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.

Why I Became A Mormon: Brittany’s Story

Before last year, I had never known anyone who was Mormon; not by choice, there just weren’t many Mormons around for me to know. Growing up, I went to a few different churches. I was baptized in one faith, confirmed in another, and attended church in a few more. All the while, I never quite understood why I was there or what made a particular church different from any other. I mostly just went to church because I thought that’s what you were supposed to do, but I thought maybe if I continued to go, I would be able to figure it out.

After a period of time without any church attendance, I moved to Minnesota and became interested again in learning about my own faith. As I was attending a class at another church, I was given the opportunity to learn about the LDS Church from a friend in school. At first I learned by reading things about the Church, good and bad, that I found on the Internet. After a few months of reading, I started meeting members, going to church, and talking with the missionaries, and to my surprise, I LOVED IT.

The wonderful missionaries who spent so much time helping me learn what I needed to make the decision to be baptized

The wonderful missionaries who spent so much time helping me learn what I needed to make the decision to be baptized

I had never been to a church where I was so instantly welcomed and accepted. Men and women who were so incredibly busy with their own personal and professional lives took the time to get to know me and opened their hearts and homes to me in a way that I had never before experienced from total strangers.

Friends for Life

Friends for Life

I quickly came to love spending time with my new “Mormon friends” and it was pretty obvious why: they were honestly and truly living their faith and teaching me how to do the same. Through their example and the things I was learning, I began to understand who God is, His plan is for us, who Jesus Christ is, what He did, and most importantly, why this all matters. For the first time, I felt like I could ask questions and think critically about my faith. It seemed as though the puzzle pieces were beginning to come together.

Another friend for eternity

Another friend for eternity

Despite how it sounds so far, this experience was neither perfect nor easy. I spent six months learning about the Church before making the decision to become a member. I needed to be as informed as I could if I was going to make this decision. Even though I had learned so much, and there was very clearly a change taking place within me, I still struggled. In my mind, it didn’t add up: Joseph Smith, the Book of Mormon, prophets. I wondered, why would God appear to a 14-year-old boy and later ask him to translate the Book of Mormon?

In addition to my own internal struggle, I experienced external opposition as well. The LDS Church is very misunderstood, and people around me didn’t know much about the Church other than stereotypes. They feared I would be forced to give up who I was if I was going to become a Mormon. I realized verbal assurances would only do so much, so instead of solving this problem before moving forward, I concluded that the stereotypes could only be dispelled through time and my own example.

My bishop (local church leader) and I had a very important conversation around the time I finally decided to be baptized. He reminded me to keep an eternal perspective. He shared a very personal and powerful story about his own mother’s decision to join the Church and the effect it had on her posterity. After this conversation, I realized that this was the best decision I could make not only for myself but for the family I come from, and the family I hope to have some day.

Regarding the things that just didn’t make sense, I prayed. And prayed. Over time, I received spiritual confirmations that testified to me of their truth. At first, it felt as though I was surrounded by the darkness of night. As I did things to find my way, like read scriptures, pray, visit with the missionaries, talk with members, I slowly felt as if the dark was giving way to light, and I could see the steps ahead more clearly. (See this). Soon I thought, “how could something that brought so much good, not be true?”

Shortly before I made the decision to be baptized I received an email from a friend who had no knowledge of my investigation of the Church. She wrote, “I just want you to know that I love seeing you this [academic] year because you are sort of glowing and seem so happy and just like you’re on the right track.” This sweet friend was able to put into words what I was feeling and didn’t completely realize in that moment. I was not only visibly but also internally joyful. I soon came to know that the Spirit was bringing me feelings of peace and joy to testify of truth.

The weekend I was baptized and confirmed a member of the Church was wonderful. Despite the fact that it was wedged between two law school finals, it couldn’t have been better. After being confirmed, I felt an incredible flood of relief because I had finally found what I had been searching for and wanting for so long: faith in God and Jesus Christ and a church that is just so amazing to be a part of. The evening after I was confirmed, I wrote in my journal, “I cannot go to sleep because I am just SO happy, so excited, and so filled with joy….”

