Fighting against the work of the Lord

One of the reasons I started this blog was to provide personal motivation for gospel study. I like to think that by sharing insights and commentary on some aspect of the gospel in written form, that it becomes clearer to me and solidifies my thinking. This is the same reason I always get more out of a talk or a lesson that I prepare – because of the hours of study behind the summary.

I’ll warn you up front that this essay is going to be a little bit deep and perhaps a little out there, even for me. If you’ve been following my blog you know that I have tackled a few subjects that might be considered controversial. I’ve tried to address a lot of the things that I have read about in the Ex-Mormon and Anti-Mormon websites, mainly because I wondered how I would answer.

I’ll cut right to the point. We believe that one of the purposes of this life is to prove to ourselves and to the Lord that we are on his side when it comes to the fight against evil. Right now, a very visible part of that fight is centered in Proposition 8 in California. Voice of Deseret wondered in a recent essay if LDS opponents of the initiative should resign their membership in the church.

Administrative action removes membership

Some may not be aware that membership in the LDS Church can be easily terminated by a simple administrative action. You simply write a letter to the Bishop explaining that you would like to have your name removed from the records of the church. The bishop has the ward clerk fill out the appropriate form, attach the letter and send it off to Salt Lake. That’s it. You’re out.

Deseret Dawg was immediately taken to task for suggesting such a course of action. I can tell you from my own knowledge that there are some faithful members of the church who will vote no on Proposition 8 next week. The Bishop will not take away temple recommends and they will not be labeled bad people or anti-family. We are not forced to participate in the yes campaign.

But what about those people like Andrew Callahan who choose not to go the administrative action route and forced the church to proceed with disciplinary action because of his very vocal and active fight against the church on this issue? Wouldn’t it have been better for him to simply resign his membership? What has caused him and others to fight so hard against the church?

Doubt, dissent and apostasy

Deseret Dawg writes about those members of the church who fight against the First Presidency request that we give of our time and means to ensure the passage of Proposition 8. He then goes on to discuss a little bit about apostasy and becoming a son of perdition. However, I don’t think he fully develops the point, probably because it was in the concluding section of his essay.

I’d like to investigate that a little more. What does it mean to fight against the work of the Lord? Just how far is too far in expressing dissent and opposing the leadership of the church? I had an interesting dialog with Paul Toscano, part of the September Six, focused on this very subject as we discussed the doctrine of the Godhead on an earlier essay here on Latter-day Commentary.

From my experience, doubt and dissent are acceptable within the church as long as you either keep it to yourself or express it in such a way so as to not cause others to doubt or disbelieve. It is only when you actively strive to persuade others to disbelieve or to a course of action that is contrary to the commandments as taught in the church that you go down that road to apostasy.

Becoming a son of perdition

From what I understand about this doctrine that is not uniquely LDS, it is next to impossible to become a son of perdition. One must have a perfect knowledge of the divinity of the gospel cause, a knowledge that comes only by revelation from the Holy Ghost, and then link themselves to Lucifer and come out in open rebellion against Jesus Christ and his work to save mankind.

Sons of perdition are not merely wicked; they are incorrigibly evil. In sinning against the revelations of the Holy Ghost, they have sinned against the greater light and knowledge of God. They willfully and utterly pervert principles of righteousness and truth with which they were once endowed, and transform them into principles of evil and deception to destroy others.

The gravest of all sins is blasphemy against the Holy Ghost. One may speak even against Jesus Christ in ignorance and, upon repentance, be forgiven, but knowingly to sin against the Holy Ghost by denying its influence after having received it is unpardonable, and the consequences are inescapable. Such denial dooms the perpetrator to the hell of the second spiritual death

The unpardonable sin

This extreme judgment comes because the person sins knowingly against the light, thereby severing himself from the redeeming grace of Christ. He is numbered with the sons of perdition. The Prophet Joseph Smith explained, “No man can commit the unpardonable sin after the dissolution of the body, nor in this life, until he receives the Holy Ghost.”

To commit the unpardonable sin, a person “must receive the Holy Ghost, have the heavens opened unto him, and know God, and then sin against Him. After a man has sinned against the Holy Ghost, there is no repentance for him…. he has got to deny Jesus Christ when the heavens have been opened to him, and to deny the Plan of Salvation with his eyes open to the truth of it.”

If people have such knowledge and willfully turn altogether away, it is a sin against light, a sin against the Holy Ghost, and figuratively “they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame.” Such remain as though there were no Atonement, except that they shall be resurrected from the dead. Awful is the state of those who sin against the Holy Ghost.

