Think back to a time when you had a gut feeling that you shouldn’t do something, and you did it anyway. In the aftermath, did you think, “Why didn’t I go with my gut?” Or, perhaps you had a gut feeling that you should do something, and you didn’t. Did you ever think, “I should have trusted that feeling,” or “I wonder what would have happened had I trusted that feeling?”

Now, take a moment and ponder the questions I’m about to put to you.

Here are questions:

  • First, what is a gut feeling? If you had to define what it is to a family member, friend, or child, what would you say?
  • Second, what is the purpose of a gut feeling? Does it serve a purpose? And if so, what do you think that purpose is?
  • Finally, where do you think gut feelings come from? And depending on how you answer that, consider the question, “How is it even possible that we have gut feelings at all?”

The Gut Feeling Defined

So, why do we call it a “gut” feeling? Dictionary definitions of the adjective “gut” imply that we associate this term with the: internal part or essence of who we are. It’s also related to the idea of courage, or inner strength. The connotation of the word also implies that we associate the idea of a gut feeling with something that is instinctive to who we are, even involuntary. It’s not only at the center of who we are, it is inseparable from who we are.

This is interesting in light of the fact that involuntary reactions and processes in our body are normally things like: blinking, breathing, reflexes, the heart beating, flight or fight responses, and so forth. And, here’s something even more interesting. The “gut feeling” often times—even frequently—disagrees with our other involuntary or instinctual actions.

We may instinctively feel attracted to another person and want to be with them, but our “gut feeling” warns us that our other instinctive feelings needs to be set aside, or given less importance in light of a higher sense—that this person will not be good for us in a relationship in the long run. Or, we may feel instinctively that we need to leave a dangerous situation, but our “gut feeling” tells us that we need to respond to a higher sense—that we need to save someone else from the danger if we can.

We may want to eat food because we “feel hungry” and yet have a “gut feeling” that the food we are choosing will not help us become healthier and may, conversely make us less healthy. Our “gut feeling” may instruct us to seek for better food even in light of the fact that we are hungry, or thirsty.

Such examples suggest that our “gut feeling” is our highest and most important instinctual guide. If it is high enough to sense when other instincts are in error, then it is, all of the sudden, the most important and best instinct we have—and therefore, should be followed.

The Origin of the Gut Feeling

How did we, as humans, come to possess this “gut feeling,” this instinct that somehow senses the rightness, wrongness, or even future impact (for good or ill) of all other impulses and their accompanying actions? The very idea that it can see things—even foresee things—that the rest of our physical, emotional, and conscious reasoning self cannot suggests that it has a higher origin.

In the Bible Dictionary we can learn much from the spiritual identification and explanation of the “gut feeling.” It is called the light of Christ. Meaning, our “gut feeling,” which many people call our conscience, is actually a spiritual instinct installed in our mortal form by Christ. It is a portion of His light—which is His power and His knowledge of truth. This Light of Christ not only gives us a fundamental sense of right and wrong, it is the power by which we become beings of reason at all.

The light of Christ is just what the words imply: enlightenment, knowledge, and an uplifting, ennobling, persevering influence that comes upon mankind because of Jesus Christ. For instance, Christ is “the true light that lighteth every man that cometh into the world” (Doctrine & Covenants 93:2; John 1:9). The light of Christ fills the “immensity of space” and is the means by which Christ is able to be “in all things, and is through all things, and is round about all things.” It “giveth life to all things” and is “the law by which all things are governed.” It is also the “light that quickeneth” man’s understanding (Doctrine & Covenants 88:6-13, 41).

…its influence is preliminary to and preparatory to one’s receiving the Holy Ghost.

Our “gut feeling” then is really another way of saying the “light of Christ.” Such an understanding also gives us motive to trust it and to follow it. If our “gut feeling” is actually a deep, spiritual instinct given to us by Jesus Christ then it suddenly makes sense when we say things like, “I knew I shouldn’t have done that,” or “I wish I had trusted my gut. I can see now that…” Christ is all-knowing. And though we aren’t, a piece of His light is in us and that piece knows things deeply that we can’t see or put into words consciously. Our “gut” knows! How cool is that!

Light of Christ versus the Gift of the Holy Ghost

A lot of people, even learned members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, struggle with the difference between the “light of Christ” and the “gift of the Holy Ghost.” So, let’s address that for just a moment.

Now, I don’t claim to have all the answers. All I can talk about are the few insights I have received and how I’ve come to see it in my own life. These insights have helped me make sense of the difference. They may or may not help anyone else. They also may be understood (especially as metaphors) differently in the context of someone else’s life. So, what seems clear as a bell to me may seem like a glass of muddy water to someone else. But the fundamental point is this: if you really want to understand the difference, go to the Lord, pray about it, study, ponder, and you’ll get your own metaphors. I do not in anyway promise that these metaphors will work for you. Perhaps they may get you on a track of thought that will facilitate personal revelation of your own.

Analogy #1

Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believe that heaven and hell aren’t merely two static places. We believe in multiple kingdoms of glory. Whatever law we are willing to abide by, that is the extent of the glory God is able to give us. The more Christlike we become by living the laws and commandments of Christ, the more of His glory we can receive in the life to come. For details on this doctrine read Doctrine and Covenants 88:13-40. It’s clear and direct.

