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The thing about not understanding you may not understand

You’ve heard it said. You’ve likely thought it. Maybe you’ve done both. Maybe you’re doing it right now. “I just don’t get it.” It often follows a statement from the brethren, a newly-controversial longstanding doctrine, a failure of the Restored Church to align with the recent political or cultural positions of the world, a personal crisis, or even a good old fashioned whisper from the dark side.

Seems to happen a lot these days. Maybe it’s the prevalence of social media. Maybe it’s that we’re more open as a society. Maybe it’s that Satan is dialing up the pressure in the last days and deceiving a lot of us, even the very elect. But it seems like there are a lot of followers of the Savior who are taking real issue in not immediately understanding everything along the road of our earthly life.

Here’s the hitch: not understanding something about eternity? Yeah, that’s part of the program.

God isn’t going to tell us everything all at once. He never has. Enos had to pray the entire day to get a simple confirmation. After studying and pondering for months, Joseph Smith saw God the Father and The Son AND THEN spent the better part of two decades receiving additional intelligence, revelation by revelation…over nearly twenty years. President Nelson has received multiple revelations clarifying policy, programs, and doctrine since he received the mantle of leadership…at 94 years of age…after half a lifetime in church leadership. Jesus, the Only Begotten, learned line upon line. Why would we think it would be any different for us?

The Lord could have told Enos he loved him on his way up the mountain. He could have force fed Joseph the entire plan including principles, practices, and priesthoods all in one Matrix-esque download. President Nelson could have been given the same upon his ordination. And Jesus was born under so many miracles, what would have been the problem with also granting him full knowledge of the eternities right there in the manger? And yet none of these happened. Why? Because they would have all eliminated the process and benefit of…faith.

Faith in Christ is the key. It’s the exercise that burns the calories and builds the muscles. It’s not a copout in place of an answer, it IS the answer. And faith isn’t just a path to understanding, it’s also the door to appreciation. Like an unearned dollar, knowledge freely doled out isn’t valued and isn’t edifying. It’s like dross in the street and yet for some reason we demand it. “Please, please, please, Lord, I’m so impatient, give me something…that I won’t care about ten minutes after.” It’s completely irrational and yet we seek that very thing. But He knows better, because He’s not stuck in the short term perspective like we often are. And because of that, He gives us what is best for us when it is best for us— not best for Him, for the Church, for our parents, but for us personally.

Think about the parable of the ten virgins. (Matthew 25) Why couldn’t the 5 with oil just share theirs with the others? Aren’t we supposed to share with our brothers and sisters? Wouldn’t the good samaritan have spared a little for the philistine? Yes and yes…if it were possible…but it’s not. They couldn’t share their oil because their oil wasn’t something tangible to be traded. The oil represented EARNED testimony. Conviction forged in patience, humility, and faith. You can’t earn something for someone else, you can only give what you have earned; but then that person has something they haven’t earned which like the unearned dollar won’t provide significance, recognition, or spiritual benefit that earning it would. Faith is how you earn the reward. And patience is essential to faith.

As absolutely infuriating as it is at times, patience is integral to being a disciple of Christ and enjoying the unmatched blessings it provides. There’s a reason that pesky term “long suffering” is so often mentioned. Yes, the Lord blesses us when we ask and He is bound when we do what he says (D&C 82:10 – a classic!), but the Gospel isn’t a vending machine pumping out empty calories for pocket change.

And don’t think it’s only because you lack faith or don’t think you’re worthy of His love. The Brother of Jared was so faithful that the Lord described him as “never has man believed in me as thou hast” – sounds like a pretty faithful guy. But when building the barges to cross the seas, he was perplexed with some functional issues the barges would likely face. Keep in mind, this is a simple construction design issue. Not a point of eternal crisis. Not an immediate threat to his life. Not a doctrinal exploration needing deep pondering. Just an architectural project challenge. Surely the Lord could have just thrown him this bone, right? And yet even for something so small, so trivial, so seemingly unimportant, the Lord didn’t just hand over the info upon request, in fact the lord threw the ball right back into his court. This is a guy with unparalleled faith and devotion, character well outside the norm even for exceptional people, and yet he was left to work out for himself what to do. And that’s just what he did, knowing the Lord would help him. And as a result of his persistent faith (not doubt or discouragement) he saw the Lord. Even for the very elect, patience and faith are essential to the experience. Essential to our growth. Essential to our happiness.

