Why is it that a sign from the Lord does not necessarily convince people to join the Church? In fact, could it be true that a sign may not even bolster faith that much? Could it actually be, instead, that a faith based on signs alone may be a weak one? We’ll explore this apparent contradiction today.
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Why is it that a sign from the Lord does not necessarily convince people to join the Church? In fact, could it be true that a sign may not even bolster faith that much? Could it actually be, instead, that a faith based on signs alone may be a weak one? We’ll explore this apparent contradiction today.
Hello, we’re Scot and Maurine Proctor and this is Meridian Magazine’s Come Follow Me podcast where today we are studying Doctrine and Covenants Section 63, “That Which Cometh from Above is Sacred.” Thank you to so many of you for telling us where you are from. This is truly a worldwide podcast. Can you also do us a favor and tell a friend about this podcast? They can go to latterdaysaintmag.com/podcast to find all of the podcasts. The transcript for each podcast is also there at latterdaysaintmag.com/podcast. We hope you are reading Meridian Magazine, which is updated with remarkable and timely new stories every weekday. You don’t want to miss it. You can sign up for your free subscription at latterdaysaintmag.com/signup.
Ezra Booth was described as a “preacher of much more than ordinary culture, and with strong natural abilities.” (Joseph Smith, History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, ed. B. H. Roberts, 7 vols. ((Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1932-51)), 1:215.)
In 1831, he with his friends, John and Elsa Johnson of Hiram, Ohio, began studying the restored gospel. Together, they decided they wanted to learn more by visiting Joseph Smith in Kirtland. This visit was partly out of curiosity and partly to see for themselves about this new doctrine.
Elsa had, what was described as a “lame arm”, and for some time it had been useless. She could not do her regular work nor lift her hand above her head to do the washing for her very large family.
As they talked in a circle with Joseph Smith, the subject turned to supernatural gifts conferred on the early apostles.
Someone said, ‘Here is Mrs. Johnson with a lame arm; has God given any power to men now on the earth to cure her?’ A few moments later, when the conversation had turned in another direction, [Joseph] rose, and walking across the room, [took] Mrs. Johnson by the hand, [and] said in the most solemn and impressive manner: ‘ Woman, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, I command thee to be whole,’ and immediately left the room.”
She was healed immediately and returned to full use of her arm.
Both Ezra Booth and the Johnsons recognized that this was a miraculous blessing and joined the church. Later, Ezra attended the fourth general conference of the church in June 1831, where he required priesthood help.
“Ezra Booth was bound, and his countenance was distorted, and numbers of the brethren looked at him, and thought it was a wonderful manifestation of the power of God, but to their astonishment, Joseph came forward and rebuked the foul spirit, and commanded it to depart, in consequence of which Booth was relieved.” (George A. Smith, in Journal of Discourses, 26 vols. ((London: Latter-day Saints Book Depot, 1854-86)), 11:4.)
Now Ezra had seen at least two miracles or signs of the Lord’s love and priesthood power, and on June 7, he was called by revelation to go on a mission to Missouri. “On the mission Ezra lost his faith in the prophetic calling of Joseph Smith. President Joseph Fielding Smith explains, ‘Through the performance of a miracle he was baptized, and from that time he desired to make men believe by the performance of miracles, even by smiting them, or with forcible means.” George A. Smith said, “He having formerly been a Methodist minister, commenced preaching the Gospel without purse or scrip, and he did so until he found, (using a common expression,) it did not pay.’” (Susan Easton Black, Who’s Who in the Doctrine and Covenants, ((Salt Lake City: Deseet Book, 1997).
Ezra began preaching against the Church, including writing letters.
Stephen C. Harper said, “Booth’s letters claimed that Joseph’s revelations were false and that Zion in Missouri was a scam upon the gullible. Booth justified his failure to do what the revelations commanded and persuaded himself and perhaps others that Joseph was ‘quite dictatorial’ and no prophet after all. But what about that nagging miracle Ezra had witnessed? The fact that Elsa Johnson was healed could not be denied, even by Joseph’s most outspoken antagonists. So a subsequent history explained that the ‘infinite presumption’ of Joseph Smith gave Elsa Johnson a ‘sudden mental and moral shock—I know not how better to explain the well attested fact—electrified the rheumatic arm—Mrs Johnson at once lifted it up with ease, and on her return home the next day she was able to do her washing without difficulty or pain.’ (Stephen C. Harper, Making Sense of the Doctrine and Covenants, ((Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2008).
