I’ve recently been struck by the number of talks that are about the effort required to maintain faith, as if the act of having faith is not natural; it’s something that must be willed into existence and constantly worked at, like a garden or personal grooming. The idea is that doubt is the natural state that will take over if one does not remain in a constant state of action, always watching for nature to take over, always ready to attack anything that might erode your little faith garden.
When did this become the discourse around faith? I seem to remember growing up with the idea that faith was normal, a byproduct of appreciating the natural world, of gratitude, of family relationships based on love. Eons ago when I was in Primary, we sang a lot of songs about the beauty of nature and that it was evidence of God’s hand in all things. This appears to be a completely different psychology of faith being discussed now.
One small off-shoot of this mindset that faith requires work and effort (not works, which is the standard Christian discussion) is that unbelief prevents blessings from occuring. This also feels like a slightly foreign concept to me, more like God as vending machine or the prosperity gospel, that if you are good and obedient, you’ll get material blessings and riches. I’ve also often noted that if you are a believer and good things happen to you, you recognize those as faith-affirming. You see them as coming from God, to whom you give thanks. But it’s a big step from that to the idea that you can demand or expect blessings as evidence of God’s approval, or the lack therof as evidence of divine disfavor.
If you are a believer and bad things happen to you, you don’t necessarily attribute those to God, but your faith comforts you in a bigger picture sense. Mortality is challenging, but there’s more to life than this earthly existence. Your faith gives you hope. It helps you endure the difficulties. It may give you a fatalistic or sanguine view of the trial you are enduring.
But good and bad things happen to both good and bad people. That’s how human life on planet earth works. So, for blessings to be evidence of one’s own standing is clearly not accurate. It’s just a way to feel like you’re in control or God’s in control or things that are meaningless have meaning.
“for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good,and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.”Matthew 5:45
Why do some believe and some do not? I’m really not sure. It feels to me like a personality trait in many cases. Some people are more prone to believe in God, to have faith. Some just don’t find that belief as compelling.
I often think to the final scene of the 1970s Burt Reynolds movie, The End, in which he has spent the entire movie trying to kill himself and failing, until he has swum much too far out in the ocean and he is in real danger of drowning. Suddenly he wants to live and starts crying out to God to save him, making big promises about how much of his life he will devote to God if he gets out alive. The closer he gets to shore, the smaller the percentage becomes until at last he says “Nevermind, God, I’ve got this.” The deal is off, even though ostensibly he was saved from death. Did God save him or did he swim his way out? Either way, it was the act of being in extreme distress that brought his belief in God to the forefront.
So, based on my observations, faith comes primarily from 1) extreme distress, or 2) personality or temperament. This is why I don’t see how you can “work” your way into stronger faith.
- Why do you think faith comes naturally to some and not to others?
- Are there other examples you can think of that create faith or a desire to believe in people who don’t otherwise have it?
- Do you believe faith requires effort and work to maintain it or is faith a natural state?
- Do you think Church teachings on this have changed over time or have both types of teaching always existed side by side, depending on who is teaching?
Like Bon Jovi said, Keep the Faith.
Two quick things. First, in terms of demographics, women are disproportionately represented in Christian congregations. More women in the pews than men. So is there a gender component to faith? In the past, LDS congregations did better in terms of male participation than most other Christian denominations, but I suspect that may be changing and that more young men are moving away from participation in the LDS Church than are young women.
Second, the Church often ties faith to LDS activity (attending church) and paying tithing. But obviously faith is about faith in God, not about institutional participation. There are plenty of closet non-believers who attend church and sign checks. There are plenty of believers who don’t attend the LDS Church or any church. So we really need to have two different concepts, maybe “institutional faith” and “faith in God.” The LDS habit of seeing everything through an institutional lens mucks up the average Mormon’s understanding of the word “faith.” It’s hard to read the NT Gospels and not get the strong impression that Jesus was about 98% against “institutional faith.”
What a timely post. I was just discussing this with a friend who’s also in church leadership. I’ve got two main thoughts, one of which is related to Dave B’s comment, I think:
1. The rhetoric surrounding faith and testimony in our church is one spurred mainly by fear, I think. We have to “constantly work” and be “anxiously engaged” to build or maintain our testimonies. There is an astonishing amount of language in our church that talks about how easy it is to LOSE one’s faith, which has always implied to me that if it’s so slippery and easily lost, why would we make that our focus instead of something more concrete, like, say, ethical actions in the world (i.e., things that could make an actual difference in other people’s lives)? And that language is contrary both to how the Bible talks about faith and also my own experience. I have loved music ever since I can remember. I love it, I breathe it and I have great faith in its power, despite my middle-aged cynicism, to change people and the world. I’m not in danger of losing my faith in music if I don’t express my testimony of it every month or if I don’t surround myself with pictures of Freddie Mercury and reminders that I need to attend a rock concert once a month or I’ll lose my faith in music. All of that is to say that I think you’re on to something when it comes to inclinations towards faith perhaps being more innate than we Mormons usually want to admit. So I actually tend to believe that faith is more a natural state than not, and we therefore should not make into a kind of anxiety-producing, make or break thing. We should talk about practical things we could do to try and grow it, but we should also be talking much more about practical things we can do to make other people’s lives better even if our faith isn’t terribly strong. Mormonism holds the mistaken belief that only people who have a strong faith in God are capable of doing the right thing. That’s 100 percent wrong.
2. One reason the church isn’t great about either discussing or understanding faith is because faith is seen, generally, as merely a step towards knowing and therefore inferior. I gave my testimony last month and said I was speaking to the folks in the congregation who might be struggling with their belief and I expressed my belief that hope/belief/faith is just fine; that we don’t need to put the pressure on ourselves to “know” the church is true, that we should just try to do the best we can, etc. The next person who got up immediately contradicted me and talked about the importance of “knowing” and how vital that was to gaining the celestial kingdom, etc. So we do this really strange thing where we make “knowing” the church is true into a kind of virtue test where, if you don’t “know” it’s true, you’re somehow less than the people who do “know”. Thats an extraordinarily harmful way to think about things and, again, antithetical to most biblical theology concerning faith. It also immediately puts the burden on those who don’t “know,” pressuring them even more to try to get to some kind of level of metaphysical certitude that simply does not exist. Quite cult-like, actually. We have got to stop talking and thinking like this if the church is going to survive, but Mormons aren’t really good at either subtlety or nuance, so I think the thinning of the herd will continue until we’ve got just a small group of folks, most (all?) of whom don’t “know” the church is true, but are just pretending to see the emperor’s new clothes. And all because none of us trust each other enough to be real and true about where we’re at with our beliefs. That’s no way to form, build or keep a community.
This post causes me sorrow. It fails to recognize that anything in life worth having takes work and effort. That goes for the next life too.
Unfortunately, far too many these days want Faith without the work. They want to indulge in sweatpants-fueled idleness and sloth, but get the rewards that come only through effort. One cannot receive the reward of Faith without putting in the Work to move toward God.
