""Our purpose today is to teach a pattern and some tools that can help you learn and grow through what we will call complexity and move to higher ground rather than being overcome by the complexity." "
Faith is Not Blind
We are very happy to be with you this morning. We love students your age. We love college age students who are endeavoring to make their lives better. In fact, we met, Bruce and I, in a college religion class. It was called, "Your Religious Problems", but we solved our major problem when we met each other in that class. The class format was interesting. We all chose questions or problems that we could see had to do with religion or with the church. Some of them were historical questions, some of them were specifically about Joseph Smith or Brigham Young. Some of them were doctrinal questions and some were church policy. So, we have been talking about issues for decades, but there's something different now. We have the internet that we didn't have then and the internet introduces both chaos and clarity so it gives us a chance to exercise both some faith, but some discernment as well. And so, actually we must learn, not what to think, but how to think. How can we think things through in a responsible faithful way?
So, we've been invited this morning to talk to you about the little book that President Kusch mentioned called, "Faith is Not Blind" and our purpose today is to teach a pattern and some tools that can help you learn and grow through what we will call complexity and move to higher ground rather than being overcome by the complexity. And also, what we would hope is that what we say today will help you help others who might have questions and doubts.
So, let's give you a little bit of background. When we are young, we tend to be idealistic. We see things in black and white. New members are the same. Then we begin to see some natural tension between what is and what ought to be. We see what we would call a "Gap", the distance between where we are and where we want to be. Examples of the gap? Think about them in your own life. Usually, it's something we don't expect, what I've heard been called lately, "expectation failure." Sometimes it's human limitations. We start to see our parents, we start to see our church leaders, maybe someone misses a meeting or does something wrong as we see it. Maybe it's a prayer that's not answered, maybe for a long time. Sometimes it's health problems. Sometimes it's conflict with friends or with family. Or we see something, and this is fairly common, on the internet, that we just haven't seen or thought about before. Something maybe about Joseph Smith or about Brigham Young or something about a church policy.
New missionaries are the same. They are full of idealism. In the MTC, they're ready to go and get 'em. Then they get into their mission field and there are some surprises. We had one grandson who was called to go to Africa, to the Ivory Coast and he wrote back. "I thought a mission was something above the harsh reality of the world, but it is exactly the opposite. It is the battlefield of reality. Holiness does not remove us from reality. We must embrace reality, to find hope and meaning." So, I think sometimes all of us feel like we are in the battlefield of reality and it's difficult to, as he would say, embrace the gap. Embrace tough reality. It stretches us. It motivates us, but it can produce confusion, uncertainty, and even pain sometimes. There are even some scriptures that show this gap between reality and ideal, or they seem to conflict with each other. When the Savior said he can't look on sin with the least degree of allowance, but he also said, "Neither do I condemn thee" then he added, of course, "Go thy way and sin no more", repent, change. You've got justice and mercy. And those two seem to be irreconcilable. How do we bring them together? Well, we bring them together through his atonement, through his love for us. So, life is full of uncertainty. I bet if we went around, we could each talk about the uncertainties we're facing today. And they seem to be getting harder, not easier. We have to learn to manage the gap or to transcend the gap. It's part of the mortal plan. Lehi's dream gives us a good example. There was both the iron rod and there were the mists of darkness. That is life.
Excuse me for hobbling around this morning. I'm under construction like the temple that you see. I just wanted to be in the mood. I faced the gap when I was 19. I was stuck on the difference between believing and knowing. I didn't understand how people could say they knew the gospel was true. Being in this building, I hadn't thought of this until just when we came in today. We had a meeting after one week in the Mission Home. We were smarter in those days. We didn't need to go to a full MTC. We had a final testimony meeting in this building, all the group who were in our crowd to go on their missions that week. I didn't bear my testimony because I was so self-conscious about not being able to say "I know" and I was worried that "I believe" wouldn't be enough. But when the meeting was over and people were clearing out, the organist had stopped playing, I walked up to this beautiful pipe organ in this very building and began to play the hymns of Zion. That was my testimony. I must have known something. I'm so glad to be here this morning to be reminded of that moment.
