Saturday, October 31, 2015

Keeping the Faith


Elder Clayton’s General Conference address earlier this year in April summarized the story of Sailor Gutzler, a 7 year old girl who was the sole survivor of an airplane crash. Her family was on a small private airplane, returning home to Illinois from a vacation in Florida. The airplane, which was piloted by Sailor’s father, began having engine trouble as they crossed over from Tennessee into Kentucky, noting that the right engine had lost all power. Through air traffic control they were rerouted to a small landing strip in Kentucky, which was in sight as they descended. Then the radio signal was cut off. At about 6 PM on January 2, 2015, Sailor, her mom and dad, older sister, and cousin crashed near Kuttawa, Kentucky, about 10 miles away from the landing strip. Everybody died upon impact, except for Sailor who suffered a broken wrist. She called out to her parents and family without response. Worrying that they were dead, but hoping that they were just sleeping, while still wearing only her vacation clothes – consisting of a t-shirt and shorts and apparently only one sock on - she unbuckled and climbed out of the plane, which was now partly on fire.  

Having survived this terrible accident with a broken wrist, having lost her family in the accident, having climbed out of an airplane partly on fire into a dark, cold night in Kentucky in the middle of winter, with only meagre clothing on, Sailor began looking for help. She walked nearly a mile in the darkness through creeks, ditches, fallen trees, and blackberry briars before seeing a light in the distance about a mile away. She went towards the light. 

When Larry Wilkins answered his door, he saw Sailor crying, with a nose bleeding, and cut up arms and legs, she explained to him that her mom and dad were dead and that she was in a plane crash. He took her in and took care of her immediately, and called 911. 

Elder Clayton states:
“Sailor survived because she saw a light in the distance and fought her way to it—notwithstanding the wild countryside, the depth of the tragedy she faced, and the injuries she had sustained. It is hard to imagine how Sailor managed to do what she did that night. But what we do know is that she recognized in the light of that distant house a chance for rescue. There was hope. She took courage in the fact that no matter how bad things were, her rescue would be found in that light.
"Few of us will ever endure an experience as harrowing as Sailor’s. But all of us will, at some time or another, have to traverse our own spiritual wilderness and undertake our own rugged emotional journeys. In those moments, however dark or seemingly hopeless they may be, if we search for it, there will always be a spiritual light that beckons to us, giving us the hope of rescue and relief. That light shines from the Savior of all mankind, who is the Light of the World.”
Two things stand out to me from this story as well as Elder Clayton’s inspiring and insightful words. First: We live and we die. The inevitably of our fate will concern or affect all of us at some point, or throughout our lives. Second: there is light, but without that light, there is hopelessness.

In discussing the gospel online with members, investigators, and sometimes even critics, I’ve had the opportunity to share my testimony as well as the opportunity to more fully develop my testimony and understanding of how glorious the gospel plan truly is. In a recent conversation with an atheist, he wrote to me, saying, “Tim, if the only meaning you find in your life derives from your invisible friend, I feel sorry that you have such a narrow existence.” I responded with words that helped me explore and better understand how truly important the atonement of Christ really is. For better or for worse, in summary, I responded: “If you find meaning in any part of your life, whether family, or social, or financial, or societal contributions, in the scheme of things it has no meaning at all. Some gratification for 70+ years out of billions, trillions, infinite time? There is no gratification at all. So what if you have consciousness for half a dozen decades? You have consciousness for a very short period of time and then it is over. In the end, it makes no difference at all. Your existence makes no difference at all. You die. Everybody dies. Then there is no consciousness, no identity, no awareness of any contributions to anything.”  “On the contrary, however, a testimony of the atonement of Jesus Christ and an understanding of the plan of salvation and of the life hereafter, makes everything we do here important. We retain consciousness, we retain our identity. We have accountability and reward and punishment. Everything matters. Without that, nothing matters. 

