Story Time: A Thought Experiment

Andrew Sburdens, depression, doubt, faith, Happiness, obedience, repentance, spirituality 30 Comments

Names and identities have been invented and caricatured as necessary.

Miller is a member of the church. He magnifies all of his callings, does all of the so-called “standard primary answers” (reads the scriptures, prays, attends his meetings, fasts, etc.,) He is seen around his ward as a beacon for what youth should be doing. Sure, he might have a few rough edges; no one’s perfect and certainly not Miller. But it might seem, to the unseeing eye, that Miller is generally on the “right track.”

Miller has a problem, though. He’s utterly miserable. Throughout all of his searching and reading and fasting and praying, he’s learned the scriptures up and down and can preach them to anyone, but they haven’t pierced — for whatever reason — to one person that also matters: himself. He is perpetually unhappy, but he endures to the end. He has faith that one day, even if it’s the day of a death that he has driven himself to, his desire to believe and his endurance will be well recognized. The emptiness and darkness in his life that he has manually filled at the pain of his being with righteousness and the tiny bit of faith he can muster…he hopes that that emptiness will be permanently filled.

The members of his ward who know his struggle, people like his Bishop and his Stake President, commend him for his tremendous struggle, but also commend him for his impressive resolve and obedience — which selflessly ignores all the cries within to give up to do what he can intellectually assent is correct. In truth, they are somewhat baffled that someone who has had such experiences can at the same time be so spiritually unfulfilled.

Del Kante is also a member of the church. Del Kante is a strong believer; his life has been touched through many spiritual experiences; he can say he knows the church is true, that Jesus is the Christ, that the Prophet speaks to God and that the revelations he receives are genuine. Unofficially, he is inspirational at preaching the gospel, because he can speak from the heart. Those who hear his words can feel some of the spirit too.

Del Kante has a problem, though.

While he does speak to others about the glories of God and the good that the church has done for him and shares the gospel with others, he does so in an unofficial capacity because he has severe worthiness issues that prevent him from meeting the standards for missionwork. Beyond severe sexual indiscretions, which are enough on their own, he is furthermore unrepentant. He’s enjoying his life way too much, Lord and all, to come to repentance. He has been disciplined several times and perhaps might come the big one.

Those in his ward who know his struggle, people like his Bishop and his Stake President, have called him to repent of his tremendous struggles, to commend him for his experiences of Christ and the Gospel but to call on him to act upon what should be a true conversion — to reconcile his spiritual experiences with actual changes in his lifestyle to magnify and uplift those spiritual experiences. In truth, they are someone baffled that someone who has had such experiences can at the same time not be humbled to repent.

OK, so here’s the fun part. I guess you don’t have to call it “judging” if you don’t want to think of it like that, but…

  • What should Miller and Del Kante do? What might you suggest?
  • How should each go about doing what need be done?
  • Can you think of anyone like these individuals (obviously, these are caricatures, so de-exaggerate as necessary)?
  • What do you find most tragic about Miller’s case and Del Kante’s case?

Comments 30

  1. Miller should keep doing what he’s doing, although sometimes giving up is the key to realizing how blessed you were while you were still diligently working towards a testimony. But seriously, he has been touched, he just doesn’t know it yet. He needs to fast for a few days, and study toward one end goal: to feel and know of the truthfulness of the gospel, that it may become real to him.

    Del Kante (nice name) needs to do the same in order to humble himself into having a repentant heart.

    As a friend once told me, “If there’s ever anything you absolutely want to know, three days of fasting and studying and praying will give you the answer.” I’ve tried it a few times and can add my suggestion to his.

  2. Your first two questions are focused on “do” and “doing”. If a person could “work” their way into Heaven, he wouldn’t have need for Jesus. All people, including mormons, must understand there is nothing anyone can “do” that Christ The Lord hasn’t already done for us, except repent.

    Each character in the story needs to pray to God, admit their sinful nature, confess Jesus is The Savior, and commit to put their trust in His power to guide their lives. Other than repentance, that’s all they can “do” (Alma 24:10-12; cross reference: 2 Ne 25:23; see also Romans 3:23-26)

    Does anyone on this board understand the evangelical nature of those scriptures in Alma and 2 Nephi?

  3. Miller probably needs a psychologist, a professional who can help him see how fulfillment is obtained and kept.

    The other guy, Del Kante, needs to actually repent, because if what you say is true (that some sins are serious) then his revelations aren’t coming from God. Plus if he was disciplined ‘several times’ then the big ex’d one is long overdue, imho.