Though they sound ridiculous, Ezra Booth’s words certainly damaged the church.
This isn’t the only time we’ve seen people dismiss remarkable signs or miracles. Do you remember in 3 Nephi, that the night of Christ’s birth is signified by a day, a night and a day without any darkness? Could there be a more significant sign? This is how it is described:
“For behold, at the going down of the sun there was no darkness; and the people began to be astonished because there was no darkness when the night came.
“And there were many, who had not believed the words of the prophets, who fell to the earth and became as if they were dead, for they knew that the great plan of destruction which they had laid for those who believed in the words of the prophets had been frustrated; for the sign which had been given was already at hand.
“And they began to know that the Son of God must shortly appear; yea, in fine, all the people upon the face of the whole earth from the west to the east, both in the land north and in the land south, were so exceedingly astonished that they fell to the earth (3 Nephi 1: 15-17).
“And it had come to pass, yea, all things, every whit, according to the words of the prophets” (3 Nephi 1: 20) This should be enough to convert the people right? For some, it certainly is, but It is mind-boggling that for many it isn’t.
Soon “it came to pass that… the people began to forget those signs and wonders which they had heard, and began to be less and less astonished at a sign or a wonder from heaven, insomuch that they began to be hard in their hearts, and blind in their minds, and began to disbelieve all which they had heard and seen—
“Imaging up some vain thing in their hearts, that it was wrought by men and by the power of the devil, to lead away and deceive the hearts of the people; and thus did Satan get possession of the hearts of the people again, insomuch that he did blind their eyes and lead them away to believe that the doctrine of Christ was a foolish and a vain thing (3 Nephi 2: 1,2).
The Lord could give us the most dramatic sign of his presence and his power at any time in our lives. He could demonstrate his majesty and miracles this moment to us if He chose. Yet, it is clear that what makes us grow, what transforms and converts us, what moves us to transcend beyond our current selves, what strengthens faith and brings us light is not the sign that comes before we believe. Signs were never meant to convert. God is not about the business of making us believe with signs that are undeniable, because it simply does not work. It is not how we are made. If that what was good for us and would accomplish God’s purposes to make us like Him, we would see signs everywhere to talk us into believing.
It’s not that way. It’s not, “Show me a sign, and then I’ll believe.” Signs and miracles are given in abundance, but the order is significant. Signs follow them that believe.
I’ve found that when I’ve talked to friends who have left the church, they can easily dismiss the signs they’ve seen and the miracles they’ve known. They say, that was just a coincidence. Or I was sure lucky. Or if they talk about experiences where they have felt the power of the Holy Ghost, they can dismiss it as “I was just being emotional. I was fooling myself.” I have seen how easy it is for former believers to revise their spiritual history and retell it to themselves in an entirely new narrative that may not only leave out God and the gospel, but disdain them.
Signs make reluctant believers at best, whose faith can be smitten when there isn’t another sign and then another. A constant barrage of signs does not necessarily create a sturdy believer, but the faithful will surely find that signs follow—and what’s more they have the eyes to recognize these tender mercies as they happen.
Section 63 says it this way:
“But, behold, faith cometh not by signs, but signs follow those that believe.
“Yea, signs come by faith, not by the will of men, nor as they please, but by the will of God.
“Yea, signs come by faith, unto mighty works, for without faith no man pleaseth God (Doctrine and Covenants 63: 9,10,11).
If signs are not the usual method God uses to develop our faith, it means that faith comes first. It means we are asked to act in faith before we have seen the signs. It means we use our will, our agency and all of determination to choose God and choose to trust Him. We say, “I trust you, even when I can’t always see you. I trust you, even when I am not fed a steady diet of signs.”
Faith precedes the miracle. Our God is a God of miracles, but there is an order. Faith comes first.
President Spencer W. Kimball wrote, “Throughout the Church hundreds of thousands of faithful Saints have truly consecrated their lives and their energies to the work of the Lord, secure in the assurance that thereby they please him.
