The Perils of IL-Pondering

I’d like to start this blog with some quotes from one of my favorite books, The Phantom Tollbooth, by Norton Juster. By themselves they contain true doctrines with many possible applications.

“Expectations is the place you go to before you get to where you’re going. Of course, some people never go beyond Expectations, but my job is to hurry them along whether they like it or not.”

“Help you! You must help yourself,” the Watch Dog replied, carefully winding himself with his left leg. “I suppose you know why you got stuck.”

“I guess I wasn’t thinking,” said Milo.

“PRECISELY,” shouted the dog as his alarm went off again. “Now you know what you must do.”

“I’m afraid I don’t,” admitted Milo, feeling quite stupid.

“Well,” continued the watchdog impatiently, “since you got here by not thinking, it seems reasonable to expect, that in order to get out, you must start thinking,” And with that he hopped into the car.

“Now will you tell me where we are?” asked Tock [the Watch Dog] as he looked around the desolate island.

“To be sure,” said Canby; “you’re on the Island of Conclusions. Make yourself at home. You’re apt to be here for some time.”

“But how did we get here?” asked Milo, who was still a bit puzzled by being there at all.

“You jumped, of course,” explained Canby. “That’s the way most everyone gets here. It’s really quite simple: every time you decide something without having a good reason, you jump to Conclusions whether you like it or not. It’s such an easy trip to make that I’ve been here hundreds of times.”

“But this is such an unpleasant-looking place,” Milo remarked.

“Yes, that’s true,” admitted Canby; “it does look much better from a distance.”

“Well, I’m going to jump right back,” announced the Humbug, who took two or three practice bends, leaped as far as he could, and landed in a heap two feet away.

“That won’t do at all,” scolded Canby, helping him to his feet. “You can never jump away from Conclusions. Getting back is not so easy. That’s why we’re so terribly crowded here…. The only way back is to swim, and that’s a very long and a very hard way.”

I suppose the first question is what is IL-PONDERING. Well, turns out the word ponder doesn’t have any very good antonyms. They all are basically “not thinking,” but I think il-pondering is far more about thinking you are pondering, when really you are not.

The prefix IL means: not, opposite of, without

So the peril of il-pondering is that you are actually not pondering (though you may think you are), or that you are doing the opposite of pondering which is letting others think for you; or perhaps you ponder but invalidate the process for many various reasons.

So, before we can discuss how il-pondering happens, let’s talk about the proper way to ponder.

The following steps have been compiled from a combination of three scripture references: Doctrine and Covenants 8:2-3, 9:7-9; Joseph Smith-History 1:8-13.

HOW TO PONDER

  1. Set aside your self-imposed, limited expectations for what God’s answer and guidance will be and open yourself up to consider not what you expect to learn, but what God has for you to learn and understand.
  2. Establish a firm, doctrinally-based question upon which you intend to act (For help with this concept see blog post Getting Answers to Prayers: EXPEDIENCY). God can tell you anything, but He’s much more likely to reveal those things to you which pertain to “you” and which will help “you” become more like Him.
  3. Pray for guidance and then while you are waiting for it, study, research, and reason. Then, pray again for understanding and to sort through the knowledge you’ve gleaned.
  4. Do not allow yourself to be overly awed or swayed by educational credentials, claimed associations, quotes and blurbs taken out of context, etc.
  5. Live worthy of the companionship of the Holy Ghost and invite Him to testify and guide you by being an active learner. You can do this by accessing those resources God has commanded us to use to get His answers: prophetic guidance, scripture study, prayer, and other appropriate and positive influences within our lives.
  6. When you receive advice from others, get the counsel confirmed by the Holy Ghost who will tell you in BOTH your mind and your hearts, if the advice is God’s will for you.

So, how do we il-ponder? Il-pondering is skipping, reversing, ignoring, skewing, or slothfully completing any of the above steps. But, here are some statements that may help.

