It has been about 8 months since I have written a post. Looking back there are quite a few reasons for this: getting called as the exec. sec. in our new ward, building and finishing our new house, living in our house for a few months with no internet (it was awful), making a push to grow our business, and just the general busyness of having a growing family with 4 kids age 8 and under. However, as I told my mission president and his wife a few weeks ago at dinner, the biggest reason is because every time I pick a topic my heart just isn’t into it ever since my last post.
I am not sure why, but lately I have felt like I needed to write a series of posts that seek to outline “what I believe and why” on various topics. For some, these posts may not mean that much, and maybe they are mostly for me, but my hope is that these posts can help those who feel alone in some of their beliefs and/or would like to feel buoyed up by someone else feeling the same, and also that it can help others who feel differently than me to consider value in the beliefs of someone that thinks different from them. Thinking through what I actually believe has been a very cool experience and hopefully this can spur that need in others.
The series will be broken up as follows:
- Part 1 – Gospel Principles
- Part 2 – Culture and Social Issues
- Part 3 – History and Learning
One other thing I will say is that I have no doubt that my feelings on all these topics will change and hopefully mature as I continue to progress in this life. Our goal is to become more like Christ, which requires change, and I know many things I have believed in the past have evolved as I mature. I in no way think everyone needs to feel the same as I do, but I do feel sharing what I believe can be beneficial to others and to me.
Here we go…
“Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.
Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.” – Jesus Christ (Matt. 5:3-9)
There are a handful of things that highlight how I view theology. Theology is a complicated subject, but without at least explaining some of my foundational beliefs it would make reading these posts less meaningful. Here are some points at the foundation of my beliefs:
- Pride is the great cancer of our existence.
- Mormon theology is meant to bring us to humility so we can actually interact with God. Where our pride (desires, prejudices, competitiveness, jealousy, judgment, etc.) stands in the way, it becomes difficult to connect with God and to truly be inspired, even though we think we are on God’s errand.
- Certainty is not a key part of the gospel. Faith is.
- Seeking and emphasizing certainty can, at times, be damaging to faith. Faith requires uncertainty to a certain extent. While we can progress to knowledge and certainty on some things, the pursuit and illusion of certainty on many dogmatic ideas has led to more challenges than necessary to many people’s faith. Christ and nearly all the prophets focus primarily on faith being our pursuit – not knowledge.
- Our purpose on earth is to learn and progress directly from opposition.
- From the beginning (Garden of Eden) opposition was meant to refine us in our journey. This is true as well for finding knowledge and increasing faith. We must seek to find meaning and understanding in opposites for truth and knowledge to grow our faith. Some people say “Saved by Grace”, some say “Faith without works is dead”, and in all reality it is in the search, study, and practice of both that we find their true relationship.
- While God is not changing, we change and therefore what He has to say to us also changes.
- One of our Articles of Faith says that we believe all god has revealed, all he does now reveal, and all he will yet reveal (paraphrased). This implies that things not only can, but will change. God is the same yesterday, today, and forever in his purpose, but obviously not in how He chooses to teach and interact with us. I know some people aren’t comfortable with the idea that things can change, but I believe that changes demonstrate God is still involved in helping us.
- God Loves All of His Children
- Believing in God and Christ requires certain beliefs – some of which may alienate some of God’s other children. Nevertheless, God loves all of His children – whether or not they conform to those beliefs.
- When we bring our diverse individual ideas and feelings to the Body of Christ and make the effort to help those within and on the outside see the benefits of belonging to the Body of Christ two things happen: 1) the belief systems are made more perfect by our/their contributions; 2) our individual ideas are refined through new spiritual experiences and others’ diversity. When people leave the Body of Christ because they don’t feel they fit, the evolution of the belief system and the individual can be stunted. Almost all major changes and updated revelations and programs have come from the Body of Christ expanding, and faithfully living the gospel “at all times and in all places”.
- I believe that through Christ’s atonement all the wrongs, mistakes, exclusions, and other problems that have happened in and outside of religion can be overcome and all of God’s children can be saved. The covenants, ordinances, faith, and purposes of life can be learned and accepted by ALL people, even if it’s after death.
