I once spent an uncomfortable few hours wedged in economy class on a flight from Boston to Salt Lake City. The seats were small and the air was canned, but my discomfort came more from the discussion of two part-time BYU literature professors seated in the same row. These young women had learned that I was returning from a Mormon history conference, and they asked if I would explain some problems they were having with Mormon history. What followed was not in any sense a discussion or a request for information, but a bitter tirade against the virtue of Joseph Smith – they declared it unconscionable that the Church did not disavow the personal behavior of Joseph Smith, and claimed that it was increasingly difficult for them to prepare students to meet the demands of an academic future, because, they said, a BYU degree was an open invitation for future colleagues to dismiss their students as disciples of a “pervert,” a “pedophile,” and a “predator.”
This experience was uncommon in that it involved women most of us would expect to have greater respect for both Joseph Smith and the modern church which reveres him as its founding prophet. It is not, however, an uncommon experience to meet people both within and without who are genuinely disturbed by some aspect of our history. What about Mountain Meadows? they ask. What about polygamy? What about blacks and the priesthood?
I suppose that all believers are faced by variations of these questions – questions asked either by the incredulous unbeliever, or by the believer herself who must address contradictions between important sacred and secular points. The scientifically minded may be asked about the record of Genesis versus the record of the rocks. The social scientist may be challenged by discrepancies between sacred beliefs about the human soul and accepted doctrines of the profession. The wife and mother may juggle feelings about her choices and the opinions of the world about those choices.
The questions are natural and the struggles are real. “I have myself gone through the critical period when science and religion seemed to rise up against one another; and can sympathize keenly with every young person who is in the same condition,” wrote Apostle John A. Widtsoe.  The “condition” isn’t limited to youth, but comes up throughout our lives.
Below are some of the tactics I use to sort through the questions that crop up from time to time.
I recognize that both reason and religion have their place in my life; neither can be the exclusive approach to a question so long as I am advised to “seek learning, even by study and also by faith.”  (Is there secular advice that recognizes the validity of the spirit?)
I accept that neither human wisdom nor sacred revelation are yet complete. As long as the heavens are open and man’s mind continues to explore, we don’t have the final details on much of anything yet. This means that seeming contradictions are often due to incomplete knowledge. I need to weigh the totality of experience and not allow myself to be falsely trapped by any particular detail. That is, if I were one of the two BYU teachers on that plane from Boston, I would be wise to consider everything I know of Joseph Smith and the workings of God with him on the one hand, and the [in]completeness of the historical record on the other, and admit that maybe, just maybe, I don’t know quite enough to condemn him.
Not only are wisdom and revelation not complete, but too often the question itself is not complete. The Church has about all it can do to address its positive mission. Too often, this means that questions of history or social behavior are raised by people who have no interest in aiding the Church with its mission. I reserve the right to consider “spin” and to look for what was omitted from the story before I allow myself to become even tentatively appalled by something new.
I don’t expect to solve everything. One of the reasons I haven’t weighed in on the Kolob discussion, for instance, is because anything I had to offer would be opinion and speculation – no matter how deeply I think or how widely I study, I simply will never know in mortality whether my speculation approaches truth. I’d be foolish to let it affect me in any serious way, or to try to persuade anyone to adopt my speculation.
I can extend charity in questionable circumstances. I have been somewhat inoculated against anything I might discover in the record of the Church’s past, because of an extremely negative experience in my own past. I had to separate the actions of a man from the position he held. It requires no leap to separate the actions of men in the past from the beliefs they claimed but failed to live up to.
When faced with something I do not know, I hold on to what I do know. I know there is a God who loves His children and has a plan for us, even when I don’t understand some part of that plan. I know that life extends beyond mortality, even if I don’t know quite what that means. I don’t know it all, but I know some things.
I invite you to share your own tools for facing the sticky questions.
 John A. Widtsoe. “A Voice from the Soil,” Improvement Era,, Vol. 2, no. 2 (December, 1898).
 D&C 88:118.
44 Comments »
What a lovely post. I have struggled in recent months with the topics you have addressed. When I joined the church 6 years ago, the Spirit tought me so much so fast that I didn’t have time to inquire about anything other than what was right in front of me. Now, that the “high” has weared off, I have lots of questions. Many are troubling to me.
You said something very important. “When faced with something I do not know, I hold on to what I do know” 6 years ago I asked my Father in Heaven if the Church is true and if the Book of Mormon is true. He answered and I knew.
A few things keep me going these days. The answer I recieved one night staring at a map of the world ( and thinking what in the hell are 19 year old boys doing by teaching people about Jesus–they are supposed to be doing “other” things), the undeniable feeling of how the Holy Ghost works, and that Joseph Smith all the way to President Hinckley are men–not gods.
Comment by melanie — 11/22/2006 @ 7:42 pm | Edit This
Reading a lot of science fiction, and studying about physics, astronomy, and cosmology, have given me a healthy respect for how much we do not know, as well as how completely weird what we do know can sometimes be. When faced with doctrines that seem strange, I am not usually bothered much. Perhaps we are mistaken, or perhaps there is a good reason somehow, or perhaps what we have been given thus far is a simplification for the sake of our current limited abilities and understanding. I don’t let doctrine upset me, or even particular stories that feel wrong to me (e.g., God telling Nephi to kill Laban in cold blood). I just accept what is helpful to me, what makes my life better, what makes me smarter, wiser, happier, more sane and capable and more whole, and leave the rest for later. I try to judge the rights and wrongs of things by the fruits, and follow the promptings of the spirit as well as I am able. Because of the speculative habits of mind that physics and science fiction foster, I’m always able to come up with at least half a dozen theories why something might be the way it is. It helps me not to get stuck on things that don’t matter. There are always going to be things that get in the way of our progress, and learning how to ignore the inessential and continue to grow and develop is important. There’s plenty enough that’s abundantly clear to keep me busy for the forseeable future. I can learn to love people more, to serve them better, to be stronger and more disciplined, to control my impulses better. I can build a closer relationship with God through prayer and fasting. I know God loves me and watches over me and wants to help me as much as I will let him. Because I know these things, I have no need to fret, but try to stay focused on what I need to be working on right now, and not worry about the details.
Comment by Tatiana — 11/22/2006 @ 7:53 pm | Edit This
I have recently ran into a graduate of BYU’s Law school and decided to ask her a few questions. I told her of my intentions to apply to the school and asked her if she had a positive experience. She responded, ” it was alright, I was disgusted at the lack of diversity on the campus “. My interest was peaked and decided to prod more into what exactly she meant by it. She went on to explain, “Thier was just a bunch of conservative clones running around without a divergent of views”. Again she really didn’t answer my question. I kept prodding and she finally said, “I am just tired of all the mormon robots running around”. I then a little irratated at her comment asked if she would of had a better time if lesbians, socialists, and anti-mormons went to the school. Although it was a stretch that is what she wanted subconciously. Rosseau premise was right on his Discourse on Arts and Sciences when he saw ultimatley saw the progression of these fields as ultimatley eroding morals and faith. He also stated that eventually those who believed without question would be ridiculed as ignorant. I see this more and more every day. Either the church is true or it is not, in our case thier really is no middle ground. This grey area intellectuals are desperatley trying to create because it has become a more exciting religion to them. The powers of heaven can only be controlled upon the principles of righteousness and this is also true with knowledge. Knowledge is not something that the world handles correctly and this is what Rosseau meant. I have seen people with thier “supposed knowledge” so excited to pop the bubble of someone they viewed as ignorant. This people who love to find fault in the lord’s church will look for fault until it becomes an obession. It will not be enough for them just to know the “sheep” who blindly follow putting thier heads in the sand must be told. Then at the end they will fear because before they pass they will not be sure of what will happen next. It’s too bad that the Lord’s university should be invested with these types of people. The “what about this people” are only inches away from joining the homosexual community who prays for the day that homosexuality will be excepted by the church.
