Losing my religion Wrestling with God

By: shenpa warrior
December 22, 2010

In the two-story church building in Yamaguchi Japan (it’s seriously in the middle of a rice paddy), I picked up the Teachings of Harold B. Lee and read this quote:

“Now the only safety we have as members of this church is to do exactly what the Lord said to the Church in that day when the Church was organized. We must learn to give heed to the words and commandments that the Lord shall give through His prophet… There will be some things that take patience and faith. You may not like what comes from the authority of the Church. It may contradict your political views. It may contradict your social views. It may interfere with some of your social life. But if you listen to these things, as if from the mouth of the Lord Himself, with patience and faith, the promise is that ‘the gates of hell shall not prevail against you; yea, and the Lord God will disperse the powers of darkness from before you, and cause the heavens to shake for your good, and his name’s glory’ (D&C 21:6).”

I have a testimony of this.

Or rather, a testimony of the inverse of this: If you don’t always hear the voice of the Lord coming from your leaders, you may end up wrestling with God. I’m not sure what it means to have the “powers of darkness” dispersed from before me, or the heavens shaking for my good, but I’m pretty sure I haven’t always felt comfortable in some aspects of my faith.

At some point on my mission I realized that my mission president (who inspires me to this day) wasn’t perfect. Not just in “gets angry once in a while” or “makes small mistakes” kind of way, but more of an “honestly and with good intentions did things that did not work” kind of way (although I still followed him with exactness – he was a great mission president).

This realization that inspired and respected leaders can error in meaningful ways, began the process of my naive belief structure going the way of all the earth. Almost a decade later, I was again confronted with a significant issue that made me think of this quote from HBL – it took patience and faith. It contradicted my political views. It contradicted my social (READ: family) views. It hasn’t interfered with my social life, unless the Social Network counts. I “listened to these things as if from the mouth of the Lord Himself” but could not hear His voice.

I testify that Harold B. Lee was correct – I did not hear the voice of the Lord, and I did not receive the promised blessing. This event was the nail in the coffin for my old ways of listening for the voice of God in my leaders. I no longer could believe anything without putting it past my heart and mind first. “Sustaining” church leaders went from “They speak for the Lord” to “I usually agree but when I’m conflicted I hope they eventually get it right.”

I have also gained a testimony of something else through all of this: Church and religion and faith are not “easy” (at least not for me) if you seek out people who are different from yourself and try to empathize and understand. Faith is more challenging if you don’t surrender your agency and decide to believe in your Self first. Church isn’t as easy when your Self and the message are not in harmony. I think I know a little of what it means to wrestle with God now.

I miss the old me. It was easier. Now it feels like I have to work.

Tags: , , , , , ,

17 Responses to Losing my religion Wrestling with God

  1. Paul on December 22, 2010 at 5:30 AM

    This quote seems to equate “the words and commandments that the Lord shall give through His prophet” and “what comes from the authority of the Church”. Absent an infallibility argument (which we explicitly don’t have in the church!!!!) the second set, “what comes from the authority of the Church” is a bigger set than the first set, “the words and commandments that the Lord shall give through His prophet.” Did you see how “words and commandments” became, simply, “authority”? and how the “prophet” became the “church”? Therefore there is always a chance that a church teaching does not reflect God’s revealed will. After prayer and patience and faith in God, one should exercise one’s own conscience the best one can. If you do this, you haven’t lost your religion, but found it. I think we believe that the prophet receives inspiration, but we don’t believe in abstract authoritarianism.

    Now, let’s go back to the quote again. This talk was given as Joseph Fielding Smith was the new prophet after a long time of David O. MacKay being president. How can we know what he was talking about? One can see on Wikipedia what was accomplished during Joseph Fielding Smith’s tenure: “several new initiatives: Area Conferences were introduced; some significant organizational restructuring in the Church Sunday School system and the Church Department of Social Services; and the church magazines were realigned into the Ensign, New Era and Friend in English, with centralized planning for all publications.” With the quote in context, I am sure you don’t have any serious issues with the Joseph Fielding Smith administration. I mean correlation per se is not what is troubling you. If it wasn’t this, then what was Elder Lee discussing? If his talk didn’t talk about specific issues, then how would we know what he meant?

