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Seeking for evidence

Recently the topic of evidence-seeking has come up frequently in comments on my posts, and I decided it warranted further exploration.

Is it weakness or folly to believe without evidence as Larry suggests in the comments here?  Or is it weakness or folly to require evidence to believe?

Must one have physical proof in order to believe something, or does that illustrate a crippled faith? 

Certainly the carnal man prefers evidence, as solid and irrefutable as we can get, for our minds seek naturally for such proof.  To proceed without proof, or evidence, is risky.  As such, throughout biblical history we find such sign seekers… those unwilling to believe without some sort of evidence or sign. 

But of these sign seekers we read… “And when the people were gathered thick together, he began to say, this is an evil generation:  they seek a sign” (Luke 11:29).  And in Mark we find that when the Pharisees came questioning Jesus, they sought from him a sign from heaven, and Jesus “sighed deeply in his spirit, and saith, why doth this generation seek after a sign?” (Mark 8:11-12)

So should we seek for evidence?  In Hebrews 11 (the great dissertation on faith by Paul), we find that faith IS evidence:

“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1).

Clearly, we need not see to believe. 

Verse 7:  “By faith Noah, being bwarned of God of things not seen as yet, cmoved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house;”

Did Noah require evidence before building the ark?  When God told him that it would rain for 40 days and 40 nights, did he say “prove it”?  He didn’t need to, for his faith was sufficient for action.

Verse 8:  “By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went.

Did Abraham require proof, or evidence before he acted?  Or was his faith sufficient?

What about Sarah in v.10, did she require evidence to have a child?  Or in v. 17, when Abraham was told to sacrifice his very son, did he require evidence that this was necessary, or did he move on faith alone?  In v. 29 when Moses approached the Red Sea, did he need evidence that he could part the sea or did he simply believe?

Were these people weak for not requiring evidence, or strong for not needing it.

In life we progress line upon line, precept upon precept.  While the need for evidence might be a suitable start, there needs to come a time in our spiritual progression where we graduate from the requirement of such a crutch, where our faith becomes like that of Moses, Abraham, and Noah, enabling us to act based on nothing more than faith alone.  Enabling us to act based on a witness from the spirit, and not some physical manifestation that our path is sure. 

But even those who have asked such questions are coming close without knowing it.  For as the Lord said to Thomas, who doubted his resurrection “Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou has believed:  blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.” (John 20:29)

Here the Lord not only confirms that more blessed are they for whom faith is sufficient, but that they themselves, having not seen Jesus, yet who believe in him, have shown themselves capable of belief without proof.

While God may find it within His wisdom to provide evidence where he may, far be it from me to require it of him. 

True faith does not require evidence.  And while the wisdom of the world might find this imprudent, or call it weak, the wisdom of the world is not what I seek, but the strength of the faith of Noah, Moses, Abraham, and of all the great prophets, for God hath made foolish the wisdom of the world (1 Cor. 1:20).

Rusty

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Do you measure yourself?

I’ve moved this post to my new Life-Engineering blog, dedicated to motivating people to achieve their goals and change their futures by taking control of their lives.

You can now find this post here:

http://life-engineering.com/do-you-measure-yourself/

Is there evidence for the Book of Mormon – the answer may surprise you

Tina, on the post “Seeking for evidence” asked today:

Please give me the name of one renowned historian who takes the Book of Mormon serious.

Tina, I appreciate your question.  I have your answer.  Before I share it, I think it’s important to note why so many ask this question.

The Book of Mormon presents a serious challenge to orthodox Christianity.  It is said to be another witness of Jesus Christ, a record of His dealings with the Ancient American inhabitants.  If scripture, it provides clarity to the bible in ways which create occasional, but important contradictions to the traditions and beliefs that have evolved over the centuries by all other Christian denominations.

If the Book of Mormon is true, then not only does it call into question the beliefs of so many, but it has eternal implications for you, and calls for meaningful, but difficult changes to your life.

