When it comes to talking about a yoke (let alone being equally yoked), most of us (though not all) being of modern origin don’t comprehend the full meaning of being equally yoked. We may know what a yoke is, we may have seen it in pictures, in some random barn, or ornamentally used in a historical reproduction of an event, etc., but we haven’t had to toil in order to yoke two animals that must pull a very significant and heavy burden. We haven’t had to make use of a yoke for the survival of our families and homes.

A yoke is a wooden crosspiece that is fastened over the necks of two animals and is also attached to the plow or cart (or burden) that they are to pull. It is also fastened to and controlled by the reigns held by a master who guides them as they pull.

Vintage Draft Animal wood Harness Yoke isolated on white backgro

To be able to merely walk side-by-side, the two animals yoked need to be of similar size, strength, and build. But that isn’t enough. When there is a burden to pull, these animals must also be able to coordinate their movements and share the burden so that it can be pulled successfully. That coordination is guided by the master who holds the reigns.

Note the characteristics needed to be equally yoked:

  • Similar size
  • Similar strength
  • Similar build
  • Willing and able to coordinate with their yoked partner
  • Willing to follow the commands of the master

Now, if we take this literal explanation and begin to apply it to relationships in our lives, primarily marriage relationships, we begin to see something interesting.

First, let’s take the physical and translate it into something spiritual. In a marriage relationship, for it to work, to allow us to pull our burdens, we must be equally yoked as spouses. Spiritually we need to have:

  • a similar spiritual size (testimony or witness of truth)
  • a similar spiritual strength (faith in Christ)
  • a similar spiritual build (foundation of faith built through righteous living)
  • a willingness to work with and coordinate the burdens of life with our spouse
  • a willingness to follow the guidance and commands of the master

Though differing personality strengths and weaknesses between spouses can be beneficial that we may learn and support one another; spiritual things must be far more compatible for a relationship yoke to work. Remember, a couple is not merely walking side-by-side. They must be able to coordinate successfully to pull a burden—many burdens. And, they must both be willing to obey the same commands from the master. Otherwise, progression is brought to a standstill.

Be Ye Not Unequally Yoked

Sometimes, when we read the scriptures, we can get confused about what it means to be equally yoked. We may feel that our marriage is unequally yoked in many ways. We may wonder if it will ever grow to become something as wonderful as we dream, or see in a few cute old couples.

Many marriages have a sufficient imbalance between spouses of spiritual size, strength, and build. Some marriages even have a sufficient imbalance between themselves of which commands they will respond to from the Master. But there is a big difference between a struggling marriage that has two people who are trying and who have varying levels of faith in Christ than a marriage where one person has completely checked out spiritually…they simply have no faith in Christ.

When one marriage partner denies their testimony (either verbally or by deliberate action), discounts or denies their faith in Christ (either verbally or by deliberate action), dismantles their foundation of faith (by deliberate actions), and refuses to work with their spouse or respond to the commands of the Master (Jesus Christ), then there is a serious issue. Such a marriage is not equally yoked.

Faith in Christ is revealed simply by a willingness to repent, to rebuild a spiritual foundation (if it has weakened or been dismantled), and to coordinate with their spouse and to respond to the commands of the Master.

All marriages are replete with error on the part of both. And, who can count how many hurts one has caused the other, perceived or real? But, the moment one party decides they don’t have to change, or that they won’t change, an incredible chasm is created in the marriage. One partner has completely stopped pulling, participating, and refuses to be guided forward. They no longer believe in Christ’s ability to forgive them, aid them (or their spouse), help them (or their spouse), improve them (or their spouse), reform them (or their spouse), and save the marriage. The marriage is now unequally yoked.

When one spouse completely checks out and quits trying to coordinate and quits trying to pull, the burdens are sufficient that the other spouse will also be brought up short. There is no progression, no forward movement for either party. The spouse who has lost their faith in Christ is not only damning his/her own progression, they are dead weight to the other.

In 2 Corinthians 6:14-17 we read:

Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? And what communion hath light with darkness?

What concord hath Christ with Belial? Or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel?

And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? For ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them: and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.

Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you.

There’s a comes a point in some relationships where the believer (the spouse with faith in Christ) can no longer progress because he/she is unequally yoked with an unbeliever (a past believer who no longer believes in or has faith in Christ, as witnessed by their unwillingness to repent, or a person who has been introduced to Christ and refuses to accept Him). Forward progression will be hampered until the believer unyokes themselves from the unbeliever and gives themselves over to God.

We see this pattern with God and the Israelites. It was a covenant relationship, often figuratively compared to the imagery of a bridegroom and his bride (a figurative marriage relationship). Israel frequently would exhibit faith and then would turn away from their faith. God, unable to “move forward” with them as dead weight would always issue spiritual ultimatums (click on this link to learn more about spiritual ultimatums and how God uses them). God’s frequent ultimatum was immediate consequences for sin, and then a call to repentance, which, if it went unheeded resulted in Him un-yoking Israel from Himself and going to find a “faithful people.”

The Unbelieving Spouse is Sanctified by the Believing Spouse

Being equally yoked is again, not the same as we encounter here in 1 Corinthians 7:12-16:

…If any brother hath a wife that believeth not, and she be pleased to dwell with him, let him not put her away. And the woman which hath and husband that believeth not, and if he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him.

For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband… But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or sister is not under bondage in such cases: but God hath called us to peace

For what knowest thou, O wife, whether thou shalt save thy husband? Or how knowest thou, O man, whether thou shalt save thy wife?

This advice from Paul (which is merely his opinion and not direct counsel from God) has to do with people joining the church and their spouse remaining Jewish (or of a different religion). Paul was worried about circumcision, a mark of the old covenant persisting in families when Christ had done away with it. He didn’t want people to cast off their “unbelieving” spouses, however, especially if the marriage was otherwise good.

There are many marriages where the spouses have differing levels of faith in Christ, but again, it still moves forward toward God, whether faster or slower. Being unequally yoked is when the marriage is at a standstill. One party still firmly has faith in Christ. The other does not. One is willing to keep their covenants with God and the other is not. At a standstill no progression can take place for either party.

When Divorce is a Good Thing

Sometimes, for the spouse that’s faithful to their covenants and who has faith in Christ, it can seem to them that unyoking themselves from the marriage would be wrong. However, if the marriage with the spouse is hampering their spiritual progression and the spouse is unwilling to repent, then in order to continue to progress, the only way forward is to issue spiritual ultimatums and with personal revelation from God determine if He (God) would have them unyoke themselves from the unbelieving spouse.

So, how do we know when to un-yoke ourselves from a faithless spouse? How do we know our if our spouse is faithless? How do we know if they won’t change sometime in the future and we should simply hang in there?

Having been through this myself, let me suggest the following:

  1. Pray for help and clear, personal revelation throughout this process
  2. Issue spiritual ultimatums in the appropriate way
  3. If spiritual ultimatums are not met, immediately enact the promised consequences
  4. Set a specific and rigid grace period after the consequences are enacted and stick to it
  5. Make plans to un-yoke yourself in preparation (make it real and don’t delay!)
  6. Make your decision firmly (to stay yoked or to un-yoke) and take it to God for confirmation
  7. Follow-through with the personal revelation you receive

I have seen marriage relationships get clear to #6 before the faithless spouse began to come around, but the marriage ended up beautifully thereafter. I have seen marriage relationships bounce back immediately after step #2. I have seen marriage relationships make several trips to #4 but always survive. I have seen marriage relationships make it to #5, improve for several months, and then eventually end in divorce. I have seen some go through the whole process and end for the best for both sides (which did not necessarily mean both sides ended with faith in Christ or without faith in Christ, but for certain the believer was able to progress at last).

The reality is, our spouse may change when issued a spiritual ultimatum. But, they may not. They may change in the future, but that change may not come about “with us” and we shouldn’t hold out simply in vain hope. They may not even be fazed when we issue a spiritual ultimatum. Sometimes, no matter how we began as a couple (married in the temple or otherwise), we are better off and God would have us un-yoke ourselves so that He might bless us and we can progress as He desires. Otherwise, we will remain at a standstill until we shrug off the dead spiritual weight. As well, the unbelieving spouse will also be prevented from progressing if we refuse to let go. Sometimes, we need to let people hit rock bottom before they can progress back up…even if it’s not by our side.

Being Equally Yoked Under Christ’s Yoke

Christ Himself has said (Matthew 11:29):

Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.

