Not Pertinent to My Eternal Salvation
A few weeks ago I overheard a comment that has become typical in modern Mormon conversation. It was this: “We shouldn’t worry about answering that question because it’s not important to our eternal salvation.” When the person who made the statement was pressed as to why that was the case, that person pulled out the standard, “We need to stay close to the trunk of the gospel tree and out of the branches,” which pointedly ended the conversation. And while it may not have been the appropriate time to discuss the subject raised, the statements used bothered me.
Every time the “It’s not pertinent to my eternal salvation” dismissal of a question comes up, somewhere deep within I feel a profound frustration, for several reasons.
First of all, the inference is that if a person asks a deep or complex question, he or she is not exercising faith and is teetering on apostasy. Second, it seems this phrase gets used sometimes by those who don’t know the answer or who aren’t comfortable with what they do know, and are covering that fact up. The third reason reaches back to my teen years.
In the fresh days of my conversion to the gospel of Jesus Christ I had myriad questions that went beyond the usual seminary fare. These were serious questions about salvation and Church history, not whether-the-pearly-gates-roll-or-swing subjects. It seemed inconceivable to me that a loving Heavenly Father would expect me to be satisfied with such a trite rejection of my thirst for truth and knowledge.
Invariably as I pestered teachers and others for answers they would pull out the scripture, “I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able.” The discussion once again was expected to end. I found myself walking away empty-handed and grumbling. How was I ever to get from milk to meat if no one would feed me some mashed banana so I could work my way up?
From my perspective, the reason these good and faithful people were blocking my quest for answers was rooted in statements from prophets and apostles, like the following from Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin:
God has revealed everything necessary for our salvation. We should teach and dwell on the things that have been revealed and avoid delving into so-called mysteries. My counsel to teachers in the Church, whether they instruct in wards and stakes, Church institutions of higher learning, institutes of religion, seminaries, or even as parents in their homes, is to base their teachings on the scriptures and the words of latter-day prophets.
And this from Joseph Smith*:
The fundamental principles of our religion are the testimony of the Apostles and Prophets, concerning Jesus Christ, that He died, was buried, and rose again the third day, and ascended into heaven; and all other things which pertain to our religion are only appendages to it. But in connection with these, we believe in the gift of the Holy Ghost, the power of faith, the enjoyment of the spiritual gifts according to the will of God, the restoration of the house of Israel, and the final triumph of truth.
On the surface these quotes sound like a call to stick to the questions in the Sunday School manual. Don’t get too far out on the branches or you will fall out of the tree. But upon inspection what both say specifically is to base teachings on the scriptures and the words of latter-day prophets and use the gift of the Holy Ghost, the power of faith, the enjoyment of the spiritual gifts according to the will of God in our study.
As you dig into the prolific writings of latter-day prophets and the scriptures it becomes apparent that there is revealed information on almost any question you may have. How we go about finding answers seems to be the crux of the matter. Instead of a call to dismiss anything deep we instead discover the key to finding solutions.
Seek for the answers in the reliable sources that God has provided for searchers of truth and don’t go to just anybody for them. Revelation by the Spirit, the words of prophets, and scripture; that is where you find answers. Not only do we carefully use the sources God has provided, but we also need to know:
…the things of God are of deep import, and time, and experience, and careful, and solemn, and ponderous thoughts can only find them out. Thy mind, oh man, if thou wilt lead a soul unto salvation must stretch as high as the utmost heavens and search into and contemplate the darkest abyss and the broad expanses of eternity, thou must commune with God. How much more dignified and noble are the thoughts of God than the vain imaginations of the souls of men.
The answers come line upon line and will take time, experience, and serious pondering to work out. The Lord may give you milk to start but in time you will get your mashed banana and then maybe some string beans. One day you may even enjoy the Salisbury steak.
The most serious problem, as I see it, is that when we give this knee-jerk reaction to complex questions, we set the stage for the very situation we are professing to avoid. When my teenage son runs into a “that’s not pertinent to your salvation” roadblock from a well-intentioned teacher or other member, all he has to do is use his phone to access the internet and ask his question there. In a flash he will receive thousands of half-truths, flat-out lies, and incomplete answers. Without an understanding of where to go and how he should go about answering a demanding question, he is apt to accept one of the easy and inadequate versions out there. This can lead to perfectly logical doubt and eventual apostasy. You see it happen all the time.
Questions are how we learn. When we aren’t asking questions, we aren’t growing, and while it certainly doesn’t matter if the pearly gates swing or roll, most of the questions being asked out there are real and worthwhile. So let’s stop blocking searching souls and instead teach as latter-day prophets have the path to answering those questions. Let’s be honest with young people and others if we don’t understand fully a particular subject, and let’s not pretend we know it all and that they just aren’t ready for the answers. Let’s make sure they know that it takes patience and work and an open mind to move forward with the Spirit.
Questions in the gospel aren’t always easy and even following the pattern we may not have the complete picture in this life, but “time, and experience, and careful, and solemn, and ponderous thoughts” that are nurtured through divinely appointed forms of learning are certainly relevant and will help us move closer to the full truths of eternity. So please, please stop saying “It isn’t pertinent to our salvation.” It is.
- Are there questions in the Gospel we shouldn’t ask?
- How do we move past searching for easy answers and think deeply about the Gospel and latter-day history?
- Are there other attitudes we have in the church that discourage thoughtful consideration of complex subjects?
*(History of the Church, 3:30; from an editorial published in Elders’ Journal, July 1838, p. 44; Joseph Smith was the editor of the periodical. Copied from Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith)