Why I Believe by Bari

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September 28, 2015 by FHElessons

Today I am sharing an essay written by one of the smartest people I know – my mom!  She has a PhD in biochemistry and is a deep thinker as well as a person of great faith.  In this essay she describes how she developed that faith over the course of the 65 years of her life (at the time it was written).  Faith is not something easily obtained and held but something that takes consistent practice to be made strong and lasting.

This post is part of my Why I Believe series.  To find all the essays in this series, please click on the “Why I Believe” tab at the top of the page.

To read Questions and Answers About Gaining a Testimony, go HERE.

To find out how to write your own Why I Believe essay, go HEREIf you would like to contribute your essay to my series, I would love to publish it for you!  You can send it to me by e-mail at FHElessons {at} aol {dot} com.

Why I Believe by Bari

 

Recently, as I listened to some of my family talking about me, it seemed to me that they were under the impression that I had always had a strong testimony of the Gospel as taught by the LDS Church, and that I had been guided by that testimony my whole life. The problem with this misunderstanding was that they thought I was somehow different than they were – that since they did not have such a testimony either they were wrong or I was wrong, uncommonly blessed, or extra intelligent. I want you to know that none of this is true. I haven’t always had a testimony. I am not wrong about everything. I am blessed but not uncommonly so. And intelligence is useful, but not essential, to a testimony of the truth of God and His ways.

Anyway, I have thought much about this misperception of my testimony and my responsibility to be more open about my feelings, knowledge, growth, and development as a person of faith. Just to start, let me tell you that it is very important that we never judge a person by what we see in the present. No one is today what they were yesterday, let alone, what they were years in the past. No one is today what they will be in the future. The innocence of a sweet toddler never carries into adulthood, nor should it. I hope you are not today what you were last year nor what you will become in the years ahead. One of the most powerful evidences of life is change. That is the beauty of life. When we see someone stuck in a rut, not making progress in life, not learning, doing the same thing over and over, we describe that person as “brain dead”. I hope that is not your impression of me. I may be the oldest person in the family, but I am not dead – physically, intellectually, or spiritually – and actually I don’t ever plan to be!

So, in order to erase any idea that I have always been as I am today, especially as it relates to my testimony, I would like to try to describe somewhat the development of my own spiritual understanding – that which we call a “testimony of the gospel”.

THE SEARCH FOR TRUTH

One thing that probably always has been present in my mind is the desire to know the truth – the truth about anything and everything. The truth, I feel, is a safety rod. The more truth we understand, the fewer will be our mistakes, the greater will be our contentment, our productivity, and our joy. Now I admit that truth is not an absolute; it is a goal. Two people can observe the same event and describe it differently based on their previous experience and understanding. I see truth, not as a point, but as a vast expanding body of interactive knowledge. God has it all. It is what makes Him God. We can only work to approach His total truth – work on small parts of it – the physical, the spiritual, the emotional, etc. However, the thing we must never do is to deny the truth we have found. That will only lead us backward.

Let me give you an example: As a scientist, it was my job to ask a question, state a possible answer, and design an experiment that would test the accuracy of that answer to the question. Now, if the question was an important one, and if the answer I had imagined was correct, then the experiment would have a positive result, and I would look like a very smart scientist. I could advance in my career. But what if I was wrong? Well, actually, we learn much from the wrong answer too. We learn what is not correct. We are directed further in our search. But, unfortunately for me as a scientist, I wouldn’t look that smart. I wouldn’t have some great success to report in the scientific literature. I wouldn’t advance in my career. When I was young, none of those negative outcomes really occurred to me. But as an adult I saw that sometimes, even scientists, those entrusted with a search for truth, would be so influenced by personal considerations that they would fake the result of their investigation. Not regularly, of course, because these are people who love the search for truth, but sometimes, unfortunately the truth was hidden by the need for something else.

I bet you are really disappointed to hear this. I surely was disappointed to see it. I didn’t want to believe it. But I bet when you think about it carefully, you can see that it could happen.

I have always tried to search for the truth, find the answer to questions, and apply that truth to my actions. I search for truth in physical things and in spiritual things. It is spiritual truth that we are talking about here, but the two truths – physical and spiritual – are very often intertwined so there is no need to separate the two. Truth in one area often leads to truth in the other. Our Heavenly Father is the author of all truth and that superior intelligence makes His decisions right. When we understand that and value His knowledge and understanding, we are firmly on the path to safety, productivity, and joy.

But what if there is no God? I promise to discuss that a little later. Just follow this discussion of truth a little longer, please.

