In recent weeks there have been reports of faithful Latter-day Saints who have discovered information on the Internet that has caused them to lose faith in the teachings and leaders of the Church. These struggles often arise after finding out that Church leaders, past and present, were not always perfect and did not have a complete understanding of what the Lord wanted them to do. The feeling seems to be that “if the Prophet does not always know what God wants, how can he be a prophet.”
Here’s how I see things.
Let me start by quoting Elder Jeffrey R. Holland from the last General Conference:
Except in the case of His only perfect Begotten Son, imperfect people are all God has ever had to work with. That must be terribly frustrating to Him, but He deals with it. So should we. (Lord I Believe, April 2013 GC, emphasis added)
Each of us was sent to earth as part of a plan designed to see what we desire most in eternity. We were given talents and abilities to help us but we also inherited weakness and developed habits that inhibit our progression. That is part of the purpose of earth life – to seek to become more than our mortal selves think possible.
Unfortunately, for many, that means learning to overcome things that are offensive to our fellow mortals. In my own case, that includes changing some of my behaviors so I can be more humble, gentle and responsive to the needs of others. We all have imperfections and probably should not make too much of other’s deficiencies until we have fixed our own.
When we look back at the actions of leaders – specifically Prophets and Apostles – it is wise to keep in mind that each had their own shortcomings. Would we challenge the authority of Peter simply because he foolishly denied knowing the Savior? Should Paul be rejected for his disobedience to the Law of Moses before Peter and the 12 authorized such action? Imperfect men and women do imperfect things but are still viable vessels for the Lord’s work.
In modern times, Joseph Smith was known to have a temper and, at times, used his physical strength to his benefit. The Apostles Joseph Fielding Smith and John Widstoe disagreed strongly on the subject of evolution. The truth is that every man or woman who has had involvement with the Savior’s work has human frailties that inhibit their abilities to succeed. And sometimes that leads them to make mistakes in judgment – but it doesn’t disqualify them from service to God.
In addition to our mortal weaknesses, we also must understand that receiving revelation is not a perfect experience. Understanding the mind of God can be difficult because we are limited in how we perceive His desires. When Joseph received section 132 pertaining to plural marriage, he was not expecting, nor did he completely understand, what was revealed. This was a totally foreign concept to him and is probably why he struggled with it for more than a decade. He made several attempts to implement the revealed doctrine but, even in his last days, was still struggling with how the doctrine should be lived.
Did that make the revelation false? No, but it did show that man often has a hard time understanding what it is God wants him to do.
I suspect that if we look at our own lives we will see the same principle in our efforts to live by the revelations given to us through the Holy Ghost.
In leadership and family responsibilities I have often prayed for guidance and felt the promptings of the Spirit to act in a certain way to solve issues or answer questions. Unfortunately, when it comes to the application of those promptings and ideas, my own weaknesses get in the way of what the Lord was hoping would happen. And yet, honoring my right to agency, He is always very generous with my failings and tries again to help me do what is needed. I believe that is how He works with Living Prophets in these latter-days.
As a Church, we do not believe the Prophet is infallible. He is a man who has been called of God and who has much experience receiving revelation from the Holy Ghost. We believe he is the best man for the job at the present time and the man our Heavenly Father would have in that position, but he is still a man. He may have failings that are easy to see but he is still qualified to speak for the Lord as moved on by the Holy Ghost.
If we have doubts about the principles and doctrines he teaches, it is our duty to approach our Father in Heaven in prayer and seek personal confirmation to what he teaches. Actually, I am grateful for the knowledge that God can take imperfect men and call them to His work to help with the salvation of all. It means I have a chance!!!
Two questions to ask as I close this posting:
1. Do Mormons doubt?
Sure, and we are counseled to search out our doubts until we feel we have a good answer (D&C 88:118).
2. Are some questions not answered?
Again, yes, but I have faith that the day will come when God will give me all I have requested – when HE thinks it is time for me to know.
Doubt is not a reason to abandon faith. In fact, The Book of Mormon prophet Alma taught:
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)
Doubt should never overcome faith. Faith is believing in the Savior and His work, despite any weakness or failing we experience personally or see in another. Again to quote Elder Holland:
In this Church, what we know will always trump what we do not know. And remember, in this world, everyone is to walk by faith. (ibid.)
When a choice comes between doubting and abandoning my faith or remaining faithful while I doubt, I will always choose faith despite my doubts and wait for better answers which will come at the appropriate time.