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.
I hate partisan political thinking, and I hate partisan political messaging. The only reason I am even responding to this Public Square article is because it undermines our credibility as thinking Latter-day Saints. Here is my response.
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.
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:
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—
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.
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.
What I learned from one member in Belgium about gospel unity in a time of war.
In the summer of 1990, I was serving in Liege, a French-speaking city in Belgium. As part of our work we were visiting all the members we could find on the membership rolls. One day we found an elderly sister who had joined the Church as a young woman shortly before World War I broke out, due to her age she rarely attended meetings anymore. I don’t recall if this member was living in Liege at the time of the Great War, but German atrocities were notably severe in this area, in part because this area was thwarting the achievement of a key component of the German Army General Staff’s Schlieffen Plan for winning the war.
She told me an amazing story about how the gospel of Jesus Christ can transcend bitter divisions and deep wounds.
When scholars talk about authorship of scripture, sometimes they look at changes in tone, genre, setting, or perspective as evidence of multiple authorship.
Below are three samples of my own writing that inform my thinking about this. The total time span of these samples is roughly 25-30 years. If you didn’t know it was me, is there any way you would guess that these are the same author?
Scholars often describe a big problem in the field of Biblical Studies, a lack of external controls. In other words, they make judgment calls about shifts in genre, tone, perspective, setting, etc. indicating multiple authorship, without looking at known examples of these things in other places. Well, here’s a personal example. We could also do this exercise with restoration scripture, or with artistic materials like poetry and music. For example, U2’s October sounds nothing like Zooropa, but it’s exactly the same band, just 12 years apart. As people evolve, their communications evolve.