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 being over:
“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 monsters. 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 settles it!’”
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 the abyss?
At some point, I decided that wasn’t enough.
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.