Andrew wrote a beautiful and moving post recently – “Dark Night of the Soul“. In reading that post and the subsequent comments, I had an epiphany about my own experience with certainty and doubt. I have been thinking about how to explain the difference between my experience and Andrew’s – and, even more interesting, the similar result from such different experiences. I will not try to summarize Andrew’s post here; that would not do it proper justice. What I will post here is the epiphany that struck me as I read it and the comments about it.
I have not experienced the “dark night” Andrew describes. I have never awakened one morning feeling lost and abandoned. I have wondered occasionally about that – about why it seemed to have “clicked” so completely for me at such a young age.
1) I read the Book of Mormon for the first time in First Grade as part of a reading project at school. (I chose to read it; everyone else was reading Dr. Seuss, The Berenstain Bears, etc.) By the age of seven, I had read the Book of Mormon and fallen in love with the way it made me feel – not primarily the doctrine in it, per se, but the way it opened my mind and heart to some incredible feelings and impressions. I am not a “visual learner”, and I don’t “see” what I read in the classic sense of being able to envision it in colorful detail. I “got” the words, but more importantly I “got” the “speaking from the dust” aspect – and that was more important than the words for me. (Not long thereafter, I read the New Testament and had the same type of experience.)
More importantly, I recognized places where it DIDN’T say what others believed it said. Even at that age, I was a parser – and I remember thinking that lots of people in my life, including many adults and leaders whom I respected and admired, didn’t really understand some of the things I was reading in the way that they actually were written. I read passages and thought, “I can understand why people think it says ________________, but it just doesn’t say that.”
That was a foundational recognition for me – that faithful people could read the same words and understand them differently.
2) Growing up, I remember distinctly the words and example of my father. He taught me so many lessons, but the ones that came back to me as I read Andrew’s post were the ones that dealt with certainty – the ones that taught me what I could and couldn’t know. My dad is not a philosopher; he hated school and struggled there; in many ways, he is average Joe Mormon; he was and is, however, incredibly insightful and brilliant in his own way. Looking back, I have come to realize that he is the closest example of Christ-like, selfless service I have ever known. Many of my strongest “understandings” of the Gospel were shaped by what he said and how he lived, particularly when it comes to the issue of certainty and doubt.
I have no idea how many times I heard him say, “I don’t know if I believe that”, or, “That sounds good, but we just don’t know for sure,” or, “I’m not sure that’s how I see it,” etc.
3) As early as I can remember, I have understood the Gospel to be the core, fundamental, foundational principles of God. I have understood our perspectives to be what “we see through a glass, darkly” – our best attempt to make out the details within the general outline we have been given. I have understood the focus of this life to be the process of becoming like God – of taking our fallen nature and repenting, by changing that fallen nature into an exalted (“raised”) nature. I have understood that there can be certainty in that process – in the type of faith that motivates us to act in order to change (repent), to accept baptism as the symbol of that effort and to strive to be connected to God through a spiritual line (the Holy Ghost) through the grace of God. However, I also have understood that everything else is just details. I have understood that there can be certainty in the ideal – in the ultimate end – in the foundation principles, but I also have understood that everything we see and believe and extrapolate and conjecture and assume is subject to “further light and knowledge” – that even with more light and knowledge, we still see through our glasses, darkly.
My eiphany is that I am comfortable living in my own “dark night” that is similar in practical result as Andrew’s (one that is not cut off from God but simply cut off from certainty about the details) but that came about quite differently than his did for him. I have lived there for as long as I can remember. I have never believed in the certainty that he describes prior to his own dark night, so I have never felt abandoned by its loss. My “dark night” appears “light” to me, because I have never believed I see things clearly and completely. I just see them as clearly as I am capable of seeing them – which I understand and accept as “darkly”. I have never been shaken by doubt of detail, because my testimony has never been founded on certainty of detail. There are things I feel completely comfortable saying I “know” for myself, but I have never felt like anyone else had to “know” anything with certainty to enjoy the fruits of the Restoration.
I return to the scripture I mentioned above – I Cor. 13:9-13. In full text, it reads:
9 For we know in part, and we prophesy in part.10 But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.11 When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.12 For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.13 And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.
I believe I know in part, and I believe our prophets prophecy in part. I believe that will change someday, but I have no idea when that will be. There was a time, prior to my first reading of the Book of Mormon, when I thought as a child – that everything was black and white and I could know it all; I put away that belief at a very early age. I believe I see through my own glass, darkly and, therefore, only in part; I believe someday I will know fully.
Verse 8 is the bridge between the characteristics of charity and the outlook charity provides. It says:
Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.
Given this perspective, I live now with faith and hope that I will understand and know more fully on an on-going basis as my future unfolds. The greatest thing I can do in the here and now, however, is to be charitable – to obtain the characteristics in 1 Cor. 13:4-7 and allow them to grow within me and change me into the type of person who can accept wherever I and others are in our own individual spiritual maturation processes.
I am certain of many things, but those things are principles – not details. Radical changes in policy and even “doctrine” don’t shake me, since I have never based my testimony on those things. I believe firmly and deeply in the PRINCIPLES of ongoing-revelation and charity exercised in how I must view others – that what I believe now differs from what I believed as a youth and young adult – that what I believe now differs from what I will believe in the future – that what I believe now differs from what others believe now. I believe that this charity God gave me as a youth will not fail me, even as prophecies and tongues and knowledge fail all around me.
In my youth, this was an unconsciously proactive embrace of the core concept embedded in the dark night; in my adulthood, it is a light shining in darkness. After reading Andrew’s post, I like to think of it as the long-extended Bright Night of My Soul.
Thank you, Andrew, for this epiphany.
I needed this Andrew as I needed Ray’s perceptions,and note how glorious it is to be witness to the spiritual experience of others.I also note ,as a parent, how useful your father’s modesty was about what he could know and what he couldn’t.
I have seen this is engraved upon a glass door in Cambridge,England,and learnt it as a child-I can’t remember the author-
A man who looks on glass
On it may stay his eye
Or onward looking through it pass
And there the heavens espy.
Ray, that was a wonderful post. Glad to have you on board.
Ray said: As early as I can remember, I have understood the Gospel to be the core, fundamental, foundational principles of God… I have understood the focus of this life to be the process of becoming like God – of taking our fallen nature and repenting, by changing that fallen nature into an exalted (”raised”) nature. I have understood that there can be certainty in that process – in the type of faith that motivates us to act in order to change (repent), to accept baptism as the symbol of that effort and to strive to be connected to God through a spiritual line (the Holy Ghost) through the grace of God.
Having ones foundation built on rock sure beats building on sand. I appreciate your candid and thoughtful account of what it takes to put the Savior at the center of our life.
wayfarer, the poem was written in 1633 by an Englishman named George Herbert. The full text is:
Teach me, my God and King,
in all things thee to see,
and what I do in anything
to do it as for thee.
A man that looks on glass,
on it may stay his eye;
or if he pleaseth, through it pass,
and then the heaven espy.
All may of thee partake;
nothing can be so mean,
which with this tincture, “for thy sake,”
will not grow bright and clean.
A servant with this clause
makes drudgery divine:
who sweeps a room, as for thy laws,
makes that and the action fine.
This is the famous stone
that turneth all to gold;
for that which God doth touch and own
cannot for less be told.
FYI, I am in between meetings right now, typing on a computer in a clerk’s office in our stake. I will be in meetings pretty much all day. (7a-5p) I will try to return this evening, so please understand if I don’t respond expeditiously to your comments.
Ray, thank you for posting this. I can tell it is powerful for you and I am happy for you in that. You seem (from my lurkings here) to be a genuinely good guy trying your best to do what is right, and I appreciate that. I wish I could have feelings or understandings similar to yours. I have also read Andrew A.’s “Dark Night of the Soul” posting and similarly appreciate Andrew’s spirituality.
My personal experience was probably for many years something of a mix of yours and his. (And I hope I don’t mischaracterize anything either of you said—that is not my intent—so if I do, please correct me and forgive me.) I am a convert to the Church. After marrying a member, and having gone through the missionary discussions a few times, one day I just “felt” it right, I “received a testimony” if you will, and decided to join the church. This feeling, incidentally, came at the end of a long-day of unsuccessful sales calls. It buoyed my spirits, and for a long time I never looked back, never looked to the side, only looked forward. I was able also to not sweat the details. Inconsistencies, changes, history, all seemed irrelevant. There were things I didn’t understand, that didn’t seem to fit together, but I mentally set them aside and went striving onward.
I had an experience similar to Andrew’s, where I felt I couldn’t feel the Spirit any longer. I stayed active, I continued in callings, paying tithing, etc. and similarly had occasional spiritual experiences, but no longer felt I had that “constant” certainty that I had possessed for such a long time. Eventually, as I mentioned in another thread, my epiphany came when I was a bishop’s counselor and conducting a temple recommend interview. I could no longer answer the questions “correctly” myself.
Some things nag at me that I still can’t reconcile. I don’t know if it is all one thing or if there are several nagging things, but I’d like to share one of them with you (and Andrew if he’s reading) and others and get your thoughts. And also I want to say I am not attempting to convert you or discount your perspective in any way, it just confuses me. It seems like circular logic, i.e. God is real, and the proof is both that he gives us “details” and he gives us “feelings.” No amount of “details” or “feelings” however are ever sufficient to disprove God, and in fact, lack of or conflicting”details” and “feelings” are also proof of God. It seems like if we start with the answer to the question, then no matter what question we ask, we already have the answer.
I can’t think of any other aspect of our lives where we solve problems, resolve conflicts, gain understanding (or whatever term might be best here) by so heavily discounting the “details” or facts of the situation and relying upon “feelings.” It seems to me that the most likely reason to do this is to give ourselves room to engage in circular logic, which we also don’t use in any other aspects of our lives.
Ray, you and Andrew both seem like bright fellows, and I respect and admire your testimonies, and I don’t mean to sound harsh or critical, but they seem irrational. I suspect you are both highly rational men who use the “details” of your lives to make logical decisions in virtually every other aspect of your lives, except this one involving God. And, I guess the difficulty for me, is that thinking about or understanding God seems to require a separate and distinct way of thinking, that is not only separate and distinct from thinking and understanding other aspects of our lives, but almost exactly the opposite of thinking and understanding everything else.
And, if, as most religions seem to suggest, our understanding of God (and/or relationship with God, etc.) is the MOST important aspect of our entire lives, then why can’t we use our methodology for understanding God as our methodology for understanding everything else? It fails dismally, e.g. flat earth, center of the universe, etc.
I sincerely hope neither of you (nor anyone else) feel I am attacking you or your beliefs. I have had my “Dark Night” and the light of the morning seems to suggest “rationality” and “details” are important. Yet, I still have nagging “feelings” that I’m missing something. I’m just trying to figure it all out. It is apparently my own application of “enduring to the end.” 🙂
Thanks, Ray, this is similar to my experience, though not from such a young age. Like you I feel I benefitted from parents who were (for lack of a better word) cautious before believing LDS-ish belief/superstition/folklore and let their kids know it, yet were completely committed to the core of the gospel.
It intrigues me, though, how so many people (at least it seems that way) can have the complete surety and certainty about everything that Andrew described before his dark night, but never lose it.
Andrew Callahan, I don’t feel qualified to answer your very valid questions, but for me the two methodologies just don’t seem that incompatible. I’m trying and failing to come up with a better articulation of that, so maybe someone else here can offer something better 🙂 Also, I just read an interesting post that seems germane to your concerns. It argues that both science and religion draw on the same four sources of knowledge. I hope you are able to reconcile everything, or at least enough of it!
Andrew Callahan – There was a very good talk in Oct 07 conference about how to find truth, contrasting the methods of rational mind and spiritual experience. Here is a link: http://lds.org/conference/talk/display/0,5232,23-1-775-32,00.html. It may or may not be helpful to you.
