Brace yourselves. I need to make an announcement:
I’m not all that smart. (No snide remarks, please.) There are areas of expertise where I am completely, and utterly ignorant. For example: If my life depended on rebuilding a carburetor, I would not survive. If I were forced to play Jeopardy at gunpoint, I would lose. (Probably in Final Jeopardy, but I would lose because I’m not a good gambler.)
The point being that there are areas in my life where I am not experienced, and/or educated. Thankfully, this ignorance has not cost me anything vital. Yet.
However, to help balance things out, there are some areas that I have a good handle on. One of the realities of life is that the areas where I do have expertise have very little impact on the areas where I don’t have expertise – and vice versa. President Kimball said it plainly:
“Experience in one field does not automatically create expertise in another field. Expertise in religion comes from personal righteousness and revelation…Why, oh, why do people think they can fathom the most complex spiritual depths without the necessary laboratory work accompanied by the laws that govern it?” (Link)
Expertise in religion is a lifelong endeavor that takes work and experience to gain. We are all at different stages in our spiritual expertise. I feel that I am knowledgeable in some of those areas. Particularly, I feel pretty solid in my testimony of the core elements of the church and gospel. I don’t consider myself ignorant in this arena. More specifically, I am convinced that…
• God exists, and is my spiritual Father.
• His Son, Jesus Christ, is the Savior of mankind. He came to earth, died, was resurrected, and saved me. (link to a more detailed testimony)
• Christ’s church has been restored to the earth in modern times through the prophet Joseph Smith, complete with priesthood authority, revelation and ordinances.
• The Lord has revealed His gospel, particularly through the Book of Mormon, as well as the Bible, and also modern scripture.
• Prophets lead Christ’s church today through revelation from the Lord himself. The authority that they hold is also shared through priesthood keys to other leaders – even down to the neighborhood level.
This core testimony guides my life. It give my life meaning, purpose and perspective. It brings me joy. I have this part down.
But…please know this…
• There are elements of the gospel and the church that I do not understand, or comprehend, or sometimes even like.
• There are things that have happened to me and my family that I don’t like, don’t understand, and can’t explain.
Yes, I am human.
Don’t stop reading…I will explain. First, let me give you a complete list of all the things I don’t like or understand: Ready?
Like I am going to type out a list of my personal questions! I would never do that. Why? Because my questions might become your stumbling blocks – just as your questions could become my stumbling blocks.
That is why we discuss things that build faith – not create doubt. What kind of brother would try and destroy my faith by planting seeds of doubt? Exactly! THAT kind of brother.
So that is my grand confession – I have questions. So what? I imagine you do, too. Are you afraid to say it? It is a little scary. Perhaps it would be better if it came from someone with more authority. Perhaps Elder John Carmack, former member of the Seventy, when he said:
“I have a whole box of unanswered questions, none of them threatening to my own testimony. New questions enter that box regularly. Others come out of that box, yielding to both study and experience.” (Link here)
I was so glad to hear Elder Carmack has a box. It reenforces that it is OK to have questions. Actually, I do not see how it would be possible to make a lifelong study of the gospel, and be a faithful member of the church and NOT have any questions. But that’s just me.
Do you have a box? I do. Well, it isn’t actually a box of questions – mine is more of a list of questions. I call it “My List of Things to Ask God in the Next Life if I Ever Get the Chance.” Some of the things on my list are deep and important, others more trivial – like “whatever happened to the guy that stole our minivan in California back in ’94?”
One of the key points in Elder Carmack’s quote is that the questions he has do not threaten his testimony. That is how I feel about my list of questions – my questions don’t torment me – and not having the answers doesn’t rattle me either. I just openly admit that I don’t understand all of it, and keep moving forward.
But…I understand enough. Enough to build my life around what I do know. The search continues to learn more. Elder Jeffrey Holland talked about this idea last Conference when he said, “hold fast to what you already know and stand strong until additional knowledge comes.” (link)
That knowledge does come – through experience and revelation. The list of questions changes. Sure, there are some questions that have been gathering dust for a long time, and might never be resolved in mortality, but I am OK with that. Neither will I focus on those questions so much that they become self-installed stumbling blocks. Obsessing about questions that do not have immediate answers is a toxic endeavor. It can canker a soul, and diminish faith.
Seeking answers to those questions is a very personal quest. I entrust it to my communication with God, with my leaders, my family, my closest friends, – all of whom I trust to have my best interests at heart. The venue is private – not a public event. Much of it happens in the quiet times of prayer, study and meditation – not in online chat venues.
I am content to let some of my questions languish on the list. Eventually, they will all be answered. I don’t feel compelled to share them with others, or dwell on them.
That is where I part ways with a lot of my brothers and sisters in the Church. I have spent a lot of time trying to figure out why. To try and explain, I isolated six principles that keep me from sharing what I don’t like/understand/comprehend.
