Dear 100 Hour Board,
I am having a crisis of faith, just like a lot of people I know. Only their struggles are rooted in things like LGBT, mormon culture, or church history. My issues are none of those things.
My issue is coming from logic loops. I have never really felt like my prayers were answered. Things happen or they don't based on the situations and I have no reason to believe my prayer had anything to do with anything. I struggle when people tell me things about when they have had prayers answered and how there is no way it is a coincidence... but at the same time I feel like it is more statistically unlikely those kinds of events don't happen then they do.
I sometimes feel what I would attribute to the spirit, but while I get those feelings at church sometimes I have also felt them when watching a questionable movie.
While I know a lot about the atonement there are things I don't understand - most specifically when it comes to the baptismal covenant. So if I am righteous I am granted the holy ghost to be my companion, but if I am not then the spirit withdraws. That sounds all good and fine to see it so black and white until you think more about how no one is perfect. So if there are things I have not repented of or I tell a white lie, am I going to lose the Holy Ghost? If it isn't that black and white, where is the line?
What about promptings? All thoughts and ideas that are good come from God, but the bad ones aren't? They feel the same to me, so how am I supposed to recognize one as a prompting and not just an idea I had?
Lastly, when I have been thinking about what to do about my crisis of faith, of feeling like I don't believe in anything right now, I am hesitant to leave the church. What if it is all true? I am not ready to give up on salvation. But how do I know? The Sunday School answers are to read the scriptures, go to church, pray, fast and truly give your heart over to the Lord. I feel like I have been doing that for the last 5 years in trying to really find it. And yet I also feel like the only way I can really believe is to stick my head in the mormon sand and breathe in the dust. If I do that for anything I can believe it, including the earth is flat. So I would be almost deluding myself of the truthfulness of it?
I need a little more certainty than I have right now. I want this to be true, I really do. I am prepared to give it one more full effort in finding resolution but if I am not able to find it, it might be time for me to walk away.
I don't want to talk to some of my friends who have left the church because I don't want to be swayed so negatively, but I am hesitant to talk to my bishop because of my pride. I could talk to my family but the ones I feel safe with don't have any answers for me either. One of my parents is a gospel scholar through and through and could likely give me a good line to finding what I am looking for, but we don't exactly have a healthy relationship and it would cause more problems than it would solve. SO, to you I come!
Please help! I don't want to leave but I don't want to subscribe to something I have no faith in.
Dear oh hey me too,
All the other writers after me have a lot of good things to say, but I wanted to put in my two cents, because this is something that I've thought a lot about.
On coincidences, I have a couple thoughts. One is that I think that different people have very different experiences with God. We're all very different people and God is willing to work with each one of us on our own terms. Some people have many things happen in their life that seem like amazing coincidences. Others do not. I think that's a difference in personality, not necessarily in faith.
Also, in my personal experience, I've found that connecting to God in a very logical way isn't ultimately helpful to me. Let me explain. Your question reminds me of myself, I've had lots of questions and doubts about "logic loops" and other seeming contradictions. I've been bothered by the fact that many members are comforted by things that discomfort me. But while I absolutely don't think these concerns are invalid, I don't think I was focusing on the right thing.
A while ago, I had a bit of a paradigm shift when I thought, in essence, "If God is perfectly loving, caring, and creative, there is no way I'm going to understand the entirety of his work in my life. So why worry?" I realized that if I kept chasing a complete understanding of God, I would never find it in this life. I tried much harder to trust God and see where that got me. It hasn't been easy, because I crave understanding first, but I've found that when I've put all my trust in God, that's been when he's trusted me enough to help me understand how and why.
I've also often felt that God does things in a very natural way. Of course anything he does could be a coincidence. It makes me think of a Lao Tzu quote I love,
"A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves".
I hope that some of that made sense, and I want to clarify a bit, I don't think you need to give up understanding and follow blindly. But for me, I had to drop my pride and trust in God first. Of course I never stopped trying to understand, and I never stopped being critical of things, but trusting God first allowed me to approach the gospel in a really healthy way.
Find the healthiest way for you to approach the gospel and to approach God, because I can assure you that it's not the same for every member.
Keep it real,
I think it really comes down to building a relationship with God. Faith comes when you come to know God, not when you've convinced yourself you have sufficient proof of His existence.
One thing that's really helped me get to know God is praying for things as often as I can. When things work out, I tell God I'm grateful and in return I feel Him listening and caring. When things don't work out, I seek to understand God's will better. At first this may seem a bit contrived. How do you know if any of it is real? But after some time it starts to sink in.
How do we know what is real? Observation can fail. Logic can fail. But the Holy Ghost can engrave the truth into our hearts so that we know.
I've found that the prayer God is quickest to answer is, "Do you love me?" If you ask Him because you want to get to know Him rather than because you're looking for proof, you will feel something.
