When I was about ten, during a
Sunday night church service at the First Baptist Church of Englewood, Colorado,
I asked a simple question that started me down a road to spiritual discovery.
We had missionaries from Africa
as guests that night. For my many Mormon friends, being an LDS missionary is
different than being a missionary in just about any other church. In other
churches, missionaries are adults – oftentimes, completely established with
families. For them, serving a mission is a lifetime task. But they have to have
funding. So, every so often, they fly back home and do a tour of churches. Usually
during a Sunday Night service, they relate experiences from their mission, show
pictures, and ask for donations.
It was on one such night that I
had my question. While showing pictures of some of the people they had come
across in Africa, these missionaries mentioned that many of the people there
had never even heard of Jesus Christ. I don’t think I heard much else of what
was said that night. My mind was troubled. It was a warm summer night, and our
church was less than a mile from our house – so we had walked. On the walk
home, I posed my question:
“Dad, how is it that those people
in Africa haven’t heard about Jesus?”
“It’s just different there,” he
responded. “They don’t have churches like we do. That’s why it’s important that
we support missionaries.”
That led to a new question: “But
what about the people who never hear about Jesus – what happens to them?”
My dad was quiet for a moment. “Well,
they go to hell.”
Now it was my turn to be quiet,
as I tried to wrap my ten-year-old brain around this concept.
“But how is that fair?” I asked.
Normally, questioning like this
made my dad frustrated. For whatever reason, he was acting patient that night.
“God is fair, Pauly (my nickname
until I was almost an adult). That’s all we know. If they want to find God,
their hearts will lead them to a place where they can find him.”
This didn’t satisfy me – at all. “But
what if they don’t find him? That must happen, right? What if they die, and
they never find them? What happens to those people?”
Now my dad was getting
frustrated. “Well, they go to hell. That’s the way it has to work. Accepting
Jesus is easy. But everyone does have to accept him, or they will be damned.”
“But Dad, why would God send them
to hell? It’s not their fault they were born in Africa!”
Then, my father used one of his
favorite sayings – one that always indicated the conversation was close to
“Paul, ours is not to understand
the mysterious ways of God!”
I didn’t have a response to that.
I never did. How could you argue with such logic? But I wasn’t satisfied. I
still thought it sounded wrong. I had spent the last two hours looking into the
smiling faces of hundreds of men, women, and children – the faces on the slides
of our missionary guests. And from the time I was old enough to talk, I had a
healthy fear of hell, “where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.” To be
honest, hell terrified me. It gave me nightmares. Growing up, I didn’t worry about
the boogeyman. I didn’t look under beds and behind doors for scary
No, my fears were kept busy with my imagination’s vision of hell. And
these innocent people - they were going to die and go there. They never had a chance!
I felt angry at God that night – the first time I
could ever remember being such. God supposedly loved us. How could he send some
of us to hell without ever even hearing about the way to avoid it.
My dad sensed my troubled thoughts, I think. But he
didn’t address them in a way that satisfied me.
“Little Pauly, we know this because the Bible says
it. And whose word is the Bible?”
It was good it was a dark night, so my dad couldn’t
see the way I rolled my eyes in exasperation.
“God’s word, Dad.”
That’s right. It’s God’s word. And that’s all I
need. I have a saying that I live by: ‘God said it! I believe it! And that
I don’t know how many
hundreds of times I heard that saying when I was growing up. Each time, Dad
said it as if it was a pebble of truth he had just stumbled upon that morning. But it always
meant the same thing. The discussion wasn’t close to being over. It was over.
"God said it! I believe it! And that settles it!
AKA: "Stop askin' questions, kid! Yer botherin' me!"
I never found an acceptable
answer to that question. I kept asking it, and I kept getting variations of the
same answer my dad had provided that night.
As I grew older, I developed a
list of such questions. Some of those questions had no answers. Some had
answers, but they couldn’t stand up to even simple critical analysis.
The answer, of course, is faith.
Hebrews describes faith as “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of
things not seen.”
But should faith ever confound
logic? Is that really what faith is for? Don’t we have a responsibility to
think, prior to playing the faith card?
As humans, we were given
intellect. Shouldn’t we be required to use it? As a person of faith, it is a
wonderful comfort to know that God is there for me. If I get into a bind – if I
find I’m in a place where the answers to my questions don’t seem clear – it’s
comforting to know that I can pray, and know my prayers will be answered by he
who has the perspective to see further up the road. But don’t I have the
responsibility to go as far as I can, before I start asking?
As Pax gets older, I find him
frequently bringing me homework problems for help. I love to be able to help
him with his problems – something I won’t be able to do much longer, as his
homework becomes more complex. But Pax knows that my sunny willingness to help
will turn to a storm of anger if I see that he hasn’t even made an attempt at
doing the work himself, prior to bringing it to me for assistance.
Don’t you suppose that Heavenly
Father is the same with us?
In that way, blind faith seems as
if it can become a crutch. Faith should never be used as an acceptable replacement
for logic. If God had wanted us to be exclusive faith-seekers, he would have
given us walnut-sized brains.
My purpose for writing this blog
post is this. Over the years, I have often been asked why I so dramatically
altered my spiritual course early in my adult life. I’ve tried numerous ways to
explain it – oftentimes, with little success. But I think I have discovered a
way to verbalize it now. It has to do with faith. I’ll close this post with an
Imagine I come to a deep canyon
that needs to be crossed. I find a bridge that seems sturdy, and start to carefully
walk across it. Two-thirds of the way across the bridge, I come across a patch
of thick fog. I literally can’t see my feet, the fog is so thick. But just a
few steps ahead, I can hear people talking calmly as they cross the last part
of the bridge. I may not be able to see any further, but I can use logic to
determine 1) the bridge has been sound, to this point; and 2) the people ahead
seem to be crossing the bridge without incident. From there, faith can allow me
to put one foot in front of the other, and finish my journey across the canyon.
Now imagine coming to the deep
canyon, seeing the sheer cliffs that lead into the abyss, and having someone
say, “Go back about a hundred yards, and start running towards the canyon as
fast as you can. Once you get to the edge of the canyon – running at full speed
– jump! I promise you that you’ll be able to fly to the other side!” Logic
tells me that this is a bad idea. If I allow faith to trump my logic in this
situation, then I suppose I deserve the end result.
Blind faith can lead me to harm.
Remember, faith is "the evidence of things not seen!” Doesn’t “evidence” imply
some basis to form an educated assumption? Could faith really mean that sometimes,
we aren’t allowed to understand basic, important truths? Is it really evidence,
if all you have to run with is some stranger telling you it’s okay to jump into
At some point, I decided that
And that is why I changed my
spiritual course. I still need faith; but my faith and my logic don’t ever have
to divert into different directions.