Well, how do we deal best with this gap of uncertainty? We want to share with you a model that was based on a statement from Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes. He said, "I would not give a fig for the simplicity on this side of complexity, but I would give my life for the simplicity on the other side of complexity.” Now that sounds like a complex statement, but it's really not. Simplicity, complexity, and then the other side of complexity. That's kind of where the action is. So, we have a problem with this model. First, let me give you an illustration. President Kusch mentioned our service in the LDS Corrections Committee. One Sunday evening here in Salt Lake, Sister Haven and I want to a fast and testimony meeting in the Utah State prison. We were in the women's unit of the prison and it was remarkable to me that they share their testimonies to one another, the women who chose to be there that night. It was a Latter-Day Saint meeting for those who wanted to be there. Well, I'll always remember one woman who stood before her sisters and she said, "When I was a little girl I used to love to bear my testimony. I would run up in front of the congregation and I would say things like Heavenly Father loves me, Jesus suffered from my sins, the gospel has been restored. And then I would run back and sit by my mom and she would hold me tight and life was good. Now after many years, I've been thinking, while I've been here with you for these last several months, about my testimony and I want to tell you honestly how I feel and what matters most to me. I know that Heavenly Father loves me. I know that the gospel has been restored. I know that Jesus suffered for my sins. And now I understand those things in a way I never did when I was a child." She was discovering the simplicity on the other side of complexity. Let's talk about what happens when people have been coping with these three levels. Some people are in stage one and they stay there for a long time, the simplicity before complexity. Maybe they haven't learned to grapple with complexity maybe their psychologist is telling them, "You're in denial. You're not seeing reality." But then there are those who have quite an opposite problem. They get into complexity, stage two and they love it. They want to make being skeptical and sort of loving complexity, a way of life for them. Now, let's see the ideal circle is kind of just dotted now. It's everything is just so realistic. There are many examples of that. Let me give you just one.
After I'd been on my mission a little over a year, I'd been there long enough that my suits were shiny and I had strong tracting legs, I got a brand new Elder from, actually from Salt Lake. Elder Keeler was his name. No MTC then so he didn't know a word of German. About a day after he got there, I was called to a meeting in another city and he tracted with another new Elder from a neighboring city. When we got up early the next morning I said, "Well, Elder Keeler, how did it go?" and he said, "I'm so excited! We met a woman who's going to join the church! The Holy Ghost bore witness to me." And I thought, well, that's a pretty strong start. I've never heard anybody say that to me at the door. I can tell them a lot of other things they said to me, but I thought, well, this is fine. Let's let him start out this way. And then I said okay, where should we go and find this woman? He had said he couldn't talk to her, he didn't know any German, but he had this powerful feeling. He said, “Well, Elder Hafen, I was so excited that I didn't write down her name or her address. But you know, they have the doorbell right next to a nameplate and it was on the top floor of one of these five story buildings and I was just thinking that if we went out and climbed a few of those buildings, they're all about five stories and we just looked at the names by the doorbell, I think I'd recognize it and then we'd knock on the door. And then when she comes to the door, you can talk to her.”
And I said, “Oh, okay, that sounds like a good plan. Let's go. So what street were you on?”
“Well, all the streets look alike to me and I just didn't write that on either.
So up and down the stairs we went. After two or three hours I finally said Elder Keeler, “We've got to get back to work.” He says, “Oh, we're not working?”
And I said, “Well, yeah, in a sense we are, but I hate to tell you this, but everybody who's nice at the door is not ready to be baptized. So how about we go back to our normal pattern?” and I saw the tears appear in his eyes and running down his cheeks. He said, “You mean we're not gonna find her? I told you about this powerful spiritual witness I had. I came on my mission to find people like that. Are you not gonna let me find her?”
And I decided well, I guess he'll have to learn the hard way like all the rest of us. So, we went up and down stairs for another few hours. It was into the afternoon. Finally, at the top of one of those five story buildings, he saw a name Wohlfarth.
He said, “I think that's the name. Let's ring the doorbell. And then you talk to her.” So, we rang the doorbell and this quiet woman opened the door a little bit, looked at us and he kind of poked me in with his elbow and said talk to her. That's the lady. So, I talked to her. Brothers and sisters, that was in 1962. Forty years later, in 2002, Sister Hafen and I were serving in Frankfurt in the area presidency. And on the invited day we went to the Frankfurt Temple where that woman and her husband were there with all four of their children and her husband was a sealer. He performed the sealing for his youngest daughter. I was just overwhelmed with gratitude and memories. I hope I never forget to keep my eye on the ideal as well as the real.
