Lord is it I? Faith and the Dark Night of the Soul

As have many other LDS Bloggers, this week I have been reflecting on the pending disciplinary proceedings for John Dehlin. However, as it happens I also visited South Florida this week where I grew up and spent most of my childhood. As such, I have also been reflecting on the nature of faith and testimony and my own faith journey.

As I reflected on my long windy path, through belief and disbelief, theism and atheism, and my eventual embrace of the Restored Gospel, I came to better appreciate that faith is never a static thing, we are always constantly either strengthening or weakening our faith. Moreover, unexpected experiences can deeply shake our faith or shatter it. We are never as secure or as sure in our faith as we think.

The events of the last supper most recently discussed by President Uchtdorf at conference powerfully illustrate this point. When the Savior told the disciples that one of them would betray him, they all turned inward and asked “Lord is it I?” Implicit in this question is the fact that it very possibly could have been any of them, or any one of us. We may as Peter declare boldly that we will never forsake the savior or the faith we hold dear, but as with Peter we may find ourselves in the very situation that causes us to waver however briefly.

When I was in high school, I was very secure in my faith in God. Although in that period I began seriously investigating both Christianity and Judaism, my faith in a personal and loving deity was very strong. I wrote an essay for my English class about a personal spiritual experience which I declared made it so that I could not doubt the existence of God. I was convinced that my testimony of God was secure beyond any doubts.

Subsequent events caused my faith to falter and even shatter. My mother died when I was 18, and her illness and suffering deeply undermined my belief in a benevolent God. I also personally found myself living in a way that undermined my faith in God including the music I listened to, friends I associated with, and materials that I read. Within the span of less than a year what had once had seemed like a firm foundation of faith turned into a ruin of doubt.

It should not surprise us that we seem to face the exact trials which could undermine our faith. Indeed, God has declared that we were put on earth to be tried and to see if we will “do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them. . . .” Part of that trial involves experiences which deeply challenge our faith and push it to the breaking point. For some, that trial might involve learning challenging bits of Church History, for others that trial might involve infertility or delayed covenant promises, yet for others that trial may involve the illness or death of loved ones. Regardless of our particular circumstances we must all have our faith stretched through experiences where disappointment, doubt, and despair loom large. Such dark nights of the soul are essential in order to develop the mature faith of a disciple.

For me, I take away three lessons from this truth. The first is that we must never become too complacent or comfortable or assume that all is well (in Zion or within ourselves). I love the example of President Heber J Grant who was observed a few weeks before his death praying ““O God, bless me that I shall not lose my testimony and keep faithful to the end!” God will continue to test our faith until the very end, and Satan will continue to seek to undermine it. The stronger our faith, the more powerful a victory Satan hopes to score by causing us to doubt or question. It is for this reason that our testimony needs constant nourishment. We need to make daily decisions that strengthen our faith, because otherwise, our faith will not be sufficiently strong to withstand the tests ahead. Most importantly, we need to maintain a powerful relationship with the Holy Spirit which will guide us through those moments of darkness and doubt which we all must invariably face.

The second lesson has particular relevance to the excommunication proceedings of John Dehlin. For me, knowing that my faith is fragile and that everyone must face a dark night of the soul helps me to be more charitable and empathetic when others suffer a faith crisis or a period of doubt. Moreover, because our trials are personalized, it is wrong to compare or contrast trials or to assume that our burden more or less intense than other. What might cause one to falter will be a small trial or negligible to another. One fact in Church History might be faith affirming to one, but discomforting to another. For John the evangelist being openly identified with Christ at the night of his arrest was not challenging, while for Peter it was faith shattering. Because we are all unique we simply have no cause to brag when we are able to overcome a certain obstacle that causes another to suffer.

While church discipline is necessary, and excommunication is a needed punishment at times, we are not called to be an additional stumbling stone or rock of offense. When our attacks become too personal, or our words too alienating, we are in effect declaring our superiority over those who suffer doubts. In doing so, we are denying place in our hearts for the grace of Christ and failing to acknowledge that we all will require his assistance to overcome our various trials.

Which leads me to the third lesson. Looking back at the faith crises that I have experienced in my life, I would have been utterly lost without the help of others who shared their light with me. Each time, when I thought that doubt would over power me, someone said a kind word, shared a testimony, or simply offered friendship and fellowship. I likewise have no doubt that Peter took great comfort in the faith expressed by John or the quiet witness of Mary of Magdalene. In those moments when we can share our faith or testimony with those who struggle or falter, we become most like the savior. When we recognize that we will all someday be in need of such comforting, we will be all the quicker to offer succor to those in need around us.

