Wednesday, September 16, 2015

What is Unbelief?

Several months ago, I was struggling with doubts and fears about myself and about God's view of me. One day, during my lunch hour, I felt so troubled by it that I determined to ask the Lord about unbelief (specifically, my unbelief). My question to Him was: What is it about unbelief that causes the veil to remain shut and the heavens to remain closed?

After praying and spending some time looking up scriptures on the topic, I felt moved to write. Below is a slightly refined version of what I wrote, in the chance that someone else could be benefitted by it:

What is unbelief? It is setting up stakes for the Lord. It is saying and believing, "The Lord cannot do that." or "The Lord won't do that for me." It is believing that there are other men more deserving and more righteous than you, who receive the blessings of the Lord, and the best you can hope for is to follow them. It is believing that God is a respecter of persons, and isn't really interested in you.

Unbelief shuts the heavens and covers the mind with gross darkness. Do you worship a God who is a distant, uncaring executive? Or, is He rather a personal, loving, affectionate, even doting Father? Is your God too busy to care about the details of your life, or does He instead (being uninhibited by the constraints of time) yearn to spend time with you and have a relationship with you? Is your God a stern judge, immediately doling out punishments for even the smallest infractions? Or, is He a God of mercy, quick to forgive sin at the first sign of your sorrow and repentance, and covering you with his robe, and putting a ring on your finger, and slaying the fatted calf to celebrate your return? When you cry out to Him, in your sorrow and guilt, does He turn away His face from you in shame, or does He run to you, and hug you, and cry with you?

Unbelief is misapprehending the character and nature of God Himself. It is placing a filter over your understanding of God, believing that He is as other men. Everyone in this world has had to suffer from the lies, selfishness, and abuses of others. It is all too easy to create for yourself a God after that image, instead of remembering that we were created after His image.

How long have the heavens mourned because of unbelief? How long have they been stayed because we have refused to believe that God is who He says He is in the scriptures. How He longs to reveal Himself to you!
Verily, thus saith the Lord: It shall come to pass that every soul who forsaketh his sins and cometh unto me, and calleth on my name, and obeyeth my voice, and keepeth my commandments, shall see my face and know that I am; (D&C 93:1)
Unbelief is dismissing this promise, leaving it for others to accomplish, because you do not believe you can be worthy enough, or deserving enough, or qualified enough to receive the Lord for yourself.

Monday, September 7, 2015

These Signs Shall Follow Them That Believe

Consider these verses as if they were given directly to you by the Lord:
Therefore, as I said unto mine apostles I say unto you again, that every soul who believeth on your words, and is baptized by water for the remission of sins, shall receive the Holy Ghost.
And these signs shall follow them that believe
In my name they shall do many wonderful works;
In my name they shall cast out devils;
In my name they shall heal the sick;
In my name they shall open the eyes of the blind, and unstop the ears of the deaf;
And the tongue of the dumb shall speak;
And if any man shall administer poison unto them it shall not hurt them;
And the poison of a serpent shall not have power to harm them.
But a commandment I give unto them, that they shall not boast themselves of these things, neither speak them before the world; for these things are given unto you for your profit and for salvation. (D&C 84:64-73)
And it shall come to pass that there shall be a great work in the land, even among the Gentiles, for their folly and their abominations shall be made manifest in the eyes of all people.
For I am God, and mine arm is not shortened; and I will show miracles, signs, and wonders, unto all those who believe on my name.
And whoso shall ask it in my name in faith, they shall cast out devils; they shall heal the sick; they shall cause the blind to receive their sight, and the deaf to hear, and the dumb to speak, and the lame to walk.
And the time speedily cometh that great things are to be shown forth unto the children of men;
But without faith shall not anything be shown forth except desolations upon Babylon, the same which has made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication.
And there are none that doeth good except those who are ready to receive the fulness of my gospel, which I have sent forth unto this generation.
Wherefore, I call upon the weak things of the world, those who are unlearned and despised, to thresh the nations by the power of my Spirit;
And their arm shall be my arm, and I will be their shield and their buckler; and I will gird up their loins, and they shall fight manfully for me; and their enemies shall be under their feet; and I will let fall the sword in their behalf, and by the fire of mine indignation will I preserve them.
And the poor and the meek shall have the gospel preached unto them, and they shall be looking forth for the time of my coming, for it is nigh at hand— (D&C 35:7-15)
And at all times, and in all places, he shall open his mouth and declare my gospel as with the voice of a trump, both day and night. And I will give unto him strength such as is not known among men.
Require not miracles, except I shall command you, except casting out devils, healing the sick, and against poisonous serpents, and against deadly poisons; (D&C 24:12-13)
Do you believe these verses? Do you see these signs following you and those you teach? The last verse I quoted is especially interesting to me. The Lord says we should not require miracles of Him, unless He commands us to. However, there are exceptions to that rule. We should require the casting out of devils and healing the sick. He does not need to command us to do those things. Why not?