Summary and conclusion

I have been taught all my life and I believe that there are relatively few men who could become sons of perdition. I suppose that is because there are few who can say that they have had the heavens opened to them and have had the Savior revealed to them. Those who have had this experience don’t talk about it. For most of us, a testimony without open vision is sufficient.

So it is doubtful that those who fight against the work of the Lord, even those who are former members of the LDS Church who are now doing everything in their power to promote same-sex marriage and defeat proposition 8 (or proposition 102 in Arizona) are anywhere near to being considered candidates to suffer the fate of those sons of perdition who deny the Holy Ghost.

I have read the writings of many former members, some returned missionaries and some who served in leadership positions in the church. I have yet to read anything that provided evidence that they at one time knew the Lord and had been recipients of open visions. I am of the opinion that there are very few today who will be consigned to the terrible fate of the sons of perdition.

Significance of the Garden of Gethsemane

Carol and I took a short trip to Utah this weekend. It is a drive we have made three or four times a year for the last twenty six years. The occasion was the 90th birthday party for Carol’s dad. There were over 140 in attendance, mostly descendants, so we held it in the cultural hall of the Brigham City 9th ward. It was wonderful to get away for a while.

On the way up Carol read to me from Gerald Lund’s third book in the series of historical fictional novels about the New Testament called The Kingdom and the Crown. The third book is entitled, Behold the Man. Gerald Lund was recently released from the Second Quorum of the Seventy. His numerous publications have sold nearly three million copies.

The book details the last week in the life of Jesus of Nazareth — his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, the spiritually fulfilling Last Supper, and the crowning achievement of the atonement that begins in the Garden of Gethsemane and culminates in the Garden Tomb. Brother Lund is a master storyteller and his knowledge of the New Testament is amazing.

The atonement

Although the books are historical fiction, Brother Lund is very careful to present details of the Savior’s life based on the scriptures and scholarly commentary. As Carol read the chapter that included the account of the Savior’s prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, I was expecting more analysis and more explanation of what was taking place that night.

The story was told from Peter’s point of view, and of course, Peter’s activity while the Savior was praying was mostly sleeping. Who related the details of what transpired while Jesus was meeting and overcoming all that the devil and his followers could throw at him? Some of it surely must have been later revealed to the other gospel writers.

Most in the Christian world do not understand the significance of what transpired in the Garden of Gethsemane that night. To them, it was simply a preparatory prayer, offered by the Savior to steel himself for what was to come the next day on the cross. We place greater significance on the events of that night, which I have shared in a previous essay.

The crucifixion

When I was a young man I used to rent LDS talk tapes from Eagle Marketing, a short-lived Utah sales company. They sold subscriptions to a large LDS media library via returned missionaries who came to California in the summer months peddling their wares. I used to listen to BYU devotional talks every day to and from work in LA.

Another talk I remember so well was A Personal Search for the Meaning of the Atonement by W. Cleon Skousen. He brought out the details of how the punishment was administered, focusing on the reason for the nails in the wrists as well as the hands. It was from Brother Skousen that I first came to understand the terrible agony of the cross.

We were passing from Mesquite and through the canyon before St George as Carol read to me the chapters describing the horrors of the crucifixion. I have driven that canyon at least a hundred times but will now forever remember the sacred feelings we experienced together as Carol read aloud the events of that day as found in Brother Lund’s narrative.

The resurrection

I thought I understood well what transpired the morning of the resurrection but with the imagination of Brother Lund, it became clearer to me how it could have happened. How significant it was that the first to the garden tomb on that morning was Mary Magdalene, who was also the first to witness the resurrected Lord. What a devoted disciple of Christ.

To us, it seems almost like no big deal as we teach and bear witness to one another that the Savior was literally resurrected, the first to do so in this world. To the disciples of Christ, who still didn’t quite get it, the resurrection was a amazing event. No matter how many times he tried to help them understand, they were amazed when it became a reality.

With great care and detail, Brother Lund describes how the disciples found the linen still wrapped in the same manner as it was on Friday night, but collapsed upon itself as the body came forth. It was not torn off or cut off, but miraculously still in place, with the linen head cloth neatly folded and placed in a manner that signified, “the job is finished.”

Summary and conclusion

Brother Lund is one of the most popular writers in the LDS church. We have a special place in our heart for Gerald Lund as he was in Carol’s ward when she was growing up as well as the local Institute director. He is one of Carol’s favorite authors because she is much more interested in works of fiction than I am. His historical novels are the best.

I think I was expecting more from the chapter on the atonement, but perhaps Brother Lund left the analysis of that fateful night to another who described it in great detail. Drawing from multiple sources, Bruce R. McConkie in The Mortal Messiah, helped me to understand what really transpired in that garden and why it is so important to me.

It was on the cross that he suffered death in the flesh in the most agonizing and cruel method devised by man. But it was in Gethsemane that he suffered the pain of all men, that all men might repent and come unto him. The ransom for our souls was paid in the Garden of the Oil Press. It was there that the gift of eternal life was won for the obedient.

Public rebuke from an apostle

How would you respond if you were publicly rebuked by an apostle in front of thousands of people who you knew and loved? Would it be any easier if it were done in private? Those are questions that I hope I will never have to answer. Brigham Young is one example in our early history who was rebuked by Joseph Smith in front of his peers. We know how he responded.

One of the responsibilities of an apostle is to ensure that correct doctrine is taught, especially in an environment where young impressionable minds are searching for the truth and building their testimonies. What an apostle teaches us about our relationship to the Godhead is very important and something to which we should give heed. We can apply it in our own efforts to know Christ.

Know Your Religion lectures

When I was preparing for my mission, I attended Know Your Religion lectures with my mother and sister. This unique aspect of LDS gospel training and scholarship is no longer offered, or at least not here in California. At one time it was offered at various Stake Centers in California in a week-long format during the summer. Now, one must travel to BYU to attend Education Week.

Some of my favorite lecturers were Joseph C. Muren, who later became my mission president, and George W Pace, who was my Branch President in the LTM. Yes, I went on my mission in the days before the MTC. Although it was on the campus of BYU, it was called the Language Training Mission back then and was located in the recently demolished Knight Magnum Hall.

What it means to know Christ

In those days, the KYR instructors would compile and sell their lectures. That’s where I first picked up Causes and Prevention of Inactivity in the Church by Elder Muren, still one of my favorites. But my all time favorite from that period of my life (74-76) had to be What it Means to Know Christ by George W. Pace, which he later expanded and published in book format.

I think I heard the lecture several times in various stakes during that period. Since we couldn’t catch all the classes offered in one venue, we would go to others a week or two later. As a young 17-18 year old preparing for a mission, I was searching to solidify my testimony, to really apply repentance towards forgiveness, and especially to understand what it means to know the Savior.

Building and inspecting the house

One of my favorite parts of the lecture is when Brother Pace described the Savior inspecting the rooms of the house that we are building, which represented our lives. I clearly remember his dramatic emphasis when describing the one room that you could never let the Savior enter. That was where you kept all your painful secrets and all the things of which you were ashamed.

Vividly he recounted that when you told the Savior no, that he couldn’t go in there, he said he would have to leave until you invited him back. Stubbornly, you refused and he left. Missing him desperately, you finally invited him back, and he began to quietly and without chastisement go about cleaning up your messy room, throwing out the junk and washing it thoroughly clean.

Cleansing of the junk room

I thought long and hard on this scene numerous times that summer. I had put many things in my own closet until it turned into a room full of junk that was beginning to stink and to trouble me. In my quiet moments I began to seek more diligently to have the Lord come into my home and to clean up my junk room for me. It took time, but with fasting and prayer, I witnessed the miracle.

I have a special place in my heart for George W. Pace because he was instrumental in getting me to think about and to understand the process of repentance in a way that I could visualize and to apply. I am not alone in that appreciation. I know he affected thousands of BYU students over the years he taught there. He was so popular that he was nominated for professor of the century.

Correcting false doctrine

Fast forward a few years. Brother Pace has increased in popularity and influence there at the BYU campus. Every class he teaches is full to overflowing with students sitting on the stairs in the aisles. He has expanded and published his book, What it Means to Know Christ and added a few insights that were unique to him about how God answers our prayers only through Christ.

Another one of my early heroes, Bruce R. McConkie, either by assignment or on his own went to the BYU campus and delivered a devotional address that corrected the doctrine that was found in George Pace’s book. He made it clear that we pray only to our Heavenly Father and that God can answer our prayers in any way he wants, through any individual or any means he desires.

Reproving betimes with sharpness

The episode is well known in Mormon history. The effects were immediate. Attendance in Brother Pace’s classes dropped considerably. His popularity waned. Book sales plummeted even though he revised and republished with the corrected doctrine and an apology. His family was afflicted and felt the discomfort of being on the receiving end of public reproof by an apostle.

The devotional address in March of 1982 was not the first time Elder McConkie corrected Brother Pace. On Oct 31st of 1981, George Pace was sitting on the stand as a Stake President when Elder McConkie delivered the discourse entitled Keeping Balance at the 14-stake fireside leadership session. Shortly thereafter, Brother Pace was released from his leadership calling.