In light of the controversy in the days ahead, I hope that those of us who have pledged to be Disciples of Christ will cast aside self-righteousness and instead put on the mantle of Christ-like service and charity. In doing so, we may be laying the very foundation that will help us to withstand our own dark night of the soul and endure to the end.

9 thoughts on “Lord is it I? Faith and the Dark Night of the Soul

  1. Is it I? This is a question all of us need to continually ask ourselves. Here is one person who didn’t, and this quotation made by her currently appears elsewhere on this website.

    “The Mormon faith has become a place that incentivizes the survival of the least fit. … [O]nly the least talented, least articulate, least nuanced thinkers, least likely to take a stand against abuse, and the least courageous people thrive in the Church today.”

    Such a remark demonstrates that one can glide through the years of a mission, a university education, law school and its subsequent practice, and at the end of it all to have learned nothing of importance. What an unimaginable waste. Indeed, Kate Kelly has all but said the sun doesn’t shine while basking under its light at noon on a clear day. Nonetheless, there is some light at the end of all tunnels for most, including her. I’ll end with a quote form someone who is undoubtedly her favorite Prophet: “Woman must atone for sins committed by the volition of her own choice, but she will never become an angel to the devil, and sin so far as to place herself beyond the reach of mercy.”

    So, back to the original question. Lord is it I? Likely all of us kick against the pricks on countless occasions over the course of life. I have been doing it for 63 years and thus speak from experience. Nonetheless, we cannot relieve ourselves from the responsibility of following God’s plan while living within the covenant. If we don’t want to hold up our end of the covenant, we are allowed, in mercy, to live outside of it. But, as Joseph said: “If you don’t believe it, it wont make the truth without effect.”

    (Note: the quotation by Kelly is as reported on the “Well-Behaved Mormon Woman” website in a guest post by Michael Terence Worley entitled “LDS Apostate Says Only Dummies Thrive in Mormonism.” It originally appeared on a post by Kelly on “The Guardian” on 2/6/2015. I agree with the last sentence of her post, though perhaps in a way unintended by her: “I urge the Mormon Church to do what is right, and let the consequence follow.” Ditto. The quote from “her favorite Prophet” is from Brigham Young…Discourse delivered October 8, 1861, pp. 6–7, LDS Church Archives.) The quotation by Joseph Smith is from the diary of WWoodruff from the King Follett Discourse).

  2. I think Kate K. would take offense at Brigham Young’s seemingly merciful and benign comments about the inability of women to fall to perdition. If they can’t fall to perdition, then they cannot attain the levels of spiritual knowledge that make a fall to perdition possible in the first place. I think surely this is what he means. It is like the old debate about whether women can make art or not. They can’t, it was decided centuries ago, because art requires genius, and only men are capable of that. At least, that is what educated people believed back in the day… I don’t buy into it.

  3. jman…The issue of whether there will be daughters of perdition or not is unsettled as there is disagreement among the Prophets and Apostles. I chose the comment of BY because it brings up the concept of mercy and also for Kate Kelly, in particular, has a touch of sarcasm in it.

  4. I think this post is beautiful. Ultimately, I am responsible for myself. I need to develop patience and charity as I interact with other people. For myself, it does not matter if others have charity or not. God expects me to follow Christ’s example regardless of the actions of others if I hope to inherit celestial glory. That said, I will defend the Church as needed from attacks, but most attacks do not require any defense, honestly. Sometimes the attempted defense just makes things worse.

    Regarding Kate Kelly, if she thinks I am the least courageous, I need to ask if I am as courageous at Church as I need to be. Do I comfort those that stand in need of comfort even if others around me are not comforting. Do I just follow the crowd? Can I balance the need not to condone sin with the requirement of Christlike love for all regardless of the sins they have committed? I am not without sin. Without the atonement, my sins will keep me from the presence of Heavenly Father as much as anyone else’s sins will. If I find ways to improve, her words have helped me. If her words do not help me improve, then they have not hurt me either. I see no reason for me to judge her unless I am a Church leader with stewardship over her. If I met her tomorrow, I would hope I could show understanding and charity even if we disagreed about many things. If I cannot, then I am guilty.

  5. It’s actually very difficult in this full of activity life to listen news on TV, so I only use world wide web for that reason, and take the most recent news.

Comments are closed.