I've had some things on my mind about my faith and I just wanted to talk (write) out loud about them.
When I was online searching for photographs of President Hinckley a couple days ago, I stumbled upon many offensive things about the church and other blogs discussing people's waning testimonies amidst questions about prophets and other doctrines in the church. One blog caught my interest because it talked about controvercial things in church history and how that affected people's testimony.
Why is it that people think prophets have to be perfect to be true prophets? If I recall my Sunday School lessons correctly, Jesus Christ was the only perfect person who ever walked this earth. Many people have difficulty accepting that Joseph Smith was called of God, that he saw God and Jesus Christ, that he was called to restore Christ's church to the earth as it existed in ancient times. They site mistakes that Joseph made in his life and say, "well, he couldn't have been a prophet if he did such and such..."
Dan and I had an interesting discussion a couple weeks ago about Joseph Smith. If you're God, and you have to choose a mortal to be strong enough and bold enough to restore your full gospel, what kind of person are you going to choose? Someone who's the sit-in-the-back-quietly kind of person, or a 13-year-old kid who's got the guts to question preachers 3 times his age? Do you choose someone who is meek and quiet, or someone who is bold, outspoken, and has the charisma to inspire courage and faith in tens of thousands of people? If you plan to send out missionaries to preach about the restoration of your gospel, expecting them to leave in the dead of winter with a sick wife, a bunch of little kids and no food on the table, who are you going to send to call that man on a mission? Someone with a commanding character. Someone strong.
Joseph Smith wasn't perfect. He pissed a lot of people off. But that does not mean he wasn't called of God. He had a monumental task to complete. He did the best he could with the kind of personality he had. I think one problem is that many members of the church have been raised to view Joseph Smith as an uneducated country boy that was merely a pawn in the Lord's hand, when really he had an amazing intellect and was a very powerful person. These are not bad character traits. Joseph withstood incredible adversity, yet he remained true to the God that required it all of him. Who would want to practice polygamy if asked? I wouldn't. And he didn't want to either, but he obeyed. None of the apostles wanted to practice polygamy when it was introduced, and none of them ever really understood why the Lord required it of them. But they did it anyway and tried to handle the difficult lifestyle with as much grace and dignity as they could.
I read a very interesting book a few months back, Saints by Orson Scott Card. It's a historical novel (fiction, people!) about a woman who joined the church in England and left her family to follow the Saints to America. While I don't agree with the main premise of the book, that God called the heroine to leave her children to follow the Saints (God would never call a mother to abandon her children), it was a very interesting look into polygamy and the personalities of the early church leaders. It was a refreshing perspective; the early church leaders weren't all quiet and pious. They were men of humor, they were feisty, and they were loyal to God and to his prophet Joseph Smith.
I grew up in the church, went to Seminary (a scripture study class for teenagers) and pretty much believed everything that was taught to me. Things were very cut and dried in my eyes and it seemed very easy to distinguish truth from falsehoods. As I got older and faced more experiences in my life, accepting things on blind faith became harder. And in some ways, after marrying Dan and learning more about his conversion and his mission, I started to feel like it was somehow inferior or taking the easy way out to just accept everything without a lot of struggle. But my patriarchal blessing tells me that gospel principles will be easy for me to embrace.
I did go through a period of struggle, a trial of my faith, when Lily was a baby. My brother and his wife had a stillborn baby just a few months after Lily was born and that really shook me. I questioned to what degree God was involved in our lives. Here's something from my journal:
I get so irritated when people tell stories in testimony meeting like how their dog was missing so they fasted and he came back. Now why would God answer that prayer, but not answer the prayers of a couple asking him to protect their full-term baby? For awhile I wasn't sure if my prayers, especially the ones concerning the safety of my family, even made a difference. But I figured they couldn't hurt. But then I started thinking that maybe I am praying for the wrong things. Maybe instead of asking God to protect my family from harm I should be asking him to give me faith and strength to face whatever trials come to us...I was praying a couple of nights ago and I just have the feeling that I have to grasp on to the parts of the gospel that make sense to me and just have faith that understanding of the other things will come with time. I remember that when I was a teenager embracing the gospel seemed so simple and uncomplicated. I just simply accepted everything and believed in the feel-good sunday school answers to all of life's questions. But the concerns of an adult, a parent, are different and I realize that life is not so black and white.