In addition, it is impossible for anyone to remain in a state of true idleness for long. The time that should be spent in service and self-improvement soon gets spent in riotous activities at the local honky tonk, Dairy Queen, or 7-Eleven.
In the end, Faith is no different than anything else worth having. It takes Work.
I used to think that genetics played a strong role in determining one’s faith. However, after carefully examining my own family, I’m not so sure any more.
It is interesting that the illustration at the top appears to be of Sisyphus. On my mission, I got very interested in the writings of Albert Camus and the myth of Sisyphus played an important role in his philosophy of absurdism.
Unfortunately (or fortunately), Albert made more sense to me than the institution Church. Twenty years ago, while in southern France, I visited Albert’s grave. The Nobel Prize winner died young, in a car accident. But while alive, he lived a very productive life.
Albert got me thinking about the necessity or need for faith in God. Hopefully if one is a chronic doubter and a bit of a rebel, one can still be “good” person.
If the inclination towards faith or belief is a personality trait, it’s certainly one that can change.
I spent the first 30 years of my life as an all-in, Nephites are real, Cain is Bigfoot, BYU is God’s University sort of believer. Then I went to grad school and had an intellectual ass-whooping while my church got seduced by a deranged wannabe-dictator-playboy and I grappled with the church’s homophobia while my bishop/ward flat out ignored my wife’s postpartum struggles. Several years later, I’m the furthest thing from a believer I can imagine. A stone-cold empiricist, I struggle to maintain faith in anything, including myself.
I suspect I’m not the only reader here to have experienced such a shift. And it happened to me in spite of all my best efforts to protect my faith. Lots of prayer and study and struggle went into trying to stave off a faith crisis. But it happened anyway.
The Church seems to present the idea that faith is the opposite of doubt. You know, you should doubt your doubts and hang on to your faith. But what I have discovered is that this idea may be 180 degrees off base. Those who have more doubts but who maintain their allegiance to an idea have to exercise more faith. Likewise, those who have fewer doubts but maintain allegiance to an idea may indeed have to exercise less faith. In sum, faith and doubt are not opposing forces but actually work together hand-in-hand.
Having said all of that, I want to repeat something I’ve said before: when you lose your belief in the Church, that may not have anything at all to do with a “faith crisis”. In other words, you didn’t necessarily become less faithful just because you left the institution. In my case, it’s not that I have less faith. I have less trust. I admit I’m going through a trust crisis. I don’t admit I’ve undergone a faith crisis.
I have faith in loads of things: that there will be a tomorrow, that the pandemic will end despite ourselves, that my job will provide for my family in the short and long term, that I can safely navigate driving a car every day without incident, that my efforts to teach my kids will be worthwhile to them someday, that the future nonrefundable vacation I paid for will happen, that my retirement is safe in the stock market, that my life savings is adequately protected in the bank, that my time invested in working out and eating healthy is worth the effort, I could go on and on.
What I no longer have faith in, are the Mormon stories I was taught in my youth. Partially because some of those stories have turned out to be incorrect, and partly because my own interactions with the world don’t fit these stories.
If that makes me a doubter, or a lazy learner, or a lax disciple, then whatever. I still believe myself to have profound faith in things that merit such faith. But for things that have proven over time unworthy of that faith, I’ve opted out.
I don’t think faith is genetic. Given what I’m seeing happening in Mormon families, including my own, it’s across the board from TBM, utility Mormons, to disaffected.
I agree with JCS that Faith takes effort, but I think the church can ask for so much work that it can cause a loss of faith.
My heart goes out to all the parents of young children. Quite often, both the mom and the dad are called to positions that pull them out of the home during the week and on Sunday—often at the same time. These parents genuinely struggle with thoughts of neglecting their families to sit in yet another calendering meeting. Many youth leaders are gone from home so much that they lose faith in an organization that does not understand or do anything to ease the burden.
I don’t think a good discussion of faith can really exist without trying to define it. It’s slippery definition that tries to run away from you when you catch it.
Putting aside the scriptural definitions, which are often cited but rarely used in practice, the way the term faith is used in practice typically describes a belief that is based on no evidence, unreliable evidence, spiritual or emotional evidence, or sometimes controversial evidence. Faith is belief without reliable proof. If you have proof than you don’t have faith, you have knowledge.
In that sense, I don’t think it takes work to maintain faith. What faith requires is to control of the information. You can believe anything you want as long as you stay in the right rabbit hole and avoid opposing ideas, but I don’t see that as a reliable way to know the truth.
Completely agree with the comments suggesting that to most people in the Church “faith” = “activity and participation in the Church and trust in its leaders”. That is a lot of work, both physical (actually doing the things) and mental (reconciling a lot of cognitive dissonance).
Is faith in God on the decline? Maybe. Some would suggest that this is because we now have scientific explanations for many things for which there was no explanation in human history until relatively recently, so they were explained by “God.”
I agree that if faith (under either of those formulations) were something that helped people, it wouldn’t be so much work or it would at least be work they are motivated to do. For people who don’t fit a certain mode (like a couple of my kids for example), the Church just doesn’t offer them much.
Church participation & faith have always been “work” for me in that its require I do certain things in response to that faith. But it was a rewarding type of hard. It is an altogether different kind of work now.
The church talks about how hard it is to have faith because it thinks that faith in it is all that matters. And quite frankly, there is too much evidence against it being run by a loving God for faith in it to be easy to maintain. You have to twist up the concept of God into a parent who stops loving his children (as President Nelson claims) if they don’t obey the church’s every word. And you have to assume that God has sons but only daughters in law to believe the temple ceremony (or lie to yourself that the ceremony doesn’t say what it says). You have to believe that God didn’t make people gay/transgender (against the science and their experience) or that he doesn’t love those children. So, yes, it is a struggle to believe or have faith in the Mormon church. Just like it is a struggle to believe the earth is flat.
Other religions have their own problems that make it hard to believe in them. I think having faith in organized religion is difficult because all human organized religions are run by humans that like money, power, and other perks.
As far as faith in some kind of god, that seems to be an inborn human need to have faith in something bigger and stronger than yourself. Sure, life can beat that need into cynicism, with unanswered prayers, disasters, human greed, anger, need for power.
I just got back from Greece, and while I was there, I remembered reading Plato’s book about the trial and death of his teacher Socrates. Socrates was sentenced to death (by suicide using hemlock) based on two charges: 1) impiety, 2) corrupting the youth. The fact was that he was not preaching *against* the Gods. He was teaching his students the socratic method which we still use in education today, and that included teaching them to think and to question things. Those in authority did not like that the rising generation questioned their authority or had doubts. Parents didn’t like that the next generation wasn’t easily controlled, that they had their own ideas that challenged what had been done before.
The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Bishop Bill. I had a similar experience. The last time I bore my testimony (a few years back), I had the audacity to say, as “I grow older, I find I have more questions. But I choose to have faith.”
