Thursday, September 4, 2014

Some thoughts on Elder Nelson’s talk “Let Your Faith Show” from April 2014 conference

Here’s a part of Elder Nelson’s talk that stuck out to me recently:

“Problems abound in this world because it is populated by imperfect people. Their objectives and desires are heavily influenced by their faith or lack of it. Many put other priorities ahead of God. Some challenge the relevance of religion in modern life. As in every age, so today there are those who mock or decry the free exercise of religion. Some even blame religion for any number of the world’s ills. Admittedly, there have been times when atrocities have been committed in the name of religion. But living the Lord’s pure religion, which means striving to become a true disciple of Jesus Christ, is a way of life and a daily commitment that will provide divine guidance. As you practice your religion, you are exercising your faith. You are letting your faith show.”

Elder Nelson describes a number of ways that problems occur because of imperfect people with imperfect faith.  It is easy to just brush over these types of people and tsk-tsk over them, but I think it is worth looking closer and think about what caused those states in the first place. 

It is possible to see that they may be well-intentioned but hampered by ignorance, or confusion, or uncertainty, or overwhelm, feelings of inadequacy, or exposure to zeal without knowledge.  Understanding them can help us feel greater charity and find ways of speaking to their spiritual needs rather than to salve our own defensiveness.

“Many put other priorities ahead of God.” -- God’s influence isn’t noisy or flashy, and to the natural man God’s wisdom is foolishness, so some simply gravitate to the where they think the excitement is.   They need to hear people who are enthusiastic about what true religion has to offer.   Some have never learned to make decisions in a way that gives God priority.  The best age to learn to put God at highest priority is while young when habits for life are being formed, so change in the adult years is a struggle and a miracle.  They need to hear how believers have made sacrifices to put God first and what blessings have come from that.

“Some challenge the relevance of religion in modern life.”  -- If talking of angels seemed odd in the age of steam engines and railways, it may seem more so in the age of cell phones.  Many think the unexplainable doesn’t fit in the days of science and logical explanation of natural laws.  Happily, if our lives have been improved by a few scientists discovering and harnessing natural laws, the benefits can be just as great if not more if we can only learn to live by the spiritual laws God has laid down.  If GPS systems have made it easy to navigate road systems we’ve never been over before, divine revelation is still needed to help us navigate and make sense of life experiences. 

Also, modern life doesn’t yet have satisfying answers to match those that true religion provides to the deep questions of “Why are we here?” “Where did I come from?” and “Where am I going after this life?”  The answers to those questions and what they demand of us are profoundly relevant to modern life and actually help us order our lives well.

People who don’t see that relevance need people to share how true religion has affected their lives and made it better.

“There are those who mock…the free exercise of religion” – The mocking might come from those who do not have enough experience with expression of the sacred to be comfortable with it.  They may be afraid of what they might feel or do if they let themselves respond to it, so mockery is their way of defending themselves against something they sense is powerful but which they don’t understand.  

These people need it explained to them what they are feeling and need space to make the choice to respond.  They can’t be pressured.  They need to they are not alone, and I think deep down they want to know what they can expect and that it will be okay to be moved by the sacred.

Mockery may also come from those whose exposure to religious practice has been to wild, maybe indecorous, or seemingly irrational displays.  They need to hear about religious experiences that are orderly, reverent, and to know how the Lord works through the mind as well as the heart.

There are those who…decry the free exercise of religion” -- Decrying free exercise of religion usually happens because someone has seen some religious practice harm or infringe on someone else or perceives it as harmful or infringing.  Elder Nelson points out that there have been times that atrocities have been committed in the name of religion, but implies that living the Lord’s pure religion will make us disciples of Christ and thus we will not be guilty if accused of harm or infringement. 

People who decry the free exercise of religion may not understand where the boundaries of free exercise are.  They need to have explained to them how a particular free exercise of religion is beneficial.  If there is an instance where they are right, then that can have a corrective influence. 

One of the best responses we can make is to teach about Jesus’ parable of the wheat and the tears. 

24 ¶Another parable put he forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is likened unto a man which sowed good seed in his field:
25 But while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went his way.
26 But when the blade was sprung up, and brought forth fruit, then appeared the tares also.
27 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?
28 He said unto them, An enemy hath done this. The servants said unto him, Wilt thou then that we go and gather them up?
29 But he said, Nay; lest while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them.
30 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….
37 He answered and said unto them, He that soweth the good seed is the Son of man;
38 The field is the world; the good seed are the children of the kingdom; but the tares are the children of the wicked one;
39 The enemy that sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the world; and the reapers are the angels.
40 As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be in the end of this world.
41 The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity;
42 And shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.
43 Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Who hath ears to hear, let him hear.  (Matt. 13:24-30)

It is natural to wonder where the atrocities come from if what was sowed was good religion and good doctrine.   Jesus wanted the disciples to know that false doctrine would be sowed by Satan and there would also be people claiming to be wheat but who would exhibit the worthlessness of tears and who would do evil things under a cover of religion and doctrine.  He assured his disciples (and all of us) that their deceptions would not protect the tears in the eternities.  

Also important in the parable to the discussion of free exercise of religion is the question about how to deal with the tears-- “Wilt thou then that we go and gather them up?”  It is tempting to think that the solution to bad religion is to root it out and outlaw it and suppress it, but Jesus’s answer is, “Nay; lest while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them.”  Trying to destroy false religion with violence is notoriously hard to do, hard to judge, gives too many false positives, and leads to a hollow appearances-only fear-driven religion devoid of saving power.  It is better to allow both true and false to exist together until the harvest.   We all have to take on faith that there will be a harvest when the Lord will separate the two.

“Some even blame religion for any number of the world’s ills.” – This comes from people who have thought about various society problems and try to trace the causes.  When they find that it leads them to a religion or church practice, they stop their search and declare that religion is the cause.  The problem is they don’t keep going and look for what beliefs cause those problems and behavior and try to find out the origin of that thing.  It may not be religion.  It may be traditions that have been folded into religion.  And religion isn’t a homogeneous thing; it has variety and shades and flavors, so to condemn all religion because of one religion is to pre-judge.  Also, to blame it for the world’s ills is to look only at the negative and to miss the number of world blessings that come from it.   These people need to learn the good religion has done for the world, and to be able to share that, we need to know about it ourselves.

For all these different types of people who Elder Nelson lists, I think we can learn to deal with them according to their spiritual needs.  Also, we’ve all had points in our life where we ourselves have been a part of these groups.  Remembering those experiences and how we changed will be very helpful as we share our faith.  It will allow us to show our faith in a way that blesses others and leads them closer to Christ.