C. S. Lewis once said:
No man knows how bad he is until he has tried very hard to be good. A silly idea is current that good people do not know what temptation means. This is an obvious lie. Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is: after all, you find out the strength of [an army] by fighting against it, not by giving in….
We never find out the strength of the evil impulse inside us until we try to fight it… (Mere Christianity, Chapter 11)
Circumstances of the past week have led me to view this in a slightly different context. I hope I don’t ruin Lewis’ reputation by modifying his words and ideas.
There is a man who has announced that he can no longer bear the burden of being a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints because he has discovered some things that he never knew and doesn’t understand. I won’t elaborate except to say that the things listed are subjects that anti-Mormon folk like to trumpet as the reason for the falsity of this Church. The surprising thing to me is that the fellow claims (and it seems pretty certain he is not being deceitful) to have been a sitting bishop at the time of his announcement.
The surprise is not that a bishop can falter and lose his testimony – Oliver Cowdery fell away and he was intimately involved with the Restoration – my ‘wonder’ is how someone who has apparently developed a testimony of the Gospel and joined in the spreading of the word of God could cast off all the truths he had learned and preached simply because there were questions he (or someone else) could not answer sufficiently.
There is a verse of scripture in the Doctrine and Covenants which reads:
And if you keep my commandments and endure to the end, ye shall have eternal life which gift is the greatest of all the gifts of God. (D&C 14:7)
Often we read this and fail to separate the two commandments given. The Savior says “If you keep my commandments.” Not many of us are capable of keeping all the commandments all the time. The purpose of life is to experience challenges and overcome them…including repenting from sin. So it’s important to keep trying to keep the commandments. But if that was the only consideration for eternal life it would be nearly impossible for us to qualify.
(Just a note: I am NOT discounting the power of the Atonement in this whole process but I’m trying to make a different point.)
The second part of this verse offers something that is, in some ways, more important. “…and endure to the end…” In my mind, this is the Lord’s way of saying,
“I will give you credit for being good but there are some things I’m not going to tell you. Life is a test of faith and if I told you everything, there would be no challenge to that faith. Do your best with what I help you know. Trust me on the things you don’t quite understand. If you do that and hold on till the very end, THEN I will be able to give you what you really want.”
Alma taught it like this:
And now as I said concerning faith – faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things; therefore if ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true. (Alma 32:21)
Some might say this is simplistic or “sheep-like” and I answer, yes, it is following the Good Shepherd as a wise sheep would do.
And when those challenges to our faith come and we aren’t sure how to answer… well, here’s what I do.
I go back to something I know IS true!! Starting there, the road is clearer and more familiar. Diversions do not distract and confusion dissipates.
Here is an example.
Why is it that men of black African descent were not allowed to hold the priesthood until 1978? I know lots of theories but I have never heard a prophet of God express an opinion or doctrinal purpose for that ban. If allowed to fester and boil under the skin (or in the heart), this question might become a real impediment to a testimony (and in fact, it has done so with many folks). Since the answer is not known and no Prophet seems to be inclined to elaborate, the only way to deal with this is to …
Go back to what I know is true. The Holy Ghost has witnessed to me that the Book of Mormon is the word of God.
The principles and doctrines of the Book of Mormon are, by my accounting, the guidelines given by God for the betterment of His children.
Joseph Smith was the Prophet of the Restoration and the Lord’s mouthpiece for this generation.
Brigham Young and all the Prophets since are the legal successors to the Prophet Joseph. These things I cannot deny and therefore I will accept that my knowledge of ALL the doctrines of God is incomplete.
Until such time as God decides it is important for me to know some things, I am willing to let HIM be in charge.
Let me conclude by modifying the words of C.S. Lewis to fit what I have shared. Again, please forgive my presumption but he is such a good writer that I can’t help myself.
No man knows how good he is until he has tried very hard to hold on. A silly idea is current that good people who do not know everything cannot trust anything. This is an obvious lie. Only those who try to resist the temptation to give up know how good it feels to finally reach the end: after all, you find out the strength of your faith by continuing onward in the face of doubt….
We never find out the strength of the doubts inside us until we try to fight them…