Generally, however, we break down heaven and hell into the three degrees of glory: celestial, terrestrial, and telestial. And, if the blessings we receive correspond to that glory, you might say that the light of Christ (or that gut feeling) is a telestial blessing. It’s a basic knowledge of right and wrong with the potential to lead us to the next level of heavenly guidance. The terrestrial blessing would be the “power of the Holy Ghost” or direct manifestations/communications from the Holy Ghost (another member of the Godhead). These communications go beyond a mere gut feeling and are powerful witness of truth (when we hear it or see it, etc.). We may sometimes doubt a gut feeling (initially), but direct manifestations from the Holy Ghost are full of power. We may doubt them later (if we dismiss them and do not act on them), but in the moment there is no doubt that we are being taught, or are feeling that something is true. A celestial level blessing would be the gift of the Holy Ghost. The gift of the Holy Ghost is the constant presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives, not just a burst now and then.

To elaborate, the gift of the Holy Ghost does the following (as far as I can tell):

  • He (the Holy Spirit) validates the gut feeling, so that we know for certain that what the light of Christ is telling us is true before we act. This is critical. We don’t merely suppose that our gut feeling could be right. We know it is and know that if we don’t follow it that we will be going against our own benefit and against the will of God.
  • He (the Holy Spirit) teaches us how to act on the direct messages of truth He delivers. The powerful messages that come to us from the power of the Holy Spirit can’t ultimately benefit us if we don’t act on them. That power will die away. The gift of the Holy Ghost (since it is with us always) teaches us and prompts us to act on what we felt.
  • He (the Holy Spirit), by the above actions makes it possible for us to learn truth, assimilate it into our lives, and have that truth become part of us. The gift of the Holy Ghost is called the baptism of fire because He (as a member of the godhead) makes it possible for us to actually be changed through the grace proffered to us by Jesus Christ. As we act on the validation and instruction of the Holy Spirit, He actually uses our righteous actions to make fundamental and eternal change within our very beings.

Analogy #2

We are all familiar with the idea of cell phones plans. Nowadays nearly all plans contain every kind of service for a flat fee. But it didn’t used to be that way. Different plans had access to different services. Long-distance calls were an extra cost/service. Text messages were an extra cost/service. Text messages including photos or media cost extra or were an extra service. Now that we have phones that are actually little computers and have access to email, internet and any other number of aps and services, this analogy works a little less well. But here it is.

Christ pays for a basic cell phone plan with His infinite atonement. We all get the “light of Christ,” which is a basic service for getting communication about right and wrong from God. These basic messages are not voice, text, or access to the Google ap. They are merely gut feelings. If we use this service and follow the basic messages we receive, we can upgrade our communication service from God to getting text messages anytime we hear or see something true. These clear text messages are a limited time service that is dependent upon our actions. IF we act upon those texted truths and agree to a life-time service agreement (covenant of baptism), we can receive an “unlimited plan” for communicating with God. But this plan comes with a bonus. Not only can we communicate with God directly—through His Spirit; carrying that “phone” with us all the time and using its godly services (acting on the continued communication and guidance we receive) will actually transfer God’s power and blessings to us directly from Him—changing us fundamentally into more godly beings.

Light of Christ = gut feeling
Power of the Holy Ghost = clear
communication that something is true (or false)
Gift the Holy Ghost = clear communication… + infusion of godly power…

Gut Feelings Transcend Emotion

It is important to note that as discussed in the beginning, the “gut feeling” transcends other involuntary functions and instinctual feelings. You may feel excited about the prospect of something and yet have a gut feeling that it’s not a right choice. You may feel angry and hurt about something and yet have a gut feeling that you should forgive, or minimally not take revenge. You may feel in love with a person and yet have a gut feeling that they are not going to be a good long-term partner and that the good you feel will be temporary. You may feel happy in the moment about something you are doing, or have done, but your gut may tell you that this feeling is going to wear off because of the incorrect way in which the feeling was achieved.

There is no end to the ways in which the gut feeling transcends and trumps other temporary instincts and involuntary processes. But, it’s important to reiterate this because it is so easy to get caught up in these other things. I, for one, find it easy to shove that gut feeling away when my emotions are screaming of hurt, offense, and exhaustion. I find it easy to shove that gut feeling away when what my physical body wants is a greasy hamburger and French fries. My mind and my body say, “Who cares that it’ll make you sick half way through! Who cares that it’ll make you want to sit around the rest of the day!” But, my gut says, “You’ll be far more satisfied with something that actually addresses what your body needs and tastes good at the same time.” Or “Take the time to make something that tastes amazing and addresses the nutrient need of your body.”

Our gut tells us to do a lot of things we know we should. But we ignore our gut in favor of what’s easier or more immediate. Love, excitement, fear, and other powerful emotions can hide our gut feeling if we aren’t in tune to it, or if we shove it away. And, I must admit, that at least for me, my gut feeling has never been eccentric like emotions are. Excitement has never been a gut feeling for me. Neither has love. Rather, my gut feeling has validated an emotion or warned against an emotion. It has invited me out of anger and revenge, but it has not felt like anger or revenge.

At least for me (and I suspect others) the gut feeling is an instinct, an involuntary reasoning that pushes itself up over the top of whatever else I am feeling. This is one way to recognize it apart from all else that you perceive or feel.

Why Trust Your Gut?

So, what is the whole point in getting to know your gut feeling and trusting it?

Well, if you’re gut feeling was given to you by Christ, then its trustworthy. It may not bring immediate success and prosperity into your life, but it will bring immediate peace—which is priceless—and guidance for the success and prosperity God has in store for you.

If trusting and following your gut feeling has the potential to lead you to clearer and more powerful communication from God, then that’s certainly worth it all by itself. It may not produce that clarity at the level you would like initially, but it opens the door for you to enter a contract/covenant with God for continuing clear guidance and direction—if you’re willing to act on it.