Ray – your experience is more like mine that Andrew’s post, although I found both very helpful. To some extent, mine is a combination of the two, although I can say I never felt that constant light described in Andrew’s post. I, like you, have always seen the gray areas and the inconsistencies, but I generally identify those as natural human byproducts or partial truths we don’t yet fully understand. When I had my crisis of faith, it was partly (but not entirely) due to encounters with leaders who couldn’t identify with my questions and responded with black and white answers and no empathy. I can fully see now that it was my problem and not theirs; I just wasn’t mature enough to find my own path yet at that time.
Andrew C. – You come across as quite humble (perhaps “Friend” is your evil alter-ego? 😉 ) I have a lot of respect for the tone of your writing. There is also a lot I would like to discuss here, but I don’t have a lot of time right now… here’s a little though:
Re: “relying upon feelings,” “irrational” and “make logical decisions in virtually every other aspect of your lives, except this one involving God”
I don’t rely on most of my feelings about spiritual matters. While I have had a handful, maybe more, of intense spiritual (feeling) experiences, which were unlike any other feeling I have experienced, I generally do not trust my feelings by themselves. At the same time, I have been betrayed by my own reason and logic quite a few times as well, and have learned that I cannot trust reason without considering emotion (especially after learning more about emotions lately), if that makes any sense. My beliefs regarding God or anything else spiritual obviously involve feelings, but they also involve reason (i.e details, thoughts, etc.), and my own desires.
This post makes me think of all the times that I drove off seminary teachers and Sunday School teachers. I never felt bad questioning their logic or simply defeating the purpose of the lesson by calling out and summarizing the subject of the lesson after seeing the introductory object lesson. Now I see that I could have dealt with it differently. Indeed, there were some teachers who really were able to challenge us intellectually. One major thing has changed within myself since then, though: I realized that no matter how simple the lesson was or how badly it was taught, there is always something to learn. When I’m having a hard time, I can pray for the teacher and listen to the Spirit to find out what I should be learning. Anyway, I’ve not had that night of darkness either. Yes, there have been superbly hard times in my life (like in everyone’s), but that never rocked my knowledge, rather that’s what got me through.
I’m typically a lurker here and don’t comment much – I have a hard time distilling my thoughts into pithy comments. This is long – sorry. But I think there’s a bridge between logic and feelings, which is our experience.
I don’t claim to have experienced either the bright or dark nights possessing exactly the qualities Ray and Andrew describe. However, during my darker times, I’ve never turned from the core principles and behaviors I’ve always be taught. I think my naïveté in my youth turned out to be a blessing insomuch as I never questioned enough to really doubt (in my youth). You might say I became a pro at applying the Sunday School answers to enduring adversity. That’s not to say scripture study, prayer and going to church are the answers to adversity. They are not. They are not the Water that quenches our thirst. Rather, in my experience, these acts prime the spiritual pump.
Moving into adulthood, life hasn’t been so pat. Mix in a little depression (self and spouse), a disabled child, adored siblings who leave the church, financial difficulties, church doctrinal and historical questions, a skepticism that’s become second nature, and well, life isn’t so pat anymore. I’m also frequently irritated by the cultural Mormonism and traditional (but unsubstantiated) doctrines and beliefs practiced by members of the Church. Through this, I’ve continued living the best I knew how and continued the practices of scripture study, prayer and church attendance.
Recently, however, I’ve been through experiences that have caused me to examine the most fundamental of doctrines I’ve observed throughout my life. I’ve doubted and questioned and groped for answers. I questioned what it means to even know. It became clear to me some of the things I “knew,” I really only believed or hoped or thought or accepted. Some things I “knew” were really unknowable or perhaps not yet revealed or foolish wishful thinking.
But what it came down to for me in the last many weeks is that I couldn’t ignore the evidence, and after searching and prayer and discussions, I feel like there are a few things I do know. To put it simply, throughout my life I’ve tried to apply Alma 32 and, through no genius or merit on my part, the seed grew. Unmistakable patterns have emerged over time as I’ve sought to apply the principles I believed and spiritual feelings have witnessed and strengthened my resolve. I accepted the seed as a good.
So, my feelings towards the Savior’s redeeming power are sure and my fundamental testimony of the Restoration remains. In between, there are, no doubt, some awkward points and plenty of unanswered questions. I realize (in comparison to what I used to believe unquestioningly), there’s so much we really don’t know. Recognizing this, my testimony has changed forever.
The wounds are still pretty fresh (recent weeks), so I don’t have the perspective on this I might a few years down the road. I’ll keep up the Sunday School solutions to life’s problems – they won’t solve the problems, but they’ve been a schoolmaster to me to find the pathway through life’s most difficult challenges.
As I wondered what to do, the profound words, “Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life” came into my mind over and over. I’ve discovered, over a number of years, a positive pattern of experiences. Add to this sacred (to me) spiritual feelings and experiences, and I could come to no other conclusion than the most basic testimony of Jesus Christ and the simplest gospel principles revealed through Joseph Smith.
No question, not everyone fits the same mold nor has the same experiences. I feel sympathy with those who feel weak and abandoned and empathy toward those whose struggles differ from but are no more imagined and no less real than my own.
Like I said, the wounds are still tender and I’m trying to rebuild my core beliefs on truth from the ground up. I look forward to gaining more perspective on my recent experiences. I fully expect to encounter more crises of faith in the future, but unless the patterns of evidence and spiritual impressions abandon me, where else would I go?
I like it. Thanks Ray.
Ryan (#11), thank you for your comments. I certainly understand the need for tempering or bridging logic and emotion where appropriate, but it seems to me that the emphasis is not even on the bridging, but almost exclusively on the emotion.
I guess the Church seems to me to be in transition, from a church that emphasized the facts, to a church that very significantly de-emphasizes facts, science, logical reasoning, etc. In addition to the early claims made by our religion e.g.: “American Indians are descendants of Lamanites”, “First Vision happened THIS way”, “Restoration of the Priesthood happened THIS way”, “Book of Abraham IS translated correctly” etc. there was very often then a corresponding statement, that when our science (archeology, linguistics, microbiology, etc.) skills are greatly improved, they will PROVE all of these claims to be literally true. But, I am not aware of any instance where the science has proven the claims true, while many scientific discoveries either flatly disprove or cast huge doubt.
