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I’m a Christian First

Today, I made a change to my Facebook profile.  In the “info” box, I wrote:

Katie L. is a wife, a mother, a professional copywriter, a devoted Christian, a friend, and a teacher-to-be.

After I wrote it, I sat there for about 10 minutes, wondering if I should post it, afraid my self-identification as a Christian might alarm people.  In the end I decided it doesn’t really matter, because it’s how I feel.

I’m a Mormon, yes.  But I’m not a Mormon first.  I’m a Christian first, a follower of Christ.  He is the One I worship, adore, and to whom I owe everything.  He is the One who pulled me from perfectionism and anxiety and brought me lasting peace.  The LDS church, for all the good it does, is not itself the vehicle of my salvation.  Christ is.  And it is to Him first and foremost that I owe my allegiance.

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Do You See Her?

sinfulwoman

I gave a lesson in Relief Society today on Luke 7:36-51, the story of the sinful woman who anoints Christ and washes His feet in her tears.  I titled the lesson “Do You See Her?”

I started out by asking the sisters to imagine a woman whom Christ approves of, a woman who is acceptable to Him.  Then I asked them for the characteristics of such a woman, and I listed them on the board.  I got answers like:

Virtuous
Gentle
Charitable
Humble
Meek
Happy

We turned to the scriptures.   I took the story slowly, bit by bit, including the parable of the forgiving creditor, and the culmination when the Savior tells the woman that her faith has saved her.

I asked the sisters: “What do you think it means to have saving faith?”

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Massive Teaching Fail

WARNING: Brief sexual content.  Rated PG-13.

fail-owned-welcoming-bible-lesson-fail

I’m extremely disturbed by a thread over at fMh.  A single 30-year-old woman named “Am” wrote in, agonizing over the fact that she recently experienced an inadvertent orgasm while exercising.  Dear fMh, do I need to see the bishop for this? she asks.

I’m sorry.  But what the hell?

First of all, if it were me, I’d be like, “Yessssss! Freebie!” 😉

But beyond my initial tongue-in-cheek reaction, I’ve got to say…my heart broke for her.

The idea that a grown woman should wonder if she has to drag herself to the bishop’s office to confess something so personal (not to mention trivial!) in order to gain a sense of “absolution” is nothing short of tragic.  I’m actually sitting here with tears in my eyes because I think it reflects so poorly on our faith community that she feels the need to ask this question at all!

In a later comment, “Am” explains why the question is so important to her:

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The Final Judgment

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Two of my dear friends recently suggested I attend my ward’s Gospel Principles [1] class.  They know I have questions about the nature of God and the way grace is taught in the church, so they suggested I bring it back to basics.

Heeding their advice, I decided yesterday to give it a try.

The topic? Final judgment.

When I heard the topic, I was excited.  I thought, What better opportunity to discuss Christ’s atonement and how His grace allows us to stand blameless before God at the last day than a lesson on the final judgment?

Then we got into the discussion, and my heart sank.

From the lesson materials:

Only through faith in Jesus Christ can we be prepared for the Final Judgment.  Through faithful discipleship to him and repentance of all our sins, we can be forgiven for our sins and become pure and holy so that we can dwell in the presence of God.  As we repent of our sins, giving up every impure thought and act, the Holy Ghost will change our hearts so we no longer have even the desire to sin.  Then when we are judged, we will be found ready to enter into God’s presence. — Gospel Principles page 295

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The Ideal Starting Place

It’s been said that grace vs. works is the great tightrope/pretzel (love the pretzel image) of Christianity. Much like the chicken vs. egg debate, some argue that works lead to grace, while others insist grace leads to works.

When all is said and done, I believe they are both crucial.  And an emphasis of one over the other is damaging indeed. Is one more important than the other? It can be argued not. But is there a better place to start? I think there is.

I have come to embrace another view; that is, the kind of works that God will use to sanctify us are the works that spring from a converted heart.

Just as faith without works is dead, works without faith are dead.

There are any number of reasons to do good works. Fear. Habit. Compulsion. Duty. And yes, even pride.

But do the works of the gospel profit anyone who doesn’t do them for love?