When both spouses have faith in Christ, Christ is the driver of the marriage. It is His yoke that we have allowed Him to put upon us. Perhaps we may see this verse as Christ in the yoke with us, but I see it more as Him as the driver and we submit to His yoke that He may guide our lives and our marriages. We not only give Him the reigns and allow Him to guide us, He leads us in the best ways to carry our burdens and find ultimate rest. When one marriage partner (that began under His yoke) comes to a complete standstill, or tries to walk backward or escape His guidance, or refuses to change despite the cracks of the whip, God may inspire us to allow Him to un-yoke that person from our lives. By so doing, it allows God to continue to be the master of our spiritual and eternal progression. It means He can pick up the slack and move us forward again toward our eternal blessings.

I don’t think anyone should ever enter a marriage relationship with the idea that they can easily toss it away in divorce. I think marriage should be fought for, worked at, and committed to with integrity. Even tough marriages should be held on to, covenants kept, because God will bless such faith. However, as no person is a guarantee, if the time should come that our spouse abandons their faith in Christ and refuses to repent despite spiritual ultimatums, then in such cases divorce may be a good thing to pursue for those that seek eternal relationships.

For the rest of us, we need to keep pulling, keep making efforts to live by our faith in Christ together. We must both choose to submit to His yoke, His commands, and His guidance as we carry our burdens. If we’re a bit awkward or slow, no worries. We need only maintain our faith and we will progress. We will move forward. Our relationship will improve. God will guide us. We will eventually find the rest we seek.

BT

How often have you thought you wanted something only to find that after having it, it didn’t bring with it the impact or delight you had expected? Yet, somehow, prior to possessing the thing, you were convinced, even certain, that it was going to delight you far beyond the present moment and affect all the threads of your life. Then, it simply fell short. So, you have to ask yourself, why did you think that to begin with? How come you didn’t know that it would fall short; that it would fail you?

How often do people pursue a certain college degree and a specific career, only to find shortly in that they hate what they do and money isn’t a sufficient draw. They’d rather do what they love for a far lesser paycheck than do what they hate for the big bucks. Why did they go into the original degree and career path in the first place? Why did they waste all that time and money in the wrong path? Because they thought that was what they wanted. It took experience for them to realize it wasn’t.

I could make an endless list of scenarios where our expectations about ourselves and life continually throw us for a loop. But, it all boils down to the main point of this blog.  And that is this…

There comes a time in our lives when we start to realize, a little at a time, that many of the things we supposed about ourselves aren’t actually true. We thought we loved being the life of the party only to realize now that in all actuality, it has always worn us out. We thought we hated sappy romance novels only to realize after finally buckling down and reading one recommended by a friend, that we like them better than the crime thrillers we have read for years. Or, perhaps we thought our dream life was living in a home on a lake or golf course and sailing around on a yacht, and now that we have those things, they are kind of cool, but they pale in comparison to eating out at the one favorite restaurant with our significant other and playing board games with our kids.

I remember the movie The Runaway Bride where the bride (Julia Roberts) kept running way from the altar. Why? Because when the long-awaited moment arrived she didn’t feel like she thought she should. It failed her expectations and assumptions despite all the glitz and glam. Yet, time after time she’d get proposed to, make it to the wedding day, and then she’d bolt. In the end, it came down to the fact that she was always trying to be the woman these men wanted because she thought that was the woman she was, or the woman she wanted to be. It wasn’t until she took some time to figure herself out that true love became possible.

And, this is the point of this blog. The gospel, the real deep down gospel, only becomes truly possible for us when we know who we really are and what we really want—for eternity.

God knows who we are and what we really want. But, in reality, we don’t. And I have always felt strongly that this life, God’s plan, is actually about us coming to a realization of what God already knows. Why did He send us down here, then, if we already knew? Isn’t that sort of unkind and unfair to put us through this often miserable mortal experience just for us to come to the same conclusion He’s already got?

Well, imagine the premortal world. We were God’s spiritual offspring, but we weren’t exactly as He is. He had godly qualities and attributes that we had not yet attained. And, in fact, we got to a point where we couldn’t progress to become like Him without this mortal existence.

It had to be frustrating, after progressing for eons, to suddenly come to a point where we couldn’t rise higher. So, God says to us, “Do you really want to become like me? It’s tough stuff. Sure, I have powers and capabilities you don’t have, but to be like this requires a lot of hard things.” Without a thought, “Ya, we want that,” we all said. Because we really thought we did. We didn’t have the experience to know ourselves any deeper. And, though most of us were inherently very good, we weren’t yet perfect. And, therefore, we were incapable of knowing ourselves perfectly. That was why we were no longer progressing.

Think about it: God could have said, “Cindy and Mark, you actually don’t want to be like me. I know you don’t realize that yet, but in reality, you both prefer to bowl and drink beer for eternity and would be much happier doing that, rather than to spend it creating worlds and working eternally to exalt your spiritual offspring.” Then, He could have turned to Cain and said, “Cain, you think you want to become like me, but once you’re down there you’re going to murder your younger brother out of jealously and greed and then be damned for all eternity.” Then, He could have turned to all of us and said, “So, as you can see, rather than put you all through this whole testing and proving thing, I’m just going to consign you to your eternal destinations because I know you better than you know yourself.”

No longer sounds loving, does it. And it wouldn’t have been because we would not have had the ability to know if He was being fair to us. To us, it would have sounded unkind and unloving because we would have truly believed we wanted to be like God, and no amount of God telling us otherwise would have solved our lack of knowledge, understanding, and experience.

No, it is far more loving to bring us down to this life and let us learn by experience to know the good from the evil; to let us learn from experience whether we prefer self-sacrifice or selfishness, whether we prefer keeping the Sabbath Day holy or playing golf, whether we prefer to be perceived as right or actually doing what’s right despite others’ perceptions, etc. Because then, when we stand before God at the judgment we won’t be offended, or even sorry, when He sends us off to play golf for eternity, because we will know that we prefer that over the other options available to us. We learned from our own experience who we are and what we really want for eternity. There won’t be any bartering for a higher glory, because we won’t want it. By experience we will come to know that we don’t want it…or that we do.

Allowing us to learn the truth about ourselves for ourselves—that is true love. And, it’s not easy.

.photo with a man and a questionmark mask

I get a little annoyed at times when I hear people talk about how God is testing them to see if they can get back home to Him. First of all, they forget that it’s not just about getting home to God, it’s about becoming like Him. There is a big difference. Second, saying, “God is testing me to see if I can get back home to Him,” makes God’s character sound untrustworthy—as if He’s up there treating us like white lab rats, sending us through mazes, all just to see, through some morbid curiosity what choices we’ll make and if we’ll make it. No, sorry. I simply dislike that wording and what it implies about God. That’s not the God I know.

So, it’s fairly simple.

God knows us better than we will ever know ourselves. Why? He knows everything, past, present, and future. (2 Nephi 9:20)

Then, that’s predestination, right? That means He knows who going to make it (to become like Him) and who’s not, right? Yes. He sure does.

Well, then that totally refutes my agency, doesn’t it? I mean, what’s the purpose of life if God already knows what I’m going to choose? Good question. Keep reading.

If this life is about God testing me, doesn’t God’s omniscience cancel out the test? Great question. No.

This life is not about God testing us for His knowledge and benefit. The word “testing” is shallow and insufficient to encompass the purpose of God’s plan. It implies merely ticking off right answers. The real purpose of life is for us to be “proved” (Abraham 3:25 which implies providing evidence or real life data), to learn by experience who we are what it is we are going to choose. God knows, but we don’t. And, because we don’t truly know ourselves this existence is entirely valid, no matter what God knows. It’s also why He doesn’t interfere, because it’s not about having a perfect world. It’s about us “becoming godly” nor choosing to not become godly. The atonement has taken care of all the rest.

So, now you may ask:

But, if God knows what I’m going to do, does that mean He refuses to bless me because He knows in 10 years I’m going to apostatize and fall away from His plan? No.

God is bound to bless us if we keep His commandments irrespective of past or future sin (Doctrine and Covenants 82:10; 130:20-21). If He deviated from that law He would cease to be God. This is why being a god is not for everyone. Not everyone wants to be bound so tightly by law and covenant (see previous blog post, God’s Power is Not Absolute). So, no matter what you have done or what you will do, God will bless you when you keep His commandments. The same applies to the opposite. No matter how righteous you’ve been or how righteous you may be some day, you will still lose blessings and suffer consequences if you sin now. That’s God’s eternal law.