Pay attention to what Christ did when he visited the Nephites.
And he said unto them: Behold, my bowels are filled with compassion towards you.
Have ye any that are sick among you? Bring them hither. Have ye any that are lame, or blind, or halt, or maimed, or leprous, or that are withered, or that are deaf, or that are afflicted in any manner? Bring them hither and I will heal them, for I have compassion upon you; my bowels are filled with mercy.
For I perceive that ye desire that I should show unto you what I have done unto your brethren at Jerusalem, for I see that your faith is sufficient that I should heal you.
And it came to pass that when he had thus spoken, all the multitude, with one accord, did go forth with their sick and their afflicted, and their lame, and with their blind, and with their dumb, and with all them that were afflicted in any manner; and he did heal them every one as they were brought forth unto him. (3 Nephi 17:6-9)
Take a look at Matthew 12:15 
But when Jesus knew it, he withdrew himself from thence: and great multitudes followed him, and he healed them all
Here is another instance in Luke 6:17-19
And he came down with them, and stood in the plain, and the company of his disciples, and a great multitude of people out of all Judæa and Jerusalem, and from the sea coast of Tyre and Sidon, which came to hear him, and to be healed of their diseases;
And they that were vexed with unclean spirits: and they were healed.
And the whole multitude sought to touch him: for there went virtue out of him, and healed them all.
There is a definite pattern here. Jesus heals everyone. There are no exceptions. The only requirement is belief. Is God any less powerful today than he was then? Is He any less willing to heal now than He was then?

Yet, the following verse in D&C 24 gives this warning:
And these things ye shall not do, except it be required of you by them who desire it, that the scriptures might be fulfilled; for ye shall do according to that which is written. (D&C 24:14)
For what doth it profit a man if a gift is bestowed upon him, and he receive not the gift? Behold, he rejoices not in that which is given unto him, neither rejoices in him who is the giver of the gift. (D&C 88:33)
Continuing with the idea that Christ will heal anyone that asks, I have found a couple of instances in scripture that may counter this pattern.

The first is the instance where Paul talks about a thorn in his flesh. I've quoted it below, from the New International Version (NIV) translation:

I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows.
And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows—
was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell.
I will boast about a man like that, but I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses.
Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say,
or because of these surpassingly great revelations. Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.
Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.
That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:2-10 NIV)
Paul seems to categorize this "thorn" as a weakness. Indeed, we know that the Lord does give us weakness.
 I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them. (Ether 12:27)
Weakness is not the same thing as sickness or disease. The Greek word translated as weakness here is ἀσθένεια or astheneia which means the following:

  1. want of strength, weakness, infirmity
    1. of the body
      1. its native weakness and frailty

      2. feebleness of health or sickness

  2. of the soul
    1. want of strength and capacity requisite
      1. to understand a thing

      2. to do things great and glorious

      3. to restrain corrupt desires

      4. to bear trials and troubles

So, really, Paul's "thorn" could be anything (such as spiritual weakness). It could easily be a sensitivity or weakness to certain temptations/sins (as alluded to by his reference to a "messenger of Satan".