As such, it would be much easier if we could simply dismiss it, rather than undertake the spiritual responsibility of studying it ourselves, and asking God if it is true.  That makes us vulnerable, and we all prefer to have our beliefs validated, and not challenged.

If it could simply be dismissed, that would be so much easier.  If we could just say “there is insufficient archeological evidence to support such claims” then we give ourselves reason to move on.  And so rather than seek the answer from God, we seek answers from men, from science.  We say “give me evidence, give me proof”, even when we know that “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1).  Indeed, faith is the evidence, not things we can see.

Still, we want a sign, and archeology is the easiest, and often the first place to turn.  Why?  Because we’ve been raised under the misconception that the Americas don’t have the archeological evidence to support the massive amounts of people, or the advanced technology as recorded in the Book of Mormon.

Indeed, even today, textbooks teach that pre-Columbian America was largely uninhabited.  But as we continuously find throughout all the sciences, things previously accepted as facts (like a flat world), end up not being factual at all.

While there are numerous new findings (archeological, anthropological, and otherwise) that I could recount (and will at some point), perhaps the single best source I could refer you to is a new book, recently published, and that is now a National Bestseller. It’s called “1491:  New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus” by Charles C. Mann.  Coincidentally, Mann is not LDS, and didn’t intend to validate the Book of Mormon with his work, even though that’s precisely what he did.

The Washington Post said “1491 vividly compels us to re-examine how we teach the ancient history of the Americas…”  The book explains that contrary to what so many Americans learn in school, the pre-Columbian Indians were not sparsely settled, but were here in huge numbers, larger even than any contemporary European city.  That the people shaped the earth around them, had immaculately clean streets, running water, and were even the first to genetically engineer crops.  But for decades, archaeologists, anthropologists, paleolinguists, and others have been bringing forward a different story.  1491 brings it all together in one read.

One interesting revelation brought by these scientists, is the realization that rather than the first Americans having come over the Bering land bridge around 12,000 B.C, but rather that they came by boat.  Interestingly, that’s just how the Book of Mormon describes it.

Another interesting revelation is that the reason early European visitors found an empty landscape, was not because they’d found the natural, unchanging state of native America, but rather the end product of a vast society decimated by wars and epidemics – perhaps the greatest in human history.  Again, remarkably, that’s just how the Book of Mormon explains it.

Mann describes discovering gigantic ancient cities, with huge, 14 foot walls thrown up as fortifications.  Again, just how the Book of Mormon describes Moroni’s fortifications of the Nephite cities.

It was believed that the Inca, for instance, fell to Pizarro because they had no metallurgy.  But these findings clearly show that they actually had a highly refined metallurgy, just as the Book of Mormon states.

About the book, “Publishers Weekly” stated that “Mann also shows that the Maya constructed huge cities and governed them with a cohesive set of political ideals. Most notably, according to Mann, the Haudenosaunee, in what is now the Northeast U.S., constructed a loose confederation of tribes governed by the principles of individual liberty and social equality.”  Again, that’s just how the Book of Mormon describes the creation of the Nephite nation, and Moroni’s “standard of liberty” which united the cities, even placing them in the right area.

So while it would be convenient to dismiss the Book of Mormon based on the old, uninformed notion that there isn’t sufficient archeological evidence to validate its claims, in fact, the opposite is true.

So true in fact, that the new evidence not only validates the description of early America as recorded in the Book of Mormon, but validates the prophetic nature of the Joseph Smith.  For it must be remembered that we’re talking about a book written by Joseph Smith (actually translated from ancient plates) hundreds of years ago.  Long before any of this evidence was to surface, at a time when such writings were in stark contrast to current beliefs.  But here we are, hundreds of years later, finding detailed evidence validating that work.

It’s been surprising to many.

Publishers Weekly further commented about the book:  “In a riveting and fast-paced history, massing archeological, anthropological, scientific and literary evidence, Mann debunks much of what we thought we knew about pre-Columbian America.  Reviewing the latest, not widely reported research in Indean demography, origins and ecology, Mann zestfully demonstrates that long before any European explorers set foot in the New World, native American cultures were flourishing with a high degree of sophistication.  The new researchers have turned received wisdom on its head.”

