Sunday, May 15, 2016

Chapter 1: How God awoke me from ”a deep sleep”

How God awoke me from ”a deep sleep”[1]

My father baptized me on my eigth birthday. Shortly thereafter he confirmed me a member in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Roughly ten years ago, I returned home from having served a two-year mission in Finland. Since then, a lot has happened–education, wife, child, a job, and more children.

During this ten-year period, I served in the Church as elders quorum president and counselor, young mens president and Sunday school president. Against this backdrop of having had and faithfully served in callings in the Church, I believed that my standing before God was a good one. Now, when I look back, I have a hard time not calling myself naive and ignorant.

My life started to change in the aftermath of a nocturnal 10K race in downtown Stockholm in the fall of 2013. The preparation for this race consisted of moving my family across the country, a new house, some renovation, pregnant wife, intense triathlon training, a new job and to little sustenance for body and soul. After this race, I continued my preparations for a Half Ironman[2]. Instead of performing well during this race, I was worn out. My triathlon dream was crushed and I was sorrowful. It might seem banal and almost childish, but it was a necessary first step for what was coming. From the ashes of my earlier life filled with training and other similar activities a new life started to sprout inside of me, like the phoenix rising[3].

In my sorrow, I understood that training hade become my religion and triathlon my god. This realization caused me to ask myself what my real religion meant to me. Not very much, was the answer I found. My world view was definitely deeply influence by everything I’d been taught in Church over the years, what I taught others as a missionary and what I’d read in books. Nevertheless, I came to understand that I didn’t know the Father nor the Son[4] and my spirituality was one mile wide and one inch deep and more concerned about form than content. The words of Jesus described me almost to a T.
“They draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof”[5]

A hunger after light and truth

The mistake I’d made can be summed up with these words: I believed I had everything when I was active in Church and had a testimony of its truthfulness. Clearly, despite this something was missing me. What I’ve come to painful realization of is that I was “without God in the world”[6]. I learned that whatever I’m in possession of, Church membership and testimony included, it’s far from everything God wanted to give me and what I needed to receive. I started to realize that what I thought was a finish line in reality was a starting block.

God didn’t leave me hanging in this faith crisis. He blessed me with a hunger after a closeness to the divine. My heart was filled with and I started acting on this hunger in the only way I knew – more prayer, fasting and serving in the temple. This continued for a few months. In retrospect, I can easily see that the (rote) prayers, the fasting and spending time in the temple didn’t bring the closeness to God I sought for. Rather, it was his tender touch of my soul, heart and mind and the hunger after himself he planted there. The outward manifestations of my inner transformation weren’t wrong, but they lacked power in and of themselves.

Before this experience I was neither evil, nor a big sinner or an overly selfish person. From the standards of the Church, I was a person destined for salvation–I had made covenants in the waters of baptism and in the temple, I prayed, studied the scriptures, attended meetings, the temple, fasted and provided for my family. God showed me in different ways that his was a faulty conclusion on my part. I needed to repent of my dead works and start living, and in essence, waking up to God. To be without God in the world doesn’t mean that you’re evil. It just means that your heart is attached to something other than God, and this thing becomes your god.[7] We oftentimes believe that we can live in a gray zone where we don’t do bad things, we keep ourselves on good terms with the Church and its standards[8]. It’s challenging to realize that grey only exists at a distance, for if we come close enough, there’s only black and white.[9]

In which direction does the bird fly? Where the beak points it. The same is true for us. Where we focus our eyes is ultimately where we will end up. Think about that the next time you watch that movie, read that book, watch that show or pull those jokes. Jesus knew how important this is, and might have had it in mind men he charged the members of the early Church to “look unto me in every thought; doubt not, fear not”[10] and !if your eye be single to my glory, your whole bodies shall be filled with light, and there shall be no darkness in you; and that body which is filled with light comprehendeth all things”[11]. He definitely had it in mind when he said “if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.”[12]

Inside of me, a hunger after light and truth started to develop. The result of such a hunger is that there will be no place for darkness. You can’t accept the grey, no matter how light the nuance, for “that which is of God is light; and he that receiveth light, and continueth in God, receiveth more light; and that light groweth brighter and brighter until the perfect day”[13]. Such a person can’t look upon darkness with “the least degree of allowance”[14] and won’t “give place … for the enemy of [his] soul”[15]. I want to be such a person, and I realize that I need to become one. It might be radical, but so was Jesus. He wasn’t a man who preached laziness even if he did everything in love. He told Joseph that his Church in the last days would be called the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and not Latter-day Second-raters.

The field of my heart

I remember distinctly my thoughts when I heard about the couple who left the Church over historical issues: “I don’t want to read what they’ve read, for I can’t bear the risk of falling away from the Church!” As a faithful member of the Church, I was scared for what I viewed as anti-Mormonism and could sometimes feel a crippling fear. I was fully invested in the Church. Preserving my identity, social context and family was very important. After my awakenings, this has all changed drastically.