The second instance is D&C 42:48:
And again, it shall come to pass that he that hath faith in me to be healed, and is not appointed unto death, shall be healed. (D&C 42:48
So, some are appointed unto death. This is because "thy days are known" unto God. None of us will live beyond our appointed time. However, if we continue faithful to God, neither will we die before our time (because our enemies' "bounds are set").

Take note, however, what the verses immediately following this one say:
 He who hath faith to see shall see.
 He who hath faith to hear shall hear.
 The lame who hath faith to leap shall leap.
 And they who have not faith to do these things, but believe in me, have power to become my sons; and inasmuch as they break not my laws thou shalt bear their infirmities. (D&C 42:49-52)
Let’s look at some more examples of healing.
And when they were come to the multitude, there came to him a certain man, kneeling down to him, and saying,
Lord, have mercy on my son: for he is lunatic, and sore vexed: for ofttimes he falleth into the fire, and oft into the water.
And I brought him to thy disciples, and they could not cure him.
Then Jesus answered and said, O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? how long shall I suffer you? bring him hither to me.
And Jesus rebuked the devil; and he departed out of him: and the child was cured from that very hour.
Then came the disciples to Jesus apart, and said, Why could not we cast him out?
And Jesus said unto them, Because of your unbelief: for verily I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you.
Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting. (Matthew 17:14-21)
 What effect does prayer and fasting (if done correctly) have on unbelief? Is the veil thinned? Does revelation come more easily? Perhaps the issue with their unbelief is that they didn't first seek revelation to know how the devil should be cast out?
And when he was come into his own country, he taught them in their synagogue, insomuch that they were astonished, and said, Whence hath this man this wisdom, and these mighty works?
Is not this the carpenter’s son? is not his mother called Mary? and his brethren, James, and Joses, and Simon, and Judas?
And his sisters, are they not all with us? Whence then hath this man all these things?
And they were offended in him. But Jesus said unto them, A prophet is not without honour, save in his own country, and in his own house.
And he did not many mighty works there because of their unbelief. (Matthew 13:54-58
Mark says of the same incident:
 5 And he could there do no mighty work, save that he laid his hands upon a few sick folk, and healed them.
 6 And he marvelled because of their unbelief. And he went round about the villages, teaching. (Mark 6:5-6)
Christ told the Nephites:
...So great faith have I never seen among all the Jews; wherefore I could not show unto them so great miracles, because of their unbelief. (3 Nephi 19:35
Christ was prevented from doing mighty works because they didn't believe (or, more correctly, they believed something which is not true. This is the true meaning of unbelief). There is a degree of faith required before someone can be healed. Yet, as revealed by this verse in Mark, it doesn’t take much faith to be healed. You can have faith to be healed and yet still be full of unbelief.

