Showing posts with label Faith. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Faith. Show all posts

Holy Week: Resurrection

Touch Me Not, Minerva K. Teichert

Mary Magdalene is among my favorite women in all of scripture. She is blessed with a personal interaction with the resurrected Christ that any disciple would love to have, as told in John 20:

 11 ¶ But Mary stood without at the sepulchre weeping: and as she wept, she stooped down, and looked into the sepulchre,

12 And seeth two angels in white sitting, the one at the head, and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain.

13 And they say unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? She saith unto them, Because they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him.

14 And when she had thus said, she turned herself back, and saw Jesus standing, and knew not that it was Jesus.

15 Jesus saith unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? whom seekest thou? She, supposing him to be the gardener, saith unto him, Sir, if thou have borne him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away.

16 Jesus saith unto her, Mary. She turned herself, and saith unto him, Rabboni; which is to say, Master.

17 Jesus saith unto her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God.

18 Mary Magdalene came and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord, and that he had spoken these things unto her.

The Greek in verse 17 properly translated from Greek doesn't mean to refrain from touching me yet. It is better rendered as "Hold me not," to refrain from holding me, which you are already doing. Mary Magdalene threw her arms around the Savior, greeted him enthusiastically and without restraint. She had received an undeniable witness of the Resurrection not just with her eyes, but with her own hands. She was the first person after the death of Christ to have such a witness.

She was not the only one to receive such a witness ahead of the apostles. There were multiple women who then saw Jesus after their interactions with the angels at the garden tomb. From Matthew 28:

5 And the angel answered and said unto the women, Fear not ye: for I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified.

6 He is not here: for he is arisen, as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay.

7 And go quickly, and tell his disciples that he is risen from the dead; and, behold, he goeth before you into Galilee; there shall ye see him: lo, I have told you.

8 And they departed quickly from the sepulchre with fear and great joy; and did run to bring his disciples word.

9 And as they went to tell his disciples, behold, Jesus met them, saying, All hail. And they came and held him by the feet, and worshipped him.

10 Then said Jesus unto them, Be not afraid: go tell my brethren that they go into Galilee, and there shall they see me.

These women also received an undeniable witness by touching Christ. They could not know with a greater certainty that Jesus had risen from the dead.

When they did as they were instructed by the angels, to tell the Twelve what they had seen and experienced, the Twelve didn't believe them. They did not trust the women as reliable sources of truth.

From Mark:

 9 Now when Jesus was arisen early the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had cast seven devils.

10 And she went and told them that had been with him, as they mourned and wept.

11 And they, when they had heard that he was alive, and had been seen of her, believed not.

From Luke:

10 It was Mary Magdalene, and Joanna, and Mary the mother of James, and other women that were with them, which told these things unto the apostles.

11 And their words seemed to them as idle tales, and they believed them not.

And because of that refusal to listen to the women in their lives, the women who were closest to Christ and who had received that witness before them, they had to wait until they got all the way to Galilee to see him. Which really is incomprehensible when you consider that he walked with them to on the road to Emmaus and none of them recognized him. He had to baby step them into being able to see him, then cajole them by eating something in front of them, and eventually break down what they were seeing for them in scriptural terms for them to finally receive the witness, the truth the women already had. (See Luke 24:12-48)

In almost two thousand years, this has not changed as much as it should have by now.

Believe women. Believe our words. Believe in the power of our faith. Believe in the gifts and talents God has given to us. Believe in our potential. Believe in our ministries. Believe our leadership. Believe in us the same way Christ believes in and trusts us.

What happens to church that dishonor and disgrace their women by withholding this love and trust from them?

They have the fullness of truth and power withheld from them, their access to Christ curtailed, the same way the Twelve did. And in the Book of Mormon, Ether 12 explains why:

12 For if there be no faith among the children of men God can do no miracle among them; wherefore, he showed not himself until after their faith.

It's not just faith in God that matters. It's also the faith we have in ourselves and in each other. When that faith falters, no one can help us, not even the perfected and resurrected Christ. If we want to be in a condition where Jesus Christ CAN help us, it requires us to confront and dismantle our own unconscious biases, the disrespect and prejudice we hold for other people. There is no room for any of that in the kingdom of God, and that spiritual deprivation begins here and now, on Earth. It will last as long as it takes us to do the work to overcome that way of thinking.

Where is the power of Jesus Christ on this earth today? It's in many places. Wherever there is love, wherever there is compassion, wherever there is faith in the future, wherever there are sincere souls who see wrongs and are trying to make them right, there is Christ. And it stands to reason, and shouldn't go without saying, that the power of Jesus Christ is in the hands and hearts of women.

What does learning the lessons of the past, the lessons in the ministry of Jesus Christ this Easter?

Among many of the valuable lessons that others will teach today, let this one be included: Believe, and believe in, the women who serve him.

The Story of Prophetic Fallibility in Acts 15 Everyone Skips

There are many different ways to read and study scripture. There's the daily devotional style the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has recently adopted from the rest of Christianity. There's the various reading challenges that have been established and invoked, particularly relating to the Book of Mormon. There are topical studies, which focuses the study on a theme or subject of personal importance to the reader. I've always favored topical studies over consecutive study in my personal worship. It's what makes the use of scripture to me feel personal, rather than scholarly or historical.

The weakness of that approach is that I can go decades in the Church without encountering a story that doesn't get emphasized in Church curriculum or in my personal study. I just encountered such a story in Acts 15.

Past and present church materials focus on the Jerusalem conference, in which the church leadership had to settle arguments and contentions that were occurring about whether Gentile converts needed to be circumcised and follow the Law of Moses in order to be accepted into the Church. The church leadership met together and determined that this wasn't necessary and put an undo burden upon new converts that wasn't adding anything of value to their faith. They then determine what standard of observance they wanted to keep and adapt from the Law of Moses to be followed by the disciples of Christ. It's a valuable story about how what it looks like to worship God can change over time, but the true spirit of worship never changes. An important step to having that spirit of worship is settling disagreements and laying aside preconceived notions of what worship has to look like based on the past, making space for what worship can look like in the future.