The next person to get up stridently stated she has no questions and knows the church is true.
If one doesn’t conform to the script “I know this church is true,” then we might as well said this church is a fraud.
To me, that phrase more resembles a multi- level – marketing system.
I really don’t understand why seemingly we worship the “church.”
There clearly is little space in the church for people who don’t conform to the program.
Which is one big reason why people have left and are leaving.
Lois and Brother Sky,
On behalf of all those in the congregation who live with a mix of faith, hope, and doubt, I thank you for getting up and sharing your beliefs. I think there are a lot more of us than many realize, but we are generally too silent. Speaking up is courageous and shows that there is room for a wide range of faiths in the church.
A recent W&T post examined the word faith, which most often in its original Greek in the NT is used primarily as a verb. In English there is no “to faith” form (unlike many other languages). The closest we can come is “to be faithful” which at least indicates some action.
I choose to be faithful (because as Paul wrote, Jesus Christ was perfectly faithful to his heavenly parent). That means that at times I entertain doubts, question much, and sometimes abide without knowing exactly why because God is love (which extends to everyone and everything regardless of our/its response). Look at Jesus’ experience in the Garden of Gethsemene. Why isn’t that kind of spiritual struggle acknowledged or encouraged within the church? Of course, institutional loyalty is a whole separate thing. Sometimes we’ll be on the inside, other times outside or right on the boundary. I tend to think the church cares more about our location than does God.
As I start to work out in a few months I can feel myself getting in better shape and stronger. For me this never works in trying to have more faith. I can do all the right things and really work at it but I am left with the same doubts, uncertainty and lack of trust. One would think that as important as faith is to our salvation that GOD would bless with more of the spirit or something to show I am on the right path. When I just go along and try to talk myself into it, I feel like such a fraud and my conscience is tumult because I am enabling an institution that hurts people.
Living on the Wasatch: I think what you are referring to in your last sentence is that you can’t manufacture prejudice. If you don’t hold bigotry against a certain group of people, you just can’t fake that. Bigotry only survives by being deeply ingrained in someone’s upbringing, and then not examined later to root it out. If you weren’t raised to hate / fear / distrust / be suspicious of / see as inferior that group of people, you can’t work your way into it. And if you have overcome those negative feelings toward a group of people, you can’t re-adopt them easily.
FAITH IS NOT BELIEF
Faith is not belief, though we mingle their use. The trauma of contradicting data, arbitrary propositions, and unsound reason, provide conditions for a crisis of faith. But not because faith is vulnerable to facts; faith needs no fact. Rather, because “belief” has supplanted “faith.” The action of faith and the action of belief cannot share the same thoughtspace: they do NOT constitute the same “work.” Faith and belief offer different trajectories because the mechanisms of faith and belief operate by different patterns of reason. Faith is patterned by retroduction or abduction, whereas, belief is patterned by induction or deduction: very different operations altogether. Belief tends to suffocate faith.
One can have great faith without a single belief, just as Another can have strong beliefs with little faith. When testimonies are subsidized by sands of belief, there is no sure ground during storm or flood. If a testimony is built upon belief, it can be “undemonstrated” as easily as it can be demonstrated. The act of demonstrating truth by stacking beliefs into a system, is an operation of priestcraft. Pharisees derive authority this way. A shrewd Pharisee will sell us beliefs and call our loyalty to the beliefs “faith.” If we trade faith for belief, we enter a world where beliefs demonstrate belief systems, and belief systems demonstrate truth. Here, action of worship becomes sedentary, and our relationship to faith shifts from actor, to audience. In this, beliefs and belief systems serve to ensnare conscience and confined liberty. To unlock this snare, here is a key:
Faith is informed by Doctrine;
Doctrine is informed by Ordinance;
Ordinance is informed by Covenant.
There is no doctrine, except it expounds ordinance. Doctrine deconstructed, is exposition of ordinance, full stop. By this, we navigate safety across unsteady waters–from faith to doctrine; from doctrine to ordinance; from ordinance to covenant–without the aid of a single belief; by this, we isolate doctrine, and discern the promotion of belief and belief systems every time Pharisees (and the CES) creep to sow tares to the field.
I had a similar experience to others. I said in a talk that I was a “believer, not a knower.” The next fast and testimony meeting, an older kid got up and talked about “some people think they don’t know, but they know.” I couldn’t decide if I was allowed to be annoyed with a kid or if I should direct my irritation at his parents.
Travis: “FAITH IS NOT BELIEF.”
1. complete trust or confidence in someone or something.
2. strong belief in God or in the doctrines of a religion, based on spiritual apprehension rather than proof.
This Mormon trend of pretending that words don’t mean what they mean is really tiresome. “Oh, you don’t understand what WE mean when we say faith. WE mean something totally different (but for some reason we are using the same word that has an actual meaning to millions of people). THEY just don’t get it.” Right, buddy.
Same goes for the McConkie-esque instruction that “knowing” is better than “faith” or “belief.” It’s like saying that overconfidence is better than confidence.
For those who have been “virtue-shamed” by other Church members, when they say that they believe, or they want to believe, or are not completely sure about the “whole Mormon ball of wax.”
It is helpful to remember Dieter Uchtdorf’s GC talk as a member of the FP, in which he explicitly stated that not having a certainty of belief was fine—he said, you are welcome as you are.
I fight back against such virtue-signalers. I say upfront that I have belief, that I am not certain. Then I quote Hebrews (11?) and Alma 32, and state that I am NOT the.brother of Jared, who saw Christ’s finger through the veil.
I sympathize. But to quote a dog-Latin phrase from a 1940s-era humorist, H. Allen Smith: illigitimit non carborundum. Translation would have to pass the censors.
A dear sister in my Ward once declared that people born in the U.S. were more righteous in the pre-existence. Take that, Dieter Uchtdorf and Ulisses Soares.
There is a lot of cultural ignorance and scriptural illiteracy among Church members.
Travis, at first I wanted to argue against what you were saying, but eventually I decided I can’t make enough sense of it to even do that.
I tend to agree with Angela. When most people use the word faith, they are talking about a type of belief. If you want to use the Ancient Greek meaning used in the New Testament you could say so, but I don’t think that is what you were doing.
Wilfred Cantwell Smith, Professor of Comparative Religion at Harvard University wrote a whole book on the topic–“Faith and Belief” (1979, Princeton U. Press). In the book, he exhausts the subject and supports my comments.
You responded by showing me a quick definition–your knowledge base for what “faith” is. I respond by offering a prominent scholar of comparative religion who wrote a book on the subject. So much for the post’s invitation to “discuss.” It would be more honest to say, “only respond if you know the other commenters will give you a thumbs-up.”
The Mormon trend of being unwilling to read beyond what the institution has fed, and then complaining about the taste of what is then being swallowed, is redundant. Faith isn’t belief, most LDS can’t tell the difference, it’s a blindspot that challenges the core of how we approach and posture worship.
