I received a wonderful comment on my website Facebook page from a member who had joined the Church, but then became swamped with thoughts of eternity and things that are infinite. He couldn’t understand some of the doctrine that is admittedly difficult to understand, and because he couldn’t reconcile them in his own mind, he left the Church. For whatever reason, he has recently returned to the Church and this time he is approaching the gospel a little differently. This article is for the members of the Church who struggle with deep doctrine and principles that are difficult to grasp.
Spiritual Needs of The Convert
I make this comment as a general statement. It does not apply to all, but it does apply to many of us in the Lord’s Church. Too often we flock around the investigator at church and applaud their efforts, encourage them in what they are doing, and are supportive in their efforts to learn about the gospel of Christ. But then when they are baptized, and we have seen them at the meetings for a while, we forget that they are still very much new to the gospel, and are still babes in arms when it comes to handling things socially and doctrinally we take for granted.
For example, we may have a testimony of doctrines the new member has never even heard of. Sometimes we may bring up things from church history that are difficult for new members to understand because they don’t know the background of the events or the doctrines involved. Frankly, sometimes we blow the new member out of the water just because we are not sensitive to what they may or may not yet understand. This happens a lot in Gospel Doctrine class.
As longtime members of the Church we need to recognize that there are many, even those who were born in the church, who don’t understand deep doctrines or difficult social practices of the Latter-day Saints. This is something that contributes to the more tender members of the church leaving the church. We need to be both aware of this condition, and find ways to remedy this condition if we are to help strengthen our fellow members.
How the Gospel Works
The teachings of Christ are not meant to be an intellectual exercise. Understanding the gospel is not something that you can read in a book and have it mastered. God’s teachings are the opposite of the world’s teachings. The world imposes knowledge and obedience from authoritative outside sources, like a boss or a government. The Lord gives us information and commandments, but it is up to us to choose to obey and seek out His knowledge before we can gain understanding. He does not give us understanding until we are ready to handle it.
In 2 Nephi 9:25 – 27 we are told that where there is no law there is no punishment.
25 Wherefore, he has given a law; and where there is no law given there is no punishment; and where there is no punishment there is no condemnation; and where there is no condemnation the mercies of the Holy One of Israel have claim upon them, because of the atonement; for they are delivered by the power of him.
26 For the atonement satisfieth the demands of his justice upon all those who have not the law given to them, that they are delivered from that awful monster, death and hell, and the devil, and the lake of fire and brimstone, which is endless torment; and they are restored to that God who gave them breath, which is the Holy One of Israel.
27 But wo unto him that has the law given, yea, that has all the commandments of God, like unto us, and that transgresseth them, and that wasteth the days of his probation, for awful is his state!
Those who are innocent and don’t know about the laws of God cannot be punished by His laws. But those who seek to avoid learning the law will be punished for their negligence in learning the law. In other words, the Lord expects us to do all we can to seek Him out and learn of His ways. (That is why He also tells that we cannot be saved in ignorance [D&C 131:6].) But those who never have the opportunity to learn of Him and His commandments won’t be punished, because of their lack of opportunity. But those of us who can learn of Him and His ways are required to do so or we will be punished for our disobedience. That is God’s law.
The question is, how do we learn of God’s laws? So many of them seem so hard to understand. Comprehending things that are infinite, that deal with things of eternity seem so abstract and difficult to grasp. Let’s look at how learning in the Lord’s Church takes place and what the goal is in what we need to learn.
Christ was all about doing. Look at His lifestyle then compare how He lived with the commandments He gave us. They are in synch, in step with each other. He preached kindness, and was kind. He preached tolerance and reverence, and was always tolerant and reverent. He was the perfect example of living in harmony with God’s laws.
When we first start to live the commandments we live those things that are obvious to us. These are things that are in print or written out for us so we can’t misunderstand them. The law of tithing is a good example. The Lord wants us to pay one tenth of our gross in exchange for a host of blessings that will make our lives better. The Word of Wisdom is more difficult. We have some things spelled out, like no addictive substances, coffee, tea, and alcohol, but some things, like eating meat sparingly, is more difficult. These things require personal experience and we each have to come to our own understand of what the Lord wants us to do.