However, that's not the story I'm talking about. I'm talking about the explosive argument between Paul and Barnabas about whether or not to take John Mark with them on their travels.

Verse 38 gives the explanation for the conflict as one where Paul doesn't trust John Mark because he left them in Pamphylia and refused to work with them. But how much of this is from the earlier stages of this conflict that Paul may have caused by creating a hostile environment towards the assistants who traveled with them? The fact that Barnabas is still willing to work with John Mark, whose name is on the gospel of Mark, says we don't have all the details of this story, and not all the issue centered on or was caused by John Mark.

Verse 39 tells that "the contention was so sharp between them, that they departed asunder one from the other." Barnabas took John Mark and went to Cyprus, leaving Paul behind. It's the story of a conflict that arose in church leadership, largely from Paul's refusal to work with someone he didn't like, that remained unresolved as they continued forward in their ministries.

It's not the picture perfect image of total unity and fellowship between church leaders, who are able to lay aside their differences and preferences to work with each other through disagreement. I imagine that's why this story has been left out of the Church curriculum for some time.

Reviewing the Sunday School manual that was in use before Come Follow Me, nothing about this conflict was mentioned. Come Follow Me not only doesn't use this material, it seems to be actively trying to conceal it by focusing on a discussion topic (Line Upon Line) carefully crafted not to use any of that material. It also isn't included in the targeted reading, which invites members to read Acts 15:1-25. Anyone following along solely with the emphasis given in Come Follow Me isn't going to come into contact with this story.

I think that's a real loss to our community, if I'm honest. There is no sin in recognizing that church leaders are human who don't always get along with each other, who can exist in a state of ardent disagreement with each other while still accomplishing the work God has sent them to do. They can be staunchly in their own opinions about someone else, which are later proven to be wrong. (See 2 Tim. 4:11 and Col. 4:10) In their own human frailty and weakness, they can completely misjudge someone else's character and potential. Their stewardship over the Church does not give them perfect knowledge about people and who/what they have the capacity to accomplish.

It's an important lesson for understanding conflicts and dissensions that happen later to the Church in Missouri, where several members of the Quorum of the Twelve leave the Church and have to be replaced. (See D&C 114 and 118) While many of the narratives (and curriculum) relating to this time period attribute apostolic fall to sin and disloyalty, it's more accurate to say that these divisions arose from conflicts that church leadership at the time were unable to resolve.

Church leadership in the time of Acts couldn't perfectly resolve conflicts within their ranks. The restored church is no different. If we avoid and conceal prophetic fallibility continuously, we fail to prepare our people to know how to handle it and move forward through it.

If we want our people to be able to move forward in faith like John Mark when confronting that fallibility, it will help greatly if we tell that story in our classes and learn from that choice.

When Leaving the Church Doesn't Include Your Children

"Leaving the Church means I can remove my kids from the community and make it so they never develop any loyalties to the institutional Church that I have to deal with."

Let's unpack that assumption.

My mom is from a Catholic family who has a complicated relationship with the Catholic Church. If pressed, that's what she would say her religious background is. She went to mass on her own when she was younger. I have memories of her taking me to mass. She stopped around the time my younger sister was born, and there wasn't much in the way of religious teaching that she ever tried to instill in us. It wasn't something that was important to her.

She had the assumption that if religious thought was something she didn't give to us, it was something she would never have to deal with. We'd be comfortably agnostic like her and that would be the end of it.

Dear reader. That was not, in fact, the end of it.

If there was a God, I should've been one of the last people to ever find out. Despite that, my religious beliefs have been in formation from the time I was a child, a tapestry of random things I'd gathered from the world around me. I've prayed and read scripture on my own without anyone forcing me to, having spiritual experiences in private from the time I was very young.

My mom said she didn't want to choose my religion for me, that she wanted me to pick my own faith. But I wasn't actually supposed to do that. I wasn't ever actually supposed to choose my own religious community, especially if it was different from hers. Once I did, this became a significant, ongoing source of conflict between us. If I wasn't going to be comfortably agnostic like the rest of them, why couldn't I have just been Catholic? She's asked me that before. That's a conversation for another time though.

Here's the salient point: you don't control the spiritual lives of your children. Your agnosticism, atheism, or secularism doesn't guarantee that's how they turn out, no more than your parents being believers meant that for you. Be okay with that possibility and decide ahead of time to respect their choices, or you'll end up doing as much damage to your relationship with your kids as your parents did to you by forcing you to conform to their beliefs. Never take the formation of your child's religious identity and make it about you. Because it's not about you. It's not about what you believe, want, think, or feel. It's about them. If you can't support your child in their identity formation separate from you, that's a you problem.

Your kid wants to get baptized or endowed and you make your grievances something they have to contend with? They want to serve a mission and you refuse to speak to them for most of the time they're gone? They're getting married in the temple and they already know your reaction is going to be explosive?

I'm telling you from personal experience that this doesn't become less abusive just because the person doing it is agnostic or an atheist. Have all the complicated feelings about your child being religious, especially if it means they're staying in or returning to a community you left. But deal with those feelings with a therapist. Don't take them out on your kids.

What Faith in Jesus Christ Looks Like During a Global Pandemic

This is a real line from a conversation I had with a man in Brazil, who left the Church to become whatever the Brazilian version of an Evangelical Christian is. 

"Faith is all you need. That's it. Only faith. Nothing else. If I have faith this car can fly, then it can. God can make this car fly."

I stood there politely, understanding completely why I found half the list of members for that unit on the floor in the kitchen. I thanked him for his time and we walked away without much further conversation. I didn't go on a mission to argue with people. But what he said ended up teaching me something very important that I've carried with me ever since.

When the only thing you care about in your religious life is "faith" as an abstract, isolated concept devoid of any context or connection to reality, you can use it to justify pretty much anything. God, in that scenario, ceases to be a parent or a source of moral teaching and becomes a gumball machine for increasingly ridiculous requests.

To teach faith in Jesus Christ correctly means understanding what hope, love, and loyalty in the living, breathing Christ can and cannot produce. It means valuing Christ as a person and the message he taught, not making a spectacle of the miracles he performs.

