For my soul delighteth in plainness; for after this manner doth the Lord God work among the children of men. For the Lord God giveth light unto the understanding; for he speaketh unto men according to their language, unto their understanding. -2 Nephi 31:3
One of the things that is amazing about the work of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is that the scriptures and teachings of living prophets are translated into so many different languages, and that missionaries are serving around the world, learning to speak the native tongues of the people among whom they serve. To me, this is a fulfillment of prophecy that the Lord’s anointed would go into every nation, kindred, tongue and people and that He speaks to men in language that they can understand.
I also have a personal belief that this notion of God speaking to His children in language they can understand isn’t only about native tongues and language translation, but also about the many ways God can and does reach out to His children, based on His intimate knowledge of where each of us is in our personal journeys.
For example, I read a post last night from someone who left the Church for a time. (You can read more of his personal story in that post and in the links he provides.)
His name is Jeff. Jeff has since come back, and spends a decent amount of time sharing about the snares that caught him and kept him away from the Church.
He also talks about what helped him come to himself.
“I began to read Hayek, MacIntyre, Rorty and Gouldner…. I wrote [thoughts] in a moleskin notebook that I kept with me at all times.”
These are names with which I am not familiar, because I do not speak the language of philosophy. But God knew that my friend does.
“Hayek chipped away at my welfare liberal convictions, MacIntyre shook my confidence in modernity, Rorty undermined my scientism and Gouldner exposed the dark side of my intellectualism. These all set the stage for a reevaluation of my reasons for leaving the church.”
I do not know what it is like to leave the Church but I do know what it is like to feel God’s loving arms reaching out to me through a variety of means, including the works and words of those who are not of my faith (and perhaps sometimes of no faith at all). I have also witnessed God’s hand in others’ lives through so many means that, at the moment, may not include the fullness of the restored gospel.
I believe wholeheartedly in the restored gospel and in the Church. But I’ve also become more willing to see that God is the One who guides each person’s journey. If now is not the time for the gospel in their lives, just as He did with Jeff, He will work in His own way and time — and in a language they can understand — to reach and teach them.
I share these thoughts for two reasons. One is that I know that there are many who have loved ones who have left the Church and/or are struggling with it. Please don’t dismay. He is mindful of them, and will reach out to them as much as they will let Him, in a way that they can understand that will only reflect how personally He knows them.
Secondly, I know there are some who at times may struggle with language used in gospel/Church teaching. I have had my own challenges with this over the years, strong testimony notwithstanding.
I wonder if those of us who grew up in the Church might be particularly susceptible to this. Sometimes unhealthy patterns of thought and behavior can be intertwined with gospel language. As such, at least in my experience, it can sometimes be difficult to tease out what is truth and what is tradition of the fathers or culture or unhealthy personal thought patterns that no one ever knew to help redirect.
For me, for example, somehow I internalized a view of a God who is mean and vengeful. I was always an obedient, “good” child and I think I thought I had to save myself through perfect performance. Some would like to say this is a Mormon problem, but research is showing that shame and perfectionism are human problems, not just Mormon problems. (Thank you, Brené Brown!)
We are each continually being given opportunities to learn to choose between light and truth and darkness and error. And it takes practice. We make mistakes. That is why there is an Atonement!
And in the meantime, God will never stop trying to reach out to us, however we may be ready and willing to hear Him and receive His light and love.
I rejoice not only that God has restored the gospel of Jesus Christ to the earth, but also that through people in various spheres, He brings light and truth to those who seek, in a language they can understand. Languages in fields such as philosophy and psychology and science and sociology and leadership and healthy living and myriad other spheres are incomplete and imperfect to be sure, but I believe there are people being led to light in a variety of ways, all that can play a part in the whole of bringing people closer to God, “line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little” (2 Nephi 28:30).
For me, in addition to the foundation of light and truth that has been part of my life because I believe in ancient and modern prophets, life-altering light and truth has also come through people like Beattie and Brown, Cloud and Townsend, Tolle and hundreds of people in various 12-step programs. (Hi, my name is Michelle, and I’m a recovering perfectionist, and yes, I do 12-step work to help me with my tendency toward shame and blame.) My faith is stronger because of people who are filling the measure of their creation in their professional and ministerial work, even as they don’t share my specific religious beliefs.
Whether you are someone personally seeking to better understand God, or you know someone who is struggling or who has wandered for a time, I testify of a God who will speaks to each of us in ways we can understand as we seek Him — and sometimes even when we don’t. He is always, always at work for our good and the good of those we love.