As for whether thoughts come from the Holy Ghost or not, I don't think we need to worry about that too much. The closer we are to the Holy Ghost, the more a part of us He becomes. Then our thoughts become more like His. It's less like obeying orders and more like our very natures change as we get to know Him.
You've been working hard at this. I hope you find your answers sometime soon! Hang in there.
Okay, I'm going to do something very nerdy and tell you about something from the Mistborn trilogy by Brandon Sanderson. There's a character named Sazed, and he's always been a very faithful person, knowing details of over 300 different religions and trusting in a higher power, even in the worst moments of his life. But then he becomes a bit disillusioned with religion in general, in large part due to, as you call it, logic loops. He has a crisis of faith that lasts for years, and as he examines in detail all the different religions he knows about, he realizes all of them are logically inconsistent in some way or other, and eventually comes to the heartbreaking decision that none of them are true and there must be no God. He wants to believe, but feels like he can't because every single religion is flawed in some way. He finally starts to wonder why anyone would believe in these religions, and starts to examine the lives of religious people to find out why they would trust so blindly in something that seemed so wrong. And now, here's a quote as he examines those people's lives:
What had made these people so willing to accept their religions? Were they simply products of their society, believing because it was tradition? He read of their lives, and tried to persuade himself that the people were simpletons, that they hadn't ever truly questioned their beliefs. Surely they would have seen the flaws and inconsistencies if they'd just taken the time to be rational and discerning...However, as time passed, he did not find what he sought. The people did not seem like fools to him. As he sat, something began to occur to him. Something about the words, the feelings, of the people who had believed...As he read their words...he began to see something. The faiths he had looked at, they couldn't be divorced from the people who had adhered to them. In the abstract, those religions were stale. However, as he read the words of the people--really read them--he began to see patterns. Why did they believe? Because they saw miracles. Things one man took as chance, a man of faith took as a sign. A loved one recovering from a disease, a fortunate business deal, a chance meeting with a long lost friend. It wasn't the grand doctrines or the sweeping ideals that seemed to make believers out of men. It was the simple magic in the world around them...To believe, one had to want to believe.1
In the end, believing is your choice. Not because you're unaware of what seem like inconsistencies, but because those don't outweigh the good you find. You can choose to have faith and believe in miracles, believe in God's hand, even while admitting that you don't understand everything right now. I have a list of things I don't understand, and believe you me, I can't wait to one day personally ask God to explain all of them to me, because some of them still don't make sense even after a lot of study and reflection on them. But they also don't erase the truth I've found in the Church. Religion is not a zero sum game: the existence of questions and doubts and "logical loops" doesn't mean there isn't also real truth, peace, and solace to be found. And if you want that truth and peace, which it sounds like you do, focus on that.
Finally, I want to leave you with a quote from President Uchtdorf. This talk addresses people who feel like they don't belong in the Church for some reason or another, and this is his invitation to them (and to you):
Come and add your talents, gifts, and energies to ours. We will all become better as a result.
Some might ask, “But what about my doubts?”
It’s natural to have questions—the acorn of honest inquiry has often sprouted and matured into a great oak of understanding. There are few members of the Church who, at one time or another, have not wrestled with serious or sensitive questions. One of the purposes of the Church is to nurture and cultivate the seed of faith—even in the sometimes sandy soil of doubt and uncertainty. Faith is to hope for things which are not seen but which are true.
Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters—my dear friends—please, first doubt your doubts before you doubt your faith. We must never allow doubt to hold us prisoner and keep us from the divine love, peace, and gifts that come through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ...
There is room for you here.
There are actually a couple different invitations in there, with the most famous being, "Doubt your doubts before you doubt your faith." But even before that, his invitation is to come as you are. He begins and ends by reiterating that there is absolutely room in the Church for people who doubt. You say you don't want to leave the Church, and while the ultimate decision about that is completely up to you, please remember that if you have even the smallest inkling of inclination to be a member of this Church, you will be welcomed with open arms, questions and all.
Best of luck with this, friend. I know it's hard, because I've had my own questions, but because of that I also know you can absolutely find a solution.
1. Hero of Ages, pp. 654-655.
So first of all, I think it's great that you're making such an effort to resolve your concerns before just giving up on your faith. That takes a lot of strength and energy so way to go.
For my answer, I'm gonna just go through your question point by point and give my thoughts on each part, then hopefully wrap it all up in a nice little conclusion.
About prayer's being answered and coincidences: So there's this awesome book series called The Mallorean by David Eddings, and there's a quote from it that I think is relevant to this aspect of your question. The series centers, in part, around a pair of conflicting "Purposes", each of which is able to communicate with the people it's using to try to achieve its goal. At one point in the history of the story, the Purposes spent a while only speaking through prophecies, instead of talking directly to people. At one point, the main characters are trying to find a written copy of one of the prophecies given from the opposing Purpose and it's proving difficult and frustrating. One character is able to talk directly to the Purpose guiding them and asks why the prophecies were necessary, to which the purpose responds "The words give the events meaning. Without the prophecies, the events would just be coincidences." (or something to that effect, I can't seem to find the exact quote, but I know it exists and that is more or less the gist of it).