There was a time I’d have said yes, because all my works were wrought from fear, and I knew it. And it would have destroyed me to say that I was doing it all for nothing.

But looking back on it now, I can honestly say I was doing it all for nothing! It didn’t bring me closer to God; it drove me further from Him. It didn’t create compassion for my fellow man; instead, it inspired suspicion, judgment, and pride. In my desire to be “righteous or else, dammit,” I was turning further and further from the humble, submissive, charitable, open, and caring person God really wants me to become.

My “good works” were turning me into a Pharisee.

This touches on an aspect of LDS theology I’ve been thinking a lot about lately, this so-called distinction between exaltation and salvation, where salvation is grace and exaltation is works. I think it’s important to remember that the sanctifying process, which might otherwise be called the path to exaltation, is inextricably tied to God’s grace.

Because our BECOMING doesn’t happen on its own; it doesn’t happen through sheer willpower, grit, and determination; it happens through our surrendering to God. It’s an act of opening up, of turning to Him, of allowing Him to work THROUGH us (receiving His image in our countenances, as Alma so beautifully puts it). This, like the gift of salvation itself, is not something we earn; it’s something God has already given us, if we will only allow Him to work in our lives.

Does that mean we don’t have a say in it? Of course not. We use our freedom to choose God each and every day. But I think it’s important to remember that it is God who is changing us.

Because grace *is* the mechanism through which we DO and BECOME. It is the enabling power that makes it happen.

That makes it the ideal starting place.

Salvation Mindmap #1

One of my favorite tools is a program called Flying Logic.  I use it in my business all the time.  It allows me to see cause-and-effect relationships clearly so I can effectively plan and analyze what I’m doing.

After a few conversations I’ve had with friends recently, I decided to create a logic diagram expressing the popular LDS view of salvation.

Now, obviously, this is an intricate doctrine and is much more nuanced than I put on this tree.  But I want to see if I got the basics correct, in your estimation.

Did I adequately express what you believe about salvation?  What do I have right?  What do I have wrong?

Please take a look, then let me know what you think in the comments section.

Again, I am not proposing that this is the final word on what we believe, nor am I saying it accurately describes the truth of this doctrine.

Instead, it’s my first stab at what I think the average LDS believes. I am trying to succinctly and correctly articulate what is a common (perhaps even the MOST common) prevailing belief among LDS regarding our views on salvation.

So I am more than open to correction of all kinds here.  That’s why I put it up.

So please click the link below to download and examine the PDF.

Salvation Mindmap

On Ordinances, Covenants, and Grace

QUICK NOTE AND DISCLAIMER: This post is pretty long.  I was going to cut it down or post it in several segments, but my husband told me not to.  And because I’m the ideal woman, I always do what my husband says.  *wicked grin*

This post is written for mainstream, believing Mormons. The purpose of this post is NOT to argue whether or not ordinances and covenants are necessary for salvation. I am open to that discussion, but not here. The believing Mormon already accepts that they are.  I am attempting to reconcile the belief in essential ordinances with the belief in a grace-based salvation–positions which, I believe, pose no inherent conflict.

I acknowledge that what follows is merely my own opinion and does not represent the Church in any way.

Whenever I discuss the doctrine of grace with my fellow Mormon brothers and sisters, there is a question that often arises:

But what about the ordinances?

In this post, I hope to…

  • Dispel the notion that embracing a grace-based salvation means rejecting the role and importance of works
  • Demonstrate how the ordinances are, in themselves, powerful examples of God’s grace
  • Address common misconceptions related to ordinances that tend to skew the interpretation in favor of works

Definitions and Distinctions

Before I continue, I want to clarify a few things so you understand what I mean when I use certain terms or phrases.

Salvation. For the purposes of this post, when I speak of salvation, I am referring to being saved in the Celestial Kingdom.

Exaltation. Exaltation is “higher” than salvation, and involves inheriting all that the Father hath.  I’m not sure it’s been fully revealed what exaltation truly means, and so I will refrain from speculation here.

Ordinances. Symbolic, physical rituals performed through priesthood power with specific promises and covenants associated with them.

