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Monday, July 31, 2017

The God That Doesn't Change

I wasn't sure how to begin this at first. I know what I'm going to talk about is sensitive subject matter, but it needs to be addressed. It's about the way people in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints respond to something new, like something said in a conference talk or a new church policy.

Before I really get into it, please understand that nothing I say about this is under the assumption that those who have become inactive or who have left the church all together are any less loved by God or that their moral values are all of the sudden automatically somehow flawed. I understand that there are many different histories and unique circumstances behind each individual who decides to disassociate themselves from the church in any degree. There is at least one person I my own family who currently (July 2017) falls in this category (which can and hopefully will change) and they are one of the hardest working, caring, family oriented people I know.

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So, here we go. I remember when I served my two year mission for the Lord after each amazing experience. The boost I felt for my faith left me thinking "I am seriously never going less active or leaving this church. If this amazing faith boost and love I feel is just a taste of what God has in store in the eternities, there is no way I'll ever let anything drive me away from this. I'm never going to slacken in my prayers, scripture studies and missionary efforts. I'm only going to become more active for the rest of my life."  Thankfully, I married a woman who's faith is much stronger than mine and therefore we've been able to take turns strengthening each other when one of us has a questions. I've been able to stay true to my intentions from my mission. I have seen those, however who have made themselves and the Lord the same promises and then find themselves going a completely different direction when their faith is severely challenged.

For the record, I of all people am certainly no stranger to severe tests of faith, from circumstances in my personal life caused by me and by outside sources or something a church member or leader has said or done, among other things.  I have faced tests of my faith that left me questioning what, to me, seemed like a fundamental part of my faith. Perseverance, study, prayers, doing things that invited the Spirit and trying to stay humble pulled me through them all. Answers and clarity came in every struggle when I least expected them but in a way that left me thinking, "Well that just... makes total sense. I never thought of it like that before." I'd feel the Spirit confirm the answer and I'd know it was for sure the Spirit and not just my feeling because a) it would explain to me why the thinking that caused my doubt was flawed or lacking context and b) it totally matched the perspective of God's prophets AND the teachings of the Savior.

This is where I touch on the one thing I can't help but wonder if people might forget most frequently when they are certain that the answer they've received from the Holy Ghost is to leave the church (whether in activity or on paper as well). That one thing is that answers from God through the Holy Ghost don't contradict God's prophets.  As Preach My Gospel points out, "truth is a knowledge of things as they really are, were and will be.  It does not change with conditions or time. Truth is the same in every age and culture."

Each and every Latter-day Saint hopefully comes to the point where they first received a testimony from the Holy Ghost that the LDS church is Christ's church and contains His gospel and His authority.  That truth does not change.  Some things that we may hear from General Authorities years after our conversion may sound strange of inconsistent to us, but that's exactly the key.  It sounds that way to us, but that does not mean that what we are hearing from them is the problem.  The problem is us.

Not all who distance or completely separate themselves from the church fall into either of the following categories, but I have found that most people I have observed who have done this do so for one of two reasons.  The first one is when policies or statements are made by the First Presidency or Quorum of the Twelve Apostles that the individual believes are inconsistent with the teachings and character of Jesus Christ Himself.  The other is when the individual comes to believe that certain standards of living, i.e. commandments, within the church are too high or just unnecessary.

In both instances, the concept that the truthfulness of God's church cannot change, even if it contradicts our understanding of the gospel, can serve as a compensatory answer or solution to those two areas of concern.

Here's how.

1. When it comes to policies and statements made by the First Presidency or Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, a few things about truth's unchanging nature can eliminate concerns for the appearance of contradictions.  One can be found in the way the Lord engineered the restoration of the gospel in the first place.

I cannot, for the life of me, seem to find the original source of this, but I read once about an allegory that explains why the Lord waited more than 1000 years to restore the gospel in it's fullness.  It describes in great detail the preparations mankind went through, in the long, dark night of the loss of the purity and fullness of the gospel, renaissance and reformation, the discovery and colonization of America and finally the establishment of religious freedom in America leading up to Joseph Smith's prophetic mission.  It then compares all that to the process of a plane landing.  Everything has to be just right.  Communication with the ground, air speed, altitude, proper balance of throttle and steering, etc. is all absolutely essential to have in check.  You can't just press on a brake pedal and have everything come safely to a stop with an airplane.  Relating this to the restoration of the gospel, can you imagine what would have happened if the doctrine against infant baptism would have been revealed and preached when the principle of being "born in sin" was accepted by Christianity as a whole in the first few hundred years A.D.?  It likely would have been condemned as vehemently as the Godhead being three separate persons just before the year 400, and if someone had claimed that God had commanded mankind to stop drinking coffee and tea in the 17th or 18th centuries, they would have been made the laughing stock of all civilized nations.  If the revocation of the ban on blacks receiving the priesthood had happened just prior to the civil rights movement, it likely would have not been received nearly as well as it was roughly 20 years later.

The Lord needed "land the plane" safely, causing cultural changes one little painstaking, tedious detail at a time to make sure the minds of mankind were being sufficiently prepared for the "plane" to land - i.e. the gospel to be restored - without the "aircraft" meeting proverbial bombs, destroying it upon landing.  Each of those changes had to be in presented with special consideration of the cultural "temperature" of each time period and in a way that He knew would be received at least well enough that it could eventually spread throughout the world and stay alive permanently.

So why do I mention this?  Because He has directed prophets to implement the truth and guide His church through changes that make us more perfect as quickly as He dares without overwhelming the world and especially members of His church (i.e. crashing the plane).