As we practice the teachings of the gospel our understanding of each commandment deepens and expands from the obvious to the intuitive. We learn how to be more in tune with the Holy Ghost and have experiences that teach us how to better appreciate what the Lord has commanded us to do and why it is beneficial for us. This happens on a very personal level and is often difficult to share completely or clearly with others.
As we learn to practice what we preach we gradually begin to understand how a teaching applies not just in the here and now, but we begin to grasp how it affects life in eternity. From my own experience I can tell you that when you pray to the Lord to begin to see life from the perspective of eternity, and not just from the mortal perspective of 80 years of life, over time He will open your mind to thing you never even imagined. It is a wonderful experience, and it helps you become more patient with things in the here and now, because you start to see that the here and now is often not what is important. The things that affect eternity are more important.
As we grow in our understanding of how to live the basic commandments, we begin to understand how the different parts of the gospel work in harmony with each other. That which started as an intellectual exercise, over time becomes deeply personal. That which once seemed to stand alone and have nothing to do with anything else you could think of in the gospel now is an integral part of the whole. All these changes take time, patience, and effort.
The point is this, that when you first start learning about the gospel of Christ, most all of it is a mystery, because you don’t yet understand how it works. When you have had practice living the principles of the gospel they begin to make more sense. The Holy Ghost teaches you to be more like Christ in behavior and attitude, and to do things more like Christ in behavior and attitude. It is a gradual process that can’t be learned over night.
The point of mortality is to learn to obey the Lord in all things, and to prove to Him that we can learn to trust Him, even when we can’t see Him. In the Church we refer to our time on earth as a time of probation. This is where we gain a body, which we have never had before, and master the desires of the flesh and learn to submit those desires to the commandments of our Father in Heaven, exercising faith in all that He commands us to do for our own happiness. If we can do that we will have done all that is necessary to go back and live with Him forever.
Keep focused on “doing” while learning to understand the things that don’t require doing. If you get it backwards and try to understand the deep things first, failure is almost always the result. Who cares how the earth was created or how the resurrection works? Focus on how to be kind to your neighbor and how to say your prayers effectively so you stay in touch with the Holy Spirit. The deep things of eternity will come with time, and many of those things we think of have nothing to do with our salvation and probably won’t be revealed to us until the next life anyway.
Henry B. Eyring gave a talk entitled “Opportunities to Do Good” in the April 2011 Conference. In that talk he included the first verse of hymn # 223, “Have I Done Any Good?”
Have I done any good in the world today?
Have I helped anyone in need?
Have I cheered up the sad and made someone feel glad?
If not, I have failed indeed.
Has anyone’s burden been lighter today
Because I was willing to share?
Have the sick and the weary been helped on their way?
When they needed my help was I there?
Then wake up and do something more
Than dream of your mansion above.
Doing good is a pleasure, a joy beyond measure,
A blessing of duty and love.
The gospel of Christ is based on doing good always. Understanding of the principles of goodness comes from performing good over and over again. The gospel of Christ is meant to be learned from the inside out, from understand through doing. Internalizing the principles of kindness through being kind, patience through being patient, etc. is how we come to think and feel as God feels. That is how we become Christlike.
It is okay to have questions. Questions are good! But don’t get hung up on questions you can’t currently understand. Stay focused on those things you still need to master, like scripture reading, praying, supporting your church leaders, and ministering to your assigned brothers and sisters. Once we have the basics mastered, then the Lord will be able to help us understand higher things. They will come just like the basics came to us, line upon line, and precept upon precept, here a little and there a little.
Kelly P. Merrill
Kelly Merrill is semi retired and writes for https://gospelstudy.us. He lives with his wife in Idaho. His strength is being able to take difficult to understand subjects and break them down into understandable parts. He delights in writing about the gospel of Christ. Writing about the gospel is his personal missionary work to the members of the Church and to those of other faiths who are wanting to know more about Christ's gospel and His Church.