Ordinances of Salvation, Ordinances of Exaltation, and Non-Essential Ordinances

Within Mormonism, there are varying levels of ordinances.  Some are required for salvation.  Some are required for exaltation.  Others are simply given as blessings and benefits for us.

The ordinances of salvation are baptism by immersion for the remission of sins, and the laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost.

The ordinances of exaltation are temple ordinances and ordination to the Melchizedek Priesthood for men.

Examples of non-essential ordinances include patriarchal blessings, blessings for the sick or afflicted, grave dedications, blessings of infants, and more.

Sacraments of the Church vs. Good Works

The Sacraments of the Church are the ordinances of the gospel.

Good works are the good things we do in this life, such as acts of service, prayer, scripture study, being kind, honest, chaste, tolerant, avoiding sin, etc.

Both are works, but they are different varieties.

Accepting Grace AND Works

It is important to note that grace and works are not mutually exclusive, despite the somewhat dichotomous tone many such conversations seem to take.  They are two sides of the same coin; or, as C.S. Lewis said, two shears on a single pair of scissors.  They cannot be divorced one from the other, and any attempt to do so is flawed theology.

Having said that, there is nothing we can “do” to earn or merit salvation.

This simply means we are forever in Christ’s debt.  Even if we were to serve Him night and day, we would still be unprofitable servants (Mosiah 2:21).  There is nothing we can do to merit salvation on our own, because on our own, we merit hell-as we are all sinners (Romans 3:23).

When I express this concept to my fellow LDS, I am often met with this response: “So you’re saying I can do whatever I want and still be saved?”

Absolutely NOT.

Once we have accepted Christ, we will necessarily do His works. It is the sign of a converted heart–for “by their fruits ye shall know them” (Matt 7:20, Ne 14:20).

A true disciple of Christ would never ask, “What is the minimum I must do and still be right in the eyes of God?”  That’s like saying, “Jesus, how much can I hurt you and still be okay?”  It is a flawed premise.

PLEASE NOTE: I could devote an entire post to this concept–and will in the future. But for now a quick summary: Good works cannot be divorced from grace.  But we do not “earn” grace through our good works.  Good works flow from grace as a mighty river flows from its fountainhead.

The Role of Covenants and Ordinances

So where do ordinances and covenants fit in to our salvation?

Ordinances and covenants are the vehicles God has given us to formalize our commitment to Him and signal our acceptance of His salvation.

The ordinances of salvation are highly symbolic, with baptism by immersion signaling that we are willing to follow Christ down into His grave and rise again with Him, walking in a newness of life (Romans 6:4).

The Laying on of Hands for the Gift of the Holy Ghost symbolizes the very transference of God’s power to our lives.

And yet, it goes beyond just signaling our submission to Christ.

Performed through the priesthood, these ordinances literally “bind” us to Him (see Matt 16:19) in an unbreakable covenantal relationship.

This, I believe, is the primary role of all the essential ordinances of the gospel (ordinances of salvation and exaltation).  They provide us a physical, tangible signal that we are progressing in His path, while binding our souls to Him.

Misconceptions

So why do people use the existence of ordinances to conclude that salvation is by works?  Here are some of the most common assertions I’ve heard…

1)-You must receive the ordinances in order to be saved.  Ordinances are works.  Therefore, we are saved by works.

This is true, and so in the strictest sense of the word, I suppose ordinances could be considered necessary “works.”  Yet they are different from the “good works” we often speak of, such as serving others, abstaining from sin, and so on.  Instead, they are prescribed rituals Christ has given us that bind us to Him.

But even at that, do the ordinances themselves that save us?  Or is it the fact that Christ, in His great wisdom and mercy, has declared them efficacious and honors His promises by bestowing upon us His saving power?

That God has designated the ordinances as the vehicles through which He blesses us is, to me, simply another example of his limitless mercy and grace.

2)-When we receive the ordinances of salvation and exaltation, we make covenants.  And when it comes to making and keeping covenants, you must first do your part before God does His.