So how does this relate to your question? Well, think of it like this: if something happens to me without me praying for it, it's just coincidence right? But what if I prayed for that thing to happen? There's a possibility that the thing would've happened without my prayer, but there's also a possibility that my faithful prayer did influence that event to happen the way it did. Here's the kicker though, whether or not my prayer had any effect on the event happening, the event is still an answer to my prayer. Thus "the words [my prayer] give meaning to the event" by causing me to see and understand the event, whatever its cause, differently. If God is real and omnipotent, then he can just as well influence events based on our prayers as he can use events that would've happened anyway to answer our prayers.
About feeling the spirit: You said that sometimes you feel what you would describe as the spirit when doing things that you wouldn't think would invite the spirit. First of all, you can feel good without the spirit. The spirit isn't the source of all good and positive feelings. If you feel good while watching a "questionable movie" it's probably not the spirit. It might just be that despite its questionable content, it's just a good/enjoyable/touching/moving film. Then again it may be good to examine why the movie is causing you to feel good. Some movies that many Mormons would consider "questionable" actually can have very uplifting themes or messages, even if they happen to include foul language or explicit scenes. The church doesn't have a monopoly on truth after all (despite what many members seem to think) and any truth will resonate with our spirits regardless of whether it comes from a conference talk or a Hollywood film.
About companionship of the spirit: You ask about where the line is for the companionship of the spirit. I believe it's not black and white and as such, there's not a line. It's not a question of "do A and the spirit is with you, do B and the spirit leaves." It's more like, "do things from the Set of Things A and the spirit moves closer and closer to you/is more inclined to spend time around you; do things from the Set of Things B and the spirit moves further and further away from you/is more inclined to spend time away from you." This is why we as imperfect humans are able to have the companionship of the spirit; it's not an all or nothing deal.
About good thoughts from God, bad thoughts not: I'm gonna start this one off by telling you that thoughts actually come from you, good or bad. God can use the spirit to suggest good thoughts to you, but just because you have a good thought doesn't necessarily mean it's a prompting. That doesn't make it any less good though. Elder Bednar once told a group of missionaries at the MTC that he often gets asked "How do I know if a thought came from the spirit or just from me?" His response to that question - which I feel fits your question regarding this perfectly - is that if the thought is good or leads you to do good, then it doesn't matter if it came from the spirit or from yourself, because it is good. After all, if we had to wait for an actual prompting to be able to do anything good, that would go against God's purpose for us to learn to use our agency to make good decisions.
About "what if it's right after all?": Were I in your situation, I would consider the following scenarios and questions:
- In the event the church is true, what do you stand to lose if you leave? What if you stay?
- And if the church turns out to be wrong, what to you stand to lose if you leave? If you stay?
You may be different, but the way I see it, if the church is true, you stand to lose "all that the Father hath" if you leave, while if you stay, you stand to lose the experience of sleeping in on Sundays, drinking coffee, and whatever other lifestyle changes might come with leaving.
Similarly, if the church turns out to be wrong, you stand to lose something that has been a significant aspect of your life for some period of time, while if you stay, you stand to lose the experience sleeping in on Sundays, drinking coffee, and whatever other lifestyle changes might come with leaving.
Based on those outcomes, I would choose to stay on the assumption that the church is true. Logically it's the safest option of the four. But you are not me, and thus cannot let me make your decisions for you. You have to think about it and weigh your options and decide what's best for you.
In conclusion: I understand where you're coming from to a certain extent. I'm a very logical individual and have thought of many of these same logic loop questions as you. I realize that they can seem very difficult to reconcile with a religion that often teaches about miraculous answers to prayers/blessings/etc. and wherein you hear many stories that seem to fly in the face of logic. However, I also know that God is omnipotent and has prepared a way for even His most logically minded children to be able to follow His gospel faithfully without having to live with a head constantly full of cognitive dissonance. I really hope this answer has helped you in at least some small way and I hope you're able to arrive at your own conclusions/answers that you feel comfortable and confident with soon.
If you have any questions regarding any parts of this answer, feel free to email me at dr.occam(at)theboard(dot)byu(dot)edu.
I just want to encourage you to talk to your bishop. I know that you mentioned that your pride is keeping you from talking to him, but this is his calling. He is supposed to help the members of his ward in whatever way he can without being judgmental.
A few internet strangers, like us, aren't going to be able to give adequate answers or support. Your bishop would be able to provide support where we fall short. Also, I am willing to bet that our answers aren't going to fully answer your questions, once again that's why we have bishops.
I just thought it would be a shame if we didn't direct you to your bishop. I hope you'll talk to him!
-Sunday Night Banter