The question of the truth of the church didn’t enter my consciousness until I was about twelve years old. That was the age when I started discussing religion with my school friends. I remember a conversation I had with a friend after school. His family was not religious, and he was curious about my beliefs. I started by explaining to him the one doctrine that resonated the most deeply with me — the three degrees of glory.
I remember learning about the three kingdoms in Sunday school and thinking, “Wow, this makes a lot of sense. Of course God isn’t just going to assign His children to eternal joy or eternal suffering. We’re a diverse bunch, and it makes sense that there should be a diversity of outcomes for us.”
That phrase — “it makes sense that it should be this way” — sums up my reaction to most of the distinctive doctrines of the Restoration. It makes sense to me that there should be eternal progression for the soul beyond this life. It makes sense to me that the commandments are not arbitrary tests, but rather are designed to prepare us to comport with eternal laws. It makes sense to me that God should be our heavenly parents, and that we should be able to become like them.
In contrast, most of the doctrines that clash with my sense of rightness in the universe are not doctrines of the Restoration, but are instead doctrines that we automatically assumed as a result of our Christian heritage. It makes no sense to me that someone had to suffer infinitely before God could forgive us. It makes no sense to me that God could be all-loving, all-knowing, and all-powerful while allowing His children to suffer the way they do in this world. It makes no sense to me that the scriptures could be inerrant, with every word inspired and in the right place. Fortunately, I can more-or-less write these doctrines off as vestiges of our pre-Restoration history.
The reason that I make this distinction is that it seems to me that (relatively) sensible, rational doctrines are a hallmark of the Restoration. Senseless, indefensible doctrines, on the other hand, indicate apostate traditions. Defenders of these doctrines often end up leaning on, “Well, we don’t understand this now, but God’s ways aren’t our ways. It is not in accordance with God’s wisdom that we should understand these mysteries now.” Samuel Johnson famously stated, “Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel.” I’m inclined to believe that the “mystery of God” is the last refuge of the fundamentalist, and that it is by appeal to the “mystery of God” that people feel justified doing horrible things in the name of religion.
In the light of the Restoration, and by the example of Joseph’s dynamic exploration of doctrines, truth, and divinity, I hope that we can have the courage to study, discover, and discuss our history and our beliefs. I hope that we will never shy from learning more truth. I hope that when we are called on to defend our doctrines, that we can do more than say, “Well, it’s because God said so.” I believe in a rational, loving God, and I hope that we can represent Him as a rational, loving church.