I have been messaged by two people recently who either stopped believing God’s prophets, lost faith in the truth of His Church, or just stopped believing in God entirely based on the behavior of past prophets and the more transparent Church history we now know about. I’m not going to try to resolve any of their specific concerns here, but something came to mind as I spoke to both of these people; something that I have seen as a recurring theme with possibly everyone in their situation.
Each individual (more than just those two, of course) who has expressed their frustration, doubt, or disbelief in the restored gospel because of Church history has unintentionally brought the following phrase to my mind:
Don’t get so focused on the roots of the church that you forget the fruits of the church.
I pondered to myself what I would say if the Spirit directed me to offer my thoughts to these people, even just to help them understand why I believe, if not help them rekindle the fire of their faith. Each point really boils down to that phrase: focus on the fruits, not the roots.
Here are three points that I might use as a reminder why it’s not worth giving up faith in the Lord’s Church, let alone the existence of God, because the way a tree was planted seems off to us. God planted it; it’s not up to us to tell Him how He should have done it. It’s our job just to receive the fruits with gratitude, faith and worship.
Each point is based on a question I have actually been asked or a reason I have been given by such people explaining why they no longer believe.
“There’s some things early Church leaders did that are really bad. Why can’t I judge the personal conduct of a man who claims to speak with God?”
Because we are commanded not to judge anyone, period, by the Son of God Himself. Even Church leaders. Only Christ can judge whether the conduct of others renders them unable to receive revelation for the world. When the Holy Ghost witnesses in the hearts of the listeners that modern day prophets are indeed the mouthpiece of the Lord, that’s all we should need. Judging their supposed actions isn’t just focusing too much on the roots—it’s tantamount to looking at them through a microscope, which is drastically outside of our rights of stewardship.
I like to think of witnesses from the Holy Ghost as Tad R. Callister summarizes this situation in a court room.
“Some years ago my father, who was an attorney, was trying a lawsuit. For his authority, he cited only one case – an old California Supreme Court case, issued many years before. His opponent cited a number of lower court decisions of much more recent vintage. The judge finally said to my father: “Mr. Callister, don’t have have a more recent case than this?” My father looked at the judge and replied: “Your honor, may I remind you that when the Supreme Court speaks on a matter, it only needs to speak once.” The judge nodded with approval. He was reminded that the Supreme Court trumps all lower court decisions, however numerous or recent they may be. So it is with God our Father – He only needs to speak once on the issue of morality, and that one declaration trumps all the opinions of the “lower courts,” whether uttered by psychologists, counselors, politicians, friends, parents, or would-be moralists of the day” (Tad R. Callister, “The Lord’s Standard of Morality,” BYU-Idaho Devotional, January 2013).
Not only do we not have the right to judge them, we don’t even have enough information and context to make such judgments about them or anyone else. As some have said, “God has the numbers” to everything and we just don’t. That’s all there is to it.
As Elder Holland said, “Except in the case of His only perfect Begotten Son, imperfect people are all God has ever had to work with. That must be terribly frustrating to Him, but He deals with it. So should we.” One read through Jacob 5 in the Book of Mormon illustrates this point further, especially verse 22.
“But there are things we know now that prove that the Church withheld the whole truth about important details of Church history! What about the Article of Faith that says we believe in being honest?”
Did you know that there’s a higher principle than truth? Dr. John Lund said the following in his book, Without Offense: The Art of Giving and Receiving Criticism: “[T]here is a higher and nobler principle than truth: it is to edify. The Lord has said, ‘and that which does not edify is not of God, and is darkness.’ (D&C: 50:23)” (pg. 35)
Note that the Lord did not put a qualifier on that last statement, which means that if the truth does will not edify, it should be withheld. You wouldn’t fault the Lord for withholding the long list of ancient records that we still don’t have (i.e. the full Jaredite record, the names of the Three Nephites, the book of Lehi, etc.), including those of all the missing prophets mentioned in the Bible. That’s His prerogative, not ours. There are some truths the Lord deliberately withholds from us because it would fly so starkly in the face of everything we understand that it would only cause us spiritual damage and offense. As Joseph Smith said to a group of Saints, “Brethren, if I were to tell you all I know of the kingdom of God, I do know that you would rise up and kill me.” Regardless of Joseph’s actions and personal life, the truths the Holy Ghost taught through Him produced the most incredible and long-lasting change in the hearts of men that the world has ever known. It’s far more useful to focus on those fruits than on the semantics of personal sins (or rumors of such sins) of the mortals who God used to plant them.
