My decision to start these posts on a flexible faith stemmed from people in my life struggling with doubts, remembering my own doubts, and thinking about the process my children will go through to find their faith. I have studied, meditated, discussed, and probably overemphasized the topic of faith in my life over the past few months in an attempt to find ways to help them and me. As I have shared the posts and discussed this topic with others there have been a few ideas that have permeated my mind and really come through in new ways for me. I want to share my thoughts on those ideas and a personal experience that illustrates some of the ideas.
When it comes to gospel doctrine and principals it is hard to fully understand something, despite our best efforts, through equations, explanations, and boxes. The beauty of our experiences is they are the best teachers because we can learn more and different things from the same experiences by remembering and revisiting them throughout our lives. That is one of the reasons I wanted to start this blog. To share my experiences and thoughts and get them on paper so they can improve and others can help me improve.
The three main ideas that have really settled in my mind over the past month studying and thinking about faith are:
- Priesthood Authority and Personal Revelation
- The Power of Choice
Most of the things I feel I have learned about these ideas are not so sure that I can add them to the “things I KNOW list”, but they are things I believe are true. I hope an explanation of them can help.
We all have assumptions. Things we take to be the truth without having verified for certain. All of us assume 2+2=4. There are some people who have taken the process of proving this mathematically and confirmed it, there are many of us that assume it is true every time because we were taught that and it has never proven untrue. The vast majority of our assumptions are harmless. However, we have all heard the axiom about assuming “that when you ASSUME you are making an ASS out of U and ME.” So I think we all know that assumptions can be dangerous and leave us in sticky situations, yet when it comes to Gospel Doctrine, Church Leaders, and many other religious beliefs we use assumptions an awful lot.
Having a faith that is filled completely full of assumptions without proving those truths out in our own lives is one of the things I have come to realize is almost always central to someone struggling with their faith. It usually goes something like this:
Joseph Smith was a Prophet. Prophets speak the Words of God. Everything Joseph taught or thought was from God.
Then something like this happens:
Joseph Smith taught or did something that wasn’t right. Joseph Smith must not teach anything from God. Joseph Smith must not be a prophet.
Although an oversimplification, assumptions are laden through both sides of this faith logic example. Many assumptions similar to this permeate nearly all religious beliefs, but as mentioned in my previous posts, they seem to have a powerful effect in Mormonism because of the truth claims and authority claims of the doctrine and priesthood. I haven’t figured out how to solve the assumption problem fully nor am I sure it needs to be solved, but one thing I believe is that we must be willing to study and determine the truth for ourselves. We can use assumptions as place fillers until we know something for ourselves, but we must be clear that they are assumptions and not undeniable truths in our minds.
I definitely don’t intend to mean that assumptions are only bad, because they are not. In fact, assumptions can become more than assumptions over time. We may begin by assuming that God will communicate with man, but through prayer and personal experiences, that assumption can move into the things “I Know” category. We must however, place correct limits on our assumptions before they can grow into more. In the case of the foregoing, we can pray every night for a testimony that “everything Joseph taught or thought was from God” and we will never progress because God will not confirm that to us – because even though I have a testimony he was a prophet the assumption of his infallibility is not true!
Priesthood Authority and Personal Revelation
“I am more afraid that this people have so much confidence in their leaders that they will not inquire for themselves of God whether they are led by him. I am fearful that they settle down in a state of blind self-security, trusting their eternal destiny in the hands of their leaders with a reckless confidence that in itself would thwart the purposes of God in their salvation, and weaken that influence they could give their leaders did they know for themselves, by the revelations of Jesus, that they are led in the right way. Let every man and woman know, by the whisperings of the Spirit of God to themselves, whether their leaders are walking in the path the Lord dictates, or not.” Brigham Young
There are countless quotes from Priesthood leaders exhorting us to find the truth for ourselves. Yet many of us default to the lesson manual answers to every question and to the leaders for every bit of how we form our opinion about life, politics, religion, and our interactions with one another. What they say must be more important than anything else. This is one of those fundamental assumptions, caused by apathy, and it is wrong. Having had Priesthood Keys and therefore authority, I can tell you that I have had, and do receive inspiration on how to help bring people to Christ. I will also say that many of the things I think should be done one way or another are not the only way, and have been wrong at times. I really do want people to come to Christ, and that is the purpose that I believe almost all of the priesthood leaders of the church are trying for. They receive their inspiration based on their experiences, and their relationship with God just like you and I do, even if they are spending more time and have more communication with him than you and I. They are doing their best and the Lord is surely guiding them in their weakness and in ours.
