Tuesday, July 30, 2013


One of my favorite scriptures about Jesus Christ is John 15:5:

I am the vine, ye are the branches. He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.

It’s a radical and controversial claim. Certainly we can imagine plenty of people doing plenty of good without ever believing in or following Christ. However, Jesus Christ is here declaring, without reservations, that unless a person abide in Him, anything one does, as magnanimous or kind or heart-warming as it may be, is nothing. "You cannot enter in at the strait gate...by your dead works. (D&C 22:2)

Of course a person, any person, will be duly rewarded for his good works, and one does not need to accept Christ in this life in order to receive some reward. But without Him, at best our acts are only as temporary as the earth, which has an end. Moses says, "Now I know that man is nothing, which thing I never had supposed." (Moses 1:10) Only Jesus can offer us more than nothing, and he does so by connecting us to him.

The gospel of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is meant to connect us to Christ. We live in an age that is very concerned with the idea of being connected:  we connect to the internet, connect to facebook, to our iphones; we try to connect to people, ideas, social movements, news. But for all our hours spent connected to this world, there are those quiet moments when we look inside ourselves and feel a spiritual disconnection in our souls, a yearning for the presence of God.

Try yoga. Go to India. Eat really decadent ice cream while watching a sunrise. They could offer you some very real peace in body and mind. But overcoming the spiritual disconnection that is part of our existence on earth requires something much more extreme, something that has transcended and triumphed over every possible malady in this world: the resurrection and atonement of Jesus Christ.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Still Small Voice

The months before I left on my mission, I felt confused and frustrated. I had been through a rough year away from home, and I doubted my faith. My mission papers were in and I was waiting for my call, but at that time I did not want to go.

The internet was a fairly new thing then (crazy, I know), and during the past year I had been studying and reading and questioning online. I felt unsettled. It was not that I heard anything new--my Dad had always talked freely about the big issues of the Church with us--but as I seriously considered the arguments, embracing the possibility of doubt that combined with my own personal concerns, I felt lost. There was an unending supply, page upon page of articles and blogs and websites and reasons why my spiritual feelings and knowledge were delusional.  It made my beloved, tried and tested faith seem unreasonable somehow.

I remember at first that it was almost liberating to hear and read things that challenged my faith. I always loved the intellectual side of the gospel, and I liked to see how my faith stood up to argument. After a while, though, I found myself mulling over my doubts more than my faith, and the hope that had buoyed me up so much, all of that optimism that had grown up within me, had waned to almost nothing. As I waited for my mission call, I was to the level of crisis, coupled with other circumstances that made me doubt seriously my future as a member of the church.

One day in early summer, I drove several miles to a lake to contemplate how to eliminate the struggle. Death seemed like a possible option, but running away sounded nice too. Bear in mind that I am occasionally prone to melodrama and so, sitting alone in my car, I breathed out my ultimatum in a storm of anger and frustration to God, yelling about promises unfulfilled, and faith unrewarded:  I wanted answers, or else I would die. I swore. I remember this experience vividly. After I sat for about an hour in my car in an exhausted stupor, staring at the waves through my tears, there came a feeling of peace and love and understanding that crept up on me gently. It was the Holy Ghost, that quiet comforter, and He filled me with love and told me to return home. I knew at that moment that I was not alone, that He knew me, and that I was where he wanted me to be. I drove back with a feeling of peace about my future in The Church that has never since left me for very long. When I walked in the door, my mission call was lying on the kitchen table. I was able to accept it.

After Elijah the prophet had fled for his life, leaving behind his calling to preach, he “went a day’s journey into the wilderness…and he requested for himself that he might die; and said, It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life; for I am not better than my fathers” (1 Kings 19:4). After he had been fed and watered by the Lord for forty days living in a cave, the Lord said, “What doest thou here, Elijah?” and He commanded Elijah to

     "stand upon the mountain before the Lord. And behold the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake.

     And after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice" (Kings 19:9-12).

I believe that after all the storms of discussion and frustration and studying and searching, and all the social and political movements and jabbering unrest that I participated in and went through, after all of that, there came to me the quiet voice of truth, spiritual truth, the kind that nourishes and uplifts the soul and allowed me to continue on in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Lord was not in the fire, or the wind, or the earthquake. We all will experience those kinds of moments in our journey of faith, and they can be a powerful and startling display. But after it all, if we are still around to listen, we will hear that quiet voice of the Lord that is calling us back down, to continue on in our work to build the Kingdom of God.

We can and should ask questions and find out information about any sort of troubling issue. I still have plenty. The world excels at providing me with more and more questions, heaps and piles of thousands of complicated, twisted questions, but when it comes to matters of faith, it cannot give me the answers. And when times come for me to evaluate my faith, like Elijah I can imagine the Lord whispering to me, "What doest thou here, Christopher?" And then, in quiet moments, I can stand on the mountain and for yet another time compare the wind, the earthquake, the fire (and the Lord was not in them) to the still small voice of revelation.

Like Joseph Smith, we must find answers in this "war of words and tumult of opinions." Like him, my mind has at times been "greatly excited, the cry and tumult were so great and incessant" (JSH 1:8-10) but while Joseph Smith listened well and weighed all the arguments, he did not stop there. He knew that the answers lay beyond the storm of words and reasoning of men, and so he retired to a grove of trees in humility and faith, seeking the will of God, and there he received truth directly.

Only God has ever filled my hunger for simple, real, spiritual sustenance. He answers my prayers. He always has. That has been the singular, most amazing miracle of my life. It may take time, and the process is often gradual, but when I go to him with my questions, quietly waiting, His truth has filled me up, and I can feel His promise for a time of greater understanding, when "the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea" (Isaiah 11:9).