It seems we are now more of a church that is trapped by its past. Many of us (I believe including our leaders) know that at least some of the factual claims made by our church simply aren’t true. Our leaders quietly go about modifying doctrine, e.g. from “principal ancestors of the American Indians” to “among the ancestors of the American Indians,” etc.
We face the uncomfortable position that if we admit to being wrong, then our prophets and apostles who absolutely insisted they were right and that they knew God’s mind, really didn’t know God’s mind, and it then logically follows that if the first prophets and apostles had no special abilities, then our current ones don’t either. If, however, we don’t admit to being wrong folks will point to our ever changing story as an attempt at deception.
I read the epistemology post that Austin suggested. I found the author’s reasoning and application critically flawed, and posted briefly my perspective on that blog. I also read Hawkgrrrl’s suggested reading by Elder Scott. And, unfortunately, found it utterly unconvincing as well. Elder Scott’s statement: “The best way of finding truth is simply to go to the origin of all truth and ask or respond to inspiration” seems obviously false on its face, and the evidence of the falsity is all of the “untrue” things that church leaders and others have learned this way for centuries, “flat earth, center of the universe, etc.” I had other problems with Elder Scott’s talk as well, but I don’t feel a debate is in order here.
If the “facts” and the “details”, e.g. horses, pigs, steel swords, chariots, etc. don’t matter, and the broader themed truths “Lamanites are the principal ancestors of the American Indians” don’t matter, and even the honesty and credibility of our leaders doesn’t matter, e.g. Joseph Smith was a polygamist, but denied it vociferously; Joseph Smith possessed and used a magic “seer stone” before translating the BoM and used it in the translating of the BoM; etc. then what else is left to us other than: “It’s true because I feel it is true.”
Further, not only does the church seem to de-emphasize its own history, scientific findings, accurate academic translations, etc., it actively discourages open, honest examination, and prohibits any public discussion of these things or any dissenting views under penalty of excommunication.
Prohibiting public discussion of various viewpoints is consistent and makes sense, if they are metaphorically standing with their backs to God, facing us, with God whispering in their ears.
Historically they have claimed the facts proved (or would someday prove) that what they say is true, and God has their backs. Now it seems they rely much, much more on feelings to make the claim that they speak for God, which seem terribly unreliable. Feelings and emotions in the face of cold logic have been the downfall of many people and societies. Even in our own church, we often look outside at others who were fooled through emotional appeals and “tsk, tsk, tsk” them for not using logic, reason, and common sense. If we can’t use science, facts, details, logic, reason, etc. and are so encouraged to rely on feelings, how can we know we aren’t also being fooled?
#6 Andrew et al
Regarding feelings, logic, making decisions, and seeking the Lord’s help.
I’m trying to understand and grow in these things as all LDS are. I understand, in part, the frustration you’ve experienced. Learning to discern things of the Spirit is challenging, but it is worth it.
As with everything in life we have a native ability that we’re born with and then we need to develop these abilities thereafter. I could talk about athletic, academic, and music abilities to make the point, but I think you get what I’m saying. Things of the Spirit can be added to this general list. There is one difference however, when we’re baptized into the Lord’s church we are given an advantage, we’re granted access to the gift of the Holy Ghost when we’re confirmed members, with the command: “receive the Holy Ghost”.
Receiving the Holy Ghost takes time, patience, and diligence. These are the general principles to taking the Holy Spirit as our guide. When it comes to the specifics we need to work it out with Heavenly Father. I don’t believe there is anyone, including the prophet, who could come up with a formula everyone could replicate instantly that would allow immediate access to the Holy Ghost and the gifts of the Spirit. It just doesn’t work that way.
The Lord is a resource for us and He will allow us access to spiritual guidance according to His will. We need to do what we can to open the channels of communication with Him and then it is up to Him.
I mentioned time, patience, and diligence. I’ll share some things that I think are helpful:
Time-we each get one day at a time. How much time are we willing to use each day to know the Lord? I try to spend at least an hour each day in formal pondering and prayer. This is generally divided up in three parts; morning, mid-day, and evening. When I have big issues on my mind I try to offer up “prayer without ceasing”.
Patience-the Lord will help us in His own way, and in His own time. The scriptures refer to this as “waiting on the Lord”. It requires patience on our part. Sometimes we don’t get answers or we make mistakes. How we deal with disappointment is a measure of our faith. Giving up is not the answer.
Diligence-how we use our time says a lot about our diligence. In addition to what I already related I’ve employed fasting and prayer. If anything I have probably done more than I needed to, but I would think that if a person fasted and prayed with real intent once a month this would be pleasing to the Lord and says much about our true desires.
Well, I hope what I’ve said will be of some use to some soul. I can just say that the Lord has answered my prayers in ways that I thought was reserved for the noble and great ones. I don’t consider myself in that class, not even close, he has told us he is no respecter of persons, we all qualify for this kind of grace if interested. The Lord has seen fit to send ministering angels on a couple of occasions(unseen) who spoke to me in short direct sentences in answer to prayers on issue vital to my life. He has given me dreams, visions, and impressions to help me on other occasions. In recent years I find impressions of the Spirit come to me when I am waking up in the morning.
Now their are those who will find fault with me saying I shouldn’t share these kinds of things. I haven’t given details, I’ve shared general statements. Recently, I was going to write a post giving details of some of my experiences, but I learned in a dream not to. Members share all sorts of things in the Bloggernacle that create doubt and anxiety for those who frequent this forum. Andrew and a few others have sincerely shared there perspective about things of the Spirit, so have I. Now it remains with those who read this to believe what you will. I can just say that we can all find help from the Lord if we’re willing to pay the price required.
#14 Thank you Jared. I know you are trying to reach me, and I am trying also, but it seems that everything you talked about are just more examples of how I can use emotion to find truth.