I’ll be posting additional similarities illustrated in the Book (and elsewhere) to further eliminate this “easy out”, but if you prefer not to wait, here’s the link to it on Amazon.

Most importantly, however, are two simply points.  The first is the principle that we should not require the validation of science (or signs) to substantiate our faith.  It’s sure nice when it does, but true faith needs no such validation.  Second, having removed the easy dismissal of the Book of Mormon, it is upon each of us to then undertake the spiritual responsibility to consider the work for ourselves.  To study, and read it for ourselves.  And then to ask God, for ourselves, if it is not true.   It’s simply too important not to.

Indeed, “if any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God” (James 1:5).  The Book of Mormon itself contains a promise.

“And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things be not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.  And by the power of the Holy Ghost, ye may know the truth of all things.” (Moroni 10:3-5)

Rusty

P.S.  for more information about the Book of Mormon, or to request a copy, click here.

See also “Discussing an open canon” for coverage and discussions about the common  misconception that the canon of scripture is closed.

Whose answer is right?

On my “Ask a Mormon” page, Brad asks a very important question (summarized):

If Mormons claim that the best way to know if their church is true is by a witness from the Spirit, how do you counter the argument that others in different religions have claimed to have received their own witness?

I can’t say that I have the definitive answer.  I’m not inherently intellectual, so I don’t have much native capacity to draw on to address such a difficult issue.  On the other hand, I try very diligently to approach such matters of eternal consequence with humility, seeking only to understand Gods will and, with his grace, his assistance in presenting it cohesively.  In short, if my thoughts are of no value, that’s my fault alone, but if they shed any light on the issue, then the credit is not mine.

That said, the answer, of course, is as individual as the purported testimonies of those who claim to have received a witness.  There won’t be any single answer inherently and independently capable of adequately addressing every possible scenario.  But that doesn’t mean the question can’t be answered; it just means there are many possible answers.  I’ll address several.

Feelings

I elaborate more on this particular topic in “Is your testimony based on emotion?“.  Feelings are fallible things.  Not every “warm fuzzy” we feel has the depth of divinity or is the substance of the Spirit. 

But since the Spirit speaks to our hearts, gives us feelings and inclinations, the burden is upon us as individuals to distinguish what is of divine origin, and what is merely a biochemical reaction to something of psychological appeal. 

But the very nature of feelings and their interpretation is highly subjective.  A vulnerability quickly capitalized on by commercialized religions, who stock their services with mechanisms to manufacture such emotions… live bands, shouts and songs, and preachers adept in the art of oratory entertainment (which I address here, since our meetings are so different).

Is someone attending one of these sessions likely to “feel” something?  Well if they didn’t, then these churches wouldn’t currently be in business.  That IS their business and they’re very good at it.  So simply feeling something at one of these sermons doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve received a divine confirmation that you’ve found the true church.

But even outside of a church sermon, two separate people praying to know if their differing religions are true, are highly prone to erroneously interpreting their answer, if based solely on how they “feel”. 

Does it feel more “comfortable” following what your family, friends, and associates might be doing?  Does it feel better continuing on a path with which you are already familiar?  Of course, so if you’re relying simply on your feelings, then they’re bound to be polluted with these kinds of sociological and psychological pressures that naturally affect the way we “feel” about anything, but that are entirely external to the issue at hand. 

For example, if someone, raised in another religion, were to ask God if Mormonism was correct or if they should continue going to their current church, then the first, and natural tendency is to feel like they should continue on the path that they were on, because that feels comfortable.  After all, the host of difficult, life-changing ramifications of converting to another religion does not generally constitute a welcome proposition.

If all you’re relying upon is a feeling for an answer, with no more investment but to ask, then you’re feelings are bound be be born of influences other than a witness from God.  This brings me to my next point.