    By the way Bishops and Stake presidents are judges in church, not necessarily counselors or the fountain of all truth. Most truth we need to find ourselves on our own, bishops can only really help us repent but not necessarily open the door to all happiness. In this case, if there is a failure, its in the bishops/SP dealing with the second guy.

  4. Missionary Stu,

    “Does anyone on this board understand the evangelical nature of those scriptures in Alma and 2 Nephi?”

    Ah? say what???

  5. “1 Can you think of anyone like these individuals (obviously, these are caricatures, so de-exaggerate as necessary)?
    2 What do you find most tragic about Miller’s case and Del Kante’s case?”

    1 – Many, if I remember my bishop days. Worst were the ones who had repented, ie ex’ed and returned later, only to face years of doubt and torment and regret for what they did; the ‘buffetings of Satan’ as the scripture says.

    2- Tragic is the second guy, Del Kante (what a name), he doesn’t seem to realize what is wrong with his situation. He is steadily and slowly being led down to hell!

  6. “What do you find most tragic about Miller’s case and Del Kante’s case?”

    That neither one understands the gospel. When I was young, I went through each of these phases in turn. In the first, I had to realize that doings could not touch me unless I opened my heart to the Spirit. As Michelle said already, I had to humble myself before the Lord and plead with Him to grant me the gifts of faith and charity. No one is owed spiritual understanding or testimony. They are gifts, granted when the Lord wills. No amount of reading or book learning can make a person “deserve” the Spirit, but humility and service can together open the door to Him. You can’t expect the cart to pull the horse. You can’t expect that going through the motions of righteousness will, by themselves, prepare the mind and heart for the power of heaven. That is the mistake the Pharisees made. They were not bad people, they simply did not understand.

    I disagree that the second, a sinner, cannot have a true testimony in his heart. However, this testimony will at some point wither away “because [it] had no root”. A true testimony can only flower and bear fruit after it has grown roots into a person’s life. If a person believes, but does not do—part of charity is repentance—even if they speak for a time with the tongue of angels, their words become “as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.”

    The core and uniqueness of LDS thought is that we neither subscribe to salvational works nor to faith, but to both. Works come as a manifestation of true faith. Neither one without the other fits the wholeness of the gospel. Works can only come by faith, and faith is manifest in works.

  7. I really don’t see any caricature here and I don’t suggest anything to anyone in this kind of case because there is much more to it than what you exposed here.
    Having been kind of in Miller’s position I can tell you that there are numerous reasons he feels this way. The main concern I can see and express is that he is obviously blocking something out which stops him from experiencing what he wishes he knew. As CarlosJC said, the solution is in the end of a professional.

    I also agree with CarlosJC on Del Kante but as for myself I know it is not only pointless to call someone to repentance it can also be armful. The only thing the bishop (or anyone Del Kante will listen to) can do is be a real christian friend and help him out understand why (not what) there is a worthiness issue that needs to be solved for his own sake. We are here to learn for/by ourselves. Someone else has expressed the idea of shoving salvation down our throat against our own will and this idea has been discarded.

  8. What I would suggest.

    Miller has had spiritual experiences in his life, and knows the church to be true and the prophet to be of God. Rather than blindly trusting spiritual experiences in his life. Miller should test all things to make sure they are true, and study the Bible daily. He should carefully test the spirits he is receiving to make sure they align with the teachings of the Bible. He should focus his study entirely on the Bible. He should begin by reading the Book of John and the Book of Romans. He should carefully avoid cross referencing the Bible to other LDS scripture, JST translations, etc. Simply read and pray about what the Bible really says. Open his heart to God and surrender his life to Jesus.

    Del Kante should repent and trust in Jesus Christ alone, rather than his own works. He should admit his sinful nature. He should ask God to help him take control of his sin because he can not take control if it on his own. He needs to personally commit to throwing out anything in his life that may cause him to have “sexual indiscretions”. This may include strict internet limitations (or blockage), limitations on television, limitations on time being alone, etc. Also, he needs to get an accountability partner. This should be another man with a firm foundation in Jesus Christ. His accountability partner should be someone that he can confess his thoughts, desires, and temptations to. His accountability partner should keep all converstations with him confidential knowing that they must face the struggle together head on. Preferably the accountability partner should be someone that has successfully defeated similar sin in their own lives.

  9. Joe P: Your answer is interesting. If Miller has a testimony of the church and the prophet, why the advice to study only the Bible, “carefully avoid[ing] cross referencing the Bible to other LDS scripture, JST translations, etc.”?