Baptism Program

Baptism Program

John 10:10: “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.” My decision to join the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has brought so much abundance to my life: an abundance of beauty, joy, love, and so much more.

I am so very grateful for the family I have that has loved me unconditionally and helped me get to where I am today. My heart is overflowing with love for them and the countless others who have helped me along the way. I know that I don’t have all the answers right now. I never will, but I have faith in Jesus Christ, and that makes all the difference going forward.

This past weekend as I was driving westward across Minnesota, I noticed the leaves. I noticed how their colors were significantly different from the weekend before. Two weeks ago, they were beautiful shades of green, yellow, and red. This week, I noticed browns, golds, and oranges in their place. As I contemplated the beauty of it all, I wondered if I would have noticed and appreciated all this beauty even one year ago.DSCN7230 As I continued to drive and think, I concluded that no, I would not have. That tiny realization reminded me, once again, how lucky I am to have been able to make the decision to become a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

I love this church, and I love being a member of it. It inspires me to see the good and the beauty in everything and everyone. I have never felt more inspired to do good, to serve better, and to love deeper.

Does God Speak to People? Part II

The answer to this question is an unequivocal yes, which I have previously written about here, and which was the topic of a recent guest post here. Those two posts deal mostly with God’s communication through his prophets – both ancient and modern – and discuss the restoration of Christ’s gospel beginning in the 1820s.

But more personally, does God speak to ordinary individuals directly? Does he communicate with normal, everyday kind of folk to help us in our affairs? The Book of Mormon teaches that “God is mindful of every people” and that he “give[s] unto the children of men line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little.”

Many times in life I have felt God gently communicating with me to help direct my path. Sometimes that communication has come as tender and loving feelings that bring me peace, specific knowledge, and insight. Other times, the communication has come in the form of distinct phrases, like dictated words into my mind. In fact, a couple of months ago in my personal prayers I asked a specific question and then made a note in my phone about what I had asked. Several weeks later, having forgotten about my prayer and the note, I suddenly had a phrase come very clearly into my mind. I wrote it down somewhere else in my phone and went on with what I was doing. A day or two later, I was reviewing all the notes in my phone and discovered that what I had sensed the day or two before was a direct answer to my recorded prayer several months earlier. 

Although it can burst upon us unexpectedly, revelation from God typically responds to direct questions that we ask him. Consider the following from Spencer W. Kimball:

Spencer_W._Kimball3When man begins to hunger, when arms begin to reach, when knees begin to bend and voices begin to articulate, then, and not until then, does the Lord make himself known. He pushes back the horizons, he breaks the curtain above us, and he makes it possible for us to come out of dim, uncertain stumbling into the sureness of the eternal light.

On another occasion, Spencer Kimball taught the importance of having pure motives and sincere desire:

…Do you want guidance? Have you prayed to the Lord for inspiration? Do you want to do right or do you want to do what you want to do whether or not it is right? Do you want to do what is best for you in the long run or what seems more desirable for the moment? Have you prayed? How much have you prayed? How did you pray? Have you prayed as did the Savior of the world in Gethsemane or did you ask for what you want regardless of its being proper? Do you say in your prayers: “Thy will be done”? Did you say, “Heavenly Father, if you will inspire and impress me with the right, I will do that right”? Or, did you pray, “Give me what I want or I will take it anyway”? Did you say: “Father in Heaven, I love you, I believe in you, I know you are omniscient. I am honest. I am sincerely desirous of doing right. I know you can see the end from the beginning. You can see the future. Tell me, please, loved Heavenly Father, and I promise to do what you tell me to do.” Have you prayed that way? Don’t you think it might be wise? Are you courageous enough to pray that prayer?

