Sunday, July 15, 2012

#70: A simple testimony of two things.

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During the last few years, it has been interesting to see all of the attention that the Church has received due to Proposition 8, the "I'm a Mormon" advertising campaign, The Book of Mormon Musical, and Mitt Romney's U.S. presidential bid. Any time a new article is released about the Church, a major byproduct is the online discussion that follows in the comments section of the article. Filled with both negative and positive comments from opponents, friends, and members of the Church, these comment sections cover every imaginable aspect of our beliefs, history, and religious practices. Occasionally I try to be a part of these online discussions on sites such as reddit.com, The Washington Post, or on LDS-themed blogs (some of my favorites are Jocelyn Christensen's Being LDS and Jeff Lindsay's Mormanity).

Regardless of the actual subject matter of an article, especially on some of the bigger sites, many of the comment sections quickly devolve into arguments over controversial Church topics such as polygamy, perceived errors in the scriptures, or the pre-1978 Priesthood ban for men of African descent. These (and others) topics are not easy to address, and despite thoughtful opinions and well-meaning explanations from members, we don't fully know why these things occurred. Even for a sincere seeker of truth, these kind of issues may cause doubts, weaken testimonies, and lead members and investigators away from the Church.

Personally, I don't know the answers to these questions. For a long time, I wish that I did have the answers. I thought, "Why would the Lord allow these things to distract people from all that is good about the Church? Why didn't He plan ahead of time and tell the prophets to fix these problems before they occurred?" These issues never stopped me from finding comfort and peace in living the gospel, but I'd be lying if I said they didn't bug me or cause me to have doubts at times.

Wouldn't it be easier if these issues weren't there? Sure. Wouldn't it be great if we could all see an angel and handle the golden plates ourselves? Absolutely. Wouldn't it be nice if we could send an e-mail to the Lord requesting an answer to every doubt or confusion? You bet. BUT, despite this, I have learned that these issues don't matter nearly as much as we think they do.

To me, these gospel issues, and any others like them, can be resolved through a personal testimony of two simple things: (1) the reality of the divinity of Jesus Christ and (2) the validity of the restoration of the gospel through Joseph Smith.

Think about it--you can consider these two items in complete black and white. If they are true, then everything else pertaining to them is true. If you can gain a testimony that Jesus Christ really is who He said He was, you have no reason to doubt that He is ultimately in charge and knows all things. He is either the Son of God, like He said, or He is not. There is no middle ground. C.S. Lewis put it this way:

"I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: 'I'm ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don't accept His claim to be God.' That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic -- on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg -- or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to" (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity).
Jesus the Christ by Del Parson
In regard to the restoration of the gospel through Joseph Smith, you can take a similar stance. Either he actually saw Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ in 1820, or he didn't. If he did, then Heavenly Father meant for him to be the prophet and we need to accept everything that came afterwards. If he didn't, then everything else he said and did is a fraud. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said it like this:

Either Joseph Smith was the prophet he said he was, a prophet who, after seeing the Father and the Son, later beheld the angel Moroni, repeatedly heard counsel from Moroni's lips, and eventually received at his hands a set of ancient gold plates that he then translated by the gift and power of God, or else he did not. And if he did not, he would not be entitled to the reputation of New England folk hero or well-meaning young man or writer of remarkable fiction. No, nor would he be entitled to be considered a great teacher, a quintessential American religious leader, or the creator of great devotional literature. If he had lied about the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, he would certainly be none of these” (Jeffrey R. Holland, Christ and the New Covenant).
The First Vision by Gary Kapp
These stark, clear contrasts really makes sense to me. And due to experiences I have had in my life, I indeed do have a testimony that both Jesus Christ is the Son of God and that Joseph Smith restored Christ's church. If you sincerely pray about these things and try to live the principles related to them, you can know they are true too. And once you know that, no other question or gospel concern can dissuade you otherwise. It's as simple as that.


4 comments:

  1. Steve, great post. I've heard these things before. And I agree with you, that if you've felt the spirit on these two issues then you have all the answers you need about how you should live your life.

    Now for seekers of truth this is frustrating to not have all the answers here. Were some of these disturbing things a means to an end that we will understand better when they can be explained to us in the afterlife? Maybe. As one bishop suggested to me, these early prophets were mortal men just trying to figure things out, there were bound to be missteps along the way.

    But one interesting question you raise here is why...why would the Lord allow such big issues that are a distraction or a source of doubt? Why not clarify through current prophets and address these issues so they fail to be a distraction? Or more fully, why does the Lord allow doubt to be a part of our lives more generally? I found this BYU devotional on the subject to be life-changing, particularly the end: http://speeches.byu.edu/?act=viewitem&id=1508

    One of my favorite quotes from it is this "One is, it would seem, always provided with sufficient materials out of which to fashion a life of credible conviction or dismissive denial. We are acted upon, in other words, by appeals to our personal values, our yearnings, our fears, our appetites, and our egos. What we choose to embrace, to be responsive to, is the purest reflection of who we are and what we love. That is why faith, the choice to believe, is, in the final analysis, an action that is positively laden with moral significance."

    So these sources of doubt serve a purpose. Serve the purpose of the opposition in all things. It was never intended that belief in the gospel would be easy or that the facts would all line up so perfectly that no one could deny it. The fact that doubt is present and we must choose faith is part of the whole point.

    Anyway read it. Love it.

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  2. Anna Banana, thanks for your comment! I am very excited to listen to the talk. I have never considered doubt as a means to an end, only as a stumbling block. Also, I reposted my blog post over on reddit.com/r/lds and I thought you would like one of the comments from CaptainMoroni: "The blog post was very nice, but I found Anna's comment at the bottom to be simply awesome. I've though the same things a lot, but never before been able to articulate it. Thanks for bringing that talk to my attention, random internet Anna person!"

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  3. Hey Steve, appreciated your thoughts. It reminded me of one of my favorite talks by Bruce R. McConkie:

    "The time is long past for quibbling about words and for hurling unsavory epithets against the Latter-day Saints. These are deep and solemn and ponderous matters. We need not think we can trifle with sacred things and escape the wrath of a just God.

    "Either the Book of Mormon is true, or it is false; either it came from God, or it was spawned in the infernal realms. It declares plainly that all men must accept it as pure scripture or they will lose their souls. It is not and cannot be simply another treatise on religion; it either came from heaven or from hell. And it is time for all those who seek salvation to find out for themselves whether it is of the Lord or of Lucifer."

    http://www.lds.org/ensign/1983/11/what-think-ye-of-the-book-of-mormon

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  4. To kind of go off what the second paragraph of Chris' quote said: "Either the Book of Mormon is true, or it is false; either it came from God, or it was spawned in the infernal realms." How can you prove that it came from God?
    You made a good point in your post about Joseph Smith. But that also happens to be the case of Buddha, Laozi, Muhammad, etc. They have followers around the world, and are considered great teachers, just as Joseph Smith is. But how can you differentiate him from the others? How do you know he is the real prophet?

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