Alogical Path of Testimony

Sometimes the process of coming to believe is talked about as though it were simply a logical argument involving deductions from one initial conclusion, typically relating to the restoration. If I believe the Book of Mormon is truly the word of God then I must also believe Joseph Smith was a prophet, and similar conclusions must also be drawn about other elements of church doctrine. I’ve heard similar things regarding beliefs about the Savior – He can’t just have been a really good moral teacher so you must believe that either He was a crazy person spouting crazy ideas about being the son of God, or that He really IS the son of God, that He is our Savior, that He performed miracles, etc.

I’m not denying the logic of those chains of thought but, at least for me, a belief in the Book of Mormon didn’t come as one of the first tenets of my testimony, nor did that belief, when I did come to it, somehow automatically set off a chain of belief in the rest of church doctrine. And certainly, for me, holding the belief that Christ was not a crazy person did not lead to my testimony of the Atonement.

The other day a friend asked me why missionaries don’t talk about Joseph Smith all that much when they talk about why they’re choosing to serve and what message they want to share. Her thought, based on her previous experience with the church, was that Joseph Smith is key, due to something like the logical testimony chain described above. Belief in the church (any and all of it) starts and ends with a belief in Joseph Smith and his role as a prophet, a restorer of truth, and maybe even a near-perfect man. Probably for her, and for many people, it’s hard to get past some of the less positive aspects of the Joseph Smith story, and church history in general. Without the story of the founder being everything one might hope, how can anything that has followed since be believed?

There are most certainly negative and disappointing stories to be found about early church leaders, and even more current leaders or other elements of the church.  I’ve not spent any time researching any of the baggage that is to be found and even my familiarity with some of the more commonly discussed incidents is very limited. My friend referenced a quote along the lines of, ‘Faith is easiest in the dark,’ her take on it being primarily that faith is much easier when you can’t really see, and my guess is she thinks that I’m just not seeing a lot of things that might dampen my faith.

But I’m not sure what the goal of that pursuit might be. For me it doesn’t feel like it would be about the pursuit of truth, not because I think all the anti-church literature is full of made-up stories and lies, but because I already believe that these things exist. I know there are facts and stories out there that would be faith-shaking (though not necessarily faith-eliminating). LIke most people I struggle with many, many things I am already aware of that I don’t understand, and I’ll continue to struggle to try to figure these things out. But I’m fairly certain I won’t understand everything about which I wonder or have doubts. Life has and will provide me with lots of those so when it comes to the things I’ll spend my time seeking, I’d rather look for things that will be faith-promoting and uplifting.

And thankfully there are things about which I don’t have doubts. I believe my testimony is founded upon the only sure foundation. I explained to my friend that I didn’t think Joseph Smith was the lead message for most missionaries because he isn’t the core of the gospel, and he certainly isn’t the core of my beliefs.

I like the way Paul said it when he wrote to the Corinthians, having heard that they were focusing their faith on him or on other teachers and messengers:

Was Paul crucified for you? Or were ye baptized in the name of Paul? Who then is Paul but a minister by whom ye believed? For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.

I believe Joseph Smith was a prophet and an instrument in God’s hands in restoring truth that had been lost and spreading that truth across the earth, but my testimony did not start and does not end with him. My testimony of the gospel did not follow logically from the Joseph Smith story – rather it has come line upon line, in a somewhat unpredictable order, based on my own experience with the principles of the gospel as I’ve come unto Christ. He is the foundation of my beliefs. The change and hope I’ve found, really all the things worth having, are of Him and through Him

It Is Wonderful

In the wake of my announcing my decision to go on a mission I have received an overwhelming outpouring of love, support and general good wishes. It’s been really lovely to feel such a sense of caring from surprising and unexpected sources.

And as I’ve been feeling all this love I’ve been thinking about how it’s all really just an approximation of the love of the Savior. Unfortunately it is all too easy to forget the mercy, love and devotion of the Savior. But I’m trying to remember the greater love which no man hath than this – that He should care for me enough to die for me! 

I stand all amazed and confused and I marvel and tremble that He died for me, such as I am. Not just an earnest though imperfect soul, but one so rebellious and proud as mine. He has extended his great love unto me…sufficient to redeem, to justify, and to own my salvation, and as such He owns my loyalty, my will and my heart in the best possible way.

Thy hope, thy confidence let nothing shake

Today I am thinking about fear – for a variety of reasons, some rational and some not, I feel a little like the kid trying to learn to ride a bike without training wheels but keeps getting derailed by looking back to make sure the dad is still holding onto the bike. There is that old saying about faith being the opposite of fear, the two not being able to coexist, and I’m finding that it truly is difficult to maintain a sense of faith when fear is on the brain.

Faith is a little bit new for me still but I’m an old hat with fear. I understand fear, I know what things to be afraid of so I get into panic mode sometimes when I feel like I’m having a down day – down days can quickly spiral into down weeks or months. Or I get a little freaked out when I’m feeling spiritually detached – that can become a years-long drought. For whatever reason, those fears have just been more prominent in my mind and heart of late.

