There’s a quote from Jonathan Haidt’s “The Happiness Hypothesis” that has haunted me ever since I read it many years ago:
As in Plato, Christian love is love stripped of its essential particularity, its focus on a specific other person. Love is remodeled into a general attitude toward a much larger, even infinite class of objects. Caritas and agape are beautiful, but they are not related to or derived from the kinds of love that people need. Although I would like to live in a world in which everyone radiates benevolence toward everyone else, I would rather live in a world in which there was at least one person who loved me specifically, and whom I loved in return. (emphasis added)
I have long and easily felt God’s love in the general sense, “stripped of its essential particularity”. I know that God is good, and because God is good He treats everyone kindly and patiently. Of this I have no doubt. But am I loved, in particular? I know the answer is yes, but I have long struggled to actually feel that love.
This blog post is based on a talk I gave for my ward on February 12, 2023.
A little over seven years ago I got the idea of reading through all the General Conference talks that are easily available on the Church’s website, which means going back to the April 1971 General Conference. I haven’t kept to my schedule perfectly since then, but I’ve read many, many talks, and I’ve really gained an appreciation for the wisdom and consistency of these teachings.
So when I was asked to give a talk on the fourth temple recommend question–a kind of topic I’ve never heard of before–I knew where to start. I did a quick search and ended up reading (or at least skimming) about two dozen talks, some of which were incredibly powerful to me. I’ll be quoting from these talks at length.
This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey. This is the 372nd week, and we’re covering the Sunday afternoon session of the October 1999 General Conference.
There was one quote that really stayed with me from this session of General Conference, and it came from Elder L. Tom Perry’s talk A Year of Jubilee. The quote comes from Harry Emerson Fosdick, who I’d never heard of before. He was an American pastor who lived from 1878 to 1969 and was (via Wikipedia) “one of the most prominent liberal ministers of the early 20th century.” I know basically nothing about Liberal Christianity other than what I just read on Wikipedia:
This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey. This is the 371st week, and we’re covering the Sunday morning session of the October 1999 General Conference.
The theme that stuck out to me from the session was peace. As Sister Pinegar taught,
The world is not a safe place. It is not a place where children will feel peace, hope, and direction unless they are taught to love and follow the Savior.
This knowledge comes from a place of personal tragedy as she made clear in her talk:
The difficult experience of my son’s death helped me identify and rejoice in the blessings of peace, hope, and direction—blessings that all who truly accept and live the gospel of Jesus Christ may enjoy. I can bear witness to the words of Elder Richard G. Scott: “Please learn that as you wrestle with a challenge and feel sadness because of it, you can simultaneously have peace and rejoicing”
President Faust spoke on peace as well, saying that “Peace in this life is based upon faith and testimony.” So did Elder Ballard, adding “Our safety, our peace, lies in working as hard as we can to live as the Father and Son would have us live, in fleeing from false prophets and false teachers, and in being anxiously engaged in good causes.”
So there are the things that I learned from these talks on peace.
This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey. This is the 370th week, and we’re covering the priesthood session of the October 1999 General Conference.
If there is one thing that I have taken from the General Conference Odyssey so far, it is what a tremendous wealth of understanding is available for those who take the time to read General Conference talks.
This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey. This is the 369th week, and we’re covering the Saturday afternoon session of the October 1999 General Conference.
The older I get, the less I feel that I know. But, as I grow more and more uncertain about a wide range of things–my assessment of people, my politics, even my tastes in movies and books, everything changes!–there are a few, isolated things that I grow more confident in, and that–in part because they are so few–seem more important with every passing year.
This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey. This is the 368th week, and we’re covering the Saturday morning session of the October 1999 General Conference.
It’s been a long time since I started this General Conference Odyssey way back in 2015. I stuck with it really well through about 2019 and had another good chunk in 2020, but I missed pretty much all of 2021 and 2022. One of my goals is to stick with it again throughout 2023. Eventually I’ll go back and fill in all the gaps, but I don’t know when that will be.
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:
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.
Sometimes I am embarrassed about the things I say in my prayers. Sometimes I’m embarrassed while I am still praying. Here I am, getting down on my knees to commune with the Creator of the Universe and the Author of the Plan of Redemption and what do I have on the agenda? Well, dear reader, I’m not going to tell you exactly. See above, re: embarrassment. But you can fill in your own examples: concerns about bills or work, fears about work, little worries about the future. Day-to-day problems that even I won’t remember a week from now.
There are times when shame washes over me, and I apologize for taking my Heavenly Father’s time up with such trivialities. Not that I think He’s really short on time, in a literal sense. If He can field billions of prayers a day, I’m sure He’s got a handle on the logistics. But sometimes when I realize how tiny my concerns are, it makes me feel small.