Faith is a psychological defense mechanism that accompanied the evolutionary development of consciousness and foreknowledge of the inevitability of one’s death. It doesn’t have a f*****g thing to do with crocs, sweats or, for the love of God, Seven-11’s.
My life has followed a similar trajectory to what Kirkstall described – I was very faithful and enjoyed all the obedience and works and rules for years. But over a period of several years, I gradually let go of my surety to try and make sense of what was actually happening in my life.
Whether you call it a trust crisis or a faith crisis, my path certainly had elements of both and it was very traumatic and painful to let go of the worldview I’d had for so many years. But once I was past the transition, I discovered that life has continued on pretty much as before, but without the guilt and pressure of Mormonism.
Example: I had always paid tithing, and I had many tithing blessings. I could tell tithing stories for two hours without stopping. Wow, such a strong testimony of tithing! Then [events] and I couldn’t stand the thought of paying tithing any longer. However, I was scared to stop paying. I had a job change coming up. I had never in my life gone job searching without tithing backing me up. But I couldn’t deal with tithing anymore. I quit paying tithing and started sending out resumes. I landed a job that included a raise, a MUCH better retirement, and is more interesting than what I had been doing. If I’d still been paying tithing, I would totally have added this job to my list of tithing stories. I probably could have stopped paying tithing years ago and still had the same job history and financial help. So I no longer fear financial trials if I don’t pay tithing.
Another example is my mental health and mood swings. I always used to pray to feel better, and within a few days, my prayer would be answered and I would feel better. Well, when I stopped praying, that pattern continued. I just have mood swings. Prayer doesn’t make them go away any faster than they went away on their own.
The work of faith and obedience added an unnecessary layer of strain onto my life. Letting go of that hurt for a while. Now life is much like it was when I was very faithful, only without the fear of committing sins of omission and losing the guidance of the Holy Ghost. (Another thing that has continued is the flashes of insight about personal issues that I always used to believe were spiritual promptings that came as answers to prayers. I still have them, even without praying and reading scriptures.)
Anyway. I guess that’s my anti-testimony. In hindsight, my faith felt like fear — “If I don’t do these things, my blessings will disappear.” Instead, I still have my blessings without the fear of having them taken away if I don’t do everything right.
Second comment to answer the actual questions posed.
Why do you think faith comes naturally to some and not to others?
I think some people need faith more than others. By that, I mean some people need to believe that there is a power outside themselves that loves them, helps them, and knows them better than they know themselves. Faith can be a safe place for someone who doesn’t otherwise have a safe place. If you feel God’s love while going to church, praying, or working in your calling, then that feedback creates more faith. Having those predictable good feelings is a real stabilizing force for some, and I was in that number for many years. I loved being faithful.
Are there other examples you can think of that create faith or a desire to believe in people who don’t otherwise have it?
If someone’s worldview fails them, I think they would be likely to reach for something new and different. An agnostic who suffers a life crisis may be willing to give faith in God a try to see if life gets better. A serious life change can trigger a need to believe. And contra, a serious life change can lead to a formerly religious person giving up belief. When life changes, your worldview can change, but it can go either direction — towards faith or towards unbelief, just as long as it’s different from where you were.
Do you believe faith requires effort and work to maintain it or is faith a natural state?
If faith and obedience make you feel good, then the effort isn’t hard at all. We’re taught to show faith by certain works (Church attendance, callings, tithing, etc) and if those bring you peace and joy, then it doesn’t feel like an effort. It becomes work when it seems that something besides that faithful activity is going to bring peace and joy. For example, relaxing at home on Sundays becomes more enjoyable than a dull Church service and a tedious calling. Etc.
Do you think Church teachings on this have changed over time or have both types of teaching always existed side by side, depending on who is teaching?
I think the Church more often emphasizes the dangers of not being faithful enough more than it used to. The talks about how you lose your eternal blessings, or lose the guidance of the Holy Ghost, seem to be more common.
Bro Sky (not Bishop Bill).
Travis’s word salad aside, the idea that religious faith is distinct from belief is as old as the hills, at least back to Augustine, and not really a Mormon thing. In fact, I would like to see it more of a Mormon thing. Our overemphasis on literal truth propositions, with resulting widespread loss of belief when they or the vending-machine model of God are found wanting, suggests we as a church might do well to consider the value of adopting a concept of faith having less to do with belief and more with commmitment and love.
Come on, this nugget from JCS is quality: “sweat pants-fueled idleness”! Irony, imagery, it’s all there. I’m starting to wonder whether you might be JCS’ alter-ego, the way you doth protest too much.
When someone rails on what others are “selling” in absolute terms and then writes, “here is a key” to unlocking their “snare,” it’s wise to be very wary.
An acquaintance of mine works in the church history department. When he started, a man pretty high on the department ladder told him not to expect his testimony to grow from his job: it had damaged the testimony of many previous employees. He could expect his testimony would likewise be challenged. He was advised to pray every day, read the scriptures every day, and attend the temple regularly. His faith remains intact.
Re: Travis’ comment. I’m fine to engage in the discussion of what faith is and is not. My objection to his comment was more aligned with Brian’s observation that he was attacking a straw man argument then pitching his own thing. That’s the thing I hear way too much of at Church and in General Conference.
Re: food allergy
OK now you’ve got me wondering. What’s the possibility that I periodically enter a fugue state and become … JCS! Stranger things, I suppose: He DO get severely under my skin! That WrestleMania head injury (folding chair) has perhaps come back to haunt me?
Re: knowing, believing, and certainty.
It has been interesting to follow my own path from not knowing to believing to knowing with certainty to less certainty and such. Setting aside for a moment the personal application, one thing that sometimes stands out to me is how prophets and apostles often speak with certainty and how that sometimes poses a problem for the Church. One minor example was in Apr. conference of 2014, Elder Bednar stated that “we know by revelation” that Apr. 6th is Christ’s birthdate. At the time, Jeff Chadwick at BYU was publishing some stuff that suggested that maybe sometime in winter is more likely than spring, basically suggesting that our claims to “knowing” the birthdate of Christ are suspect.
A more significant example is the now disavowed reasons given for the priesthood and temple ban. As it relates to certainty, I have often observed that those prophets and apostles who started or perpetuated those reasons frequently spoke in terms of knowing and certainty. The disavowal in the Race and the Priesthood essay suggests to me that those prophets and apostles maybe could not (or should not) have been as certain as they believed. I sometimes wonder what the history of the priesthood and temple ban could have been like if those justifications for the ban had been presented and perpetuated with less certainty.
Speaking to the pressure we sometimes feel to be more certain, I sometimes wonder if part of the problem is that we as a Church body (not necessarily the readers of W&T) expect prophets and apostles to speak with certainty and if that pressures the brethren to overstate their knowledge and certainty on various topics.