So, when I imagine the premortal life this is what I see.

We knew God was the father of our spirits. We also realized that He was God. And, He was a bit different from us in a few important ways. He had a glorified, celestial body of flesh and bones. We didn’t. He had an eternal family unit (including an eternal marriage with a glorified, celestial woman). We were only children. We did not have spouses and children. And, while we were basically good, God was perfect. He was perfectly kind, loving, merciful, just, etc. We were not. Finally, while we had some power, God’s power to influence not only His environment, but the entire universe was infinitely greater than ours (except perhaps when we acted under His direction—and thereby His power and authority, not so much unlike this present life).

So, it stands to reason that we all wanted to be “like God, our Father,” or we thought we did. So, God presented a plan. That plan was “how to become like God.” But it was also, “how to determine if becoming like God is what you really want.”

Why do we have to go through a plan? Because being 100% like God is super-duper hard. It requires being bound by covenant and law. It requires all the traits God has that we yet do not have. It’s a worthy goal and we can do it IF we follow God’s plan and use this “proving environment” to become; which it is designed to help us do.

However, IF, while we’re down here in this proving environment, we learn for ourselves that while being exactly like God sounds great, it isn’t actually what we want (something we didn’t know previously); then, His plan provides for some alternative glories. Which, is actually pretty cool!

Before we came to this life, becoming like God sounded great. We knew it would be hard. But, we believed we wanted it. However, now that we are here, we—by our own jaunt through God’s godly proving environment—learn for ourselves if being like God is truly what we do want. So, again, the testing and proving isn’t really for God. It’s for us. Or, at least, that’s my opinion.

And, if this life is about getting to know ourselves. Then, it means it’s entire framework is meant to help us conquer our false assumptions and get to the crux of what really rules our hearts and minds. It means learning through trial and suffering to peel back our outer shells and take a gander at who we really are, what we really want, what we are really willing to do, what we are really willing to sacrifice, and IF that matches up with what it requires to become like God.

I feel that when we think about life this way, it makes so much more sense. It stops looking like some masochistic game on God’s part and all of the sudden looks like a sifting sieve. That sieve has three main tiers (scripturally). Some people are ultimately too “coarse” to fall through the telestial sieve onto the terrestrial sieve. And, though refined enough to get to the terrestrial sieve, many more are too coarse to make it down to the celestial sieve. Even fewer will be refined enough to make it to the actual “like God” tray at the bottom of the mortality sifting machine.

It still means we teach the ideal—to become like God. But, it also means we have more respect for individual agency. It means we allow people the same privilege to worship how, where, or what they may (11th Article of Faith). It means we don’t condemn others when they seem to be choosing another path than the one God would want them to choose. Because, that is the point of this life. If the path they are on doesn’t lead them to godhood, then we should certainly encourage them to reconsider, but ultimately, they may learn more quickly that they want godhood if they first experience a different eternal option. Mortal experience is the most beautiful and powerful teacher in the universe. That’s why we’re here.

If we see life (and God’s plan) in the context of coming to know ourselves, it answers a lot of currently difficult or unanswered questions. For example:

Human pain and suffering seems too cold and indifferent as a test for God to figure out what we’re made of. But, if we look at it as a test for us to see what we’re made of—for ourselves—and whether or not we’re up for godliness, it makes a ton of sense.

Why does God allow any human suffering? Because even if we suffer unfairly, it refines us and helps us have Godly sympathy. I mean, after all, who wants a God who doesn’t understand pain and suffering? He or she would make a very poor deity.

Why does God allow imperfect people to be His prophets, apostles, and other leaders? Because their service is as much about helping them to come to know themselves as it is about us coming to know ourselves. You see, it isn’t about perfection, it’s about grace.

Why does God not answer every question or fix every seeming contradiction in life, the scriptures, etc.? Because having all the answers is not what matters. It’s whether or not we are willing to exercise faith—the faith necessary unto eternal salvation—and trust in what we do know. Consequently, when the answers are made clear our own knowledge of our own power, capability, and righteousness is strengthened and solidified!  Thus, we learn the truth of principles by experience prior to being told them. It works best that way!

Think of Abraham being asked to sacrifice Isaac! That was a psychotic request IF it was for God’s benefit. But, if it was for Abraham’s knowledge of himself (and Isaac’s knowledge of himself), then it makes perfect sense. God said to Abraham, “Now I know that thou fearest God…” and yet what He meant is, “Now Thou knowest that thou fearest God…” Hugh B. Brown said: “Abraham needed to learn something about Abraham” (Five Scriptures that will Get You Through Anything).

Consider for yourself: what do you know about yourself but keep pretending you don’t know? What did you learn about yourself in your last trial or struggle? Or, what are you learning currently in a trial or struggle? What weaknesses and struggles have you overcome to date that have changed your for the better as a person? Have you given yourself that chance to try to live up to God’s covenants and laws? Do you yet know if you want to become like Him? Or, are you still in suspense about your own ability to be faithful and godly because you’re afraid to try? Do you know, as Abraham came to know, “That thou fearest God, seeing thou has not withheld thy <fill in the blank>”

For more on this line of pondering, see previous blog post The Solution to Utopia.

BT

Doctrine: If you are Christian, than the witness of God’s Holy Spirit should carry more weight than the witness of “flesh and blood.” The Book of Mormon supports and validates the witness of the Bible. To disprove the Book of Mormon is also to disprove the Bible. Bible Prophets have the same human characteristics and weaknesses of Joseph Smith. To discount Joseph Smith as a prophet because of His humanity is to discount all prophets. The wisdom and witness of men is the god of atheists. The wisdom and witness of God and His Holy Spirit is the god of Christians.

If you are a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and your testimony is struggling in the current societal environment, buckling under growing church transparency, and stifling under a list of ordinances, covenants and commandments: what are your options?

You basically have only three options.

  1. You can hang on to what you believe even though it’s a struggle. You can trust the spiritual experiences you’ve had. You can turn to God with your questions and to His word for your answers. You can keep trying to come unto Christ as you wait to see more clearly through the all the worldly fuzz and your own personal confusion, struggles, and issues.
  2. You can leave the Church. You can decide that God isn’t real. You can become an atheist.
  3. You can pretend that the only things about God and religion that bug you are inside the Mormon Faith. You can try to join another Christian faith (with all its accompanying issues). You can try, for a while, to hold onto the logic you used to leave the LDS church until you realize it applies to all Christian faiths. Then, you either have to stick to your decision in pride to prove a point and avoid embarrassment, or you have to become agnostic or atheist (option 2), or you have to come back to your original faith and embrace option one.

If you are considering option one, then hopefully this blog will help you hold strong. If you are considering option two, then hopefully this blog will help you find belief in God again. If you are considering option three, then I hope this blog will encourage you to put your trust in the witnesses and information you have received “from God” through the Holy Spirit over the witnesses that come from “flesh and blood.”

The Book of Mormon

A lot of people leave the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints because they become convinced that the Book of Mormon has some inconsistencies. From a misspelled word to some minute perceived educational or historical discrepancy touted by some anti-Mormon religionist (i.e. a person whose religion is to prove Mormonism wrong). These inconsistencies overwhelm any spiritual experiences or witnesses they have received of the book and cause them to fear. After all, the Book of Mormon is the keystone of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and our witness of Christ. If it’s got issues, then the whole Church must be wrong, right?

First, let me take the apologetic argumentative approach to this. If you are discounting the Book of Mormon because of an inconsistency, then you must also discount the Bible for the same reasons. Or perhaps you feel you can safely discount the Book of Mormon because only 15 million+ people believe in it while 2.2 billion+ hold some respect for the Bible. But, if your comfort level believing in the Bible is only due to the number of people who accept its validity, then that’s not really a very good reason to believe in it at all.

Man under threat of failure

Joseph Smith said that the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth and that a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts than any other book (Introduction to the Book of Mormon). When Joseph Smith said “most correct,” I don’t think he meant without flaws or issues. I think he meant that it is the “most correct” in its witness of Christ and Christ’s doctrines. The fact that its authors in their individual records may have written in a way that is contrary to what our modern society recognizes as historically accurate for that time, or that there are simple or minor errors in the translation from Joseph who translated it by the gift and power of God and those who were scribes for him is not surprising. If that is the case, we could discount any book on earth that contains any human error whatsoever–especially the Bible.

