An Insider's Look at Mormon Culture

Posts tagged ‘faith’

Final Faith

What do you say to a friend who calls to tell you good-bye because she’s just refused treatment to prolong her life? I knew Anna has not been doing well since she took a fall last year which complicated other health problems and resulted in her being confined to a wheelchair in an assisted living center—in constant pain, unable to use her computer or to enjoy talking with friends for more than a few minutes . Still, I was not prepared to hear her state forthrightly that she is calling it quits.

Her voice trembled with the effort to control her emotions. I asked how her children felt about her decision. “They’re fine with it,” she said. That was good. Urging Anna to undergo further pain and suffering would be neither kind nor loving.

I told her I understood her decision. George and I have discussed end-of-life issues and whether he will undergo further treatment if his cancer returns. Anna said she made her decision carefully and prayerfully and suggested we take our decision to the temple. I’m no longer a devout believer, but that’s not something I brought up with Anna. Obviously, her faith sustains her at this difficult time.

I talked about good experiences we’ve enjoyed together. I said, “I love you. Say hello to Jack (her deceased husband) for me when you see him again.”

I hung up, hoping I’d said the right things. I do hope for a heaven where Jack waits to greet Anna. It’s a comforting thought as the end-of-life approaches.

God and the Nones

My religious friends and family fear for my soul—not because of anything I’ve done, but because on questionnaires asking for religious affiliation, I mark “none.” In the Christian view, belief in the God of the Bible is essential to salvation.

To faith, Mormons add works. Receiving Church ordinances and keeping commandments are both essential in order to make it back into God’s presence and receive all the blessings of eternal life. Catholics, as I understand, must be baptized and receive the last rites to gain access to Heaven. Evangelical Protestants must confess Jesus as their personal savior. Non-believers are out.

Probably few contemporary Christians believe in the hell of Dante and Milton who depicted Satan and his minions torturing sinners in fire and brimstone. Still, I suspect that in the minds of most Christians, Hell is a permanent place of misery. Only true believers who have repented of their sins will be allowed into Heaven and reunited with loved ones.

If God had made perfectly clear which humanly-flawed religion has divine approval, I could see some justification in condemning those who can’t jump on the bandwagon. As it is, I don’t buy Alma’s argument to Korihor in the Book of Mormon. Alma claims that the testimony of the prophets in the scriptures and the wonders of the earth and order of the planets prove the existence of God. Alma fails to acknowledge that scriptures are sometimes contradictory, and that the creation of the earth has plausible explanations beyond a divine creator.

If I were God, I would judge people by how they live, not by what they believe. I can’t believe in a God who is a worse person than I am.

Obama’s Religion

For an insightful blog on the religious implications of the President’s Newtown speech, check out this post on Doves and Serpents.

Faith, Doubt and Certitude

Krista Tippets’ NPR program “Speaking of Faith” interviewed two Jesuit astronomers last week. One of the Jesuits interviewed made the comment that the opposite of faith is not doubt. The opposite of faith is certitude. By that definition, I wonder how many Mormons have faith. A principle of Mormonism is that we can “know” the Church is true, that Joseph Smith is a prophet, that the Book of Mormon is the word of God. If we know these things, what room is there in our theology for faith?

Since the first principle of the gospel is faith, shouldn’t we be nurturing it rather than drying it up by turning it into “knowledge?” In all my years of church membership, I’ve heard only one member use the term, “I have a very strong belief” rather than “I know” when bearing his testimony. And his statement jarred. In Mormon culture, a testimony is knowledge, not belief.

The hubris of Mormon certitude certainly antagonizes nonmembers—giving rise to jokes about St. Peter initiating new candidates into heaven with a caution. “Hush! Mormons are in that room and they think they’re the only ones here.” I suspect certitude also has a chilling effect on members who study, fast, and pray for sure knowledge of the truthfulness of the gospel and don’t receive it. Are they less worthy than members who “know” or are they just more honest about the strength of the impression they receive?

My grandchildren, ages 3-10, all say they “know” the church is true. What they mean is they have faith in their parents and Primary teachers who have told them the church is true. Faith is a beautiful concept—related to love, trust and confidence. Faith in one’s self, in other people, and in God provides strength to move ahead into an unsure future. People who can act only upon full knowledge miss opportunities to learn and grow. Doubt is faith’s partner, not its enemy.

Faith to Move Mountains or Maybe Molehills

Driving by the former Point of the Mountain dividing Salt Lake and Utah Counties, I realize that power shovels and dump trucks are as capable of moving mountains as faith. More so, I guess. I’m not aware of any mountains that have been relocated through faith—unless you count Hanuman flying the mountain of herbs from the Himalayas to provide healing to Ram’s army in the Ramayana legend.

When I was growing up, church lessons routinely featured stories of Apostle Matthew Cowley’s miraculous healing of Polynesian members in New Zealand and the Pacific Islands. Even without the visuals used in contemporary church lessons, those stories flamed to life in my mind. I saw the dying man lying on a woven mat on the sandy floor of his grass shack. His wife and children weeping. No medical help available. A runner bursts through the doorway. An apostle from the Church of Jesus Christ has just arrived on the supply boat. Minutes later, Elder Cowley enters the hut and looks at the dying man. The Apostle hesitates to administer to such a hopeless case, but the man whispers, “If you bless me, I will live.” A sacred hush envelops the hut as Elder Cowley lays his hands on the man’s head and administers a priesthood blessing of healing. Witnesses barely open their eyes before the man sits up and asks for something to eat. His faith has made him whole.

My heart thumped at the conclusion of each story. If I had the undoubting faith of these Polynesians, my prayers would be answered like theirs. Yet, other church lessons emphasized God answering our prayers according to His greater knowledge. For our own good, sometimes the answer is no. Which was it—faith works miracles or God might say no?

BYU tilted my faith system to the miracle side. When our first child was born, I believed that, in answer to sincere fasting and prayer, God would provide total guidance for raising this precious child. A three-week bout of colic demonstrated that not even fervent prayers guaranteed trouble-free child-rearing. Faith and parenting were both more complex than I’d imagined.

Faith can provide comfort, but faith can also postpone action. Ray, a good man in our ward, was diagnosed with liver cancer. He received medical treatment, priesthood blessings, and a ward fast. Ray ran a construction business and his wife begged him to put his business affairs in legal order, just in case. Ray refused. In his mind, planning for the possibility of his death demonstrated lack of faith in the Lord’s power to heal. For Ray, death preceded the miracle. Relying on prayers and blessings left his business in a costly mess.

The D&C tells us “To some it is given to know . . . To others, it is given to believe . . . .” (46:12-13) No one “knows” about spiritual things in the empirical sense, but many believe—some strongly. Others can only hope or, less optimistically, wish. Maybe faith encompasses more than belief in God. Maybe faith includes belief in our own capacity to act. And maybe the faith to move mountains refers to the human capacity to design, build, and operate earthmovers.

Tag Cloud