The Burden of Belief and Pursuing Truth: Part 2

“Since truth is the only meaningful foundation upon which we can make wise decisions, how then can one establish what is really true?” –Elder Richard G. Scott

In part one of this blog post I explained my background (it got real – I even admitted to wearing a bolo tie), and I described a paradigm-shifting crisis of faith. I seriously questioned the existence of God and in so doing learned that with or without God there is an inability to comprehend the undeniable eternity that surrounds us, and therefore there is a need for belief, for faith in something that is not seen but is believed to be true. I learned that rejecting God does not relieve that burden of belief, and I determined to make my best judgment after examining three things: my own experience, the experience of others, and the “facts”.

My Own Experience

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is designed to actively involve its members in spiritual pursuits. Being raised in that environment, I have always said regular prayers, read scripture, attended church meetings, and served others in various capacities. None of my varied experiences are undeniable proof of God, but all of them add up to strong personal evidence of his existence. When pursuing answers to big questions or guidance during turbulent times, I have found feelings combined with thoughts that seem to come from outside of me and confirm the existence of a Heavenly Father that is concerned with my well-being.

The Experience of Others

In addition to my own experiences, I find my belief in God strengthen by the experiences of others. For example, the Book of Mormon and the Bible are essentially the spiritual journals of men from long ago, and the stories they tell testify without hesitation of the existence of God and of his love for his children.  In more recent times Joseph Smith said he saw God the Father and Jesus Christ and they spoke with him face to face, and modern-day apostles and prophets testify that God and Jesus Christ live. My own close friends and family members have had significant experiences that convince them of God’s existence.

The “Facts”

The “facts” as revealed by science are inconclusive. The materials that make up the Earth date back millions of years, and we can observe evolution in nature. But we don’t really know how dramatic leaps in evolution happen or how a habitable planet was formed from a big explosion of energy. In fact some non-religious scientists believe the evidence suggests an intelligent design as opposed to an accident. I believe at some point instructions were issued so that order could come from chaos. I believe God was the author of that intelligence. In short, while there is definitely no proof of God’s existence from science, there is plenty of room for belief in Him.

Pursuing Truth

Every one of my three pillars of belief can be discounted, argued, or contradicted. There is no easy answer. In fact I believe this Earth life was designed to allow us to make decisions without a sure knowledge so we could gain experience that only that type of environment could afford.

Truth be told (pun intended) I am not trying to convince you to believe in God, I am trying to convince you to pursue truth. Truth is the only meaningful foundation on which to make decisions, and identifying it is the first step to leading a peace-filled life. So pursue it. Relentlessly. And when you find it, or when you think you find it, take action! DO whatever it is that truth would suggest is right.

Your pursuit of truth may lead you to believe exactly what I believe. Or perhaps your pursuit of truth will lead you to something totally different. The God I believe in would not fault someone for honestly pursuing truth and not finding it. I believe our pursuit of truth and our best effort to act according to the truth we find makes this life meaningful and valuable and enjoyable.

I count my doubting the existence of God as one of the great blessings of my life because it forced me to think and to personally pursue truth. I am thankful for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, for it is in this church I have found answers to life’s most important questions and had experiences that convince me of God’s love and our eternal worth. May we continue to relentlessly pursue truth, even (especially) when it contradicts what is popular, what is tradition, or what is culture.

What was church like yesterday?

Dear Friend,

Since you couldn’t make it to church yesterday, I thought I’d give you a little update on what it was like. You may remember that our church service is made up of three different meetings or classes – each approximately one hour.

  • The main worship service is called Sacrament Meeting (70 minutes).
  • The second hour is Sunday School (50 minutes).
  • The final hour is additional small group instruction time for women (Relief Society); men and boys (Priesthood meeting); and young women (teenage girls). (50 minutes)
  • Kids between 18 months – 11 years old participate in Nursery and Primary during the 2nd & 3rd hours.

Let me tell you about Sacrament Meeting in our ward today.

The opening hymn sung by the congregation was hymn #277 As I Search the Holy Scriptures. Click on the link to hear the tune and follow along with the words. For me, the song captures some of the longing and the fulfillment I have felt in my life as I try to regularly study and learn from the scriptures, so it’s a personal favorite of mine.

The sacramental hymn, also sung by the congregation, was hymn #181 Jesus of Nazareth, Savior and King.

The prayer over the sacramental bread was then offered, and some young men walked the trays of broken bread from row to row. The prayer over the sacramental water was offered next, followed by the young men passing the trays which hold little individual cups of water.

With this contemplative period coming to a close, the young men sat down and the sacrament program began. As usual, some preassigned members of the congregation stood to give some prepared remarks:

  • Speaker #1: A twenty-something year old woman from Orange County. Not a lifelong church member – not even a lifelong believer in God. Three years ago she said she had a wonderful life – she had a job, was going to school, and lived with a dog who loved her. One day she walked passed two women wearing black name tags. She politely smiled and said hello as she walked on, but said she felt immediate regret for not stopping to speak with them. Through several more serendipitous encounters with these women, she began meeting with them and eventually, after several months, she was baptized a member of the LDS Church. She compared her life before baptism to someone who’s color-blind but doesn’t know it – they can still have a good life, even if they don’t recognize or appreciate the richness of different colors in the world. But internalizing the principles of the gospel cured her color blindness and now she appreciates and values the things in life that she did not know were there.
  • Speaker #2: A mother of two young kids, also a registered dietitian, originally from Finland. Spoke about the importance of education – not just formal academic achievement, but of maintaining a love of learning throughout one’s life. She shared from her own experiences in college and graduate school that she felt more productive in her studies and learning when she first spent some time reading from and studying the scriptures. She retold a story from the Book of Mormon about two brothers who complain to their younger brother that they just don’t understand what their father recently taught them. The younger brother asks them, “Have ye inquired of the Lord?” She used this to teach that God can help us understand and learn what we need to learn, whether that has to do with the gospel of Christ, or our physics lesson.
  • Speaker #3: the husband of speaker #2 – an otolaryngologist (ear, nose, and throat doctor). Time was running out, so he gave a very condensed version of his prepared message. But he continued along the same message of the importance of seeking to learn from the best books. He shared his testimony that learning and experiencing is one of the main reasons God put us on earth.  

The closing congregational hymn was hymn #304 Teach Me to Walk in the Light – a simple yet pleasant song whose message provided an additional reminder to seek learning and “loving guidance to show us the way.”

In another letter on another week, I’ll talk about the 2nd and 3rd hours. But hopefully this gives you at least a taste of what happened at church yesterday.

A Concluding Thought

The experience of being a Latter-day Saint is, of course, grounded in participatory learning and serving. The end goal is not just to assimilate knowledge and information – even scriptural knowledge, as helpful as it is. The ultimate objective is to internalize the principles of love, service, and Christlike compassion so that they actually change our natures, desires, and behaviors.

Dallin Oaks, an LDS leader, once saidIn contrast to the institutions of the world, which teach us to know something, the gospel of Jesus Christ challenges us to become something.

The regular activity of church involvement – teaching, learning from, and working alongside others across the socioeconomic and ethnicity spectrums – help us internalize these truths and become something more than what we currently are. Our choices to exercise faith in the Savior and participate in such ordinances and service enable the grace of Christ to bring about this gradual transformation in our desires and character.

I hope next week you’ll “come and see” for yourself. Meetinghouse locator here, for wherever you are in the world.