Comment by Locke — 11/22/2006 @ 8:48 pm | Edit This
Excellent post, Ardis. I can relate to this. Although by most Mormon standards I’m a liberal, I’m also pretty heavily involved in LDS apologetics. I have no interest in debating critics, but I am very interested in what I call educative apologetics; that is, helping those Saints that become troubled by this or that detail of history, scripture, doctrine or practice to preserve their faith.
I think intellectual and scholarly humility is absolutely essential. We need to have a very healthy sense of how little we really know.
The bane of apologists is fundamentalist assumptions, which are far more common among our people than they should be. Scriptural inerrancy and prophetic infallibility might sound good over the pulpit, but if you accept these concepts eventually they’ll come back to bite you in the butt.
I think I have a pretty good personality for apologetics, because I’m very easy going and I let very little bother me. I don’t know how to explain this, but my testimony is actually mediated more through music than through the words and deeds of people, so imperfections and foibles of church leaders past or present don’t bother me the way they seem to others.
When someone faces an intellectual difficulty, I find that often what is needed is (a) a reframing of the question (often it has been improperly framed from an antagonistic source), (b) an intravenous shot of context, and (c) a healthy dose of liberality, or broadening one’s perspective. I personally think the strongest apologertics are liberal in nature.
Comment by Kevin Barney — 11/22/2006 @ 9:06 pm | Edit This
You comment indicates that you possess a truly remarkable ability to know and explain both the subconsious desires and the eventual future fates of any who disagree with you — and you can do this from even just a short conversation.
Where did you acquire such an unusual talent? Was it something that you were born with, or is there some course of study I can follow if I would like to gain this skill?
Comment by Kaimi Wenger — 11/22/2006 @ 9:25 pm | Edit This
For me, I’ve learned that very few of the historical figures I’ve revered have lived up to the squeaky clean legacy that has followed them. Church leaders are no different. There have been times in my life that I’ve felt that I was doing God’s will, and that my words and actions were straight from heaven. As it turns out, I was wrong. I look at Joseph Smith and Brigham Young the same way. Sure, they sincerely thought that their words were God’s words (more Young than Smith, I suppose), but was it so? The answer is: sometimes.
Also, I try not to place the LDS church on a pedestal above other religions, because I recognize that we’re really all in the same boat. Yes, I like the LDS answers to some pretty controversial questions, but that doesn’t mean we LDS have a monopoly on truth or knowledge (although I think the leadership of our church has traditionally felt this way to an extent, I think that latter-day saints have generally felt that we have it all…maybe I’m wrong).
In addition, I cling to the spiritual experiences I’ve had. Even if it ends up that my Church isn’t really the ONLY true church, I’ve learned, I’ve grown, and I’ve been enlightened through my church. In other words, it is still GOOD.
Finally, I’ve given up proving the truthfulness of the church, and I accept that my choce of religion can only be grounded in faith.
Comment by Austin F. — 11/22/2006 @ 9:28 pm | Edit This
A very interesting thread. Here’s my two cents’ worth:
Before my healing and change of nature, I’d wrap myself around each little controversy that I found. Now, as I wrote earlier,
I lost my old fascination with mysteries, historical challenges, debates, and empirical evidences. They’re somewhat interesting intellectually but spending a lot of time on them that could be used to help people now seems to be a symptom of someone, who lacks sufficiency, trying to prove what he doubts. My answer anymore is “Hey, God gave me a new heart, he healed my soul, and I have this nagging sense of well-being. I know this and I?m no longer interested in doubting what I do not know.” Having tasted the infinite healing power of the atonement and having the Spirit open new understandings of the heart to me, the debates that used to fascinate me now seem like lesser lights preoccupied with lesser subjects. Far better to ask what we can learn about God and ourselves from an issue than to wonder whether He got this one right. Even cases in which the Church, leaders, members, or anyone else may be late or err don’t concern me anymore because they do not affect the healing I enjoy and that others can have. I’ve learned that God’s love truly is the most joyous to the soul and that lesser issues don’t take it from me.
I also find useful guidance in Elder Russell M. Nelson’s comments,
“The second root is the root of truth. It is very powerful anchor, but must be part of the member before it has any holding force. A firm foundation of faith is laid in the excellent word of the scriptures, the standard works. The foundation includes an understanding of deity, with Jesus Christ as the chief cornerstone. Paul emphasized the need to rooted in Christ. The work of Joseph Smith is at the foundation of our faith. Priesthood authority is essential in the government of the Church.
“When members know and assert these fundamentals, their own root of truth dis into the soil and wraps around these cornerstones to securely embrace that firm foundation. Each time a testimony is expressed, this root is strengthened.
“Those who oppose the Church attack this root of truth. They generally focus most cunningly at the target of priesthood authority simply because leaders are human and imperfect. The Master chose to administer his affairs by giving authority to ordinary men. He identified them as “the weak things of the earth” yet He empowered them to thrash the nations by his Spirit. [D&C 35:13, 133:59]
“But the Lord gave this important principle by which we may remain firmly rooted in the faith: ‘If my people will hearken unto my voice and unto the voice of my servants, whom I have appointed to lead my people…they shall not be moved our of their place.’ [D&C 124:45] Then, He warned they who will not hear the voice of the Lord neither the voice of his servants neither give heed to the words of the prophets and the apostles shall be cut off from among the people. [D&C 124:46] The root of truth is entrusted to the care of the leaders of the Church.” (Leadership Session, GenCon, 4/1985).
Comment by manaen — 11/22/2006 @ 10:51 pm | Edit This
maybe, just maybe, I don’t know quite enough to condemn him.
Does revering him require a lesser quantum of knowledge?
Comment by Beijing — 11/22/2006 @ 11:07 pm | Edit This
This is great Ardis. Thanks.
