Don’t Take My Word For It …

learned for myself

So, my last two posts have been very intense. It is the side of me that is reserved for the disciplinarian at home, the professor that has to give grades to students who haven’t been working, and the teacher that has to establish rules and protocols to have an orderly and just classroom. Though it is a side that is intense, the truth of the matter is that I’d do almost anything to help my students succeed and that goes a million times more for my own children!

The most wonderful thing about the gospel is that, though there are rules and standards, a loving Father in Heaven and his equally loving Son want to help us succeed as well. Take a look:

For if you will that I give unto you a place in the celestial world, you must prepare yourselves by doing the things which I have commanded you and required of you.

Verily, verily, I say unto you, ye are little children, and ye have not as yet understood how great blessings the Father hath in his own hands and prepared for you;

And ye cannot bear all things now; nevertheless, be of good cheer, for I will lead you along. The kingdom is yours and the blessings thereof are yours, and the riches of eternity are yours. (Doctrine and Covenants 78: 7, 17-18)

A while ago, I watched a video about a group of young women leaders who were trying to teach their youth why they should be modest. (I wish I could find the video, but after searching for half a day and coming up unsuccessfully, I couldn’t find it, so I will sum up.) Instead of doing a lecture, they sent the girls to the scriptures. Instead of spending an hour on it,  they spent several weeks allowing the girls plenty of time for thinking, searching, pondering, and praying. At the end of the time, each girl who had participated received direct revelation from Father in Heaven about the reasons that He wanted her (his own precious daughter) to be modest. I can’t think of anything better!

So, though I will teach revealed doctrine on this blog, the best thing that each of us can do is spend some real time asking Father directly about His teachings. The Savior himself said that the doctrine that He preached was not His own and then gave a special promise –

If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself (John 7:17). 

I would highly recommend that anyone who is facing difficult doctrinal issues (or as I like to call them, Doctrinal Abrahamic Trails) should spend some time with the Lord, taking His word at face value. Trying out His doctrine in all possible ways, or if we are not able to try it (let’s say the doctrine is about children and we don’t have any) we should carefully ponder with an eye on the eternities why the Lord would command that doctrine. I read in a blog once –  that we need to “approach the issue with an eye to what the Lord would have us learn from the law.” One of the sweetest things that a young boy of 14 said after he went seeking answers from God was, “I have learned for myself.”

Answers will come. All of these issues, questions, and problems are directly provided to help us turn to the Savior. And, just as I would do almost anything to help my students and my children survive and thrive, He would do, and has done, infinitely more for you and for me.

Building Bridges of Communication Among the Faithful

I’ll admit it.  I love C.S. Lewis’ writings.  I feel deep kinship to him as his ideas and analogies help build my faith and make me want to be a better person.  I’ve quoted him time and time again and felt that he understood religion exactly as I did.  That is until I picked up Mere Christianity and instead of skimming or going to specific quotes, I was reading it cover to cover and got to some chapters that made me think – “Stop, wait, where is this coming from?”  Silly, I know, but it took me a few minutes to remember that Mr. Lewis was working from a different understanding of the nature of God than the one that I am working from.

That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it’s just something I forget from time to time because I believe that people of good will can teach each other many things.  Learning about faith is something that is very meaningful to me.  Which brings me to the main point of this post – many people of other Christian faiths say that I am not a Christian, though I believe myself to be one.  I have pondered it, and tried to understand it, but until my experience with C.S. Lewis and some other pieces of reading, I couldn’t make ‘heads or tails’ of this very common rhetoric.

In the midst of this weekend of pondering, I came across the thesis of a Catholic Dominican Monk which gave me some very valuable answers to this conundrum. The paper was called Partakers of the Divine Nature: A comparative analysis of Patristic and Mormon Doctrines of Divinization, by then Fr. Jordan Vajda, OP written in 1998 and republished in 2002 by FARMS.  A full copy of the document that I read can be found here.   In the paper, Fr. Vajda compares and contrasts LDS and Roman Catholic views on the doctrine of theosis, or divinization.  While the discussion is absolutely brilliant, and well worth the read, I will discuss the understanding that is important to this conversation.

In his final discussion, he weaves thoughts from Elder M. Russell Ballard (Apostle of the LDS Church) and the famous (or infamous depending on who you talk to) anti-LDS book the Godmakers (if you can believe that one can weave these two together) and states the following:

  • The key is to build bridges of understanding among peoples of different faiths … Members of the LDS Church are challenged to be sensitive in how they use religious terminology when speaking with other Christians. Language used in an LDS context often has a different meaning in a non-LDS context, even though the same words are being used in both situations. This can give rise to the perception that Latter-day Saints intend to deceive others (by attaching nonstandard meanings to words traditionally defined in a particular way) when, in fact, they do not. … Latter-day Saints define the same terms differently not because of any attempt to hide what they really believe, but because of the specific content of the revelations which, as a Church, they have received through their prophets. It does seem clear, though, that any attempts to cover over or minimize genuine differences in doctrine, no matter how well intentioned, do not help but only hinder the possibility of authentic religious dialogue and conversation.

Again, as I read this excellent piece, I was struck by the fact that (using Vajda’s terms) as Restoration Christians (members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, aka LDS), though we may worship the same Savior, and study from the same Bible as Historical Christians (members of Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant Churches) our beliefs about the very Nature of God is different, and therefore, many Historical Christians say that we are not ‘like them’, which is true.  I guess that I can see why they may get frustrated when I interpret their writers and writings through the lens of my faith, but as I stated before it does build faith, hope, and charity within me.  What I still have a problem with, however, is why people of Faith should not want others to grow in their own personal faith.

I should think that it logically follows that if a person desires to get closer to God, that he will do the things that will help him get closer.  If a person desires to find out who the Savior is, then he will go to the scriptures and find out who Jesus Christ is.  If a man desires answers from God, all he need do is pray.  And so, instead of name-calling or Bible-bashing with members of other churches, we should be building each other up in faith (even if that faith might be different from ours).  In this way, the seeker of truth will draw nearer to God and “he that preacheth and he that heareth [the] word … rejoiceth together” (Doc. & Cov. 50: 22).

And so, I will keep quoting CS Lewis, because his words make me rejoice in my Savior and King and make me want to be a better person, but as I quote, I will try to understand my Historical Christian brothers and sisters better.  I will ask my friends of other faiths to work with me so that we can build each other up and celebrate that we are drawing nearer to God.  I will ask Christians everywhere to go to God if they want to know about His nature (whether the Restoration or Historic view is correct).  All they need to do is study and ask.  After all, He did say –

  • “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you:  For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened” (Matthew 7: 7-8).
In summation, I turn to C.S. Lewis –
  • “God made us: invented us as an man invents an engine.  A car is meant to run on gasoline, and it would not run properly on anything else.  Now, God designed the human machine to run on Himself.  He Himself is the fuel our spirits are designed to burn, or the food our spirits are designed to feed on.  There is no other.  That is why it is just no good asking God to make us happy in our own way without bothering with religion.  God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there.  There is no such thing,”  (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity: The Shocking Alternative).
Or, as I used to say to my Seminary students,”that emptiness that you feel inside is homesickness for our Heavenly Home.  People try to fill the emptiness with other things – sex, drugs, rock and roll, what-have-you, –  but the only thing that will take it away is filling the emptiness with what your soul is craving – communion with your Father in Heaven.”
Sounds like very similar doctrine to me, and something that if we opened up our hearts to, any person of faith would understand and embrace.