Jesus Christ and Atonement
“For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life. And not only so, but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement.” – Romans 5:10-11
Jesus Christ and the belief that he is the Messiah that was promised is the foundation of my faith. I believe that through his suffering in Gethsemane he vicariously paid the price for all mankind’s separation from God. I also believe that he was resurrected the Sunday after he was crucified on Golgotha. For many, Jesus was just a man whose stories were exaggerated to support their convictions. This would be impossible to know first-hand since the events happened over 2000 years ago. However, based on a handful of very personal experiences, which came through studying, meditating, and fasting, I know that Jesus Christ is that Savior. My faith and testimony are strong.
Those experiences, however, are not as precious to me as the ongoing impact that strong faith and testimony have had on my life and on the lives of those in my immediate circle. Like many others, I have been in the self-inflicted abyss of sin; I have been engulfed in the gloom of circumstances out of my control and; I have been the perpetrator and target of terrible actions committed by my fellow human beings. In all of those times my belief in Jesus Christ and his atonement have not only helped me through those situations, but has also made me a better person. I have also seen the atonement transform those whom I love the most. There is no doubt that believing, seeking, and asking for the atonement to transform us will make all the difference.
Faith and Repentance
“And thus he shall bring salvation to all those who shall believe on his name; this being the intent of this last sacrifice, to bring about the bowels of mercy, which overpowereth justice, and bringeth about means unto men that they may have faith unto repentance. And thus mercy can satisfy the demands of justice, and encircles them in the arms of safety…therefore only unto him that has faith unto repentance is brought about the great and eternal plan of redemption.” – Alma 34:15-16
Too many times we get distracted from the basics. This happens in all aspects of our lives. It happens in my relationships, my work, and even my golf game. In almost any endeavor I can become too focused on the complications or peripherals to the detriment of the simple basics. The simple truth of the Gospel, to me, is that the pathway Christ has set for us is primarily based on Faith and Repentance for a reason. For me the reasons are two-fold.
- Faith requires us to be humble and to act better than we otherwise want to initially, but over time we want to act better.
- Repentance is reconciling with God, and our relationships, but most importantly with ourselves when we fail. Because we all fail, it is how we respond to the failures that brings growth.
If we can just trust that Jesus Christ loves and wants our happiness, as well as that of all of those around us, then we can spend our lives trying to live like Him, and not judging others, or ourselves when we fail. Instead, we can seek to make things right with God, others, and ourselves through increased trust in Christ’s ability to save us. If we all just worked with these simple basics, the other things that so easily beset us would ease and we would become more like Christ.
God’s Plan of Salvation
“For behold, this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.” – Moses 1:39
I believe that God intends to save as many of his Children as possible. People of all religions, including Mormonism, can tend to emphasize that God is only found in their religion. I fundamentally reject this idea and Christ even broached the subject with his disciples:
“We saw one casting out devils in thy name; and we forbad him, because he followeth not with us. And Jesus said unto him, Forbid him not: for he that is not against us is for us” (Luke 9:49–50).
I do, however, believe that at the foundation of our relationship with God is the Plan of Salvation revealed to Joseph Smith. We all agreed to come down to this crazy place and learn and progress, and, in the end, those who persevered, endured, and improved through faith would become heirs of His glory.
In life some of us would find Him easily, some would be born unto Him but never find Him, some would never hear about Him, and some would hear all kinds of inaccuracies about Him. So how can that be fair?
One of the most important points of Mormon theology is that Christ’s atonement, and therefore salvation, was not limited to those who belonged to the correct religion, but also did not eliminate the need for individual faith. I believe that everyone will have the chance to learn about Christ and God whether in this life or after death. I also believe that all of the covenants and ordinances that symbolize our commitment to Christ will be offered and performed vicariously for all mankind through Temples.
A salvation that eliminated 90% of the people who ever lived on earth because they never heard of Christ is not believable, at the same time our scriptures and prophets have taught us that “This life is the time to prepare to meet God.” We all are given the light of Christ which inspires us to improve and to love, and those who embrace those things will find Christ in this life, or the next. Our role as those who believe and represent Christ in mortality is to love and improve and help others see the fruits of Christian belief are worthy of their pursuit as well.
Priesthood and Ordinances
“And this greater priesthood administereth the gospel and holdeth the key of the mysteries of the kingdom, even the key of the knowledge of God.Therefore, in the ordinances thereof, the power of godliness is manifest.” – Doctrine and Covenants 84:19-20
I believe that God wants all of us to find Him. From the beginning He has asked mankind to help in the cause of bringing that hope to His children on earth. I believe that Priesthood is found in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. The Priesthood, to me, is simple. It is a commitment and authority to bring the ordinances of salvation to mankind. This has two aspects:
- Administering and safeguarding the ordinances of Salvation.
