One thing that I don’t see very often at Mormon Matters is the bearing of testimony. Some see the bearing of testimony as a form of social control, some may see it as people trying to convince themselves of truth, and so it seems that it doesn’t have much “place” in academic discussions. Yet there is something powerful in the bearing of testimony, and sometimes I feel that it’s all I truly have to offer. Here is a part of mine, and it is a testimony of the Apostles, in the light of Elder Wirthlin’s passing.
When I was a teenager I suffered from an almost crippling depression. It kept me from developing meaningful and balanced relationships with people (though I had many good friends) and it caused me to be very angry with God at times. There was a scripture that pierced me to the heart in the same way that Joseph Smith describes being pierced by James’ admonition to ask of God for wisdom, and it was Christ’s plea to His father, “My God, why hast thou forsaken me?” I remember walking in the cold through my neighborhood at night, looking up at the stars and saying quietly, “Why hast thou forsaken me?” to whomever would listen.
That scripture didn’t make sense to me. I felt that way sometimes. I felt that God had abandoned me, or forsaken me, and I didn’t know why. It bothered me, and so I periodically would ask people to explain to me the purpose of that scripture. Usually they’d rehash the same answer that everyone else did: “Christ had to feel everything that we feel, so He had to feel loneliness.” This answer made me mad. It completely didn’t help me, and I felt that all these Mormons were just robots, programmed to say “Christ had to feel everything that we feel, so He had to feel loneliness” when asked about that scripture. Now and then someone would reference Skousen’s work on the Atonement and this gave me a different perspective on the matter, but didn’t satisfy me. The question was never really answered to my satisfaction and it was very frustrating. And so years passed without me ever knowing what I had to gain from Christ’s plea.
Last year, I raised my hand in Institute after we studied Christ’s last moments on the cross, and I asked my Institute teacher what the meaning of that scripture was. This is an Institute teacher that I loved and respected greatly (and still love and respect), and his answer was, in effect, “Christ had to feel everything that we feel, so he had to feel loneliness.” In frustration, I sank in my chair, silent. After class I talked to my teacher and told him that I’ve been vexed by that scripture for a long time, and perhaps it’s something I’m just going to have to ask God when I meet him. The issue was closed for a time and I stopped thinking about it.
Months passed, and I have slowly learned how to live without depression crippling me. I feel less angry and I find meaning in more of my life. These lessons were not learned easily. It took hard work, tears, and little packages from God throughout the years of my life.
Two weeks ago I attended a fireside in Louisville, Kentucky, featuring Elder Richard G. Scott. My mind raced the whole time. At the beginning of the fireside, I met with my sister who delivered to me a small, black box with a diamond ring that came from my grandfather. He knew I’m not a rich man, and I was planning on asking a beautiful young lady to marry me soon. I sat in a chair on the stand (I was in the choir) with this diamond ring in my pocket, wondering if this was the right decision for me. Skeptically I looked at the back of Elder Scott’s head.
I knew Elder Scott is an apostle, and I respected that, but I came to the meeting with a sour attitude. I was certain that there was nothing he could say that I hadn’t heard before. I needed real answers. I didn’t want any of the watered-down, useless stuff I hear so often in church, stuff like, “Christ had to feel everything that we feel, so he had to feel loneliness.” I’ve been so frustrated with answers like that and didn’t expect to hear anything more useful. I knew that if I wanted real answers it was up to me.
Elder Scott spent the first 30 minutes of his presentation trying to get his laptop projector to work. I mused on the idea that everything he was trying to do with his Photoshop program and expensive projector, he could have done with a chalkboard, and a chalkboard is much cheaper and the learning curve is quite a bit more manageable than a laptop as well, and why are we always inventing things that are suppose to improve our life but end up being complicated and difficult versions of what we already have that break and go obsolete faster? I sank deeper in my chair. Elder Scott then said a few things about revelation and opened the floor to questions.
Again my cynicism was reinforced. When you allow the regular folk to ask whatever questions they want, what you’re going to get is a lot of lousy questions that waste everybody’s time. I sat through a few of those and fiddled with my thumbs a bit.
It was then that Elder Scott taught me something that left an incredible impression on me, and probably will till the day I die, because he answered the question that had troubled me for ten years. Someone asked him, “What can you teach us about the Atonement?” I sighed quietly to myself.
Elder Scott began to speak on Christ’s Atonement, and then completely out of the blue, he referenced Christ’s last few sentences on the cross. He told us that Christ said, “Why hast thou forsaken me?” because God had withdrawn from him, and God had withdrawn from him as an expression of trust.
Suddenly it all made sense. My teenage depression made sense. My hurt, my pain, my trials all made sense. Christ taught that He did nothing of Himself, but only did as He was commanded of God. It was like a father, holding the handlebars of his child’s bike, teaching him how to ride. Without getting into the particulars of how closely God managed Christ’s works throughout His life, I saw this father pushing his child on a bike, and at the last moment letting go, trusting that the child would continue pedaling. God didn’t just let go, he stepped away from the bike. God was showing us that He trusts Jesus, and if God trusts Jesus, then we can, too.
This was the answer that I’ve always been looking for, and it’s led me to consider much of what has been said in the Bloggernacle and by those who feel disillusioned by the Church. I’ve felt disillusioned by the Church now and then. I’ve felt forgotten by God and I’ve felt insignificant. I felt that I didn’t have a place, or that I’m too “different.” Sometimes God lets go of the handlebars, but I kept pedaling, and so that’s my advice to those who feel the same way. Keep pedaling. It means He trusts you. So many feel God letting go and simply stop pedaling and fall over. I’ve thought about the words of my Uncle John as he pondered the people he has seen struggle with the Church: so many who “trade down” once they leave, never finding the same happiness again. I can’t speak for everyone but in my life there was value in just pedaling when God lets go.
When Elder Scott finished and bore his testimony of Christ I knew what I needed to do. Last Wednesday I asked a beautiful, wonderful, and nurturing young woman to marry me. But I also saw Christ. Not in a literal sense, but in that chapel, in my mind’s eye, Christ became a real figure to me. A real being that could have been standing at the pulpit in Elder Scott’s place. I saw Him walking with His apostles, and I saw Him teaching them. And here was an apostle in every sense of the word standing before me, doing what apostles are called to do: tell us that Christ is real. He lives. He wants us to be happy. He died for us.
Being an apostle meant so much to me that day, and more to me now. Thank God for apostles and their service to us.