Comment by mami — 11/22/2006 @ 11:32 pm | Edit This
Ardis, great post, as usual. This is a subject I spend a great deal of time thinking about. I was given my most useful “tool” for dealing with controversial issues by a counselor in a BYU student ward bishopric during a temple recommend interview. I was just beginning my forays into LDS history and finding inconsistencies, fallibility, and far too much humanness for my liking at the time (I now thrill in the humanness of it all. It gives me hope in overcoming my own humanness). I trusted this counselor with my feelings and have been grateful ever since. He drew a circle on a piece of paper and then several larger concentric circles around it. In the middle of the innermost circle he wrote Jesus Christ. At various layers outside the center he put the MMM, blacks and the priesthood, post manifesto polygamy, lying for the Lord, etc. He asked what my testimony was centered upon? I of course responded, “Jesus Christ.” He then pointed out that that was what mattered. If I ever moved the center of that circle to one of the other topics on the page and made one of them my focus, my eye was no longer single to His glory (and could thereby place my testimony in jeopardy). All of the controversial topics are peripheral to what is crucial: Jesus Christ.
My second tool is a verse from Isaiah (5:21): “Wo unto them that are wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight.” If I ever think I have it all figured out, Isaiah keeps me in check as he does my view of those who claim to have THE answer on a given topic (DNA disproves the B of M, for example). God is greater than DNA. Religion for me is ultimately about faith. Sometimes God simply asks me to bow my head and say yes.
My third and most important tool is my testimony. When I start to question too much the foundation of my faith, the Lord’s answer to Oliver Cowdry grounds me: “Did I not speak peace to your mind concerning the matter? What greater witness can you have than from God?” (D&C 6: 23). I believe in an otherly world way of “knowing.” Some academics dismiss this way of knowing as irrational, emotional, anti-empirical. I reject their claims. I cannot turn away from the day God spoke peace to my mind, heart, and soul. What greater witness do I need?
Comment by Paul R. — 11/23/2006 @ 12:14 am | Edit This
I’m not sure it’s “irrational, emotional, and anti-empirical” but somehow it just seems risky to base everything on a feeling. Because as we all know, feelings change. For me, I have to base my faith on a combination of feeling, reason, and the testimony of others. Granted, this has led me out of Church activity and to the farthest fringe of Mormon identity, but I sure have a lot of peace about it.
“The ‘what about this people’ are only inches away from joining the homosexual community….”
LOL ! That comment made my day.
If only you were right, Locke. Alas, I doubt that thinking deeply about the faith and asking hard questions has ever turned anyone gay. Any studies, bbell ??? Are Dialogue types more likely to be homosexual? (just kidding guys……)
Comment by MikeInWeHo — 11/23/2006 @ 2:08 am | Edit This
I’ve been considering my answer to your question. I’m not sure that it’s in any way original or unique, but I’ll throw in my two cents.
To begin with, I like to consider religion from the perspective of my profession (spine surgery). I’ll accept that neither football nor one’s profession is really an ideal metaphor for the gospel, but it is nonetheless the lens through which I view much of the world.
Unfortunately, our claims on knowledge are relatively limited in spine surgery. We do our best to be strictly “evidence based” surgeons, but even the evidence for the things that we do know is frankly underwhelming. Much like Tony Snow’s “cotton candy” metaphor, much of it melts on contact. So I do the best with what I have. I lean on the evidence I trust and do my best to add to the body of literature.
This leads me to my first response to the question of doctrinal struggles. When dealing with the esoteric, a dogmatic response doesn’t help anyone. It does however potentially set you up to be humbled – an emotion every surgeon knows well.
My second response is a fairly utilitarian one. I simply recognize that it won’t do me much good to agonize over speculative areas in my field given my current level of knowledge. Take stem cells for instance. I will confess that I am a sceptic. Ignoring all the other problems with stem cells, “patching” the spinal cord just isn’t like “patching” the small bowel. On the other hand, at some point these questions will be answered regardless of my emotional feelings on the issue. I recognize that my knowledge is limited and wait for the literature.
As an adjunct to this, there are bodies of church-related knowledge that I simply chose not to engage. In my heart I suspect that we don’t currently have the “literature” to provide answers to these questions. I also believe that these areas are totally nonessential to my salvation.
I’ve alluded to this before, but at the risk of repetition I’ll say it again: I suspect that for the vast majority of us, the problem is not that we don’t “know enough things” about the gospel. The problem is rather that we are very bad at doing the very simple things that God wants from us. I suspect that our success or failure at being charitable, kind, honest and virtuous will influence our salvation far more than our thoughts on polygamy or Kolob.
Finally, when I thought of your question I thought of my son. My wife and I married quite late by mormon standards. Or oldest boy is two. He is (to put it gently) an excitable child. He has never slept through the night. He still wakes up multiple times and imagines tigers and sharks in the dark corners of his room. He works himself into a frenzy over these fears and the only way to calm him is for me to join him in his bed. I tell him stories and stroke his face and eventually he returns to sleep.
I leave for work quite early – typically long before he wakes. This morning as I left I heard him asking my wife why no one came to him in the night when he was frightened. For a moment I felt disappointed. I wondered if he would never know of the hours of sleep my wife and I have lost as we try to guide him through the imagined fears of childhood. Then I wondered if I sometimes act in similar ways – frightened by my fears and overwrought by questions I cannot answer, but neglectful of the ways God calms and restores me to myself.
Comment by herodotus — 11/23/2006 @ 4:03 am | Edit This
Ardis, I really enjoyed this post. My experience is similar to yours in a lot of ways. Also, Kevin’s apologia for apologetics seems right on the mark. Every so often someone will mention a topic so controversial and explosive that Mormons everywhere would see the error of their ways if only they knew about it; when I get around to checking the apologetics sites, as often as not an article covering the same topic appeared in the Ensign 20 years ago.
Comment by Jonathan Green — 11/23/2006 @ 4:13 am | Edit This
“I accept that neither human wisdom nor sacred revelation are yet complete. As long as the heavens are open and man’s mind continues to explore, we don’t have the final details on much of anything yet. This means that seeming contradictions are often due to incomplete knowledge. I need to weigh the totality of experience and not allow myself to be falsely trapped by any particular detail.”
This is such an obvious point, and yet is so often overlooked. Thanks for making it, Ardis. Admittedly, in some ways I sympathize with those who overlook the point, though; after all, we are all operating without “the final details” in almost every aspect of our lives. But is one thing to go ahead and vote for a candidate, or oppose a law, or buy a house, or change a job, without really knowing what lays ahead, and a very different thing to condemn something–a doctrine, a body of beliefs–from a position which assumes a certain level of knowledge. I’ve known, and can somewhat understand, the feelings of a couple of friends of mine who have left the church, saying in essence “I just really don’t feel right about this/this isn’t giving me what I think I need/I believe I’ve found something more true elsewhere” or some such thing. But I’ve never been able to relate to the people who discover or experience something and identify it as a fatal contradiction which disproves the whole project. We don’t even know what the whole project is; how can one say with confidence that this particular matter–polygamy, the priesthood ban, whatever–is really the thing which brings it all down.
When a relative of mine, also an academic, left the church, my dad asked me about my own feelings. I said, basically, “I don’t think he doubts his own doubts.” I do. I’d like to be able to say that I have a strong, affirmative, comprehensive testimony, but in times of intellectual trial, a little “negative humility” has its uses.