- Receiving power, inspiration, and guidance for the body of saints who want to help God in His cause.
The real power of the Priesthood comes as those who receive it and those who believe in its power make commitments to be better disciples of Christ. That active commitment – a commitment to serve all God’s children – increases the priesthood holder’s personal faith, and their example of humble and loving discipleship instills increased faith in others. Collectively, that combined increase in faith can create unbelievable power in our communities. When we view or attempt to use Priesthood as an individual power, prestige, or influence that makes us better than anyone else, we miss and potentially void the real power to create more faith in our brothers and sisters around us.
The Gift of the Holy Ghost
“And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them” – Ezekiel 36:27
Understanding the difference between the Holy Ghost, the Spirit, and the Gift of the Holy Ghost has been one of the most profound revelations for me. It has helped me understand so many things that didn’t add up before. I could easily write a full blog post on it. For now, here is what I believe:
- The Holy Ghost – is a member of the Godhead, or Trinity, and He is a personage of spirit whose role is to teach and guide us in our lives. He is the part of God who works one on one with us personally. D&C 130:22
- The Spirit – this is the substance that is refined matter that fills the immensity of space. Sometimes called the “Light of Christ”, it is the communication system for God in which he can be connected to us all and communicate with us all. It is the source of miracles, and the power that causes the will of God to be executed. It is also how we communicate with each other’s souls and is the source of our innate ability to recognize right and wrong. The Holy Ghost is the controller of the Spirit’s power. D&C 131:7-8, 88:6-13
- The Gift of the Holy Ghost – the blessing given to those who commit to being disciples of Christ, which includes access to gifts of the Spirit, but more importantly the personal tutelage of the Holy Ghost to help us become more like Christ and help us learn how to use the Spirit’s power ourselves. John 14:26, D&C 121:26, 45-46
The reason this has mattered so much to me is because it has helped me understand there is a metaphysical component to miracles and, more importantly, that we are all connected to God and can feel His spirit and receive His wisdom when we seek to be close to the Spirit by faith. It explains how, through certain experiences, our souls connect with others, sometimes clear around the world from us. It clarifies the important distinction that receiving the Gift of the Holy Ghost is a charge and an apprenticeship to become like the Holy Ghost and be the comforter, teacher, peace giver, to all those who need it.
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.” – Galatians 5:22-23
Personal Communion with God
“And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive.” – Jesus Christ (Matt 21:22)
I have written a more comprehensive post about this particular topic in the past, which you can read here. Some things we can know from experience, and one of those things I can say with total conviction is this: Whenever I actively pray and study the scriptures seeking inspiration for my life or for others, I find it. Now, that doesn’t mean it is always what I expected, or that I pray and study the scriptures as often as I should. I am like most people, I go through periods of focused prayer, meditation and studying, and then cycles of casual glancing at the scriptures, and short, vain, meaningless prayers.
For me study and seeking connection to God takes time. I cannot do it in 5 minutes reading a chapter, or listening to a talk. I need to engage, pray, think, question, seek, and write down my thoughts, sometimes for weeks or months. Most of all, I need a purpose that is more important than being right or confirming my already held beliefs, I need to help someone, or find an answer, or want to understand what God wants for me. When I have something to seek and I do the work of seeking, God has provided for me. I believe Jesus when he says if we ask we shall receive, but we do have to believe He will give.
“And the Messiah cometh in the fulness of time, that he may redeem the children of men from the fall. And because that they are redeemed from the fall they have become free forever, knowing good from evil; to act for themselves and not to be acted upon…Wherefore, men are free according to the flesh; and all things are given them which are expedient unto man. And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil; for he seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself.” – 2 Nephi 2:26-27
When I see so many atrocities around the world and individual circumstances that are just terrible, it is hard to understand why. One of the only things that helps me make sense of the wrongs in the world right now is the idea of agency. I believe God values our ability to have agency over almost anything else in our journey on earth. Christ was chosen as our Savior over the question of agency, and according to scriptures and prophets, the War in Heaven was fought over it. It seems that our growth as individuals through our own choices was the underlying point to life on earth. Since this extends past just individual agency to a collective stewardship of mankind over the earth, it is clear that WE are the ones who have created what we have on earth, both good and terrible.