I recently became aware of Peter Enns book “The Sin of Certainty”. From what I can gather, this isn’t exactly what he is talking about, but sometimes I wonder if we are committing a type of “sin of certainty” when we overstate what we “know” to be God’s truth and will.
@MrShorty, I actually just finished “The Sin of Certainty.” His argument is actually more along @Travis’s lines … that we’ve conflated statements of beliefs *about* God with faith *in* God, which he defines as trust. I agree that this is a more accurate and helpful definition of faith. I also agree that it’s not actually how most Church members think of faith.
That Bednar statement is a real head-scratcher. Why would that be such an important detail that God would reveal it? Why do we think “revelation” is such a bullet-proof source of knowledge *about factual, historical events* as opposed to more of a connection to God. Mormons are so weird.
@Melinda I loved your comment. A scathing but unfortunately true criticism of the Church I heard a while back was that it takes what we already have and sells an inferior version back to us. We already have goodness and divinity within us. The Church wants to tell us that actually it’s the Holy Ghost, which we can only get on their terms through their male priesthood authority and which we can only keep if we follow all their rules. It’s a crazy control mechanism and basically everyone I’ve talked to who has left the Church or stopped following all the rules has confirmed that none of their promptings to be good or feelings of the spirit went away. It also seems so weird to me that we situate all of our influences outside of ourselves. We want to do something bad? That’s Satan! We want to do something good? That’s the Holy Ghost! As if we are empty vessels to be tossed to and fro by external malignant or good forces. Again, Mormons are so weird.
A CES belief system dominated the congregation for decades, so that priesthood was understood in terms of race; it took a consensus of twelve apostles to overturn it, and declare the CES belief system false (June 1978). This CES belief system was supposed doctrine–why?–because we sloppily accepted beliefs to be doctrine.
“Where there is no ordinance, there is no doctrine,” might have helped the congregation reach awareness of the blatant racism or unsound theology we had adopted during those decades. “A shrewd Pharisee will sell us beliefs and call our loyalty to the beliefs “faith.”
The congregation is wise to discern faith from belief.
@travis, I don’t have a great love for CES by any stretch of the imagination but I don’t think this is a problem you can blame on them. This view of faith as belief comes straight from the top. Did the CES write the temple recommend interview questions that require applicants to assent to a set of belief statements to be considered temple worthy? No. Did the CES author the first presidency letters justify the racist temple and priesthood ban? Well I don’t know, but that’s not who signed them.
I will venture into this discussion. I do have belief in many of the church’s truth claims, such as priesthood, ordinances, temples, revealed scripture, tithing, eternal progression. But over the years I have also noticed my certainty in God’ s direct influence in our lives change. I used to have faith in a loving father who gave me the power to move mountains through faith. Now I believe in a God who would look at me and say, “You want me to do what for you? Why would you need mountains to move? What is the point of that?” Added to that, I no longer believe in an omnipotent nor omniscient God. I think God is limited in how much divine interference can occur in our lives and is ruled by the laws of agency. But I do have a strong faith that God knows us individually and can work through promptings and urgings to lead us to better joy and happiness.
So, when the church makes mistakes, I see them as the mistakes of humans that are trying to guide us to a God that cannot effect changes due to limits on divines power. So, I don’t think God makes people straight or gay, God doesn’t give us disabilities, God doesn’t create accidents to help teach us lessons and God doesn’t heal terminal illnesses, God doesn’t physically stop a car from hitting a child or make me turn left instead of right. However, God can speak peace to my soul, prompt me not to walk into the street, or prompt my friend to call me when I am having a bad day. God works less in the physical realm and more in the “whispering” realm. I am much more comfortable with my limited God and an imperfect church than a belief that God is actively directing everything. We, including our leaders, make mistakes and then are prompted to make corrections (PoX) much more than God actually places a roadmap and telling us where to go.
With all that, I do think God directly intervenes only when the risk of truth being taken from the earth is a real threat or if something needs to be restored. So the prophets, old and new, stand out because they have had direct, tangible interventions to save truth or restore it. I think for the last 40 years (since the 1978 revelation) there has been little direct intervention and a lot of institutional missteps. I have hope (faith/belief) due to the division that is happening, that God will intervene in a clear way again soon. But, as the only purveyor of the temple ordinances and eternal progression, I will stick it out and hope the church changes the ways I would like to see it change.
Also, I could be completely wrong in all of this. I guess that is the knowledge death will bring. Unless there is no God, then I guess I may never know.
Part of the problem I see is that the church is based in a conservative part of the most extremely conservative country in the free world. Many americans believe that without religion there is no morality. So these people believe that loosing knowledge/even faith, is loosing morality.
Somehow people who believe religion is the source of morality can allow their morality to believe that trump is moral, and his policies acceptable, by deamonising democrats and their supposed agenda. Their knowledge/faith is transferred to trumps agenda which seems to require undermining faith and trust in the rest of US society. Especially those that have not supported their new prophet. The electoral system, the system addressing the virus, any science, especially climate science. Inequality. You know better than I.
There seem to be many of these people who now believe they are victims of attack by society, and attributing motives to those that expect/mandate their compliance, whether for the common good or not. Their hatred for their elected president is disturbing and unchristlike, but part of their faith. This paranoir will allow much evil to be acceptable in their minds.
I too was compliant with church teachings, though they continued to cause damage to my family. At present the church’s position on gay marriage, and discrimination against women, added to by the number of members who have outsourced their morality to trump, are contributing toa my trust problems.
I see these all these issues as evidence of extreme right wing culture. Where I live our more moderate right of politics accepts ( in fact legalized) gay marriage, abortion up to 22 weeks, and are now working on implimenting equality for women, and assisted dying. They do want to open up after the virus more quickly than the less conservative party, but they do try to follow the science, no denying the virus, or the vaccine.
I read that Martin Luther King 111 is giving a series of speeches at BYU. If he has the delivery of his father they are in for a treat. His ideas of bring unity by ending discrimination might be a problem though. King was the first in a six-part series of forums at BYU on “Creating the Beloved Community.” In his remarks, King not only described what the beloved community should be like but what individuals can do to build it.
“In the beloved community of my father’s dream, poverty, hunger and homelessness will not be tolerated because standards of human decency will not allow it,” King said. “Racism and all forms of bigotry and prejudice will be replaced by an all-inclusive spirit of sisterhood and brotherhood.”
I would like to hear reports on this series of speeches, and how they are recieved. Perhaps he might be invited to speak in general conference, but he would put the others to shame. Imagine the power of the I have a dream speech in conference?
So here’s a thought experiment. Would an LDS leader, whether GA or your local leader, be happier with a person who claimed they were weak in faith, however defined, but consistently attended church, accepted and discharged callings, and paid tithing? Or with a person who loudly trumpeted their faith in God, Joseph Smith, and Pres. Nelson, but did not attend church, did not accept callings, and did not pay tithing?