The key then, seems to be desire and asking the right question. Sarah Edwards, the wife of the 18th century Puritan theologian Jonathan Edwards, described one of her experiences with the divine this way. Once, when feeling a strong desire to be alone with God, she prayed earnestly, and

sarah edwardsin the moments that followed, ‘the presence of God was so near, and so real, that I seemed scarcely conscious of anything else. God the Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ, seemed as distinct persons, both manifesting their

inconceivable loveliness and mildness, and gentleness, and their great immutable love to me…The peace and happiness, which I hereupon felt, was altogether inexpressible.’¹

My conviction is that God does speak to people and He is mindful of us and our needs. And the great news is that each of us can learn this for ourselves, for as the Lord said:

For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.

Then shall ye call upon me, and ye shall go and pray unto me, and I will hearken unto you.

And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart (Jeremiah 29:11-13).

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¹ Givens, T. & Givens, F. The God Who Weeps: How Mormonism Makes Sense of Life. Ensign Peak (2012). 21.
For another account, check out this blog post.

Does God Speak to People Today, Like He Did in the Bible?

mormon-bible

Many people today appeal to the Bible for moral teachings and general guidance on how to lead a virtuous life. Some point to it as a witness of Jesus Christ as the Redeemer of the world, and read it to follow in his footsteps. Many, at the very least, refer to the Bible to try to understand “what God has said” on a particular topic. Regardless, a quick look at Google Trends reveals that “The Bible” remains the #1 most searched for book on Google, and has spent nearly 10 years in the Top 10. Not bad for an old text.

When it comes to stories, teachings, and valuable axioms, there’s a lot to like about the Bible. Consider the following:

  • The story of Moses receiving the Ten Commandments for the children of Israel (Exodus 20)
  • The Sermon on the Mount, spoken by Jesus: Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth (Matthew 5-7).
  • The parable of the prodigal son: But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him (Luke 15).
  • Jesus’ teaching to his apostles: Love one another… (John 13:34).
  • Another teaching of Jesus, this to his disciples: All things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them (Matthew 7:12).
  • Another teaching of Jesus to his disciples: Give and it shall be given unto you (Luke 6:38).
  • Teaching of Paul: All things work together for good to them that love God… (Romans 8:28).
  • Teaching of James: Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you (James 4:8).

Of course, none of these teachings were spoken (or written) in a vacuum. Each teaching came from a speaker and had an intended audience with real problems, questions, and unique attributes. For example, Jesus’ teachings in the Sermon on the Mount were directed at his disciples, those who had shown some commitment to follow him. The Gospel of Matthew was likely written for a Jewish audience, whereas Mark likely had a Gentile audience in mind when writing his Gospel. The Apostle Paul had specific instructions for the Romans, the Ephesians, and the Colossians, and even different instructions at different times for people like the Corinthians,Thessalonians, and even Timothy. Thus, the books that comprise the Bible were written to and for certain groups of people with unique circumstances and needs, even though we in the contemporary world undoubtedly benefit from their inspired messages.

But there’s another issue here that often flies under the radar when people read and discuss the Bible. If these words represent the revelations of God to humans suited for specific audiences and particular times, where are the present-day revelations and instructions for the Americans? the Germans? the Mongolians? Even a not-so-careful reading of the Bible suggests a well-established pattern of God transmitting revelations to specific groups of people based on their particular circumstances.

Mormons believe that the formalized revelations of God, although largely absent for well over a thousand years beginning with the death of the original apostles, sprung forth again when 14-year old Joseph Smith went into a forest in Palmyra, New York in 1820 to ask God which church he should join. There the young Joseph reported to have been visited by God the Father and Jesus Christ – two distinct personages – in a brilliantly bright light, who instructed him not to join any church at the time. An actual divine appearance and visitation to a mere boy, with specific instructions and foreshadowing of a higher calling, similar, in fact, to the Biblical Samuel or young David. In the years that followed, when Joseph was a young adult, he brought forth the Book of Mormon, announcing that it was a translation of an ancient record written by Israelite prophets who originated from Jerusalem, but who had been led by the Lord to the ancient Americas – and that this narrative record contained, like the Bible, the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

To get to the point and make a long story shorter, Mormons believe that prophets and apostles were placed again on the earth as God’s authorized representatives and spokespersons. As prophesied in the Bible, there had been “a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord” (Amos 8:11). But that famine had passed and God once again established the pattern of revealing truths to his prophets, who then were to transmit those truths to the people of the world.