    Like this comment? Thumb up 0

  2. AdamF on December 22, 2010 at 5:55 AM

    Thomas: “After prayer and patience and faith in God, one should exercise one’s own conscience the best one can. If you do this, you haven’t lost your religion, but found it.”

    You describe it better than I can! What I had lost was my old religion, one in which I could listen without thought, or without a struggle (at times).

    Like this comment? Thumb up 0

  3. AdamF on December 22, 2010 at 6:00 AM

    Thanks as well for the context of that quote – specifically applied to the setting of correlation, it makes more sense. However, it is now often taken out of context and applied any and all other issues that someone may not agree with church policy or decisions on. I think people take these quotes out of context (even in manuals) because with good intention they are trying to “like it unto themselves” and apply it to everything.

    Like this comment? Thumb up 0

  4. Stephen M (Ethesis) on December 22, 2010 at 6:45 AM

    This realization that inspired and respected leaders can error in meaningful ways, began the process of my naive belief structure going the way of all the earth. Almost a decade later, I was again confronted with a significant issue that made me think of this quote from HBL – it took patience and faith.

    On my mission, my mission president was wrong, a number of times. What fascinated me was that when I was supportive and obedient, God made up the difference. That was very much a learning experience for me.

    All of us are wrong because none of us are complete. Given that everything is wrong to one extent or another, the question becomes, what do we do, how do we support each other, how are we obedient.

    Like this comment? Thumb up 0

  5. AdamF on December 22, 2010 at 6:59 AM

    “when I was supportive and obedient, God made up the difference”

    I often had the same experience – I followed and tried to support him anyway, and had a great mission. Rather than a “I’m not doing what he says because it could be wrong” attitude, I had a “he’s wrong sometimes but he’s our leader and we’re in this together” sort of way.

    This is not always possible though in other, more personal issues. Sometimes being obedient to a leader cuts in a way that can’t be made up.

    Like this comment? Thumb up 0

  6. Course Correction on December 22, 2010 at 7:10 AM

    “Wrestling with God” provides more spiritual growth than limiting associations to like-minded people and limiting agency to obedience.

    Thank you for sharing your experience.

    Like this comment? Thumb up 0

  7. AdamF on December 22, 2010 at 7:16 AM

    Thank you, Course Correction – you are right – I think this kind of conflict does allow for more growth.

    Like this comment? Thumb up 0

  8. Jeff Spector on December 22, 2010 at 8:09 AM

    Wonderful lesson, Adam. Thanks for the reminder that we have to work at it sometimes.

    Like this comment? Thumb up 0

  9. Jared on December 22, 2010 at 8:55 AM

    AdamF–

    Great post.

    I hope you don’t mind if I add this quote from Harold B Lee.

    It is not to be thought that every word spoken by the General Authorities is inspired, or that they are moved upon by the Holy Ghost in everything they write. I don’t care what his position is, if he writes something or speaks something that goes beyond anything that you can find in the standard church works, unless that one be the prophet, seer, and revelator please note that one exception you may immediately say, “Well, that is his own idea.” And if he says something that contradicts what is found in the standard church works, you may know by that same token that it is false, regardless of the position of the man who says it. We can know or have the assurance that they are speaking under inspiration if we so live that we can have a witness that what they are speaking is the word of the Lord. There is only one safety, and that is that we shall live to have the witness to know. President Brigham Young said something to the effect that “the greatest fear I have is that the people of this Church will accept what we say as the will of the Lord without first praying about it and getting the witness within their own hearts that what we say is the word of the Lord.”
    The Teachings of Harold B. Lee P. 541.

