Editor's note: Part 2 of a two-part series. Read Part 1 here.
When it comes to our faith in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, it's possible that we may find past teachings or practices that give rise to cognitive dissonance. It can be tempting to feel alone — like we have lost all touchstones or grounding for truth.
It is important to remember that other intelligent and faithful members have experienced similar struggles and managed to stay strong long enough for the core of the gospel to come back into focus. There are also resources available, such as the Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research and LDS scholars such as Daniel Peterson and Terryl Givens. Likewise, Brigham Young University professor Robert Millet has recently done fellow Saints a remarkable service with his book "No Weapon Shall Prosper: New Light on Sensitive Issues."
But most of all, we should seek the counsel of faithful loved ones and church leaders while continuing to pray and read the scriptures. If done with sincerity and humility, these steps will maintain one of truth’s touchstones and allow the Holy Ghost to teach us in the way most tailored to our understanding.
Just as importantly, we must not abandon our reason during such moments, even if it is to something as noble as faith. If all truth is part of one great whole, as the LDS Church teaches, then the truth discernible by reason and the truth revealed by God both point to the same great truth.
We must remember that reason is a distinctive part of what it means to human — a child of God — and it is one of the ways in which we are created in his image.
God speaks to us in ways he does not speak to his other creations. He invites us, “Come now, and let us reason together,” in the way only fellow reasoning beings are capable of doing. In reasoning with God, we learn to ask questions of our faith in a way that allows us to grow in our appreciation for the handiwork of God’s teachings and humility for the things we are not yet able to understand.
And when we still do not understand, even after we have prayed and studied the best available resources, we should not despair or abandon ship. As the French thinker Pierre Manent has so articulately said, “However necessary, and even noble, may be the work of reason, the moment comes when we must consent to allow the truth to come toward us.”
Patience is essential to reason’s (as well as grace’s) enterprise.
As we strive to develop a reasonable faith, it is important that we not lean too heavily upon our intellect. In expecting too much from our reason, we needlessly limit ourselves. If we limit ourselves to only accepting those things that we can easily label or explain, then we limit our own ability to learn and grow.
The current Catholic pope, Benedictus XVI, has addressed this topic on a number of occasions. When studying the Bible, he argues that an approach of faith “alone has a vision of unity which is wide enough to accommodate apparent contradictions.” A faithful approach does not deny the appearance of contradictions. Rather, it recognizes these while holding open the possibility that such contradictions may be reconciled given an appropriate amount of time, information and inspiration.
Getting caught up in individual details — historical, doctrinal, institutional or otherwise — is one way of “looking beyond the mark” (Jacob 4:14). The work of the almighty God is greater than the sum of its parts. As we exercise faith and try to grasp the multifaceted and comprehensive nature of God’s dealings with his children, we are free to see the beauty, diversity and expansiveness of his church and his doctrine. This faithful approach affirms the existence of God and trusts God’s ability to see beyond the narrow scope of our individual minds. Truly, “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Psalms 111:10).
However, acquiring such precious wisdom is not easy — especially when the faith that we feel comes into conflict with the sometimes uncomfortable reality of our circumstances. Joseph Smith was put into a comparable situation following his First Vision. His experience seeing the Father and the Son touched him in such a way that he could say, “For many days I could rejoice with great joy and the Lord was with me.”
This faithful feeling was soon displaced by the “bitter persecution” he faced at the hands of religious leaders, and “joy” was replaced with “great sorrow.” But the changes in Joseph’s circumstances did not nullify the reality of his sacred experience. Having been touched by the grace of God, his character required that he reconcile his faith with his circumstances.
Young Joseph could have allowed his spiritual experience to become subsumed by the reasoning of intelligent, well-informed religious authorities. But at the same time, he was able to appreciate the skepticism of those who had not felt the truth of his own experience: “I don't blame any one for not believing my history. If I had not experienced what I have, I could not have believed it myself.”
Likewise, we may have to square our spiritual experiences with seemingly contradictory historical or social issues. In this, we are not asked to abandon our reason to faith, but we must also remember not to abandon our faith to reason. Our personal spiritual experiences are real, and should play a significant role as we wrestle with difficult issues.
In addressing the interaction between our faith and our reason, we free ourselves from compartmentalizing our lives and, in a sense, become a complete person.
Much like the biblical Jacob (Genesis 32:23-32), when we wrestle with both our faith and our reason in the light of inspiration, we too can come away with a blessing that would have otherwise been withheld. Though such a wrestle may be taxing and even painful at times, in the end, we, like Jacob, can declare in our own way, “I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved.”
Jacob Rennaker is a doctoral candidate at Claremont Graduate University where he is studying the Hebrew Bible. Brandon Dabling is also a doctoral candidate at Claremont Graduate University where he is studying political theory and American government.