Note: Today I’m happy to share with you a guest post by none other than, your friend and mine, Dennis Gaunt.
Ancient Greek philosophers loved to engage in thought experiments, where they would dissect and debate an idea in order to come to a deeper understanding and ultimately, a new level of enlightenment.
One such thought experiment was known as “The Ship of Theseus.” In it, one is asked to imagine a ship that needs some repairs. First, a few of the worn and frayed ropes are replaced. Is it still the same ship? One would very likely answer “yes.” After a while, the old, torn sails are replaced. Is it still the same ship? Again, the answer is probably still “yes.” What about later on, when many of the weathered wooden boards that make up the deck and the hull? Is it still the same ship?
Now this is where the thought experiment gets interesting, because imagine if every single part of the ship—every board, rope, plank, sail, and nail—were replaced. Is it still the same ship?
Well, it is, and it isn’t.
The question raised by this thought experiment is: when does something stop being the original item, and when does it start becoming something new?
Here are two modern examples that I would like to consider:
The first is this: I enjoy watching videos on YouTube that show things being restored. I find it very satisfying to watch something old and broken get repaired and restored to a new life. One such video I saw recently featured an old toy truck from the 1950s. The metal was scratched and rusted, the plastic was yellowed, and the scraps of paint still visible was dull and faded. Some pieces were missing entirely. That toy truck had seen better days. Some would say it was junk, and not worth the effort to restore.
Fortunately, there was a craftsman in the video who saw it differently. He took the truck completely apart, piece by piece, and set about restoring it. Each piece was cleaned, the scratches buffed out, the rust removed. New paint was added, along with replacement stickers and other previously missing parts. It was like watching a modern day Toy Truck of Theseus., because at the end of the process, was it still the same toy truck?
Well, it was, and it wasn’t.
There were new pieces and parts, which technically made it “new,” yet it could not be denied that the essence of the toy truck was still in there. I know it sounds a little silly to ascribe human emotions to an inanimate object, but it was almost like the old toy truck looked happy, because it had been restored.
The second example to consider involves the Jordan River Temple. In 1980, when I was about 7 years old, we got to go to the open house for the new temple. Of course, being 1980, you can imagine what the decor looked like. Lots of pastel colors, wood paneling, and thick carpet. But I had never been inside a temple before, and I thought it was the most beautiful building I’d ever seen.
Over the years, the decor of the temple was updated a few times. Each time, the decor reflected more of the time period, and each time, I would say the temple looked more beautiful than before.
This all culminated when the whole temple needed to be renovated after some 40 years. It wasn’t just the decor this time, but the mechanical and electrical systems were replaced and updated. The structure of the building was strengthened. The whole temple was restored, and given a new life. During the rededication, President Henry B. Eyring prayed that the temple would be made “even more beautiful.”
But here’s the thing: the temple wasn’t “ugly” to begin with. It was always beautiful. It was just made more beautiful along the way. It had the best equipment at the time it was first built; it just got new and better equipment as needed. It was renovated. It was restored.
So, was the Jordan River Temple the same temple after the renovation as it was before?
Well, it was, and it wasn’t.
Do you see where this is going?
Am I the same person now as I was when I was a child? Or a teenager? (The mind boggles). Have I stayed the same throughout my adulthood? Wait, it gets even more interesting: Friends who have medical training tell me that the human body replaces every single cell within itself approximately every eight to ten years. So I have to ask: am I the same person?
Well, I am, and I’m not.
At least, I hope I’m not the same person as I used to be. I hope I’m better than I was. I hope I’m being updated, strengthened, and renovated. I hope I’m being restored.
The essence of the Atonement of Jesus Christ is to change people. To renovate them. To restore them. His Atonement makes possible for each of us to be made into “new creatures” (2 Corinthians 5:17; Mosiah 27:25-26). Or, put another way, made into new creations.
But here’s the thing: people aren’t worthless to begin with. Most of us have seen better days, and are in dire need of renovation and repairs. Some of us might look at ourselves and see only junk. Fortunately, Jesus Christ sees infinitely more potential in each of us. He loves us as we are now, yes, but He also loves us too much to leave us as we are now. And so He desires to continually renovate us and restore us, and we become full partners with Him each week when we rededicate ourselves to Him through the ordinance of the sacrament.
Dieter F. Uchtdorf put it this way: “The Savior’s infinite Atonement completely changes the way we may view our transgressions and imperfections. Instead of dwelling on them and feeling irredeemable or hopeless, we can learn from them and feel hopeful. The cleansing gift of repentance allows us to leave our sins behind and emerge a new creature.Because of Jesus Christ, our failures do not have to define us. They can refine us.” (“God Among Us,” April 2021 General Conference)
Renovation, restoration, and rededication. They’re good for what ails ya.
Dennis Gaunt has been a writer ever since that fateful day he pulled a magic pen from a stone. At least, that’s what he tells people. He has published books and talks for LDS young adults with both Deseret Book and Covenant Communications, and is also a youth speaker and teacher. He enjoys playing the guitar, going to Disneyland, and Godzilla movies. He also hates onions.