Comment by Russell Arben Fox — 11/23/2006 @ 9:51 am | Edit This
Thank you, Ardis. To your question, I have several answers which I explained elsewhere. Let me just (re)mention one here. When I got converted, many years ago, my father tried to change my conviction by giving me all the anti-Mormon info he could find. It could not change my mind. And somehow I was grateful for all the literature poured over me. It gave me a feeling of confidence: no matter what enemies of the Church would be able to concoct to disprove Mormonism in the future, I felt assured I would be able to stand it. Of course there were disturbing data here and there. I never swept them aside as inexistant, but either their fallacy soon became apparent or the larger picture made them insignificant. The ex-Mormons filled me with sadness. Why such a desire to tarnish, to undermine, to justify, to rationalize? Could it ever happen to me since those people once had a testimony too? I vowed that I would never allow myself to forget the basis of my conviction:
Verily, verily, I say unto you, if you desire a further witness, cast your mind upon the night that you cried unto me in your heart, that you might know concerning the truth of these things. Did I not speak peace to your mind concerning the matter? What greater witness can you have than from God?
Comment by Wilfried — 11/23/2006 @ 12:01 pm | Edit This
Ardis, great post and a wonderful discussion here.
After growing up in Utah Valley–where every elementary school child toured the Beehive House on a school field trip and formally studied early church leaders and the founding of the state–I was stunned when, in college, I heard for the first time that Joseph Smith was a polygamist. Since I had long accepted Brigham Young’s involvement (it was openly discussed), it was the fact that this seemed to have been hidden that was most troubling.
Assuming I was just out to lunch most of my youth (or thinking about boys), I figured this was common knowledge I missed. I once mentioned in a RS lesson that I found Eliza Snow fascinating and thought her perspective after being married to two prophets must be very interesting. That started quite an uproar, as apparently everyone in my Florida ward thought I had gone off the deep end.
A couple of years ago, my husband and I were on Temple Square attending a leadership training session. Afterward we went through a session in the temple. As we left a protester near the gate yelled out to those walking in that Joseph Smith had may wives. One middle-aged man, obviously Mormon, yelled back that he was some kind of filthy liar. I guess he hadn’t gotten the news yet.
I still have trouble reconciling some things, particularly the fact that there were hundreds of women who followed this practice because it was taught to them as being a salvational doctrine, who have been summarily obliterated from the official (or at least public) church history.
Either polygamy was a command from God or it wasn’t. If the former, we should laud those who were willing to go against culture (and personal desire) to follow Him, rather than pretend they didn’t exist; we should be able to openly discuss the ramifications of this being an eternally binding principle. If the latter, then…
As the Warren Jeffs (FLDS) trial runs through the news this week I am reminded that this man looks very much like Joseph Smith to many of those outside the church. With only a cursory knowledge of the case, the only substantive difference seems to be that Smith was commanded by God and Jeffs only THINKS he was.
I like what Paul R. said, except that it seems far too easy for me to simply chalk up anything I don’t like to “humanness,” so that I can conveniently discard any affect it might have on my life. Which troubling parts of LDS history constitute “humanness” and which doctrines that we don’t favor or understand?
Lastly, herodotus, your post softened my heart. I find myself getting bothered by things on occasion and then something like your post comes along to get my dander down. Thanks. I needed that.
Comment by Alison Moore Smith — 11/23/2006 @ 1:47 pm | Edit This
Since I am also a P/T instructor of English at BYU, I’m curious as to when this conversation happened. None of my colleagues today would be so quick to categorize or to globalize LDS Church history–at least none that I know well. Ardis, was this conversation recent?
Comment by Margaret Young — 11/23/2006 @ 9:47 pm | Edit This
Margaret — It was a year and a half ago, coming back from MHA in Vermont. I’ll contact you off-line.
Comment by Ardis Parshall — 11/23/2006 @ 10:45 pm | Edit This
Happy Thanksgiving, everybody.
Some of these comments are the best I have read on the blogs, and I appreciate all of you taking the time to write them out. Maybe the way you expressed your thought will be just what another reader can respond to. I hope so — it can be mighty lonely to struggle with ideas that seems to threaten your loyalties and even bring earlier witnesses of the spirit into question, and to feel like you’re alone.
If any latecomers read this thread after the Thanksgiving break, I’d love to hear from you, too.
Comment by Ardis Parshall — 11/23/2006 @ 11:41 pm | Edit This
“When someone faces an intellectual difficulty, I find that often what is needed is (a) a reframing of the question (often it has been improperly framed from an antagonistic source), (b) an intravenous shot of context, and (c) a healthy dose of liberality, or broadening one’s perspective.”
This is some great advice.
The only difference between a perceived dead-end in the gospel and a living testimony of that same principle is one’s perspective which can be influenced by the suggestions above. Many thanks to Kevin Barney and others who are building meaningful spiritual bridges or “educative apologetics” to help fortify our faith and help broaden our perspectives.
Comment by Razorfish — 11/24/2006 @ 1:38 am | Edit This
I am one who is struggling with his faith. I have tried (and continue to try) the approaches suggested above. But those approaches can just as easily lead in the opposite direction. Yes, it is true that I don’t know everything. Not all of the evidence is in yet. A good dose of intellectual humility is important. Why worry about things that don’t really affect my salvation, or issues on which our knowledge is obviously incomplete–just focus on living the way God wants me to leave, and let the rest unfold in due course. These are all reasonable suggestions. However, the conviction that the LDS church is God’s true restored church of Jesus Christ entails a rejection of other faiths and belief systems. And all of these tools for coping with doubt can just as easily be used to preserve faith in Catholicism, Protestantism, Hinduism and even (or especially) agnosticism. They all seem to me to be different ways of saying “You can’t prove the Church is not true, because there is much that we don’t know, so don’t reject it.” But by that standard, I can’t disprove anything at all, so should I just believe everything? I certainly can’t disprove any of the beliefs that Mormonisms rejects. And why should I even accept my own perceived spiritual witness about God or the Book of Mormon or anything else when I know full well that all of the evidence is not in? Especially when I have first hand knowledge that perceived spiritual witnesses are often unreliable sources of knowledge.
The logical end of this path seems to be “be a good person, but don’t pretend like you know anything at all.” That is pretty much where I am at these days. But that is hardly faith.
Comment by anon — 11/24/2006 @ 12:34 pm | Edit This
anon – What seems to be unspoken between the lines of most of the comments — and certainly of my original post — is not that we are struggling with faith itself, but that we are standing firmly in the camp of Mormonism. Even when the footing is solid, we can still be hit occasionally by the cold blast of a question or event or personality that we have to reconcile with the rest of what we know. These comments have addressed how to remain anchored to an existing faith, not how to find that faith in the first place.
I recognize your difficulty.(It’s easier than a lot of readers think to distinguish between a genuine expression of searching — like yours — and the whine of some others who not only have given up on faith itself but also resent those who profess faith.) I wish I had the perfect answer. I just hope you will recognize the difference between the position of those who commented here, and your own present position — what works for their questions won’t be the full answer to your own different question. Maybe they might help you maintain your present openness to searching and struggling — you haven’t given up yet, clearly.
Thanks for joining in here.