I think plainly they would be happier with the first person. If a leader had to decide which of the two people was more faithful, they would likely pick the person who did not proclaim or even embody faith but who did all the churchy things. Which, again, shows that the Mormon view of faith has very little to do with faith as a personal trait (all the stuff people have been talking about in the comments). The operational Mormon definition of faith is all about activity and money. It’s about institutional loyalty, not about any belief or dedication or trust in God.
@Dave B, agree, but what if person A was open about his/her lack of faith or objections to certain Church teachings / practices / leaders and spoke about it in Church, social media, etc?
I do think the Church cares that we externally assent to a set of beliefs. I don’t think they care that much if we believe differently as long as we don’t say so and follow the rules. They’ve said as much w/r/t gay marriage – telling us we can believe differently but we better be private about it …
Sometimes I think strong declarations of certainty are just an attempt to try to push others to believe what we believe. The priesthood ban was defended this way because it was being strongly challenged. Currently discrimination against LGBTQ people is defended this way because it is being strongly challenged. It’s a psychological defense mechanism. The phrase “frequently wrong, never in doubt” comes to mind.
When I stopped Mormoning I did a stint with the Presbyterians to get a feel for mainstream Christianity. What became apparent is that one of Mormonism’s main commodities is certainty. It can hold a strong appeal and is hard to walk away from as it leaves one swimming in uncertainty.
Eventually, you get to be a strong swimmer, though.
I think I was taught a prosperity gospel as was mentioned in the post “if you are good and obedient, you’ll get material blessings and riches”. But as I’ve matured I find my relationship with God to be much less transactional. I used to really believe God was involved in all the details of our lives and always intervening as I “obeyed”, and that I missed out on blessings when I didn’t obey. I still believe I owe everything to God, but more in the sense that he created the Earth and all that we have. And I think I get natural consequences from doing good, but it’s not necessarily divine intervention.
I agree a lot with what @Gilgamesh said. I also still believe that God can/does intervene through whisperings/comfort (although I’m not great at receiving it).
I think you can have faith in a lot of things (inside and outside of the gospel), but ultimately faith in the Atonement is what will really count in the end (regardless of your faith in an institution, or prophet, or if God intervenes in your daily life).
Dave B‘s question that poses a Mormon of uncertain belief but orthodox behavior, against one who loudly proclaims belief but does not do much of what is conventionally expected of a Mormon, is a good one. It started me thinking, which can be a dangerous thing.
I hope what I say here will be helpful. I sometimes think that Wheat and Tares does not focus very much on what I am going to say.
I agree that Mormon culture tends to define faith as a series of expected behaviors. But perhaps this is the contrarian in me, or the Protestant Evangelical, who converted to Mormonism as a young man, still speaking in me, when I say that I believe in the love of God first, as manifested by His Son‘s atoning sacrifice. Hopefully my belief in that loving God will inspire me to lead a better life,
but those attempts to lead a better life are not faith.
We sometimes say (even from General Conference pulpit) that the Church is a hospital for sinners, but our culture conflates performative “faith” with true belief. The Book of James rightly warns us against saying that we believe, but then going on our merry wicked way, without behavior congruent with faith. But James is not referring to performative virtue-signaling.
So belief without works is incomplete, but is made complete by the Atonement. But works without a genuine belief will always be lacking. And, finally, true faith is showed best by loving God and our neighbor as ourself, and exercising — you got it —faith, hope, and charity. Charity. Charity!
While I consider myself a pretty orthodox Mormon, many of my Ward members would disagree. But I long ago learned to try to avoid being sucked into the Mormon Culture Briar patch. There is no winning that war. Best left alone:
Belief is hard for some people. I think that this is more a question of personality than anything else, but I am not certain. But this is not the key issue. When Christ asks the father of the epileptic boy plagued by devils, do you believe? Anything is possible to those who believe, the father says, Lord, I believe, help thou my unbelief. The father was saying that his faith was not strong. But That was good enough for Christ, who promptly cast out the devils.
For me, Faith came by giving up, and just letting God take control. Still working at it, with varying levels of success and failure. So faith requires work, but not in the sense of doing things on the Mormon to-do list: I have felt God by me, even when I deal with difficult Church leaders and Church policies I dislike. This is hard for some, but it works for me.
Despite all the Mormon cultural glop that I dislike, and wrong-headed policies, I believe that God is embracing and will embrace all but the most stubbornly prideful and unwilling. Christ has a soft spot for those who do not fit the conventional mold.
Why don’t we all just be wonderful to our neighbors, where ever they might be? The rest of Christianity is BS. We love God by loving our neighbors. Christ was baptized; great. But beyond that, nothing is written in the NT.
I don’t care what the definition of faith is. I don’t know anything for sure. I’m a humanoid. Doubt comes with the earthly experience. If you don’t have doubt, have you truly lived? Mother Teresa lived with doubt, surely I can. The Catholicism Church published her doubt ridden epistles, but the LDS Church isn’t that mature yet. They only publish GA kitsch.
I would hate to be a GA in this day and age, in a world with needs, and try to explain why I did the minimum. If you really have faith, you show it by your actions, not in F&T meeting.
It’s time for LDS leadership (and members) to step up to the plate.
What a great post and interesting discussion! I have nothing to add, but I do want to say that Melinda’s anti-testimony comment is one of my favorite comments I’ve ever read. I love your outline of how it was a change in worldview that just led you to attribute the same types of experiences you were having to new things where before you had attributed them to God.
It really is easy.
A person can do what Alma teaches. They exercise a particle of faith and then signs follow (D&C 63:9 ). This process is repeated and faith grows. When trials come faith is made even stronger for those who keep their covenants.
Melina’s anti-testimony is very sad to me. Based on what she said fear was/is her primary motivation in her dealings with Heavenly Father. Fear is the opposite of faith.
Here are her exact words, “In hindsight, my faith felt like fear — If I don’t do these things, my blessings will disappear.”
That is not the kind of relationship Heavenly Father wants us to have with Him. He is our Father. His work and glory is to bring to pass our immortality and eternal life. Fear is part of our fallen nature and we need to deny ourselves of that mortal defect along with other defects through repentance.
The four sons of Mosiah overcame the defects that kept them from having the Spirit in their lives. How did they do it? Here is the answer from the Book of Mormon.
2 Now these sons of Mosiah…had waxed strong in the knowledge of the truth; for they were men of a sound understanding and they had searched the scriptures diligently, that they might know the word of God.
3 But this is not all; they had given themselves to much prayer, and fasting; therefore they had the spirit of prophecy, and the spirit of revelation, and when they taught, they taught with power and authority of God. Alma 17:2 – 3
Seeing how Melina gave an anti-testimony I will leave my testimony for those who might be interested. I wish everyone the best.
When I was nine years old, my ward leaders told me that after I was baptized I would receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. I believed what they said. My dad was not a member of the church and my mother was inactive, but both of them at the urging of our ward leaders took me to the Salt Lake Tabernacle to be baptized.
