Faith (part 2)

Five Questions to Ponder about Religion

My books are meant to be entertaining, enlightening, and enjoyable. I write what I like to read, and I do like to read books that increase faith, that cheer on a hero, and also books that make me think. C.S. Lewis is a hero of mine. When you read an author’s work, you get a little peek inside their brain and how they think. As Aristotle once wrote: “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”

aristotle

There may be some thoughts or ideas I’ll express here that don’t align with what you currently believe. That’s okay. I think Aristotle had it right. And if anything I write helps you feel more tolerant to a member of a different religion, because you understand it a little better, then I’m not wasting words on my blog. Most of the really nasty reviews of my books come from people who hate the LDS church, people of faith in general, and deplore anyone who believes in a power greater than self (including but not limited to the Force, the Medium, the Fountain or whatever you want to call a magical system that has a ‘will’).

This essay isn’t really for those type of people who probably wouldn’t read this anyway. It’s helpful, when trying to help someone else understand you, to identify some of the core assumptions that person has. You can agree to disagree, but at least we have to start somewhere.

 

Core Assumption

Since Atheism is a growing trend in the world right now, let me say something at the beginning to those who do not really believe there is a God at all, let alone that Jesus Christ is literally the Son of God and not just a teacher or moral philosopher. Some believe that to declare faith in something you cannot see or prove is an admission of weakness and self-deception. That’s far from the truth. It takes incredible moral and mental strength to try and live like a good person in this world. It takes more strength to climb a mountain that to sled down one. Faith takes work and effort. It’s not easy or convenient.

Some non-believers think that if you have faith, you have no free will. Quite the opposite is true. There isn’t a little voice whispering in my ear about every choice I need to make. God has given everyone the ability to chose their own actions (called moral agency) and I do not suspend this gift and follow things blindly. I’m no puppet. I’ve chosen to follow a series of commandments that have made me happier. I’ve tried things the other way at times and ended up always feeling horrible and depressed. So, being good feels better in the long run. It’s work, yes, but it’s enjoyable. You begin to see, over time, the cause and effect of how the universe works. If every person who stole something was caught immediately after the crime, there would never be crime. If someone was rewarded for every good act, every time, there wouldn’t be evil. I call it the principle of delayed consequences. Drive a car too fast, too often and you’ll see the consequence eventually.

God is not a brain-washer that wants everyone to act exactly the same way like a bunch of hypnotized zombies. He’s more like a coach or a teacher who influences and persuades us to choose to do good, even when it is hard or the situation appears to be morally ambiguous. Most of the time, it’s not morally ambiguous. It’s that doing the right thing isn’t easy and may lead to embarrassment or teasing. Those are feelings none of us enjoy experiencing. I cannot prove to you that God exists. But God has proven to me that he does exist. I have received many, many, many answers to my prayers. I have witnessed answers being given to others as well. I cannot prove this to anyone else’s satisfaction. But I’m satisfied with the results. I’ve seen even the fiercest doubters receive their own personal witnesses. So, I begin with the assumption that God is real. As Ezra Taft Benson (former Secretary of Agriculture and former President of my church) once said: “Nothing is going to startle us more when we pass through the veil to the other side than to realize how well we know our Father and how familiar his face is to us.”

If you don’t believe in God, there is only one way to be truly convinced. You have to pray to him. This takes time, effort, and sincerity. It takes consistency. You can’t quit after a few attempts. Keep at it. God has promised he will answer our heart-felt, sincere prayers (James 1:5). Getting our heart prepared to receive an answer takes some work. We can’t fake it. It sometimes happens during moments of intense personal pain before we are humble enough and sincere enough. Pain is not required. Only effort.

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So the first assumption is laid out. There is either a God or there isn’t. To move past this, you have to establish for yourself whether that is true or not. Don’t dismiss out of hand that He’s not real because of historical events or faulty assumptions (if God loves us, why do bad things happen to people?).