A humble disciple responds

George W. Pace remained faithful and continued his lifelong efforts to build the kingdom of God in many areas. He is still listed today as a professor in the religion department at BYU. For a time he taught at the BYU Jerusalem Center. He published another book entitled The Faith of Young Mormons, something about which he knew a lot. He served faithfully in ward callings.

Unfortunately, this episode affected at least one member of George Pace’s family in such a manner that it caused him to lose his faith in the church. You can read the story of his son, who was serving a mission at the time, to get a much more detailed account of what happened. It is sad and just a little bitter to read. I don’t know how I would have responded if I had been him.

Summary and conclusion

I do not bring up this story to open old wounds. I share it to make a point that is sometimes very hard to understand, at least for some who write about the church. We do not know all the details of why Elder McConkie did not take George Pace aside in private to correct his over-zealous reach into advocating a relationship with Christ that is the equivalent of a born-again experience.

There is a fine line and subtle difference between our worship of Christ and our worship of the Father. I have long felt that my most intimate spiritual relationship is with my Heavenly Father. I love my Savior and appreciate what he has done for me, but in the end, his purpose is to bring me to the Father. It is the Father who grants eternal life. We strive to be like Heavenly Father.

Thus saith Boyd K. Packer

I love reading and hearing Boyd K. Packer. I always have. The man is a conduit for those who love and those who hate the established, traditional ways of the church. I love tradition and am not fond of change. President Monson reminded us several times in this last General Conference that change is one of the most certain things we will deal with in this life. He also implied that change is coming.

By now you have probably received a copy of President Packer’s talk given the week following General Conference in his home ward in Salt Lake City. It is highly unusual for such a complete transcription of a talk not intended for public consumption to be so well documented. Ordinarily I would not write about a private talk like this. It goes against my judgment to just leave it alone.

Someone called church headquarters and asked it was real. They confirmed that he did speak, that they were aware that it has been circulating, but that it was not intended for anyone other than his own ward. In fact, they pointed out that it was not accurate, that he did not authorize the transcription and asked that we not pass it on. Such personal notes are for individual use only.

A great catastrophe is coming

Because this has been making the rounds and has been all over the world in the past week, I wanted to comment on one paragraph of his talk that seems to have received the most attention. Note that this is not a direct quote, but is from someone’s notes. It may or may not be accurate. However, it is timely and leads me to a subject I have wanted to address for some time now.

Here is the quote: “It’s about time the Lord taught us a lesson. A great catastrophe is coming. Now I probably shouldn’t say that because then it will happen. But it is going to happen. That’s what it will take to turn our hearts to the Lord. And we will learn from it.” Many in the emails and discussion boards have speculated on what that catastrophe will be and when it will happen.

As I watched President Packer speak in General Conference the week before, I noted a sense of urgency in his voice and his message. The title of his address was “The Test.” His message was that in troubled times, the Lord has always prepared a safe way ahead. He said that we are living in those “perilous times” of which the Apostle Paul prophesied would come in the last days.

Same sex marriage is a test

I swore I would not write any more about the involvement of church members in Proposition 8, but perhaps a few notes will help to illustrate one possibility of the test that is coming. I wrote previously about how one family in our ward has been targeted by the opposition for their contributions to the Yes on 8 campaign. Their methods of harassment display vicious hatred.

Others have been physically attacked for distributing Yes on 8 signs, with signs being ripped up during the night. While we stood on a street corner waiving signs the other night, someone got out of their car and verbally abused us with a profanity-laden tirade. Temple-goers in Oakland reported that protesters threw themselves in front of their cars, blocking the temple entrance.

We have been counseled by church leaders to be kind, patient and tolerant in stating our case to the world. Apparently the opposition does not play by the same rules. It seems that anything goes in an effort to shock, offend and intimidate supporters of proposition 8 into giving up the fight. They are behind in the polls 61-36% and not happy with the idea that proposition 8 might pass.

Economic meltdown in progress

I watch the news of the stock market, the bank failures and the credit crunch with somewhat of a distant detachment. I know it affects some right away who work in the financial area, but for most of us, there has been little effect other than a decrease in the value of our 401K portfolio. Some days the stock market is down by hundreds of points and other days it rises by hundreds.

The area where most of us will eventually feel the results of this financial meltdown that we are witnessing will be down the road as businesses fail and unemployment rises. It took a few years after the stock market crash of 1929 for unemployment to reach the highest level of 25%. We cannot say if this same pattern will hold true in our day. Perhaps it won’t take so long this time.

In his October 12th talk, President Packer said nothing new that prophets and apostles haven’t been saying for all of our lives and that of our parents and grandparents. Get out of debt, save for a rainy day, keep the food storage current, and learn to make do with what you have. We live in a day of extravagance where every want is met. That may all change in the very near future.