Comment by Ardis Parshall — 11/24/2006 @ 1:07 pm | Edit This
anon, as faith is a difficult avenue for you at present, perhaps you should approach the question from a utilitarian perspective. (Much like the little boy at the end of the South Park “All about Mormons” episode.) Does the church “work” for you? Does it make your life easier? Does it make your family happy? Are you and your loved ones better off because of your involvement in the church? If the church bears fruit that works for you in your life, perhaps that in and of itself is sufficient reason for continued engagement and hope, if not faith in its fullest sense.
And if not, perhaps that is a sufficient reason to consider leaving and trying something else, although of course these same issues and concerns are going to be present in any faith, and even if you decide to abandon theistic faith altogether (IE if you decide to become, say, a Catholic, you still won’t be able to “prove” Catholicism is right and everything else is wrong, so in that sense you would be right back where you started).
Comment by Kevin Barney — 11/24/2006 @ 1:24 pm | Edit This
I see that Ardis and Kevin have already replied to you. I’m no one special here in the online world, but I hope you won’t mind if I write a bit also. Thinking about your post got me reflecting on my childhood, so I’m going to digress a bit.
When I was a kid I sometimes had a hard time with life. And when I did, I’d climb the hills behind our house to where I had an old tree fort. Something about the Pacific breeze on my face and the smell of pine on my hands calmed me. I’d watch the stars come out and think of how Alma saw them as a testimony of God, and the world seemed to me a gentler place.
I’ve lived in places where I couldn’t see the stars. It doesn’t take much. A few too many neon signs and city lights and they’re gone. And when they were gone I was the less for it.
As the holiday season rolls around I remember the story of the three wise men; they were interested in stars also. There was a time when I aspired to wisdom, and I wondered how they gained theirs. The interesting thing to me about the wise men is that I’m not even sure that they knew where they were going. Some wise men. Their conversation with Herod doesn’t suggest they knew anything about finding a Messiah. But they knew enough to follow the star. And in my book that made them wise.
Anon, I’m not so conceited as to think I can give you faith if yours is gone. I don’t know how much of the church is hard for you to believe. I don’t have a perfect knowledge of everything either. But like the title of Ardis’ essay, I do know “some things.” I’m ignorant of the details, not the main plot. And I believe that one day the things that seem to be stumbling blocks will make such perfect sense that I’ll be surprised that they ever bothered me.
Faith can be easy to lose, and hard to find again. And when it’s gone, we’re all the less for it. If you can’t see the star, the road to Bethlehem won’t make a bit of sense. But if you can still see it, distractions have a way of fading. And the faith you have can lead you past the faith you lack.
Comment by Herodotus — 11/24/2006 @ 3:13 pm | Edit This
Ardis: I recognize that your comments are directed toward those who are already anchored in an existing faith. I was one of those people not so long ago. I am still outwardly one of those people. Everybody who knows me considers me to be one of the faithful. What I think I am hearing from you and others is that I should not have been moved from my faith by some of the troublesome questions, because we all need to realize that there is much that we do not know. Therefore we should hold on to our faith. But isn’t that just begging the question? If I take the position that my faith in Joseph Smith or the historicity of the Book of Mormon, for example, should not be shaken by information which seems to contradict my faith because that information is inherently uncertain, I am simply assuming that my beliefs are true and I am removing my faith from scrutiny. I am privileging those particular religious beliefs and treating them in a way that I do not treat any other beliefs. I am not sure why I would do that. What if they really are wrong? As long as I did what you suggest, and held on to my beliefs because they had not been proven wrong by incontestable evidence, my faith remained in tact. But when I allowed myself to be open to the possibility that I was wrong about some of my cherished beliefs, and scrutinized them in the same way I scrutinize other religious beliefs, the world became a very different place for me.
I have certainly not given up. But you are right– reclaiming a lost or severely weakened faith from a position of being genuinely open to the possibility that the previous faith was misplaced is quite different from maintaining faith from a position of confidence that one’s faith is well grounded.
Kevin: I appreciate those suggestions. To be honest, the Church does not work particularly well for me. My current calling has me very involved in the Church. There are some parts that I love and parts that I hate. Much of what is taught in most meetings leaves me either indifferent or muttering to myself. Rarely am I edified or inspired. But my current calling gives me a lot of opportunity for small group and one on one personal interviews and discussions which I genuinely love. It is these opportunities to be a meaningful part of somebody else’s life, or to help them with personal challenges that keeps me going. But to be honest, the Mormon world view clashes with many of my perceptions of the world. Even our concept of morality, of good and bad, seems misguided to me in many important ways. This is a source of a lot of internal conflict. However, it is a huge part of my family, and most of them love it. I understand that–I was just like them not so long ago. I am definitely not going anywhere. I am just trying to find an accommodation that will alleviate the internal conflict (and feelings of hypocricy) that now dominate my church experience.
Comment by anon — 11/24/2006 @ 3:48 pm | Edit This
I mentioned something like this over at FMH the other day. The more you learn about our history, 1) the more things begin to make sense and a coherent narrative emerges (this takes a fair amount of time and effort) and 2) you grow to have an increased compassion and empathy for our historical and contemporary co-religionists. This is very much, as Kevin states above, a liberalization. I recognize that the same study for some doesn’t yield a world-view shift that results in greater faith or belief. It did for me, though.
Comment by J. Stapley — 11/24/2006 @ 4:02 pm | Edit This
#11 MikeInWeHo said: “I’m not sure it’s “irrational, emotional, and anti-empirical” but somehow it just seems risky to base everything on a feeling. Because as we all know, feelings change. For me, I have to base my faith on a combination of feeling, reason, and the testimony of others.”
Mike, I agree. I didn’t mean to imply otherwise. Thank you for prompting me to flesh out my ideas. Of course Moroni’s challenge essentially advises the same formula as you have articulated. What I was suggesting, however, was that in the realm of post-modernist relativism where all perspectives are supposed to be welcome, I find it ironic that the believer’s perspective is sometimes not so welcome. Among all the ways of knowing, I also accept communion with the divine. Ultimately for me it boils down to questions that cannot be proven or unproven empirically. They, therefore, are matters of faith for which I turn to God. Certainly as you suggest feelings change, but God’s answers don’t. Scientific studies also often contradict each other or change over time according to new methods, technological improvements, new data, etc, as do historical interpretations.
I might add that I get plenty of “answers” (or lack thereof) to prayers which I’m unable to distinguish between the spirit and heartburn. I’m not talking about those kinds of “feelings.” What my faith is ultimately anchored to is much deeper and more personal than that.
Comment by Paul R. — 11/24/2006 @ 4:11 pm | Edit This
Fair enough, anon. I hope you accept that I — and I believe most of the commenters — don’t dismiss your struggles with something like “Gee whiz, if you’d only try a little harder and do what we do, all your problems would vanish.” Thanks for writing again.
Comment by Ardis Parshall — 11/24/2006 @ 4:16 pm | Edit This
#16 Alison Moore Smith said: “I like what Paul R. said, except that it seems far too easy for me to simply chalk up anything I don’t like to “humanness,” so that I can conveniently discard any affect it might have on my life. Which troubling parts of LDS history constitute “humanness” and which doctrines that we don’t favor or understand?”
