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.
What a beautiful post. Thank you so much for sharing that!
You share an important experience. I guess it is worth noting that your moment of “enlightenment” was not what Elder Scott said. It was the Spirit talking to your spirit.
The standard answer is the standard, because in its way it’s true. As Alma says in Alma 7:12, Christ had to experience these things so he could know what we go through, so he could help us. But what you found out is also true. At times we, too, are left to our own devices so we can learn about ourselves. It is an expression of trust that God lets us do it.
Depression is insidious. It can envelope you without you realizing it. Then you just wonder why it’s impossible to feel almost anything but a dull, numbing ache. Oh, and anxiety and despair, too. Last weekend we had a conference, and our former stake president talked about a time he had as a young man when he felt listless and somehow didn’t feel the enthusiasm he had felt before. It took five years of going through the motions for the Spirit to return. His diagnosis? He had to learn to “keep pedaling” (paraphrased a little).
The standard answer is the standard, because in its way it’s true. and it fails to resonate because we are already failing to resonate with the way things are, until the Spirit bridges it for us.
But depression is hard, because it strikes at the things we need to be able to cope with the problem it is causing.
This is powerful–I wasn’t even tempted to skim as I read! Once a friend told me that Trials Are A Compliment, a sign that God trusts us to handle it, to be able to keep on the path, rather than plopping down in the dust. Being in the midst of a trial at the the time, it made me mad, but there seems to be great truth here. I like the imagery of just keep pedalling better, but it’s the same thing… He trusts us, as we try to walk in Christ’s way, it’a pretty much expected. Thanks for the insight! Oh, and congratulations on your engagement! That also takes great trust.
Thank you, Arthur. And, congratulations!
Excellent Post and Congratulations!!
Arthur what beauty and truth.Your Parents must be proud of you.I hope your lives together will be beautiful and true.
Congratulations, and what a great message. It was very touching.
Arthur, I don’t think anybody thinks that this blog is “scholarly”. If anything, these types of posts are exactly why I frequent this place.
Oh good. 🙂
Beautiful. What a powerful insight…
Thank you, Arthur. What a wonderful story.
Thank you for this story. I’ve dealt with depression most of my life and sometimes it truly hurts to “keep pedaling”. But I know that it is what God wants us to do.
#3: “depression is hard, because it strikes at the things we need to be able to cope with the problem it is causing”
It’s the easy-to-understand definition of a vicious circle.
I’ve had those experiences too, where my low expectations before an event are blown out of the water because of an unexpected insight that resolves a long-held tension. Say hi to your fiancee.
I like what your bicycle analogy. For me, it resonates the same way as “put it back on the shelf” when we don’t alway feel intellectually satisfied by an answer. When we move on, the spirit strengthens from within us-thus the whole move into the light. I think there is a difference when we lean upon the light and the when the light shines from us. Somewhere in between God has to let go.
What a great insight! Apostles are amazing men; we learn much when we listen with the spirit ear. Thanx!
Arthur, an absolutely beautiful message. Thank you. We need more posts like this.
I had a somewhat similar “run in” with the “why has thou forsaken me?” scripture, and although different circumstances were involved, it is interesting to me that you and I both reached essentially the same conclusion, as I explained here http://mormonmatters.org/2008/06/18/dark-night-of-the-soul/
Thanks again for a beautiful and inspiring post!
thank u so much for sharing that. 🙂
I have had the same question swirling through my head for a good portion of my life now and thanks to u I understand why he had forsaken me. It means so much to me to finally know that he never truely left me, he was just on the side lines trusting me to do what I know is right. Thank u for finally opening my eyes. I am forever greatful.
I love my nephew. Congrats, man! I hope to see you soon!!!
In his post Arthur bears his testimony of Elder Scott as an apostle but I’m curious as to how far that logically extends. To a testimony of the Saviour, to the “church”, to Joseph Smith? Just how far does it go an how much can a person read in to a spiritual experience?
From the first, most celebrated tentative steps, to letting go of that handlebar, to handing over the car keys, to standing as a witness in the sealing room, a parent is constantly torn with the thought of the very real risk associated with letting go. Everything inside of you screams to continue to hold on just a little bit longer. But let go you must. And in that exact instant of letting go the fear becomes overwhelmed with joy and excitement as you witness the surge of confidence at our child’s newfound mobility. A mobility that will take him to heights beyond anything he can comprehend right now. What a wonderfully inspirational journey life is.
Great post Arthur,
My time has been curtailed greatly of late, so I am getting to this only now.
Thanks, Arthur. This was wonderful. I am going to share it with a few people I know and love.
#23. I suppose if I were thoroughly convinced that Elder Scott is an apostle, I could “logically” conclude that what he’s testifying of is true, that the Savior is indeed real as Elder Scott said, and that the Church he represents at least has some connection with Deity.