Many of us spend a large portion of our lives floundering. Many of us have a lot of regret, a horrific suspense for what we might have enjoyed had we trusted that gut feeling before. And, maybe we are still afraid to trust it. If that’s you, here’s why it’s time to start trusting that gut feeling.

God’s plan includes unlimited communication with Him and power to become like Him. His plan removes the floundering and the regret and replaces it with certainty, hope, and peace. And, the first step in that plan is learning to trust your gut. Start trusting your gut and you get bursts of powerful confirmations of truth in your life. Act on those bursts of communication and you will get the next offer—the unlimited plan, the gift of the Holy Ghost.

Then, as you are diligent in listening and following, floundering in life disappears. It is replaced with certainty. It is replaced with peace. It is replaced with guidance in all that you seek that is right. In fact, God can get you to your goals much faster than you can ever get yourself there. And, He does one better. He gets you to places far better than you ever aspired to be. This is the path that awaits you if you can learn to recognize your gut feelings and to follow them. Follow the light of Christ.

BT

So, you’re standing at the starting line for a half marathon. The shot is about to sound. Do you have faith that you can finish this race? Here are 4 possible answers to this question.

  1. If you’ve been training for years and have run a half marathon before, you will feel confident, assured, and certain that you will finish. The only question may be your timing. Will you improve upon the last race? Will you run a personal best? Doubt about finishing? Not at all. You only wonder how and when you will finish and what level of success you will attain.
  2. If you’ve been training for the half marathon for months (though you’ve never run one before), you will likely feel that you can finish. After all, you’ve run shorter races. You have an assurance that your efforts to train and prepare your body for this exertion will enable to you at least, minimally, finish. Even more, you may hope that beyond finishing that you finish in a respectable time. And beyond that you may even hope to succeed in running well enough to secure an achievement. Again, it is most the how and when that is unknown.
  3. If you haven’t been training for a long enough time and have not run many races in your life, you may feel a sense of doubt, fear, or dread. You may be apprehensive and lack confidence in your ability to make it three miles let alone 13.1. You may be nervous that injury or exhaustion will take you down before you can reach the end. Thus, your faith in your ability to finish lacks assurance and lacks confidence.
  4. If you haven’t trained at all, it’s almost certain you aren’t even trying to run the half marathon. You may merely be on the sidelines prepared to cheer the others on. Your faith in your own ability to run a half marathon is dormant, because you have no desire to run a half marathon and therefore no need to exercise your feelings toward such a feat. The race itself has little meaning except perhaps that you may wish you had the courage to try to do such a thing. But it is a feat that seems somewhat abstract. Or, you may simply admire the worth it has to others you care about who are participating and you are happy to cheer them on.

Faith in Christ

Similar to this metaphor of a half marathon, faith in Christ is a lot more than believing He exists. It’s more than being on the sidelines watching His life and admiring His teachings. It’s more than doing a few of the commandments that you like, but leaving many of the others un-attempted. It’s a lot more than simply confessing His name.

Our ability to approach God and take advantage of His grace is directly related to our efforts to serve Him and keep His commandments. Our desire to be like Him—completely—and to follow Him—completely—affects our actions and therefore our assurance in the blessings He offers and the things of the gospel that are unseen, but are true. Our belief and trust in what God offers, shown by our faithful actions, is what translates to assurance that blessings (things we can’t yet see perfectly and don’t know how and when God will fulfill them) will come. That we’ll make it!

When we approach God in prayer asking for guidance, help, miracles, blessings, and understanding; the assurance we have of His response is directly related to the amount of desire we have to obey Him and how we have exercised that desire in our daily thoughts, words, and deeds.

In Hebrews 11:1, Ether 12:6, and Alma 32:21 we learn that

Faith is not to have a perfect knowledge (meaning that we have seen the future and know it precisely and exactly without any need to hope for it). It is the substance of things hoped for, the assurance of things hoped for, it is the evidence of things not seen, which are true.

In Lectures on Faith (lecture first, paragraph 9) we learn that:

Faith is the assurance which men have of the existence of things which they have not seen; and the principle of action in all intelligent beings.

What is meant by “principle of action”? We learn further (lecture third, paragraphs 2-5) that:

…three things are necessary in order that any rational and intelligent being may exercise faith in God unto life and salvation. First, the idea that he actually exists. Secondly, a correct idea of his character, perfections and attributes. Thirdly, an actual knowledge that the course of life which [he/she] is pursuing, is according to [God’s] will

Faith is a principle of action because our assurance of God’s blessings gives us the motivation we need to act as He has commanded us to act. We act out of an assurance (not a perfect knowledge) that God’s blessings and words will be fulfilled, though we may not know how or when.

So, if God has said that He will bless us if we keep His commandments. And, because we feel that this is true, and we determine to keep His commandments the best we can, then we have a feeling of assurance that blessings will come. This assurance is a gift from the Holy Spirit. The Spirit testifies to our hearts and minds that our lives are “according to God’s will” and such a feeling gives us confidence when we approach Him in prayer and seek for things that we need. The very act of praying is an act of faith and hope because we have an assurance that we ask not amiss (2 Nephi 4:35) because we are trying to do His will.

Faith begins with a desire. Such desire leads to a hope that we can receive, or accomplish, something good that God has asked us to do. That hope and faith leads us to act in ways that increase our hope and faith. Then, when we approach God (or our figurative half marathon) we have a response that resembles numbers 1 and 2 above. Our actions, made in faith and hope, give us assurance that we will finish. It is only the how and the when that is unknown.