Catastrophes can be cataclysmic

Two of the definitions of the word catastrophe are a: a violent and sudden change in a feature of the earth and b: a violent, usually destructive natural event (as a supernova). We know that such changes are prophesied for the last days. We should not be surprised when they occur. The Lord has warned us of imminent destruction that will come upon us suddenly, as a thief in the night.

I have written dozens of essays on the subject of upcoming catastrophes. Prophets of old saw our day and told us about the cataclysmic changes that would be occurring. They left us many clues in language that described events both life-threatening and destructive. One of my fellow bloggers has been sharing his essays on these changes in an effort to help us understand them.

Violence begets violence. When these violent events do arrive, they will impact society in a way that none of us can imagine. Students of the early history of the church are familiar with several statements by the early brethren where they attempted to describe the scenes of the breakdown of common decency in our society that were a result of the natural disasters that will come upon us.

Summary and conclusion

I hope I have not painted a bleak picture of what is to come. The apostates love to characterize President Packer as a man of doom and gloom. Isn’t that one of the functions of a prophet – to warn us of coming events and to help us prepare for what must surely transpire in the last days? I am convinced that President Packer is right – I think the Lord is trying to get our attention now.

I like the way President Hinckley taught us to be hopeful and faithful in spite of the signs of the times being fulfilled right before our eyes. He said he was planting trees and making plans for long-term events. We should do the same. Getting an education is still a great idea. Investing in our education and careers will continue to be profitable for us and our families in the long run.

There is still much to do before the coming of the Lord. The gospel must still go to all the world before the great and dreadful day. It hasn’t done that yet. President Monson is the man the Lord has prepared to lead us in these troubled times. I love his sense of peace and confidence. I trust in his direction and know that he will always show us the path of safety through changes coming.


Additional references:

1. Boyd K. Packer talk goes viral
2. Boyd K Packer talk not accurate
3. Times and Seasons: confirm or deny
4. Recorded on cell phone or shorthand?
5. Words of warning from Pres. Packer
6. Mormon Wiki: Hoax or urban legend
7. From the horse’s mouth (MMW)
8. SL Trib – Packer talk circles the globe

Speak of the devil

I taught the junior class in seminary this morning and yesterday morning as a substitute teacher. There’s nothing quite like getting up at 5am to teach early morning seminary in California. It brought back such happy memories of my high school days when I attended seminary in the old Covina ward building. The kids today seemed happy to be there and I was happy to teach them.

We were supposed to cover chapter nine of the gospel according to Mark this morning but the get acquainted activity I had planned took way too long to get to the lesson. Besides, it was Friday and the 18 kids enjoyed the fun we had with the activity. So I thought I would share something I learned as I prepared the lesson that I didn’t deliver. I hope you find it interesting.

The boy possessed of an evil spirit

Although the Transfiguration is the main point of Mark chapter nine, that topic was already covered earlier in the year when Matthew chapter 17 was taught. So the lesson focused on the Savior healing the boy possessed by an evil spirit as found in verses 14 through 29. It is a sad story about a poor little boy who is tormented by an evil spirit who wants to destroy him.

I’m sure most of you are aware that the modern interpretation of these verses is that the boy had epilepsy but I’m not convinced that was the case. The description the father provides indicates that the child was not in control of his body at times when the deaf and dumb spirit tried to cast him into the fire or into the waters. To the Savior, this was more than some physical ailment.

Evil spirits recognized the Lord

The lesson manual suggested we review previous instances in which the Savior healed those who were troubled by evil spirits. This is the point of my little essay today. I was amazed at what I found with just a few moments of searching. I’m sure you recall the unclean spirit that cried out when the Savior began his ministry, saying “Let us alone; what have we to do with thee?”

And then there is the story of the man in the country of the Gadarenes who was possessed of not just one unclean spirit, but of a legion of them. Again, the salutation to the Savior was, “What have we to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of the most high God?” As in each of the other events like these, the Savior, and later his disciples, cast them out and commanded them to not return.

Evil spirits in today’s world

In case you haven’t noticed, I have three favorite topics that I seem to repeat in my essays. The first is marriage, the second is the prophesied events of the last days, and the third is the reality of evil spirits in the world today. The topic of marriage seems to be too contentious right now so I’ll give that a break until after the election. Besides, I have stated my position in previous posts.

I have found in the church that when I teach a lesson or give a talk that references evil spirits someone will invariably respond, “Why do you talk about evil spirits? We don’t believe in that any more. That’s just the way they described things they didn’t understand in ancient times.” I get similar responses when I write about it in my blog or discuss it in personal conversations.