And this is why the atonement and resurrection of Christ is where the entire gospel hinges. As Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain; ye are yet in your sins” (1 Cor 15:14, 17). But Christ did rise from the dead. Luke wrote that after Christ was laid in a sepulchre, “God raised him from the dead: And he was seen many days of them which came up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who are his witnesses unto the people. And we declare unto you glad tidings…” (Acts 13:29-32). Similarly, the faithful saints gathered at the temple in Bountiful in the Ancient Americas heard the voice of the Father declaring, “Behold my Beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased, in whom I have glorified my name—hear ye him."
"And it came to pass, as they understood they cast their eyes up again towards heaven; and behold, they saw a Man descending out of heaven; and he was clothed in a white robe; and he came down and stood in the midst of them….And it came to pass that he stretched forth his hand and spake unto the people, saying: Behold, I am Jesus Christ, whom the prophets testified shall come into the world. And behold, I am the light and the life of the world; and I have drunk out of that bitter cup which the Father hath given me, and have glorified the Father in taking upon me the sins of the world, in the which I have suffered the will of the Father in all things from the beginning. And it came to pass that when Jesus had spoken these words the whole multitude fell to the earth; for they remembered that it had been prophesied among them that Christ should show himself unto them after his ascension into heaven" (3 Nephi 11:7-12). 
Afterwards, they were invited by Christ to come up, one by one, to feel the prints of the nails in His hands and in His feet. The testimony of Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon, while meditating upon the meaning of John 5:29, resulted in a vision of the heavens. And in the course of this vision, they declared: 
"And now, after the many testimonies that have been given of him, this is the testimony, last of all, which we give of him: That he lives! For we saw him, even on the right hand of God; and we heard the voice bearing record that he is the Only Begotten of the Father—That by him, and through him, and of him, the worlds are and were created, and the inhabitants thereof are begotten sons and daughters unto God" (D&C 76:22-24).
These testimonies come from witnesses who literally saw the Savior after He had risen from the dead. The Prophet Abinadi declared, “And if Christ had not risen from the dead, or have broken the bands of death that the grave should have no victory, and that death should have no sting, there could have been no resurrection. But there is a resurrection, therefore the grave hath no victory, and the sting of death is swallowed up in Christ. He is the light and the life of the world…” (Mosiah 16:7-8). Because Christ has risen from the dead, we all will receive immortality as a free gift. Everybody will be resurrected. And we receive the conditional promise of eternal life.  

Elder Clayton explains:
"Gradually, as [Sailor] made her way through the night toward the light, it grew brighter. Still, there must have been times when she could not see it. Perhaps it went out of view when she was in a ravine or behind trees or bushes, but she pressed on. Whenever she could see the light, Sailor had evidence that she was on the right path. She did not yet know precisely what that light was, but she kept walking toward it based on what she knew, trusting and hoping that she would see it again if she kept moving in the right direction. By so doing, she may have saved her life. Our lives can be like that too. There may be times when we have been hurt, when we are tired, and when our lives seem dark and cold. There may be times when we cannot see any light on the horizon, and we may feel like giving up. If we are willing to believe, if we desire to believe, if we choose to believe, then the Savior’s teachings and example will show us the pathway forward."
Nowadays, it doesn’t take much time spent online before the world tries to convince you that everything is falling apart, that the Church is falling apart, and that knowledge is tearing the gospel apart. But “truth,” as the Lord revealed to Joseph Smith, is “knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come” (D&C 93:24). But knowledge doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Everything we read or hear is inclusive or exclusive of certain information, and the selectivity of verbiage chosen to provide information frames the narrative in directing the reader to interpret information a certain way. This is true in all information that we digest. There is no such thing as neutral or entirely objective writing. Although a good journalist will try to approach a topic as objectively as possible, a discretionary reader recognizes that the information presented is necessarily limited and isn’t free from some degree of bias and subjectivity. 