But I’m not sure the human mind really works that way. I see my spirituality as a mosaic of seemingly unrelated bits of testimony scattered everywhere… I try to tie them all together as best as I can and hopefully see a picture that in the end means something. But I think in order for principles, people, God, or even music to have any sort of power, we need testimonies of each, and little bits of “light and knowledge” of each one as time progresses…
Note that in Jesus saying “Why hast thou forsaken me?” he is quoting the Aramaic version (Arm. lama shavaqthani vs. Heb. lama ezavtani) of Psalm 22, which may well be a prophetic foreshadow of what being on the cross would be like.
Psalm 22:1 My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? why art thou so far from helping me, and from the words of my roaring?
Psalm 22:6-8 But I am a worm, and no man; a reproach of men, and despised of the people. 7 All they that see me laugh me to scorn: they shoot out the lip, they shake the head, saying, 8 He trusted on the LORD that he would deliver him: let him deliver him, seeing he delighted in him.
Psalm 22:14-16 14 I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint: my heart is like wax; it is melted in the midst of my bowels. 15 My strength is dried up like a potsherd; and my tongue cleaveth to my jaws; and thou hast brought me into the dust of death. 16 For dogs have compassed me: the assembly of the wicked have inclosed me: they pierced my hands and my feet. (Textual issue there, but that’s ok.)
Psalm 22:18-19 18 They part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture. 19 But be not thou far from me, O LORD: O my strength, haste thee to help me.
Psalm 22:30-31 30 A seed shall serve him; it shall be accounted to the Lord for a generation. 31 They shall come, and shall declare his righteousness unto a people that shall be born, that he hath done this.
Sometimes when you read the words of another, it is chilling how much they are your own. Elder Scott’s humility and ability to feel after those that are injured offers many examples. Thank you for being brave and sharing what many of us feel.
Did she say yes? :o)
If she didn’t, my essay would have been VERY different…
“Sinking down in the chair”, “feeling like time is being wasted”, “playing with thumbs”. I loved those descriptions of how you were feeling. I’ve had those feelings many times when suddenly a spiritual experience takes place. Had you not persevered despite that negativity, then the spiritual reward may never had taken place. Its so easy to say, ‘I’ve heard it all before so it won’t matter if I miss this’, and many times its true, but for that one moment of spiritual communication, it can be so worth it to persevere.
To follow up on Rigel’s #31, I have found quite often that I only recognize a particular blessing in my life much later – when I realize why I had an impression way back when it first hit. In that sense, I only understood once I had kept peddling.
Thank you for this. I battled guilt — self-induced depression — for years before confessing and feeling great suprise and relief at the healing power of Christ’s atonement. Elder Scott has focused wonderfully on the healing of souls for decades.
The tears sprang unexpectedly when I read the answer you received in Elder Scott’s comments. One of the most surprising discoveries I made was that God trusted me to recover from what I had supposed was hopeless. “And if ye have no hope ye must needs be in despair; and despair cometh because of iniquity.” — Mni 10:22. I’m grateful for your different slant on the same lesson. Sometime one’s despair comes from someone else’s iniquity, even if it’s failing to love you well enough for you to feel it (Mt 25:45)
“I glory in plainness; I glory in truth; I glory in my Jesus, for he hath redeemed my soul from hell.” – 2 Ne 33:6
Beautiful testimony and uplifting. Thank you!
This is so exactly right. Thank you!
Recommended reading: Amazon.com carries books by an author named Denver Snuffer. I believe you would be edified by his writing. Good luck to you.
Thanks for sharing the experience. Do your previous feelings sometimes reoccur? How do you cope with them if they do?
That’s a good and important question. I don’t think my depression has ever been “cured.” I have little bouts of it now and then. However, I learned a few things about it on my mission. First and foremost is to work through it. My first desire when I get depressed is to shut down and take time off work or otherwise withdraw. This will only make it worse. Sitting alone, by myself, at home, listening to music or watching TV will NOT solve depression. I’ve found also that, since I’ve had so much experience with depression, I know it for what it is. When I start to feel down or self-critical, I can tell myself, “Wait, I know what this is, and I’m not going to let it control me.” It’s a kind of discipline that I learned mostly from my mission.
I hope you will share this post with your uncle sometime soon. There are a lot of people near and dear to me who are feeling alone and forsaken today because we hurt for him. Rather than become disillusioned or angry, thinking on Christ in this way is a real comfort. I know John has doubts. I do too. Sometimes I think I am allowed to be plagued with doubt because God trusts me to reason out what will be in my own best interest, even when much of the time my reason conflicts with my faith. Excommunication is a hard thing to come through, but it is possible. He is lucky to have a family as supportive and strong as yours. Thank you for these words, several years in arrears. I needed them tonight.