This is a prime example of the “you do what you can, then God ‘makes up the difference'” language that I’ve heard quite often in church.  And while I appreciate the sentiment, I wonder if the phrasing isn’t a little imprecise.

Consider this.

The ancient Israelites, God’s covenant people, turned their back on God time and time again.  And yet-they RETAINED their status as His covenant people through it all.  In fact, to this day, they STILL retain that status, and He has stretched forth His hand again to gather them in (Isaiah 11:11), despite the fact that somewhere along they way they stopped believing in Him and followed their own path instead of His.

But Christ says: “How oft would I have gathered you as a hen gathereth her chickens, and ye would not” (3 Ne 10:5, Matt 23:37, emphasis mine).

The point is that God doesn’t “wait” for us to do our part before He honors His “side of the deal.”  On the contrary, God is ALWAYS doing His part.  We, however, don’t always let Him.

This may seem like a fine distinction, but it has been an incredibly powerful insight in my life. Instead of feeling as though I must always stretch and strain and work for Divine approval or Divine blessings (which discouraged me and wore me down to the breaking point), I realized that God has ALREADY given me these blessings, if I would simply open my heart to receive them.

3)-Certain worthiness standards are required before you can receive essential ordinances.  These ordinances are required for salvation or exaltation.  Therefore, you must do certain things in order to be saved or exalted.

God’s commandments are wonderful, and the desire to live a clean and righteous life, in harmony with the teachings of the Savior, is of God.  In fact, it is necessary for true happiness and to enjoy the companionship of the Spirit.

However, we all fall short of God’s standards (Romans 3:23).  Even after we have been converted, we will sin.  This is part of mortality.

In his book Believing Christ, Stephen Robinson tells a powerful story of a woman who came to Christ despite her checkered past.

“For a long time after her baptism, this sister swore like a trooper, even in church, and never quite lived the Word of Wisdom 100%.  On one occasion during her first year in the Church, she lost her temper during a Relief Society meeting and punched out one of the sisters.”

Finally, after several years, she stopped smoking, drinking coffee, got her temper “somewhat” under control, and was ready to attend the temple.

Then Robinson asks this crucial question: ” At what point did this sister become a candidate for the kingdom?”

Was it when she mastered her temper?  Or when she finally stopped smoking?  Was it when she received her temple recommend?

No, Robinson says, it was when she accepted Christ through baptism.

When she turned her heart to Him, became His through the covenant, THAT was the turning point.  She made mistakes afterwards, to be sure–don’t we all?–but at her core, she had offered up her sacrifice of a broken heart and contrite spirit.

Therefore, she was made whole in Christ-though she hadn’t yet arrived at a place where she could receive a temple recommend.

Isn’t it possible that God is much, much kinder to us than we are to ourselves?

I submit that the status of our hearts is more important to God than the level of “righteousness” we’ve attained–worthiness standards or otherwise.  If we have offered up to God the broken heart and contrite spirit He requires, He will guide us along the path and help us overcome the thorns in our flesh to enjoy greater and greater fellowship with Him.

In the meantime, as we continue to progress with His help-recognizing that all of us are a constant “work in progress”-we are covered by His grace.

Conclusion

I hope the preceding post has provided some food for thought.  The ordinances and covenants of the gospel are important and necessary for salvation.  But the fact that they exist does not diminish our utter dependence on Christ in any way.  Were it not for Him, we would all be lost.  It is His grace that makes the difference-His grace that brings us home again.

Please feel free to comment, ask questions, provide alternative interpretations, share experiences, etc.  All comments are welcome, whether you agree or disagree with me.  The only requirement is that the comments be respectful.  Please see this post for the standards this blog adheres to in terms of quality of discourse.

Must "Graduated" Salvation Necessarily Mean "Earned" Salvation?

On a new discussion board I’ve joined to help me sort through some of my questions regarding the gospel, the issue of being comfortable with imperfection came up.

We were discussing the fact that we Mormons have a tendency to “grade” sins on their level of severity: you know, with murder and sex being really bad, drinking and smoking kinda middle-of-the-road bad, and gossiping or judging being not so bad at all.