As important as past prophets and past teachings are, and as much as they benefit and help us now, what we really need – especially in this complex and ever-changing world – is God’s revealed word for our circumstances and for the issues that confront us today. And only in our ignorance or conceit would we reject heaven-sent messages meant for our world. As an 1832 Church editorial proclaimed

The Bible contains revelations given at different times to different people, under different circumstances…The old world was destroyed for rejecting the revelations of God, given to them through Noah. The Israelites were destroyed in the wilderness for despising the revelations given to them through Moses; and Christ said that the world, in the days of the apostles, should be condemned for not receiving the word of God through them: thus we see that the judgments  of God in the past ages have come upon the people, not so much for neglecting the revelations given to their forefathers, as for rejecting those given immediately to themselves.

The Evening and the Morning Star 1.2 [July 1832]: 13. (As found in Givens, Terryl, By the Hand of Mormon: The American Scripture that Launched a New World Religion, Oxford University Press (2002) p. 227.)

Mormons say that the coming forth of the Book of Mormon and other latter-day scripture provide tangible evidence we can hold in our hands, read with our eyes, and prayerfully consider in our hearts. To us, these truly do “[prove] to the world that the holy scriptures are true, and that God does inspire men and call them to his holy work in this age and generation, as well as in generations of old…” (D&C 20:11-12).

And I do this that I may prove unto many that I am the same yesterday, today, and forever; and that I speak forth my words according to mine own pleasure. And because that I have spoken one word ye need not suppose that I cannot speak another; for my work is not yet finished; neither shall it be until the end of man… (2 Nephi 29:9)

In other words, God does speak today. He speaks to individuals and he speaks to prophets, for “he doeth not anything save it be for the benefit of the world; for he loveth the world” (2 Nephi 26:24) and will speak forth his words until his work is finished.

A God Who Laughs?

A couple of experiences recently led me to wonder if God laughs. Consider the following:

My two-year old son offered the following prayer last night before bed:

Dear Heavenly Father, thank you for moose, thank you for cows, thank you for my family, thank you for Robin Hood and Little John and Maid Marian, and Lady Kluck, and Prince John, and for bad guys. Amen.

The fact that his family made it after moose and cows in his grateful list was slightly disarming, but at least we came before Prince John and bad guys.

When my wife went into his room this morning, the first words out of his mouth were: “Mom, how many more baseball games until Christmas?”

One of the things that has surprised me most about being a parent is how much I laugh at the silly things our kids do or say.  So it got me wondering….does God have a sense of humor? Would he have laughed – or at least smiled – during my son’s prayer, like I had? Or is running the universe such a serious matter that he has no inclination to laugh?

Over the summer I read an account of a woman who had what is popularly called a near-death experience. After traveling through a type of tunnel, she encountered a being of Light (whom she understood to be God), who told her that it was her time to stay in heaven. She resisted, saying she wanted to stay on earth. When asked by the being of Light why, she replied, “Because I need to dance more.” The being of Light then suddenly burst into a loud “hearty laugh,” and acquiesced, saying that next time he called her, she would need to stay.

Just as I believe in a God who weeps, I believe in a God who laughs. Just as he weeps over the hatred and self-defeating behavior of his children, surely he laughs over the joyful, delightful, and even funny encounters in the mortal experience, especially as expressed in the lives and thoughts of little children, who are so full of cheerful laughter and good humor. After all, wasn’t it Jesus, who instructed us to suffer the little children to come unto me….for of such is the kingdom of heaven? Personally, it makes me happy to believe in a God who laughs with and loves the little children, even if they’re thankful for bad guys.