However, I’m grateful that despite the prominence of the fear, I’m not forgetting the rewards I’ve experienced as a result of faith. They are just as real, even if sometimes they seem harder to justify or explain, easier to rationalize, or maybe just harder to remember. Negative experiences tend to maintain a greater degree of vivacity in my memory than do the positive ones, my Sadness brain operator is maybe a little more strong-willed than Joy (Inside Out reference) – one reason I’m trying to record what I think/feel/believe more regularly.

Ultimately I do believe the Lord is on my side. I know He won’t always be holding on to my bike but that it’s important not to panic. I haven’t been in some kind of faith bubble that might burst at any moment. He hasn’t gone anywhere and isn’t going anywhere – He will not leave me or forsake me.

Feelin’ the Love

Lately as I have been driving to work in the morning I’ve have had unexpected and lovely surges of positivity, and these surges will recur throughout the day. I have come to describe these surges as “feelin’ the love”. Sometimes it almost seems like a drug-induced trance, “Sure, cut me off on the freeway little blond girl, I’m feelin’ the love.” Or “Hey creepy Tinder guy, you’re inherently valuable as a human being, and it won’t be me, but you’ll find someone.” But mostly I feel incredibly loved myself, I feel incredibly grateful for everything that I have, and for all the people I know – friends, family and others, I realize how much I love those people, and I want to share that love in some fashion.

In my mind I relate these “feelin’ the love” moments to charity, traditionally defined as the pure love of Christ, though the use of the word “of” leaves that definition open to three possible interpretations:

1) The pure love of Christ for us, as demonstrated throughout His life and ultimately through the Atonement. Greater love hath no man than this...

2) Our pure love of Christ. We are told that developing this love is the first great commandment, and that we should always have this love in our hearts. This love dispels contention, causes us to hate evil, motivates us to keep the commandments and walk in his ways. Untold blessings are promised to them that love Him.

3) The pure love of Christ for others, extended through and emulated by us. We are essentially delivery mechanisms for this love as we try to instil our own approximation of that pure love for those around us. We are asked to follow Christ’s example, to walk the path that He has shown and go about doing good: to love our neighbors and our enemiesto be patient and kind to visit the afflicted and succor those in need

I am grateful that I am feeling the soul-warming love of Christ (in each of its forms) all around me with more and more frequency.

For the Least and the Greatest

I’ve been listening to A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief and appreciating how it is packed with great principles centered around the Savior – healing of wounds, selfless sacrifice, the Atonement, bread of life/living waters, a life of service, etc. But today I specifically read the scriptures referenced at the bottom of the hymn – Mosiah 2:17 and Matthew 25:31-40. I’m sure you can recite the verse in Mosiah, but maybe (like me) you aren’t as familiar with Matthew 25.

This specific section of verses is where the Savior gives the parable of the sheep and the goats. The message is much the same as in Mosiah, but as I was reading it today I had a light bulb moment. When I’d thought of serving man as the same as serving God, I think I thought of it mostly in terms of equality and value in all people. Or maybe as instruction that we get just as much credit for helping those around us as we’d get if the Savior stood in front of us needing our help. And that’s a great principle. We should be willing and quick to help anyone, and not be respecters of persons.

But today I read it in a different way. The Savior tells the sheep that they are blessed because they visited, fed, clothed, and took Him in – they are confused and He responds that when they did any of that for anyone, they did it to/for Him. Today the thought came to me that Christ literally meant they provided that comfort and aid for Him when they were serving others. We read that the Savior has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows so, when we help alleviate the suffering of others, we literally alleviate or prevent some of those griefs and sorrows. His load is the sum of all the loads felt by all the people who ever lived on earth, and we can reduce that load through our love and service. I love the directness of this! I’ve always believed in the value of service, and somewhat connected it to serving God in that any good we do pleases God. But I love the idea that we can literally lift some small, small part of Christ’s burden, literally serve Him and serve God by helping our fellow men.

As a side note, something I’m less excited about but which still struck me today was the end of Matthew 25. The Savior turns to address the goats and condemns them, but not for the sins you typically see associated with condemnation in the scriptures. They are condemned for not visiting the sick, not feeding the hungry, etc. And then he says, “Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.” I think it’s interesting that we don’t hear this verse much in comparison to the one given to the sheep. Possibly because this one sets a much higher standard. Sins of omission are so much subtler and harder to catch than those of commission. We always have excuses for sins of omission – I don’t have time to visit that person, or that person doesn’t really need or want my help.

And as evidenced by the goats in the parables, not helping others is sinful and it’s almost doubly bad because not only do we not alleviate some of Christ’s burden, we add our own need for forgiveness and increase the volume of pain Christ experienced through the Atonement.

Anyway, that might be kind of a downer way to end. I’m focusing on the sheep – I believe in the power of service!