Let us look at one example of truth – a law of nature – the law of gravity. In a simplistic way, we learn very young about the law of gravity. Toddlers don’t understand at first, but soon learn, that if you don’t hold onto something it will drop. If you come to a step and crawl right off, you will fall. We understand that if we stand on the edge of the bluff at the beach and take a step too far, we will fall to the sand or worse yet, to the rocks below. There is no doubt in our mind. This knowledge is very useful to our safety. But what if we come to understand the principles of aerodynamics? Then we jump off the cliff holding firmly to our hang glider and have a marvelous experience sailing through the air out over the ocean. Nature or God has designed this world so that we learn things simply and safely at first. Then come to a greater understanding, and have success and joy because of this truth we understand.

Now let’s look at a spiritual truth. God clearly has told mankind from the earliest records we have that we are to pray to Him, to ask for our needs, to recognize and thank Him for His love and assistance, to reverence His will. Toddlers in their purity are eager to learn to pray. Sometimes their prayers are very simple, but often we hear profound things coming from their good hearts. They certainly do not understand all there is about hearing answers or direction in response to their prayers, but, overtime, they will receive answers and come to understand on a deeper level. They will ask for help in finding something and come to recognize the direction of the Holy Ghost in finding it. If they continue to pray, this understanding and recognition will increase. But what if they become stubborn 10 year olds? They stop acting on the truth they know and stop hearing the voice of the Spirit. They lose the ability to be guided and to grow in understanding of God’s ways.

Hopefully this period of rebellion will be short lived and they will return to asking their questions from someone, their Heavenly Father, who actually has all truth. And they will have marvelous experiences coming to recognize the voice of the Spirit and following their Heavenly Father’s truth.

If they are really truth seekers, they will search for spiritual truth in prayer, in the scriptures, in discussion with other truth seekers, in houses of learning including church meetings. They will continue to experiment with following the direction God has given His people over time, and they will observe, honestly, the results of various life choices. The more closely they come to know the principles upon which this world works, the greater their success and joy. And they will have marvelous experiences being led by the Spirit until they eventually see the face of God.

I know that sounds simplistic and I’m sorry for that. In one way it is simple – follow God and find joy. Rebel against God – and learn the hard way what the truth is. Cooperate with the truth and make rapid progress. Rebel and crawl painfully over rocky paths. We cannot change the laws of spiritual things any more than we can change the law of gravity. We can only hope to come to understand more intricately the truth and its application to our lives. Just as with the dishonest scientists I mentioned above, pride, arrogance, selfishness, a loss of reverence for the truth, are negatives to understanding, happiness, and success in negotiating this life. Oh, that we could all retain the purity of a toddler in our search for truth in this life.

THE NATURE OF GOD

One of my earliest memories happened when I was either 3 or 5. I’m not sure which because I date this memory from the place where we lived which was similar at both ages; however, it seems to me that my sister was an infant which would have made me 3. It really doesn’t matter though because my parents were in the living room with friends deeply involved in a religious discussion. They were truth seekers who continued discussions of this type through most of my young life. I was banished to the bedroom, but listening at the door, supposed to be asleep, but not – also common for me. They were discussing the nature of God and Christ, a common topic. To me it seemed strange that adults would continue to discuss and never come to a knowledge of the truth. To me the answer was simple – ask someone who did know. That’s how toddlers learn – ask someone wise. I remember turning and kind of crawling away from the door over to my bed. Then falling against the edge of the bed in a kneeling position and I said, whether aloud or in my head I don’t remember, “Who are you? What do you want me to call you – God or Jesus or Christ or what?” And then I just climbed up on my bed and went to sleep, assuming God would answer, but like with all adults, …in His own good time. Since that time, I guess you could say, I have always been looking for and receiving the answer to that prayer – that’s 65 years of experimenting, learning, studying, and coming closer to understanding. How incredibly complex the answer to that childish question is, I could never have imagined. How beautifully simple the application of its answer is, I would learn for the rest of my life.

There have been times when I thought there was no such thing as God – that the concept of God was too simplistic an answer to how the universe works. I remember one time having this discussion with an adult chemistry student of mine. Without committing to one answer or the other, I said, “You can choose to follow God’s laws and then, at the end of your life, either you were right and you will be rewarded with eternal happiness; or you were wrong, there is no God, and it won’t matter because there will be no you.”

She said, “But you will have missed all the fun of life by denying yourself to follow the commandments.” (She was the wife of a performer on the Las Vegas Strip and lived a very wild life style to say the least.)

I have thought of her perception so many times during my 40 plus years since then. I wish I had been wise enough to say, “But you will miss the misery of your poor choices and the true joy of life that you never even guess exists.” But I was young and had not yet had the benefit of years of observation – observation of the lives of those who make one choice or the other. I thought all those I loved would have good lives and only those who were evil would suffer in this life. How wrong I was. In my own extended family and also in my husband’s family, those who chose to follow the commandments have found happiness and those who have chosen the alternate path have suffered – loss, illness, and most of all, loneliness. Everyone has faced difficulties and suffering and trials in the short term, but how many, many times have I heard the lament, “How different my life would have been if only I had chosen differently!”

