Many Latter-day Saints and numerous Christians of other faiths have experienced the disillusionment that can come when facing intellectual assaults on their faith. Whether it’s from reading an anti-Mormon book, dealing with a persuasive Darwinist professor who appears to destroy Genesis with science, or facing the writings of intellectuals tearing apart Christian history and theology, many of us have struggled to understand our faith when comfortable assumptions and beliefs are challenged.
When we face such a crisis, I feel it is a dangerous mistake to expect immediate answers. Faith and patience are needed as we sincerely seek for answers. There are reasonable answers in many, perhaps even most cases, but they may take time to find, time to digest, time to develop new skills and insights as prerequisites for the answers, and time for us to revise errant assumptions that make aspects of our faith unnecessarily vulnerable to attack. (And yes, there may be things that are wrong that require revision, but not necessarily abandonment of that which we have learned through revelation from God.)
An example of this “faith-based education” approach to dealing with a crisis of faith comes from the experience of D. Charles Pyle [9-10 update: complete name now used with permission], from whom I received the following account in the past few days. It is shared with his kind permission. Charles has many rich insights into the scriptures and the Gospel, many of which draw upon his expertise in the Greek New Testament. This expertise, and a profound testimony of the Restored Gospel, came through patiently applying faith and intelligence to his own crisis of faith that began shortly after joining the Church. Here is his fascinating account:
Over twenty-four years ago, I joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Not long after that I decided to look for LDS books in libraries (I had not thought to look in my own Ward’s library. . .). As I searched the shelves I found a few but one in particular caught my eye. It was a large, hardcover book with an image of the Salt Lake Temple on it (the title of the book is not important now) and began reading. The first chapter seemed fair enough, but as I kept reading I grew more distraught. I read for hours. I was shocked and dismayed by what I was reading. I worried that I had been deceived and then began to think that Satan was behind the scenes in the Church. When the library was about to close, I put the book back and immediately walked over to my Bishop’s home to question him about what I had read. I was frightened. I was angry. I was shaken to the core.
I began asking the questions that had been raised in the book. The Bishop answered a couple of questions but could answer not more. I was growing more upset by the minute. Finally, my Bishop made a statement that bothered me. He said that I just needed to have faith. He said that the authors and others like them are nothing more than faith killers and testimony thieves and that I should ignore them. I left that day more distraught than ever. I vowed never to return to the Church and stopped attending. People who were members of my Ward would stop by to see me and, out of fear, I had my parents or others tell the people who came to see me that I was not available. I went into hiding. All the while, I was most unhappy. Whereas I had had the light of the Spirit of God in my life on a daily basis, I now had nothing but brief glimpses of the Spirit at times but mostly darkness and fear. I did not know where to turn.
A few months later, I was cornered in a grocery store by a member of the Ward who asked me why I had not been attending Church and who, after a few minutes of discussion, told me that he had missed me and that a number of others there also missed me. All throughout the discussion, I noticed that I had once again felt of the Spirit of God and went home marveling. I kept thinking of how I had felt away from the Church and how I felt during the discussion with that member of the Ward. I kept wondering how something that was of Satan could have such feelings as those, particularly since I had had past experiences with the occult and with Satan’s influence, which feels very, very different from those feelings associated with the Spirit of the Lord. I made a decision to return to the Church, even if only tentatively. I was happy again. However, my mind kept reverting to what I had read. Surely there had to be answers somewhere. After another experience with some Jehovah’s Witnesses, I became motivated to study my scriptures in depth and went back to the library to check out the book that caused me so many problems. I decided to face my fear.
I started to notice other things as well as I studied. I found that many of the same arguments of the authors could be turned back onto the Bible. I was shocked by this. Again, I felt of the spirit of fear. “What if there was no God? What is all religion was a lie?” I began to think. I had come to a crossroads. I had a decision to make. As I pondered the significance of all that I had done, I also had brought back to my mind my experiences in joining the Church and the feelings I had felt under the influence of the Spirit of God. These were very real to me. In addition to this, what was I to do with a vision of Christ that I had had while investigating the Church? I was torn. I decided the path of faith. And never had my name taken off the rolls of the Church. I have since traveled the country researching the Church and its history and doctrine. Answers came here a little and there a little at times, and at other times, the answers came in floods.
One time I recall vividly as though it were yesterday. I was then in Boston, Massachusetts. I had been reading the Book of Mormon on the ‘T’ (the train in the city) on the way home from downtown. A woman approached me and invited me to dinner. I thought that was nice and dropped by her home for dinner the next day. When I arrived, I noticed that there were other people there. I had not been informed that there would be others there and became wary of the situation. Then, others came in. We had a wonderful dinner. Then, the questions began. Questions regarding the evidence for the Book of Mormon were pounded into me and supposed contradictions between the Book of Mormon and Bible were posed rather forcefully. I was able to parry all of them off but one. This question concerned the visitation of Christ to the Americas and how it contradicted a passage of scripture in the Bible that stated that Christ must be retained in heaven until the times of restitution of all things (Acts 3:20-21). The fellow then asked me how it was possible for Christ to visit the Americas when the Bible stated that he would remain in heaven until the end time. I had no answer. I said that I would get back with him on that. Again, I was troubled.
All the way home I prayed and plead with the Lord that he would give me the answers I sought. Almost home, I was beginning to become worried again, as I had not yet received an answer. I made one last attempt in prayer and poured out my soul to the Lord. Suddenly, I heard a voice say, “Go to the Public Library and I will give you your answer there.” I was awash with the Spirit of God and filled with light and warmth. I did as directed and began walking through the library. I did not know where I was going or even what I was looking for. I reached an upper floor and felt that I needed to walk a certain way and stop at a certain bookshelf. I still did not know what I was looking for so I stood there for a moment.