The problem of a personal devil

This is not a new phenomenon, but I have watched it become more widespread in the last thirty five years since I first began to suspect that there was something to this belief, or lack thereof. One of the best resources that addresses this issue of a lack of acceptance of the reality of evil spirits can be found in a BYU Master’s thesis submitted by LaMar Garrard way back in 1955.

The Latter-day Saint history is rich in personal accounts of the influence of evil spirits where they have been clearly identified either by vision or by effect. I have written about a few of these previously. Early leaders of the church were much more open in acknowledging the existence of evil spirits but we do not find that so common in the teachings of current General Authorities.

An account of demonic possession

I have in my files an account of a conversation between a priesthood holder and an individual possessed of an evil spirit, having been diagnosed with multiple personalities. The dialog is gripping and revealing. The spirit identifies itself as having been born in England in the very early 1800’s. She willingly answers several questions put to her about how she got into the body.

I know I just stepped into uncomfortable territory for many of you so I’ll stop right there. Shoot me an email if you want to know more. I am not ignoring the scientific side of this as I know there are some of you reading my blog who have worked with those who have been diagnosed as psychotic. Medication can control, mask or diminish but not remove the effects of evil spirits.

A belief in things from days past

I think I am a rarity in today’s modern world. I am a computer technician by profession and have great respect for science and all that we enjoy because of the advancements in science. However, after many years of studying this topic, I am convinced that for all the progress we have made in mental health, only the teachings of the gospel answer some questions for me.

I have seen too many personal instances where behavior could only be explained by my belief in the reality of evil spirits and that they exist today just as they did in the Savior’s time. I confess that this view has shaped the way I perceive human behavior for most of my life. Unfortunately, my beliefs are not popular in the modern world, even among my fellow members of the church.

Summary and conclusion

Just as I believe we are on the cusp of being first-hand witnesses of cataclysmic catastrophes that have not been seen on the earth for thousands of years, I also believe we are about to see a new outpouring of evidence that there are those who walk this earth who do not walk it alone. In other words, they carry within them one or more co-habitants who are not very nice creatures.

Yep, weird stuff, I know. Don’t put me in the category of those who inhabit the LDS Anarchy blog. I don’t go for that hollow earth theory. I’m also not a believer in Planet X, but do believe that the Lost Ten Tribes are no longer found on this planet and will return in a most remarkable celestial event that will shock mankind. But I’m not crazy just because I believe in evil spirits.

Faith and fear cannot coexist within us

I see the world through a spiritual perspective developed at age 18 while preparing for a mission. In a previous essay, I shared my sacred experiences in gaining a testimony. I did not think they were all that unique at the time. I thought everyone else followed the same formula. Blogging over the last year has been a real eye-opener for me. Not every member has this same certainty.

Elder James Hamula, sustained in April 2008 General Conference as a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy said, “If there is anything that qualifies me for this calling it is the testimony that I gained at age 18 while I prepared for a mission. I had a most remarkable experience where I received a strong witness of the divinity of the Lord and of His Church.”

Like me, he read of how the young Joseph Smith wanted to know what was right, and felt that he too needed to go to the Lord in prayer. “So I knelt at my bedside and earnestly prayed to the heavens. And in response I got an answer that was as clear and as unmistakable as anything that I’ve experienced in life. I got up off my knees knowing that the Church was true.” I did as well.

Testimony as a process

On the other hand, I compare what I experienced and what Elder Hamula described, with this story that Elder Carlos Godoy shared in the Oct 2008 Sunday afternoon session of General Conference. He told of being asked by a Sunday school teacher to share some powerful spiritual experience that he had received while developing a testimony of the church. He was unable to think of one.

He felt a little uncomfortable being put on the spot. After all, he was an Area Seventy, and should have something impressive to share. He felt the disappointment of the Sunday school teacher that he had nothing to offer but later expressed his feelings in a testimony meeting. You can read his powerful testimony at the end of his talk. He includes all the major elements.

Elder Godoy said, “Sometimes we think that to have a testimony of the Church, we need some great, powerful experience, or a single event that would erase any doubts that we have received an answer…” I suspect this statement is a great comfort to many who have gained their certainty of the gospel and the church without any one great spiritual experience to which they can point.

Certainty is the basis of faith

Sometimes when I make assertive comments while blogging, some readers will write back that they find my certainty offensive. When I teach the gospel or when I share my understanding of some principles of the gospel, I am used to stating things in a positive, matter-of-fact manner. I enjoy this feeling of certainty about my testimony and always have. I thought every member did.