    If I were Miller’s Bishop, I would tell him that I think he is trying to earn his way to heaven, which has put him in a hole he cannot get out of. He needs to understand that we really are saved throguh Christ’s mercy and grace. He needs to loosen up and feel that grace.

    If I were Del Kante’s Bishop, I would try to build upon his spiritual experiences. I would tell him that his feelings and experiences are God calling to him. Then, in as positive a way as possible, I would try to help him understand that he is fooling himself if he thinks he loves the Savior, but does not have to follow him.

  10. Post

    Good replies, everyone. I’m just really seeing how people think here in a mostly hands-off kind of way, but I did want to ask some follow up questions to certain people.

    Re 1:

    Michelle, so the idea is that fasting, studying, praying, all of these things should lead to whatever the end goal is…to feel or to know the gospel is true, etc., but for Miller, he’s been doing all of these things, and he’s not gotten any kind of confirmation. So, the question is, what is the further step…since all of the “basic” tools are not getting him the expected answer.

    Others have raised up that perhaps he has some psychological issues to work with…that’s interesting, I think. But at least it would propose that there are instances when mere fasting, praying, scripture study will not be as effective.

    Let’s say that Del Kante did the same thing, and yet it did not humble him to come to a repentant heart. His experience would be different than Miller’s of course…in that his fasting and praying and scriptural study would solidify his spiritual confirmation…but his problem isn’t that spiritual aspect, so how would more of the same inspire a change in that way?

    Re 2:

    you mention that there is nothing people can “do” that Christ the Lord hasn’t already done, except repent. But isn’t the repentance part the big issue. So, it’s kinda like saying to someone, “Oh, you don’t have to do anything, except go to school, work on the weekends, raise three kids, etc.,” Obviously, all of these exceptions are pretty big ones.

    So, as per your second paragraph, it seems Stu is on that track. He has done all those things, and in his trusting in the power of Christ, because he has no spiritual witness, he is still miserable and feels inadequate and defective. It is BECAUSE he knows he is sinful and has confessed this nature, confessed Jesus is Savior, put his trust in Christ’s power to lead his life, but has no spiritual confirmation even over time of all that — that’s why he’s miserable.

    Re 8:

    Joe P, so, entertaining this thought process…let’s say Miller does all of this and has no spiritual experience (you take for granted that he has had spiritual experience in his life, but I dunno…I think that’s rewriting the story.) What then?

    And, I’m not sure if I’m going to rewrite the books for Del Kante, but what if Del Kante is so unconcerned about his particular sin that even as he admits his sinful nature, he doesn’t regard certain actions he has taken as being sinful in the first place?

  11. The Teacher:

    The Bible has guidelines for testing spirits to ensure they are from God, considering that Satan himself can transform into an angel of light. God can not lie. So if Miller’s spiritual experiences do not align with the bible (and he admits to being spiritually unfulfilled) perhaps his experiences are not from God? 1 John 4:1 “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God…”

    It is possible that Miller is following a false gospel, especially considering his admitted unfulfillment after many years of study. Things might not be as they appear. Perhaps he is actually being decieved by his spiritual experiences? “Who is a liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist, that denieth the Father and the Son” (1st John 2:22). But you say, “Doesn’t the LDS Church believe that Jesus is the Christ,” i.e., the Savior? The LDS does believe that Jesus died on the cross and suffered in the Garden of Gethsemane: BUT, they are taught that the LDS CHURCH is the vehicle through which they must ride if they want to go to Heaven. Church members are deceitfully taught that the CHURCH is the way to Christ, who is the way to Heaven. Nothing could be further from the truth of God’s Word. The LDS Church has perverted the cross of Jesus Christ to mean that God’s Salvation is found THROUGH the Church, and not directly through Jesus Christ as 1st Timothy 2:5 states… “For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” The Bible couldn’t be any plainer.

    Andrew S: I don’t personally believe that spiritual experiences are the ultimate test. Especially if the result of them doesn’t align with the Word of God.

    Satan’s ministers deceitfully come to us as ministers of righteousness. Matthew 7:15, “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.” Did you read that… False prophets APPEAR to be of God on the outside, like Thomas S. Monson, but INWARDLY they are ravening wolves.

  12. Post
  13. Joe P:

    How can you say you “wouldn’t want or expect anyone to follow” you? You just posted a considerable amount of material with the apparent aim of swaying someone’s faith away from the LDS church. Your humility seems like a front. I’m sure you do not consider yourself one of these wolves in sheep’s clothing, though you apparently don’t share our beliefs either which makes clear the relativity of such a term. Were I counseling LDS young men, I would absolutely not tell them to read nothing but the Bible for the simple reason that there are so many perspectives (and so many Bibles) to be had. What we believe to be other revealed scripture can be so helpful in clarifying during study. I have no reason to counsel them to leave our church.