Then, the Spirit of the Lord directed me to pick up a book, which was the second edition of A Greek-English Lexicon of the Greek New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. I had no idea at the time what I was looking for and began flipping through pages. One page caught my eye and I turned back to that page. There, on that very page, was my answer! It turned out that Christ had returned to earth to stand by Paul (Acts 23:11), and this was after he had ascended into heaven! I concluded that if Christ could come to earth and visit Paul, he certainly could have visited the peoples of the Book of Mormon after his ascension into heaven. So, I came to the conclusion that either the Bible contradicted itself or the statement earlier in the Book of Acts did not mean what my assailants thought it did. I studied the question further and found that my assailants had misinterpreted the scripture because of reliance on English translation. It was then and there that I fell in love with the Greek language and have studied it ever since. I now read the Greek New Testament fairly regularly. The question had been answered and I immediately returned home to call the woman and let her know I had an answer. I gave it over the phone on her message machine. The result was that I never heard from the woman again and she never made another attempt to contact me or answer my phone calls.
You may ask, “What has this to do with archaeology and its quirks?” It has plenty to do with the subject, as you are about to find out. What I learned, if worded like the critics who attacked Mormonism, I could take such passages in the Bible as those I spoke of and turn them against the Bible, just as the anti-Mormon authors had done in attacking the Book of Mormon and the Church. Many of the same arguments against the Church could be turned back on the Bible. This was a revelation to me and strengthened my resolve to stay a member of the Church and further strengthened my testimony of what I knew to be true by the Spirit of God.
At another time, I actually put some of this knowledge to use in my dealings with an anti-Mormon at work, named Ed. He would attack my faith on a regular basis. This went on for weeks. Finally, I told him that he had better watch out because the selfsame arguments he was posing to me could be turned back on the Bible and Christianity. He told me that he did not believe me. I said that I would be glad to demonstrate and did so. After a couple days of this, I could see the look of concern and worry on this fellow’s face. I had seen it on my own face in the mirror a couple years previous. A few days after that, one of his friends who attended the same evangelical church that he did came up to me and exclaimed, “Dude, what did you do?!? Ed just threw his Bible in the trash and he won’t come to church anymore!” I told them what I had done. The guy walked away angrily. A few weeks later, Ed’s unfaith turned back into faith again and he began attending his own church again. However, he was a changed man. He walked up to me one day and said, “It is a good thing that you serve God! I will never attack your beliefs again.” He never spoke with me again and never attacked my faith again, true to his word.
I have gone through similar crises of faith in facing some of the perplexities of Mormonism. There are rough edges and challenging questions, to be sure, but it is amazing how rich the answers are that we do have, and how real the power of the Restored Gospel is in bringing hope and joy as it brings souls to Christ. Don’t demand of God that all questions be answered now, but do study and pray and seek knowledge throughout your life, walking in faith and learning to recognize the Spirit and the things which come of God.
Saul, the expert scriptorian and defender of Jewish ways, did not become Paul the Christian Apostle because of the brilliant scriptural answers provided by the Christians or the compelling intellectual evidences that they could offer for the divinity of Jesus Christ.
For those looking for evidence in the days of early Christianity, there was plenty: “witnesses” who attested that Christians raided the tomb, stealing the body of Christ to fake the miracle of the Resurrection; “witnesses” who heard Christ commit blasphemy and other crimes; evidence that Christ used magic tricks or perhaps even occult powers to deceive people with so-called miracles (see the writings of Celsus, for example); the obvious inability of Christ to resist being killed on the cross, proving that He was an ordinary mortal with no divine power; and the fact that all the intellectuals in Jewish society, as well as Roman and Greek society – philosophers, scholars, theologians – saw nothing of merit in Christianity. The dupes known as Christians were generally the poor and uneducated, people who could be deceived by emotional appeals and ambiguous “burning in the heart” (Luke 24) or feeling “pricked in their hearts” (Acts 2), people who claimed that they “knew” Jesus was the Christ not through reliable tools from science, theology, or philosophy, but from their own subjection “revelation” from God (Christ even told his closest believers in Matthew 16:16-17 that it wasn’t flesh and blood–you know, the facts, the evidence, the tangible proof–that converted them, but revelation from God).
When Saul the learned persecutor of Christians became Paul the devout Christian Apostle, this change came not from his examination of objective evidence, but from his alleged mystical encounter with the divine, a claimed personal revelation that let him know Jesus was the Christ, in spite of all the evidence against it. And after that, he was incredibly close-minded about the whole subject, unwilling to reconsider that perhaps he was wrong, no matter how much his fellow Jews of the anti-Christian variety reached out to Paul to minister to him in love with beatings, imprisonment, and other tools of the ministry.
Many converts to the Gospel have learned through powerful spiritual experiences that it is true, that they should enter into a covenant to follow Christ and be baptized, and that the Church of Jesus Christ has been restored, but afterwards face a crisis of faith when they learn, as did the early Christians, that the Gospel is spoken against everywhere, and that there are many compelling arguments that intelligent people have raised against it. Some abandon hope and return to old ways, shedding the joy that the Gospel was bringing into their lives. May we help them realize that there are answers, many answers, and that with faith and patience, our faith can become stronger and more, not less, intelligent.