For the modern Christian, or for any Christian, the Bible is so full of perceived and real inconsistencies. And if we are to base its usefulness in leading us to Christ on its lack of inconsistencies, then we might rather be atheist.

Here is one, and only one example (or I would spend the whole blog on simply the Bible’s inconsistencies, or any religious text’s inconsistencies). The Bible says that God is the same (Ps. 102:27) and that He changes not (Mal. 3:6). If that’s true, then when God says in Amos 3:7 that He doesn’t do anything “except He reveals His secrets  to His servants the prophets,” then, it stands to reason that God should always have prophets on the earth to whom He can reveal His will. But, all modern Christian religions believe that “God has done His work,” that “there are no prophets today.”

Now, Catholicism adheres to the idea that the Pope communes with God to an extent, but aside from that, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the only church that believes in modern prophets, apostles, the church organization instituted by God, and constant, on-going revelation. So, people who believe the Bible are saying that God is the same…but He’s not? Or, they are saying that simply because we are such an enlightened world we don’t need God’s dedicated guidance through a prophet anymore? That’s hardly possible. Or, that God doesn’t love us as much as the people in the past and so He doesn’t have prophets for us? But, wait. Doesn’t the Bible say that God loves all His children the same? Hence, I could as easily disprove the Bible the same way people try to disprove the Book of Mormon.

Now, let me be quite clear. I believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly. I believe it leads people to Christ as much as it is capable of doing, despite human meddling, human interpretation, and human deletions. As well, I’ve studied the Bible and I know what the God of the OT and the NT was like and it’s the same God that is preached in the Book of Mormon. As well, I have prayed about both books and the Holy Spirit has confirmed to me that they are God’s words.

The Book of Mormon is called “Another Testament of Jesus Christ.” So, to discount the Book of Mormon is to say that you “have a Bible and there can’t be any more Bible” (2 Nephi  29:3-8). Except, the Bible you have came from the Jews, who aren’t even Christians (that they are aware of). But, whether you understand the origin of the Bible or not, what you’re saying is that you don’t want another witness—to the whole world—that the God you believe in is real? Or, you don’t want a witness of Christ that is not perfect…even though the Bible isn’t perfect? Or, you don’t believe that God spoke to any of His other children…and only the Jews?

Does not the Bible say:

Behold, I will take the stick of Joseph, which is in the hand of Ephraim, and the tribes of Israel his fellows, and I will put them with him, even with the stick of Judah, and make them one stick, and they shall be one in mine hand. (Ezekiel 37:19)

Now, IF you believe the Bible is true I’m not saying you have to believe the Book of Mormon is the stick of Joseph. But, all “flesh and blood” logic aside, then where is the other stick/record? Is God a liar? Or, perhaps He hasn’t brought forth the stick of Joseph yet. But, either way, when it comes to light (if you don’t believe it’s the Book of Mormon), how will you know if it is indeed the word of God? Because some slick-tonged, educated, anti-Mormon religionist tells you it’s true? A man/woman who is no more than flesh and blood whose breath is in his nostrils (Isaiah 2:22) is going to control how you define where God’s word is?

In Matthew 16:13-18 Christ has a discussion about the authority of the voice of flesh and blood over that of God.

Whom do men say that I the Son of man am?

And they said, Some say that thou art John the Baptist: some, Elias; and others, Jeremias or one of the prophets.

He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am?

And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou are the Christ, the Son of the living God.

And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.

Here the entire world said Christ was something else than He was. And I have no doubt that they were convincing. At that time monotheism was a joke (except for the Jewish religion and even they struggled with reverting to idol worship). 2.2 billion+ were polytheists with idols and the like. Yet, Peter had a witness from God that Christ was the Son of the only true and living God. That was how he knew the truth. There were not even a few thousand, that actually believed Christ was the actual Son of God.

If the Bible is true in any sense, the only way to know it—despite its perceived or real contradictions and flaws—is by a witness from God. There is no greater witness. Not from “flesh and blood.” It is the same with the Book of Mormon. For those things that are spiritual are only comprehended by the Spirit (1 Cor. 2:11, 14). Not by fact, not by science, not by educated men and women giving their thumbs up.symbol of the house at sunset on the seashore

But, let me continue on with a less apologetic rant (2 Nephi 29:7-8 [3-8]).

Know ye not that there are more nations than one? Know ye not that I, the Lord your God, have created all men, and that I remember those who are upon the isles of the sea: and that I rule in the heavens above and in the earth beneath; and I bring forth my word unto the children of men yea, even upon all the nations of the earth?

Wherefore murmur ye, because that ye shall receive more of my word? Know ye not that the testimony of two nations is a witness unto you that I am God, that I remember one nation like unto another? Wherefore, I speak the same words unto one nation like unto another. And when the two nations shall run together the testimony of the two nations shall run together also.

So, if you want to discount the Book or Mormon—another witness of Jesus Christ, the God to whom you so desperately cling—then you must also, at some point, discount the Bible. Because the Book of Mormon testifies of the Bible and Christ.

But, if your doubts about issues with the Book of Mormon is still strong. I have a few final things to share.

Here is the first. These are scriptures from writers of the Book of Mormon where they are concerned about their human mistakes in writing the record. They are worried that future generations will see these weaknesses and discount the record.

2 Nephi 33:10-11:

And now, my beloved brethren, and also Jew, and all ye ends of the earth, hearken unto these words (meaning the Book of Mormon) and believe in Christ; and if ye believe not in these words believe in Christ. And if ye shall believe in Christ ye will believe in these words, for they are the words of Christ, and he hath given them unto me; and they teach all men that they should do good.

And if they are not the words of Christ, judge ye—for Christ will show unto you, with power and great glory, that they are his words, at the last day; and you and I shall stand face to face before his bar; and ye shall know that I have been commanded of him to write these things, notwithstanding my weakness.

Ether 12:23-41:

And I said unto him: Lord, the Gentiles will mock at these things (meaning the records within the Book of Mormon) because of our weakness in writing; for Lord thou has made us mighty in word by faith, but thou has not made us mighty in writing; for thou has made all this people that they could speak much, because of the Holy Ghost which thou has given them;

Thou has also made our words powerful and great, even that we cannot write them; wherefore, when we write we behold our weakness, and stumble because of the placing of our words; and I fear lest the Gentiles shall mock at our words.

And when I had said this, the Lord spake unto me, saying: Fools mock, but they shall mourn; and my grace is sufficient for the meek, that they shall take no advantage of your weakness…

Behold, I will show unto the Gentiles their weakness, and I will show unto them that faith hope and charity bringeth unto me—the fountain of all righteousness…

And I Moroni, after having heard these words was comforted, and said…Wherefore, I know by this thing which thou has said, that if the Gentiles have no charity, because of our weakness, that thou wilt prove them, and take away their talent, yea, even that which they have received, and give unto them who shall have more abundantly.

And it came to pass that I prayed unto the Lord that he would give unto the Gentiles grace, that they might have charity…

And now I, Moroni, bid farewell unto the Gentiles, yea, and also unto my brethren whom I love, until we shall meet before the judgment-seat of Christ, where all men shall know that my garments are not spotted with your blood.

And then shall ye know that I have seen Jesus, and that he hath talked with me face to face, and that he told me in plain humility, even as a man telleth another in mine own language, concerning these things: And only a few have I written, because of my weakness in writing.

Here is my second.

One of my biggest complaints about people that try to discount the Book of Mormon after having once testified of its truth or believing in it is that they never comment about whether or not it is bringing them to Christ or not. That never factors into why they stop disbelieving it or why they leave the Church.

Does reading the Book of Mormon make you better? More Christlike? Or, if you haven’t studied it in a long time (which is often the case), are you discounting it based on a vague memory of what you read? If it’s not true, don’t turn only to the few issues people point out. Read it from cover to cover. Find out if it leads you to Christ or not despite its weaknesses. Isn’t that the true test?

However, if your issue is that it was translated by Joseph Smith through the Urim and Thummim or a seer stone or a rock he found on the ground or through a stained glass window, then again, what really matters is “by their fruits ye shall know them” (Matthew 7:16-20), if you believe the Bible. What is the fruit of the Book of Mormon? Whether it has a million typos or a historical or other discrepancy on every page, what are its fruits?