    I’m sorry that you feel the way you do about our beliefs. I personally feel that you are misinformed and hope that someday you not necessarily “see the light” and have a miraculous conversion, but at least come to understand our belief in our Savior, Jesus Christ.

  14. I would recommend that Miller relax a bit on his legalistic routine. In spite of his obedience, it does not seem to be helping him. He needs to focus on understanding himself better and perhaps serving others. That was not mentioned.

    As for Del, he needs to be taken down a few notches on the ego scale and be a bit humbled. Sometimes these things take time. Once that happens, he may be open to repentance. Otherwise, he goes on the way he is.

  15. I think the difference highlighted in the story are these:

    Miller does everything that his religion tells him to do that would bring a witness from the Holy Ghost as promised in the scriptures, and yet doesn’t feel like a response comes.

    Del Kante feels spiritual witnesses despite doing things that his religion teaches should prevent him from feeling them, and thus doesn’t have much motivation for changing his actions that are contrary to the church’s teachings.

    I think both Millers and Del Kantes exist out there.

    This story is about how the Holy Ghost operates. Knowing that there are people that feel both ways, I can conclude only that we cannot command the Spirit, nor can we control by our doctrine the ability of the Spirit to act upon individuals. It may be helpful to frame discussions about the witness of the Holy Ghost by saying that although usually the Holy Ghost bears witness of truth, prompts us to good actions and warns us against bad choices, and withdraws when we sin, these are general statements not universally experienced in all circumstances. “My thoughts are not your thoughts, my ways not your ways” probably applies to the HG just as much as it does to Jesus and HF.

    What should Miller do? probably continue to wait. His life of good actions and earnest devotion is probably not hurting anyone around him. If his misery comes from feeling like he hasn’t had a spiritual witness while everyone around him has, perhaps not trying so hard to bind the Spirit by his faith/devotions will help him be more open to spiritual witnesses, should they come. I identify more with Miller than Del Kante, and have decided to read, study, and pray about things outside my own religious upbringing for greater context. A decision to stay in the same religious path despite scant spiritual witness isn’t necessarily a bad choice, particularly considering the costs of jumping ship in social, familial and other considerations, not to mention being uncertain that any other religion could provide greater spiritual food upon which to feast.

    What should Del Kante do? I’m less sure about this one, but perhaps focusing outside of himself a bit more, realizing that the consequences of his actions upon the people around him (friends, spouse, spiritual leaders, family, chlidren, etc.) can negatively affect their lives, not just his own. Whereas he may have a point in arguing that the severity of sin doesn’t seem as great as he’s been told it is given his continued spiritual witness, if those actions create distrust, dejection, physical harm, emotional scars, reduced faith, depression, etc. in those around him, he should cease them if only for the sake of others. Excommunication is a step that necessarily impacts more than the individual excommunicated. This alone should be motivation enough to change his ways. I think Joseph Smith was kind of Del Kantian–he was known to drink, carouse, scuffle, and be light-minded (not to mention possibly inclined to fornication/adultery, depending on how you interpret polygamy), and yet the Lord chose him to be his mouthpiece for some of the most transcendant revelations to come to any individual who has ever walked this earth.

  16. “1. What should Miller and Del Kante do? What might you suggest?” Miller to me does sound like he’s prone to depression. I would suggest he stop breaking the prozacs in half or change careers. Del Kante could use a little humbling, perhaps an STD or losing his looks would do the trick.

    “2. How should each go about doing what need be done?” Neither has any strong motivation to change, but as many have pointed out, we’re all sinners.

    “3. Can you think of anyone like these individuals (obviously, these are caricatures, so de-exaggerate as necessary)?” Yes, but also caricatures. Miller is like the older brother in the prodigal son. Del Kante is like the prodigal son or King David. Some might say JS is like Del Kante. I suppose many Millers would envy Del Kantes.

    “4. What do you find most tragic about Miller’s case and Del Kante’s case?” That prosperity (or getting laid in DK’s case) leads to sin. That being an automaton or “check-the-box” Mormon doesn’t lead to happiness. Men are that they might have joy. Joy is a perspective, not the end result of a checklist.

  17. J.Ro:

    Following any man is futile. Following the Word of God is fruitful.