I once wrote, “Those who have once enjoyed the spirit of the Lord in their lives and then lose it through sexual impurity are unable to exercise faith because faith and fear cannot exist in a person at the same time. Lust invites the unclean spirits of the unseen world to use your body for a time. As these spirits are fearful by nature, those who lust soon become fearful themselves.”

When I made this particular comment, this individual responded that he had never heard such a thing. The whole idea of faith and fear being unable to co-exist in a person at the same time is certainly not something that I just dreamed up myself. This is typical of comments I have shared on my blog that are based on things I have read from general authorities and in the scriptures.

Fear is the opposite of faith

Boyd K. Packer taught clearly that fear is the opposite of faith. We find this in the scriptures many times. The Lord encourages us through the prophet Joseph, “Look unto me in every thought; doubt not, fear not.” He also helps us understand why we do not receive revelations. When there are fears in our hearts, we cannot receive a blessing such as a spiritual witness.

I have read many essays on the Bloggernacle defending the idea that doubts about the gospel are good and not anything of which we should be ashamed. I think this stems from the culture of the church where we are always expressing everything in as positive a manner as possible. Those who do experience doubt seem to feel that there is something wrong and that they don’t fit in.

I’ve thought much about how and why this culture of certainty can be offensive to some. I think it is because they perceive the expressions of testimony and certainty as being unfounded fluff with nothing substantial to back them up. They use the examples of little children bearing their testimonies and ask how they could possibly know for certain that God lives and loves them.

Become as a little child

One of my favorite scriptures has always been Mosiah 3:19 about the natural man. The angel who taught King Benjamin made it clear that we must make an effort to put off our natural tendencies to doubt, be skeptical and untrusting. We learn that we must become as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love and willing to submit to all things from God.

When I learn a new concept of the gospel that I am told is important by someone I trust, usually a priesthood leader or a General Authority, it is sometimes easy to put it aside because it is new to me and I do not yet understand the importance of the doctrine or principle. My patriarchal blessing reminds me that I must make an effort through study and prayer to make it a part of me.

One of the best ways to internalize a new doctrine is to teach it to someone else. It has been my experience that when I really want to confirm my faith in something new that I have learned, I take the opportunity to share it in a testimony meeting or make it part of a lesson I am asked to teach. When I bear testimony of the truthfulness of the concept, it is always burned into my soul.

Certainty is a gift of the spirit

It takes child-like faith to accept new doctrine, study it out, and then bear testimony to others. It takes patience to be submissive to the Lord’s tutoring method of studying and teaching in order to know for ourselves. Sometimes the Lord tries our faith and does not send the confirming witness of the spirit until after we have taught a doctrine that is new to us over a long period of time.

This feeling of certainty in spiritual things is a gift from God. It has served me well all my life. It is something for which I am extremely grateful. I work hard to keep this sense of certainty strong. Yet I am well aware that the receipt of the witness of the spirit confirming what I have studied and taught is a gift from God. For me, it only seems to come after I teach it publicly.

To some it is given by the Holy Ghost to know that Jesus is the Son of God, and that he was crucified for the sins of the world. To others it is given to believe on their words, that they might also have eternal life if they continue faithful. I find my testimony is a mixture of knowing and believing. Some things I know for myself. It is this knowledge that gives me that certainty.

Summary and conclusion

I am impressed by the number of attorneys that I find on the Bloggernacle who present such logical arguments when they write their essays. They are proficient in arguing a point and clearly proving it by the expert use of their long-practiced skill. I do not possess that talent and have no desire to develop it at this point in my life. My essays are based more on what I feel.

I have long felt that doubt has some basis in fear. Perhaps it is the fear of change for some. For others it may be the fear of having to make their actions conform to new knowledge presented and then accepted. The Lord tells us to be believing. That means to accept what we are taught by prophets and apostles in spite of doubts and fears. Study it out – teach it to others in faith.

The spiritual perspective I developed at age 18 gave me that certainty I have needed to serve a mission, to accept leadership callings, and especially to teach the gospel. I know that faith is a real power. At times it is illogical and yet it casts out fear. With headlines that seem to scream fear, the certainty of faith is a better way to view life as we prepare for the return of the Lord.

Interest in LDS church increases with criticism

When I was called into the Bishopric, I replaced a man whom I admire greatly. Peter Lassen is a humble follower of Jesus Christ who loves his family, his country and his church. He is a very successful businessman who manages a string of health food stores here in Ventura County. He has also become the target of an attack of hatred by those who are opposed to what he believes.

Because in the State of California all political contributions over $1,000 are recorded with the Secretary of State, anybody can view, download and do whatever they want with this public information. What they did was to write a scathing attack on this good man accusing him of hatred and bigotry because he did what a prophet asked him to do to support a good cause.