Okay, so we've talked about stages one and two, innocence and complexity. Now let's talk about stage three for just a few minutes. As it says, faith is not blind, obedience is trusting obedience. It's giving the Lord the benefit of the doubt. It's choosing to believe. So, let's talk a little bit about what that looks like. For one thing, on the "Faith is Not Blind" website, there is a section of what we're calling stories or narratives of returning people who've left the church and then have found their way back or have been let back into the church or back into their relationship with the Lord. And their stories did show that the most important factor in determining whether they would return is whether they had established again, their relationship with Heavenly Father.
Let me tell you a quick story that shows how one young woman, was college age established again, her relationship with the Lord. We'll call her Holly. She had grown up in an LDS community. She had been active through all of her young life, even her young womanhood medallion in record time, autopilot. But when she was about 17, 18, someone got to her with a doctrine in the church that she just, it just sent her reeling, and eventually, so reeling, that she decided when she was 18 and could do it, that she'd leave the church. After that, she went away to school, went to college and a couple of years later, her roommate was listening to the missionaries. So, Holly thought, well, I'll support my roommate so she heard them. They gave, like good missionaries do, the challenge. Go home, read, pray. So, she went home and for the first time in several years, she decided to kneel down and say her prayers out loud. And as soon as she said, Heavenly Father, her frosted heart started to melt. And she started to feel that tender connection that she had with her Father in Heaven. And she thought, “This feels really good. And so, she nurtured that connection. She did what all of you would do, to keep her connection strong with her Heavenly Father. And within a few months, she was re-baptized. Somebody came up to her a few months after that and said, but what about that issue that took you out of the church and just caused so many problems? And she said well, that's not so much of an issue. Yeah, it's an issue. But I trust him. He knows what he's doing.
I was going to tell you the short version of another story that kind of goes the other direction of a man who had been very active and faithful in the church, was appointed as a leader, Bishop and state president. And this was before the internet was really underway, but it got underway during his time of service. And he had members of the church in his ward or stake come to him with questions that he didn't know the answers to. And he was embarrassed. And he left the church over that embarrassment and felt the church had betrayed him. And rather than blaming him, I knew him and I decided, you know, we can learn from that. He didn't grow up in the US and as faithful and capable as he was, I realized from that and other experiences that the international church has had to offer a very simplified curriculum so that people in all of these countries and all of these languages could have the same basic curriculum and that should continue. It serves such a valuable purpose. But in addition to that, we need an advanced curriculum and that's what the church was began to give us.
We have the Encyclopedia of Mormonism, now dating back to the early 1990s. I hope you've seen the new multi volume series, a new church history, Saints, a new narrative history of the church. I was reading that recently and I was touched that when Elder John A. Widtsoe was going to Harvard as a young man, he confided to his family that he was really confused and he was doubting. I could tell you that whole story, but this has been going on a long time. Well, he came home and he found his own advanced curriculum. And there were people who helped him. That story in Saints. The Gospel topics essays on the church website, I hope you've all seen those. They are very helpful. Lots of footnotes for those who want to pursue those subjects more in depth.
Sometime, we could talk with you about how we deal with the Internet. These are just some ideas that we could talk about. (Internet Suggestions: 1- Invite faithful questions. 2- Be cautious about Internet's weaknesses. 3- Focus on Restoration's positive doctrinal content. 4- Cultivate an attitude of meekness.) I think we won't take time for that today. We just want to mention the one that's the very end. Cultivate an attitude of meekness. Elder Maxwell said, "Is doubting a problem? What about doubting?" He said, "Whether doubting hardens our heart or softens our heart depends on our meekness. “
A story again, we won't take time to tell the whole thing. So as young missionaries, we were talking with a couple who were really headed for the baptismal font and the temple. They were wonderful. They were Americans we had met in Germany. Then they got a letter from home telling them about the policy of the church that men from Africa couldn't hold the priesthood and that just sent them into a tailspin so when we came to talk to them about that, they were done. They said, “No, we don't want to talk to you anymore.” They kind of vented and finally they agreed to let us come back one more time to say goodbye. So, we did. And after listening to more of their concerns, they said, "Well, what have you got to say?" I was the senior companion, I didn't know what to say. And then I had a memory of a scripture I had read in my personal scripture study a few months before that. And so, I just calmly said, "Why don't we turn to Acts chapter 10. The story of Peter and Cornelius."
