I have been a member of the Church for more than 42 years since the day of my 18th birthday and there are still things in the gospel I don’t understand like . . .
Will it really hurt me if I drink a cup of coffee, glass of tea or pretty goblet of wine once in a while? I have accidentally drunk out of my mother’s fast food iced tea instead of my soft drink and the universe didn’t shift, even if I did confess it to the bishop during a temple recommend interview.
For years I explained to people who asked why I don’t drink tea and coffee all about tannic acid and caffeine, just as the person who brought me into the Church had explained to me. But the caffeine argument falls apart since even some of the most faithful members of the Church drink caffeine, so what about that?
And then there are all those studies that come out every few months and report that women who drink a glass of wine a day have fewer heart attacks, blah, blah, blah, so I really don’t understand why drinking just a little bit of coffee or tea or even wine would physically hurt me. And maybe it wouldn’t.
But I don’t drink coffee, tea, or alcohol or do anything else forbidden by the Word of Wisdom because it would hurt me spiritually to be disobedient.
And then there’s the “polygamy issue.” I have found myself in the past defending historical polygamy by recounting statistics about how few people in the Church actually practiced it and how many women were left without husbands because of the mobs and even pointing out the Old Testament examples of Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar in an effort to defend the practice or find common ground with critics.
I gave that up years ago, though, and decided I just don’t have those answers. If that’s all people know about the Church I assure them we no longer practice polygamy and direct their attention to all the wonderful practices we do have and which I do understand.
Since I live in the South you can imagine the subject of the history of blacks and the priesthood often comes up. I’m a newspaper reporter and a few years ago when I was interviewing one of the area’s most vocal civil rights leaders I had interviewed in the past, I asked him a question off the record and, in the course of the conversation, he found out I was a Mormon.
For the next little while I was the target of a lively denunciation of the Church based on what he perceived to be our racist past. And I had no explanations he would accept for I didn’t really understand the reasons myself except that God had said so, an answer he wouldn’t accept.
I don’t understand the whole homosexuality issue either. I don’t know why everyone is wired the way they are, and I know being gay can be very difficult. I have two good friends who are gay. One has been in a loving, long-term relationship longer than I have been married. I care about him and understand his desire to be married, yet I support the Church’s definition of what marriage should be. I can’t explain the two opposing viewpoints except to say that God has spoken, however much I may not understand.
Lastly, I don’t understand the Atonement. I feel its power in my life. I daily and nightly kneel and beg for the mercy, grace, and forgiveness of its redemption to flow down upon me, then I stand up a more whole person, relying upon the merits of my Elder Brother and Savior who somehow, mysteriously to me made that Atonement happen.
I still have not able to watch the LDS Bible video all the way through of the crucifixion because it is so painful to watch and I am so humbled and grateful that Christ endured that for me.
But I do not understand how the Atonement works. If God the Father is all powerful, why couldn’t He just say in this one case let’s not do it this way? I’m the mother of seven children and I used to change rules all the time if it suited me. Couldn’t God? If He’s living by laws even He is subject to, I don’t understand them or where they came from.
Even today’s apostles and prophets have said they don’t understand how Christ brought the Atonement to pass, but they know He did. If they can have the faith they have and do what they do without an understanding of the workings of the Atonement, then certainly I can.
There is so much I do understand that I don’t waste time on what is impossible to understand yet. I can understand the good feeling I get when I am at church and when I partake of the sacrament. I know the peace that is in the temple. I know the happiness I have with my family. I know the strength that comes through prayer. I know the inspiration that comes when I need it. I know the feeling I have that God’s protective hand is on my family and me.
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<hr class=’system-pagebreak’ />0001pt; line-height: 150%; text-align: left;”>This I do understand
I know that in all the “issues” above the final answer to me, whether I understand the whys and wherefores behind the reason, is that “God has spoken it” because this I do remember and understand: The summer I was 17 two missionaries put into my hand a pamphlet about Joseph Smith’s First Vision. I stood in my parents’ living room with pamphlet in hand and said to my mother, “If this is true, it’s the best news I’ve ever heard.”
I had always wondered why God had been silent for so long. This proved He hadn’t been.
For the next few weeks so many people tried to persuade me not to join the Mormons that I finally relented and was miserable. My soul was black for two days.
But late one night, I knelt down at my bed and prayed, “I don’t care what I have to go through, but I know it’s true and Joseph Smith did see you in the grove of trees. I’m going to join the Church.”
I waited a few weeks until I could be baptized without my parents’ permission on my 18th birthday and have never looked back.
A firm testimony
So I don’t have to understand what it is in tea that is bad for me, or why at some times it was all right for husbands to have multiple wives, or why at one point black men couldn’t hold the priesthood, or for that matter why women can’t now, or why gay people shouldn’t get married, or even how the Atonement works.
But I know Joseph Smith was and is a prophet and all commandments, principles, doctrines, scriptures, and ordinances that flow from his office and from that time stand on a firm foundation of truth and should be obeyed for our good. And after him have stood prophets, seers, and revelators who form an unbroken chain of revelation we can trust and believe in without always understanding every little part of what they require of us.
A favorite hymn
I am humbled each time I hear or sing the hymn “Joseph Smith’s First Prayer.”
My favorite version is Daniel Beck’s singing it to the tune of “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing.” (Buy it on iTunes.) When I’m busy in the kitchen listening to it on my iPod, even if I’m surrounded by a host of noisy grandchildren, I am still that 17-year-old teenager kneeling by the bed, humbling praying, “I know Joseph Smith is a prophet and I don’t care what happens or what I don’t know. This I know and I will follow.”
Underpinning that testimony is firm faith I have had since a child that a Heavenly Father lives who, like my earthly father who is no longer with me, loves me and cares for me. Beside Him is our Savior who gave and gives all He has for us.
One day I will understand all things and until that day I will believe in what I am able to know and try my best not to worry about the rest.