Elder D. Todd Christofferson is someone that I look forward to hearing from and his talks always seem to have some very rich ideas in them that are worth pondering. He started off talking about Elijah and the priests of Baal, interesting stuff worthy of a whole post but I feel more like skipping ahead.
In the most recent general conference, President Russell M. Nelson declared: “You don’t have to wonder about what is true. You do not have to wonder whom you can safely trust. Through personal revelation, you can receive your own witness that the Book of Mormon is the word of God, that Joseph Smith is a prophet, and that this is the Lord’s Church. Regardless of what others may say or do, no one can ever take away a witness borne to your heart and mind about what is true.”
The quote is consistent with my experience, at least in principle. There is a wrestle that occurs in the search for truth. The desire of the individual is the key factor in whether or not they find what they are looking for. In this pursuit, one will become very well acquainted with failure as various avenues are explored.
While one might get discouraged at repeated failures to achieve some kind of communion with heaven, patience is always rewarded; God will not leave you comfortless. Though you may find yourself in extremely dark places for very long periods of time, and even when hope itself is extinguished, you can still choose to press on. The iron rod passes through the mist of darkness, and that means that not only will there be darkness on the journey, but it will end as well.
My personal experiences with the divine are literally the only reason that I am a member of this Church specifically and have any kind of faith in God whatsoever. I can’t unpack that here, but it’s true.
When James promised that God “giveth to all men liberally” who seek His wisdom, he also cautioned: “But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed. “For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord. “A double minded man is unstable in all his ways.”
These are essential principles in the pursuit of revelatory truth. You have to wrestle with these things, and it is often in the wrestle itself, not at any kind of end, that the truth surfaces. Water is a chaos motif and the usage of chaotic waves is appropriate because the mind cannot be chaotic in this processes. There must be some kind of order and focus on the part of the seeker, an inner stability achieved by a clarity of purpose.
Christofferson then provides a list of examples, my favorite being, “…they were firm, and steadfast, and immovable, willing with all diligence to keep the commandments of the Lord.”
“To persevere firm and steadfast in the faith of Christ requires that the gospel of Jesus Christ penetrate one’s heart and soul, meaning that the gospel becomes not just one of many influences in a person’s life but the defining focus of his or her life and character.”
See, this is really getting down to the good stuff. Sure, we have much to wrestle with in our part but this process of conversion involves an assimilation, a growing oneness with God. We become something new altogether, we change of our own free will and choice, we become firm because we see with new eyes, understand with new minds, and empathize with a new heart. You can only understand all of this by experience.
“But some have not yet fully received the gospel of Jesus Christ into their lives. Although, as Paul says, they were “buried with [Christ] by baptism,” they are still missing the part that “like as Christ was raised up from the dead … , even so we … should walk in [a] newness of life.” The gospel does not yet define them. They are not yet centered in Christ. They are selective about the doctrines and commandments they will follow and where and when they will serve in the Church. By contrast, it is in keeping their covenants with exactness that those “who are the elect according to the covenant” avoid deception and remain firm in the faith of Christ.”
This reminded me instantly of Alma’s question to the members of the church, “have ye spiritually been born of God?” (Alma 5:14) Alma was asking this question to church members which means that they would have been baptized but without ever having received the Gift of the Holy Ghost or “his image in your countenances” or “this mighty change in your hearts.” (vs.14)
The evangelicals do a great job asking people straight up if they have been born of God, and frankly, so should we. If you cannot say whether or not you have been born of God, you probably haven’t, I’ll refer you to pastor Paul Washer’s sermon where he tells a story about getting hit by a logging truck. If you want to hear it, the link is in the previous sentence and you’re going to have to search for it but I suggest simply listening to his whole sermon for the full context (you won’t be disappointed).
“Most of us find ourselves at this moment on a continuum between a socially motivated participation in gospel rituals on the one hand and a fully developed, Christlike commitment to the will of God on the other. Somewhere along that continuum, the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ enters into our heart and takes possession of our soul. It may not happen in an instant, but we should all be moving toward that blessed state.”
Man, he just keeps ’em coming. Yeah, this is how it is with us, isn’t it? Sometimes you need that socially motivated participation to keep you going or to kick things off (I have a great story about that too – one day perhaps). This idea of moving forward, I keep going back to the tree of life vision and the iron rod. The imagery of the rod is just great because it doesn’t branch off, it is solid metal and you just keep going in that one direction, forward. I mean, even if you go backward you are still technically holding on to the rod, that’s far better than letting go.
“A man who grew up in the Church, served as a full-time missionary, and married a lovely woman was surprised when some of his siblings began speaking critically of the Church and the Prophet Joseph Smith. After a time they left the Church and tried to persuade him to follow. As often happens in such cases, they bombarded him with essays, podcasts, and videos produced by critics, most of whom were themselves disaffected former members of the Church. His siblings mocked his faith, telling him he was gullible and misled. He didn’t have answers for all their assertions, and his faith began to waver under the relentless opposition. He wondered if he should stop attending church. He talked with his wife. He talked with people he trusted. He prayed. As he meditated in this troubled state of mind, he recalled occasions when he had felt the Holy Spirit and had received a witness of truth by the Spirit. He concluded, “If I am honest with myself, I must admit that the Spirit has touched me more than once and the testimony of the Spirit is real.” He has a renewed sense of happiness and peace that is shared by his wife and children.”
This is a really common occurrence nowadays. People will get into some things they don’t understand because their own gospel knowledge doesn’t run deep enough and they aren’t patient enough to search or consider alternative ideas so they kind of crash and burn. The saddest thing that this process reveals is a lack of any connection to God, they participated in ordinances and were socially active and culturally converted but there was no rock beneath all that sand.
I think if you are going through stuff like this, first off, you’ve likely hit Fowler’s stage 4 and it actually marks progress forward in your growth, not the opposite. Whether it continues to be growth or not depends on what you do next and it helps to talk to other people, and take a patient path that involves meditation, study, questioning, and openness to the truth wherever it may come from and in whatever form it is delivered.
“The temptations and tribulations we experience, plus any testing that the Lord sees fit to impose, can lead to our full conversion and healing. But this happens if, and only if, we do not harden our hearts or stiffen our necks against Him. If we remain firm and steadfast, come what may, we achieve the conversion the Savior intended when He said to Peter, “When thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren,” a conversion so complete that it cannot be undone. The promised healing is the cleansing and sanctification of our sin-wounded souls, making us holy.”
Here you go, this is critical to understand because we need to expect those temptations and tribulations. They come with the territory and while it is easy to feel devastated, depressed, or overwhelmed, remind yourself of what principles you need for those circumstances.
There is your iron rod, hold to them, push through the darkness because that’s where the tree is at the end. Discouragement can turn to excitement if you step back a little and realize what is happening. Train yourself to see more than the darkness, see the tree of life beyond it and consider that your circumstances are in fact the path to a great blessing.
“Always remember the promise of good things to come, both now and hereafter, for those who are firm and steadfast in the faith of Christ.”
Yes, this is much easier all said than done, but the truth is that it can be done. Those principles of long-suffering, patience, faith, sacrifice, meekness, those are not typically the things we seek after in our times of difficulty but if we can just grab hold and move along, we’ll find our way.