I don't believe in Jesus Christ because I want him to overturn the limits of reality and good sense to help me evade the consequences of my actions. I believe in him because he is my teacher, mentor, and friend helping me to achieve my true potential. I don't need him to pick up a car and chuck it across the sky just because I asked him to for my faith to be made manifest.

I would suggest that if you do, it's not faith you're actually looking for. Commanding God into making a spectacle of divine power is the definition of asking for a sign. For too many people in the Church, that is their only plan for how they intend to remain uninfected from COVID-19.

Pray AND Vaccinate!

If you're going to pray to God in all sincerity that you will be spared from becoming infected with COVID-19, even though you're unvaccinated, that's not faith. That's a mockery of faith. It's the perfect example of asking for that which "is not expedient for you," as taught in D&C 88. The consequence of that? That prayer will not only go unanswered, but it will also "turn unto your condemnation."

Why should a loving, intelligent God facilitate ANY request where a person refuses to help themselves through vaccination, and instead asks God to do all the work of preventing contagion for them? Why would an intelligent God, who prioritizes mortal wisdom and experience we came to earth here to obtain for ourselves, do that for us?

A God who has the power to elevate the mind and transform our condition would reason with us to help ourselves by choosing to be vaccinatednot the equivalent of chucking Volkswagen Beetles through the air.


President Russell M. Nelson receiving a vaccination for COVID-19.

Why do people honestly think they can prevent the spread of COVID-19 with faith alone? Because they've fundamentally (and perhaps willfully) misunderstood the nature of what faith in Jesus Christ is designed to accomplish.

Faith in Jesus Christ doesn't get you what you want, no matter how unreasonable, as a condition of being a Christian. If God has to help you avoid the consequences of your actions in increasingly grandiose and ridiculous ways, chances are it wasn't God who put you in that position. You did that all on your own.

Faith in Jesus Christ teaches us to give away every sin and selfish thought we have until none remains. It turns us into the people who simply do the loving thing naturally, just as the Savior did, without cajoling or difficult persuasion.

Get vaccinated. Wear a mask.

Stop asking God to save you when you have everything you need already to do it yourself.

Why I'm Still Trying

I've talked quite a bit about how I've arrived on the other side of my crisis of certainty and the fuller embrace of my faith. I don't want to call this a "Why do I stay?" because that implies that I'm physically present on some consistent basis.

It's more like "Why am I still trying?"

The answer may not be profoundly feminist or original. But it's the truth. My husband and I have our own weird little corner of Mormonism that we occupy together. Our own private planet where our beliefs and experiences have a life of their own.

Because of his sense of humor, he's allergic to ever taking anything too seriously. He loves an irreverent joke. His favorite thing is when someone pops off with nonsense in sacrament meeting because he finds it endlessly funny. He goes to church, in part, to laugh at people.

As an uptight overachiever in recovery, I can't express to you how unnaturally this came to me. To me, Church was not for laughing. Church was for doing serious things for serious people who are serious because that is correct. 

So much of what bothers me about the Church experience doesn't phase him because he doesn't care at all about what other people think. I can't express to you how little he cares that there are people at Church who are openly ridiculous in what they say and do. He says to me over and over again, "They aren't why I go." What this means is our shared religious life stays largely between us. Other people aren't a part of it. It's just us, discussing thoughts and ideas together in a shared language of belief.

When institutional Church became unbearable for me to sit through, I still had him and our weird little space together. He didn't withdraw that from me. He didn't try to force orthodoxy on me. He just gave me the space to figure out my own inner world and shared in it with me.

I've seen a lot of cases where Mormonism becomes another thing that pulls a couple apart when one of them chooses to distance themselves from the institutional Church. My husband never did that to me. He didn't let that happen to us. He went through it with me. I'm not the same person I was when we got married. I will probably never be that person again. He didn't view that as some violation of some contract we had. I don't owe him that. Change is part of the messy business of being human. He'd be the first person to tell you that.

I don't want the version of Mormonism that doesn't believe in science or vaccination, endorses insurrection, disrespects women, and turns a blind eye to racism and the torture of LGBTQ+ people. I want the version of Mormonism that exists in my home, where none of that is welcome. I want to inhabit the version of Mormonism that lives in my husband's heart, where respect, equality, and good sense are paramount. Where nobody is ever a second-class citizen, least of all me. 

Why do I believe there is a future in the Church I'm willing to try for? Because I see it, fully embodied, in the person my husband already is, and in the person he's becoming. 

In our home, we don't have to wait for some unknowable future to see it. It's already here.

Holy Envy: Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg

Back around Passover, Rabbi Dnya Ruttenberg taught me a lesson I didn't know I needed. She talked about how a necessary part of reaching the promised land is going through the desert. That's one of the lessons she's learned from observing Passover.

That had a profound impact on me. One of those moments where you think, "This is exactly what I needed to hear. I don't know what I'm about to go through, or why I need this. But this is going to stick with me because it's where I'm headed in life."

And sure enough, it didn't take long. The need to find a new place to live because we can't stay where we are has arrived. The uncertain future. The changes in circumstances. The preparations to leave when you have no idea where you're going or how to get there. That's where I am in the temporal realities of my life right now. But I'm also realizing that it's a good representation of where my spirituality is too. I am in the desert, the in-between of where I was and where I'll eventually end up.

The way I lived before, the person I was when I trusted in the institutional church wholly and without thought, is gone. I've left that place in my religious life and there is no going back. Part of this is because of hurtful experiences I've had with other members who didn't treat me with the respect I deserved. Part of it is because of questions and frustrations I have that I can't resolve, and no one else can resolve for me. Well, no one except God. And God is choosing not to answer those questions for me. At least not here and now.

There are answers I want that I may never get. Like many who perished in the desert during the forty year Exodus, there are deserts I may never return from.

Because I'm Mormon and our whole premise is "Ask, Seek, Knock," we don't really have a paradigm in place for questions with no answers, for deserts without end. For promised lands we never see. To find those insights, I had to look outside my own tradition.

There are problems I want resolved in my life that will never be resolved. It's not because I failed. It's not because I did anything wrong. I'm human, having a human experience. Nothing about being religious will ever change that. So why bother believing or observing?

The answer I've arrived at may not satisfy anyone else. But it satisfies me.

I genuinely believe in the reality of the experiences I've had with what I understand God to be: a sentient, benevolent presence outside of myself who talks to me, especially when I'm in need. I turn to that naturally and instinctively. I always have. I probably always will.

Mormonism doesn't have a monopoly on that, nor do I think it's the place where all people will have their needs met or their prayers answered. But somehow, it is for me. Their process of seeking out continual revelation from a living God who speaks and listens serves me best. That doesn't mean my life will be perfect or free from deserts. It doesn't mean I have the promise of certainty in anything. I'm accepting more every day that I have no such promise. Clarity and certainty of the Church are not mine anymore, and they may never be again.

I don't claim to "know" the Church is true anymore, that its leaders are inspired, that their choices are correct, that the relationships we have here will continue beyond the grave. I don't know any of that. I felt I did once, but I don't anymore. I don't "know" these things are true, like we're accustomed to saying in testimony meetings. I thought I could settle into saying I "believe" they're true, but even that feels distant from where I am right now.

But this is where my hope lives. I hope we have a living prophet who is what he claims to be. I hope that continual revelation is real, that its processes will overturn so much of the injustice that exists in the institutional church. I still hope many things about the Church are true. I'm okay with that.

The only things I truly believe anymore, even though I can't prove them with anything tangible, is that I have Heavenly Parents who love me. I believe I have a Savior in Jesus Christ. I believe in the power of prayer and that God answers some prayers, sometimes.

I used to think the erosion of my certainty about the restored gospel was a problem to be solved. With enough time and patience, surely someone (God, prophets, apostles, presidencies, etc.) with more power than I had would take them from me. Today, I'm embracing faith: the believing without evidence in things which are hoped for, but not seen. That may be where I spend the rest of my life, an exodus into the desert I never emerge from.

But I'm okay with that because it's changing the way I live. I see the world and people in it differently. I am less certain I have the solutions to everyone else's problems, which makes it easier to listen and admit when I don't know something. I have a compassion and awareness of people outside of myself I never had before. I may have lost the sense of security I find in certainty, opening me to new fear. But with that greater capacity for fear has come a more profound love for everyone and everything around me.

If being unsure if anything lasts forever means I appreciate and savor here and now that much better, I'm okay if I never recover that certainty. I see the wisdom from the God I believe in that this may have been the better way to live all along. I was just too busy being certain I knew everything to see it.

Having Faith in the Book of Mormon

A friend of mine was recently answering a question about the historicity of the Book of Mormon, the reality of the people mentioned within it, and whether it's necessary to prove that. We agreed that the historicity of the Book of Mormon isn't necessary, and I wanted to share my breakdown as to why that is.

To insist that the Book of Mormon be viewed as a historical text means opening the record to scrutiny and standards of proof it will never be able to meet. It's completely contradictory to the development of faith. Faith, in its most fundamental form, always comes back to a belief in events and stories that aren't knowable through evidence. No amount of historical analysis into the Book of Mormon will ever change the fundamental nature of believing as an act of faith, rather than empirical knowledge.

The purpose of the Book of Mormon isn't to provide a historical record for us to intellectually prove or disprove. The text itself points out that there was a historical record upon which the Book of Mormon is supposed to be based, and we weren't given any of that because that's not the purpose of this record.

The purpose of the Book of Mormon is to testify of Jesus Christ. It accomplishes that purpose though faith, not intellectual certainty. There is no scholarship, no physical evidence, no probative inquiry into any of the historical elements of the Book of Mormon that can replace the personal experiences Latter-day Saints have with in pursuing that purpose.

So when I say I only care about the Book of Mormon because of what it has to say about Jesus Christ, that's truly the only reason it matters to me. It serves no other purpose in my life, including as a source of historical truth. I don't care about Book of Mormon geography, the debates surrounding horses on the American continents, the Nephite coinage system, or about proving the literal existence of anyone in the text. That simply has nothing to do with the value the Book of Mormon has had in my life.

The first time I read the Book of Mormon, I had a transformative spiritual experience in which I felt like God and I were communicating, openly and uninhibited, for the first time. That's why I believe in it. It's not because of Joseph Smith, what he said he saw in the First Vision, the divine authority he claimed to have, or what he claimed the origins of the book are. Joseph Smith, has no bearing on why I believe in the Book of Mormon.  

That doesn't mean I disbelieve Joseph Smith. I just fully embrace the fact that I'm never going to know, empirically and with absolute certainty, whether what he experienced and described was literal or not. My belief is an act of faith that doesn't need to be justified by historical evidence in order to exist. It's the same allowance that exists in every religious tradition. For me to say historicity isn't central to my decision to believe, I think, acknowledges that reality.

If the only truth someone gains out of the Book of Mormon is historical proof that Joseph Smith was a living prophet and Russell M. Nelson is his modern successor, I can't imagine a more wasted opportunity. This is why I've never supported the logical progression in the missionary discussions that assert if the Book of Mormon is true, then Joseph Smith is a prophet and the Church is true. 


Because it completely distracts from the fact that Jesus Christ acts, appears, and speaks within its pages. To choose to focus on anything else, to me, is to miss the most valuable thing in the text.

Talking to God

Part of the impediment to me wanting to pray has come from an intense dislike of who I've understood God to be up until this point in my life. It's a relationship largely defined by me making apologies and excuses for him to justify terrible behavior from those who believe in him.

I'm just not willing to do that anymore.

Without trust, he and I have absolutely nothing to talk about. And I've realized that I can't trust a God who doesn't treat me like an equal. That trust is broken, and he and I are fully aware that's the only thing I have to say to him.

I trusted him to be my protector, to be the only one in my life who would never hurt me or abandon me. It's the trust of a child in a parent, where the parent already knows that relationship is completely unsustainable into adult life.

God has hurt me more profoundly than anyone else in my life, in all the times and places I needed him and he wasn't there. For the sake of me becoming an adult, he left me alone. The "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger" approach to parenting.

Well, if adulthood is going to be defined by God constantly walking out on me when I need him most and learning how to live without him, what exactly do I need him for?

Maybe there's wisdom in this, in having a relationship with God that isn't based as much on need as mine was with him. But it's a profound loss of closeness and trust I haven't figured out how to overcome. And for now, I can't imagine a time where it's ever going to hurt less.

I wish I had the answer. The closest thing I have to that, perhaps, is the God who truly steps away when I tell him "if this is the kind of half-assed help you're offering, I don't want your help." 

Right now, I feel like that's all I know about God anymore.

The Death of Certainty: Embracing Faith and Doubt

You'd be hard pressed to find a person in my church who hasn't heard some variation of the pithy phrase "faith and doubt cannot coexist." You'd be equally hard-pressed to find a saying that bothers me more because of how much it contradicts what the scriptures teach about faith and doubt. 

I want to explore this today, because it's foundational to understanding what my relationship to Mormonism is like right now. Piecing these thoughts together has carried me through a lot, and I hope it can be helpful to others who need it.

If I had to describe this relationship in my life, I'd say I come by love for my faith honestly. I refuse to lie to myself, or accept bad rationality for unacceptable behavior anymore. But I also don't allow anyone to bully me into hating my religion either. I will keep what is worth keeping, because this represents so much of the good in my life. I will trash what is trash, without apologies to anyone. I am the boss of my own testimony. I have peace co-existing in spheres of faith and doubt, because I have embraced them both. I have no intentions of changing that, for reasons we'll explore momentarily.

Some would call my journey to get to this point a "faith crisis." I disagree. I never had a crisis of faith. That is not an accurate description of what happened to me. I had a crisis of certainty. And to understand the difference, let's take a look at Alma 32.

Faith, Doubt, and Certainty

Alma 32 is one of the most important chapters in holy writ to me. Everything I am, everything I believe, and how I approach God is wrapped up in this chapter. It was the first chapter of the Book of Mormon I ever read seriously. The spiritual experience I had with it is why I got baptized. It was the first time in my life faith as a principle made sense to me, because of how Alma separates it from everything faith is not.

As a background, Alma is serving as a missionary in the land of the Zoramites. He is preaching on the hill Onidah, when he is approached by a multitude of the poor. They want to be believers, but they've been rejected and turned away by everyone, especially the priests. Even though this group builds the houses of worship within this society, they are denied access to them. They are undesirable to allincluding those who claim to know and love God.

The question in their hearts is never spoken, but it's palpable in every word: How do I maintain faith in a God whose people are full of such prejudice, hatred, and blatant hypocrisy?

To answer their question, Alma speaks to the humility they've demonstrated by continuing to seek God in those circumstances. He acknowledges the dignity inherent to who they are, instead of defining their worth in being acceptable to others. Alma assures them it isn't necessary to worship God in a building, thereby dispelling any notion that these people are dependent on their oppressors to have a relationship with him. The priests and ruling classes do not, he argues, have the power or authority to remove God from their lives through compulsion. He then replaces those ideas with how to actually form a relationship with God.

At the forefront of that process are faith, doubt, and certainty. And the interplay between them in this chapter is completely inconsistent with the message that faith and doubt cannot coexist. Rather, Alma makes the argument that faith and certainty cannot coexist.

And now as I said concerning faith—faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things; therefore if ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true.
Alma 32:21

Faith, defined in verse 21, rests primarily in uncertainty. To hope for something we have never seen means entering and existing in the space where ambiguity, skepticism, and doubt exist. If we no longer have reason to doubt, it's because we have certainty born of knowledge and personal experience (see verse 18). He goes on to make analogies and allegories, and repeatedly asserts a single truth in every part of this process: if we still possess faith, we do not possess "a perfect knowledge," i.e. certainty.

So when do we finally obtain a perfect knowledge of anything in the gospel of Jesus Christ? When can we finally say, "I know this thing with a perfect knowledge, without any doubts whatsoever" and have it actually be the truth?

He answers that question in verses 42 and 43:

And because of your diligence and your faith and your patience with the word in nourishing it, that it may take root in you, behold, by and by ye shall pluck the fruit thereof, which is most precious, which is sweet above all that is sweet, and which is white above all that is white, yea, and pure above all that is pure; and ye shall feast upon this fruit even until ye are filled, that ye hunger not, neither shall ye thirst.

Then, my brethren, ye shall reap the rewards of your faith, and your diligence, and patience, and long-suffering, waiting for the tree to bring forth fruit unto you.
Alma 32:42-43

When we're dead, resurrected, have come into the presence of God, and have received eternal life. When our lives are complete. When we are finished. That's when we will have a perfect knowledge of anything. Short of that, there is no untouchable, unbreakable certainty that belongs to any person on this planetlet alone in the Church. Doubt belongs to all of us, and we belong to it. It is a necessary part of the mortal experience. 

We talk about "opposition in all things," and here it is. Without doubt, there can be no faith. And I don't mean that generally speakingthat doubt must exist abstractly somewhere, for someone else. If we have never personally experienced real, lasting, prolonged doubt, we cannot say we have mighty, unshakeable faith. Faith is a positive response to real doubt. Faith is not avoiding doubt by denying truth or reality. And it certainly is not pressuring others into silence to make that denial easier.

"Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind."

So why, then, is so much of our church experience centered on convincing ourselves and others that we have any certainty regarding the foundational tenets of our faith?

Why do we have testimony meetings, where the format exists to assure everyone that we know beyond a shadow of a doubt the Church is "true"? Why do we have temple recommend interviews where we proclaim to know the tenets of our religion to be "true"? Why do we insist on hearing each other assert that we've achieved certainty in our beliefs and discipleship, when that isn't even possible at this stage of our spiritual development? 

If these experiences in the Church are supposed to be based on imperfect faith, not perfect knowledge, how does this change the way we see each other? What does this say about what God really expects from us when we worship together?

When you search for faith and doubt together in the scriptures, a variety of texts emerge where writers have analyzed the relationship between them. But for our purposes, let's examine Romans 14. It provides valuable insights into when faith and doubt were primary concerns to the apostle Paul. Who is strong, and who is weak in Christ? Who gets to decide, and what criteria is on that measuring stick? What obligations do we owe to each other as disciples in Christ? Take a few minutes to read the chapter, if you haven't recently. Some of the answers to these questions may surprise you.