The Muslims & Catholics come to mind immediately as folks who have dedicated entire monastaries, etc. to a system pretty similar to what you describe. They pray frequently, humble themselves, seek diligently, and wait upon the Lord. They would feel they have paid the price to receive the light and knowledge they seek. Their revealed truth through this method has sometimes meant war with their neighbors. Followers of Jim Jones in the early 70’s were a prayerful people, they were horribly deceived.
I’m not trying to be obtuse, I just can’t see how I can trust my emotions to overwhelm MOUNTAINS of data, facts, details, etc. when there are so many examples throughout history of people who have done just that, and regretted it.
While I don’t mean to disbelieve you, I can find no credible evidence of any kind that this process you describe actually works, and loads of examples where this process leads to disastrous results.
#15 Andrew–within the church you have overwhelming mountains of data, facts, details, etc that testify of the reality of Gods love and willingness to hear an answer prayers. The LDS church has the authority to bestow the Holy Ghost on those willing to receive this gift. This is uniques to the LDS church.
The Lord respects our agency and will not come unless invited. We invite Him with our faith.
I don’t know how to bridge the gap between intellectual knowledge or reasoning and the Gospel other than witnesses from the Holy Ghost.
Still, in my opinion, the Gospel is to be experienced, not just felt. To use a tired Book of Mormon example, Laman and Lemuel felt certain things, but that didn’t get them over the hump. Spiritual feelings and impressions that are not backed sooner or later by action become vain memories.
But more to your point about science and logic, I think there are at least two traps we fall into.
First, we assume we have enough information to make broad pronouncements based on the supposed facts (scientific or spiritual impressions) we have available. The problem is that science is continually expanding facts and rethinking hypotheses based upon changing circumstances and new information. The same goes with our spiritual impressions and revelation available. I found a recent article related to this topic by Orson Scott Card thought-provoking – http://mormontimes.com/ME_blogs.php?id=1299.
The other problem we, myself included, fall into is not understanding the Spirit. In the Church we often describe the Spirit as a burning in the bosom. Yeah, okay. I agree – sometimes that’s part of it. But what does the Spirit feel like, really? Sometimes when I feel what I term to be the Spirit I feel happy or joyful, sometimes I feel somber, sometimes I feel euphoric, sometimes (usually) peaceful, sometimes invincible, sometimes excited and motivated to action. That does not mean that every time I feel euphoric or invincible or joyful that I have understood the mind and will of the Lord or that I even felt the Spirit! Looking back, I’ve convinced myself a few things were right because it felt good to me and I allowed myself to be blinded by my own ‘spiritual’ emotions. We need to do a better job understanding what the Spirit is and is not.
Given these two tendencies, I can cut a little slack to individuals who make scientific claims or doctrinal pronouncements without all the information available. Just as the absence of DNA or certain artifacts in the America’s doesn’t disprove the Book of Mormon, it’s also quite a stretch to make sweeping pronouncements that the existence of favorable anecdotal evidence proves the Book of Mormon. Either of these assumptions can be made entirely in good faith, but both lack sufficient evidence to make the claims.
So, on one hand, I think we should ruminate a little longer before we start sharing opinions (and especially stating them as fact). On the other hand, fantastic claims of revelation and the idea that everyone can experience it are a colorful and unique aspect of the Mormon religious tradition.
The way I see it, we have personal light and knowledge – glimmers of understanding that come to us. We have a remarkable religious and historical framework to place these ideas into, but I’ve finally understood that oft repeated counsel of keeping spiritual experiences and those things we consider to be revelation private. Our personal revelation is not for the church. Our personal revelation is not complete. The implicit beliefs explicit doctrines of the Church are not complete.
We also have many ‘facts,’ some real, some imagined, some incomplete. I think the seeker of truth really needs to consider these and keep all the options on the table until we can completely rule them out (very few things can be ruled out with certainty). There will come a time when some facts will be accepted and some will be rejected. Often we accept the facts that fit with our preconceived notions, other times with an open mind we strike upon remarkable discoveries that seemed blasphemous or impossible to us before.
Ultimately, reason (logic and scientific truth) and emotion (and by extension the Spirit) are both required in our spiritual lives, but I think neither is sufficient alone. But we still have no promise of complete reconciliation between the two – that’s where we make the decision not which to believe, but what elements of both aspects we integrate and accept as truth. No matter how we slice it, that decision of what we believe will be a subjective one.
As for the Church in transition, I, too, see changes are afoot, though possibly through glasses with a rosier tint. I see a church leadership that is more cautious with pronouncements and which may de-emphasize certain traditional beliefs. But at the same time, I see the church as being more open in certain forums to discuss church history and doctrines in ways previously unthinkable. I also see a church that is emphasizing the basics of the Gospel and encouraging practical application of these beliefs in members’ lives.
These are just some thoughts. I probably need not say they are my opinion; they’re the ideas I’m working off of right now and are subject to change.
Our differing characters and temperaments may cause some of us to favor more hard evidence, while some are content with the ethereal. Somewhere lies truth. How we go about finding and confirming it will be a different journey for each of us, but I suspect no matter our style of learning or nature, frequent, intimate experiences with the Holy Ghost backed up by the requisite personal action will be the only thing that will truly ‘prove’ our testimonies throughout our lives.
Jared and Ryan, thank you each for your thoughtful and carefully considered comments. I appreciate the effort you are making. And, rather than give offense or appear obstinate or stupid, I suspect it is best for me to just bow out quietly now.
Again, best wishes, and thank you.
Ryan – wow, if all lurkers are of your calibre – welcome lurkers! Very well thought out. I appreciate your insights and perspective.
Andrew C. – if you haven’t already read it, Bushman’s biography of Joseph Smith (Rough Stone Rolling) provides a nice grounding by giving a very thorough scholarly look at details that others have found disturbing but still emerges as ultimately believing. He manages to maintain an apologetics-free almost neutral tone, unlike pretty much all other biographies of JS. You’ve pointed out (rightly so) that people can be led astray by their emotions. They can be equally led astray by facts. Remember that there are mountains of data, facts, and details that could be used to both prove and to disprove the existence of God. The same is true for the tenets of the LDS and pretty much all other faiths.