 

Five Questions to Make You Think

Now, there are five questions that I’d like to use to persuade you that not only is God real but that He didn’t establish a zillion different churches on the earth. Some Confusing people isn’t on the agenda. People believe that many roads lead to heaven. I agree with that because there is more than one heaven. There are different orders of kingdoms based on your relative willingness to comply with God’s laws. For example, in order to graduate from school, you needed to pass enough classes for credit, right? You can pass a class with a ‘C’ grade and still graduate. But you won’t typically end up working for a company that requires an ‘A’ average to get in. The afterlife isn’t a pass/fail exam. There are different grades depending on the kind of student you were here in this life.

So believe, for a moment, that God is real and that he is truly our Heavenly Father and that he loves every single one of us and that he wants as many of us, his children (Acts 17:24-31), to return and live with him for all eternity. If that is his goal, to get as many of us as possible back to live with him, he would need a pretty extensive plan to make it happen. It would need to be global as well and multi-dimensional (valid throughout time). Well, he does have a plan and there is evidence of it.  

1. Why would a car dealership give you access to the secrets of its sales tactics?

Of course they would not. If you knew the inner workings of a dealership (or just about any business) it would minimize how much profit it could get out of you if they disclosed the various tactics they use to win your business. God does not work like a car dealership. He makes the training manual for his recruiters open to everyone to see. The LDS Church has over 70,000 full-time missionaries serving globally right now. Do you want to see the training materials the missionaries study and use? It’s on-line for anyone to read and it’s a manual called Preach My Gospel:

http://www.lds.org/manual/preach-my-gospel-a-guide-to-missionary-service?lang=eng

It’s not restricted to anyone. This is the main training material that missionaries receive. They are encouraged to start reading it as teenagers to begin to understand God’s plan and how to effectively teach it to others. What’s impressive to me about Preach My Gospel is that it teaches a missionary not only the doctrine of the church but also how someone can learn to pray and receive an answer to prayers. It’s so simple even children can understand the principles. Again, what business or corporation discloses its marketing plans or internal training documents to the world? God doesn’t try to trick anyone into joining his church. In fact, you can’t just show up to one of our buildings and ask to be baptized and just join. You have to be taught first, from Preach My Gospel, and commit to live the standards. You have to profess a testimony first. Converts join the church one at a time, person by person. God doesn’t care about statistics. He cares about you, and he wants you to know that there is one church which he calls his own. One Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all (Ephesians 4:5-6).

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2.      If God is real and has a church, wouldn’t he give us evidence? Faith is good and all, but shouldn’t there be something you can feel, touch, or see too?

The answer to this question is yes, of course. There must be evidence. There is quite a lot of it, actually, but there is one specific thing I will point to that stands above all the others, and it is something you can feel, touch, and see. To prove that he is real and that he has established a specific church on the earth, God gave us the Book of Mormon—and I don’t mean the Broadway musical. The Bible isn’t sufficient evidence. Why not? Well, look how many different churches are built around that one book. They all claim it as scripture. So do we, for it is scripture. But because it is interpreted so many different ways, it’s not enough to be convincing by itself. Because God knew that we would crave tangible evidence, He prepared the Book of Mormon to be revealed to the world through a prophet named Joseph Smith. The Book of Mormon is a book of scripture, like the Bible, except it explains Gods dealings to the people on the American continent during ancient times. It was written by prophets who lived thousands of years ago and was finally compiled by a prophet named Mormon and his son Moroni. Their record was buried around 400AD. An angel led Joseph Smith to the spot where it was hidden away and he translated the record and published it in upstate New York in the early 1800s. It is evidence that you can feel, touch, and see.