Jesus oftentimes used parables.
”The kingdom of heaven is likened unto a man which sowed good seed in his field: But while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went his way. But when the blade was sprung up, and brought forth fruit, then appeared the tares also. So the servants of the householder came and said unto him, Sir, didst not thou sow good seed in thy field? from whence then hath it tares? He said unto them, An enemy hath done this. The servants said unto him, Wilt thou then that we go and gather them up? But he said, Nay; lest while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest: and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn.”[16]
In the parable, it wasn’t clear what the enemy had done until some time had passed and the wheat started to mature and grow closer to harvest. The servants wanted to get rid of the tares right away. The owner of the field preferred patience. They were told to wait until harvest time, but then be merciless. ”Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them”, he said.

The owner of the field also had a vineyard which he dealt with in the same, direct way. We read:
”And now, behold, notwithstanding all the care which we have taken of my vineyard, the trees thereof have become corrupted, that they bring forth no good fruit; and these I had hoped to preserve, to have laid up fruit thereof against the season, unto mine own self. But, behold, they have become like unto the wild olive tree, and they are of no worth but to be hewn down and cast into the fire; and it grieveth me that I should lose them. But what could I have done more in my vineyard? Have I slackened mine hand, that I have not nourished it? Nay, I have nourished it, and I have digged about it, and I have pruned it, and I have dunged it; and I have stretched forth mine hand almost all the day long, and the end draweth nigh. And it grieveth me that I should hew down all the trees of my vineyard, and cast them into the fire that they should be burned. Who is it that has corrupted my vineyard? And it came to pass that the servant said unto his master: Is it not the loftiness of thy vineyard—have not the branches thereof overcome the roots which are good? And because the branches have overcome the roots thereof, behold they grew faster than the strength of the roots, taking strength unto themselves. Behold, I say, is not this the cause that the trees of thy vineyard have become corrupted? And it came to pass that the Lord of the vineyard said unto the servant: Let us go to and hew down the trees of the vineyard and cast them into the fire, that they shall not cumber the ground of my vineyard, for I have done all. What could I have done more for my vineyard?”[17]
The purpose behind the work of the master of the vineyard and his servants was to get the trees to bring forth fruit worthy of preservation

There’s great symbolism in this. Just like the kingdom of heaven, our heart and faith can be likened unto a field and a vineyard. These parables are deeply relevant for our lives. From a young age, God has tried to sow good seed in the field of our heart. Because we’re blessed with free will, we are able to hinder God from reaching us[18] and succeeding. The good seed that’s been able to grow roots in our heart has been forced to pick a fight with tares planted by the enemy of our soul[19]. This hasn’t been done solely through media, books and entertainment, but also through false teachers who’ve mingled the scriptures and philosophies of men and persuasively presented it as the doctrine of God.
”Because of pride, and because of false teachers, and false doctrine, their churches have become corrupted, and their churches are lifted up; because of pride they are puffed up. They rob the poor because of their fine sanctuaries; they rob the poor because of their fine clothing; and they persecute the meek and the poor in heart, because in their pride they are puffed up. They wear stiff necks and high heads; yea, and because of pride, and wickedness, and abominations, and whoredoms, they have all gone astray save it be a few, who are the humble followers of Christ; nevertheless, they are led, that in many instances they do err because they are taught by the precepts of men. O the wise, and the learned, and the rich, that are puffed up in the pride of their hearts, and all those who preach false doctrines, and all those who commit whoredoms, and pervert the right way of the Lord, wo, wo, wo be unto them, saith the Lord God Almighty, for they shall be thrust down to hell!” [20]
Nephi was hard in his condemnation of the churches of the last days. It’s important to understand the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is one of these churches. Read Nephi’s words once again and apply them to the Church. They’re quite intriguing, aren’t they?
Jesus quoted Isaiah when he accused the Pharisees with teaching for doctrine the commandments of men. He said:
”Ye hypocrites, well did Esaias prophesy of you, saying, This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.”[21]

I’m convinced that some parts of what I’ve been taught at Church are true. I’m equally convinced of the opposite–that some things I’ve been taught are false. This can be a concept hard to accept. For those who’ve built their lives around the Church, a lost belief in the Church can feel like loosing a parent, or a child. This shouldn’t be minimized. Despite the hopelessness that might be experienced, there is an interesting road ahead. If you get through the whole book, I believe that you will be able to see that there is.

One thing that might help in handling the new ideas that this book gives is to compare your heart and faith to a field. God wants to grow wheat there, and fruit that might be gathered into the barns. The enemy, on the other hand, wants to fill the field with rocks, harden it or spread tares and weeds among the wheat that’s been sown. To the enemy, the means are not important if it results in a minimal harvest.

The weed that was sown in the parable was so similar to the wheat that it couldn’t be distinguished at first. A weed like that has the potential to wreak more havoc than one that is distinctly different from the wheat. The servants could’ve detected such a weed early and removed it before any harm was caused. The owner of the field wasn’t that lucky in the parable, and unfortunately, neither are we.