IMO, truth is not an artefact, a dead thing to be studied. It’s a living thing that grows and develop inside of a person. Truth and light can come from many sources to a person who is ready to receive truth and light. We can get as much as we look for and prepare to receive, and it doesn’t only come from the church, but I have definitely found that staying in the church and maintaining worthiness keeps me able to discern truth much more than the alternatives. Truth is in essence, always our subjective experience with it. That’s also the nature of personal revelation. Truth is made known to us because we prepare to receive it, we search for it (everywhere), and we recognize it when we encounter it.
Andrew, I don’t see the monasteries as where the conflict started, at least not the ones that were dedicated to God rather than power.
There are marked differences in what happened with different orders, at different times, depending on what sort of focus they had or developed. An interesting study.
Anyway, bless your heart.
Andrew C., I am considering writing a separate post about spiritual experiences vs. experiential manifestations, but suffice it to say here that the linchpin of my foundation is what I have experienced – those things that simply defy explanation other than a power beyond our own. This is not the forum to discuss those things, but I interpret them as evidence of God – and more.
#19 Hawkgrrl: “Remember that there are mountains of data, facts, and details that could be used to both prove and to disprove the existence of God.”
I’d be happy to look at even a very small hill of data, facts and details that could be used to prove the existence of God. In all seriousness, I can’t think of ANY, and would welcome just three or four, or in a pinch, two, or if you’re pressed for time, one.
I haven’t found any.
And regarding the emotional/spiritual way of knowing, I was active for 17 years, full tithe payer, active home teacher, multiple leadership callings, family home evening, personal and family prayer, personal direct supplication to the Lord and not one thing I can hold on to ever resulted.
Prayer, incidentally, is another whole confusing thing for me. There are dozens of promises stated in absolute terms all throughout the scriptures, but whenever anyone suggests that the prayer “didn’t work” the response is often given that some condition not usually listed in the promises about scripture, was not met. In essence, it always seems to come back to, if you didn’t receive an answer to prayer, it is your own fault. I think someone on this board compares this to the Emperor’s New Clothes, if you can’t see them, it’s because of some fault in you. The Emperor is Naked, there are no clothes to be seen.
So, yes, I’ll take one example of an amputee praying his missing limb back on, or a prayer ACTUALLY moving a mountain, or any other truly miraculous thing. I really can’t find ANY evidence that prayer works any better than incantations by Harry Potter.
And, although I take no offense from Jared, his statements such as:
“I can just say that we can all find help from the Lord if we’re willing to pay the price required.” and “The Lord respects our agency and will not come unless invited. We invite Him with our faith.”
could be seen as an attempt to either “blame the victim” or leave wiggle room for God.
If you didn’t receive this from God, either you didn’t invite in Faith, or you were not willing to pay the price required. This is remarkably similar to “If you can’t see the Emperor’s clothes, it’s because you’re stupid.”
I frequently give offense and exercise profound obstinacy and stupidity, but my wife still puts up with me. I feel you are doing none of these. I hope I’m not either – at least in this case. I hope you don’t take any of my thoughts to suggest some personal failing is the cause of your distress.
What I appreciate so much about your comments and questions is they appear to be motivated by a sincere desire to find and understand truth. I feel the honest seeker of truth, whatever the conclusion, is honorable.
#20 Yes, monastaries were probably not where the Crusades started from (but I actually don’t know that, one way or the other). I was simply making the point that both Catholics and Muslims have been both simultaneously prayerful and warlike against non-believers, in the name of God. I may not have made that point very well.
And Ray, I in no way want to make light of your experiences (especially before I even know what they are), but others who have shared with me about experiences of miraculous cures, healings, etc. still seem to me to be sharing emotional responses to events rather than sensory experiences. Sensory experiences would seem to me to be more what the Prophet Joseph claimed, met an angel, etc.
And, Hawkgrrrl, I have never been to Salt Lake City, yet it is a real, true place. If I don’t want it to be true, that doesn’t change the truth of the existence of the city. And, I much prefer something that is closer to an objective truth rather than a subjective one.
Maybe I’m just dense. Again, I appreciate all of your comments and attempts to get through to me. I really wish I could “get it.” I have prayed for it, I fasted for it, I have read scriptures, sought counsel of my leaders, read Conference talks, done service, tried to be obedient, done every thing I could, and just couldn’t get it back.
What Andrew A describes as a dark night hasn’t ended for me, and there is no end in sight. And, if it seems that there is never any hope of getting to the light and I quit looking, is it somehow a failing in me? Is it then my own fault that I didn’t endure long enough? Where is God’s responsibility toward me? I can’t think of anything more to do. It seems to work for all of you, why doesn’t it work for me? Doesn’t God love me? Am I unworthy of his love?
So, yes, I still feel I am in a dark night, but I also feel I must be true and honest to myself. I won’t lie to myself and pretend to believe or feel something I don’t believe or feel.
Andrew C. – The following are the usual data, facts, and details to illustrate God’s existence:
1 – The total inability of science to create life in a laboratory, despite knowing the basic elements involved. Even hardline evolutionists point to higher life forms from other planets planting the seeds of life on earth as a plausible explanation, even acknowledging that it still doesn’t explain where those higher life forms originated.
2 – The complexity of DNA, while demonstrating evidence of evolution, fails to explain the leaps from species to species.
3 – The uniqueness of the human experience among the animals; the very existence of consciousness.
I’m sure you’ve heard all of these before. Remember that my point is not that these actually prove the existence of God because there are also proofs on the other side of the argument. My only point is that facts, data, and details are no such thing. Seeking for proof or a sign in data, facts, and details is a faulty proposition. Stigmata, virgin Mary’s image on burnt toast, etc., are also cited as proofs of God’s existence, but they are someone else’s proof. Presumably, not yours or mine. The faithful see signs where they sometimes don’t exist. The doubters see signs that their doubts are confirmed.