Female eye with long eyelashes close-up

Eye of Faith

Living our lives with an eye of faith is living a life of trust and assurance in God. But, such assurance, such substance, such evidence of things unseen (which are true) comes from experimenting upon God’s word/commandments (John 7:17, Alma 32:27-43) and acting in hope and faith. As we do so, we will slowly, little by little, increase our power to do good—or in other words, our faith. The more times we test God’s plan for us and find it to be good, and to be right, and to give us what God promises, the greater our power to do more. Why? Because our assurance and confidence in God increases proportionate to the heed and diligence we give to His requests of us.

In Alma 12:9-11 we read:

…It is given unto many to now the mysteries of God; nevertheless they are laid under a strict command that they shall not impart only according to the portion of his word which he doth grant unto the children of men, according to the heed an diligence which they give unto him.

And therefore, he that will harden his heart, the same receiveth the lesser potion of the world; and he that will not harden his heart, to him is given the greater portion of the word, until it is given unto him to know the mysteries of God until he know them in full.

And they that will harden the hearts, to them is given the lesser portion of the word until they know nothing concerning his mysteries; and then they are taken captive by the devil, and led by his will down to destruction.

In other words, the more we spiritually train (heed God’s commands and keep the covenants we’ve made with Him, or press forward to make more covenants) the greater our capacity to receive, and do, more. Just as an athlete starts with small goals, 5K’s, 10K’s, half marathons, marathons, triathlons, etc., spiritually, we start by desiring to do good and acting on that desire and on a hope for God’s promised blessings. When the blessings come, our belief and trust and assurance in God’s promises increases until there is nothing we can’t achieve—that is according to His will.

Which is True

You’ll note the caveat in the scripture, that our faith must be exercised toward something which is true. Truth is things as they really are and as they always will be (Jacob 4:13). There are many things we may choose to believe that are untrue. And, no amount of action in the pursuit of those false beliefs can produce a positive result—or a result that increases our faith, hope, and salvation. Thus, finding truth is critical to achieving the peace, assurance, evidence, and substance of things unseen.

Conclusion

Faith, and acting on our faith, has nothing to do with earning our salvation. We can’t earn it, and that’s not what God’s commandments and covenants are for. Faith, and living with an eye of faith, has everything to do with our intention to become truly Christian, like Christ. It’s a schooling process to keep commandments and receive and keep ordinances and covenants. His grace makes it possible for us to become just such people through such godly schooling. Repentance is His admonition to partake of His grace by accepting this process. Our righteous action—made in faith that we can become like God—is what we do to actively accept that grace.

Living with an eye of faith is hard. And, it gets ever more difficult in these modern days where our technology makes us believe that God doesn’t exist, that His plan is unfair, biased, prejudiced, or that we can find happiness without Him. But all who pursue such false truths will eventually come to learn that such things are not true. We all have our struggles and differences, but we can never fully separate ourselves from our eternal identity as children of God (Romans 8:35, 39).

The busier, faster, and more self-focused, and more distracted and occupied this world becomes with technology, communication, and self-invented progression, the more I feel compelled to slow down, focus more on home and family, trust in God’s simple truths, and to develop my talents to bless my family rather than to gain recognition from a lot of people I don’t know or to mold my life to make them approve. And, I feel strongly that those who live “with an eye of faith” will also feel inspired to do the same; to detach from the world and to follow the path that God presents for them; a path that is fuller, richer, and full of true progression.

BT

Doctrine: Faith is the certainty of things hoped for, the body of facts and information witnessing of things not yet seen. Whether we feel atheistic or theistic, doubtful or faithful, it has to do entirely with our relationship with God—whether we doubt His existence or not. Thus, atheism is all about what we know and understand about God, or what we don’t know and understand about God.

What is atheism? Atheism isn’t a disbelief in or a denial of gods, it is a lack of belief in a god, or gods (atheists.org). I would venture to drag that out further to say that atheism is a strong doubt in the existence of a god, or gods. An agnostic is also a type of atheist because they have a lack of belief in, or they strongly doubt, our ability to know a god, or gods. So, to an agnostic, even if there is a god, they don’t believe we are capable of coming to know that god or interacting with that god.

However, whether you call it a lack of belief or a strong doubt, it is almost certain that all of us struggle with levels of atheism. This is because whenever we lack faith and belief in any aspect of God’s existence, character, or will, we are leaning toward atheism. The question then becomes, what about God do you doubt or lack faith in?

Now, before we can determine the level of atheism, or doubt, we have, we must first talk about its opposite: faith.

Google will define faith as a complete trust or strong confidence in someone or something. It also calls faith a belief based on spiritual apprehension (anxiety or fear). While these definitions allude to aspects of faith, faith itself is far more than the dictionary can teach us.

Atheists will use the dictionary to define faith. The God-fearing will use the scriptures. So, to be fair to the God-fearing (since I already used the online dictionary), let me put out there the spiritual definition of faith:

Now, faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. JST Hebrews 11:1

Now assurance is a certainty or confidence. And, evidence implies an available body of facts or information. So, if we use synonyms and reword this scriptural definition of faith, we get:

Now, faith is the certainty of things hoped for, the body of facts and information witnessing of things not yet seen.

It is important to note that faith is not about believing in something random or that we have no evidence for. It is a confident belief in things we have not yet seen, but that we have sufficient evidence for, and that we are certain exist or will be/take place.

Silhouette of a man an atheist

Tossing “spiritual apprehension” out the window, true faith cannot be generated, satisfied, or maintained by a mere fear of some higher power. Faith generated by fear/anxiety, which is not true faith, will eventually be pushed to one side or the other: it will either result in either atheism or theism.