The concluding words of the Robert Frost poem my mother taught me as a child have so often run through my mind:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I-

I chose the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

I did not know at the time that “the one less traveled by” actually means the one that requires the most effort, the one that is not “the easy path”, the one that is not the path of least resistance.

In college, many of my professors tried to convince me that there was no God. They considered it a simplistic answer to an impersonal, natural world order. Some tried to convince me not to attend BYU thinking I would not be taught the truth there. Can’t say I really liked BYU, but not that I wasn’t taught truth there. It was way too big and impersonal for my personality, but the professors were certainly of the highest quality and taught more truth than many of my teachers elsewhere.

Once I was convinced that there could be a God, but that He set the world up to run according to a set of natural laws and did not interfere with the results of those laws as they played out. In other words, He did not individually answer our prayers or have any need to since His world was perfectly constructed. I argued this case vehemently with my boyfriend (my husband now). His answer was practical as he always is. He climbed the hill across from the cabin, knelt in prayer, and asked God if He was there and answered prayers, to send a deer to him. As he looked up a young fawn walked towards him.

What chance is there of that happening just at that time without God’s intervention. How many times since has it happened to any of us? Rarely, if ever. Even I was convinced – convinced there was a God who listened and answered personal prayers, but still not knowing all there was to know about Him and how He works. I am still learning more about that.

As I grew and developed I had many questions-

  • What is God’s relationship to us?
  • What is Faith and how do you get it?
  • How can you identify answers to prayers?
  • Why are there so many different religions and even different sects?
  • What things are commandments of God and which are the rules of men?

 

These 3 truths I do now know-

There is a God. He is a loving, perfect Heavenly Father. He loves me and each of His other children equally, just as I love each of my sons, daughters, and grandchildren individually. He planned and set in order our world as expansive as astronomy recognizes it to be and more. He understands how it works and tries to impart this knowledge to me and to His other children. He wants to give us good things. He gives us commandments which I recognize as “helpful hints for happy living”. Each contains an element of truth which when accurately applied brings success, but when disregarded, brings difficulties large or small. Each choice has consequences, of course. As we experiment, each choice is a learning experience. He wants us to be happy and enjoy the fruits of His work. In fact, He designed this environment to help us learn. He is a Good Father, loving, protecting, teaching, disciplining, and giving.

There is a Christ – Jesus, our elder brother, a loving, wise, self-sacrificing protector – a mediator who understands our youth and errors because He was once young and suffered. He teaches us, provides an example for us to follow, forgives our errors and the weakness of our comparative youth. He is there for us now as we invoke His name in prayer in spite of our imperfection. He will be there for us when the measure of our life is taken – defending us and excusing our weakness and explaining the individual difficulties we faced in life. I see him as the perfect member of our generation, the generation of Earth, who is the perfectly wise Elder sibling we all wish we had been to our own siblings. I have spent my life searching His words in scripture to learn His teachings and studying His behavior, also in scripture and other historical records, so that I can follow His example and, understanding, obey His instructions.

There is a Holy Spirit who is with us, with or without our knowledge. It is He whom I take for my example in my attempts at successful parenting. He is never intrusive. Our success is important to Him. He is there when we call for Him, and often even when we don’t. He offers wise and important counsel quietly, without demand, sometimes in response to our questions, but always in response to our need. He never forces. But when we rebel or do not hear or disregard His counsel, and suffer for our improper choices and actions, He is still there to help us with the new problems we have caused for ourselves. He is never judgmental, critical, or punitive. He wants only our success and happiness and to protect us where we will allow Him to do so. His attention to our needs is close and constant, often unnoticed and underappreciated, but can be loud and physical when our physical or spiritual safety is at risk. But it is that silent portion of His nature is that allows for our personal maturation.

I also believe that throughout the history of our Earth, Our Father has used many different leaders to provide opportunities for His children here to spiritually mature and return to live with Him in eternity. Just as we as parents teach our children one tiny truth at a time, structure learning opportunities, and allow for the restrictions of immaturity as they learn, so our Father does with each of us individually, but also with societies in general. It is the process He is interested in, more than an end result since time is eternal and growth is always a probability. It may seem unfair that some are born into great knowledge while others live in more primitive times. It seems unfair because we are forgetting that time is eternal and process is the important thing. Some live in the Dark Ages and some in the Age of Enlightenment. Each suffer, though differently. Life is a test to all. Spiritual truth is imparted to society in general and each of us individually, a little at a time as we are ready to make use of it. And when we are gifted with much as we are in our time, much is expected as we make use of the truth and other blessings we are given.