Il-pondering will happen IF we limit our perspective for learning and receiving answers from God to our own limited and finite expectations. We think we can imagine what God will say, but we can’t (Isaiah 55:8-9). So, if we try to put God in our box (which can’t be done), then we will sit inside that tiny box, all alone—or with others who have climbed in—and never get the knowledge we need.

Many times we il-ponder when we focus on superficial questions to which God has an answer, but because of the lack of eternal importance of the answer, or our inability to comprehend the infinite expanse of the answer, we cannot receive it. For example: it’s not that understanding how the dinosaurs and Cro-Magnon man play into the creation of Adam and Eve aren’t interesting, but the reality is that the answer won’t affect our ability to keep God’s commandments and become like Him. We can do that without knowing those things. Plus, the answer would probably be beyond our ability to grasp.

We also il-ponder when our excessive emotions of disappointment, anger, resentment, vengeance, passion, and even dumfounded-confusion drive our search. This is because what we are looking for is an immediate fix for our emotional discomfort and not the ultimate truth—which is often not immediately comfortable.

Il-pondering can happen, and frequently does, when we allow others to do our thinking for us. This happens when we set out to research an issue, problem, question, or even a doubt. In our impatience and haste, we find that other people (often on the Internet) have already done some. Then, we sit down comfortably and listen to their pondering, eat their narrative meal, accept their biased viewpoint (which certainly sounds as if they are trying to be unbiased and fair), and completely ingest their answers. This meal is especially appetizing if it agrees with our emotional feelings or uneducated conclusions. We jump to their conclusions, never having fully pondered our own. When this happens, I know of few who actually take the time to take the easily ingested pondering (done by others) and vet it through an inquiry to the Lord. They simply think they’ve found the answer and then stop. They never seek a witness from the Holy Ghost. They put up an umbrella over their heads, blocking the further light and knowledge raining down that they would have found.

We il-ponder when we jump to conclusions before having all the information (and since when did anyone have all the information, except God?). We are so prideful and selfishly convinced of our own intelligent conclusion based on minimal evidence that we harden our hearts and become incapable of receiving any other information. Messages from the Holy Ghost bounce off of our armor because we’ve decided to only soften for certain kinds of information.

We il-ponder when we study minimally, research at a glance, reason only our limited viewpoint, and fail to pray before and after for inspiration, help, and guidance.

We il-ponder when we ask God for an answer and then turn to sources He has not instituted for His answer. We turn to men for guidance instead of God’s words and ordained mouthpieces (Doctrine and Covenants 1:37-38).

We il-ponder when we accept the counsel and guidance of others in our lives without vetting their guidance with our Father in Heaven. No matter how wise and wonderful advice may seem; no matter how educated or experienced another is; none is more wise and educated and experienced than God. If we get good advice and He wants us to follow it, He will tell us IF we seek His opinion.

In the scriptures we see many people deceived by il-pondering.

  • Laman and Lemuel often sought explanations from Nephi. Nephi always preached true doctrine to them. So, that wasn’t the problem. The problem was that Laman and Lemuel never went to the Lord to get it verified. They never got their own witness.
  • The Zoramites were notorious for not pondering for themselves. They turned to Alma and his sons for information. Alma 32 is an entire chapter in The Book of Mormon of Alma counseling the Zoramites to ponder! Try it out, plant the seed and see what happens! Alma taught.
  • Alma’s son, Corianton, succumbed to temptation because he struggled with a few critical gospel doctrines. His emotions got in his way of taking the time to ponder and get the truth. His father finally set him straight, but Corianton still had to gain his own witness.
  • Alma the Younger was an il-ponderer until his soul was at stake. Then, as he was “racked with torment” and “harrowed up by the memory of his sins” he remembered his father taught about “one, Jesus Christ, a Son of God, to atone for the sins of the world” (Alma 36:17). In his internal pondering he sifted through all that he had ever heard and found hope and a testimony in Jesus Christ.
  • Zeezrom tormented Alma and Amulek with his cursory knowledge of the gospel. He tried to cross them in their words. When they were inspired by the Holy Ghost to put Zeezrom in his place, he too was tormented until he pondered what they had actually taught about Jesus Christ (Alma 11 & 15).
  • The Pharisees were the blind guides upon whom so many were so often deceived. The Pharisees were accused by Jesus Christ of being blind guides and making converts to “their version” of His religion twofold more the children of hell than they, themselves, were (Matthew 23:15).

