall see me and know that I am—not with the carnal neither natural mind, but with the spiritual.
For no man has seen God at any time in the flesh, except quickened by the Spirit of God.
Neither can any natural man abide the presence of God, neither after the carnal mind. (D&C 67:10-12)
The “natural man” is full of jealousy, fear, is not humble, is selfish, proud, haughty, etc., and this kind of human cannot see God. Such a human cannot enter the presence of God because it is not in harmony with God.
What is the “natural man”?
I believe that the “natural man” or “carnal mind” is synonymous with what we know more modernly as the ego. It is our sense of self, of individual identity, of separation and independence in the world, of our selfish desires, cravings, and aversions, of our tendency to aggrandize ourself even at the expense of others, of feeling no guilt in harming ourself or others, of thinking we know of ourselves, that we have great knowledge and wisdom, of seeking to get great gain or power at others’ expense, of all the errors, illusions, delusions, and falsities that we believe in. The ego is who we think we are. But who we think we are is not who we really are. It is a coverup, a sham, a fake, an error, an obfuscation. Who and what we think we are is far from reality of who we are. It is far from our true nature, far from the “nature of God.”
It’s ironic, but the “natural man” is anything but natural. It is actually quite un-natural. We construct this idea of ourselves that diverges sharply from what we really are, and we do things that are contrary to nature’s order. The “natural man” is natural only because it is the state in which most human beings are currently throughout the world, and have been in for many millennia. It is the state that is most common among humans, this false, error-prone, selfish, sinful, independent, separated sense of self in the world. This has become humanity’s default state, and therefore it is called “natural.” It has become our “natural” state. But it is not as nature intended. It is not as God made us. It is not how we were created. It is not natural in terms of the natural world. It is an illusion, a facade, a mask, a costume, a false identity, a false self.
At some point in our evolution, likely gradually over many thousands of years, human beings became capable of having this sense of self, self-recognition, a sense of “me,” as a separate and independent being acting in the world, as well as enlarged capabilities to think, reason, store memories, to “know” complex things, and to make connections and create. With all of this came the ego, this sense of ourself, our identity in the world, a lone player, which brought with it a host of effects and ramifications including becoming selfish, wanting what is best for oneself, ignoring others’ needs, aggrandizing oneself, seeking for one’s own self, protecting oneself, seeking approval of others, pride, jealousy, hatred, a tremendous fear of death (the dissolution and end of the ego), maximizing one’s knowledge of things for one’s own power and prestige, seeking authority and control over others, seeking to maximize one’s possessions and the things one “owns,” things that belong to one’s “self.” I perceive that all these things and more were a fallout from the emergence of the ego self, this sense of “I,” “me,” “mine.”
You see, at one time we were in the presence of God, we walked and talked with God. In fact, we were one with God, and God was one with us. We were a part of God. We were God. But as the ego developed, as this sense of self emerged, we became something separate, apart, fallen from God. The ego covered up who and what we really were. We were no longer God, but “I,” and “me.” When I am “I” and “me,” then I can’t be God. It was the creation of the subject, and the other became object. I have become something else, something different and apart from all other things. This “I” and “me” was separate and different than your “I” and “me.” We became two independent and individual “I”s and “me”s. Each one of us became our own “I” and “me.” We were no longer one with the world and nature, but separate and apart from the world and nature. We were no longer of the material world, but acting in the world as this separate self. We were no longer one with God, but fallen far far away from God. Instead of unity, union, and oneness, there came multiplicity, diversity, and independence. And this all emerged in the minds of humankind. This emerged in our ego.
And this ego started doing all kinds of things that were contrary to our natural true self and identity, some things already mentioned. We became selfish, greedy, prideful, seeking gain and power, authority, control, taking things from others, hoarding “possessions” to make our egos appear even bigger and more important, killing others we didn’t like or who didn’t agree with us, maximizing our pleasure, trying desperately to avoid pain, and trying our hardest to deny the reality of death (the death of the ego itself), fearing many things that previously had been the natural order of things, the way God worked in the world. We began to feel tremendous guilt and discomfort over our past, and fear and anxiety about the future. We stopped living in the present. We began to believe all kinds of lies, deceptions, errors, delusions, illusions, fabrications, stories, myths, untruths as if they were all the literal truth about reality. Our glass grew dark, and we could not see anymore (1 Corinthians 13:12). We lost the understanding of who and what we really are. We fell.
What do we do?
All that God wants is for us to realize and know who we really are, fundamentally, truthfully, underneath all the obfuscation of our ego and this self identity. God wants us to be who we really are, in reality, and to know this in our core, and become more fully this. God wants us to be the most natural thing in the world—who we really are, our True Self. God wants us to stop believing all the lies, errors, and delusions that obscure our vision of true reality, of ourselves, and of the world. God wants us to become what we already are, but are covering up under a thick layer of illusory accretion.
