I am a skeptic, who loves questions and questioning (I created a list as a missionary of doctrinal questions numbering around 300, which I occasionally build on. Currently it’s over 400 questions). This can make watching General Conference an uplifting, yet frustrating experience. I am prone to dissect every word and phrase that’s spoken and try and build counter arguments while I’m listening, a practice formed while I participated in debate during high school. I can’t just take the words of the prophets and apostles as one hundred percent the will of the Lord. I know the scripture, “whether by my own voice or by the voice of my servants it is the same,” but I cannot accept the fact that every word or phrase that crosses the lips of the men I sustain as prophets, seers and revelators is scripture.
In fact, I tend to follow counsel spoken by J. Reuben Clark, who gave a fantastic talk on the subject of revelation and knowing when prophets speak as prophets. His basic premise is that if what is being said is true then the Spirit will testify to you of that truth. If you receive no witness, then it’s not spoken under the influence of the Holy Ghost and therefore not inspired or binding. I enjoy this approach, but it’s not without its own problems. What if you can’t feel the Spirit? How do you know what is a witness? What if two people watch Conference and claim to have opposing Spiritual witnesses about the same talk? What about the different levels of spirituality, specifically relating to the ability to recognize and follow promptings?
Having a sufficiently complicated understanding of revelation and scripture muddies the idea of sustaining the leaders of the Church. I wonder if there’s a threshold for the amount of material from General Conference that needs to be accepted as truth and acted on to truly sustain my leaders. Some would claim that if you truly think they’re prophets, seers and revelators, then you would believe 100% of what they say. I’m not one of those people and think that if most knew the vast amount of statements made that we would now consider ludicrous to accept, they wouldn’t suggest such a proposal either. Pres. Uchtdorf’s talk from the Saturday morning session, acknowledges that Church leaders have made mistakes in the past, an admission that implies that not all statements made by Church leaders are inspired. Uchtdorf’s talk was incredibly welcoming and compassionate, soothing my questioning, skeptical soul. His statement that “the acorn of honest inquiry has often sprouted and matured into a great oak of understanding,” was particularly comforting and stated what I have long felt and believed to be true.
I sometimes long for the ability to believe everything without questioning, thinking that life would be easier if I was blind to the complications that I see everywhere and in everything. However, the spiritual experiences I’ve had due to questioning and pushing deeper, seeking understanding, are of immeasurable value to me. I don’t know what I would do without trying to constantly resolve tensions and work out conflicts. There is beauty in that conflict, in the ambiguity and unknown. The conflict can be wearisome and seem fruitless, especially when others doubt the sincerity of my faith and belief, simply because I question or see things differently. At times like these, I’ll remember the words of Pres. Uchtdorf, the Silver Fox, knowing that my acorn of honest inquiry can grow to be a great oak of understanding. My method of inquiry may differ from others, or perhaps they were given the gift of a great oak, or feel as though the existence of other’s great oaks is enough. The moments when the acorn starts to grow, when life is seen overshadow the pain and inner turmoil. The sensation of Spirit surrounding me as I discover truths and gain understanding, as I tease out and break through the conflicts is Enlightenment. An experience that I constantly strive for and wouldn’t trade for all the certainty in the world.