But first, in summary – we simply MUST figure out if the feelings we receive are divine, or the natural result of preconceived notions, or the tendency to cling to what we know, or what is easiest, or are they simply superficial fluff manufactured by those who know how to do so.

Why might we find contradictory “witnesses”?  Because feelings are fallible things, and not all of them are of divine origin.

Sincerity

Due to the difficulty surrounding some answers, our natural tendency is to try less hard, to invest less effort, or to be less sincere about pursuing a course that would be uncomfortable.

If I were to pray “Is Mormonism true, or is my current church true”, the simple nature of the question pollutes my ability to isolate an answer.  It introduces far too much external emotional baggage (as explained above), and illustrates a general lack of sincerity in seeking the answer.  A question such as this seems to simply pay lip service to the search, when the extent of your effort was but to ask.

The level of sincerity with which one seeks an answer will be directly proportional to their mental investment into researching the answer.

For unless you first study it out in your own mind, truly researching (not to refute, but to understand), and then coming to your own conclusion, will you be appropriately armed to transcend the emotional baggage of the answer of either option.

At that point, you’re comparing principle to principle, and not the implications of the options.

But without first studying it out in your mind, your feelings are far too susceptible to exterior emotional baggage, leaving you ill-suited to accurately determine the divinity of your answer.  You simply haven’t invested the time, or the emotional and mental effort, and by not doing so, have shown that you’re not truly sincere in your search.  An insincere search is nothing more than a self-fulfilling prophecy.  

A good measure of your sincerity is your actual willingness to appropriately act upon the answer you receive, regardless of the consequences.

Why might we find contradictory “witnesses” – insincerity.

Multiple Sources

We’re talking about salvation, and in this battle, there is more than one power working to influence the souls of men.  Satan has had much time, and has proven highly adept at mimicking and impersonating anything of worth, anything of the Spirit, and anything of God.

And so, should we be surprised that when it comes to praying to know if a church is true, when it actually isn’t, that he is there with an affirmative answer that would mislead? 

Surely we can’t think that he would choose to sit back and let the cards fall where they may, no, not when we’re talking about the souls of men.  We should expect him to take an active role, introducing as much noise and confusion as possible.

Why might we find contradictory witnesses – because God is not the only one fighting for the souls of men.

Line upon line

The premise upon which this answer is based is a principle upon which we might not agree, but is (in my mind) no less real than any of the others.

Throughout the bible we find the inspired principle of progression by degrees.  He gives us line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little, there a little.  Why would he do this?  Why not give us the whole from the beginning? 

I propose that he chooses not to overwhelm us like this, because he loves us.  His desire is for our salvation.  Because of this, he will never give us more than we are able to bear.  Because we are accountable for that which we receive, he is not anxious to give us more than we can live up to, but instead to allows us to progress in stages. 

So he gives us a little truth, and that becomes our stewardship.  But only after we have proven our ability to live in accordance to the laws and truth we have received, do we demonstrate to him that we are ready for more.  Truth is treasure, and we will not be given more until we become profitable stewards over that which we have already received.  There are many parables about this in the Bible.

For sake of illustration, let’s say church B is some general Christian denomination, teaching much truth, and doing much good, while church A is the actual true church of Christ.

Under this scenario, and based off the principle above, let me ask the following questions…

 If I was an atheist, or of no particular religion, but attended Church B, would I be likely to feel a confirmation from the spirit that this was good?  Under this principle, I’d say that’s very likely.  It’s a step in the right direction, it’s line upon line.

What about if I’m an active participant in Church B, but find out about Church A, but in my heart of hearts (which only God knows), would be unwilling to follow the stricter laws and greater truth in Church A, or simply unwilling to accept the answer that Church A was Christ’s true church because of the difficulty of the path, when I pray, what would my answer be?

These are difficult questions, and I won’t pretend to know the answers.  But I submit, that there are far more variables to one receiving a true and actual witness from the spirit, than we can possibly imagine.

Is there any question on how so many can receive so many different answers?