    Like this comment? Thumb up 0

  10. adamf on December 22, 2010 at 11:16 AM

    Jeff – thanks.

    Jared – thanks for the quote – I think it describes very well why people can disagree with a past prophet, but not a current one.

    Like this comment? Thumb up 0

  11. BJohnson on December 22, 2010 at 3:15 PM

    Another HBL quote along the same lines:

    “If anyone, regardless of his position in the Church, were to advance a doctrine that is not substantiated by the standard Church works, meaning the Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price, you may know that his statement is merely his private opinion. The only one authorized to bring forth any new doctrine is the President of the Church, who, when he does, will declare it as revelation from God, and it will be so accepted by the Council of the Twelve and sustained by the body of the Church. And if any man speak a doctrine which contradicts what is in the standard Church works, you may know by that same token that it is false and you are not bound to accept it as truth.”

    Harold B. Lee, The First Area General Conference for Germany, Austria, Holland, Italy, Switzerland, France, Belgium, and Spain of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, held in Munich Germany, August 24–26, 1973, with Reports and Discourses, 69

    Like this comment? Thumb up 0

  12. jast on December 22, 2010 at 3:19 PM

    “I no longer could believe anything without putting it past my heart and mind first”

    I’m so there right now, and here:

    “I miss the old me. It was easier. Now it feels like I have to work.”

    Thanks for the post

    Like this comment? Thumb up 0

  13. Derek on December 22, 2010 at 4:08 PM

    I sometimes wistfully wish I could be the old you. I never really was. I tried to be, earnestly I did, but my heart was never really in it. Life would be easier if, like my siblings and peers, I could just make that black-and-white assumption that exacting and automatic obedience to the prophets will lead unerringly lead to the best possible outcomes for myself and society. But I have never been able to convince myself of it.

    Like this comment? Thumb up 0

  14. Angie on December 22, 2010 at 10:22 PM

    Once the wrestling begins, then true living vibrant faith is possible. To paraphrase a bumper sticker I once saw: if you’re not wrestling, then you’re not paying attention.

    Like this comment? Thumb up 0

  15. Mike S on December 23, 2010 at 11:28 AM

    #11: Quoted: The only one authorized to bring forth any new doctrine is the President of the Church, who, when he does, will declare it as revelation from God, and it will be so accepted by the Council of the Twelve and sustained by the body of the Church.

    My question is that in a Church based on revelation and prophets, why doesn’t this happen very frequently? The only two times I can see anything like this happening in the past 100+ years are OD#1 and OD#2. But I don’t know if these were actually sustained by the body of the Church.

    And does this imply that other things are NOT technically doctrine but more just peoples’ opinions? This might include number of earrings, two-piece bikinis, changing interpretations of the WofW, white shirts, etc. Some of these are obviously cultural traditions, but others have been inflated to the point where someone cannot go to the temple or confirm his child without following them. Have we erroneously inflated non-doctrinal things (as defined by President Lee) to too high of a level?

    Like this comment? Thumb up 0

  16. adamf on December 23, 2010 at 1:27 PM

    Mike – I think this is a paradox in the church, that the opinions change according to what the original dilemma is. If we’re REALLY troubled by something, and we are coming from a relatively faithful or “orthodox” position, the quotes like #11 are often cited. If we’re coming from a less “orthodox” position, or we are cynical or just question “too much” and “argue little points” then the opposite quotes come out about obedience, and the scriptures referring to the voice of the Lord = the voice of the “servants” i.e. one’s bishop, SP, apostles, prophets, etc.

    Like this comment? Thumb up 0

  17. Mike S on December 23, 2010 at 3:18 PM

    I agree this is a paradox. The Church is very reluctant to declare anything as revelation any more. Even in BKP’s recent talk, he mentioned that the “Proclamation” met all of the requirements for Revelation. In the edited version, this part was removed and it was “downgraded” to merely a guideline.

    Like this comment? Thumb up 0

Leave a Reply

Subscribe without commenting

Archives

%d bloggers like this: