However, last night I got some pretty sad news and I didn't think I was too affected, that was until this morning when I woke up after only a few hours of sleep and I couldn't stop thinking about it. So since my thoughts have interrupted my sleep, I figure I'm going to go through the catharsis of writing about it and hopefully that will calm me enough to get another hour or two before I start my day.
I can't believe sometimes how much I love General Conference. Yesterday, in a number of different conversations I kept referring back to points that were made during conference - well, it's kind of like when Elder so and so was talking about revelation/love/moral discipline/etc. With respect to a testimony of the church, every member has his/her strengths as to certain points of doctrine, and one of mine has always been seeking for and complete acceptance of the words of the prophets. I think credulity is one of the cultural Hispanic traits that I possess in great abundance. In some ways that can be bad, but insofar as it allows me free reign to develop my faith in God, I think it's an incredible asset. My problem has never been believing, but implementing.
Every so often there will be a talk given in conference when I'll think, "oh thank goodness I don't feel like I'm struggling with that issue right now," and of course it inevitably rears its head in some other way that I never would have imagined. One of those talks this weekend for me happened to be Elder Holland's talk from the Sunday afternoon session.
Everyone has a favorite when it comes to General Authorities, and Elder Holland is my guy when it comes to the Quorum of the 12 Apostles. No matter the topic that he is discussing, whether it has application to my life at that moment or not, I feel like I can always count on an eloquent impassioned plea. There are certain leaders who speak and I have a hard time connecting with their thoughts just because the delivery is poor, but that is never the case with Elder Holland. His subject over the weekend talked about a sin that seems to be exclusive to members of the church, which he derives from this scripture found in Matthew 24:24. For this one, I'll refer to the Joseph Smith Translation, which I think brings a lot of added depth:
For in those days there shall also arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders, insomuch, that, if possible, they shall deceive the very elect, who are the elect according to the covenant.In this chapter, Jesus is referring specifically to the last days, talking about the signs of the times and his second coming. What's particularly striking about this verse is the stern admonition that nobody is safe, not even the elect. And in the unfolding of the Atonement, we see the fulfillment of this verse at its fullest in the example of Judas.
Just last night I found out from Dave that one of our dearest friends growing up, Chris, has decided he no longer wants to participate in the church. In the last year or two I've had a few friends fall away. Lately, whenever I meet guys my age or older who are struggling in their LDS faith, I automatically ascribe their troubles to some sort of substance abuse (I include pornography because of how drug-like its effects are). Chris is not that sort of guy, however. He's one of those who may simply be too smart for his own good, probably among the smartest guys I know.
Chris was apart of our group of friends in junior high that did everything together. I used to stop at his house on my way to school everyday, we would walk to school together, and then walk home afterward and hang out at his house the rest of the day. After he moved to South Carolina, when I was investigating the church as a teen, it was our correspondence with each other that was seminal for my gospel learning. His experience in gaining a testimony of the Book of Mormon was the guiding point from which I eventually gained my own. We were reunited here at BYU and we lived together for several years.
In the last few years we began drifting apart. A lot of that is because of distance (he goes to school in Michigan now), but I think more of it has to do with the path that he has chosen for himself. Sometimes friendships dilapidate because of neglect, but the cause of this a lot of times has to do with departing interests. In my last year of college and the year right after, I felt this often with him. One of the most telling signs I think are political tendencies. I think we both began to formulate our personal ideologies at about the same time, and I remember wondering how he could adopt such liberal views.
(For the record, yes, there are liberal mormons, and that's acceptable within the church, but personally I don't see how the two can be reconciled. At least not with the way liberalism is defined by today's standards.)
People always move in the direction that they think will bring them the most happiness, however misguided their efforts might be. My guess is that Chris hasn't felt the full peace and happiness that he once had in the gospel for a few years at least. It just makes me sad to think that he thinks that abandoning his faith will help him find it.
Since I heard the news, I've wondered a lot about myself, asking what the difference is between the both of us. How is it that I can be so sure that my choice to move forward in faith is correct? In any faith, but also this particular brand of faith.
I watched Elder Holland's talk again this morning in the cold of my living room, huddled with a blanket draped over my legs, wondering why I didn't bother just turning up the heat. I admired his passion, and thought a lot about his statements regarding Joseph Smith, how so many saints died for this cause, and also how many continually consecrate themselves to the building up of the kingdom of God. Notwithstanding the strength that each of these testimonies have, it is still possible that these people can be simply misled. There are a lot of examples of people who live and die for misguided causes. But the testimony that matters the most, the one which will never mislead, is the witness that comes from the Holy Ghost.
While even the very elect will be deceived, there is hope yet, JST Matthew 1:37:
And whoso treasureth up my word, shall not be deceived, for the Son of Man shall come, and he shall send his angels before him with the great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together the remainder of his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.I have felt, and continue to feel that witness through the spirit with respect to God's love for us, about Christ's Atonement. I also know of the truth found in the pages of the Book of Mormon, in Joseph Smith's vision, the Restoration of Christ's church, and the guidance of the Lord's hand of that church through our modern-day prophets and apostles. I know that not everyone feels that way, or believes these things, but given my own personal experience I know the kind of life I am obligated to live. I'm grateful for the knowledge that I have, and the better I am at reconciling my will to God's, the happier I am. This morning I felt the truth of Elder Holland's message while sitting with dewy eyes thinking about my old friend, Chris.
I know that Chris has felt these things before too. We've spent hours upon hours talking about these things at length. I used to say that he was the type of person I would want my daughters to marry, but I can't say that about someone who lives without faith. As much as people would like to convince us otherwise, we live in a world of moral absolutes, not moral relativity. One way or another we will all be brought to the judgment seat of God, and have to acknowledge that Jesus is the Christ. Hopefully when we arrive at that moment, it is with gratitude and not shame that we kneel at his feet.