Can man truly understand the mind and will of God?  Can man, in his limited natural capacity, question his divine intent?  Is it even our place to question the answers of others?  Is it a cop out to simply accept that we may never know why someone received the answer they did, but be willing to step forward in search of our own just the same?  Or is that humility and faith?

We’re talking about the eternal salvation or damnation of our very souls.  With this perspective, I submit that we should waste little time wondering on the answers of others, for sufficient is the task of finding our own, and living under the stewardship that it entails.

We must search diligently, figure it out in our own minds, make our own decision, and then approach the Lord in humble and sincere prayer, and what’s more, be willing to follow the answer, whatever it may be.

So I invite all to learn more about Mormonism, to learn about Joseph Smith, and to read the Book of Mormon.  My testimony is that if you do this with proper humility, sincerity, and diligence, then the answer you receive will be indisputably divine, and unquestionably distinct from any other superficial daily emotion.  You will know that it is from God, and not from man – whether it be of our selves, or feelings manufactured by another.

I invite all to take the challenge.

Rusty

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Unbaptized babies will be saved

If you are one who has suffered the loss of a child that was not baptized, and have been coldly told by your church that your child is damned, and will go to hell, I testify to you in the name of Christ that this is false doctrine.  It’s simply not true.  What’s more, they are still your children, and you will have the chance to be with them again.

Indeed, little children are born mortal, which means they’re subject to sin.  But that doesn’t mean they’re born into sin.  Sin is when we willfully transgress the laws of God.  If you at least had the chance to hold your little child before they were taken from you, and looked into their little eyes, and felt the unmistakable bond of love with them, then you too know that they are pure, that there’s no way their little spirit had willfully transgressed the laws of God.

Nobody can tell me that a little child, least of all an infant, is capable of truly understanding the laws of god and willfully disobeying them.

Little children are alive in Christ.  The Savior taught that we too, must become as these little children.  Little children are naturally full of hope, they believe, their eyes speak of their innocence, they’re full of love and life, not sin and iniquity. 

What terrible, mutated doctrine it is to say that these little spirits will be cruelly cast into hell.  How cold and calculating is that belief, a belief born out of commercialized religion.  Marketing to fear has always been successful, but it’s a shame it had to be put on you, in the name of religion, to compound your grief.  And how incongruous is that teaching with the notion that Christ’s mercy is somehow sufficient to save man from their sin, but somehow insufficient to save a baby from something over which they had no control, and who is incapable of sin.

But the true doctrine of Christ is that your child is not in hell, no, his doctrine is one of hope.

1 Corinthians 15:29 says “Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all?  Why are they then baptized for the dead?”  Why indeed would there be baptism for the dead, if after you died it was too late?

But such is not the case.  They are your children still, and there will come a time when they will be with you again.  You will hold them again, look into their eyes, and feel that unmistakable bond of love. 

Sure, they will need to be baptized for their eventual exaltation, such is clear in scripture, but baptism for the dead as spoken of in Corinthians happens this very day in Mormon temples around the world.  Direct fulfillment of the words of both ancient and latter day prophets, making possible the salvation of souls who have gone before, without the opportunity to be baptized by one who has the proper authority of the priesthood of God.

I testify to you that this is true, and invite you to learn more about the miracles of Mormonism, and the clarity of pure doctrine.  May god bless you with strength, and bring your family together again in eternity.

[digg=http://digg.com/world_news/Your_baby_is_not_going_to_hell]

Rusty

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Researching Mormonism – a Lutheran Bishop’s advice

A lot of non-Mormons find my blog through search engines, and I’m often surprised at the search phrases they use that lead them here.  Many are derogatory, some surprise me (e.g. can Mormons swim in a public pool?),

But many I get illustrate a complete lack of understanding about what Mormons truly believe, which is why I dedicate so many posts to providing them answers.  I hope that some, at least, are doing so because they are genuinely curious about Mormonism, and want accurate answers.

To them, and truly to all, I support the following recommendation, provided by a very wise and prominent Lutheran, Krister Stendahl.