I finally found peace through an experience with the healing power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. After many years, I was able to forgive and feel genuine love and compassion for someone close to me. That power, given by Jesus Christ, was so strong, that for the rest of my life I will always draw upon that experience to know wherein my faith lies. I still don't understand how God works; who does? But you know what? It's OK because I know the Atonement is real and all the other things are not essential to understand. It's one of the things I look forward to about dying- having all those questions answered!
I guess my point is that if you're waiting to have a perfect understanding, then you've missed the whole point of what faith is. Not all of your questions are going to be answered to your satisfaction. Not everything will make sense. But when did God ever promise that? Yes, He said Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. But there is no promise of perfect knowledge. There is only the promise that God will give you what you need, nothing more, nothing less.
I was telling Dan about this post and his comment was, "Just make your choice. Are you going to be in the church or not? And if you are, stop constantly revisiting that decision. Most of the things people get hung up on are just extraneous and they don't matter." Dan is very big on committment. He'll be the first to tell you that he hates going to Elder's Quorum meeting. It drives him crazy to listen to all the platitudes. He dreads testimony meeting. But that does not mean that he has a weak testimony or that he's not committed to being the kind of person that Jesus Christ wants him to be. It's something about Dan that has taken me a long time to understand. He is not driven by outward displays of faith. He doesn't feel compelled to go through the motions to prove to everyone else that he has a testimony. He simply lives the basic principles of the gospel: work hard, help people out, and love your family.
We had an interesting discussion a couple of years ago about the Word of Wisdom. Yes, studies have shown that following the Word of Wisdom gives you better health and generally lets you live longer. So it makes sense why God would give it to us. But is this the only reason He prescribed this health code? There are equally as many studies out there that say drinking a glass of wine a day is good for you or other things like that. What if God just gave us the Word of Wisdom as a code to follow to show that we are committed to Him? Thinking back to the Israelites, they had very specific foods they could eat, very specific ways they were supposed to worship, etc. Orthodox Jews don't eat pork. Is this because pork is bad for you? I would say no, rather, it is an outward sign of their obedience to God's laws. Dan joined the church when he was 19. He drank coffee before that. He told me, "I just can't understand people who have such a problem with the Word of Wisdom. When I joined the church, I committed to follow it and I have never looked back. I don't miss drinking coffee; I chose to give it up and I don't have to constantly revisit that decision." This really got me thinking. Perhaps it's not so critical what specific things are in the Word of Wisdom, but rather how committed we are to following them. That is more of what God is interested in.
While I'm on the topic of my smart husband and interesting gospel discussions, a week or two ago I was reading in 3 Nephi in the Book of Mormon and there was a verse about how the converted Lamanites joined with the Nephites and they "became pure" so that even their physical traits changed. I asked Dan, scientifically, what this meant. What were the genetics or scientific implications of this statement. It started a long discussion about scientific evidence supporting or negating the truth of the Book of Mormon. Several, so many as to virtually eliminate doubt, DNA studies have been done with the American Indians to find their genetic origin and it has been proven that the ancestors of today's Native Americans came from Siberia. But the Book of Mormon says that Lehi and his family came from Jerusalem. So if the Book of Mormon is true, then Native Americans should have Jewish or Middle Eastern DNA. I asked Dan how he reconciled the two. I loved his answer. He said, "Look, we have no idea what other civilizations lived on the American continents that were completely separate from the Nephites and Lamanites. And while the Nephites generally did not intermarry so they kept their bloodline pure (Jewish), the Lamanites never lived by this standard. Who knows how much intermarrying among unknown peoples went on." So just because science contradicts a mainstream LDS notion (that today's Native Americans decended from the Jews since Lehi in the Book of Mormon came from Jerusalem) it doesn't have to crush your faith. The two can coexist and contradict each other, and yet, truth is still truth. It's just not all revealed. For instance, I believe that God and Jesus Christ created the earth, but that doesn't mean I can't accept evolution and natural selection. Who are we to say we know for sure the method that God used to create the earth? Who knows how long those seven creative periods were and what happened during them?
I found a video clip in which M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles addresses the question Is There Scientific Proof Authenticating the Book of Mormon? It is a MUST see. Click here to view.
Well, I have certainly said a lot. Some food for thought. I'm interested to hear what you think on these subjects or other random musings about religion or faith.