Young businessman hiding head in the sand

If the Book of Mormon is flawed even though it testifies of Christ then so is the Bible. If you once accepted the Book of Mormon; either it’s from God and so is the Bible, or its not from God and neither is the Bible. It’s impossible to dismiss the Book of Mormon without also dismissing the Bible. If your issue is with how it was translated instead of what its fruits are, then you’re straining at a gnat and swallowing a camel (Matthew 23:24). If your issue is with Joseph Smith, then continue on…

Prophets, Apostles, and Church Leadership

The world and members of the Church have begged for the Church of Jesus Christ to be transparent. So, the Church has worked hard to become more transparent. They have produced as much honest fact and material as they can. And, some of this information doesn’t answer all the questions and issues people have. And, they are upset that there are still some things God hasn’t revealed to “their” pleasure. And, it suddenly becomes the Church’s fault.

As well, people who have only ever studied about Joseph Smith enough to gain a testimony of him and the Book of Mormon are now taking the time to look into the history of the Church, it’s past, and the humanity of its prophets and leadership. What they find shocks them. Joseph was a pretty regular human guy. He was subject to the culture of his time. He was poor with finances and most administrative concepts.

Of course, this delving into the Church’s history and the weaknesses of its leadership leads to all sorts of concerns and questions. Could this man really have been a prophet?

I’m not sure if the issues people have with past and present Church leadership is more a question of their unrealistic expectations versus reality. But, a lot of them seem to have this idea that God calls only perfect people to do His work. Some of them seem to think that once a person is called to God’s service that they won’t make any mistakes or that God will keep them from making certain mistakes and that all will be easy and well.

Just as so many religions claim “God has done His work,” we modern Latter-day Saints seem to also believe that God somehow was only meant to ask hard and difficult things of past people, not us present ones. Heaven forbid we are ever asked to do anything that teaches us the depth of our own faith. God is too nice for that now… He won’t ask me to do anything as difficult as Abraham” (Doctrine and Covenants 101:4).

I honestly haven’t been able to figure out what the real basis is of people’s complaint against Joseph Smith, but it boils down to a lack of faith. It has nothing to do with Joseph Smith—not really

But, I have found that most people who leave the church still like to fall back on Christianity (in a general sense) and therefore the Bible. They think there, in the Bible, they will find prophets who are “true prophets.”

So, let’s make a comparison of Bible prophets and Joseph Smith. For the sake of brevity, I’m not going to quote every scriptural reference that validates these lists. If you don’t believe the lists then I put it to you to search the Bible, both OT and NT, and prove my list wrong. It’s not hard, but it will take time. But, I had to put in the time, so it’s clearly possible.

Bible Prophets and Leadership Joseph Smith
·         Were previous sinners who reformed

·         Were doubted and betrayed by family and close associates

·         Became stronger, better, and more refined in God’s service

·         Lost privileges when they forgot to put God first

·         Regained privileges when they repented

·         Were often the “least” of their brethren and associates

·         Often had weaknesses that would have made them a surprise pick for prophet

·         Received a mission and commandments from God

·         Commanded to dispense God’s plan, ordinances, commands, and covenants

·         Saw the Lord Jesus Christ

·         Accepted their prophetic call despite their self-doubts

·         Were asked to do things by God that the rest of the world (at the time) didn’t understand

·         Were prone to the superstitions and culture of their day

·         Were often poor administrators or parents

·         Doubted the Lord’s requests and commands

·         Allowed others to lead them astray for a time

·         Made mistakes

·         Sometimes got direct instructions and revelations, and other times the Lord didn’t give the information freely and so they had to seek the Lord for guidance and information

·         Had annoying human personality traits

·         Had marriages that were disliked or questioned

·         Had multiple wives as commanded by God

·         Was a previous sinner in some normal human aspects and reformed

·         Was doubted and betrayed by close associates and friends

·         Became stronger, better, and more refined in God’s service

·         Lost privileges when he forgot to put God first

·         Was the “least” of the people of his time

·         Had weaknesses that made people doubt God would call him as a prophet

·         Received a mission and commandments from God

·         Was commanded to restore God’s church (dispense His full plan), ordinances, commands, and covenants

·         Saw the Lord Jesus Christ and God the Father

·         Accepted his prophetic call despite his doubts

·         Was asked to do things by God that the rest of the world (then and now) often don’t understand

·         Was prone to superstitions and culture of his day

·         Was well known to be a poor administrator as well as poor at most organization and finances

·         Struggled with some of the Lord’s requests and commands

·         Allowed Martin Harris, and others, to lead him astray on some issues

·         Made mistakes day to day like all humans do

·         Sometimes got direct instructions and revelations, and other times the Lord didn’t give the information freely and so he had to seek the Lord for guidance and information

·         Had a natural playfulness that many people of his time thought was unbefitting a prophet, and irreverent of a holy man

·         Had marriages that were disliked or questioned

·         Had multiple wives as commanded by God

I’m sure there are more things to list on both sides. I’m not trying to present a comprehensive list. I’m merely trying to point out that Joseph Smith was no different than any other prophet called by God. In fact, most of the prophets had some or most of the items on the list, but not all. Joseph was proven and tried with everything past prophets had been tried with. What a burden! And people don’t even give him any credit.

So, Joseph Smith is Joseph Smith. A good man, not a perfect man, who became a great man, but who nonetheless was human. Was he a prophet? That’s for you to decide. But, it’s very senseless to take any part of his humanity and use it as a data point to say he couldn’t have been a prophet. God can and will use whomever He wishes to fulfill His work. If we want to sit around and entertain and hiccup over complexities and doubts based on a person’s imperfections and humanity rather than to trust the fruits of the person’s labors, that’s our business. But, it will never bring us peace.

If we are willing to serve God and we love Him, it matters not how imperfect or weird we are. God can use us to do His work. And, He will. The only time God can’t use someone to do His work is if that person isn’t willing, and doesn’t love God. It has nothing to do with perfection or talents or charisma or experience. If God chooses someone, then they are chosen until they become unwilling to do God’s will. End of story. That’s GRACE! Grace is about doing God’s will imperfectly and still being accepted because we are trying. I know we like to put people on pedestals, but it applies as much to prophets and apostles as it does to us.

So, on a final note, people like to pick and pry and complain about all of Joseph Smith’s (and other Church leaders issues, policies, etc.). And, yet, they can solve all of the little doubts and complexities with sincere prayer (2 Nephi 32:8) offered with real intent to follow the answer: “God, was Joseph Smith a prophet despite his humanity?” Or, if you’re issue is with modern prophets and leadership: “God, is <current prophet> your chosen vessel for dispensing revelation and guidance today?”

We can pray about individual policies too, but in reality, it’s much simpler than that. If Joseph Smith was a prophet then the Book of Mormon is the most correct of any book on earth and will bring us closer to God than any other book. If <current prophet> is God’s current chosen vessel for dispensing revelation and guidance, then God is behind whatever he is doing whether we understand it or not. Don’t trust man! Ask God!

Indeed the Bible says, “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart and lean not unto thine own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5). The Book of Mormon says, “Ask God if these things are true and the Holy Ghost will reveal the truth of it unto you” (Moroni 10:3-5).

“Flesh and blood” is no good for a foundation of faith. If you want to believe in God and not be an atheist, then you must place the witness of the Holy Ghost above the witness of men. Men’s wisdom is the god of the atheist. Godly wisdom is the god of the Christian. If you claim to trust God’s word then you must study it and “by its fruits” and a witness of the Holy Ghost know if it is true.

Close up on hands holding Home made from sand. House on seashore. Summer holiday, vacation, postcard, background.  Real estate investment concept

Most of the time, in my life, I have found that seasons of doubt—which are often fueled by the doubts of others—are most often caused by a shock to our religious expectations. The only way to overcome this romantic, incorrect view of God and His plan is to study His word, listen to His prophets, and seek the witness of His Holy Spirit—not the factual, data-driven witness of men. We must come to know Him, not our version of Him. Then, we can stand with surety in our faith. Until then, we have merely built our spiritual house (testimony) on sand.

BT

Doctrine: All sin is trying to get something God intends for us to have in the wrong way–or NOT the way God has designed. God dispenses all blessings and powers through the keeping of commandments and the making and keeping of covenants. His way is the only way to get what we really want.

Often the excuse or argument people use for justifying their actions is to equate their actions with something that is respectable and acceptable. They draw all the positive comparisons in an attempt to make what they’ve done “okay” or “respectable.” Sometimes, they even gloat about getting something for nothing, or “beating the system.”