(AUTHOR’S NOTE: The preceding paragraph was intended [almost] entirely tongue-in-cheek, so please read with an appropriate dash of humor and don’t hate.  Love you guys.)

As I thought about it, I realized that our assigning “wickedness values” to various indiscretions is probably a counter-productive practice.  Because when we call one thing “better” or “worse” than another, aren’t we really just either a)–justifying our own sins (“Well, at least I didn’t do that”)…or b)–making it harder for those who have strayed to return (“What I did was so bad, there’s no hope for me”)?  I mean, when are we going to realize we’ve ALL strayed?  Does it really matter to what “degree”?

So I was pondering why these “wickedness values” exist.  And I realized it probably stems, at least in part, from a misunderstanding of the doctrine of a “graduated” salvation (i.e. the three degrees of glory).  If we’re not careful to give this issue the thought and care it requires, it’s easy to mistakenly extrapolate merit-based salvation from it. After all, it seems so logical: those who are extra good go to the Celestial Kingdom; those who are pretty good go to the Terrestrial Kingdom; and those who are bad go to the Telestial Kingdom.  Oh, and don’t even talk about the ones who are REALLY, REALLY bad…because they go straight to hell (outer darkness).

But what do the scriptures REALLY teach on this subject?  As far as I can tell from D&C 76…

  • Those who are sanctified by Christ and have received of His grace will inherit Celestial glory (D&C 88:21, D&C 76:92).  NOT those who have committed the fewest or “least serious” sins.  NOT those who have been the “best” or the “most faithful.”  But those whose garments have been washed in the blood of the Lamb.  In other words, those who have accepted Christ.  And there is NOTHING we can do to merit this. It is God’s gift to us.
  • Those who will inherit the Terrestrial Kingdom are they who had the opportunity to accept Christ in mortality, but did not.  However, in the afterlife, they did accept Him (D&C 76:74). I have no idea what God constitutes an “opportunity” and who should theoretically fit into this category, so please let’s not to go there.  It is only God’s to judge.  However, I’d point out that there is NOTHING in these verses about the overall “goodness” of these people.  It is ALL about the status of their hearts, and when they accepted Jesus.
  • Those who will inherit the Telestial Kingdom are they who will never accept Christ, neither in mortality nor the life beyond (D&C 76:82).  Interestingly, this is the ONLY GROUP about which the scriptures outline the specifics of their sins: liars, sorcerers, adulterers, warmongers.  I believe this is NOT because “only Telestial Kingdom people would commit these ‘kinds’ of sins,” but because the atoning blood of Christ was never applied in their behalf to blot them out, so their works stand to condemn them.  And that is simply because they never believed on Jesus’s name.

Please notice that in every instance, the “qualification” for entrance into the various Kingdoms has virtually NOTHING to do with some arbitrary level of “righteousness” or works, but EVERYTHING to do with our acceptance or non-acceptance of Jesus Christ.

What are your thoughts?  Am I wrong here?  Why is it so easy for us to assume that a model of graduated salvation must necessarily lead to a merit, or works-based, salvation?  How can we keep ourselves from falling into this intellectual and spiritual trap?  And what can we do to stop discussing sin like it’s a sliding scale of severity and simply love each other into giving our hearts more fully to Christ?

"After All We Can Do…"

“…For we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do…”

I remember staring at the page for hours on end, my stomach in knots.  I ran a quick check in my head to see how I’d fared that day, and felt my stomach tighten even more as I replayed my little crimes over and over again.  Every unkind word.  Every flash of anger.  Every dirty thought.

Why isn’t it possible, ever possible, I wondered, to do ALL I can do?

For several years, I struggled with the meaning of this verse–and with similar teachings prevalent in Mormonism–that forgiveness or salvation is granted only AFTER you have expended your energy doing the best you can on your own.

I mean, remember Stephen Robinson’s parable of the little girl who wants to buy a bicycle?  She works so hard and saves her pennies for weeks–but when she gets to the bicycle store, she realizes she’s still a hundred dollars short.

So the father in the story gets down on his knees and holds her close.  “You give me everything you have,” he says, “and a big hug and a kiss, and I’ll buy you that bike.”