I’d be interested in Ray’s post on the distinction between spiritual manifestations and spiritual experiences. The analogy of the Emporer’s New Clothes sounds great (it’s everywhere on these DAMU-friendly sites), but it’s not relevant to my experience. We all have to make our own way individually. The emporer’s new clothes analogy falls flat for me in sounding like a conspiracy theory and implying that one side is blind and foolish and the other side is simply stating the obvious. IME, spiritual matters are just not that simple.
Andrew, I hope the last paragraph never changes – except for maybe becoming comfortable in and accepting of your own relative darkness.
I appreciate the tone of discussion that is here. Having been raised Mormon I am very interested in these topics.
I am very much where Andrew C. is. However, I don’t characterize it as a dark night. Andrew has very well stated the same problems I have with the idea of spiritual truth. It seems a ready made recipe for believing what we _want_ to be true. Evidence of that is the many different and conflicting faiths that all base their belief on a spiritual witness.
I came to understand that truths will remain truths whether or not I believe them. I eventually came to reject the idea of a god that would reject me because of my skepticism regarding the evidence of ‘his’ existence. These things simply do not impact my daily life.
I had hammered into my head growing up that I must have a certain knowledge without doubt that these things are true. It is a drum beat every time you step into a Mormon church. As I studied nature and the scientific process I came to see doubt as the seed of learning and certainty as its poison. Andrew mentioned the philosophy of ‘spiritual truth’ that is becoming vogue in the church. I have a problem with this and with Elder Scott’s talk, I think it is a dangerous philosophy.
So yes, I have serious doubts about the things I was taught as a youth. Rather then a dark night, I see it as a bright dawn with ample space for new learning. I will withhold belief in many things until there is ample verifiable evidence to support it. I do believe that a loving god would agree with this approach.
Imperfection – “I will withhold belief in many things until there is ample verifiable evidence to support it.” If people everywhere followed this philosophy, there would be a lot less divisiveness and pride and a lot more humility and actual spiritual insight and progress, IMO. Certainty in things that are not really certain is just pride. That’s a knife that cuts both ways, of course (believing and non-believing). I like what Jeff Spector has said about the Jewish community’s focus on doubt and questioning as the source of insight and the purpose of religious thought rather than religion as the answer to all questions.
#27 – “I will withhold belief in many things until there is ample verifiable evidence to support it.”
I would add:
“as long as that with-holding doesn’t keep you from producing the fruits of love and “Christian discipleship” – whatever its actual manifestation and phraseology.
If that happens (if you don’t act on general principles of service and love), it would be tragic.
Andrew C. states:
So, yes, I’ll take one example of an amputee praying his missing limb back on, or a prayer ACTUALLY moving a mountain, or any other truly miraculous thing. I really can’t find ANY evidence that prayer works any better than incantations by Harry Potter.
Here you go.
Cowley: Drama at Prayer Rock
By Lavina Fielding Anderson
Lavina Fielding Anderson, “Cowley: Drama at Prayer Rock,” Ensign, Feb. 1980, 30–32
Water was literally life in the arid Big Horn Basin of Wyoming, and that’s why work on the canal came even before building houses in Cowley, Wyoming, a Latter-day Saint settlement in the Big Horn Basin in 1900.
There was a sense of purpose as well as urgency about the project. It is not known exactly how this section of unsettled land came to President Lorenzo Snow’s attention, but in February 1900 he sent Elder Abraham O. Woodruff of the Council of the Twelve to examine the area. The temperature near the future site of Cowley was about ten degrees below zero; they drove horses and buggies over only thirty miles and evidently took no soil samples. But their consultation of the maps and conversation with William F. Cody, the famous Buffalo Bill, who was coholder of a state permit to construct an irrigation system in the area, were apparently decisive; even before he had reported back to President Snow, Elder Woodruff had arranged to order plows and scrapers from a hardware dealer at the nearest railhead, Bridger, Montana. 1
The few hundred families who were called wasted no time and were on their way in early spring. Most of them were the children of first-generation pioneers in Utah and Idaho settlements. It was the twentieth century, but barely, and they drove horse teams and traveled in companies ranging from eighteen wagons to two.
One of these families was that of John H. and Avilda Dickson. They left Morgan, Utah, with their children and rendezvoused with the other Saints at Ham’s Fork, Wyoming, where Elder Woodruff was organizing the colonists into companies. John returned to Utah to finish selling the farm and hence was miles away when his little daughter, who had been ill for some time, grew worse and died after a couple of days of stormy traveling. Outside the wagon were four-foot snow drifts.
The best solution seemed to be to send the oldest son, William, back to Evanston to put the child’s body on the train and travel with it to his father in Utah, while Avilda continued on with the company and her two-month-old baby. Alone in Evanston, twenty-year-old William was astonished when the train agent said he must have a doctor’s certificate giving the child’s name, cause of death, and certification that she had no contagious disease. The train was going to leave in thirty minutes.
“In this dilemma he went back of the depot where he could not be observed and prayed, asking that he be shown what to do.” He began walking uptown and passed the office of an attorney-notary public. He felt impressed to go in and tell his story to James C. Brown, the lawyer, who promised to help him. When he found out that the Latter-day Saint who had made the little girl’s coffin had said he had been a coroner, the lawyer wrote out a statement that the child had been in the coroner’s charge, went to the railroad station with William, and signed all of the necessary papers. There were no further difficulties with the ticket agent. (See pp. 8, 10.)
The first families forded spring-swollen streams and faced snowstorms most of the way to Wyoming, but by the end of May about two hundred were camped near the Shoshone River, objects of interest to their ranching non-Mormon neighbors who had earlier settled the nearby towns of Cody, Meeteetse, Burlington, Otto, and Lovell (see p. 15). On 28 May 1900, Elder Woodruff held the plow, and Byron Sessions, who would be sustained as the first stake president a year later, drove the team that scraped the first furrow for the canal (see p. 17).