Awhile back I read about a man named Eric.
He once was a broken, drug addict, porn addict, trouble maker, jail sitter who felt no meaning to his life. He was raised a Mormon in his youth but didn't relate to church (in his words he was always stoned when he attended church). His family moved from Utah to San Diego when he was an older teenager, where he kept having problems. He attended the 12-step addiction classes but still would find himself in trouble and wasted. Finally six years ago at the age of 26, in a very low hour he decided to trust the words in the Bible (he never had read the BofM) and gave his sins to Jesus. In an instant, the pain and depression and addictions were taken from him. He decided to trust in Christ from that day forward and has dedicated his life to the Lord as a Born-Again type Christian. He has set up a healing center in the red- light district area of Tijuana. He travels between San Diego and Tijuana ministering in both cities to the very least among them. He has the gift of healing. He says that he simply took Jesus at his word and did the works of Jesus without looking for permission because Christ’s words in the Bible already instructed him to heal if he believed. He does his work 24/7 without asking for money to bless and heal people. His whole message is about Christ and believing in his words and works.
Reading this story really affected me. I don't know about you, but I don't believe I've ever witnessed a healing in a Sacrament meeting. I've seen lots of blessings. They are usually blessings of comfort. I've never seen an Elder or High Priest lay hands on another and command them to be healed (as Christ did). Yet, here is a punk kid in California, who's not even LDS anymore, and he has the gift of healing. Why? Because he believed what the Bible says.
Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father. (John 14:12
Therefore I say unto you, What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them. (Mark 11:24)
Any woman reading this may be thinking, “This doesn’t apply to me. I don't hold the priesthood". It is worth pointing out that when Eric heals, he doesn't invoke the power of the priesthood. In fact, I doubt he was ever even ordained to the priesthood. You don't need to hold priesthood in order to heal. Anyone can do it (men, women and children), provided they have sufficient faith. It is the power of Christ that heals people anyway. If you believe, and you say you are doing it by the power of Christ, then you have all you need. Where in all of scripture can you find a verse that says women have not the power to heal or cast out devils? It's not there. 

In the History of the Church, there is a record of remarks that Joseph Smith gave to the Relief Society. It says this.
President Smith continued the subject, by quoting the commission given to the ancient Apostles in Mark, 16th chapter, 15th, 16th, 17th, 18th verses, "Go ye into all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned. And these signs shall follow them that believe: In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; they shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover."No matter who believeth, these signs, such as healing the sick, casting our devils, etc., should follow all that believe, whether male or female. He asked the Society if they could not see by this sweeping promise, that wherein they are ordained, if it is the privilege of those set apart to administer in that authority, which is conferred on them; and if the sisters should have faith to heal the sick, let all hold their tongues, and let everything roll on....Respecting females administering for the healing of the sick he further remarked, there could be no evil in it, if God gave His sanction by healing; that there could be no more sin in any female laying hands on and praying for the sick, than in wetting the face with water; it is no sin for anybody to administer that has faith, or if the sick have faith to be healed by their administration. (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 224.)
These words were given by Joseph in relation to the fact that in the early days of the Relief Society, there were women who were set apart to go lay hands on the sick and heal them. It is only the foolish traditions of men that teach that women ought not do these things. No priesthood is required for someone to heal the sick. Only faith. It's time to cast off foolish traditions. See D&C 93:39

I found the following accounts in an article about women in the early days of the Church.
Sarah Leavitt her husband and family lived outside of Kirtland. Their daughter Louisa had been ill for over a year. As Sarah grew more concerned about her daughter’s condition she pleaded with the Lord for help. An angel appeared and instructed her to get Louisa out of bed, “lay ... hands upon her head in the name of Jesus Christ and administer to her and she should recover”. Unsure of her authority, but emboldened by the experience, Sarah woke her husband and told him to prepare Louisa for the blessing. Though it was near midnight and Louisa was weak she arose from her bed and Sarah administered to her. Louisa was soon “up and about” (History of Sarah Studevant Leavitt, copied from her history by Juanita Leavitt n.p., 1919),pp. 7,9-10; Sweet counsel and seas of tribulation, Linda King Newell;
Here’s an account showing what Relief Society meetings were like in Emma’s day.
“With Joseph’s approval, Emma and her counselors laid hands on the sick and blessed them that they might be healed. The fifth time the Relief Society convened, Sarah Cleveland invited the sisters to speak freely, and women stood one at a time in this testimony meeting. Sister Durfee was among those who spoke. She "bore testimony to the great blessing she received when administered to after the last meeting by Emma Smith and [her] Counselors Cleveland and Whitney, she said she never realized more benefit through an administration." She added that she had been healed and "thought the sisters had more faith than the brethren." Following the meeting, Sarah Cleveland and Elizabeth Whitney administered to another Relief Society sister, Mrs. Abigail Leonard, "for the restoration of health." ( )
Even Brigham Young had this to say:
“...speaking in the Tabernacle on 14 November 1869, [he] scolded both men and women for not improving, themselves. The example he cited was of a sick child. “Why do you not live so as to rebuke disease?" he demanded. "It is your privilege to do so without sending for the Elders." He laid down some practical advice; if the child is ill of a fever or of an upset stomach, treat those symptoms by all means, beware of too much medicine, and remember that prevention is better than cure. He ended by addressing himself specifically to mothers: "It is the privilege of a mother to have faith and to administer to her child; this she can do herself, as well as sending for the Elders to have the benefit of their faith."8 Having enough faith to heal was clearly, for Brother Brigham, "practical religion" like having enough food on hand.” (A Gift Given, A Gift Taken: Washing, Anointing, and Blessing the Sick Among Mormon Women; Linda King Newell.
To be honest, I've recently felt rather disgusted with the unbelief I see among members of the church. Where is faith? Does anybody have it? Someone can bear testimony to me all day that they know Jesus is the Christ, but until I see the promised signs following them, it is all in vain.
Behold I say unto you, is by faith that miracles are wrought; and it is by faith that angels appear and minister unto men; wherefore, if these things have ceased wo be unto the children of men, for it is because of unbelief, and all is vain. (Moroni 7:37)
Without signs, there is no faith.