    In the example Miller is struggling with his faith. I’m suggesting from my perspective that he simplify things by studying the Bible alone. If he chose to do so he would not be restricted from reading everything (including LDS literature) in his pursuit for the truth. Even literature from places like Utah Lighthouse Ministry, Mormon Research Ministry, Living Hope Ministries, etc. should be on the table. Unfortunately from an LDS perspective truth is relative.

  18. I can relate to both of these people in smaller extremes. While most of my life I have lived like Miller I’ve had limited ‘spiritual’ experiences, something just did not click in me to have the ‘true’ change of heart. To Miller I would say focus less on the letter and more on the spirit of the law which is to Love God and Love Others. That is where I’ve found happiness in my life.
    As for Del Kante, I can also relate to him because with a lot of outside influences and real buffeting in my life I have trespassed some of the ‘big’ commandments. One of the biggest beefs I have with the church is the value of sins. Murder and adultery are big value sins, fornication, anything to do with sex, big value sins. Word of Wisdom, big value sins. Gossiping about your neighbor, offending others, just being a jerk, low value sins. This is a huge generalization, but I find that a lot of members put a lot of emphasis on the appearance of our lives. If it looks like we are ‘Millers’ and we don’t sin in open everything is great. However, if you are an extremely loving, christ like person other than a couple of ‘big value’ sins you are in danger of excommunication.
    What does this have to do with del Kante? Maybe he is the most Christ like of the two. Maybe he’s the one that will eventually make the changes he needs to be in good standings in ‘the church’ while he has always been in pretty good standings with God. Maybe Miller is the one who will always try to do what’s right for all the wrong reasons. I can’t presume to judge. Obviously they both need changes to be made but I have a hard time jumping on the band wagon that tries to put a value on the sins of others. What you see is this brother has a Word of Wisdom problem so he can’t go to the temple while this other person is a hateful gossip and they can. Which is worse in the eyes of God?

  19. i have noticed that most people have been most concerned with miller, but i would like to read more opinions, or possible solutions for del kante. so if a person has complete faith in “the good word” yet, has no drive to change, then what? how is a person expected to find a drive that they don’t possess. and i would like to hear an answer other than “fast, pray, read” in many cases, that doesn’t work. i also don’t think that the idea of “fake it till you make it” is healthy, i think it religious abuse. so, i don’t think it is the right answer for del kante. if we can assume that what miller is trying to do is “fake it” till he “makes it” he is only making his detachment from feeling the spirit worse, in abusing the gospel “do’s”.

  20. It is interesting to me to see how several people mentioned that Miller needs a shrink. I have heard this so many times from members — “If he is doing everything and doesn’t know the Church is true, then he probably has psychological problems.” Sit back and reflect on that position. Are you kidding me? If you want to cause someone psychological problems, then tell them that not obtaining a testimony is a result of his/her psychological problems. Uggghhh.

  21. I think people are suggesting that Miller seek mental health treatment because he’s unhappy and doesn’t seem to know how to be happy, not because he doesn’t have a testimony.

  22. I agree with Kuri on this from most of the responses I must of misunderstood this completely.

    We had a friend who came home from an excellent mission and self studied all the seminary manuals to make up for not doing them in high school, took institute classes and served faithfully in callings always fervently prayed read the scriptures kept morally clean.

    He felt that he had never had Moroni’s promise work for him and that it was important to have that witness in his life, so took two weeks off work to re read the book of mormon prayed and fasted to know it was true.

    Flew to Palmyra to see visit the sight of the first vision etc. Stil never got those feelings and has now is in active.

    I think you can be mentally stable and not gain a testimony!

    About a 1/3 of the 13 million in our church are active – I think most of them that aren’t active are mentally stable as well. If they truly had a testimony why would they give up getting the big reward at the end.

  23. “If they truly had a testimony why would they give up getting the big reward at the end.” A testimony is certainly no guarantee of any reward. It’s just perhaps a small reason to go on when one is exhausted or ready to quit the race. Lack of a testimony doesn’t preclude one from a reward either. There are those that believe because they see and those that believe the words of those who see.

  24. ““If they truly had a testimony why would they give up getting the big reward at the end.” A testimony is certainly no guarantee of any reward. It’s just perhaps a small reason to go on when one is exhausted or ready to quit the race.”

    Thanks Hawkgrrrl – if you were with a 5 year old child and it was about to cross a dangerous road – you would automaically stop the child from crossing with out you because you have a testimony of how dangerous cars can be and the reward would be you saved the childs life. Its no small reason!!

    I think testimonies are suppose to be just a vivid aren’t they in our minds that if we don’t do what were suppose to do in this time of probation will loose our eternal reward.

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