Getting Along < Shared Belief < Conversion

The Book of Mormon is an absolutely remarkable text of religious psychology. At various points in the text, certain terms are used to make fine distinctions between very specific states of mind and heart. And the consequences of these states of mind and heart are spelled out in terms of social trends in communities.

When I say I know the Book of Mormon is true, part of that statement includes my conviction that it conveys real history of real people and real phenomena. The other part of that statement is that its unique picture of religious psychology is accurate. This morning, my reading in 3 Nephi reinforced this conviction in me.

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On Informed Consent

I consented to be baptized a Latter-day Saint at the age of 8, and my basic understanding was that everyone was doing it, so I may as well too. Plus, a girl I had a crush on was baptized, so I didn’t want to feel left out of that club.

There are a lot of things I was not informed about when I gave my consent at the age of 8, and I’ll offer a list of some of them here.

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Nephi’s Faith Crisis

Although “faith crisis” has become a bit of a buzzword, there’s a real phenomenon beneath the fad: sometimes your expectations and assumptions collide catastrophically with new information.

You have three options when this happens. You can try to pretend nothing has changed, but if the new information is real, this denial won’t last. At best, it’s a delaying tactic. Eventually you will have to either walk away from your former beliefs or rebuild them.

One great example of a faith crisis is Paul. Prior to meeting Jesus, he thought he had it all figured out. Meeting Jesus demolished his old beliefs. He knew he was wrong. But he didn’t know what to believe instead. Not on an intellectual level, at least. According to N. T. Wright’s biography, Paul spent years figuring out how to take the raw material of his old beliefs (especially the Hebrew Bible) and put the pieces back together so they fit his knowledge of the Savior. (This is the third option.)

Nephi is another example of a faith crisis, but the depiction in the text is a lot more subtle. Still, the pieces are there. Start with 1 Ne 2:16:

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A God of Order in a World of Chaos

Why are we here?

There are many answers to that question, even among groups of people who hold the same religious beliefs.

But a good representative statement from Evangelical Christianity is found in pastor Rick Warren’s best-selling book The Purpose-Driven Life:

The purpose of your life is far greater than your own personal fulfillment, your peace of mind, or even your happiness. It’s far greater than your family, your career, or even your wildest dreams and ambitions. If you want to know why you were placed on this planet, you must begin with God. You were born by his purpose and for his purpose.

…You exist only because God wills that you exist. You were made by God and for God—

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The Second Change of Heart

This is an adapted version of the lesson that I taught for Easter Sunday yesterday.

The Good News of Christ makes faith and repentance possible. We have cause for faith because, in vanquishing death and sin, Christ gives us all something to believe in: the possibility that every grief and sorrow may one day be turned to joy. Christ’s perfect example and his Atonement also serve as the motive and means for repentance, filling us with a desire to turn to Him as well as a path back home. These principles—faith and repentance—will lead us be baptized and then to receive the Holy Spirit, which will cause us to become new creatures. This is it, the whole Gospel, in one paragraph.

I want to expand this message into three parts: the what, the why, and the how of the Gospel, each expressed as a promise of Christ’s gifts to us.

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Absolute Truth

As I have continued to study the words of President Nelson, I’ve been struck by his firm belief and conviction in the existence of absolute truth.

Perhaps no talk from President Nelson exemplifies this more powerfully than his introductory remarks from the most recent general conference.

“In that spirit, I invite you to listen for three things during this conference: pure truth, the pure doctrine of Christ, and pure revelation. Contrary to the doubts of some, there really is such a thing as right and wrong. There really is absolute truth—eternal truth. One of the plagues of our day is that too few people know where to turn for truth. I can assure you that what you will hear today and tomorrow constitutes pure truth.”

I love the simplicity of this promise. There is truth. Prophets are called to teach it. We can rely on it and treasure it. There isn’t a different truth for me and for you. There is just the truth.

I grew up in a Jewish home. When I was a kid, I developed a lot of questions about what happens after we die. Around me I had family members sick or dying and so these questions had a fierce urgency. As I got older and talked about this topic with my parents and religious leaders, I was surprised to find that there wasn’t a uniform answer. Everyone had their own views. Some believed in heaven and some believed in reincarnation and some believed there was nothing at all after this life. This confusion was deeply unsatisfying for me. While I appreciated the intellectual vibrancy of Jewish debate, I found that I could not find answers to the questions that I had, only more questions. I did not think that God could be the author of so much confusion and uncertainty.