In seminary, the same message.  “This is grace,” the teacher explained.  “When you do the best you can, and leave the rest up to God.  So one person might be a 10 on a scale of 1 to 1,000.  And another a 50.   But wherever you are, so long as you’ve done your best, Jesus forgives.”

It might sound nice on the surface, but when you’re a perfectionist, I can assure you…

It’s a panic attack waiting to happen.

After all, as a perfectionist, you’re never satisfied you’ve done “the best you can” anyway; as a result, you constantly feel as though you’ll never be right in the eyes of God.

So might I suggest an alternate reading to this verse in 2 Nephi, which seems to be one of the most frequently-cited scriptural supports for the Mormon concept of a works-based salvation?

Let’s go back and examine it in context.  In the verses prior, Nephi is bearing strong testimony of Christ; and even declares that there is no other name given under heaven besides Christ whereby man can be saved (see 2 Nephi 25: 20).

Then he goes on to say that BECAUSE of the cause of Christ, he (Nephi) has been commanded to write the teachings of God so His word can go forth from generation to generation.

And after all that, he says, “For we labor diligently to write, to persuade our children, and also our brethren, to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God; for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.”

Might Nephi be speaking, not of some vague, impossible standard that is “required” of humankind before God grants forgiveness and salvation, but of the efforts he and his brethren have put forth to write and persuade?

To rephrase it, might he be saying, “For we labor diligently to write, to persuade our children, and also our brethren to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God; for we know that after all we can do [to write and persuade], it is [ultimately] by the grace [of Christ] that we are saved.”

Framed this way, Nephi is NOT making a sweeping statement about the necessity of each man and woman to turn to Christ only AFTER you’ve done the best you can; but instead is acknowledging that the work he does is insufficient, for it is by GRACE that he is saved, even after all he does.

Though somewhat unorthodox from an LDS perspective, I believe this reading is much more in line with the rest of the scriptues when it comes to teachings on grace.

What do you think?  Am I up in the night?  Or am I on to something here?

In Pursuit of Truth-with-a-Capital-"T"

Here is the long-promised post on the Nature of Truth…

Truth-with-a-capital-“T”–that is, the whole Truth, God’s Truth–is a gigantic concept.  It’s bigger than me, and it’s bigger than you.  It’s got infinite layers expanding infinitely in an infinite number of directions.  Truth is so vast, so all-encompassing, that the human mind will NEVER be able to fully comprehend it–not in its entirety, not in its fullness, not at its purest level.

What’s more, our thoughts are limited by the imprecise nature of human language; therefore, even if it were possible to understand Truth with pinpoint accuracy (and I believe, at this stage of our eternal development anyway, it is NOT), we would still be unable to express it adequately.

In fact, even the Lord Himself spoke in parables, so as to encode “hidden meaning” and profound truths through STORY–because there are some concepts that are simply not expressible in words alone.

Therefore, whenever you hear a teacher espousing truth, you must understand that everything he says is colored by his unique perspective, his prejudices, his experiences, his experiments, and his rationale.*  What’s more, these same teachings are then interpreted differently by each of his students and hearers.  In other words, your beliefs are filtered not only through the lens of your own biases and experiences, but through the collective lenses of hundreds, thousands, and even millions of people’s biases and experiences, as each person passes on some sort of “interpretation” that is then assimilated into the realm of general wisdom.

Can you see why Truth, then, is such an elusive concept?

Thousands of years of human history prove this point.  Sit a Christian, a Muslim, a Jew, and a Buddhist together in a room and ask them same question about God.  You’ll get four different answers.  But it doesn’t stop there.  Sit four Christians together–an Evangelical, a Mormon, a Quaker, and a Catholic–and ask them the same question about God.  You’ll get four different answers.  But it doesn’t stop there.  Sit four Mormons together in a room, or four Evangelicals, or four Quakers, or four Catholics, and ask them the same question about God.  The fact is, you’ll get four different answers.  It’s simply the way it works–because that’s what it means to be human.