“It is a disappointment, however, to find many others who are not willing to trust the Lord—or to trust in his promise when he says, ‘Prove me and see.’ I often wonder why men cannot trust their Lord. He has promised his children every blessing contingent upon their faithfulness, but fickle man places his trust in ‘the arm of flesh’ and sets about to make his own way unaided by him who could do so much.”
That phrase from the Lord that is “prove me and see” says, “Do what I ask, and then trust that the blessings will flow. Trust that all things are in my hands. Trust that I am doing something significant for your well-being and eternal life right now.” President Kimball said:
“The Lord has challenged us:
“. . . prove me . . . if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it. (Malachi 3:10.)
”The prophet Moroni stopped abruptly in his abridging to offer his own inspired comments concerning the matter of faith:
“’I would show unto the world that faith is things which are hoped for and not seen; wherefore, dispute not because ye see not, for ye receive no witness until after the trial of your faith. (Ether 12:6.)’”
President Kimball continued, ”Father Adam understood this basic principle:
“’…an angel of the Lord appeared unto Adam, saying: Why dost thou offer sacrifices unto the Lord? And Adam said unto him: I know not, save the Lord commanded me.’ (Moses 5:6.)
”He showed his unwavering faith—and since the witness and the miracle follow rather than precede the faith, the angel then sought to enlighten him, saying:
“’This thing is a similitude of the sacrifice of the Only Begotten of the Father. . . (Moses 5:7.)
President Kimball said, “In faith we plant the seed, and soon we see the miracle of the blossoming. Men have often misunderstood and have reversed the process. They would have the harvest before the planting, the reward before the service, the miracle before the faith. Even the most demanding labor unions would hardly ask the wages before the labor. But many of us would have the vigor without the observance of the health laws, prosperity through the opened windows of heaven without the payment of our tithes. We would have the close communion with our Father without fasting and praying; we would have rain in due season and peace in the land without observing the Sabbath and keeping the other commandments of the Lord. We would pluck the rose before planting the roots; we would harvest the grain before sowing and cultivating.
President Kimball said, “If we could only realize, as Moroni writes:
“’For if there be no faith among the children of men God can do no miracle among them. . . .
“And neither at any time hath any wrought miracles until after their faith; wherefore they first believed in the Son of God. (Ether 12:12, 18.)
“To the scribes and Pharisees who demanded signs without the preliminary faith and works the Lord said:
“’An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign. . . . (Matthew 12:39.)
President Kimball notes, “’Paul speaking to the Hebrews, said:
“’By faith Noah being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house. . . . (Hebrews 11:7.)
“As yet there was no evidence of rain and flood. His people mocked and called him a fool. His preaching fell on deaf ears. His warnings were considered irrational. There was no precedent; never had it been known that a deluge could cover the earth. How foolish to build an ark on dry ground with the sun shining and life moving forward as usual! But time ran out. The ark was finished. The floods came. The disobedient and rebellious were drowned. The miracle of the ark followed the faith manifested in its building.” (Spencer W. Kimball, Faith Precedes the Miracle. ((Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1972).
It is too easy to base our own faith on signs and to be sign seekers. We’ve heard people say, and sometimes we may be those people, “God just doesn’t answer my prayers.” We may be looking for a sign to prop up our beliefs. It is counterproductive for our spiritual lives to base our faith and devotion on seeing constant signs. Needing a constant reminder that God is there makes us wavering and shallow in our faith. It is like awakening in the morning and checking the weather to see what the temperature will be today to determine if you are happy. Our faith cannot be so shallow that we must be constantly spoon-fed miracles to convince us to hold on.
We obey and are faithful because that is what we have chosen with determination. We have chosen righteous, daily habits because we have chosen to be devoted disciples of Jesus Christ. He doesn’t have to continually convince us.
Yet, Scot, we have learned that if our faith and devotion is something we offer without wavering, wonderful things do happen and we see blessings everywhere. Signs do follow those who believe. Faith and this loving relationship with God, opens our eyes to just how much He is intertwined in our days.