If we continually submit to others’ versions of truth, to others’ pondering, and not doing our own, we are allowing ourselves to be led by “blind guides” and we have no personal promptings or spiritual witnesses to fall back on. And, if we are not careful, we will become their converts and not Christ’s, we will preach their gospel and not Christ’s, and we will become twofold more the children of hell, than those whom we originally followed.

We cannot receive personal revelation and guidance from God if we let others do the asking, studying, and pondering for us. If we think God is not answering us, that His promises are not being fulfilled, it may be because we are not anxiously engaged in getting our own answers from Him (Doctrine & Covenants -58:26-33).

2 Nephi 32:1-7 says:

And now, behold, my beloved brethren, I suppose that ye ponder somewhat in your hearts concerning that which ye should do after ye have entered in by the way. But, behold, why do ye ponder these things in your hearts?

Do ye not remember that I said unto that after ye had received the Holy Ghost ye could speak with the tongue of angels? And now, how could ye speak with the tongue of angels save it were by the Holy Ghost?

Angels speak by the power of the Holy Ghost; wherefore, they speak the words of Christ. Wherefore, I said unto you, feast upon the words of Christ; for behold, the words of Christ will tell you all things what ye should do.

Wherefore, now after I have spoken these words, if ye cannot understand them it will be because ye ask not, neither do ye knock; wherefore, ye are brought into the light, but must perish in the dark.

For behold, again I say unto you that if ye will enter in by the way, and receive the Holy Ghost, it will show unto you all things what ye should do.

Behold, this is the doctrine of Christ

And now, I, Nephi, cannot say more; the Spirit stoppeth mine utterance, and I am left to mourn because of the unbelief, and the wickedness, and the ignorance, and the stiffneckedness of men; for they will not search knowledge, nor understand great knowledge, when it is given unto them in plainness, even as plain as word can be.

I am one of those people that is inherently untrusting of others’ opinions, and even more so of their facts. If someone cites a reference in their research paper, blog, or other post, I look it up. And, I’m never shocked to find out that they’ve skewed the ideal, misunderstood the point, misquoted the facts, failed to read the whole reference themselves, and “jumped to conclusions” about its interpretation. Often they steal ideas because they don’t have their own!

I’m not shocked because those who preach the most vehemently are often il-ponderers themselves.

When I cite references in this blog, I fully expect (and hope) that you (my readers) will look them up. Why? Because if you read them, for yourself, the Spirit will be able to teach you far more than my little blog could ever do. If you read the references yourselves and ponder the right questions, the Holy Ghost will do wonderful things with your minds, hearts, and your lives.

So, hopefully, if you’re reading this and you’ve been an il-ponderer, you will get moving again by thinking on your own and seeking your own witness. Or, perhaps you will swim back from the Island of Conclusions—even though it’s a long swim. Or, hopefully, you will finally get past Expectations and to the destination that God intends for you.

BT

Doctrines in this blog:

  • There is no vicarious road to replace the individual effort required to ponder, study, reason, and receive individual answers and witnesses from God through the Holy Ghost.
  • If we let others ponder for us we are likely to end up converted to, and preaching, their version of the gospel, instead of God’s version… And their version cannot spiritually sustain us.

Listen to more thoughts about IL-Pondering and Problem-Solving on this week’s podcast! Click here!