The Book of Mormon is just over 500 pages long. It can take up to 6 months to read it, depending on how fast you read. It was translated by Joseph Smith, who lacked a formal education, and that translation process took only 65 days. I’m a writer and not even I can write that fast or write something so persuasive that millions of people would accept it as truth and not fiction. Sometimes people get a spiritual witness that it’s true reading just a portion of the book. For most people though, the witness comes after evaluating the entire Book of Mormon and praying about it. Think about it. It’s a serious time commitment to read it. It’s not quick like a commercial or a Youtube clip. You have to invest enough effort in order to receive a witness that it’s true. This is the evidence God provided so that you could know for yourself that he is real and that he does have a plan and that he does have a church. Joseph Smith once said the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion, and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book. You can read it for free in just about any language: http://mormon.org/free-book-of-mormon

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3.      If God really did establish a Church, how come it’s not news on CNN?

What a great question. God does not limit himself to only sharing his plan through cable television or the internet. There are billions of people on this planet who speak many languages. If you were God, and you wanted everyone to hear the message, how would you spread the word? No television show has that kind of coverage. No news station does either. Not everyone has an e-mail or even a cell phone or subscribe to the same newspaper. In fact, you would have to communicate the plan in every language on earth. The best way to do this would be for God to send someone, an emissary, to visit you personally, express his love for you, and to explain his plan in your native language.

That’s why over 70,000 missionaries are serving at their own expense traveling around the world and knocking on every door that they can and offer the message in the language of that community. And yes, missionaries also share it on Facebook. If you were running a corporation, could you afford to hire a sales force this size that works around the clock for free? Nope. I don’t know any company that could pull that off. The leaders of the Church, the tens of thousands of local ones, aren’t paid either by the way. I know this because I used to be one. The relatively few leaders who are chosen and asked to give up their personal careers to run the global church are paid a stipend from church owned businesses, not from the tithes.

Let me try to help you understand the vast complexity of running a worldwide church in every language by sharing one simple example. Every six months, the members of the LDS Church attend General Conference, where the leaders of the church speak to all the members worldwide. It is broadcast and translated simultaneously into a complex variety of languages, ninety-three in all for each conference.

4.      If the “true church” was organized in 1830, what about the billions of people who have never had a chance to learn about it?

I’ve heard an argument over the years that there can’t possibly be one true church. They say it wouldn’t be fair if God made only one road but restricted access to that road to people who lived in modern times only and neglected countries and civilizations across the ages that never had the chance to learn it. I think those feelings come from a genuine sense of fairness. If God is good and just, wouldn’t his plan try to include as many of us as possible? Well, it does.

When we die, we go to a place prior to the final judgment. This final judgment is when we get our “grade,” so to speak. If we never had an opportunity to learn the truth about the plan, then we are given an opportunity to learn it in that place, which is called the spirit world. Even though our bodies lie in the grave, our spirits do not perish. Our spirit is what makes each of us unique. Just as there are missionaries here that teach people the plan, there are missionaries also teaching this plan in the spirit world and the Savior, Jesus Christ, instituted that missionary work after his death and before his resurrection.

In order to receive the crucial ordinances of salvation (including baptism) a way needed to be prepared so that every person could have the chance to accept the truth, even if they accepted it after they died because they never had a chance to here. That is why the true church is not just sending missionaries around the world, but why each member is encouraged to do family history work, identify the names of ancestors, and take those names to a temple where baptisms and other ordinances of salvation are performed on their behalf. This isn’t about second chances. It’s about giving someone a first chance who didn’t get their chance before.

These temples run five days a week, from early in the morning until late at night, staffed by even more volunteers who dedicate years of their lives giving up a day or two a week to go serve and help families do this work for the dead. We are the only church, to my knowledge, that not only is trying to convert every person currently on the earth, but is also doing religious ordinances (like baptism) for ancestors too. I’ve participated in these ordinances myself and it’s always a highlight for me each time. There is a wonderful spirit present always. If someone in the spirit world does not want to accept the work that is done for them, they can reject it. As St Augustine wisely observed: “He who created us without our help will not save us without our consent.”