We decided to use our Nauvoo journals that I created for 2021 to record how we see the Lord’s hand in our lives every day. When I first began recording this, there were times when I had to think hard. Had I seen the Lord’s hand this day? But, then, it was as if my eyes became more attuned to His hand, and I could see Him everywhere. My eyes were opened. I could see that all the good things in my life were a flow of blessings from him. It became not just easy to record them, but a special delight. I have always been a grateful person, but my gratitude has swelled to a flood as I’ve seen how intimately the Lord blesses me every day.
It hasn’t taken much time, because we only write two or three sentences in this journal that records how we’ve seen the Lord’s hand today, but my love and appreciation has grown. I see Him everywhere. An idea that just pops into my head, the miracle of seeing a newborn grandbaby blessed, the love that pours into my soul for others, the things I sometimes “just know” with conviction.
Sometimes we see remarkable miracles and signs because they do follow them that believe.
I want to share one that happened just a few days ago. I was speaking on the phone with a colleague and friend, Jacob Hess. Since he is the editor of the magazine Public Square, we planned to talk about some writing ideas. I have also been concerned about his baby, Emma, who has had multiple seizures since she was two weeks old. Often, she has many seizures a day.
Jacob, and his wife, Monique, have been deeply prayerful about their sweet Emma and her seizures, and he said, “We have felt like this is not going to last. We know that God wants to heal her.” Yet, that’s not the story they have been hearing from the medical professionals. They have told Jacob and Monique that it is going to be a hard life for their baby and that the best they can hope for is treatment, not healing. If you ask, the doctors will all say this condition is not curable, and Jacob acknowledges that in some cases that is true. The doctors will say that their child will have to have a lifelong treatment plan.
Yet, Jacob says, “There is wisdom in listening and hearing the Lord,” and as he and Monique have prayed, the gloomy pictures the doctors have painted never have felt right.” He told me on that phone call, that he and Monique were going to completely trust what they were hearing from the Lord and put their efforts of faith and devotion to Him first when trying to help Emma.
This was a sweet call, full of the Spirit, and then a miracle happened. As we talked, I saw come into my inbox on my phone an article from Laura Lofgreen. She is not one of our regular writers on Meridian, and I had not seen an article submitted by her before this moment, but the first line of her note read, “My name is Laura Hinze-Lofgreen and I’m the daughter of Sarah Hinze. She has given me your email because I recently wrote the story of my 6-year-old son Canyon and how God has healed him from a life-threatening seizure condition.”
It took my breath away. We have published Meridian Magazine for 22 years and we have published more than 40,000 articles, but never have we had an article submitted to us, unsolicited, by a mother recounting the story of the miracle of her son’s healing from a life-threatening seizure condition. For this to happen just as I was on the phone talking to Jacob who had decided to turn to his faith first in the healing of his daughter from a life-threatening seizure condition was so much more than a coincidence. Jacob and I both knew it was a miracle, a tap on the shoulder for the Hess’s that says, “I’m here. I know. Your faith is not in vain.”
I can’t imagine how the Lord performs such perfect orchestration, but I do have a small, but growing idea of His nature. He is an abundant giver. He knows how to give assurance that cannot be denied. He sees us. One who is “more intelligent than they all” is on our team.
Jacob felt the power of this miracle that happened. He and Monique read Laura’s story about her son’s miraculous recovery together and they asked friends and family to join them in a special prayer together.
He said this is what happened as a result of this prayer. He said, he felt “peace, power and joy. I felt the Lord saying to me that He’s got this. He said to me ‘Stop worrying. I’m going to take care of your daughter.”
He said that after the prayer he saw no difference in his daughter, but “there was a difference in us. We are learning things that are changing us. We feel to celebrate. We are not worried. We can rejoice exceedingly before He comes again, before we see the mountain moved, before we can see the miracle.”
Faith precedes the miracle, and this is what faith looks like. Signs follow those that believe.
President Kimball said, “Know this, that just as undaunted faith has stopped the mouths of lions, made ineffective fiery flames, opened dry corridors through rivers and seas, protected against deluge and drouth, and brought heavenly manifestations at the instance of prophets, so in each of our lives faith can heal the sick, bring comfort to those who mourn, strengthen resolve against temptation, relieve from the bondage of harmful habits, lend the strength to repent and change our lives, and lead to a sure knowledge of the divinity of Jesus Christ. Indomitable faith can help us live the commandments with a willing heart and thereby bring blessings unnumbered, with peace, perfection, and exaltation in the kingdom of God.”