God leaves us to faithfully question because He knows it makes us stronger and ultimately happier. If we’re honest about it, we know it too. The question is whether we are willing to let him. That’s much easier said than done, but it’s true nonetheless. It has been said “The harder the battle, the sweeter the success”: it’s not scripture, but it’s definitely true.

Learning in faith is no different than learning through a microscope. It can be very enlightening. It can give you new understanding. It can let you see things you couldn’t see without it. And yet while it gives more learning, it doesn’t give everything all at once. But one thing is for certain, if you refuse to use it, you won’t learn anything from it. You have to engage with it on its terms, not yours. You have to understand the tool and thus use it properly. Demanding spiritual answers while actively doubting or criticizing is like placing your ear to the microscope and wondering why it’s not working. We wouldn’t curse a microscope for not being a radio, so why do we curse a loving, caring God for not being Google?

Speaking of Google, it will hand out all the knowledge you ask it for. Right? Or…maybe not. Ask Google whether you should uproot your family and take that new job out of state and see how much personal insight it gives you as opposed to general information written for a general audience. Ask it to comfort you at the death of a loved one and see how much genuine succoring it offers you. Ask it to atone for your sins and see how cleansing it is. Watch how inadequate the instant gratification, all-you-can eat knowledge buffet is at personally nurturing you and you might find yourself understanding (getting that precious understanding!) the difference between data/logic-driven knowledge and faith-propelled conviction.

As wonderful as Google is, would you be tarred and feathered for it? Would you be burned at the stake for it? Would you take an impossibly long journey across an unknown land, barefoot, through violent country, surrounded by ferocious wild animals, deadly weather, starvation, losing children along the way to disease, exposure, and human mayhem for it? Would you kneel in agonizing tears begging Google to take the burden of guilt from you only to then shed tears of joy as the guilt inexplicably washed away? Probably not, because as great as the search engine is, it doesn’t build you. It doesn’t strengthen you. It doesn’t infinitely love you.

Google is a wonderful tool, but it’s no loving Savior. It’s not a loving Heavenly Father. So why would we want Christ and God to just operate like a search engine?

Part of the issue is that we’re seeking the wrong thing. Knowledge isn’t the point. Logical understanding is an important component of our existence, but it isn’t everything and it definitely isn’t the most important.

Take Laman and Lemuel for example. They saw an angel. An angel appeared before them and spoke directly to them. They felt the power. But did that knowledge do anything? Nope. Because they didn’t earn it. They didn’t faithfully seek it. Even something as seemingly incredible as standing in the presence of an angel falls short of its significance if it’s not coupled with faith. Demanding knowledge is no different.

Christ commands us to become as little children (Matthew 18:3-4) and to humble ourselves as they do. Little children ask questions all the time seeking knowledge. There’s nothing wrong with that. We know because Christ also commands us to call upon God when we lack wisdom as the boy Joseph learned in James 1:5. But have you ever noticed a child’s willingness to listen to the answer? Have you ever watched a child patiently wait for an answer? For example, when a child asks what they are getting for Christmas, and Mom answers that they’ll just have to wait and see, do they throw their hands in the air, walk out of the house, and then refuse to ever come home again? Of course not. They persistently ask over and over again, but do it eagerly looking forward to the day they get the answer. There’s much more to becoming like little children than this, but this is certainly part of it.

There are ALWAYS going to be things we don’t understand. Doctrinal questions. Policy questions. Cultural questions. Some big, some small. Some simple, some complex. Some answers will come quickly, some will take years and possibly even a lifetime to learn. No one but our Lord knows when it’s right for us to get the answers. But one thing is for certain: if we choose to turn away out of frustration, we will never get them. We’ll be the child that never wakes to jubilantly open a pile of presents on Christmas morning because we chose to pout in our room instead.

Have faith and the answers will come.

Have the faith to walk into the lab. Have the faith to step up to the microscope. Have the faith to peer into the lens, adjust the focus, move the slide around, change the lighting, swap the lens, ask an aide for help, sticking to it until the discovery is made, all the while knowing the answer lies in the microscope not somewhere else. Having faith in Christ is the way we uncover and discover the mysteries of God, one by one, little by little, step by step.

Your faith, not your doubts, will earn you those discoveries you’re seeking. And those discoveries are well worth the wait. So hang in there.

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