It soon became apparent that even their backbreaking labor could not finish the project in a year, and no food could be raised until water was available for irrigation. Serious discouragement plagued the camp. A special prayer implored the Lord’s blessing to open the way for them to complete the canal; Elder Woodruff backed up their petitions by officially calling all those in the camp “on a mission to complete the Canal and establish homes” (p. 20). “Modern manna” came in the form of an $80,000 contract to construct twenty-three miles of railroad. Half the men’s cash earnings went to the colony in exchange for canal stock; the money was, in turn, used to pay those working on the canal half cash as well as half canal stock (see p. 22).
A second major obstacle that turned out to be a blessing by confirming the Saints’ faith was encountering Prayer Rock in late June or early July that first year. Nearly two miles from the head of the canal was a fifty-foot cliff; at its base rested an enormous rock, about twenty feet long, directly on the line of the canal right-of-way. It was six or eight feet high, and no one knew how far it extended into the ground. President Sessions, superintendent of canal construction, had the men scrape out a hole on the lower side of the rock, planning to topple the rock into it and out of the canal’s way with a blast of powder under the upper side. After the hole was about ten feet deep, safety became a concern: the rock seemed to be leaning forward into the hole. Consequently, morning and evening prayers were held in camp for the safety of the men and the horses. The scraping continued. Even after ten feet, they didn’t seem to be coming to the base of the rock, and some of the men felt that the rock reached into the ground so far that no powder blast could make it topple into the hole. Local historian Mark N. Partridge, present for part of the events, has reconstructed what happened next from interviews and written statements by the surviving eyewitnesses:
“One afternoon as President Sessions discussed the matter with the men working there,” his own son, Biney, expressed the discouragement that several of them were feeling: “ ‘We’ll never get this down. We just as well give it up.’ This seemed to anger his father, who said, ‘I prophecy in the name of Israel’s God that that rock will be in there tomorrow at this time.’ Jim George, one of the men working there, turned his back to President Sessions and faced me [Brother Partridge], pulled out his watch and said, ‘Let’s test him out.’ He said, ‘It’s just four p.m.’ ”
The work continued the next day. Using longhandled shovels, the men dug in on both ends of the rock as far as they could reach, still without finding its end. They took their usual fifteen-minute break at 3:30 and had just begun working again when President Sessions called them up for another rest break, an unprecedented but quickly obeyed order. Then, without a powder blast, without so much as a tap from a hammer, “that rock began to split from top to bottom with a new break as smooth as a plastered wall, and landed right where we had all been busy working five minutes before in a hole 10 feet deep. George, with the same watch, faced me again dumbfounded, but said, ‘Five minutes to four.’ ” (pp. 140–43.) The standing half of the rock is still visible; the fallen half was buried in the outside bank of the canal which flows smoothly and serenely between the two halves.
Andrew C., I am not sure if my post on experiential manifestations will include some of the miracles I have witnessed and in which I have been a participant. I do NOT mean to point this at you, but these experiences are very sacred to me, and I don’t like talking about them in a forum where they are open to uncontrolled ridicule. I don’t like it when they are mocked.
I also recognize that there is an element of disbelief that is understandable, even when the experiences themselves really are undeniable – due simply to their apparent randomness. It is easy to say, “Well, why did the Lord intervene then and not at another time for someone else like me when I prayed for a miracle?” I don’t know the answer to that question, so I understand completely the skepticism of someone who hears of my experiences and has a hard time accepting them fully as real evidence of God’s existence and the reality of the power of the Priesthood – or hears them and can’t find a loving God who would bless one person and not another. For example, I know how painful it is for someone who has lost one or more children to hear how one of mine was saved miraculously, but that doesn’t change the fact that one of mine (and one of my sisters and one of my uncles) was saved miraculously.
I can’t explain the seeming randomness, but I can’t deny what I personally have seen – particularly the simply miraculous.
And, similarly, Ray, I am not attempting to convince you to “explain away” the miraculous events in your life. If it really is God’s plan to provide evidence to some and not to others, then I guess we’ll have to live with that. Or, if as some scriptures and teachings seem to suggest, if God doesn’t ever reveal truth to a particular person, then somehow that person isn’t deserving, isn’t faithful, isn’t trying hard enough, or whatever. If that second possibility really is God’s plan, then that’s just the way it is. If God exists, and he chooses to do something in some particular way, that is his choice. As I have said before, I think I need a God that seems to me to be rational. Right now, I can’t find him (or her). 🙂
Ray, thanks for sharing your experience and insights. Near the end of his book “The Angel and the Beehive,” Armand Mauss questions whether the more fundamentalist tone that has become dominant in the past few decades in the Church, which urges Church members to seek certainty and knowing “without a shadow of a doubt” and “with every fiber of their beings,” is unintentionally causing Mormons to feel they either don’t have a testimony, or have lost their testimonies, when they are unable to profess the certainty that is so often championed among us. I too have come to adopt the mantra that we “see through a glass darkly,” and I look forward to the day when that principle is emphasized more often and becomes more prevalent in our Church meetings, lesson manuals, etc.
I’m surprised that no one has linked or brought up Blake Ostler’s presentation Spiritual Experiences as the Basis for Belief and Commitment. Ray, if you do create a post on spiritual experiences I hope that you deal with the framework Blake uses for saying that these experiences are trustworthy. Andrew, in my opinion, Blake Ostler is one of the finest minds in the church and the kinds of issues you are facing are those he addresses in his works.
Applying scripture to myself:
“When I was a BYU student, I spake as a BYU student, I understood as a BYU student (or in other words, I didn’t understand a word of Paul), I thought as a BYU student: but when I became a man, I put away BYU student-ish things. For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. And now abideth faith, bhope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.”
I never got Paul when I was a BYU student, so sure of myself and my understanding of truth. Although Paul certainly had some sure ideas about the way things ought to be, and his testimony was strong and unwavering in defense of Christ’s gospel, the brief glimpses into his humanity, including statements like 1 Cor. 13, boggled my mind.
I used to think this scripture was about growing up and truly understanding doctrine, believing that the “face to face” part was achievable in this life. I now believe that Paul is possibly claiming that we cannot really know “face to face” in this mortal frame.