The tare that most easily is mistaken for wheat is the most dangerous. The same goes for the idol who best succeeds in infiltrating our image of God. The traitor who’s gotten closest to us can cause us the biggest damage. Ask yourself the following: could the Church, the temple and its ordinances or the leaders of the Church be idols? It might be hard to imagine that the answer to this question might be yes. The reason for this is that these things are so closely linked with our view of God that we can’t separate them.

As dangerous as idol worship is, there is, in my view, something that’s even more dangerous-believing that we are immune to the weeds of false doctrine and traditions, that all is well in Zion when that’s not true[22] and that we don’t worship idols. The person who can’t recognize his own idol worship will never repent of it. The physical is a parallel of the spiritual–if you can’t accept that you are or can contract an illness (some kind of reversed hypochondria) you run a greater risk of harvesting the full consequences of the illness. All severe illnesses must be diagnosed before the correct treatment can be put in place.

The closer we come to God, the clearer we see the distance we still have to go and that God has many competitors for our hearts. If we are to become an elect of God, it won’t happen because we are better than other people, but rather because we know we are not[23]. Joseph taught that,
We consider that God has created man with a mind capable of instruction, and a faculty which may be enlarged in proportion to the heed and diligence given to the light communicated from heaven to the intellect; and that the nearer man approaches perfection, the clearer are his views, and the greater his enjoyments, till he has overcome the evils of his life and lost every desire for sin; and like the ancients, arrives at that point of faith where he is wrapped in the power and glory of his Maker and is caught up to dwell with Him. But we consider that this is a station to which no man ever arrived in a moment.[24]
Nephi, who performed mighty works and was shown great things, exclaimed, 
O wretched man that I am! Yea, my heart sorroweth because of my flesh; my soul grieveth because of mine iniquities.[25]
Sooner or later, God will want to reap the field of our heart. At that moment, we can’t blame the enemy of our soul for a meager harvest. As Lehi said, we need to take our role as subjects seriously and be something that acts instead of something that is acted upon[26]. My experience is that God is preparing me for harvest by teaching me what to sow and what not to sow. According to this, I’ve started to nourish the things given me by God, and it’s been starting to grow. Like in the parable, I’ve realized that not everything that’s been planted in my heart be myself and other people has been good, true or from God. I look forward to the day when I’m truly ready for harvest and with full purpose of heart and faith can ask Jesus to bring me in to the barn. Until then, I need to take full responsibility for my field and weed it thoroughly.

Especially two insights have been instrumental in and have made it possible for me to start weeding my field: 1) faith in God and the Gospel are for real and 2) the Church is neither true nor false, but something in between. These insights gave me the chance to entertain a nuanced and balanced approach to the Church and its truth claims. Before we move on to discuss specific weeds (and truth claims), I will in the following chapter expound on these insights.

[1] Alma 5:7
[2] 1920 m swimming, 90 km biking, 21 km running
[4] Joh. 17:3
[5] Joseph Smith’s history; comp. Matt. 15:8-9, Isa. 29:13-14, Hez. 33:30-31, D&C 45:29, 2 Tim 3:5
[6] Alma 41:11
[7] 2 Ne. 9:30
[8] Maybe this is what Nephi talks about when he said:  ”And there shall also be many which shall say: Eat, drink, and be merry; nevertheless, fear God—he will justify in committing a little sin; yea, lie a little, take the advantage of one because of his words, dig a pit for thy neighbor; there is no harm in this; and do all these things, for tomorrow we die; and if it so be that we are guilty, God will beat us with a few stripes, and at last we shall be saved in the kingdom of God. Yea, and there shall be many which shall teach after this manner, false and vain and foolish doctrines, and shall be puffed up in their hearts, and shall seek deep to hide their counsels from the Lord; and their works shall be in the dark.” 2 Ne. 28:8-9
[9] ”There Are Save Two Churches Only”, D. Christian Markham, p. 2,
[10] D&C 6:36
[11] D&C 88:67-68
[12] Matt. 5:30
[13] D&C 50:24
[14] D&C 1:31
[15] 2 Ne. 4:28
[16] Matt. 13:24-30
[17] Jacob 5:46-69
[18] 2 Ne. 33:1; note that the Holy Ghost brings the word of God ”unto” and not ”into” the hearts of men.
[19] 2 Ne. 4:28
[20] 2 Ne. 28:12-15
[21] Matt. 15:8-9
[22] 2 Ne. 28:21; Nephi explained that the devil, the enemy of our soul, in the last days will ”pacify, and lull [others] away into carnal security, that they will say: All is well in Zion; yea, Zion prospereth, all is well.” Hereby, ”the devil cheateth their souls, and leadeth them away carefully down to hell.”
[24] Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, selected by Joseph Fielding Smith, 1958, (TPJS for short), p. 51
[25] 2 Ne. 4:17
[26] 2 Ne. 2:14

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