Here are some additional points about truth I’d like to make…

1)–An Understanding of Truth Comes through the Spirit. So does all this mean truth is not knowable?  Well, yes and no.  In the sense that we will never be able to comprehend all that God comprehends–at least not in this life–then yes.  I feel quite confident saying that “Truth” is not knowable.  That doesn’t mean, however, that we can’t comprehend truths–or snippets of Truth–in mortality.

This understanding comes through the Spirit of God, and my experience has led me to believe that it comes to different people in different ways.  To some, it comes as visions.  To others, it comes as thoughts, feelings, or impressions.  To me, it comes as ideas and an internal sense of clarity and peace.   Universally, this experience is associated with “the fruits of the spirit:” or love, joy, peace, longsuffering , gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance.

I believe it is the obligation of each person to seek out this source of wisdom and ask questions and receive answers and make choices based upon their level of understanding.

It also means being tolerant of others who “receive” a different answer than I’ve recieved, which leads me to my next point…

2)–It Is Important to Be Charitable of Others’ Worldview. This can be one of the most confusing concepts of all–one that many Mormons (and all deeply religious people, for that matter) would do well to remember.  After all, if I came to one determination of truth that I believe was sent straight from God, how is it possible for another person to have a different understanding?

Many religious people will tell you it’s because the “other” worldview is a lie from the devil himself.   (Heck, history is replete with “inspired” men and women murdering each other because they were so confident the “others'” beliefs were sponsored by Satan.)

I reject that philosophy and take a much more nuanced approach…

Because Truth is so vast and so complex, and because we humans are so small and so simple, chances are, we’re all playing with that same mixture of truth and error, trying to sort the wheat from the chaff as best we can.

Fortunately, it’s not mine to judge.

I trust that most people are a lot like me, in that their struggle to make sense of mortality is just as messy and just as complicated as mine–and that God knows the thoughts and intents of each of our hearts, and will deal with us accordingly.  Hell, there are lots of people who I’m sure will be more correct than I am when all is said and done.  That’s why I’m glad it’s not a race.  After all, God saves us individually, and by His grace–not by what we do or don’t know.

Which brings me to my next point…

3)–Knowledge or Understanding Does Not Save You: Christ Does. This is one of the most incredible breakthroughs I’ve ever had in my spiritual life–one that has allowed me to forgive others–and myself–for misunderstandings or teachings that I feel are destructive, abusive, or flawed.  The truth is, EVERYONE holds beliefs that are wrong, because we are human beings–and human beings are inherently flawed.  Isn’t that the lesson we take from the Garden of Eden?

But fortunately, we’re not saved by our works, or our beliefs, or our doctrine, or our understanding.  Instead, we are saved by Christ.  He loves us, flaws and all, and through His grace makes us one with Him, whole, perfect, and without blemish.  Of course, it’s nothing WE’VE done to attain this level of holiness.  Nope, we are 100% reliant on Him to make us this way.

That doesn’t mean we don’t constantly strive to do better and learn more about Him and His Truth, filtering out the error as we go–but it DOES mean we don’t have to panic if we don’t “get it all” right now.  We’re saved by grace, NOT by knowledge.

4)–It Keeps You Humble. When you understand everything that you DON’T understand, there comes a sense of humility and teachability into your life.  You talk less.  You listen more.  You ask questions.  You become less offended or afraid of differences, because they no longer threaten your worldview.

One of the most profound lessons I’ve ever learned is to become comfortable with these three words: “I don’t know.”  Before, they used to terrify me.  Now, they open me up to the world and the people in it.  When you realize that there’s so much you don’t know–and that even what you DO know is probably incomplete–you are able to glean understanding from everyone you meet and from everything you experience.

Interestingly, it is my experience that the people who more readily admit their lack of understanding are the ones whom God is able to teach more.

All right, so there are my thoughts on the elusive nature of Truth-with-a-capital-T.  What do you think?  What did I get right?  What did I get wrong?  I welcome all feedback on this absolutely HUGE concept!  🙂

*With the exception, perhaps, of the teachings of Christ–as He IS the embodiment of all Truth.  But even then, His students (us) certainly color and distort what He tells us through the lens of our own flawed understanding.