The Lord even commanded Abraham to lie to Pharoah about who his wife really was. If you look at the Old Testament Institute Manual in the section about Genesis 12:10-20, you will see that in proper context, the situation was much different than it appears at face value.
Another thing to consider with this idea is what Brother Callister also said about what we might call the “razor’s edge” God walks.
“There are certain laws of the universe [justice and mercy] that are immutable, that are without beginning of days or end of years. They were not created by an intelligent being, nor are they the product of moral thought, rather they are eternal, co-existent realities with the intelligences of the universe. These laws are immutable in that they cannot be altered or modified in any form. They unchangeable from eternity to eternity. They are self-existing, self-perpetuating laws to which even God himself is subject.” (Tad R. Callister, The Infinite Atonement, 300)
This isn’t to say that God isn’t all-powerful, but that the reason He IS all-powerful is because He has mastered those laws. He knows what will and will not satisfy both of those laws. He knows when and how certain commandments should be applied, and when they will edify and when they will not. We simply do not know these things. You can read more about this idea here. Also, that concept becomes clearer the more you consider how many times the Lord surprises us with how effectively He can use weak, mortal efforts to accomplish greatness. (Remember how the Lord used the loaves and fishes in the New Testament?)
“I still find it hard to believe that this is God’s Church because if He is the same ‘yesterday, today and forever’ and doesn’t show a ‘shadow of changing’ why is the Church changing so much? It’s too hard to keep up with!”
You have to remember that the Church isn’t an end, it’s a means to an end. Referring back to the idea of balancing justice and mercy, God gives us commandments, yes, but those commandments are meant to serve certain edifying purposes at different times. That’s why He could command Nephi to kill Laban, and the Israelites to “utterly destroy” the people in their promised land so they could inherit it. In each case, all parties involved were more edified by a circumstantial command to take the life/lives of another. Yes, sometimes the Lord uses His more righteous children to end the life of others because it’s actually more merciful to release them from mortality so that they don’t heap up any more judgement on their own heads.
Because the Church is simply a means to an end—namely, our exaltation—and because we are supposed to change more every day, it only makes sense that the church’s policies and programs continue to change to elevate our manner or worship and the way we live (which should be worshipful anyways). Once the ends are achieved, the means will become obsolete. When President Nelson said we’re running out of time, I felt quite strongly that it was a command from Heavenly Father to change faster than we think we can; to forgive and let go of anger, grudges and hurt more completely and quickly; to serve more willingly; to give more time than we think we have to the Lord and trust that He will magnify our efforts for the rest of it (again, fishes and loaves).
The world wants us to think that changing to become like God is contrary to our nature, but to quote Remy in the movie Ratatouille, “Change IS nature.” We are supposed to change so that we have “no more [desire] to do evil,” including, as we get closer to the Lord’s Second Coming, things that perhaps we don’t even know are evil yet.
In conclusion, believe me: I know those kinds of changes are more easily said than done. But like something I actually talked about in a recent podcast episode, the Lord has been trying to tell us for a long time now that exaltation and the changes required to attain that, even as monumental as they seem, are more possible than we can comprehend—and He would know. He planted the tree.
Just remember to look to the fruits of the Church more than the roots. The roots are there to make the growing of the fruit possible, but they are, like the Church itself, just a means to an end: our eternal happiness.
Paul served a mission in the then Canada Toronto West Mission and recently moved to Orem, Utah, after living for ten years with his late wife, Lorraine, in Hamilton Ontario before her passing in 2019. He loves missionary work, piano, blogging (you can find his personal blog here!), deep spiritual conversations with friends, and hosting his podcast, Stepping Into Freedom. He can solve a 5x5x5 Rubik's cube, and puts a lot of time into gospel scholarship.