Cornelius was the first Gentile baptized into the church after Christ had been resurrected. Peter was president of the church. Now that was a historic moment. We learn from that experience that the Lord did have a timetable. Without going into that chapter emotionally, I don't think that the Knobs were so moved by that Scripture as they were by the Spirit that came over them after we left, from what they told us later. Because they were earnest in their prayers, they were confused. But they knew what they had heard and they knew that it was true. And so, they prayed and fasted, called us back in not very many days and said we want you to come back and teach us. So, we did and they were baptized and they raised their whole family in the US when they came home. They were wonderful Latter-Day Saints.
I sometimes wonder, when I've heard of people who've given up on the church after hearing one story like that, well, you know, how can this be? They didn't know the answer to that. They were like Nephi who said, “When the angel asked, "Knowest thou the meaning for that condescension of God?" Nephi didn't know, but he said, "I don't know the meaning of all things. But I know that God loveth His children." That's how it was with Paul and Wendy Knob. It was that meekness. That softness of heart that let them trust Him. Even when they didn't understand everything about it, they knew enough. And so that's why that story continued, as it did with the conclusion that it had. I think, I can't see the clock from here, but I think we're about at the end of the trail. Are we? I want to invite Sister Hafen to share with you just kind of a conclusion about our little website we've mentioned. This might point you in a direction for some follow up on today. And then we do want to have that closing song you've heard about, so I will simply bear my testimony that God does love his children. And that we can overcome all the complexities that can enter your lives. And when we overcome them, we're much stronger. I've had that experience. And now I know that it's true, that we can overcome and be stronger in the name of Jesus Christ.
So, he mentioned the website, which I mentioned earlier, Faith is Not Blind.org. Maybe you could put the QR code up there, so that they could access it with their phones. So, as we mentioned, there are podcasts, about 80 of them, which tell personal stories. You can see or can hear personal stories of people who have worked through their faith struggles, maybe they're still in there, but they're trusting and they're moving toward a higher ground toward that simplicity beyond complexity. There are also now over 50 written stories, stories of return, as we mentioned, people who've left the church, but then found their way back and how they found their way back and how they have experienced a deeper joy of reaching that simplicity beyond complexity. Many of them found there was not what they thought would help them when they were out of the church. There just wasn't something there that was helpful to them, wasn't helping their children for example, if they had children.
We also have an animated video on the website, which is an introductory video. That's him, the character. I like that character so much. That's him, just when his world starts to crack. But if you go to the website, go to the resources section to that tab. And it's the first item under that tab so that you can see both an introduction or a summary of what we've talked about today.
So, I also would suggest that you find Misty's story. She's the one who said, “I went home, took off my heels, decided I was done. No more church for me.” But then she talks about how she came back to the church. And how she concludes when she says, "Bottom line, I left the church because I thought I wasn't good enough. I wasn't, but what I didn't know was I wasn't there at church because I was a leader or an inspiration. I wasn't there to share my vast knowledge and insight. I wasn't there because I was perfect. I was there because I wasn't and I was there because through Him, I could be.” That is my testimony to you today. Through Him, we can become perfect.
Some of you will know the poem, it's called the “Second Coming” by Yeats where he talks about the center cannot hold, he talks about "Slouching Towards Bethlehem." I thought about this. I experienced when I was little, going to Lagoon. And at that time there was a funhouse and, in the funhouse, there was what we called the flying saucer, and it was a saucer that just went around rapidly and was a slight cone shape. And if you stayed in the middle, then you could stay on the saucer. Otherwise if you got pulled off at all you flew off.
We found if we could be in the middle and hold on to each other, then we could stay in the center. And my testimony today is that He, the Lord Jesus Christ is the center and if we stick with Him and find a way to have a relationship with Him and His father, and I think you know the ways. You know the ways to have your relationship be deeper. So, I just bear my testimony, again, that it's the flying saucer principle. We can help each other. Individually, we need to get to the middle, but we can hold on to each other and we can have a relationship with Him. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.