Because faith is wanting, the fruits are. No man since the world was had faith without having something along with it. The ancients quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, women received their dead, etc. By faith the worlds were made. A man who has none of the gifts has no faith; and he deceives himself, if he supposes he has. Faith has been wanting, not only among the heathen, but in professed Christendom also, so that tongues, healings, prophecy, and prophets and apostles, and all the gifts and blessings have been wanting. (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 270)
Orson Pratt once wrote and distributed a pamphlet called “True Faith”. In it, he expounded upon what Joseph said in the above quote.
49. — Can any one show any reason, or present any evidence from the divine oracles, why obedience to the ancient Gospel will not give the same Faith now as in ancient times ? Will not Repentance, in all ages, have the same moral effect upon the mind ? Is not Gospel Baptism now the same as anciently ? Is not every step of obedience to the Gospel the same now as ever ? All Bible believers will, at once, answer, that every requirement of the Gospel is the same ; and that all can still yield the same acceptable obedience to each requirement ; this being the case, does it not necessarily follow, that the same obedience will impart the same Faith ; and still further, that the same Gospel Faith will bring the same Gospel blessings ? Nothing is more certain.
50. — The same Jesus that promised to the believer the Remission of Sins, as a Gospel blessing, also promised to the same believer Miraculous Signs, as Gospel blessings. What authority has the Gospel believer to claim one Gospel blessing, and reject the others? Would not this be indirectly rejecting the whole Gospel? He that offends in one point of the law, is, by our Saviour, represented as guilty of the transgression of the whole. He who has no faith to obtain Gospel signs, has no faith to obtain Gospel pardon. He who would thus pervert the Gospel is most woefully deceived, if he supposes himself in possession of any Gospel blessing. Jesus has made no Gospel promises to be trifled with, or to be rejected with impunity by professed believers.
51. — Faith in all ages, and under all dispensations, has always prevailed with God. By faith, signs, miracles, and manifestations of the power of God, were abundantly shown forth under the Patriarchal, Mosaic, and Christian dispensations. Jesus said, "All things are possible to him that believeth." — (Mark ix. 23.) Again he said, " Have faith in God. For verily I say unto you, That whosoever shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea ; and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that those things which he saith shall come to pass; he shall have whatsoever he saith. Therefore I say unto you, what things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them." — (Mark xi."22, 23, 24.) In another passage He said, " Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also ; and greater works than these shall he do ; because I go unto my Father.'' — 'John xiv. 12.)
52. — None of these passages limit the miraculous effects of Faith to the Apostles, or to any particular class of true believers, or to any particular age of the world. But on the contrary ; each of these promises was made on the broadest terms, general and unlimited as to time or place. The terms, "He that believeth; " " Whosoever shall say," &c, are applicable to all believers, in all ages, and in all the world, unto the latest generations, or to the end of time. No other Gospel blessings were more unlimited in their application. No other more positively and definitely expressed. No other that we have any more right to claim or seek after by Faith.
53. — Indeed, the miraculous gifts were to be the effects — the results — the signs of faith, by which the true believer could, by the most infallible evidence distinguish himself from an unbeliever. By these gifts he is confirmed; and he obtains the most satisfactory knowledge and absolute certainty of the divinity of the doctrine which he has embraced. By these tokens, he knows that he is in reality a true genuine Gospel believer, that his sins are surely forgiven, and that he has received the gift of the Holy Spirit, and is, indeed, -an heir of Salvation.
54. — While on the other hand, without these gifts, he knows that he is not a believer — that he has no genuine gospel faith — that he has no claim to any of the other Gospel blessings — that he is classified with unbelievers, and with them he must be damned.
55. — Jesus has made the contrast so great, and the distinguishing marks so apparent, between true and genuine Gospel believers and unbelievers, that it is impossible for any man who examines his own faith by the word of God, to be deceived.
Despite knowing this, I've had my own battles with unbelief. several months ago, my 3 year old daughter got an ear infection. She was crying in pain and I immediately had the thought come to me that I should heal her. I shied away from this thought because I was afraid. I said to myself, "What if I command her to be healed and nothing happens? I don't want to fail." I'm sorry to say that I gave in to my doubts on that particular occasion.

