Answers and Mysteries

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Answers and Mysteries

When we do not understand or we chafe at something, the answer is not to abandon our faith and set ourselves adrift on the stormy seas of eternal doubt, finding counterfeit comfort in the idea that there is no way ever to know anything for sure.

I am grateful for the answers we have in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I spent my childhood in other Christian traditions, and there’s a lot of uncertainty, confusion, and contradiction out there. My experiences with other faiths and my questions about doctrine led me to a three-year search and eventual discovery of the Church when I was a teenager. Some Latter-day Saints might be surprised to discover that many answers they have been taught are, in other faiths, the basis of some difficult questions.

For example, if Christ requires all to be baptized in order to enter heaven (see John 3:3–5, “except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he shall not enter the kingdom of God”), then what about all the people who have ever lived who have never had the opportunity to be baptized? Could God really be so unfair? You can’t say that Jesus didn’t mean what He said, can you? Because if you say that about one of His teachings, can you choose other teachings you think He didn’t mean and ignore them? (Those were among the questions I asked during my search. No one except the Latter-day Saints could give a satisfactory answer to that set of questions. To learn more, go to comeuntochrist.org.)

Because we in the Church have so many answers that are not known to Christianity in general, Latter-day Saints may neglect the mysterious and unknowable, and in that state of neglect can lack reverence and awe for the things of eternity. More specifically, we may be so comfortable with the idea that God is our Father and Jesus Christ is our Brother and Friend that perhaps we do not give Them enough glory, or sufficiently credit Their intelligence and plans.

This possible lack of recognition of and respect for the unknowable—of that which is glorious beyond our mortal capacity to understand—may lead us to gloss over the ambiguous or the complex. We may be impatient with symbols and unwilling to appreciate imagery in the scriptures and in the restored gospel. Some people say that the symbolic aspect of temple ceremonies came as a shock to their spiritual systems after years of logical and understandable church teachings. Similarly, people may be uncomfortable with and unwilling to study the imagery, layers of meaning, and other poetic and symbolic depths in the scriptures, as in the books of Isaiah and Revelation.  We may demand unambiguous answers at what we feel is the appropriate time (preferably right now, or last week).

Perhaps discomfort with ambiguity and complexity contributes to people’s frustration with the human ambiguities of past and present Church leaders, with complexities in Church history, or with doctrines and practices that have not yet been fully explained. There are some questions to which the answer is, “We don’t know (yet).” The lack of immediate answers can be the source of spiritual pain—but we can turn to God with that, as well.

How ironic, though, that people sometimes choose to abandon the Church because of their doubts and unanswered questions—and thereby set themselves adrift in a world where there are many more doubts and fewer answers than we have as members of the Church. In other faiths, in other  philosophies, and in the absence of faith there is so much less hope about how and when the answers to our questions can be revealed.

Our thoughts and ways are not yet eternal, as compared to God’s thoughts and ways (Isaiah 55:8–9). God is beyond us in progress; He is in a state of glory and being that our minds cannot fully understand. It doesn’t work both ways—He understands us; He wants to draw near us; as a mother cannot forget her child, He cannot and will not forget each of us (see Isaiah 49:15). We are His hope, His work and glory (Moses 1:39). Jesus Christ has engraved each of us on the palms of His hands (see Isaiah 49:16).

We need not stop trying to understand the mysteries or find answers to our questions. We can have faith that, although the process may take time (or eternity), when the answers become clear, they will be more comforting and satisfying than anything we can imagine now (1 Corinthians 2:9). When we do not understand or we chafe at something, the answer is not to abandon our faith and set ourselves adrift on the stormy seas of eternal doubt, finding counterfeit comfort in the idea that there is no way ever to know anything for sure. Instead, we can cast our minds back to those moments and matters where the Lord spoke peace to us (see Doctrine & Covenants 6:22–23) and keep firm hold on our places in the Good Ship Zion, even when we can’t see the heights and depths that compose or surround it—we can trust the Captain.[1]  We must indeed doubt our doubts before we doubt our faith,[2] and preserve a sense of wonder and respect for that which is glorious and unknowable among the plain truths and abundant answers of the revealed gospel.

After all, it wasn’t the content of my questions about Christian doctrine that was the most important aspect of my search for answers. That I had questions and was willing to look for the answers led to the most important revelation: that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the Lord’s true Church, and I had found the church where I could be baptized (and much more than I could have anticipated on the summer day when I knelt to ask God if I had made the right decision and He answered, “YES!”). Faith is the first principle of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and sometimes faith means trusting in what we cannot know, placing our hope in a Savior who also hopes in us, and trusting the whispered spiritual evidence for what we do not see (see Hebrews 11:1). The answers in the Church are much more logical, and the mysteries more bearable, than the inscrutable vagueness of the questions flying through the winds that roar outside.

[1] See M. Russell Ballard, “God Is at the Helm,” Ensign, November 2015, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/2015/10/god-is-at-the-helm?lang=eng

[2] Jeffrey R. Holland, “Lord, I Believe,” Ensign, May 2013, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/2013/04/lord-i-believe?lang=eng

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