True faith can only be based in a certain amount of assurance and evidence. And, by evidence, I mean any information (or experience, or feeling) that leans in favor proving the belief that we have faith in. It doesn’t matter if others consider the information, etc. as evidence. If we do, then it is sufficient to engender more faith and more belief.

If we look at atheism and theism from a merely scientific perspective, it is possible that we can’t ever completely disprove the existence of a god, or gods. Nor, can we ever completely prove the existence of a god, or gods. Because the true scientific method cannot ignore any evidence for either side, no matter how small. This is because evidence is evidence. We can’t merely toss it aside because we don’t like it. And, the fact is that there is abundant evidence for both sides.

If we look at atheism and theism from a spiritual perspective, then we know that anything spiritual (or godly) can only be comprehended by the Spirit, or spiritual communication from God (1 Cor. 2:4-15). If that’s true, then to get spiritual evidence and confirmation, we must first try to live by God’s word and by worthy of spiritual communication, for God doesn’t give spiritual witnesses to those who do not desire to have faith in Him or come to know Him (Matt. 7:6; Doctrine and Covenants 88:33-34).

So, what constitutes evidence for God?

  • Myths, history
  • Testimony of people/others
  • Personal spiritual experiences, spiritual feelings
  • The unexplainable, miracles
  • The whole of creation

Whether or not we give credence to the evidence others use for their faith in a god, or gods; IF they give it credence, then we are left with a choice. Either, we can believe the feelings and testimony of others and try to gain our own, or we can decide they are out of their minds and disbelieve (or doubt) their feelings and testimony. Just because others believe in God (whether to a lesser or greater extent) does not mean we have to have faith in God. However, the very fact that they do puts out there a tiny shred of evidence that its possible for a god, or gods, to exist.

So, to what extent are we all atheists? Answer: to the extent we lack faith and assurance of God and in God. Which means, that at any particular time in our lives, we may be in a place along a wide spectrum of atheism and theism.

We may feel more atheistic if our lives are not going how we want them to or how we planned. We may feel more doubtful (atheistic) if world events lead us to believe that the God people talk about is not what they say He is. Any number of negative events can lead any person, even the most faithful, to toy with ideas of atheism. Why?

I would like to suggest that whether we feel atheistic or theistic, doubtful or faithful, that it has to do entirely with our relationship with God—whether we doubt His existence or not. And therefore, how we handle relationship doubts and struggles will correlate directly with how much faith we exercise in God—and how we treat Him when we have doubts and struggles.

Are we natural relationship stonewall-ers when misunderstandings arise? Do we naturally overreact to issues before we have all the information? Do we tend to trust the opinions of our other friends and family first when misunderstandings arise? Do we lose trust in our relationship quickly when rumors reach our ears? Are we natural retaliators and vengeance takers? Etc. OR, do we go to the person with whom we have the relationship and get the information we need and resolve the issues together?

Mother and daughter find out the relationship

John 17:3 teaches, “And this is life eternal that they might know thee the only true God and Jesus Christ whom thou has sent.” In Matthew 25:12 Christ (the bridegroom) refuses admittance to the marriage feast to the five foolish virgins, not because they were literally foolish. He says, very clearly, “I know you not,” meaning, you don’t know me.

How can we resent the action (or inaction) of a god if we don’t have at least a minor relationship with him? Even a minor idea that He may exist. Is not our anger at injustice, human weakness, and suffering focused against the higher power that didn’t step in to stop it, or fix it? If we are angry at the unfairness of life and we don’t point that anger at a deity, then we must point that anger at mankind—meaning, we hate our own blood, including ourselves. And, if we were not created by a higher power then it would be counterproductive, even destructive, to hate our own kind (as far as evolution is concerned). Engendering such hatred would only lead to eventual extinction.

And, if we weren’t created by a higher power, where did we get our idea that life should be fair and just, at all? Animals, and nature, certainly don’t live by a system of fairness or justice. They live by instinct—and it is far from fair. Where then do our ideas of justice and fairness originate from? If not from a deity, and only from evolution, then we never should have arisen to the consciousness that anything about life was unfair or unjust. We should have only ever lived by instinct. We would never have coined the words “unfair” or “unjust.” And, we would never have exceeded such base and instinctual consciousness as we see in all animal life (aside from ourselves), UNLESS it was given to us.

So, if this logic is correct (And you are certainly not obligated to believe that it is), then if we lack a belief in god and doubt His existence or our ability to interact with Him, then this very feeling we have “against Him” is derived from our actual, tangible, real relationship with Him (whether we recognize it or not). How can we be angry at a being that doesn’t exist? We can’t, we can only be angry at a being that exists whom we do not understand. How can we fight against or actively ignore a being that doesn’t exist unless some part of us does know that He exists?

Thus, atheism is all about what we know and understand about God, or what we don’t know and understand about God. And, whether we claim to be atheist or agnostic or theistic and faithful, we can’t claim such without wanting to, in some way, identify our relationship with the Almighty. In fact, we claim these titles in order to make a public show of our relationship with God.

Those who claim to know God (to an extent) and understand His ways tend to label themselves as “believers,” “Christians,” “Jews,” etc. Those who claim to not know God (even though they do a little bit) and not understand his ways tend to label themselves as “unbelievers,” “atheists,” “agnostics,” etc. And, I suppose there are a rare few who actually believe in God but choose to openly fight against Him, and they label themselves “satanics.”

So, if you are more of an atheist than a theist, then the only way to move toward faith is to come to know God. Which, can only be done by emulating Him, keeping His commandments, visiting His home(s), and serving His family (fellow-men). If you are more a theist, or believer, then you will become more of an atheist as you sever your relationship and understanding of God. Which, can only be done by mocking Him, making light of and spurning His commandments, never visiting His home, and persecuting His family.