Some people are quick-witted, intelligent, brilliant, and savvy. They are skilled at using small print, big terms, scriptural examples, and logical assumptions to masterfully justify their unrighteous actions. What they don’t realize is that they are in poor company. They are not the first to be so brilliantly foolish and prideful. And, they won’t be the last.

Who was the first to think He had bypassed the system and could get what he wanted without the red tape? Well, Satan of course.

Satan came before God, during the foundation planning for the earth. He didn’t like the idea of having to go through such restrictions, commandments, and covenants (or red tape, as he saw it) in order to get God’s power. He saw no need to exercise restraint, to be bound by covenant, or to actually become godly.

So, he looked at God’s plan and thought, “Well, it looks like God just wants us all to come back home. So, I’ve got a plan that will do the same thing…in a different way. But, it’s still the same thing. Everybody will get what they want without all the hard work and suffering. It’s a better, smarter way.”

So, Satan, NOT knowing the mind of God, suggested to God, and all of us, that there was no real need for agency, for a Savior. Why didn’t God just force us all to do what’s right? Heck, he’d go down and do it, if God didn’t want to. He’d be the quote-unquote-savior. “Then, we’ll all come back home. Savvy? Oh, and by the way, in exchange for me bringing us all back home, Father, why don’t you go ahead and make me a god. Give me your power without all the red tape.”

This is likely not Satan’s first attempt at getting something good in the wrong way, but it’s the first one we have a record of. God, of course, whose goal for all of us was far more deep, rewarding, and eternally beneficial, said, “No.”

Satan, of course, thought this was ridiculous. How could God not see how smart and simple his plan was? It was so much easier. He got angry and would not submit to God’s plan. He refused to except God’s perfect plan of salvation—which was perfect in its design in allowing us learn through experience by choice and consequence, to exercise righteous restraint, to bind ourselves by covenants, and to actually become godly—and so Satan was cast out. So, not only did he NOT get what he wanted, he got much less than any of the rest of us will get.

But, Satan couldn’t accept his fate. If he couldn’t have what he wanted in his easier, more enlightened way, he would take revenge and try to frustrate God’s perfect plan. He would take power for himself—in the wrong way. He would do what God would normally do before God could do it. So, NOT knowing the mind of God, he got Adam and Eve to partake of the forbidden fruit. But, here again, trying to get God’s power in the wrong way and to frustrate God’s plan did not work. The works of God can’t be frustrated (Doctrine and Covenants 3:3). He got nothing but another curse. Lessen NOT learned.

Choosing The Right Way
Choosing the Right way instead of the Wrong one.

Next, Satan influenced Cain to get what he wanted in the wrong way. Cain thought he was going to be a master of such a great secret, “to kill and to get gain” (Moses 5:31). This sneaky plan to get something “in the wrong way” ended poorly, as the scriptures say. So again, the “brilliant, better way” was not really the brilliant, better way.

There is a reason there is such a thing as stealing. Stealing is getting something we want “in the wrong way.” There is a reason there is murder, rape, extortion, cheating, unrighteous dominion, or blackmail. These, and many other things, are considered wrong because they are all ways of getting what we want “in the wrong way.”

If life, or people, treat us unfairly, we take revenge to get justice “in the wrong way.” If life, or people, have damaged our self-esteem or our emotional and physical needs have gone unmet, we often act in ways to get what we want that are “not the right way.” God’s way always requires restraint, self-discipline, love, forgiveness, patience, trust, and faith—all traits that require a lifetime to develop and improve upon with no short amount of failure in the process.

Some people use unrighteous dominion (see blog entry “Unrighteous Dominion: It’s easy to do” for details on meaning) to control others and get what they want. But, this is not the way God has commanded us to get these otherwise good desires. He want us to use long-suffering, persuasion, kindness, meekness, love un-faked, pre-instruction/pre-reproval, etc. and so on (Doctrine and Covenants 121:41-43).

I’m not going to try and make a comprehensive list. There are diverse sins that are sins simply because they are an attempt to get something that God dispenses in a way that people don’t like to conform with. The think it’s needlessly difficult.  There is a reason God has set specific “right ways” of receiving certain powers and desirable blessings (see blog article “God’s Power is NOT Absolute”). This is because power that is not bound by law and covenant (or, in other words ‘absolute power’) brings eternal destruction and corrupts absolutely.

There is an LDS Seminary video called “The Maze” which illustrates the different techniques people use to go around the “right way.” They do this because the “right way” seems time consuming, foolish, and unnecessary. But, in the end, it ends up being the best way. It’s the way that brings true reward and fulfillment. Watch it here! The other ways end up being the ones that are foolish.

In this finite, mortal existence, God allows us to abuse His laws, use some of His powers unrighteously, and abuse the “right way” of getting things. He allows it so that we can learn by experience to know the good from the evil (Moses 5:11). But, beyond this life we cannot have access to that which we learn to take for granted and abuse here on earth. This is why celestial glory is reserved only for those that bind themselves by celestial covenants and laws (and keep them); and when this life is past only they will be able to reside in family units and have access to powers, authority, gifts, and blessings to progress eternally (Doctrine and Covenants 88:14-40; 131:1-4; 132:15-21).

The sad thing is that people truly believe they have found a way to get happiness by going around and bypassing “the right way.” But, even if they are happy for a moment, that happiness will end at some point; and most certainly it will end when they die. Just as Satan’s plans to bypass God’s ways are short-lived, so also will be ours. There is no shortcut to true repentance. There is no shortcut to becoming patient. There is no shortcut to creating a celestial marriage relationship. There are NO shortcuts to becoming like God.

Satan spent (and still spends) all his time trying to get God’s power “in the wrong way.” He wants power, the same power we all want, but he has and will continue to pursue it in the wrong way. If he can’t have God’s power, he will also try to get us to lose it as he did. Seeking good things “in the wrong way” does not bring ultimate happiness, peace, comfort, or joy. Instead, so doing creates addiction, powerlessness, anger fear, unhappiness, resentment, and misery.

Want to go do a doctor who faked his degree to get access to the paycheck because he figured out how to bypass the system? Want to go to a hairstylist who faked her certificate to do something she loves but is too lazy to learn? Want to date or marry a man or woman who lied to you about who and what they are so that they can get you, or the “you” they are obsessed with? The principle can be applied endlessly.

There is never a shortcut to true joy, true peace, and true comfort. There is never a shortcut to becoming like God and having His power. There is always a right way and it comes with hard work, discipline, knowledge, study, law, and covenant.

So, we can pride ourselves on being smart enough to take shortcuts, on “bypassing the system,” on “showing God” that His way is full of useless red-tape. But, if we do this, then we must not forget where the source of our brilliant justifications come; and what happened to him, what is still happening to him, and what will always happen to him…forever.

I remember once teaching my Seminary students that if there is truly opposition in all things (2 Nephi 2:11), then a fullness of joy comes only after a fullness of sacrifice. We can’t give only a little and expect to get a lot of joy; just as it wouldn’t be fair to sacrifice a lot and get only a little joy. In fact, God requires all of us—mind, heart, soul, body. We must give all that He requests to get what we want. And, He has made “the right way to do things” clear. But, the beauty is, that when we do this, He always gives us far more than we deserve (Matthew 19:29; Mark 10:30)—save through grace.

So, in this life we can try to bypass “the right way” and find sneaky, intelligent, yet foolish “wrong ways” to get the things we want. But, it’s much better to pride ourselves on the brilliance of God’s plan. It’s much better to pride ourselves on taking the hard road and enduring to the end. For that is the road that leads us to eternal life—life like God (Doctrine and Covenants 14:7). It’s even better not to “pride ourselves” at all, but to humbly and gratefully submit to God’s plan, partake of Christ’s grace, and help others to do the same.

BT

Doctrine: God has a plan for His children. In this plan we have to have the freedom to choose for ourselves and make mistakes because this is how we learn. As we choose good and bad the consequences are what make our choices matter; and without the ability to impact ourselves or others in our choices, such choices would have no meaning. These consequences allow God to enact justice upon the wicked, because He can’t justly punish them if He does now allow them to actually do anything worth punishment. As well, when the innocent and righteous are persecuted and mistreated it sets an example for others and gives them the chance to step out of neutrality. The righteous also can’t be blessed unless they are allowed to exact those blessing through enduring faithfully through trials and persecution. And, most importantly, the Atonement has taken care of every injustice, problem, death, and so on. It has all been paid for, so it can all be restored by God whether in this life or the next.