I recently learned another tidbit about this man named Eric. He has told people that when he began healing, only about 20% of the people he laid hands on were healed. He didn't fret, though, and just kept trying. Now, he says, about 80% of the people he lays hands on are healed. Many of these healings are quite miraculous in nature. He also doesn't just give one blessing and then give up if it didn't work. Typically, he and a bunch of his friends will lay hands on a person that needs healing (and not necessarily on their head). For example, if someone has a cold, he'll ask: "How bad or painful is your cold on a scale of 1 to 10". The person might say "It's a 5". Then, he lays his hands on them and commands them, through the power of Jesus, to be healed. Afterwards, he'll ask them, "What number would you say it is now?" Often, it will be a lower number, like 3. Then, he'll do it again or one of his friends will do it and they'll keep doing it until that number is 0. In other words, there is no need to expect that it will always happen the first time. I suppose this may be because sometimes the faith of the person to be healed needs to be strengthened before they can be fully healed. This even happened with Christ:
And he cometh to Bethsaida; and they bring a blind man unto him, and besought him to touch him.
And he took the blind man by the hand, and led him out of the town; and when he had spit on his eyes, and put his hands upon him, he asked him if he saw ought.
And he looked up, and said, I see men as trees, walking.
After that he put his hands again upon his eyes, and made him look up: and he was restored, and saw  every man clearly. (Mark 8:22-25
So, here's my story. One Monday morning, before I left for work, my wife complained to me that she had a sore neck. She didn't know why but thought maybe she slept funny and made it sore. After work she complained about it again and I gave her a bit of a neck massage. The next morning, before work, she told me the pain had worsened. So, I led her over to a chair to sit, kneeled beside her, and asked, "Do you believe Christ can heal you?". She responded, "I believe He can heal, but would he heal something as unimportant as neck pain?". I replied, "Why wouldn't he? Believe he can heal you!". I then stood up, placed my hand on her neck and blessed her, saying something like "In the name of Jesus Christ, and through His power, I command you to be healed in your neck, such that you will no longer feel pain. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen." I then asked her how she felt. After a few seconds, she replied, "I can't feel any pain in my neck anymore". I said, "There you go" and I got up and went to work. That was it. No fireworks. No amazing manifestations. But, she was healed.

All you need to do is believe.