We know that Section 63 was motivated by a very specific purpose. The headnote tells us:
“In these infant days of the Church, there was a great anxiety to obtain the word of the Lord upon every subject that in any way concerned our salvation; and as the land of Zion was now the most important temporal object in view, I enquired of the Lord for further information upon the gathering of the Saints, and the purchase of the land, and other matters.”
Thus, we see in this section some specific assignments given to people like Newell K. Whitney and Oliver Cowdery, but we also see some chastisement toward the rebellious, the unbelieving and the adulterers.
The Lord speaks of anger and judgment and plucking out the wicked. To untrained ears, this may sound harsh. Here’s a sample.
“Hear the word of him whose anger is kindled against the wicked and rebellious” (v. 2).
“Let such beware and repent speedily, lest judgment shall come upon them as a snare, and their folly shall be made manifest, and their works shall follow them in the eyes of the people” (v. 15)
“And until that hour there will be foolish virgins among the wise; and at that hour cometh an entire separation of the righteous and the wicked; and in that day will I send mine angels to pluck out the wicked and cast them into unquenchable fire” (v. 54).
We have spent some time during this podcast talking about a loving God, who sends miracles, signs and the Spirit to those with faith. Is this description of a God who plucks out the wicked consistent with that?
Two ideas are important to remember in relationship to this question. First, as asked, God is giving them instructions on how to build Zion, and thus before specific instructions on any other thing, He, who cannot lie, must first address the conditions of their hearts.
Brigham Young said, whenever the Saints go to build Zion, they build Babylon instead. Even with all the best intentions, it is impossible to build Zion if their hearts are not pure. It will be a fruitless and painful endeavor.
God who cannot lie, must tell them the truth about the consequences of their own weaknesses.
Second, and this is such an important understanding, God does not impose commandments upon us. Instead, He tells us what is true. The law is co-eternal with God. God is God because He perfectly follows and embodies the law. His power, His glory, His love, His joy are all consequences of His perfect understanding of the law. He did not create the law. It is.
For His children to someday be as He is, they have to master living the law as well. When Jesus gave the portion of the Sermon on the Mount that we call the Beatitudes, it was:
5 Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.
6 Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.
7 Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.
8 Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God (Matt. 5:5-8).
And so forth.
That series of “blessed” means “oh the happiness of”. It is the meek, the merciful, the pure in heart who are happy. The condition of their hearts, in perfect alignment with the commandments, is the source of happiness. So God is not imposing commandments upon us. He is teaching us how to live them so we can attain the state of happiness.
In the same way, breaking the commandments, living not according to what is, the law that is co-eternal with God, brings as a natural consequence unhappiness.
We can see this easily with our bodies. If we abuse them with drugs or alcohol, they respond with dis-ease and loss of health. God did not impose that on us. It was a natural consequence of our choice.
So God warns us about wickedness because He loves us. He, who sees all, knows where our choices will lead. We can pretend that there is no truth, but that will only hurt us. We can believe that somehow there is my truth and your truth as if we were the measure and our little sphere the source of truth. That will only break our hearts and leave us stupid.
Scholar James Lindsay wrote, “Truth is the truth…Your truth will not do; neither will my truth…The truth is humbling, and it is liberating in the genuine sense of the word. We as mere men, are subject to the truth of the world and the truths of our own nature as being in this world, and we are not above them. We can understand ‘your truth’ and ‘my truth’ merely as suggestions—not conclusions…The goal is understanding the world as it is, including ourselves, our place within it and how we might best relate to one another.
Lindsay continued, “It is the pursuit of getting things right, knowing that any discomfort this creates will protect against greater discomforts when the lie of our folly is eventually revealed to us by the world itself. Lies may for long be sustained against people, but they cannot be sustained against the world, which merely is and doesn’t change because we hope it will or, in our smallness and fear, believe we need it to.