Now, whether you want to believe in a god, or gods, or not: mocking people, spurning good works, alienating people, and persecuting others, is generally accepted as stupid and unacceptable societal behavior. Psychologists and life-coaches, aplenty, will instruct you that hanging onto anger and doubt are poisonous and unhealthy to your psyche. Hate of any kind, anger of any kind, whether it is directed at your own kind or a deity whom you resent or want to pretend doesn’t exist, is always unproductive.

So, while there are many good people out there who claim to be atheist or agnostic (meaning they don’t recognize and often fight against their relationship with God, because they don’t want to understand Him, get to know Him, or figure out why He works the way He does), what I’d like to do is talk about how to do the opposite: to build your relationship with, and your faith in, God.

If you don’t understand why the world is the way it is; if you don’t like your own life; if you can’t make sense of injustices, etc. AND IF YOU TRULY WANT TO, then the only way to do so is to plant a seed of faith and try to get to know God.

Heart and love

True faith requires the following three things:

  1. An idea or belief that God actually exists
  2. A correct idea of His characteristics and attributes
  3. A knowledge that the life one is pursuing is in line with God’s will

I find that the majority of people in the scriptures who turned away from God, did so because they did not come to know Him (1 Ne 2:12). And, the majority who turn away usually continue to believe that there is a God, they simply are upset because they don’t have 2) “a correct idea of His characteristics and attributes.” As well, they were usually 3) unwilling to pursue a life that was in line with God’s will for them.

Firstly, many people believe that God is either all-loving or all-powerful based on their idea of what godly love is. To them, godly love lets no bad happen, prevents all suffering, and give us everything we want when we want it. Because they believe He is all-powerful then they also assume that such power should be brought to bear in a certain way, their way, in order to be “all-loving.” If they do not see sufficient evidence for this kind of love, then they assume that God is not all-loving and only all-powerful. However, their issue is their idea of God’s characteristics and attributes is “not correct.” And, until they come to understand what true, charitable, godly love is, they will always fall short of their ability to come closer to God and understand His ways/dealing because they are constantly in opposition and argument against the false god they have created.

A true study of the scriptures reveals quite clearly that God’s love is not comfortable love. It is the kind of love that does what’s best for us, even if we don’t like it. God’s love is the truest love. It loves and has long-suffering for both the sinning and the righteous soul. And, it will try to make a godly being out of both.

Second, people believe that they can maintain a relationship with God while also making a mock of His will for them, His Only Begotten’s sacrifice for them, and His personality and characteristics. By living contrary to His will (and the true manner of happiness), and settling for counterfeit versions of joy and fulfillment, they still suppose that they and God can be best buddies. Unfortunately, this is an ignorant and illogical assumption.

We are flawed mortals, and yet we still naturally gravitate toward those people and places where we enjoy what is going on and where the people do what we do and where we feel comfortable. We don’t maintain true friendships with people who live entirely contrary to how we want to live. It doesn’t work because we are not “like” people. Over time, such friendships die down to past acquaintances. Sometimes, they become enemies or disappear from our hearts and minds altogether.

Now, while God will always love us, and do what’s best for us, it stands to reason that He doesn’t have to like us—or how we live. And, if we live the kind of life that is different from His, then it stands to reason that He will love us, He will still invite us over all the time. But truthfully, we wouldn’t accept His invitations anyway because if we live contrary to His will, then we won’t find His home (and the environment of it) enjoyable, or even comfortable (Alma 12:14); and will more likely avoid His calls, texts, and mailed invitations. We will find reasons to not answer when He calls. We will say we lost our invitations and apologize for not showing up to His get-together. In short, if we are not trying to live godly and become godly, then we aren’t going to be able to trust in and believe in God because His life will be incomprehensible to us. And, therefore, we won’t desire or maintain a relationship with Him. Which, consequently means we will never come to understand Him or His ways/dealings. And, you could say that this means we will always feel resentful toward His perceived inaction/action and live a life with veiled hurt and anger.

If we do not desire, seek out, search out, study, and pray for a relationship with God, and then act on the relationship in a positive way, then we will forever be toying with atheism.

BT

Doctrine: God’s plan is small, simple, and plain. It is based on small and simple doctrines and principles. Satan can’t frustrate God’s plan and so he focuses on frustrating us by distracting us with complexities that steal away peace and faith. Life is hard. It will always be hard. But, by embracing the small and simple principles, ordinances, and covenants God offers us (Christ’s yoke) it can be easier, more full of peace, and will ultimately lead us where we want to go.

Simple is a word frequently misinterpreted and under-defined.  We often use the terms simple and easy synonymously, but they do not have the same meaning; they are not the same.  The word easy means requiring no great labor or effort.  In other words, if something is easy then it comes to us without doing much of anything.  Many things start out difficult and then as we do them, they become easy.  But easy is not the same as simple.

The word simple means understandable; not complex or elaborate; not compound; free of deceit. Therefore simple does not necessarily mean easy to do because many simple things require great labor and effort.  As well, many things that are easy are not necessarily simple.  Therefore, when something is simple, it means that it is something that is within our ability to comprehend.  Things that are simple are not designed to be above us or to be evasive.  Things that are simple are also not designed to deceive; they are specifically designed to help, teach and support.

The word ‘small’ is often used synonymously with words defining size and importance, such as short, tiny, unimportant, irrelevant, trivial, or minor.  All of these synonyms, while often used interchangeably with the word small, are really very different in definition.  They indicate a lack of substance.  The word, small, however, while referring to a limited size, has greater meaning outside of that context.  It is actually a perfect partner for the word simple, because small means narrow, not great in amount, degree, extent or duration; small means humble, modest and unpretentious.