The second way that truth's unchanging nature can eliminate concerns for the appearance of contradictions is by reminding us of the following.  Does truth change?  No.  Mankind changes, but certainly not God and not truth.  Whether it be blacks receiving the priesthood, restrictions on baptism of children with homosexual "parents" or anything else that has caused no minor stir in society, each of these changes was not implemented because God was changing or because His prophets were misguided at some point before those changes or when they were made.  It did not signify a change of gospel principles.  It happened because the Lord's timing is perfect.  He knows when to inspire the next big change the world needs, even it many people don't understand it.  He knows how to land the plane.  Let Him.  Don't jump out.  There's no need to be scared of all that.  He has promised us that He would never let His prophets lead us astray and that the fullness of the gospel would never be taken again from the earth, never become tainted again.  Like I said earlier, I have faced tests of my faith that left me questioning what, to me, seemed like a fundamental part of my faith.  But I always came to understand that it was not prophet's mortal weakness that was the problem, it was my flawed perspective and failure to remember (or even to trust) that God will not allow His prophets to lead us astray.

2. In the context of people who believe gospel standards are too demanding, or have exceptions that make it okay for them to disobey commandments, the first thing that comes to mind is a quote from Elder Christofferson, "A God who makes no demands is the functional equivalent of a God who does not exist. A world without God, the living God who establishes moral laws to govern and perfect His children, is also a world without ultimate truth or justice."

I am reminded of the story of the Bishop who had a woman in his office for a temple recommend interview.   When asked if she observed the Word of Wisdom, she said that she occasionally drank a cup of coffee.  She said, “Now, Bishop, you’re not going to let that keep me from going to the temple, are you?”  To which he replied, “Sister, surely you will not let a cup of coffee stand between you and the house of the Lord.”

To be perfectly honest, it should actually be a comfort to us that the Lord's standards are so high and will only get higher.  The proverbial guardrails that are the commandments of God are not, as Cecil B. Demille said so well, "a set of arbitrary, irritating, restrictive rules.  [God] made man free and then gave him the commandments to keep him free.  We cannot break ... Commandments.  We can only break ourselves against them or else, by keeping them, rise through them to the fullness of freedom under God."  Eventually it's the world is going to get so complicated and so adamantly opposed to anything that challenges moral relativism that those who refuse to live the gospel will end up in a hyper frenzy of confusion, pain and bondage to the impulses of the natural man and hung by the marionette strings of Satan himself.  Trust me, I know from experience.  They are a protection, not a problem.  You do not want to wait until the pain of the problem for disobedience becomes worse than the pain of the solution, repentance.  I've said this so many times I think it's becoming my own personal "mantra", but you shouldn't be asking "How good do I have to be?", but rather, "How good can I be?" or "How far away from the edge can I get?"  For more on this subject, read this.

Principles of the gospel do not change based on individual circumstances.  The way they are applied - different from when or whether they are applied, which should not be up for debate - may change depending on the person, but, as I cited earlier from Preach My Gospel, "[Truth] does not change with conditions or time. [It] is the same in every age and culture", and I'll add, for every person and circumstance.  Before marriage, the law of chastity is applied by abstaining from all sexual behavior, literature and media and from impure thoughts.  Within marriage, it is applied by keeping sexual behavior and intimate words and thoughts between husband and wife with unwavering loyalty.  The same idea goes for all gospel principles.  At first the Word of Wisdom means no consumption of coffee, tea, tobacco, alcohol or harmful drugs.  As we come to understand it better, however, we realize that there is a lot more we need to be avoiding (and not avoiding) than just those things to truly be living in a way that matches the spiritual purpose for that particular commandment.

Eventually, all cultural, social or personal conduct that is not directly inspired of the Holy Ghost, no matter how good it is in the moment, will have to be discarded if we want to become what God intended us to be and to live eternally with our families in His presence.

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If you are someone who has decided to leave the church or become less active for any of the reasons above, my intent with this isn't to try to prove you wrong or prove myself right.  It is simply to pose ideas that you may have forgotten or in which you have lost confidence and testify to you that they are true.  Whatever you choose to do with my testimony is up to you.  I love you and I encourage you to consider that even though you have heard and been through things that you thought warranted being away from the gospel and/or the church or leaving it completely, I promise you that God's prophets are still leading His church in the right direction.  Not all of it will make sense to us right away.  Sometimes we'll hear or see things that seem to contradict our moral compass, but please know that it is always worth it to trust that God will not let His prophets lead us astray, that His truth in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  Sometimes it can seem like the road from questioning to doubt to disbelief to hurt to understanding to healing and back to faith is much longer than it should be, but at least one promise I know is safe to trust is the one in Preach My Gospel where it says "All that is unfair about life can be made right through the Atonement of Jesus Christ."  And I promise you if you live it the way His prophets have counselled us to, if you continually work to align yourself and your life with their counsel, that promise will happen for you.  I guarantee it.

To those who are currently struggling with doubts but haven't made a definite decision on how to respond yet, please don't give up.  I can't go into tons of detail here, but if there's anyone who understand the frustration of not having prayers answered for years and struggling for a really long time with questions or hurt or doubt, it's me.  But I can also tell you that continuing the good fight and keeping your heart and life in alignment with the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve as much as you possibly can will win through.  I testify with all the energy of my heart and soul that it will.  If you need to talk about it and ask for perspective, feel free to click the link to my facebook page above and message me (in english, for those of you who read it other languages).  I love questions as long as they are in honest inquiry.

To all.  I testify that Jesus Christ still leads His church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  I testify that following and sustaining the prophet will never lead you wrong.

God doesn't change.  A change in church policy or how the truth is implemented doesn't mean the truth has changed, that His church isn't true anymore or that His prophets are misleading us.  It means that we need to change.