Thus, when President Uchdtorf recently shared his story about seeking medical information online, supposing to “discover truth of which [his] doctors were unaware or had tried to keep from [him],” he eventually recognized the irony of what he was doing. He says, “of course, researching things for ourselves is not a bad idea. But I was disregarding truth I could rely on and instead found myself drawn to the often-outlandish claims of internet lore.”  And this is why the restored gospel of Jesus Christ means everything to me because we constantly direct ourselves and each other to the only one true and reliable source. I remember as a missionary, constantly having to deal with preconceptions, misperceptions, and vulgar characterizations of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ, and while trying to logically and rationally explain and re-characterize the restored gospel to individuals, the only effectual way to teach the gospel was to encourage those with whom we met, to not rely on us, but to turn to God and ask Him in prayer regarding the truthfulness of our message, the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon, and the truthfulness of our prophets in the latter-days. From the Light and the Life of the world comes our answers through the Holy Spirit. That is what unites and binds us – personal revelation from the Holy Spirit. And collectively, we find consistency in these personal revelations. But it is up to each of us individually to obtain that spiritual witness.  Hugh Nibley once said:
...I have a testimony of the gospel which I wish to bear. Again, as Brigham Young says, because I say it's true doesn't make it true, does it? But I know it is, and I would recommend you to pursue a way of finding out. And there are ways in which you can come to a knowledge of the truth. When is a thing proven? When you personally think it's so, and that's all you can do. And that's true, of course, in science or anything else. When enough experience, and enough impressions, enough thought and so forth, build up in your own mind so that a thing is proven to you, that's the proof....You can't force another person to believe....No two of us, you see, have the same experience, have the same background, have the same evidence, or anything else. All we can do is reach the point where, ahah! that is it, you see. Then you have your testimony, and all you can do is bear your testimony and point to the evidence. That's all you can do. But you can't impose your testimony on another. And you can't make the other person see the evidence as you do. Things that just thrill me through and through in the Book of Mormon leave another person completely cold. And, the other way around, too. So we can't use evidence, and we can't say, I know this is true, therefore, you'd better know it is true. But I know it is true, and I pray our Heavenly Father that we may all come to a knowledge of the truth... 
I have often wondered why two people can interpret the same information in such polarized ways. Obviously our backgrounds and experience and knowledge stage our interpretations to some extent, but I have personally always found strength in my testimony and strength to my testimony when studying the gospel with faith. Even with respect to studying some topics that others seem to have difficulty in reconciling. And I’ve wondered why we might come to such different conclusions. In pondering this scenario, I think I’ve come to understand through the Spirit what the Lord was teaching through Isaiah when it was written that, “precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line, here a little, and there a little” (Isaiah 28:10). That is, while there probably isn’t a single person alive who thinks that they can’t “handle” knowledge, the principle that this scripture teaches is that knowledge has to come spiritually to be properly understood – remember, a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, and indeed it can be, but truth is knowledge as things are, as they were, and as they are to come.” When we rely upon ourselves, or upon others, and especially when we rely upon imperfect critical narratives that are framed to result in specific conclusions, these equations leave out the Lord and the Holy Spirit. And by performing our own personal studies and exercising faith and learning line upon line and precept upon precept, new information and discoveries can result in personally rewarding spiritual treasures, rather than cognitive dissonance, or other catch phrases and buzzwords that describe these irreconcilable experiences. (Proverbs 3:5-6)

The Lord expects us to seek. He expects us to ask, and He expects us to knock. But this is different from doubting and the current rhetoric regarding the sanctity of doubt. As Elder Oaks explained in a recent conference in Boise, “Questions, whenever asked with a sincere desire [to] increase ones understanding and faith are to be encouraged. Such questions, questions we call them, are asked with the real intent of better understanding and more fully obeying the will of the Lord. Questions are very different from doubts." Thus, questions that are based on faith are encouraged, whereas, doubt is the opposite of what the Lord requires before providing answers. President Packer once said, “Tests of faith are growing experiences. We all have unanswered questions. Seeking and questioning, periods of doubt, in an effort to find answers, are part of the process of discovery. The kind of doubt which is spiritually dangerous does not relate to questions so much as to answers.”

I think the analogy of Sailor’s experience in moving forward towards the light represents these challenges that we face. There may be times when we cannot reconcile certain things. But Sailor didn’t sit and camp when the light may have gone out of view temporarily. And we may not know how to reconcile certain things, but Sailor didn’t let the cuts and scrapes keep her from pressing forward towards the light. And even in despair, when it seems like everything that we knew has left us, and we are left alone, we still press forward towards the Light and the Life of the world until our testimonies of Christ and the atonement, and the restored gospel are fulfilled when He brings us, as Ammon says, into “everlasting light, yea, into everlasting salvation; and [we] are encircled about with the matchless bounty of his love…” (Alma 26:15), when we can, as Nephi explains, be redeemed and behold His glory and be “encircled about eternally in the arms of his love.” Without this light, there is only hopelessness. But there is a light, and I have seen it, and I felt its warmth, and testify that Jesus is the Christ, and that the atonement is real, and the Gospel has been restored through the Prophet Joseph Smith and that Christ leads this Church today through his living appointed servants. When we choose to believe, the Lord grants us faith, and through faith we obtain testimonies, and begin to obtain knowledge of things as they are, and were, and are to come, and this knowledge brings us light, “And the light which shineth, which giveth you light, is through  him who enlighteneth  your eyes, which is the same light  that quickeneth your understandings;” and  “he that receiveth light, and continueth in God, receiveth more light; and that light groweth brighter and brighter until the perfect day” (D&C 88:11;  50:24).

This was a sacrament meeting talk that I prepared but I was only able to share about one-fourth of the talk due to time constraints. Hopefully what wasn't shared verbally at the time can now find some benefit to somebody here.

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