There were about 40 people there. We were told to wait until my name was called. As we sat there, someone explained that the ordinance of baptism was sacred. A few minutes later a man entered the font and several young people were baptized, then my turn came.
I didn’t think much about the Gift of the Holy Ghost for several years, until I began to notice a “feeling” that would come to me in my deacon’s class. I don’t remember experiencing it anywhere else. I mentioned this feeling to my friends. I wondered out loud why I would feel so good after listening to a dumb lesson. I noticed that the feeling would leave me only to return again the next week. In retrospect, I believe the sacred feelings I experienced were the result of the prayerful preparation of our teacher.
I gradually lost interest in church, but I felt I was being watched over. I figured it was the same for everyone and didn’t pay much attention to it. That is, until one eventful morning when I was fourteen, as I started waking up, I took a deep breath and exhaled. Then something happened: I couldn’t inhale! I was startled, and instinctively reached for my throat. No matter what I did I couldn’t inhale a breath of air. I ran to the bathroom and looked in the mirror. I couldn’t see anything wrong. My mother saw me and in a voice filled with panic asked me what was wrong. I couldn’t answer her! I ran into the dining room and was feeling pain in my chest for the want of air. My mother was there, but she couldn’t help me. I dropped to my knees in desperation and prayed, immediately I was able to take in a life giving breath of air. It was my first experience of having a prayer answered. I realized someone was there, watching over me.
Young Adult Years
By the time I was sixteen I forgot about my earlier answer to prayer. The power of my fallen nature was in full bloom. I wasn’t very good at keeping the commandments and when I felt an inner voice telling me not do something, I dismissed it saying in my heart, whoever you are, you’re not my friend or else you would have answered my prayers about my mom and dad—so get the hell away from me. I was angry at the Lord because my parents divorced.
Driving aimlessly about town with my buddies, and going to keg parties, became my new religion. I was very active in this lifestyle, and also very empty. I eventually grew tired of my friends and my life style, but couldn’t think of anything else to do.
Rescued by the Lord
As the years went by I became more worldly, but every so often I would focus on my inner voice and wonder if what I had been taught as a youth was true. “What about the Book of Mormon and the Joseph Smith story, I would think what if these things are true?”
After being drafted into the army and facing the possibility of combat in Viet Nam, I thought more and more about what I had learned at church. One day, while in this frame of mind, I decided to read the Book of Mormon. I said to myself, “if it is true then I will change my life. If not, then I will entirely forget about religion.” I offered a prayer, telling Heavenly Father my commitment and inviting Him to bless me to know about the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith. The next night, a few minutes after getting into bed, I received an answer to my prayer. I should say, a partial answer. I was given an experience similar to what Joseph Smith wrote about when he said, “I was seized upon by some power which entirely overcame me, and had such an astonishing influence over me as to bind my tongue so that I could not speak…it seemed to me for a time as if I were doomed to sudden destruction…to the power of some actual being from the unseen world, who had such marvelous power as I had never before felt in any being”(JS-History 1:15-16).
While I was in the grip of this power from the unseen, but now visible world. I realized the incredible hate this evil being had for me as I listened to his vulgar, threatening words. I called upon God to deliver me, and my prayer was immediately answered! I watched as this evil being, defeated by prayer, walked away into the night.
This kind of experience creates an instant testimony. It was a dramatic and powerful occurrence. It left no room for doubt about the presence of God and satan. But this was not a sanctifying experience in the sense of a “mighty change of heart” that would come many years later.
I’m embarrassed to say that even after the Lord provided this life-changing encounter, I returned to my old habits. It took me numerous attempts to break away from the old life style I had been living before I was able to bring some order into my life.
After a few months I decided to attend church. I also commenced to read the Book of Mormon. I started new friendships and put former, less-desirable ones behind me. It took me about three months to complete the Book of Mormon. I loved every minute of it! The Holy Ghost was with me as I read. I wrote down questions and literally hungered for the truths of the gospel. When I completed my study of the Book of Mormon, I didn’t need to ask the Lord if it was true. I knew it was true by the manifestation of the Holy Ghost that I experienced on a daily basis as I read it.
I was very excited about the gospel and the testimony I’d received. I read everything I could get my hands on. I decided that I wanted to tell others about the restoration of the gospel, so I turned in my papers to serve a mission. The Lord drew very near to me at this time. It was as though I were encircled about in the arms of His love.
Before I received my call, the Lord revealed to me where I would serve my mission. This was made known to me by the whisperings of the Spirit. My farewell talk at church was a spiritual treat for me and those in attendance because of the Spirit that was there. (With that Spirit present, I believe I could have recited the A, B, C’s and it would have been edifying.)
In the mission field I encountered trials and difficulties of every kind. The first part of my mission was tough, but I was determined to serve God and I worked very hard in His behalf. I would characterize my mission as being very average. At times I felt very close to the Lord; at other times it was as though I was left to myself. I learned that my ability to teach the gospel effectively, in other words, with the Spirit, was related to the receptiveness of the person my companion and I were teaching.
There was one experience in particular that taught me how the Spirit works with missionaries. We were teaching a man who was in school to become a minister. He was smart, humble, and asked difficult questions. On one occasion while I attempted to answer his questions I found myself listening—listening to myself teach. It was as though there were two minds in one body. As I was teaching him with one mind, the other mind was acting as an interested observer. It was an amazing experience that went on for more than an hour. When we concluded, our investigator was ready for baptism but wanted to talk with his family. The next time we saw him he was hostile and wouldn’t even talk with us other than to say he had lost interest. This was an example of a man who had been enlightened by the Spirit of God, then lost the light by allowing disbelief to take root in his heart and mind because of the persuasion and disbelief of his family (D&C 93:39).
At the end of my mission I felt I had served the Lord diligently. When I arrived home I was tired, but thankful to have my mission behind me. My homecoming talk was a dud. I wondered at the difference; why was my farewell talk so uplifting and my homecoming talk just the opposite? I concluded that the workings of the Spirit are not easily understood, just as described in the scriptures (Ecclesiastes 11:5).
“It is Quite as Necessary for You to be Tried, Even as Abraham and Other Men of God”
I was excited about my future and about my first experience as a college student. I had been dating a wonderful girl for about a year, and we were considering marriage. I was very much in love with her, and I felt certain that she was going to be my wife. On one of those evenings when couples talk freely about their life’s experiences, I shared with her some things about myself when I had been inactive. From that time forward our relationship began to decline. Her upbringing was such that she couldn’t handle a relationship with an Alma the younger kind of guy—a church going Nephi type of guy was a better match for her. I know that now, but I didn’t realize it then, so I pushed on. By the time school started I had a serious case of heartache—extreme heartache. She was seeing another person and told me she loved me, but was also falling in love with him.
