Thursday, August 26, 2010

How do we discover God?

In my last entry, I suggested it was up to us to find God, not to make Him into what we want Him to be. Here I discuss how to find Him. In a future entry, I'll talk about how I deal with changes in the church.

I like that joke about an economist stranded on a desert island with a case full of canned food, but no way to get into the cans. Says the economist: "Assume a can opener..."

In my life, I started assuming that God exists. Though they were not Mormons then, my parents were believers. We said prayers at night; my folks read us Bible stories; we went to church. I don't think I ever wondered IF God exists – for me He was always there.

I've tried to give that same gift to my children, too. Not all of them have accepted my faith, but many of them have at least acknowledged the existence of some kind of God. I recognize that not everyone comes from my perspective. There are many for whom science has replaced God (even while there are scientists whose faith in God has grown because of their science; a recent poll reported on NPR showed that over half of scientists at elite US universities believe in God). And there are those who have never considered the possibility of (or need for) God in their lives.

I don't have a clear answer for those folks. I don't know how to start someone on a believing path, except to say, "Here's my experience…." If my experience resonates, then perhaps someone else will inquire further and come to his own understanding.

But if we assume God exists, our next step is to sort out what that means for us. In my tradition, God is a fixed point, and I must align myself to Him. God is the same yesterday, today and forever, one eternal round.

Clearly the scriptures are a starting point for our understanding. Scriptures are written by prophets and other inspired people, and they record God's interactions with His children at different times and places. Some religious traditions derive their authority from the written word. Of course the Bible is a common source book. But the Bible I read is in translation (I don't read Hebrew or Greek). For me, there are other books of scripture which complement the Bible, namely the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants. The first is another ancient record of God's dealing with His people, but set on the American continent. The main story of the Book of Mormon spans 600 BC to about 400 AD. The Doctrine and Covenants includes revelations to prophets in our day, since the first half of the 1800's.

For me, the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants offer clarification of and reinforcement for truths taught in the Bible, and all of these books work to point me to an understanding of God.

The emergence of the Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants also depend on another source of truth, namely modern revelation. Mormons believe that our church is a restoration of Christ's church in the latter-days through the prophet Joseph Smith. Among other things, Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon and received most of the revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants. And he has been followed since his death by other men who we also accept as prophets.

The teachings of those prophets also help me to understand God and His will for me.

Finally (for this entry), I have my own personal experience. Through scripture, God makes clear that He will hear and answer my own prayers. James 1:5 from the New Testament says, "If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God who giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not, and it shall be given him." Moroni 10:5 from the Book of Mormon teaches "by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things." In addition to what I read and what I hear, I can seek a confirming witness from God. In Doctrine and Covenants 6:23 we read, "What greater witness can ye have than from God?"


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