We “put off” the “natural man” by putting off all the things that are not truly us, that are illusion, fake, false, or not permanent and enduring. We don’t become something unnatural. We return ourselves to our most basic natural Self. God is the most natural thing there is, and is the author of all that is nature. The “natural man” is a creation of humanity, and is not natural in God. We put off all that is this ego self, this personal identity, this “self,” this “me,” this “I,” this “mine.” That is all illusion and false. It is not who or what we really are. We put off all that is connected to the ego, all our fears, anxieties, worries, jealousies, defilements, our evil actions, our sinful behavior, our seeking for all things to gratify and aggrandize and enlarge our self, selfish pleasure, pride, as well as the learning and wisdom of the world, humanity’s learning, wherever it may be false and incorrect.
Traditionally this “putting off” of the ego self has been done through all kinds of carnal commandments, external performances, asceticism, mortification, subjugation, hardship, trials, difficulties, crises, sacrifices, selfless acts, obedience to authority, service, devotion, surrender, submission, and true wisdom. While any of these can be used to subdue the ego, and help to “put it off,” many of them fail to do so completely, and they can take a very long time to work out the selfish self from us.
Another method that has been used traditionally, perhaps with more success, or in addition to some of the above ways, is various forms of meditation, contemplation, and contemplative prayer. This goes directly to the source of the ego self, in the mind itself. It seeks to put off the ego self by clearing out all thoughts of the ego self. It trains the mind to see beyond the ego self and its thoughts that run a muck in our heads. It quiets the mind to experience reality more directly, without intervening thoughts or obstacles, things as they really are. It seeks to see directly the reality that is, without labels, constructs, categories, judging, or any of the other effects of the ego. It puts the mind into an open receptive state of consciousness, where it may experience the present moment in all its fullness. The past and the future fade away in the awareness of the eternal now.
The True Natural Man-Woman
What is the true Natural Man-Woman? The real Natural Man-Woman is a human that has become as a Little Child, a state before one develops a large ego and sense of self that is in need of constant protecting and aggrandizement. We become submissive, meek, and humble to who and what we are really, fundamentally, with nothing added or subtracted. God must become greater, and “I” must become less (John 3:30). The ego must be subdued, restrained, brought low, and curtailed. The ego must be put to sleep. The ego must eventually pass away. The ego must die, and the sooner this happens the sooner we realize our True Self. The ego is crucified. What emerges then, what is reborn, what is resurrected in us, is our True Self, the real Natural Man-Woman. The Eternal Man-Woman, one that is Eternal and never dies, like the ego. This is the very essence of the Atonement (at-one-ment). This is a Human that has no sense of an independent separate self, apart from God. It is in God, and God in it. They in-dwell together as One. It is with God. It is one in God. It is God. It is full of Love, the greatest and purest Love that exists. It is Pure. It is Selfless. It is Sinless. It is Perfect. It is Complete. It is Whole. It is a Saint. It is Holy. It is Sacred. It abides continually in God’s eternal presence, because it is one with God. Because it is God. As God it inherits all that God is and has, which is all things that ever were, from the beginning to the end.
When the accretion of the ego is wiped away from our Real Self, this thick crust that sits on top of our True Self, then we see through a clear glass (1 Corinthians 13:12). We see who we really are. We witness our Divine Nature. We see Truth. We see Light. We see Reality as it really is (Jacob 4:13; D&C 93:24; D&C 5:13; D&C 76:94; D&C 5:13). The veil falls, and we see God. Then we will see and know God, and be in God’s presence, not with the egoic natural carnal mind, but with our true mind, a pure mind, in pure consciousness, God consciousness. Then are we freed from the ego. Then we are liberated from our self. Then we are saved from the ego’s sin, error, illusion, and delusion and the pain and suffering that it continually causes. This is Joy. This is Happiness. This is Salvation! This is Eternal Life!
God does not want us to be even a whit different than what we truly are. Not a single hair (Alma 11:44; 40:23; D&C 9:14; D&C 29:25). We are gods, manifestations of God, deep within (Ps 82:6; John 10:34; D&C 76:58). The changes we make in our lives are not to become something wholly different, unnatural, or strange from what we naturally are. It is to become fully what we already are, our most real Self, the most natural Self that God made us to be originally, from God, in God, and of God. For we live, and move, and breathe, and have our being in God (Acts 17:28).
God wants us to be God, that which we already are, but almost always refuse to believe. The ego doesn’t want to believe it, and will do everything it can to convince us that it isn’t true, even right now. It will tell us all kinds of lies to make us think that we are not what we are, that we are what it thinks it is and wants to always be. The ego brings us down, makes us small, makes us temporary, susceptible to death, to fear, to suffering, to torment, to destruction, to misery, to lies, to pain, to darkness, to error, to Godlessness. The Spirit purifies us of this ego, and sanctifies us, is a Refiner’s Fire, burning away all the impurities, everything that we are not. When all of that is all stripped away, what we are left with is who we really are, Shining Brightly in the Purity that is God. We are God Incarnate.
Be who you really are, not who you think you are.