When she told me this I was angry, I even raised my fist towards heaven and using profanity swore at Lord for letting this happen. I learned later, He had nothing to do with it. Within hours, I sought forgiveness and divine help!
Remission of Sins by Fire and the Holy Ghost
I approached the Lord in prayer and within a day or two found myself experiencing a dimension of prayer that was new to me. As I poured out my soul to the Lord asking for His help, I told Him that I wanted to keep his commandment regarding marriage, and that I had found the girl I wanted to marry. I explained that we had dated for over a year and that we were temple worthy and pleaded for his help. I made covenants that I would be the best husband and father that I could be. I found myself praying for hours at a time—in fact, I couldn’t stop praying. When I wasn’t on my knees praying, prayer flowed from my heart. I was praying without ceasing. The channels of communication were open, and I knew the Lord was hearing my prayers. I had received a gift from the Lord—the gift of prayer. I lost interest in food and was essentially fasting every day and ate food only to keep my strength up. I began to lose weight. I was showing up for my classes, but I was supplicating the Lord with all my heart, might, mind, strength, and soul.
One day, while praying, a question formed in my mind that I knew came from the Lord—“lovest her more than me?” This question needed to be answered and I responded, “Lord, thou knowest I love thee, bless me to love thee more perfectly.” From this point on my prayers turned to my relationship with the Lord. I explained to the Lord that I was not going to stop praying to Him until I received an answer, and that I would accept His will no matter what it was—and I meant what I said. I thought about all my sins and pled for forgiveness. At this point, a pain entered into my heart that I cannot describe. I’d never felt anything like it before. It was intense heart-pain. Not from the heart that pumps blood, but from the heart that resides at the center of our being—the place where our fondest hopes and dreams emanate. I cried many tears and realized anew my nothingness! I understood more than ever before my unworthiness and I begged the Lord to apply his atoning blood so that I could be made clean. I desired above all things to be free from my sins.
I raised these earnest, heart-felt prayers for about two weeks. One evening as I was preparing for bed, all I could do was kneel by my bed and say a very short prayer; I was physically and spiritually exhausted. I reminded the Lord that I was going to continue to call upon Him until I received an answer. A few minutes after getting into bed in the throes of a gloomy and forlorn mood, I felt something in the room change. As I focused my attention, I realized the Spirit had entered the room and my heart. Joy replaced gloominess and sadness! It was like a refreshing breeze entering into a hot and stuffy room. I knew I was to get out of bed and open my scriptures. The page fell open to D&C 84, and I started to read at verse 44. As I read these words, I knew the Lord was speaking to me, and when I read verse 61, I knew that my sins were forgiven. I raised a silent shout of joy to my Savior!
The following Sunday while at Sacrament meeting, I received another manifestation of the Spirit. While taking the sacrament I experienced the presence of “fire.” I looked around the room to see if anyone else was aware of what I was experiencing. No one was. I wasn’t sure what had happened, but I knew it was from God. I felt peace, love, and joy, and raised my voice in prayer thanking the Lord for his great kindness to me. I felt clean and pure and extremely close to Heavenly Father.
Comforted by the Holy Ghost
My girl friend and I broke up a couple of months after this experience. I cannot describe the pain and unrest I felt, but I had told the Lord His will be done, for as much as I loved her, I loved the Lord more. I prayed that I would be able to stand up under the afflictions that came to me, and I had faith the Lord would continue to be with me in my trials.
For several nights, when my heartache was at its worst, I was visited by the Holy Ghost and learned for myself what the scriptures mean about the Holy Ghost being a “comforter.”
What can I say to you as a reader of my words to convey the least part of what I experienced? Just know that God is love and he desires to heal us from our sins. He wants to give to us the gift of eternal life! When Nephi says, “He hath filled me with his love, even unto the consuming of my flesh,” I can verify his words and bear a similar testimony with my own lips because of the experiences the Lord gave me in the days of my severest trials.
I am so thankful that the Lord extended his love and kindness to me in such marvelous ways. I love the Lord because he loved me first. I can hardly believe that these experiences were given to me; I feel completely unworthy to receive these things. But then again, that’s the point, forgiveness of sins comes through the grace of Jesus Christ.
These experiences changed how I viewed the Book of Mormon. I could now identify with the likes of Enos, the people of king Benjamin, and others who experienced a remission of sins. I knew the Savior of mankind heard my prayers and blessed me with some measure of being born again by fire and the Holy Ghost.
I engaged myself in school and read the Book of Mormon with new eyes and understanding. The Holy Ghost was my constant companion in those days. I felt and comprehended things in ways I never had before. I asked the Lord to bless me to meet people who were like Nephi, and I also prayed to learn to know more about the Lord and His church. My prayers were answered in short order, and I marveled at the variety of people I became acquainted with. I learned things from them about the Lord, His prophets, and His church. They amazed me and also challenged me greatly. I realized for the first time that our church history and doctrine could challenge the strongest church-member’s testimony and even be the root cause for some members to lose their testimonies.
Dealing with the Challenge of Church History and Doctrine
I enjoyed my college experience, but my interest in doctrine and church history eclipsed anything else I was studying. Because of the many Spiritual experiences I had been given, I was insulated from the “fiery darts” of the adversary that came to me as I studied—I could not be moved. I prayed for answers to my new-found questions and the answer was always the same: we live in a fallen world and we’re here to be tried and proven, and there is opposition in all things. Be still and know that I am God.
From those days until the most recent time, the Lord has been near, but not as near as He was for the first few years after my experience with the sacrament. I can relate to what Joseph Smith said after he experienced the First Vision and was born again:
After it was truly manifested unto this first elder that he had received a remission of his sins, he was entangled again in the vanities of the world. D&C 20:5
I can say that a person who has experienced a “mighty change” doesn’t have a disposition to do evil, at least not in the same way as prior to this experience. However, it would be wrong to say that temptations and sin are no longer a factor of life. That just wouldn’t be true. King Benjamin taught his people how to retain a remission of their sins after they were born again and experienced the mighty change (Mosiah 4:26).
In the years and decades that have followed, I have been blessed with many experiences with the things of the spirit. When I have needed help, the Lord has blessed me abundantly. I have been given visions, dreams, and received the ministering of unseen angels in answer to prayer. However, I have had to struggle in the spirit and pay a price for these blessings. There have been many times I have prayed and have been unable to obtain an answer to my prayers. This is frustrating, but who am I to counsel the Lord?
If there is only one thing you remember from this account I hope this will be it: the Savior gave His life for you and He cannot extend the complete gift and benefits of the atonement to you until you offer up a broken heart and contrite spirit (2 Nephi 2:6-8). Based on my personal experiences, I have learned that offering up an acceptable sacrifice is accomplished when you plead with Him for forgiveness of your sins. When you acknowledge your fallen nature and realize your dependence upon Him (Christ) for entrance into God the Father’s presence, then you will be on the high road to fulfilling your baptismal covenant and spiritual potential. My prayer is that this will be your gift from Heaven.