Alison, this is a great question for which I don’t have a great answer. My mentioning of humanness was not intended to suggest that I discard any affect it might have on my life. I agree that it is much more complicated than that. I am very well aware of the challenges that humanness can leave us with. I grew up in a home where my dad was SP for 17 yrs and then S patriarch for another twenty before he passed away. The humanness of our home life made me not want to get my Patriarchal blessing from my own father. Ultimately (over many, many years of working on my relationship with my father) I concluded that I had to let it go. One with far greater capacity for wisdom, mercy, and justice would interview him. The same is true for all of us, past and present, from the greatest to the least. Just because a person is a church leader does not mean he/she will not have to make an accounting. I’m willing to leave it in God’s hands. Only Jesus Christ can adequately take into account the humanness of it all and simultaneously heal us with the divine.
I try to apply President Hinkley’s frequent admonishment that “we must never adopt a holier-than-thou attitude[;] we must not be self-righteous” to historical characters and events as well as to contemporary relationships. I’m terribly imperfect at it, but I hope I become better for the challenge.
Comment by Paul R. — 11/24/2006 @ 4:39 pm | Edit This
Here is an approach that I’ve found found helpful in my life when faced with such questions. I don’t share them to say I have all the answers because I don’t. I think acknowledging this is a key to dealing with these problems.
1) Go back to basics and focus inward.
Call me naive, but I believe hard doctrinal or historical issues sometimes I think need to be backed away somewhat to try and get perspective. Feeling lied to is hard, Its painful, feeling betrayed is frustrating. Re-examining the “milk” I believe is actually helpful and I’ll tell you why. We simply forget them far too often. Each of us is a child of God, We have ALL have a potential within each of us that is beyond any of our capacities to understand. Regardless of what mistakes we may have made, what temptations we suffer, what failures may occur in our lives, we do not have to give up. You see, The Savior came specifically into this life to understand our temptations and shortcomings so we aren’t alone, and when we make mistakes, we can pick ourselves up and keep going. “Not the spirit of despair , but of a sound mind and understanding.” Come unto me ye that are heavy laden, for my yoke is easy and my burden light.” These are milk doctrines one could say but far too often we just do not get them. Sometimes we won’t get them until certain events bring us to rock bottom. For myself it was at this point that the Savior became real, 3-dimensional, in a way that I can’t do justice with words.
2) Seek to understand the source towards which your bitterness is directed and forgive.
Learning to forgive others, Being aware that by what measure you judge by this shalt thou be judged, before removing the mote from the eye of others cast first the beam out of thine own eye. Remembering that the Saviour spent most of his mortal life with those of low social status, the meek, the lowly, That we are warned over and over and over again about the dangers of pride throughout the scriptures, and then realizing that while these things may be so easy to see in others,
We are really warned so that we can root them out of ourselves. No one is in more danger than those who feel self justified and lift their hearts into believing that they are better or know more than someone else. At it’s heart, Isn’t this where the apostate road leads every bit as much as it is at the heart of where the I am the elect, infallible and chosen of God road leads.
“I am better than all these members in the church because they do some horrible things, the leaders have done things I see as horrible, they are dishonest, they are untrue, the members of Israel, christianity, the Mormons believe they are better than everyone else so they themselves are nasty and horrible, God is horrible because he allows sufferring and pain into the world, religion is horrible because those who have believe they are better than those who don’t have it. Nonreligious are horrible because they are sinful, Blacks are less valiant in the preexistence and therefore less than us, Church members are awful and horrible bigots and therefore less than me, Homosexuals are horrible and cannot contribute to the church because the church emphasizes families and eternal marriage. Religion is horrible because it institutionalizes homophobia.”
Every on of these statements have one thing in common. PRIDE.
Bitterness, venom, bile, I think these feelings are absolutely destructive. They’re destructive when levelled against us and they’re destructive when we retaliate with them. It is not an easy thing to hold back in the middle of a crisis, and maybe just suggesting it may raise anger in defensiveness in those who are misunderstood. But the thing is, when you can achieve this, your own soul becomes enlarged and some of the anger and pain dissipates.
3) Continue personal study and prayer
Look to understand your questions but also focus on the things that are redeeming about the gospel and your roots. The seed of faith is critically important. Each of us is learning, God is working with all of us where we are at and to the extent we are able to build us line upon line and precept upon precept into something greater.
It is using this framework that I have been able to make sense of the Lord taking Joseph Smith and some local superstition peepstones, and helping him progress beyond it to becoming a powerful and marvelous prophet. It is in this framework that I can start to understand and forgive the mortals who let their preconceptions about blacks lead to the ugly and long policy that it seems to have led to in spite of feeling personally that they should have known better. It is this perspective that allows me to step back and look how far we have come as a Church and people in our understanding of the gospel, and that lets me believe we will continue to move in the right direction. It is in this framework I can step back and take a look at my own perceptions of masons, Joseph Smith and rumor and suspend judgement until I can get a more informed perspectives. It is with this framework that I can look at a tendency to judge Joseph harshly for the secrecy of how he initially began to practice polygamy and ask myself, what are my prejudices in this regard? Is polygamy always evil? Could there possibly be a plausible alternate explanation for these things? If I look at them with the assumption that the gospel is true and try to get their perspective on these things, suspending judgement, How does that change my picture of the situation? This is how I believe these crises are solved.
Is this is simple minded? Is it whitewashed, apologetic? I don’t feel that way. I feel my mind and spirit have been greatly enlarged because of this approach, personally. I feel my understanding of the big picture continues to grow because it is in this framework I continue to study it. The Book of Mormon, the 121st Section of the Doctrine and Covenants, the New Testament, and so many other writings, when really applied and understood teach us something radical, mind openning, and profound if we are open enough to look for it. I apologize for rambling on and on but I hope this writing is helpful to someone out there.
Comment by Doc — 11/24/2006 @ 4:40 pm | Edit This
Thank you for sharing your struggle. I hope you find the peace for which you are searching. One comment that you made in #21 struck me as a view that didn’t necessarily ring true with my limited understanding of things. You wrote: “However, the conviction that the LDS church is God’s true restored church of Jesus Christ entails a rejection of other faiths and belief systems.”
Let me share a few quotes that I keep tucked away for when Sunday School lessons get too uncomfortably “only true churchish” for my liking:
In 1978 a “Statement of the First Presidency regarding God’s Love for All Mankind,” reads, “The great religious leaders of the world such as Mohammed, Confucius, and the Reformers, as well as philosophers including Socrates, Plato, and others, received a portion of God’s light. Moral truths were given to them by God to enlighten whole nations and to bring a higher level of understanding to individuals. . . . We believe that God has given and will give to all peoples sufficient knowledge to help them on their way to eternal salvation.” President Faust is fond of quoting this. He did so in April 2002.
Elder Orson F. Whitney observed that God “is using not only his covenant people, but other peoples as well, to consummate a work, stupendous, magnificent, and altogether too arduous for this little handful of Saints to accomplish by and of themselves.”