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(LDS temple in Oakland, California)

5.      How can I know that I’m not being tricked or deceived? There are so many dishonest people around today and, let’s face it, there is a lot of bad stuff about your church on the Internet…

I served as a missionary for two years and I have served in leadership positions for over a decade. I’ve heard all the negative stuff and seen the false things people have also said about us on the internet too that has not basis in fact. Some blogs are carefully calculated to mislead people about the church. I have attended closed-door training sessions with the highest members of the church hierarchy, the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. I’m nobody special, many have had these same opportunities. I’ve met and shaken hands with these people and looked into their eyes.

Believe me, you can find on the Internet innumerable sources that argue or try and dispute the evidences that I’ve just written. That has always been the case and always will be. Even when Jesus walked the earth and performed miracles in the sight of everyone, people still did not believe. Witnessing a miracle wasn’t sufficient then for most people and it isn’t sufficient now. You can spend the rest of your life reading all the reasons why something is or isn’t true. Eventually, it boils down to one thing.

What I’ve written is either true or it isn’t. The church is either true or a huge fraud. In 2002, prophet Gordon B Hinckley said it so well:

We declare without equivocation that God the Father and His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, appeared in person to the boy Joseph Smith.

When I was interviewed by Mike Wallace on the 60 Minutes program, he asked me if I actually believed that. I replied, “Yes, sir. That’s the miracle of it.”

That is the way I feel about it. Our whole strength rests on the validity of that vision. It either occurred or it did not occur. If it did not, then this work is a fraud. If it did, then it is the most important and wonderful work under the heavens.

 

The only way to find out for sure, is to test it with a simple experiment.

In the 32nd chapter of the Book of Alma (in the Book of Mormon) an ancient American prophet described the test this way. Truth is like a seed. If the seed is true and good, you can plant it and nourish it and it will grow. If you plant a little pebble, no matter how hard you nourish it and water it and care for it, it will not grow. It can’t because it’s a stone, not a seed. Even if you really want it to be a seed, it isn’t. God has indeed prepared a plan to convince you. In order to test it out, you need to follow his rules. He provided the Book of Mormon as the evidence. He wants you to read it—all of it. He wants you to study it and examine it. He wants you to open your heart and mind to the possibility that it’s true. Then, after you’ve done this, He wants you to pray about it and be willing to act on the answer you receive.

seed

It’s that simple. I can’t give you all the experiences I’ve had that have completely convinced me. You need to have them yourself.

Maybe there are things I’ve written that have challenged your personal beliefs. Maybe you’re confused. Maybe you think I’m totally deceived (I’ve heard that before!). I’m okay with any of those conclusions you’ve come to. If anything, you understand your LDS neighbors a little better and can appreciate why they are the way they are. We can disagree on the doctrine and yet still be friends. I guess that’s why I wrote this. So that you could understand me a little better too and why there is so much faith and hope and yearning to believe in my writing.

Maybe something I’ve written has struck a chord inside of you. Maybe some small sentence resonated with you and began to sprout into the germ of a new idea you’d never considered before. If so, I challenge you to act on that idea and seek to learn more. Send me an e-mail and ask a follow-up question. I’ve gotten several and I answer them. Request a free copy of the Book of Mormon. Ask the church to send missionaries to talk to you (call 1-888-537-0003). Watch some of the video’s on the Church’s website or Youtube channel linked below. Talk to a friend or neighbor who is a member of the LDS Church and ask questions. People are so frightened to talk about religion because they’re afraid of offending. Don’t be afraid to disagree with me. It’s okay.

Thank you for reading this all the way through. Feel free to drop me an e-mail if you have any questions. I love to hear about others journeys of faith.

Jeff

December 2013

(updated Jan 2017)

 

The Church at a Glance (10 mins):

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=btfGTnWIoIU

Mormon Messages:

http://www.youtube.com/user/MormonMessages