By President David L. Orr
May 28, 2021
When recently studying the “Come Follow Me” reading in section 50, I again found myself pondering the simple test found in verse 23:
And that which doth not edify is not of God, and is darkness.
This stark test of what emanates from God, and what does not, is the culmination of the teaching in previous verses which instruct that truth is revealed by the Spirit of truth, and if by “some other way” it is not of God. (v. 13-22)
For many faithful Latter-day Saints, the YSA years are a time of earnest questioning as to what is truth: “Now that I am on my own, away from my parents, are the beliefs I grew up with really correct? Do I really want to live a Christ-centered life?” or “Now that I do not feel the pressures and expectations of being a missionary, do I really believe the things I taught on my mission?”. In the recurring pattern in the challenge to deepen our understanding of truth – we question. This is good so long as we “study with the desire to believe rather than with the hope to find a flaw in the fabric of a prophet’s life or a discrepancy in the scriptures” as President Nelson taught in the last General Conference. Seeking with faith to find truth is a very different investigation than looking for confirmation of doubts.
In my own ongoing desire to understand the doctrine of the Church, I find this simple test of “edification” put forward in verse 23 a good one. Alma taught of the same simple test to determine truth in Alma 32 when he invited “an experiment upon [his] words”, or in other words, an experiment upon the doctrine that he taught:
Now, we will compare the word unto a seed. Now, if ye give place, that a seed may be planted in your heart, behold, if it be a true seed, or a good seed, if ye do not cast it out by your unbelief (studying with a desire to believe), that ye will resist the Spirit of the Lord, behold, it will begin to swell within your breasts; and when you feel these swelling motions, ye will begin to say within yourselves – it must needs be that this is a good seed, or that the word is good, for it beginneth to enlarge my soul; yea, it beginneth to enlighten my understanding, yea, it beginneth to be delicious to me.
Using Alma’s words, truth “swells” within you, “enlarges your soul”, “enlightens your understanding”, and is “delicious” to you – this is edification. The seed of truth you are testing is of God when you experience these things.
So, what of the discomfort we can feel with certain doctrine of the Church? If it is the doctrine taught by Church members and leaders, and it does not edify me, how is it the doctrine “of God”? Doesn’t that fail the test put forward in v. 23? This apparent conflict can challenge our faith.
I’ve come to appreciate a solution to this conflict, one to which I can bear testimony. When I am not edified or am confused by a “doctrine of the Church”, I have learned that it is my understanding of the doctrine that is lacking. Our misunderstanding may be very understandable as sometimes, true doctrine isn’t taught clearly – or even taught! – within the Church, even by those we assume to know what they are talking about. As well, even when true doctrine is being taught, we as receivers of those words twist their meaning to conform with our own understanding. I have come to see that there is widespread misunderstanding of core doctrine (i.e., sin, repentance, forgiveness, God’s love, justice, mercy, elements of the plan of salvation, the reach of the Atonement of Christ), doctrine twisted perhaps only slightly, but thereby losing its essence and edifying power. This misunderstanding of doctrine, rather than edifying, chips away at the faith and peace of the confused member. There are many I fear who have tried to escape this conflict by distancing themselves from the Church. If we are not being edified by the things we hear in church, or worse, are weighed down by those things, in our quest for peace, we run from the negative. But again, relying upon my personal experience and what I have seen in the experience of others, it is our misunderstanding of doctrine that is the problem – for that which is “of God” truly does edify.
So, what is to be done? Diligent and faithful seeking to understand, and great patience over time, even years and decades, are key to resolving this internal conflict. Our pursuit of understanding should be broad: “…seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith.” Coming to truly understand the doctrine of Christ is a lifelong endeavor. An ongoing quest to know, coupled with the enlightenment life experience brings, opens the eyes of our understanding as we faithfully strive to live true to that which we do know.
If thou shalt ask, thou shalt receive revelation upon revelation, knowledge upon knowledge, that thou mayest know the mysteries and peaceable things – that which bringeth joy, that which bringeth eternal life.