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4 Comments

  1. I always found it odd how some people could tell me to just read John or whatever prayerfully and with an open heart — and then I would just “know” the truth that God exists and Christ is his son. A Mormon told me the same about the Book of Mormon. To me, knowing and believing are very different from each other. I am not at all sure that intuition exists as an epistemological tool or method of discovering the truth. It would be something extra sensory and not within the empire of the senses. There would have to be a like perceiving component for the truth of the Holy Ghost. Both would be spiritual things and not material. I am just thinking aloud. Can you help me understand how intuition is possible— if indeed it could be understood by the intellect?

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    1. I’m not entirely sure I understand how you are defining intuition via intellect. Some might argue that they are similar, the same, or related. However, I think the fundamental struggle is whether or not you want to progress spiritually or not. Do believe in God and want a relationship with Him or not. If you don’t believe in God or minimally, if you aren’t interested in developing a relationship with Him, then gaining spiritual knowledge for the sake of merely having it will never work. Spiritual knowledge is tangible and able to be felt. Whether or not you qualify to “feel” it is what is in question (as far as I can tell). But, if misunderstand you, hopefully you’ll clarify. In 1 Corinthians 2:11-12,14 you’ll find that spiritual knowledge is not exactly the same as regular knowledge, and therefore to access it one cannot simply be interested in it for the sake of intellect. Spiritual knowledge comes when we desire to influence of the Holy Spirit to teach us what to know and do to come closer to God. God takes our relationship with Him very seriously. Thus, just an intellectual idea that He exists and can “let us feel His presence” isn’t sufficient reason for Him to manifest Himself unto us. If we wish a manifestation, it must also be because we have the “intent” to act on the manifestation of the Spirit we seek. For example, you might say, I want to God exists and Christ is His Son, you must first desire to follow them IF indeed they do exist. Otherwise knowing they exist has no value. A lot of people say that spiritual things can’t be validated unless they can be proved tangibly. And yet, I can know I love someone without having any tangible proof (other than my actions) to show for it. It is possible to claim love and not truly feel it, but those doing so have selfish motives in proclaiming love but not acting on it. What good does it to feel love for someone, to know you love them, unless you intend to act on it? Do you have someone you know you love? That knowledge is as real and intellectually understandable as feeling anger and knowing you are angry. We don’t simply believe we are angry. We feel it and it has real chemical and physical impact… so also does love. The manifestations of the Spirit come differently to all, but those who have them have every right to claim a “knowledge” of something based upon what they have felt. They have felt it and it has had physical impact on their biological systems. It creates a memory of truth. Thus, they no longer believe, but know. Well, sorry to go on and on. But, no matter what anyone says to you about reading something and getting a feeling, the possibility of such depends entirely upon your intent. In the Book of Mormon in the book of Moroni 7:6,9 and 10:4 you’ll find “real intent” as a qualifier for receiving a knowledge by the Spirit. Read them and determine what your “intent” is. Then, proceed on that basis.

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  2. Thanks for the pains you took to answer. Perhaps I would be just a dabbler. It makes sense to me that belief is a practical matter and not merely intellectual. But I wonder still why God might be as exclusive as you suggest. I have been taught that God loves everyone, even those of other religious traditions around the world. It really depends on the preacher whom is saved and whom dumped in the pit. In fact, God only knows which individuals are saved from the beginning of time. For all we know, someone like me could be saved no matter what I ever did in my lifetime, though this sound Calvinist. The saved could be people who never heard of your God or his unerring guidance through life. Nobody knows who goes to heaven but God himself.

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    1. I’m not sure God is exclusive as much as He is inviting us to be like Him. As well, eternal law (if you believe in it) is eternal law. Not even God can change how spiritual truth is handed out. But, I believe that if you really want to understand God, what He’s like, and how He deals with His children, then make a serious study of the scriptures. Perhaps start with the Old and New Testaments and then move on to the Book of Mormon and accompanying scripture. Make it an intellectual work, if you will, but read chapter by chapter and take notes. That is, after all, the purpose of the scriptures…to learn what God is like, get to know Him, and then decide if you want to be included in what He offers. Good luck in your journey! All the questions you have, if you make this a serious study, will be answered as you discover God through His own words. Regards!

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