Joseph Smith said, “One of the grand fundamental principles of ‘Mormonism’ is to receive truth, let it come from whence it may.”
And B.H. Roberts commented that the LDS Church is “one of God’s instrumentalities for making known the truth yet he is not limited to that institution for such purposes, neither in time nor place. God raises up wise men and prophets here and there among all the children of men, of their own tongue and nationality, speaking to them through means that they can comprehend. . . . All the great teachers are servants of God; among all nations and in all ages. They are inspired men, appointed to instruct God’s children according to the conditions in the midst of which he finds them.”
In other words, I don’t think that Mormons have a corner on truth, inspiration, light and knowledge, nor on goodness. And I’m not sure that a conviction that the LDS Church is God’s restored church automatically equals “a rejection of other faiths and belief systems.” My reading of these statements even suggests an embracing of other faiths and belief systems. Has it always played out that way on the playground of life? Absolutely not, but the principle continues to be taught nonetheless.
Comment by Paul R. — 11/24/2006 @ 5:06 pm | Edit This
Ardis: Yes I do recognize that you and others are not being dismissive. And I do really enjoy reading posts like these.
Herodotus: Thank you for your thoughtful comments. I had not seen them when I posted earlier.
To be honest, although I am challenged by some of the historical and intellectual issues, I could probably get over them just the way that others have. But I lack any spiritual feelings that God is really there. I am not angry or bitter or disillusioned. Well, ok, maybe I am a little disillusioned but I am not one of those feels angry, or deceived, or betrayed. I just don’t see the stars that you and so many others see. When I look into the sky, I see nothing. When I pray I hear and feel nothing. I can deal with that–I am not afraid of a universe with no God. The torment comes from a faith tradition that tells me I should have spiritual experiences that I don’t have and that I should believe in things that I just find difficult to believe.
Comment by anon — 11/24/2006 @ 5:16 pm | Edit This
Paul R.: I understand that truth is found in many places. But it is pretty clear that we teach that the LDS church is true in fundamentally important ways that other religions are not true.
But my real point is not a complaint about our exclusivity. My point is that holding on to a particular faith until it is proven false by complete and incontestable evidence is not a good way to insulate oneself from error. If all people had that attitude, we would never have any converts of any kind, because no belief system, including our own, can bear that kind of burden of proof.
Comment by anon — 11/24/2006 @ 5:24 pm | Edit This
Our testimonies should not be based on history. Many historical events can be very muddled, with conflicting facts. Often, it is quite difficult to know what actually happened and why. Eventually, in the next life the truth will be known, and our understanding of historical events both religious and secular, will be perfect. Until then we should not accept as historical fact, negative interpretations of Mormon history.
For example, concerning Joseph Smith and plural marriage, there is no documented evidence that Joseph Smith had children with any woman other than Emma. There are some wild rumors and second hand stories, but nothing concrete. You would think with all those wives, there would be many children. Children the Mormon pioneers would have been proud to claim, since all of Joseph’s children with Emma left the Church along with her. It is my opinion that certainly most, if not all, of the plural marriages of Joseph Smith were in name only.
Our testimonies can’t be based on history, but rather through the whisperings of the Holy Spirt testifying the truthfulness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Comment by Scott Fife — 11/24/2006 @ 5:28 pm | Edit This
I sense that out there somewhere there are readers warming up the keyboard to give alternate opinions to Scott Fife’s concerning Joseph Smith’s wives. It’s fine for anyone to mention a particular question as an example in clarifying a personal approach, just as Scott did, but please, let’s not get into a back-and-forth debate about any historical (scientific, social, etc.) issue.
I agree with you, Scott, that testimony is based on something far more important than history. Sometimes questions arise from history that may run smack against testimony, and sometimes history may be the hook that leads someone toward testimony, but history cannot be the sole foundation of a lasting testimony.
Comment by Ardis Parshall — 11/24/2006 @ 5:39 pm | Edit This
Anon, I don’t mean to disagree with Kevin, but only want to suggest that you might consider the reverse of what he suggests. That is, instead of asking yourself if church service makes your life better, you might consider whether your church service is making other people’s lives better. If your family, a couple of good friends, and the primary class that adores you (for example) are all much happier with you at church than they would be otherwise, that seems like a good enough reason to ride out the current uncertainty while waiting for a more affirmative sense of faith. Sometimes a spiritual witness comes when we aren’t looking for it.
Comment by Jonathan Green — 11/24/2006 @ 5:54 pm | Edit This
Hello again anon,
I appreciate your candor and agree with many aspects of your approach. I don’t think you should be afraid of a universe without God. Fear or the lack thereof should be irrelevant to your faith. On the other hand, if you are completely lacking in faith (please correct me if I am wrong), then I suspect that what has been written here so far won’t help you very much. This is not to dejustify your feelings, but rather just to point out that the answers posed in this thread address a different question than the one you are asking.
You say it is wrong to hold onto our faith only because no one can prove us wrong. I don’t think anyone has ever suggested this. We believe, but we struggle with historical details. This is a very different position than someone who does *not* believe and is also bothered by historical details. Both outlooks are legitimate, but both require a different approach. Trying to represent the recommendations for one as the answer to both is inaccurate.
I do wish you the best of luck as you grapple with these issues.
Comment by Herodotus — 11/24/2006 @ 7:02 pm | Edit This
Brilliant post–perhaps the most significant I\’ve ever read. Thank you for expressing in words the very anchor of faith which has held me firmly in place despite the wind and waves of mortality. I\’ve added this quote to Quoty (http://quoty.connorboyack.com):
\”I accept that neither human wisdom nor sacred revelation are yet complete. As long as the heavens are open and man’s mind continues to explore, we don’t have the final details on much of anything yet. This means that seeming contradictions are often due to incomplete knowledge.\”
Comment by David — 11/24/2006 @ 8:28 pm | Edit This
Herodotus: Thanks for your comments. Please help me understand the difference between the two approaches you refer to. One is the position of one who has no faith and the second is the position of one who lacks faith. If the objective is to preserve faith, then I do indeed see an important distinction between the two positions and the approaches which follow from those positions. But if the objective is find the truth, then I don’t think I see the difference. I would have thought that the right way to discover truth does not depend on whether one is starting from a position of faith or not. But that approach requires the person with faith to be open to the possibility that her faith is misguided. If that is not an open question–well, that changes everything.
Comment by anon — 11/24/2006 @ 8:49 pm | Edit This
I don’t claim to speak for everyone, but here are my opinions:
Regardless of the “objective” of our enquiry we gain knowledge “line on line” and “precept on precept.” This holds true not only for spiritual matters but secular ones also. If I were to study neurophysiology before ever taking biology I would think my professors were speaking gibberish. I would accuse them of using frameworks I had never agreed to and making assumptions I wasn’t prepared to concede. As I mentioned in my previous post, there are still elements of medicine that mystify me. But this doesn’t cause me to reject what I learned in medical school. In fact, it is when I encounter things in medicine I don’t understand that I cling to those elements most tightly.
If you don’t accept the existence of God, then the idea of a commandment based on revelation from God makes no sense. If you have no faith you will never gain it by basing your enquiry on a study of polygamy or other church esoterica.