Calamities strike. Innocent people die. Good people are persecuted for wanting to be good or for doing good. Someone becomes terribly ill. An innocent person suffers the unfair consequences of someone else’s actions. Someone dies too young. A wicked ruler comes into power. A corrupt person gets away with criminal acts. A parent abuses their child. A child gets bullied at school. A newborn child gets left in a dumpster to die. A country turns against a certain religious population. War comes and goes killing too many of the innocent, and too many of the brave.

I could go on and on and on. But I don’t need to. Every single god-fearing person, and even those who aren’t god-fearing but are generally good, have wondered “why bad things happen to good people.” And “good people” can mean a nation, a religion, a group of people, a family, a person, a child, or some other innocent being.

If you are especially religious and have a witness or belief in the goodness of God, often unfairness can shake your faith or cause you to experience a crisis of faith. You simply can’t understand how an omniscient, omnipotent, all-loving, all-merciful, and just God could stand by and watch as so much injustice and unfairness takes place. It simply is difficult to make sense of or take on faith.Business Financial Disaster Headlines

So, this question is tough. But the answers to it are very simple.

Whether you are a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or another Christian religion, you likely believe that God has a plan for each of us, even if we don’t always understand it.

So, answer number one for, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” is:

God has a plan for all of His children

So, what is this plan? Well, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believe that God’s plan is in place so that we can learn to become like Him. For us, the whole purpose of this life is about gaining godly attributes and becoming godly—not just going through righteous actions/commandments to get blessings, though that’s often how we all begin. Those commandments have a purpose—they teach us godliness.

But, the crux of this plan God has for us is agency, or free will. We don’t have to become like Him. But, His plan is set up in such a way that we can become like Him IF we choose to do so (Romans 8:14-18). If we don’t choose to become like Him, then He has provided kingdoms of glory equal to the amount of righteousness and goodness we are willing to live and accept (Doctrine and Covenants 88:17-24, 32-39; 1 Corinthians 15:40).

So, in order for us to figure out what amount of goodness (or godliness) we are willing to live and accept, we have to be presented with all of our options. We must gain experience in what our options are like. We must then choose our desired option and then learn and grow—through grace—to live like and become like the kind of person who can go where we want, and choose, to go. But, this means that we will make mistakes while we are figuring this all out.

So, answer number two to “Why do bad things happen to good people?” is:

We have to experience the full range of good and evil so that we can decide what level of good we want for eternity (2 Nephi 2:11). To do so, we have to be able to try things out for ourselves (Moses 7:32; Doctrine and Covenants 101:78; Alma 32:26-43; 2 Nephi 2:14-16). We have to be able to make mistakes so that we can learn. Others have to have the same chance, as well.

It is inevitable as we all bumble around this life trying to learn and refine ourselves that we will, without a doubt, hurt and injure others. It is the ability to hurt and be hurt that makes our choices matter. This life is NOT a simulator. What responsibility could we claim for our own actions if they had no effect? What accountability could God assign to us if our choices had no effect upon us or others? What judgment could be passed? None.

So, simply because God allows human suffering to take place as a consequence of agency doesn’t mean that He purposefully causes it to happen—which we sometimes accuse Him of. To allow the consequences of agency is a necessary—albeit, uncomfortable—part of being God; so that we can all learn, grow, and choose our eternal path without interference. And, there are very clear purposes in God’s plan to allowing the consequences of both good and bad choices to have their effect, even upon the innocent.

In the Book of Mormon, in Alma 14, two men named Alma and Amulek are being force to watch women and children thrown into a fiery pit and burned to death for believing on their words and preaching about Christ. Amulek wants to do something about it; to call down the powers of heaven to save the women and children. But, Alma replies to him: “The Spirit constraineth me that I must not stretch forth mine hand; for behold the Lord receiveth up unto himself, in glory; and he doth suffer that they may do this thing, or that the people may do this thing unto them, according to the hardness of their hearts, that the judgments which he shall exercise upon them in his wrath may be just; and the blood of the innocent shall stand as a witness against them at the last day.”

Some other righteous men, the sons of King Mosiah, a few chapters further on are being persecuted and treated terribly for their preaching of Christ. In Alma 17:11 God says to them, “…ye shall be patient in long-suffering and afflictions, that ye may show forth good examples unto them in me, and I will make an instrument of thee in my hands unto the salvation of many souls.”

Later on in the same book, we again see righteous people being killed in a time of war. One of the righteous generals, Chief Captain Moroni chastises the government for not sending more aid or support, in effect putting the blame for innocent deaths upon them. And, in his scathing letter to the Chief Judge he reiterates an important doctrine: “For the Lord suffereth the righteous to be slain that his justice and judgment may come upon the wicked; therefore ye need not suppose that the righteous are lost because they are slain; but behold, they do enter into the rest of the Lord their God.”

Back toward the beginning of the Book of Mormon, the first author, Nephi, who is righteous and faithful, has been bound and tied up by his brothers who are threatening to kill him. He says regarding his unjust treatment, “And it came to pass that Laman and Lemuel did take me and bind me with cords, and they did treat me with much harshness; nevertheless, the Lord did suffer it that he might show forth his power, unto the fulfilling of his word which he had spoken concerning the wicked.”

In Helaman 14:29 we learn that both miracles come as well as bad happenings “to the intent that whosever will believe might be saved, and that whosoever will not believe, a righteous judgment might come upon them; and also if they are condemned they bring upon themselves their own condemnation. And now remember, remember, my brethren, that whosoever perisheth, perisheth unto himself; and whosever doeth inquity, doeth it unto himself; for behold ye are free; ye are permitted to act for yourselves; for behold, God hath given unto you a knowledge and he hath made you free.”

So, answer number three to, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” is:

So God’s judgment on the wicked is just. He can’t take away the consequences of their choices. The consequences must remain so that He can exact a righteous judgment against them and bring them to justice.

Answer number four to, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” is:

So that the example of the righteous will catch other people’s attention and bring them to Christ. Seeing the righteous persecuted aggravates the sense of justice and truth in others and helps them to step out of neutrality and choose a side. It causes them to act on behalf of the righteous or to join in with the wicked…thus, in effect, separating the wheat from the tares. (Which, I might point out that God says will happen in the last days, so we are likely to see a lot of bad things happening in order that people will get off their rear ends and choose God or Satan…God doesn’t like the lukewarm who are afraid to declare themselves… Rev. 3:16)

Answer number five to, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” is:

Because the righteous are never permanently killed, ruined, hurt, maimed, etc. God receiveth them unto himself and just as the wicked are condemned for their deaths, the righteous are saved because of their willingness to stand for Christ, or goodness, even when their lives are threatened or taken.

Finally, it is because of the mistakes we (and others) make in the learning process, and the natural opposition of life that comes because of our learning environment, that the Atonement of Christ was needed. To inherit glory of any kind we have to be cleansed from our learning struggles, sins, and weaknesses, and made physically, spiritually, emotionally, and mentally whole for the kingdom we choose to accept. So, Christ paid for our sins, suffered for our infirmities and weaknesses, and overcame death (Alma 7:11-13) so that we could be restored to the amount of glory we choose to receive (Doctrine and Covenants 76:70, 78; 88:17-24, 32-39).

So, answer number six to “Why do bad things a happen to good people?” is:

The Atonement of Christ has taken care of every single bit of badness that has or that will ever take place. It’s all been paid for. Everything will be made right, at some point. It’s not a question of IF it will be made right, it’s only a question of WHEN. The Atonement guarantees that death has no sting. It also guarantees that no injustice or problem or issue whether emotional, spiritual, mental, emotional, or physical will last past this mortal life.

So, it’s not fun to see good people of any kind or group suffer. And, if we see it happening, it should awake us to a sense of justice. We should feel upset. We should be sad or sorrowful. But, those reactions are there to lead us to righteous action (not hateful action). Those feelings should lead us to seek out Christ and to become like Him. They should lead us to: “…deal justly, judge righteously, and do good continually; and if ye do these things then shall ye receive your reward; yea, ye shall have mercy restored to you again; ye shall have justice restored unto you again; ye shall have a righteous judgment restored unto you again; and ye shall have good rewarded unto you again” (Alma 41:14).

In the end, everything that happens to us, as a consequence of our own choices or that happens to us because of the choices of others, is to lead us individually to choose a side, a path, a way to God. He wants us to become like Him, but He will lead us up as high as we are willing to go. Life and it’s blessings and injustices all serve to give us experience and the power to choose for ourselves what we want. Then, we are to go after it.