One of the things that attracted me to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was the belief that there is absolute truth and that there are Prophets and Apostles on the earth who reveal that truth from God. I’m so grateful for the opportunity to listen to conference and hear servants of God declare his truth with power and authority.

As we get ready for General Conference next weekend, I hope that we will all look forward to learning pure truth. More than that, I hope that we will be grateful for the knowledge that there is absolute truth and that we know where to look to find it.

The Creation, the Fall, the Atonement, and the Family

In the last several years I have noticed that Church leaders are increasingly speaking with great clarity about the role that the forming of eternal families plays in God’s plan. In 2015 after a General Conference full of talks about the family, I wrote about how the Family was increasingly being integrated into the Plan of Salvation as one of the pillars of eternity.

This is such an important endeavor. So many, even faithful and active members, may wonder why we spend so much time discussing topics related to marriage and families. If the doctrine of the family is not linked to the plan and to the atonement of Jesus Christ, then it will lac vitality and saving power.

I was delighted therefore to come across President Nelson’s October 1996 talk entitled simply enough The Atonement. This talk is full of really interesting insights about the plan of salvation. For instance, President Nelson speaks about the “the blessing of aging” which assures that we eventually are able to return to God a very unusual way of thinking about growing older.

But I am most grateful for some insights that come at the very end of the talk regarding the purpose of the Atonement and the Plan:

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A Private and Public God of Miracles

My Lenten journey continues apace. I think I accidentally missed a day this week, so I only have 6 talks recorded. That’s too much ground to cover in a single post, so I’m just going to observe some overall feelings and then focus on one talk in particular, “Sweet Power of Prayer.”

I haven’t had any really grand revelatory moments so far, but I didn’t expect to. Instead, I’ve found that the talks I’ve been reading from President/Elder Nelson have given me unexpected help and insights with things I encounter throughout my week. I suspect that I won’t receive a lot of extraordinary confirmations about these talks because I haven’t yet met with anything that I don’t already recognize to be good and true–which is proven in the way they help me each day.

Sweet Power of Prayer

This talk stood out to me because some friends had recently published an article introducing work they are doing that I’m very excited about. They are striving to reexamine the traditions and assumptions in psychology through a gospel lens. They argue that psychological reasoning and therapeutic practices can be improved by consciously adopting a framework informed by revealed truths. As someone who has spent a lot of time undergoing treatment with a variety of mental health professionals–all of them LDS–I felt that a lot of good could come from consciously allowing the truths of our faith to inform mental health practices.

Unfortunately, a lot of people disagreed–even other members of our faith. It pained me to see people so quickly reject a faith-informed approach to healing, many of them claiming that it simply couldn’t be done because revealed truth would necessarily contradict empirical evidence. I have no doubt that there would be various tensions produced through trying to integrate gospel truths with science-based medicine, but it has also been my observation that such tensions ultimately bring forth our greatest knowledge and miracles. In President Nelson’s talk, “Sweet Power of Prayer” he provides a stunning example.

One of his patients was seeking surgical treatment that then-Dr. Nelson’s medical expertise had taught him was ill-advised. There was no currently available surgical treatment for his condition and Dr. Nelson told his patient, who was dying from heart failure, several times that he would not operate.

His patient, however, was a man of great faith. He sought guidance from the Lord about his condition and the Lord revealed to him that he should get help from Dr. Nelson, to whom he would reveal the way to help this man’s heart.

This man’s faith profoundly affected Dr. Nelson and he moved forward with the operation, not knowing beforehand how exactly he would help this man. Miraculously, during the operation, the Lord revealed to Dr. Nelson exactly what steps he should take in order to help this man’s failing heart valve, which had never been done before. The operation was a success and the man lived for many more years. Additionally, the medical world now had a new surgical procedure that would benefit countless more individuals with the same condition.

This was a profound example to me of the way great blessings of healing can be given to us as we pursue both the best knowledge available to us and the Lord’s guidance. President Nelson could not have performed that surgery without his extensive training. The operation which the Lord revealed to him still required a vocabulary of medical knowledge and skilled hands obtained over years of study and practice. But it used that knowledge in a new way that was not obvious to a man who had spent his entire career in the field of cardiac medicine–but who nevertheless believed that God was still God in his private as well as his public life. And the result was a miracle that has blessed many lives.