As it turns out, developing a relationship with Christ in a community of other Saints has always worked best when... we mind our own business and don't take it upon ourselves to judge other people and their offerings to God. So much of what we define as discipleship is nothing more than personal preference, interpretation, and opinionwhich Paul acknowledges throughout this chapter. 

Note verse 1 where the very first instruction reads, "Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations." The person's doubts and hangups, however, are not the problem. The "disputations" are the issue, according to Paul. He compares those differences first to differences in eating habits (meat vs. herbs), then preferences in weather, then in how we choose to spend our time. In none of these things are there right and wrong answersjust differences in opinion and preference. These differences have no lasting value to God one way or the other, and no impact on our salvation.

Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother’s way.

I know, and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus, that there is nothing unclean of itself: but to him that esteemeth any thing to be unclean, to him it is unclean.

But if thy brother be grieved with thy meat, now walkest thou not charitably. Destroy not him with thy meat, for whom Christ died.
Romans 14:13-15

Jesus Christ left much of what it means to be a disciple up to personal interpretation. Within the context of Mormonism, there are standards associated with receiving ordinances. But even after meeting these obligations, there is so much room for people to decide what discipleship means to them. What is compatible with your personal worship of Jesus Christ? That's a question we each get to decide how to answer. It's not for us to force our answers on others. In the words of Paul, there is no culture of conformity so precious that it is worth harming someone else in order to achieve it.

The gospel of Jesus Christ is not a message that demands for me to have a perfect knowledge of anyone or anything. Not here. Not yet. It is an invitation to have frail, human, imperfect faith in him. It is a message of flawed devotion, played out millions of times throughout my life. It is the hope to present myself inadequately before God, full of contradictions, and to marvel that I am acceptable anywayeach and every time. It is the reality of knowing every person in the pew beside me, no matter who they are, lives on the same hope and hypocrisy that sustains me.

Faith and doubt do not dispel each other. They dispel false pretenses. They forcefully remove the facades we learn to wear while comparing, competing, and reassuring others that everything is "just fine." They call our bluffs in each and every moment we spend trying to be perfect, or forcing others to be in our own sight. In the hands of God, faith and doubt are the great equalizersthe reminder that we are all the same exact distance away from being perfected. We all depend on the matchless love of Christ to get there.

When it Matters

It's one thing to talk about faith, doubt, and certainty in the abstract. It's another to view them personally through deep anguish. When the answers to questions like "Is God real?" and "Is there life after death?" were part of the debris of my former life crashing down around me, "faith and doubt cannot coexist" became all but meaningless to me. I now understand what it means to be dissatisfied with Instagram quote answers to profound questions born of grief.

I found myself asking these questions in the dark, knowing the impossible choices I would face the next morning. My mind was full of anguish, and I craved certainty in that moment. I must know there is life after death, that everything here isn't meaningless suffering amounting to nothing at all.

In the quiet that seeped slowly into my chest like morphine, my mind emptied and went still. An image of a sandy beach coalesced into my consciousness, blue water stretching before me in an endless horizon. I saw myself standing there, gazing at the line fixed between water and sky.

Imagine thinking there is no land anywhere else on earth, just because you can't see it.

Reality is not bound by what I have seen or experienced. I have not seen a corporeal God with my own two eyes. I have never seen the afterlife. There are endless numbers of people, living and dead, who I will never meet. Places I have never seen, and never will. My inability to see and interact with them does not logically turn them into fiction, cardboard cutouts and painted backdrops. A description of places I have never seen, of experiences I've never had, doesn't make them any less real.

There are some in my community who, after having an experience like this one, would infer or imply all kinds of certainty from it. Surely such an interaction was an answer to my questions! I've been given certain knowledge, beyond the shadow of all doubt, that God is real and there is an afterlife! Look more closely. I asked for certainty, and I didn't get it. I received a lesson on faith instead.

I'm realizing that the tendency to affix certainty upon spiritual experiences is a learned behavior on my part. It's what has set me up for so much frustration throughout my church experience. If my spiritual experiences are supposed to be vehicles of certainty, of course it would be wrong to question them. Of course doubt would be an undesirable experience, tarnishing what I already "know" to be true. Of course it would be devastating if the spiritual experiences at the heart of that "certainty" ever turned out to be incomplete or insufficient to bear me through the trials of my life. I can see why discovering the brittleness of certainty would be traumatic, a crisis, in the lives of some. The only reason I've never had a "faith crisis" is because I've never stopped giving myself the right to be fully human in the name of my religion.

I exist in a place where all that is real includes what I cannot see. Believing in the possibility that I may see God is faith. The acknowledgment that I can't/won't always do that is doubt—whether in God, or in people, or in myself, the impact is the same. Beyond my faith and doubt is a growing sense that claiming I will ever exist in any other state, at least here on earth, is the real delusion.

For me, it is the death of certainty. And it's in that place I'm becoming content to stay.

"How can you talk about the Church that way?"

I view my loyalty to be to God first, the institution second. I'm a disciple of Christ, not the Church. It also helps that I've had to navigate the Church being a Messy Place with Messy People since before I was baptized.

Image courtesy of: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

No amount of institutional grief or disappointment will ever compare to the Young Women lesson where I found out my family couldn't be at my sealing. If I can survive that, there's not much worse the Church (or anyone else) can do to me.

It sounds bad, but I learned early on that this kind of pain just comes with the territory. Being Mormon has always been this hard for me. But the highs justified the lows somehow. It was only recently that I asked myself "should it really be like this?"

I'm trying to figure out if/how to have Mormonism in my life without all the the self-sacrificing martyrdom. It is possible for them to ask too much. It's a new way of thinking about faith for me, but it's the only way forward at this point.

I found a lot of value in that Abrahamic notion that faith should be able to ask everything of you, or it can't actually save you. I was eager to prove myself to God, and to see what I was made of.

But no one can do that forever. So I'm asking different things of my faith now. And in the process, I think I'm coming to understand Romans 4 for the first time.

It's wasn't the law, the sacrifice, or the works of Abraham that was accounted to him for righteousness. It was his faith. That was the purpose of the lesson. It wasn't to take Isaac away from his father, to require that from his hands. It was to teach him that there are things in this world more valuable than sacrifice.

It is through faithnot through Abraham's name, his bloodline, or through the lawthat salvation comes. To be consumed with making sacrifices to God as a measure of my own self-worth? That's not what I'm supposed to do. That was never supposed to be the point of my association with God, even if that's what the Church and its members expect from me.

So, in the same spirit that was taught to the Hebrews, I can learn this lesson. I can let go of this constant need to prove myself, to try and earn the worthiness to be loved and regarded by God. That's not something I have to earn. As in all loving and healthy relationships, it was there already, waiting for me to be able to see it.

Through the Storm

I've spent a lot of time reflecting on who I used to be, how secure and at home I used to feel in my faith. And for years now, I've been looking back and comparing myself to who I was then, as if she was a better person because she was doing more of the "right things."

I have to constantly remind myself that I keep my covenants, same as she did. I wasn't better then because I read my scriptures for hours on end, or said more prayers, or went to church even when I was ill or suffering. Those things are nothing more than labor. And laboring differently now does not make me worse than I was when I did those things more consistently.

I think about it now like a fishing boat. When the weather is good and the water is calm, it's easy to see the external results of my labor. But during a storm, things are different. That productivity changes. It becomes about doing the labor that keeps you from sinking, crashing, and minimizing losses. It's a different mentality because the labor is different.

Neither type of labor has more value than the other. They both sustain life. And comparing myself to who I was when things were more peaceful doesn't help me to navigate the waters now that they're not.

My number one job right now is to make it through the storm. That labor has value. And it's making me a better person than I was then, not worse. Where I am and what I'm doing is not a mistake. It feels that way because of what I value, which God is inviting me to change.

I can embrace who I'm becoming, without feeling like I'm worse off because it doesn't look like who I've been in the past. I may be different, but I like myself more. And that should definitely count for something.


I want to own up to something so I can dispel it as a way of thinking. Because it has taken me a long time to realize how wrong I was about people who walk away from my church, or take breaks, or interact with it on their own terms/without a set schedule of appearances.

I used to think that people who left the Church did so because they came into contact with other people who have. Like doubt was somehow contagious, and contact with people who walk away was a negative force that escalates people's feelings of dissatisfaction with the church. There are a lot of problems with this thinking. It makes the assumption that people can't be trusted to know their own minds, hearts, and motivations in relation to their own relationship with God. It assumes they are unreliable narrators in their own story.

I thought that way because it served me. It exonerated me from having to care about or address the complex and varied reasons why people walk away from my faith community. It allowed me to place blame on someone else instead of looking at myself and my behavior. It wasn't until I was invited to comb through the details of my own life that I realized doubt doesn't work like this. It isn't something you catch from someone else. It's a natural and valid response to prolonged inconsistency between expectations and reality.

I didn't wake up one day and find myself unhappy with my faith community. That disillusionment is a logical, justified response to hundreds of incidents of pain, exclusion, ignorance, loneliness, rejection, and being devalued for who I am and what I think over many years.

And here's the thing I only recently realized: the people I once feared, the ones who doubt... they are not a threat to my faith. They aren't waiting in the wings to stifle out the last candle. My experience has been quite the opposite. My friends across the faith spectrum have lifted me up. They can see I'm trying to stay, to renegotiate my place with my faith, and they respect that. They listen. They empathize. They give me the language and tools to keep my faith in God alive.

They save me from myself. Their hands, outstretched to me when I was drowning, became the familiar hands of God.

I would have lost myself completely had it not been for the people I once thought so little of. And I realized they deserved so much more credit than I was giving them.

Don't be afraid of people who distance themselves intentionally from the Church. Don't assume they want to hurt you, or that you fundamentally understand the Church better because you have stayed after they have gone.

Listen. Empathize. Learn. Embrace. 

They may just be the ones who save you someday, too.


As I prepare to be sealed in the temple at the end of this month, I have given reflection to the topic of covenants--and discovered many things I do not know, and more still that I do not fully understand.

Two questions have been mine, which I have pondered in my heart, which I offer to you now.

The first question was to ask Why does God use covenants to grant us eternal life?

Mortality is a stewardship in which we are entrusted with many things which are not our own. A body, a family, all of these earthly possessions, even our very lives—these things do not belong to us. They have been entrusted to us by a living God, through an agreement which we made with him before we came to this life. It is an agreement we accepted here on earth with baptism, and it is the reason we have everything we treasure right now. They are gifts from God because He promised to care for us, and to provide us with an inheritance if we are faithful. If we honor our God and keep His commandments, if we are just and honorable stewards over those things which do not yet belong to us, all of these things we treasure will become ours.

In Luke 16, Jesus teaches:

10 “He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much: and he that is unjust in the least is unjust in much.
12 “And if ye have not been faithful in that which is another man’s, who shall give you that which is your own?”

If we want to inherit eternal life, we must be faithful and build His kingdom with all we have been given in our mortal life. In all that we are, in all that we do, and in all we possess—we must build the kingdom of God. That is the promise we have made in all of our covenants. By doing so, we create the inheritance we shall receive. We shall have an eternal family because we have made an eternal family. We shall have the celestial kingdom because we built our own corner of the celestial kingdom.

 If we have built a lesser kingdom through our words and deeds, that is the gift we shall receive. I believe the phrase my mother would use here—one that expresses my point perfectly—is “You made your bed, and now you lie in it.”

My second question was one of comprehension. Oftentimes in recent conferences and talks in every imaginable setting, I have heard the phrase “Cleave to your covenants,” with the promise that they will provide protection from the temptations offered in this world. And I realized that I didn’t know what it means to cleave to my covenants. They aren’t physical, I can’t touch them, I can’t hold them—so how would I cleave to them?

To cleave to our covenants has two parts. First, it means to maintain our part of the agreement by keeping the commandments of God. It means to live up to who we are and what we've promised, no matter what the cost. Jesus taught:

“If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.”
John 14: 23 (to Judas Isacariot)

I have found that every time I have disobeyed a commandment of God, it was because I simply didn’t love Him enough to do as He said. It was because I had forgotten the worth of His atoning blood in my life, and I had lost sight of His power to rescue me from anything and everything. There is no peace to be found in this world, or in our hearts, until we make peace with Christ. That’s why He always invites us:

“Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come into him, and will sup with him, and he with me.”
Revelation 3: 20

To cleave to our covenants is no different than to cleave to our Savior. There is no difference between them.

The second part of cleaving to our covenants is to trust God to keep His end of the agreement. We must believe in our hearts that God is our Father and that He loves us. We must have faith in His Son Jesus Christ, and have faith that He wants to forgive our sins and save us. We must trust in the future they have prepared for us, no matter what form that future may take. “For I know the thoughts I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.” (Jeremiah 29: 11)

 Isaiah and Paul both testified:

“Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.”
1 Corinthians 2: 9

When I was in Brazil, there was a phrase I saw everywhere. It was painted on buildings, printed on store receipts, tagged on the backs of street signs, and was written in many of their hearts. The phrase was “Deus é Fiel.” God is faithful.

We have more reason than anyone else in the world to believe that God is faithful because we are members of His restored Church. We have made covenants with him through His restored priesthood authority. When we cleave to our covenants and keep God’s commandments, having faith in Christ, we can be assured that the future is as bright as our faith.

In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

The Gospel in My Life

Studying the scriptures through Preach My Gospel has been one of the most powerful transformations to my testimony I have ever experienced. I love Preach My Gospel, and I love the changes it has brought to me. I never realized that all the "dailies" and all the commandments we keep are functions of the gospel, and that the gospel is what brings Christ into our lives.

The gospel of Jesus Christ is the message of salvation we, as members of the Church, are under covenant to share with the world. That message includes 5 fundamentals:
  1. Faith in Jesus Christ as the resurrected Lord, the only one who has/will ever atone for all of the sins of mankind
  2. Repentance to be reconciled with Jesus Christ for all of the sins we have ever personally committed
  3. Baptism under restored priesthood authority, as existed in Christ's church anciently
  4. Receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands, a confirming ordinance of that same authority
  5. Enduring to the End--to become continually converted to Jesus Christ by remaining true to the gospel

That's it. That is the gospel of Jesus Christ. Those five things are the root of true conversion. And, as I recently learned, that gospel is not just a preliminary set of steps for new members to go through. Once the first four are finished, a person does not stay permanently at step five, in a vague state of generally doing what we know we should.

No, the gospel is a repeating cycle. To endure to the end means to repeat the cycle continually. The Sacrament becomes the symbolic representation of baptism and confirmation after someone has already been baptized and confirmed. The commandments we follow are then supposed to work together as functions of that gospel, to bless our lives for good and help us grow spiritually.

I attended this talk by Elder Ballard on the gospel of Jesus Christ, and I came into it hoping to gain much-needed insight on time management.

Afterwards, I realized that if I would strive to make a schedule that is based on the gospel itself, I would feel the Holy Ghost's influence more abundantly in my life. So I sat down and categorized how all the things I have to do fit into the gospel itself.

For example, I was reminded that scripture study is inseparably tied to faith in Jesus Christ. It has been my experience that faith in Jesus Christ is almost impossible to maintain unless you consistently read the scriptures--especially the Book of Mormon. Personally, that's also where I chose to classify my studies and college classes because in order for them to be worth my time and money, they need to be building my faith in Jesus Christ. I've found that when I put forth the effort to find Christ in even my most secular subjects, He makes it possible for me to understand many lessons that only He can teach me.

Repentance, for me, is largely grounded in prayer. Once I understood that a crucial part of my prayers needed to be daily repentance, it became a lot easier for me to remember to pray every day, and for my prayers to be more than 30 seconds long. When prayers are a constant vehicle for repentance, they become the conversational prayers I have heard so many teachers strongly recommend, but never instruct anyone on how to begin. For someone who is trying to have more conversational prayers with the Lord, I would recommend starting with adding repentance to them each and every day.

Baptism by immersion was an interesting one. I associated that with temple worship because I'm still in the baptism-by-proxy phase of my temple experience. But this could also apply to the Sacrament, and thereby Church attendance. Because baptisms performed outside the temple are almost identical to the ones performed inside, the jump from the first to the second is not hard to make. But how often do we think of Church meetings as being a place to be immersed in the goodness of God? That's what Zion and the Church are supposed to be like--and whether they are or not depends entirely on what we personally put into them, i.e. all of ourselves. If we continually plop ourselves down in a chair and expect to be spiritually fed without putting any effort into it, we will continue to be disappointed when that feeling of immersion does not come.

The one that jumped out to me the strongest, however, was receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost through the laying on of hands. This made me think of the priesthood, and the question I had to ask myself was "How can I get the priesthood to be more of an active force in my life?" The answer that came to me immediately was the Relief Society, and thereby Visiting Teaching. (If you're curious as to how I made that jump, read this and this.) FHE also came to mind, which actually surprised me way more than Relief Society and Visiting Teaching did. I never thought of FHE as being a means of having the priesthood in my life. As I continued to ponder, I realized that service opportunities fit well under this one because the Holy Ghost inspires people to serve. The laying on of hands in itself is a giving act--one we are commanded to extend to anyone who will receive it.

I have a white board I use to do my planning and time management, and I decided to color code each of the four principles with its own color. I plan to continue doing so as I implement this plan, in order to track the gospel's presence in my life. Once I can build the habits of following through with my plans, and assessing my performance, I can more easily identify how to add things to my life when I feel I need extra help in an area. By being a careful steward over the gospel's influence in my life, I can fortify myself against temptation and the attempts of the adversary to lead me astray.

From this I have learned that the gospel of Jesus Christ is not a catch-all phrase to describe every good thing. The gospel is how every good thing--every commandment, every truth, every principle--is tied to Jesus Christ. When we see those connections as they really are, and keep them unimpeded in our lives, we magnify the ability of God to bless us and endow us with great faith and power. We become more true to what we know, disciples of Jesus Christ. Our light is more able to shine because it is more easily magnified through our righteous actions, and I know that as I strive to lay that gospel foundation in my life, that gospel will lay a foundation in me for greater things to come.

I testify of this in the holy name of my Savior and Redeemer Jesus Christ, whose gospel this is. Even so, Amen.

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