BT

Doctrine: #2) Salvation is personal even for prophets, apostles, and saints in leadership callings/positions.

This is continued from PART ONE

A common reason people leave the church is that they have issues with the leadership or the church policies that doesn’t immediately make sense. So, why don’t I leave when leadership appears to be human or because I don’t immediately understand a policy? Well, I don’t leave because it’s no surprise to me that the leadership is not perfect. And that, indeed, God is leading them to their salvation just as He is leading me to mine. It’s no surprise to me that they have to run into issues and concerns before they ask questions and seek revelation from God for the Church just like I have to run into issues and concerns before I ask questions and seek personal revelation from God for my life. The process of revelation is the same for all of us (Doctrine and Covenants 8:2-3; 9:7-9) whether prophet or member.

Those who study the scriptures (OT, NT, BofM, Pearl of Great Price, Doctrine and Covenants) on a regular basis should never be surprised at the humanity of God’s chosen prophets, apostles, and leadership of all types from the local, ward, level to worldwide level. Every prophet that I’ve studied was human, made mistakes, learned to repent and change, had to be tutored and taught through years of trial and personal struggle the importance of consistent righteousness and the path to receiving revelation. Sometimes the Lord gave revelation without much work. Other times the revelation and counsel came through others with the experience or knowledge. Or, in other words, when the information wasn’t available through study and counsel with others, the Lord gave it once it was sought in prayer. Other times the answer took lots of work, seemed like it would never come though it eventually did, or came through others. (1 Nephi 3 and 4 & Exodus 18 are two easy examples, but there are many more.)

My mother always taught me that if God had revealed the information I needed to others and if it was accessible through study, research, and wise counsel, that that was the only way I’d get the information. God would not speak to me from the heavens information that He had already dispensed. So, I did the work and when I found the information and answers I needed the Holy Ghost provided the clear witnesses of truth. It is the same for every child of God no matter what calling or position they hold in the church.

As well, simply because God has called people to stewardships of leadership in which their decisions, actions, and weaknesses affect everyone beneath them doesn’t mean that God expects them to make perfect decisions, or to carry off His kingdom in a way in which no one gets offended, or in a way that no one’s faith gets tested. He has given them these callings to help perfect them—and us. He expects those in leadership to live by grace and we are expected to grant grace to them in their service. The leadership is allowed to lead us despite their weaknesses because of grace, and we learn the doctrine of grace by supporting and sustaining them. It’s that simple. Does it mean it’s easy? It might not be. But it can be.

If we are to be honest, people got plenty offended by Christ who was perfect. So even if our leaders were perfect everyone still wouldn’t be happy. Truth can set people free—if they want it—but most truth causes offense and is painful to hear (1 Nephi 16:2-3). So my faith in God’s church and its leadership can’t be shaken by the imperfections of fellow-servants in Christ, it can only be shaken by my own deficiencies—or in other words, the state of my heart (see the parable of the sower in the NT) and my willingness to accept grace for myself as well as allow it to embrace others.

It’s interesting these days as the church works to be more transparent more and more information is coming out about Joseph Smith. People are leaving the church over it. Of course, not all of the information that comes out is true. Some of the less favorable things that people like to toss around have some truth to them, but many inferences and suppositions made in light of these truths are not true, or are purposely presented in an unfavorable light. But the hints of truth make it all seem true to those who read it. Indeed, it’s become a hobby of some to dig and dig and infer as many weird and negative things about Joseph Smith, and the early leaders of our church, as they can.

I find it interesting that these people take such a passion in trying to make sure that I know what kind of man restored the church—my church. I have to ask myself… Have they really taken a look at my life and my religion and are they genuinely worried about my eternal salvation? Are they really worried that I’m getting shafted by my religion? Are they really worried about whether I’m becoming less Christlike by reading The Book of Mormon? Or, are they worried that I’m bound down by silly religious traditions (Alma 30:12-18, 22-28)? That I dare not look up and grab hold of the privileges my religion tries to deny me (Alma 30:12-18, 22-28)? Are they worried that I’m being made a fool (Alma 30:12-18, 22-28) or that my religion’s standards are too high? Or, do they want to make it easy for me to disavow Joseph Smith, leave the church, and justify doing things they believe I should be able to do (Alma 30:12-18, 22-28)? Do they want me to be afraid that I’ve been hoodwinked? And if so, why?

So, let me get right to it. Many knowledgeable and articulate people like to find fault with Joseph Smith (or other church leaders or policies made by church leaders). They like to pick on the prophet’s human weaknesses and personal idiosyncrasies. Or they like to show how they can’t be inspired because they are so out of touch with the world and God. They like to make light of Joseph’s susceptibility to the culture of his time. They delight in making suppositions and inferences about Joseph’s struggles to almost single-handedly restore God’s church upon the earth. They try to prove he wasn’t God’s prophet because of weaknesses he had in administration. The list goes on.

I don’t mean to draw this out, but do they realize that none of what Joseph Smith did ever brought him any personal gain? He wasn’t paid to be prophet. He was never praised by the world. He barely ever had a roof over his head. He lost children and friends. He was beaten and persecuted, tarred and feathered and shot at and was driven and torn from his family and associates time after time. He of all people had every right to throw up his hands and say, “this is stupid. Why am I doing this?” Why then did he insanely persevere? How many people will die for what they believe? Few, unless they were truly called by God. The only reason Joseph did it, the only reason he kept going, was because God called Him to do so and who would turn against God just to please the world?

Those people who study Joseph’s life and make light of his efforts never take time to mention that despite his weaknesses (the ones they deride him for) he kept going when no sane man ever would. He kept doing what God asked even when he knew it led to him sealing his testimony and prophetic role with his blood. Did not Alma (30:34) say: “And now, if we do not receive anything for our labors in the church, what doth it profit us to labor in the church save it were to declare the truth, that we may have rejoicings in the joy of our brethren?” As well, didn’t wise Gamaliel say in Acts 5:38-39: “And now I say unto you, refrain from these men, and let them alone: for if this counsel or this work be of men, it will come to naught: But if it be of God, ye cannot overthrow it, lest haply ye be found even to fight against God.”

Finally, St. Matthew 7:16, 20 says, “By their fruits ye shall know them.” Moroni 7:15-17 teaches us clearly how to judge if something comes from God or man by whether it leads us to Christ or not. St. John 7:17 says, “If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine whether it be of god or whether it be of myself.” Or, in other words, “experiment upon the word” (Alma 32).instagramquotes3

I can see the fruit of Joseph Smith’s life and mission and so did the people who lived in his time, when he was actually visible to them. Those who had a witness of his prophetic role were not swayed by his weaknesses. Those who didn’t have a witness or who let their fear crowd out their faith left. Everyone thought the church would die with Joseph when he was killed. It didn’t. And, the church rolled on despite his and other church leaders’ weaknesses. This church, it’s unprecedented growth, it’s incredible reach across the earth, the fullness of God’s plan it provides, the amazing blessings and miracles I have seen in my own life and the lives of others, the good the church does the world over, the priesthood authority and the ordinances and covenants it provides, the growth and goodness of the leadership… I just can’t figure out what about the fruit of Joseph’s Smith’s work that is not leading me to Christ and to a joyful life now and a joyful eternal life.

So, if people want to sit around and make a pastime of picking at Joseph Smith’s or other church leaders’ weaknesses, they can do so. But, it seems to me that sitting around and picking at other’s shortcomings and weaknesses is not a past-time that is very Christlike. And, indeed, Christ says that we are allowed to have weaknesses in this life that we may be humble (Ether 12:27) and that those who mock the weakness of those trying to do His work are fools (Ether 12:26).

As well, concerning Joseph Smith, God says in the first section of the Doctrine and Covenants that the weaknesses and mistakes of early church leaders—including Joseph Smith—will be included in the record that His word may be fulfilled “That the fullness of my gospel might be proclaimed by the weak and the simple unto the ends of the world, and before kings and rulers. Behold, I am God and have spoken it; these commandments are of me, and were given unto my servants in their weakness, after the manner of their language, that they might come to understanding.” He also says to Joseph Smith that his name, “should be had for good and evil among all nations, kindreds, and tongues, or that it should be both good and evil spoken of among all people.”

Well, it appears that this promise has come true. So, I don’t leave the church over it. My faith is strengthened by it.

Click here to go to PART THREE