With that being said, the church is meant to be a guide to bring souls to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the only sure way to be connected to Christ is through personal revelation. You must seek your own inspiration and find your own connection with God. Unfortunately, there is sometimes a strange tension that exists within the church that a person might receive a revelation that is contrary to the position of Priesthood Leaders and so people are not always open to finding the meanings and inspiration for things themselves and those that do tend to be treated differently. Because of the Church’s correlation efforts in bringing consistency to the Sunday lessons throughout the world (Which they have recently announced they plan to scale back to encourage more personal and localized inspiration. I am in love with this by the way. Link address below.) many church members became apathetic to finding their own revelation, and a certain negativity grew more and more over time toward people who feel differently than what has been stated through correlation.
I understand the apprehension and the negativity about disagreeing with church leaders, even though I don’t agree with it. I also understand the need for consistency and a solid source to rely on in our journey. Prophets and apostles are watchmen on the watchtower. In my opinion, and in many of the prophets and apostles words, the real fear should be not getting our own revelation. Our revelations and thoughts will and need to change throughout our life and if our purpose is to be close to Christ, then we will get to the right place. There needs to be a larger place in our hearts for learning directly from God. We are lucky to have the teachings and inspiration of current/past apostles and prophets, other inspired priesthood leaders, Scriptures, and all kinds of correlation related materials from the church to check our revelations against, but it is OK if we don’t fully agree with some of those things as we develop our own understandings. The scriptures’, and the Priesthood Leaders’ understandings and teachings have changed over time and they do not always agree with each other about every point of doctrine either. The apostles Peter and Paul disagreed vehemently about how the gospel should be preached and to whom in their time. There are many priesthood leaders of our time, including General Authorities, who have not agreed on how we should interpret many things (Garden of Eden, Evolution, Science, etc.). However, they support and build each other up with the purpose of bringing people to Christ rather than tearing each other down
“We must preserve freedom of the mind in the church and resist all efforts to suppress it. The church is not so much concerned with whether the thoughts of its members are orthodox or heterodox as it is that they shall have thoughts. One may memorize much without learning anything. In this age of speed there seems to be little time for meditation. And while all members should respect, support, and heed the teachings of the authorities of the church, no one should accept a statement and base his or her testimony upon it, no matter who makes it, until he or she has, under mature examination, found it to be true and worthwhile; then one’s logical deductions may be confirmed by the spirit of revelation to his or her spirit, because real conversion must come from within…” Hugh B. Brown (LDS Apostle)
It doesn’t take a lot of self-awareness, but it does take some, to recognize that your own personal feelings and revelations will evolve over time. Pushing them for your own vainglory won’t help anyone and arguing in a contentious way isn’t from God. It is also unnecessary to try to shock someone else just to make a point, but there is nothing wrong with teaching and discussing your ideas and even disagreeing with others in an attempt to find the truth. Criticizing anyone, including Priesthood Leaders, but not limited to them, for their revelations or feelings on Christ is never OK. We don’t have to agree with everything but we should be helping each other by not ridiculing each other. We all need the atonement and we all need grace to attend us in our journey.
“And John answered him, saying, Master, we saw one casting out devils in thy name, and he followeth not us: and we forbad him, because he followeth not us. But Jesus said, Forbid him not: for there is no man which shall do a miracle in my name, that can lightly speak evil of me. For he that is not against us is on our part. For whosoever shall give you a cup of water to drink in my name, because ye belong to Christ, verily I say unto you, he shall not lose his reward.” Mark 9:38-41
Revelation comes from teaching and being edified with the preacher and receiver (D&C:50:21-22) and it is imperative we do not criticize or judge others for their beliefs, but discuss and teach each other until we all come to the “unity of the faith.” Again we are lucky to have Priesthood Keys and the restoration of lost Gospel truths, but there is more, and the more comes from seeking and asking. Finding things for ourselves is the surest way to prevent future faith struggles which seem to come from some sort of conflict between assumptions and Priesthood Leaders and our own thoughts.
The Power of Choice
Every experience we have, every decision we make, and every situation we find ourselves in provides us with choices. I can share spiritual experience after spiritual experience with a cynic and they can find all the reasons in the world why I am confused and it was a biological reaction to emotions I was feeling. Another person could argue the biological reaction was created by God to use our emotions, or that it is different than emotions but our physical body still is a part of the process. The debates and arguments could be endless.