Krister Stendahl was a Swedish theologian and New Testament scholar.  With a doctorate in New Testament studies, he was a professor (and later the dean) of the Divinity School at Harvard University, before being elected as Bishop of Stokholm in 1984.

In 1985, when the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (the Mormons) wanted to build a temple in Stockholm Sweden, there was a lot of vocal opposition, a large part of which seemed to be based on inaccurate understandings about Mormonism.  In response, Krister Stendahl presented Stendahl’s three rules of religious understanding at a press conference.  These were his 3 rules:

  1. When you are trying to understand another religion, you should ask the adherents of that religion, and not its enemies.
  2. Don’t compare your best to their worst.
  3. Leave room for “holy envy” (willingness to find elements in another’s religion that you admire and would like to adopt).

To his points, I would suggest that if you’re trying to learn more about Mormonism, then ask a Mormon.  And don’t think that the worst Mormons you hear about are an accurate representative sample of all Mormons.  And finally, be genuine – don’t just seek to reprove/refute, but to understand.  Otherwise, all you’ll discover is a self-fulfilling prophecy.  After all, you may just find something you like.

In support of Stendahl’s rules, I’m creating a new page “Ask a Mormon”, where you can feel free to ask me (an actual Mormon) anything you wish to know about Mormonism.

Rusty

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Is your testimony based on emotion?

Often, because we learn that the Holy Ghost speaks to our heart, we confuse the divine communication of the spirit with the far more fickle fancies of emotion.

But not every “warm fuzzy” we feel has the depth of divinity or is the substance of the spirit.

Emotion is like paint.  Sure, it adds color to whatever it touches.  You can splash paint on a rock, for instance, and it will colorize the rock well.  Or you can splash some paint in a bucket of water and the paint droplets will swoosh around a bit and form a flimsy film of color on the surface.  But disrupt the water at all, and the color rapidly dissipates.  Paint doesn’t add or provide substance, it just makes things pretty.

In the same way emotion makes experiences enjoyable, but by itself, is an unreliable means of measurement in determining truth and right.   While indeed, some emotion is deeply rooted, and can naturally emanate from poignant and pure principles, emotion can also be surprisingly superficial. 

But we must learn to differentiate and distinguish the substance of the communication of the spirit.

I’m no expert, to be sure, but from my searching to understand the feelings of the spirit, I’ve found the following that perhaps might be of help.

Those warm tingly feelings, warm fuzzies, goosebumps, or that rush up your spine?  Beware.  Those are commonly nothing more than a rush of emotion, and can be equally found while watching a touching movie, hearing a good song, or gazing out at a magnificent vista.  It’s the simple result of a release of endorphins from the brain. 

But feelings from the Holy Ghost are likely to be far more substantial (or are at least accompanied by additional feelings of greater substance then these by themselves).

It seems that communication from the Holy Ghost is more commonly associated with knowledge, understanding, and comprehension.  Like when you turn the light on in a darkened room, and suddenly you “see” and “understand”.   Or like when you find something you’d been searching for after a very long time.  When you’re found, after having been lost.  Like figuring out the answer to an important problem you’ve been pondering for a very long time. 

This kind of “rush of understanding”, or increased comprehension, or as Joseph Smith describes “when it feels like pure knowledge is flowing into you”, these are far more certain to be the “feelings” created by the Holy Ghost, and often seem to be followed by a burning desire to engage, to learn more, and to share.

They key is to always listen, and also take note.  For we won’t always get it right, but as long as we took note of how we felt, by writing it down preferably, then you can look back with the blessing of hindsight and begin to understand in very specific ways, how the Holy Ghost speaks to you.  In time, and with practice, you can grow into revelation and instantly recognize what is divine, and what is not.

It is my estimation, that the ability to receive and recognize revelation is one of the most important skills man can learn in this life, and the endeavor should not be taken lightly.

Rusty

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Our children cannot breathe

I’ve moved this post to my new Life-Engineering blog, dedicated to motivating people to achieve their goals and change their futures by taking control of their lives.

You can now find this post here:

http://life-engineering.com/our-children-cannot-breathe/