“We have no options except to humble ourselves before that which is true or to rise in our hubris against it only to eventually be humiliated by it. By recognizing this, we can orient ourselves with that which is true—what many of faith have called God…and free ourselves from the limitations of our own short-sightedness, stupidity, and greed…When man goes with the Way—and how it is truly—then he is free and things go well. It is by asserting ourselves against the Way that we create our own catastrophes and suffer the inevitable consequences. By humbling ourselves to how the world really is, which is to the truth, we free ourselves from the suffering that always follows from the disastrous combination of ignorance and pride.” (James Lindsay, “The Values of a Post-Woke World” https://newdiscourses.com/2021/03/values-post-woke-world/?utm_source=BenchmarkEmail&utm_campaign=ND_Newsletter_-_5-19-21_-_The_Values_of_a_Post-Woke_World&utm_medium=email )
We can be so grateful that God makes the truth clear to us, that He tells us what is. But we live in a world where more and more that is not appreciated. Our national culture and much of the western world has rejected that there is a truth that underlies the universe and being itself. Many don’t like a truth that is anything beyond themselves and their idea of the way things should be. All authority and even God’s authority is rejected. We see that if we reject truth, we will run right up against its reality and be hurt. How kind the Lord is to make things clear to us.
In Section 63, He gives us this wonderful promise for those who can align themselves with Him and what is.
“But unto him that keepeth my commandments I will give the mysteries of my kingdom, and the same shall be in him a well of living water, springing up unto everlasting life” (v. 23)
We also learn this:
“He that endureth in faith and doeth my will, the same shall overcome, and shall receive an inheritance upon the earth when the day of transfiguration shall come” (v. 20).
In that day of transfiguration, the earth will be renewed and the righteous will be resurrected.
As for the earth. According to Elder Bruce R. McConkie: We believe”—it is an official, a formal, a canonized pronouncement—”that the earth will be renewed and receive its paradisiacal glory.” (A of F 10.) All things when first created—the earth and all forms of life—were paradisiacal in nature and were pronounced by their Creator as ‘very good.’ (Moses 2:31.) There was no sin, no sorrow, and no death in that day. And the Great Creator blessed the earth and all things on its face. Then came the fall, and the earth which God had blessed was cursed. ‘Cursed shall be the ground for thy sake,’ he said to Adam; ‘in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life. Thorns also, and thistles shall it bring forth to thee, and thou shalt eat the herb of the field.’ (Moses 4:23-24.) …
“Later, with reference to all men, the divine account says: ‘And God cursed the earth with a sore curse, and was angry with the wicked, with all the sons of men whom he had made.’ (Moses 5:56.) That curse now prevails; it is in full operation, and it will continue so to be until the millennial day. Then the earth and all things that remain after the day of burning will return to a paradisiacal state, a state in which all things will be blessed and prospered as they were in the primeval day. A thing cannot be renewed unless it was new in the first instance. The earth was paradisiacal once, and it will become so again.” (Bruce R. McConkie, The Millennial Messiah, ((Salt Lake City: Deseret Book,
As for man, Section 63 teaches:
“Yea, and blessed are the dead that die in the Lord, [for], when the Lord shall come, and old things shall pass away, and all things become new, they shall rise from the dead and shall not die after, and shall receive an inheritance before the Lord, in the holy city.
“And he that liveth when the Lord shall come, and hath kept the faith, blessed is he; nevertheless, it is appointed to him to die at the age of man.
“ Wherefore, children shall grow up until they become old; old men shall die; but they shall not sleep in the dust, but they shall be changed in the twinkling of an eye” (vs. 49-51).
What a remarkable promise.
That’s all for today. We’re Scot and Maurine Proctor and this has been Meridian Magazine’s Come Follow Me podcast. Please tell your friends about this and post it on Facebook. We hope you are also reading Meridian Magazine. The articles and writers are timely, inspiring and faithful. You can sign up for a daily newsletter to come right to your inbox at latterdaysaintmag.com/signup.
Next week we will be studying Doctrine and Covenants Sections 64-66 called “The Lord Requireth the Heart and a Willing Mind”. Thanks to Paul Cardall for the music and to Michaela Proctor Hutchins who produces this show.