“There is no truth unless there be a faith on which it may rest. For all truth rests ultimately on some act of faith, geometry on axioms, the sciences on the assumptions of the objective existence and orderliness of the world of nature. In every realm one must lay down postulates or he shall have nothing at all. So with morality and religion…Faith and reason are not antagonists. On the contrary, salvation is through the commingling of the two, the former to establish first premises, the latter to purify them of confusion and to draw the fullness of their implications. It is not certainty which one acquires, only plausibility, but that is the best we can hope for…” Elisha ben Abuyah (As a Driven Leaf by Milton Steinberg)
For some reason beyond my understanding, God has chosen to sanctify and to protect above all things the power to choose in humankind. The Savior was sent to complete the atonement which give us this power to choose. Real faith is found in the power to choose God and choose that he is guiding us. He has promised he will confirm our faith if we choose to follow him and increase it until it is perfect (probably will take a while). As mentioned before, choosing to believe in God and his involvement in our life is not the same as blindly believing all the things that have been said about Him. We must work that out ourselves. However, attacking the questions and doubts of our lives with the foundation of Faith in Jesus Christ is a choice in our attitude, in our baseline premises, and in how we choose to live and treat others. This power, I am convinced is where the path to God and happiness is most easily found.
The past three years I have really found an amazing sense of joy within the church even though I do not agree with many other church members on certain matters. The reason why? I believe it is because I know the Gospel of Jesus Christ is restored and can be found in the church. So I am choosing to use that to bring people to Him despite some of my disagreements. That choice has led to many faith increasing confirmations and revelations that have brought me even closer to God and allowed me to clarify and understand my faith even more.
A Personal Experience with Faith
About 8 months into my mission in California, I was living in Santa Barbara and the previous two months our particular district did not have very much success. We were all a little bit discouraged, but the 10 missionaries in our district were pretty close (as close as you can be when you are all so different and weird). Our mission president came to our zone conference, and after he had dismissed the other districts he asked to speak to our 10 missionaries. He gave a spectacular pleading for us to use the Eye of Faith and to believe in God and to pray with faith for each other and for all the people we were working with and to do it together. It was one of the most inspiring experiences I have had.
After the speech he left the floor open to us to share how we were feeling. I remember distinctly having the impression, as one sister expressed her confidence in God that if we exercised our faith that God would bless us. That this process would work if we did it for each other and we all unified our faith. I had been thinking about the scripture in Ether where Moroni says, “Ye shall receive no witness until after the trial of your faith,” and decided this would be a great time to test my faith.
Now keep in mind, most of us did not have much going, and most of us were new to the area, I was a brand new senior companion, and there wasn’t compelling evidence to suggest the next month would be any better than the last two months. However, I felt like, even though it wasn’t in front of me, I really believed it was going to work and all 10 of us seemed willing to put all we had into it. The first Sunday of that month was Fast Sunday and my companion and I decided to fast that someone would come to church for us to teach. It was a really earnest fast and coupled with our unification of faith we had high hopes for that day. In Sunday School when new people were being introduced a young man in the back stood up and said, “My name is Brandon. I am not a member of the church but I am looking to be one.” I was floored. I felt incredible. He was baptized that month and our district went on to baptize something like 16 people that next month. We had 0 the month before. My companion and I had an additional baptism happen, one long-time investigator decided to be baptized, and a few very inactive members come into our lives that would eventually come back to full activity. Looking back among those people we met and helped are some of the people that I have remained closest to and are some of the most faithful people I know.
Of course, a cynic would say it was a coincidence, or ask why that doesn’t happen to other people who fast. I don’t know those answers, but I do know that I had a choice to see that as God increasing my faith or not. I chose to help it increase my faith and because of that I have seen the confidence I have in God increase over time.
Writing these posts on Faith has shown and taught me a lot of things I did not fully understand before. These thoughts are only my opinions and my inspirations, but hopefully they can be used to help someone get closer to the Lord. In order to find God we truly need to seek him, in order to increase our faith we need to live our faith. It is not always easy, and we are going to get distracted and fail along the way, but have confidence that God is patient and merciful. I am not a great writer, but I hope some of the things I have expressed in the last three posts can help. I linked a blog post below I really liked. It isn’t necessarily applicable but it really made an impression on me.
Some alternate voices [not the official church voices] are those of well-motivated men and women who are merely trying to serve their brothers and sisters and further the cause of Zion. Their efforts fit within the Lord’s teaching that his servants should not have to be commanded in all things, but “should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness” (D&C 58:27). – Dallin H. Oaks