Small and simple principles are plain. Small and simple principles are within comprehension and are not too large hard for us to understand. Small and simple principles, then, are not principles that are limited in size. They are principles that have been made understandable while still maintaining importance and substance.

So, how does Satan combat the small and simple principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ? Well, his objective is to complicate the simplicity of the gospel and render us miserable in the obsession and distraction of complicated and confusing minutia. He spends all his time trying to get us to complicate what is quite clear and simple and plain.Complicated - Simple signpost with sky background

  • Simple doctrine: The purpose of life is to become like God.
  • Simple doctrine: God has given us a perfect plan whereby we can accomplish this.
  • Simple doctrine: He has provided the Atonement by which we access grace to aid us in the godly learning process. We can make mistakes. We can sin. We can learn from these mistakes and sins. Then, we can be made clean again. We can then be sanctified as we meet the conditions for repentance and become godly.
  • Simple doctrine: We have been given agency which means we can hurt and we can be hurt by others. We can get sick. We can get injured. We can even die. But, then, God can give us back our lives, perfect our bodies from any loss or damage, and make us immortal.
  • Simple doctrine: God has given us His simple gospel plan, with proper priesthood authority, saving ordinances and covenants, and guidance, comfort and hope through the Gift of the Holy Ghost to aid us in achieving the purpose of the plan—to become like and to live with Him forever (i.e. eternal life).

This is the plan. It is simple. It is small. It is plain. God gives us, in addition to simple doctrines, simple principles with which apply these doctrines. They come in the form of commandments (do’s and do not’s). They are short and sweet. For example: Learn of me. Listen to my words. Walk in the meekness of my Spirit and you shall have peace in me (Doctrine and Covenants 19:23). Then, there’s the B-attitudes. There’s the ten, specified, commandments. There’s examples and witnesses in the scriptures for us to apply and learn from. All are given simply and clearly.

Now ye may suppose that this is foolishness in me; but behold I say unto you, that by small and simple things are great things brought to pass; and small means in many instances doth confound the wise.

And the Lord god doth work by means to bring about his great and eternal purposes; and by very small means the Lord doth confound the wise and bringeth about the salvation of many souls.

Alma 37:6-7

So, how does Satan complicate this simple plan, it’s simple doctrines and principles?

Satan encourages us to ignore the Atonement and complain about the unfairness and inconsistencies in life. He tempts us to find happiness in more complex ways that require dishonesty, pride, selfishness, and entitlement. He encourages us to ignore the value and power of faith based on witnesses from the Holy Ghost (a member of the godhead) and instead place our trust in cold hard facts that we can see…though those facts are human-delivered and change from year-to-year, decade-to-decade, and century-to-century. He leads us to believe false, complicated doctrines with a hint of truth. He encourages dissent, contention, nit-picking at the flaws of others, and disbelief. “It can’t be that simple,” he will say. He ever and always leads us down more complex roads with arduous journeys and dead ends.

Satan’s tactics work simply by their ability to distract us from the simple straight and narrow path. They work because we do get tired. We do get offended. We do get discouraged. We desire answers. We want revenge or justice, etc. Satan’s uses our desires to fuel his tactics to distract and complicate our way.

  1. Are there imperfect people in the world and God’s church? Yes.
  2. Does God care? Yes.
  3. Will God force others to be how we want them to be? No. Agency is paramount that personal accountability and justice might be preserved, mercy met, and the plan upheld.
  4. Will God still sanction His gospel, His organized church, and the small and simple plan it preaches and teaches despite the imperfection of its people? Yes. His church is His church because it has the fullness of His plan not because it’s people are perfect. It’s a boat that leads us to a destination. It’s that simple.
  5. Does God expect us to apply simple doctrines and principles in the face of great offenses, deep hurts, unfair treatment, and the like? Yes. (see Doctrine and Covenants 122:8)

There is no path in life that is not hard. But, we can be tossed to and fro on the minutia and struggles of life and the imperfections of people if we focus on those to the loss of the straight and narrow path.

Live. Love. Forgive. Repent. Serve. Be better each day. Keep the commandments as poorly or as well as you can each day and let grace carry what you can’t give, but desire to give. Seek and find. Knock and receive blessings. Get your ordinances. Make your covenants. Pray always. Endure to the end.

I have had my share of trials. I have had my share of offenses. I know more trial and problems will come. Life is guaranteed with nearly constant opposition. These things are not fun. I have struggled to get through most of them. Some, I managed to pass through with a bit more gracefulness. Some, I have eked through by the skin of my teeth. When such issues are present they seem to absorb all of our mental functioning. They make the small and simple truths of the gospel plan seem ineffective and uncomforting, at times. But, when endured, I have looked back and realized that nothing more than the simple instruction I received would have been helpful in enduring and coming out better on the other side. There was never a complicated solution to what was only a need of simple time, faith, and endurance.

I have read my share of excellent arguments against God, His people, His church, and religion in general. Some were quite compelling. Some were ridiculous. Some were well-researched. Some were full of well-hidden fallacies. Some attempted to be unbiased and simply ask questions. Others were horrifically biased. But, they all left my mind spinning with distracting minutia that when placed against the small and simple plan of God were shown to be nothing more than that—a distraction.

And, when I looked at those who were succumbing to such trials and being caught by those excellent arguments I saw them get obsessed with busy, overwhelming, depressing minutia. They focused on some detail or argument to the exclusion of everything small and simple, and true (which is always in greater amounts). And, I have not yet seen these obsessions with minutia bring peace or joy to any who so struggled. Some are doing better than others. But none of them are “settled.” None of them are truly at peace.