From the wording of your post with the emphasis on “finding the truth,” I’m guessing that you’re looking to understand topics like Kolob or polygamy independent of faith. Unfortunately I think you’ll be disappointed. I would suggest that we just don’t have enough information to speak meaningfully about them at the moment. And even from a secular point of view I’m sure you can accept that sometimes not enough information has been given to truly understand a subject.
(I’m going to bed and will be away most of the weekend so don’t be surprised if I fail to respond again quickly. Again, good luck with your enquiry. I’m sure you’ll find a good and meaningful path regardless of my feeble attempts here.)
Comment by Herodotus — 11/24/2006 @ 10:03 pm | Edit This
39. anon, if I may step in uninvited with something that’s been useful to me — RE: I would have thought that the right way to discover truth does not depend on whether one is starting from a position of faith or not.
But how does one find and know the truth? We could try to devise our own path to truth and tools for clearing it. If we would test the path of the scriptures, we could try the path and tools they indicate. The scriptures say not that it’s very difficult, but that we *cannot* find eternal truth on our own.
1 And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God.
2 For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.
3 And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling.
4 And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power:
5 That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.
6 Howbeit we speak wisdom among them that are perfect: yet not the wisdom of this world, nor of the princes of this world, that come to nought:
7 But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory:
8 Which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.
9 But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.
10 But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God.
11 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.
12 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.
13 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.
14 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.
15 But he that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man.
16 For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ. (1 Cor 2)
If we don’t follow the scriptures’ path and tools, being lead by the
Spirit, (John 14:26, 16:13, Mni 10:5), we *cannot* find and know God’s truths. I believe this is one of the main messages of the first book in the BoM: that Nephi constantly asked for Spiritual guidance to know God’s truth and his older brothers constantly 1)did not and 2)complained that God didn’t tell them. This lesson is recoubled when Nephi prays to see his father’s vision and within the vision, the Spirit guides him. I believe the vignettes in the first book of the BoM keep repeating this lesson (seeing Lehi’s dream, where to go to get ore, etc.) to impress the upon reader the key for knowing the truth about the rest of the Book: that Jesus is the Christ, God lives and loves, scriptures are true, etc.
My experience is that by seeking to be lead by the Spirit, many truths are revealed and known to be true. Seeking to find truth by my/our own little flickers leaves us in the dark and complaining that we can’t see very far.
One reason that I believe this is so is that the fulness of God’s truths brings much power — which He wouldn’t want to fall into the hands of someone whose nature wasn’t converted to be Christlike. And that healing/conversion/mighty change of heart comes by the ministerings of the Spirit.
So, I encourage you to follow Alma 32’s pattern, and experiment upon the word to develop faith and Spritual insight and let that guide you to full understanding rather than try to directly puzzle out these answers with your own tools. God has promised us that the first approach will be successful and He has warned us that the second approach cannot be.
Those people that have the most of God’s knowledge work in the same pattern:
9 […] It is given unto many to know the mysteries of God; nevertheless they are laid under a strict command that they shall not impart only according to the portion of his word which he doth grant unto the children of men, according to the heed and diligence which they give unto him.
10 And therefore, he that will harden his heart, the same receiveth the lesser portion of the word; and he that will not harden his heart, to him is given the greater portion of the word, until it is given unto him to know the mysteries of God until he know them in full.
11 And they that will harden their hearts, to them is given the lesser portion of the word until they know nothing concerning his mysteries; and then they are taken captive by the devil, and led by his will down to destruction. Now this is what is meant by the chains of dhell. (Alma 12)
I hopes this helps.
Comment by manaen — 11/24/2006 @ 10:14 pm | Edit This
Sometimes a spiritual witness comes when we aren’t looking for it.
For what it is worth, this is very often how things happen with me. Answers usually unfold rather than occur. I’ve never had a “pray about the Church or the BoM and get an answer right then” kind of experience. I can’t tell you a day when I did gain that testimony. It’s been a drop by drop thing. I love Alma 32 for that reason, because it tells me that it’s OK for my testimony to be a process. The key for me has to been to never stop nourishing the seed, and to not cast it out by unbelief (v. 28, I think).
And if it helps, anon, there have been times in my life when the heavens have seemed closed to me as well. “Even if you can no more than desire to believe, let this desire work in you.” For me, those times have been even more important to continue with the path of “read, pray, go to Church, serve.” I have never had a desire to look elsewhere, so keep that in mind as a context for my own approach. I just kept moving forward as though it were all true, and sometime or another along the way, the connection with heaven came back and my faith was rewarded in some way.
One last thing — the spiritual confirmation of the BoM that has come as a whisper here, an “a-ha” there (and sometimes a simple hope) has been absolutely essential to my testimony. If you are concerned about “ruling out” other options, the BoM is a really, really good place to start because there aren’t many religions that believe in the BoM (those that do are all offshoots of our church). As the keystone of our religion, the Book of Mormon presents an experiment with a variable that is testable and sets us apart from most churches. When I was on my mission, I remember struggling with this idea that I was testifying that my church was true while others seemed to claim the same thing. When I turned heavenward with my thoughts about what made my claim different, what came to my mind and heart was “The Book of Mormon.” That has been a keystone of my testimony and my faith in this latter-day work.
And the more I live it all, the more true it becomes! Best wishes to you in your journey!
Comment by m&m — 11/25/2006 @ 4:35 am | Edit This
Seems to me that you are being rather selective in what you choose to believe, based on what will make you most comfortable. This doesn\’t seem to be true scholarship. These two women may have been honestly seeking to find the truth so that they can avoid leading others astray.
Comment by begonia bea — 11/26/2006 @ 10:37 am | Edit This
I feel a thankimony coming on. What a great thread, Ardis!
Thanks for the response, Paul R. Herodotus, I have thoroughly enjoyed reading your thoughts on this topic.
anon, I appreciate your sincerity in these posts. There have been times in my life when I had immediate, undeniable answers to prayer. There have been times when needed help was received almost before I asked. Then there have been seemingly endless periods where I felt utterly desperate and abandoned by God. The odd thing was, the periods of greatest trial seemed to occur during times when (it seemed to me, at least) I was living the most faithful life I could.
Although it’s a complete exaggeration (both on comparison of my righteousness AND my trials to his), I sometimes felt a bit like Job; as if God was just trying to prove that I would endure the most horrible things anyone could dream up. Truly I couldn’t understand what was going on or why…and the idea that the “cost of discipleship” would be to have a miserable life to prove a point was more than a little discouraging.
I remember reading “where is the pavilion that covereth thy hiding place” and wondering why God would hide from those who tried to serve him. I also remember wondering if he was really hiding or if I had built the “pavillion” through my own disobedience.
Unlike you, anon, the thought of a universe without God is frightening to me for lots of reasons. There is no hope of righting the wrongs that have been done. There is no better future. And my life choices would become an utter waste of time.
Comment by Alison Moore Smith — 11/26/2006 @ 3:24 pm | Edit This
This was published at another blog on 22 November 2006