One day, when I was a young teen, I went to a Boy Scout meeting and was informed that we were going to begin working on the Lifesaving merit badge. Swimming was always fun for me but I was not especially proficient so this worried me a little. I had done all the requirements for the Swimming badge so I figured I could probably handle this one without too much trouble.
We went to a local pool for our practice and warmed up before we began the lesson. Then we all sat on the side of the pool as our Scout leader began his lesson on how to be ready to save a life in the water.
Most of what we learned had to do with ways to recover those who may have become entangled in things or were too far out for their own abilities. But there was one section that really had me worried – what to do when you are with someone who begins to flounder and drown.
This many years later, I don’t remember most of the specific instructions, but one thing stuck in my brain. The instructor repeated this several times so we would clearly get the message. He said:
When someone is drowning, they will do anything they can to get their head above water– even if they have to climb on top of the person who is trying to save their life. So as a rescuer, your first priority is to make sure you are safe before you attempt to help another.
At first, this made little sense to me but as we practiced, and as I watched in other venues, it became clear that this was not just good advice but a critical element of survival for those engaged in rescuing others from death. To save another a rescuer must be in a position of safety where they can fend off the advances of the suffering person yet still find a way to save their life.
Recent events in the world, and especially in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, have given me a new perspective on the counsel of my Scoutmaster from so many years ago. There are some of us who could use a lesson as we consider making efforts to rescue others from the dangers of doubt or unbelief. Keeping with the theme of drowning and swimming, here are a couple of things that might be of use for some who want to help.
1. Before you jump into the water, make sure you have plenty of experience ‘swimming’ in different conditions and circumstances. What seems to be a calm and shallow pool may turn out to be much deeper and more dangerous than first imagined. And without some guidance, making a blind jump into unknown spots could result in injury or death from striking unknown obstacles.
Stated as a gospel principle, we might say that just because a person has read/studied the scriptures, attended seminary or Sunday School, or even served a mission, they should not suppose they have the answer for every question a doubter or non-believer might present.
Firstly, there are some questions that are worth asking and others which are meant only to destroy faith.
Knowing if the Book of Mormon is the word of God is essential to understanding the doctrines of the gospel. Understanding the doctrine of the Atonement is critical to our finding faith in Jesus Christ and would be considered a worthy study.
Finding out how many wives Joseph Smith had or where the Gold Plates are hidden is interesting but not something that will lead anyone to Christ. The Lord is very selective with the information He shares with His people. There are many things not yet revealed or understood completely – how else could each of us develop a foundation of faith. (See Alma 32:21)
Some questions are not asked for any reason other than to cast doubt on the truths of the Restoration. And, be it known that some doubters or non-believers have already made up their mind about what they will accept. They are not looking for answers as much as they are trying to find some ‘sincere but unaware rescuer’ who can be easily taken down with their thrashings about in the pool of ‘religious study.’ Like the terrified swimmer who is approached by their rescuer these, sometimes misguided and other times devious, souls attempt to drag the rescuer down with them to the depths of non-belief or doubt.
There are times when it is better to walk away rather than give ear to questions asked with a desire to deceive or destroy faith.
2. Most public and private swimming areas are required by law to have some sort of protection for those who are going into the water. Help comes in the form of lifeguards, signs, fences, or other protection. Unfortunately, having protection available does not mean it will be utilized (that agency principle can be a real test to some).
Before beginning the process of rescuing those who have drifted or fallen away, it is best to seek advice from ‘lifeguards’ who are intimately acquainted with the depths to be plumbed. They have spent countless decades mapping out the channels, holes, currents, and eddies that make the area dangerous. As they have learned, signs are posted to warn of danger. Some of those warnings have been compiled into manuals that give even greater detail about where to find safety and what dangers to avoid. Their careful attention to detail makes them wise protectors for any wishing to use the waters they guard.
Our Father in Heaven has established His church on the earth in these last days. He has given His Son stewardship over the administration of the gospel and its message. The Savior has, in turn, called and set apart men (yes, they are mortals) who are to lead His kingdom until He comes to finish the work Himself. These men, working according to specific guidelines and under the direct inspiration of Jesus Christ, are tasked with maintaining pure doctrine to keep the membership safe. They seek out answers, warn of dangers, record the impressions for the followers of Christ to share, and invite all to test their offerings by the Spirit of the Holy Ghost.
Some who observe or come to the Church wonder how mere mortals can know enough to offer safety from disaster. Others doubt that these men, touched with the foibles of mortality, have the ability to see any better than they, the obstructions that might cause harm. What they don’t understand is that as a body, these men are capable of amazing miracles in protecting the followers of Christ.
Like the swimmer who ignores warning signs and lifeguard instructions, many find out for themselves the pain and suffering that comes from discarding the guidance of such men. The counsel they give is not based on any worldly goal or understanding. It comes from God and is meant to protect for eternity, not satisfy for the moment.
We are all children of a God who loves us and offers wonderful blessings in eternity. All He asks is obedience to the principles of safety He has outlined. When mortal men begin to dispute the principles and doctrines as given by God, they place themselves in grave danger. And when these same mortals use their voices to spread false doctrines, and preach sophistry for the intent to lead others away from the truths of God, they are setting themselves up for a very disappointing encounter with the God of Heaven.
The Prophets are the guides. The Holy Ghost is the confirming voice that gives us the strength to endure on the path. Jesus Christ is the only hope we have for an eternal life filled with joy. Let His ‘lifeguards’ and His ‘warning signs’ be the source of the truths we follow in this life. As we do, there is a great promise of peace that will come to all so inclined.
May it be so in your life and the lives of those you love.