Jesus brought the world all truth as far as people were prepared to receive it. Much of what He taught was misunderstood, lost, or even rejected. Then as now, those who could hear, heard, and those who could not, did not. Fortunately for us, historical records were kept, each recorded according to the understanding of its author. Taken together they are a most valuable resource. Studying these records, especially under the influence of the Spirit, we can make much more rapid progress in our spiritual progression while here on earth, than we could have without them. And our current information technology places a special responsibility on our generation to make use of these records including the scriptures, other historical records, writing of great thinkers, and even communications with each other. We have no need to learn in a vacuum.

I also have a testimony of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as the body which has access to the most spiritual truth on earth at this time. In the future Christ will return and we will live in Zion where all truth is available and placed in practice, where there will be peace, and there will be no poor and suffering. But at this time we are blessed with many different sects which represent different environments in which we can learn. Some are ready for pre-school, so to speak, and some for graduate school with many different levels in between. But with each, our loving Father has sought to bring truth to His children. We can learn much as we compare, contrast, and experiment with these differing moral environs. As with all learning opportunities, we must guard against obstacles to our understanding such as pride, rebellion, selfishness, blindness to truth, and wishful thinking among others.

Along with this testimony of the LDS Church as the haven of greatest truth on earth at this time, I have a testimony of its elemental truths such as the reality of prophets both past and present including Joseph Smith and acceptance of an expanding body of scripture including the Book of Mormon he presented to the world. Here are a few of the reasons for my understanding

First, it is important whenever we are considering a topic on which different people might have different views, that we are careful to define what we are talking about exactly. “Prophet” for example has a different connotation in some Christian religions than it does in Mormonism. The Bible Dictionary in the LDS edition of the scriptures defines a prophet as a messenger from God and who does His will. He is not a magical person who can foretell the future. With that in mind, let’s look at my reasons for accepting Joseph as a prophet.

1-The first thing that drew me to the LDS church was that many of the things that existed in the church at the time of Christ were a part of the LDS church – prophets, apostles, revelation, blessings, baptism by immersion, a personal Heavenly Father, Jesus as the son of God, priesthood, etc.

2- When I read Joseph’s description of what happened to him it had the ring of truth to me. I had had religious questions unanswered by parents or religious leaders too, and wished I had come across the scripture in James 1:5 as Joseph Smith did. (I love James. He was Jesus’ brother and knew him so well.) I had been laughed at and made people angry with my questions and answers just as many laughed at Joseph’s experiences. I understood that once having had a vision like Joseph had, that a person of integrity could not deny it. I thought of Paul who could not deny his testimony of Jesus before the Roman courts even though it cost him his life.

3- When I read the Book of Mormon or even just read stories in it, I did not really find it believable to think that a young, uneducated man could produce such a book himself. The structure is extremely complex. The religious concepts are deep and often original. The characters are developed and recognizable. Sometimes things that were unknown at the time it was written turn out to be authentic. And, over my life, I have seen supposed evidence that disproved the Book of Mormon become evidence for its authenticity as society’s knowledge base expanded.

4- Over the years I have witnessed and felt the power of the priesthood used by those who had received their priesthood through Joseph Smith and his successors. I have been immediately healed by a blessing, felt the power of the Spirit guiding me in the calling to which priesthood power had set me apart. I have witnessed the blessings in people’s lives when they followed the current prophet’s instruction. For example, I don’t know where Grandpa and I would be if we had not followed the prophet who advised that we get out of debt and even pay off our mortgage. Our extended family has certainly weathered the current US and world economic difficulties with much less suffering because of heeding our current prophet’s direction

All of these things have built my testimony of the restoration of the gospel on the earth, Joseph Smith as a prophet, and the priesthood in the LDS church.

Once the gospel was lost bringing the Dark Ages, the priesthood was lost as well. Many people and bodies of Saints (churches) have participated in God’s work of restoring the gospel to the minds and hearts of men and women. It was given to Joseph Smith to restore the priesthood and the ordinances. He was a messenger of God and did God’s will in bringing the Book of Mormon to light and restoring the priesthood. He was so certain of what he saw and heard, of what God asked of him, that he gave his life rather than deny his mission. That is a strong witness of the strength of his own testimony.

One final thing- Even though there are currently many differing religious traditions, eventually we will all “come to a unity of the faith” as Paul directs, our families included.

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Hi! I'm Laura. I started this blog to continue to teach FHE lessons to my children who are grown and living away from home. I also hope to serve my six sisters by preparing FHE lessons that they can use with their younger children, and I hope the lessons will be helpful to you as well! If you would like to contact me, please e-mail me at FHElessons@aol.com.

What is FHE?

FHE stands for Family Home Evening and is a night set aside each week (usually Monday) by families who belong to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. FHE is a chance for parents to teach lessons to their children about the gospel of Jesus Christ as well as other important topics. The lesson is frequently accompanied by a fun activity together as a family and a yummy treat.
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