Although it isn’t satisfying for those who want intervention from the heavens, it is the only explanation as to why God doesn’t intervene in so many instances of great tragedy and grief. For reasons we can only minimally understand, God has deemed this world ours and we are to make of it whatever we can. He has sent help, but ultimately our choices, individually and collectively, forge the world we live in now and in the future.
However, I believe there is a powerful truth in our ability to choose Christ as our liberator and mediator, over Satan our captor. The power comes from how we choose to respond to the events in our lives and others. Bad things that happen to us can be results of our own choices, but many of the worst things that happen in our life are out of our control. In those moments of despair and anger is where our true choice confronts us: Do we choose hope, love, faith in Christ as our liberator or do we choose captivity to our emotions, fears, and despair?
Simplifying agency into this choice highlights how often we fail in our struggles through the trial of life. It also highlights why having the atonement, and the Spirit of God to remind us that we can always reconcile and chose liberation through Christ is the foundation upon which our faith should be built. When we do grow through our choice we become more and more powerful in facing the challenges of life. Agency has allowed for messes, but it also creates the potential for incomprehensible strength and power when we choose Christ.
“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” – Philippians 4:13
Love and Forgiveness
“Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times? Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.” – Matt. 18:21-22
I have written a post about love, but one thing I have realized recently is how forgiveness is tied to love. Forgiveness can be one of the seeds, or the fruit of love. I am convinced that people who reconcile trespasses against each other and give and accept forgiveness have the strongest relationships. I am not naive about how difficult this is, but I want to point out a few things that I think we miss in forgiveness and love:
- Institutions, including “The Church”, Groups (Including your opposing Political Party), and Individuals all need our forgiveness. I believe that the forgiveness we can give them will have a more powerful impact on them than the condemnation and enmity that is more typical in our responses. It also benefits us immeasurably by freeing us from the need to try and control them, and help us see them the way the Savior does.
- Forgiveness does not require forgetting. Only the Lord says He will forget. We on the other hand, should remember, not only to protect ourselves, but also because remembering can remind us that our path to reconciliation is also our path to find the love of Christ.
- Forgiveness and Love require us to see each other more for our similarities while seeing our differences for what they are; not as the emphasis in our relationship. I don’t believe Christ was being altruistic when he said we should love our enemies, I believe he was asking us to see the dark and light in our own selves and in return understand that others have that same dark and light.
I am convinced that when we live our lives in a forgiving manner, we have a much more powerful impact on those with whom we normally would be in conflict with through our example of Christlike love. Being forgiving makes all of our relationships so much more joyful and full of the love we all want. I wish we saw more of this in our dialogue online, and especially at church where we are all seeking healing from our Savior.
Death and Eternity
“O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?…But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” – 1 Cor. 15:55-57
For most of my life I have not had a fear of death. I really can’t say why, but even when my life was in jeopardy through numerous health scares and other situations in which I put myself, I never remember being afraid to die…until a few years ago. I don’t know what changed, but in the past few years I have really been spending time thinking about how much I do not want to die and thinking about what will happen when I do. I think it is at least partly because having a family has brought more joy to my life than I ever contemplated before.
I actually think it has been a good thing for me to really contemplate death and what that would mean for me. I have been praying and seeking the Lord to increase my faith in His will. One night as I was stressed out about something and really thinking about the permanence of death, I received this peaceful, calming feeling from the Holy Ghost that God was there and that there was happiness after this life as well as in this life. It was a great blessing for which I am thankful and I believe it has helped me see how we need to make the most of our relationships now; that they are what matter most and; that they will be forever with us. Our relationships will be some of the few things we will take with us. We need to make EVERY relationship – EVERY encounter – as good as we can now and after.
My faith has been built through a few singular incomprehensible spiritual experiences, falling away from the gospel and experiencing life without the gospel, continual questioning, studying, praying, meditating, teaching, and most of all putting my faith to the test and coming back to living the gospel the best way I know how. Those tests and experiences have given me the confidence that God is my father, that Christ is our Savior, that God still speaks to us today and that he wants us all to be happy. That even though the world was meant to be a mess and would cause countless problems, through our faith in Christ, it all can be overcome. I believe we can be happy and have peace now through the gospel, but most importantly to me I believe the relationships I build now can be eternal and I can cherish and grow with the people I love forever.