He was singled out because the contribution was large and because he is well known in the local area. I and 61,000 other people have also contributed of our means to this cause but we have not been singled out in such a public manner. The way the Lassen family has responded to this is remarkable. They have quietly gone about their business of providing good healthy products.

Christian courage: The price of discipleship

What would cause a man who has been so publicly attacked and threatened to respond in such a meek and quiet manner? Elder Hales taught about this very subject a week ago in the Sunday morning session of General Conference. He answered the question of why someone would want to attack us as we try to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ, and the counsel of a living prophet.

One of life’s greatest tests comes when our beliefs are questioned or criticized. The natural desire is to defend ourselves and to respond aggressively. The Savior Himself was despised and rejected of the world. In Lehi’s dream, those coming unto the Savior endured mocking and pointing fingers. They world hates the disciples of Christ because they are not of the world.

When followers of Christ turn the other cheek and resist feelings of anger, they stand with the Savior. When we show forth this kind of love, it answers our accusers without accusing them in return. We know that the great accuser is the adversary of the Savior and all his followers. It takes real Christian courage to answer our accusers in this manner. This is not weakness.

Opportunity in the midst of opposition

In 1983, President Kimball taught, “Opposition may be in itself an opportunity. Among the continuing challenges faced by our missionaries is a lack of interest in religious matters and in our message. These criticisms create…interest in the Church…This provides an opportunity [for members] to present the truth to those whose attention is thus directed toward us.”

Elder Hales noted ways that we can take advantage of these opportunities brought about by criticism: a kind letter to an editor, a conversation with a friend, a comment on a blog, or a reassuring word to one who has made a disparaging remark. We can answer with love those who have been influenced by misinformation and prejudice. That certainly has been the case here.

I have been remarkably impressed by the efforts of so many who rallied around the Lassen family and added comments on each of the news stories wherever they were published. The positive comments were helpful and the response of the original author to those comments shows how small and close-minded they really are. Their real intent to disparage is very obvious.

Meekness is not weakness

When we respond to others, we must never become contentious when we are discussing our faith. In this case, the dialog is about a tenet of our faith, that of following the prophet. The Savior has taught, “He that hath the spirit of contention is not of me.” To be meek is to manifest patience and longsuffering: enduring injury without resentment. Meekness is not weakness.

My admiration for the Lassen family has increased tremendously. They are going about their business, trusting in the promise of the Lord that they will be blessed for following a prophet. They are wearing the badge of Christian courage well. By exhibiting such behavior we do not compromise our principles or dilute our beliefs. Quiet confidence speaks volumes of faith.

As true disciples of Christ, our primary concern is welfare for others, not personal vindication. I am confident that many opportunities to share their beliefs have arisen as customers continue to patronize their stores and seek Peter and other family members out to ask them how they are dealing with this criticism. Admiration and respect from the community will only increase.

Promote understanding and withhold judgment

We have been accused of lying about this issue at hand. All we can do is present our beliefs in what we feel about the sanctity of marriage and what we have been taught by the men whom we sustain as prophets, seers and revelators. We can do nothing more than provide adequate sources of information. It is up to others to decide if they will read seriously, study and investigate.

At the same time, we do our utmost to avoid being unduly judgmental of the views of others. I think I understand why some feel so strongly opposed to our efforts to add this amendment to the constitution of the State of California. I have read their arguments. I do not agree with them but strive to be civil and respectful to those who hold them. We ask that they do the same for us.

The way that we have been attacked on this issue has caused many members of the church to reach out of their comfort zones and stand a little taller in defense of good people like the Lassen family. I am impressed with the humble comments on the newspaper and blog articles by so many members of our stake, especially by the youth with whom I serve in the singles ward.

Summary and conclusion

Sometimes true disciples of Christ must show Christian courage by saying nothing at all. Most of the Lassen family has decided on this course of action. I am amazed at their restraint. Elder Hales is right that contention can cause damage to the church that is already criticized by many as being not Christian. I am convinced that good will come out of this because of their example.

The conference address from Elder Hales on Christian Courage is extremely timely as we deal with this ongoing dialog about religious freedoms and civil rights. To those who have expressed that they are tired of these ongoing essays of mine on the subject, may I point out that this is a prime example that demonstrates the gospel in action – how to deal with unfair persecution.

I am convinced that people will want to know more about the Mormon Church as a result of the publicity we are receiving on this issue. Isn’t it amazing that with just a single letter back in June, tens of thousands of Mormons have contributed millions and millions of dollars to this? A people who are so willing give of their time and means like this must have some amazing faith.