Simplicity concept.
Illustration depicting a green roadsign with a simplicity concept. White background.

Life is hard. People can be really messed up sometimes. But there is no substitute for the small, simple, and plain plan God has provided for His children. It makes up for all the weakness, struggle, opposition, unfairness, sickness, loss, and death. It’s all covered.

So, we can choose to get caught up in minutia. We can panic, fear, or resent. We can obsess over things we don’t understand or the imperfections of even the supposed elect of God. But, none of that is going to make us happy. None of that is going to get us to our goal of eternal joy. And that’s exactly what Satan wants. It has ever been his design to frustrate the plan of God. But, he can’t frustrate God’s plan which is really frustrating to him. So, at this point, he can only frustrate us.

The UN-MAN

I highly recommend reading C.S. Lewis’s space trilogy. It’s not science fiction at all…not really. It’s religious philosophy beautifully couched within a fantasy/science fiction story. In the second book, Perelandra, there is a character called the “un-man.” If you’re brave enough to read this series, you will come to an understanding of how Satan tries to complicate simple, plain truths better than ever before. You will see how he works by studying the “un-man.” I could also recommend the Screwtape Letters.

[note: C.S. Lewis was a truly inspired man. He was raised Catholic. Became an atheist. Then, through pondering, some philosophizing, and other experiences found his way right back to God. He was a man who understood the tactics of Satan.]

Satan will use intellect, education, current scientific facts for as long as we will listen to them. He will use flattery and persuasion as long as we will listen to them. He will mix truths with half-truths for as long as we will entertain them. He will incite selfishness over a slow course of time and convince you that you are always acting for the benefit of others for as long as you will fall for it. And, when at last intellect and reason fail, he will resort to ridiculous, childish tactics that distract and wear us down.

On the other hand, God “doeth that which is good among the children of men; and he doeth nothing save it be plain unto the children of men; and he inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness…” (2 Nephi 26:33). God wants us back. He wants to give us all we have. That’s why He keeps it small and simple. We can choose to get distracted…but that choice is ours.

Now, this doesn’t mean that questions or struggles or concerns are bad. But, as we’ve been counseled by God’s servants. We are to doubt our doubts and hold on to the faith and testimony we have (Jeffrey R. Holland, Lord I Believe, April 2013). We are to seek, study, ask, knock, and keep the gospel simple, not getting caught up in unnecessary and ridiculous complexity (Uchtdorf, It Works Wonderfully!, October 2015). We are to endure until the answers come, line upon line, precept upon precept (Doctrine and Covenant 50:24). These are simple doctrines and principles that require patience and endurance. Two more simple principles.

Yes, it’s hard to be patient; but seeking out complexities doesn’t ease our anxiety. It only complicates and increases it. So, if we are finding something complicated, distracting, and troublesome and it causes us to fear and doubt, then it doesn’t come from God. That is NOT how He works.

Yet, God certainly doesn’t make everything in life clear. For example, He doesn’t tell you why you get one trial or struggle and someone else doesn’t. He won’t tell you why your child was allowed to die and He decided to save another. He doesn’t step in and explain all of His ways. And, even if He did, we do not have the capacity to understand them all because He is an all-knowing, omniscient being who can see past, present, and future before Him at all times (Isaiah 55:8-9). He knows what is best for each of us whether we understand it or not. We are mortal, finite beings. It is arrogant to think we are entitled to all of God’s knowledge when we can’t handle it all. And, what knowledge He does dispense He gives line upon line, precept upon precept as we are willing to accept it, act on it, and honor it (Alma 12:9-11). His knowledge isn’t for those who doubt, unless they are willing to press forward in faith.

Jacob 4:8 teaches: Behold, great and marvelous are the works of the Lord. How unsearchable are the depths of the mysteries of him; and it is impossible that man should find out all his ways. And no man knoweth of his ways save it be revealed unto him…

Then, building upon that thought; in the Chronicles of Narnia, The Horse and His Boy, Aslan (a type of Christ) constantly tells Shasta and Aravis (when they ask questions about the paths and journeys of others; the whys and why nots) that he tells each person their own story and no one else’s. We can easily become distracted by the whys and why nots and minutia of other people’s paths and problems. We can take offense for what we do not understand and what God will not reveal to us since it is not our revelation to get. If we are excited by such troubles of others to serve and strengthen them, this is good. But if we become obsessed with the minutia of other people’s lives, it is a waste. God is not going to tell us about anyone’s path but our own.Keep It Simple

Keep it Simple

So, it’s a hard thing to ask, but I hope all of you will accept the small and simple plan God has given us. I encourage you to focus on the small and simple doctrines it has which explain the majority of the whys and why nots (which I find are “because it helps us become like God,” or “because it doesn’t help us become like God”). Then, use the small and simple gospel commandments and principles to press forward and receive the immortality and eternal life God is spending all His eternity trying to give you (Moses 1:39).

So, I said small and simple. I never said any of this was easy. But God did! (see Matthew 11:30).

How is God’s small and simple plan clear and easy? Life is hard. But, it’s harder without God and without the fullness of Christ’s grace and Atonement. So, God has said His plan, and our life, is easier as we embrace the Atonement and grace Christ offers through His ordinances and covenants (His yoke). His ordinances and covenants are how God dispenses His power and blessings (see previous blog “God’s Power is NOT Absolute”). Under His simple yoke, our burdens will indeed become easier and lighter (Matthew 11:30) because we are avoiding distractions and Satan’s tempting complexities and a path of Satan’s that will wind and twist and take us further and further away from what we truly want.

BT