1) I don’t want to be responsible for spreading doubt – as I said earlier, we are all at different places in the development of our testimonies, and I don’t want one of my minor questions to become someone else’s major stumbling block. We are here to lift and strengthen each other, not to drag each other down. There is enough intentional toxicity out there already.
2) I have a testimony that Christ directs His church through living prophets. I love these 15 men, and have a testimony that they posses the keys to administer the priesthood, and are authorized to run the church. I truly believe that the Lord meant what he said in D&C 1:33: “Whether by mine own voice, or the voice of my servants, it is the same.” That is part of my core testimony.
3) I am not that smart. Especially in an eternal perspective. The prophet Jacob said, “Wherefore brethren, seek not to counsel the Lord, but to take counsel from his hand.” (Jacob 4:10) I have never considered myself smarter than God, or the men who speak for him.
Even though sometimes I might not like every policy that comes out of Salt Lake, or my bishop’s office, I have never presumed myself to be so wise that I would need to give the Brethren some advice – to “counsel the Lord.” I know these men are called of God and have long lifetimes of experience. Who am I to question them, or make suggestions on how they could do it better? Or to question what the Lord has revealed to them?
Isaiah 55:9: “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
I got it.
Being a member of the Church is not like having a job at Dunder-Mifflin, where you can stuff your complaints and ideas into the suggestion box mounted on the break room wall. This is God’s Kingdom on the earth – and the Lord runs it the way He chooses – through His prophets.
4) I have faith in God, and in His servants. I have been trying to follow their counsel my entire life, and they have not led me astray. In fact, my faith in them, and the Lord, is bolstered in knowing that the times I have disregarded their counsel, I have suffered for it. Every 6 months, as I listen to their counsel in General Confeence, I am uplifted, and guided, and my faith is bolstered.
(I stole this next one from one of my own posts – here)
5) I believe and sustain the principles of “Stewardship,” and “Line of Authority.”
One of the miracles of the church is the concept of the lay ministry. And I use the word “miracle” intentionally. Every ward, branch, stake or district that we live in are run by people like you and me. For free. No degrees in theology, no careerists. No corporate intrigue.
Then, to make it even crazier, every once in a while, we all play musical chairs and change jobs. And we do this our entire lives. Voluntarily. One day you might be in charge, the next day I might be in charge. We see these stewardships as a sacred trust.
And it works. That is the miracle. The reason it works is because we respect the doctrine of stewardship. We are taught to “stand in the office in which we are appointed.”
The reason that these many stewardships can exist and function with remarkable success, is that they are girded by the structure of the Line of Authority. Every calling is extended by a line leader in the priesthood. And that line leader was called by someone else. All of our callings are tied together in this line. Without this structure, or when this structure is ignored, things get messy.
Leapfrogging in the line of authority also gets messy – and I’m not talking only merely sending letters straight to the Prophet – I even get uncomfortable when we leapfrog our bishops and go straight to the Stake President to get questions answered. (More on leapfrogging here.)
* IMPORTANT NOTE: If your leader is doing things with you, or to you, that you know are wrong. Please leapfrog to the higher authority. Don’t keep quiet just to get along, or out of fear. Don’t be afraid to shine light on darkness.
Finally, the grand prize of this entire structure is that we are entitled to receive revelation from the Holy Ghost as it corresponds to our stewardship, or anyone else that we are responsible for along the line of authority. But it only works in one direction.
A simple test: If someone is claiming inspiration that goes UP the line of authority, they are sadly misled. (If you ever hear me claim to have received revelation on behalf of the entire Church, close this window, delete my bookmark, and never come back.)
6) I am grateful. God has blessed me with so much. It is impossible for me to get bent out of shape over the things I don’t like, or don’t understand if I am constantly aware of what I do enjoy, and do understand. I am forever in a “net gain” situation. Being self-focused on what I lack does not make me happy.
I will admit that I lack a certain empathy with those who would try and pressure the Lord, or his servants to make changes in how He runs His Kingdom. Personally, I have never felt so strongly about my own personal concerns that I would be willing to “counsel the brethren” through letters, protests, the media, or gossip. Especially in order to impose my views on a church that I have no stewardship over – a church that I am not entitled to receive revelation on behalf of, and that is run by those who I already know represent the Lord himself.
Neither could I bring myself to leapfrog that line of authority – partly because I truly believe in that structure, and partly because I have been at various places in that very chain. I know from my experience that good does not come ignoring the organization that the Lord has put in place.
And so you see, I’m not going to be giving President Monson, or the rest of the prophets any counsel. I have enough faith in God and His servants that I can leave them alone and let them fulfill their stewardships. But rest assured, I will be glued to the TV very October and April as they counsel me.
Why? Precisely because I’m not that smart.
PS: I am not going to approve any comments that justify leaving the church, ordaining women to the priesthood, saying I am afraid of the truth, etc. So don’t waste your time submitting them. Thanks.