Recently a well-informed investigator and friend to the Church asked a post-fireside question that seems to typify much of why some leave the church while others never join. We misunderstand the means for the end. Good and true answers are not the end during our mortal existence. The questions that lead us to them are the means to a higher existence.
Thank you for your very thoughtful questions. Would you indulge me in a moment of reflection before sharing my thoughts about your specific questions? You wrote near the end of your email,
“Here is my dear Brother, these last 2 questions on the very nature of God prevent me from having a testimony on the veracity of the canonical books of the Church.
If God allows you to quench my thirst by answering these questions, I can say that I would have a powerful testimony that would take me straight into the waters of baptism.”
When I was beginning my detailed and scholarly study of the gospel, I too struggled at times with questions whose answers seemed beyond logic and reason. I, too, felt that my testimony relied on the answers to my question. So, to me, a testimony was having as many answers as questions. At one point, I felt my testimony challenged (more questions than answers) and hence my willingness to invest time and money into keeping associated commandments and time commitments was weakened.
For example, as a young missionary challenged with such contradictions, I considered that to be integrous, I needed to leave the mission and break my commitment to serve. Fortunately, a companion furnished some ideas that when applied prayerfully, brought personal revelation to my questions and I was back to working with my might and devotion. Those very things that challenged my “testimony” served as a revelatory stimulus to that which strengthened and then transformed my testimony. So, it occurred to me that continued study and progression would naturally create new questions by which discoveries could follow.
Under my old perspective, questions birthed doubts which grew to a withholding of my commitments, further study, and prayer and thereby, blocking any revelatory assistance towards answers. Under this new perspective, questions birthed deeper study, deeper and more humble prayer, and resultant revelation. I could see that doubts could be instantly transformed into questions by focusing on the process of study by which then, came revelation and understanding. Then I saw a passage in the Book of Mormon that stunned me:
Mosiah 26:3… because of their unbelief they could not understand the word of God; and their hearts were hardened.
I thought that belief followed understanding through evidence but here, it is belief as a choice that must come first. Then understanding is imparted. This is not some effort to deceive through psychologism but rather the normal scientific method that uses a believing protocol followed then, by a doubting protocol…a planned skepticism wherein the result experienced during the believing phase is analyzed and weighed for validity. Alma 32:26-42 uses a seed metaphor to explain the process. Often missed, however, is the analysis of the potential measurable results in verse 28.
“It must needs be that this is a good seed, or that the word is good, for it beginneth to enlarge my soul; yea, it beginneth to enlighten my understanding, yea, it beginneth to be delicious to me.”
Please notice the three results that provide expectations by which validity can be measured and desirability of that perspective truth, tested. Perhaps we could look at them in reverse:
3. “it beginneth to be delicious to me” – certainly this is strictly subjective but without it, the rest is hardly worth it. The proposed idea is delicious because it works in your life and brings joy as you fit it into your verified believe structure…your mental map of sorts.
2. “it beginneth to enlighten my understanding”- This is more objective of a finding. To acquire a better understanding and have your personal data puzzle pieces begin to fit together, is a rewarding result to the analysis, and an indicator of validity.
1. it beginneth to enlarge my soul – This one, again is an objective measurable finding but easy to misunderstand. The easiest way to make sense of it is to ask its opposite – what are the characteristics of someone that is shrinking-souled. In that sense self-centered, selfish, proud, condescending, even cruel might serve as a foil to one that is experiencing an enlarging soul: increasing in patience, love, kindness, serviceability, etc.
There is good reason to take these in reverse because in so doing, one can see the crescendo…the ultimate end to belief is not just validating data and conclusions about data, but rather the effect it has on you as the learner. Because each one starts with “it beginneth,” we must assume that this is a process. As truth changes us, we come to know its source…God and grow trust in Him. We can measure personal inner change which brings Alma to ask,
34 behold, is your knowledge perfect? Yea, your knowledge is perfect in that thing, and your faith is dormant; and this because you know, for ye know that the word hath swelled your souls, and ye also know that it hath sprouted up, that your understanding doth begin to be enlightened, and your mind doth begin to expand.
35 O then, is not this real? I say unto you, Yea, because it is light; and whatsoever is light, is good, because it is discernible (measurable), therefore ye must know that it is good; and now behold, after ye have tasted this light is your knowledge perfect?
36 Behold I say unto you, Nay; neither must ye lay aside your faith, for ye have only exercised your faith to plant the seed that ye might try the experiment to know if the seed was good.” Alma 32:34-36
In building testimony, growing conversion, and transitioning into discipleship, it is necessary to understand how God speaks to us. We talk often of “The Holy Spirit” but not enough about how He speaks to us. It is important to know that, like a whisper that invites closer listening, God requires us to cultivate our listening spiritual ear. He is working to help us “become,” not just know. Note:
While Moses was bombarded with the clamoring of many Israelites, fearful of the Pharaoh’s chariots approaching to slaughter them, as they were backed up against the Red Sea, he had a thought, “open the water and take them through on dry ground.” If I had had that thought I would have desperately laughed it off while searching for another practical solution. But Moses had learned to consult the other witness, the other half of spiritual communication; his feelings. Now you and I know that feelings can serve to deceive us. They can also serve to support or redirect our thoughts. If we knew which feelings the Holy Spirit used to validate correct thinking, then they could serve as a second witness to the ideas or thoughts in question. This would allow us to reject false thinking and recognize truth. The scripture reads:
“Yea, behold, I will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy Ghost, which shall come upon you and which shall dwell in your heart.
Now, behold, this is the spirit of revelation; behold, this is the spirit by which Moses brought the children of Israel through the Red Sea on dry ground.” D&C 8:2-3;
Coupled with D&C 11:12-14 to identify the kind of feelings engendered by the Holy Spirit one “begins to learn the voice of the Lord.”
“And now, verily, verily, I say unto thee, put your trust in that Spirit which leadeth to do good—yea, to do justly, to walk humbly, to judge righteously; and this is my Spirit.
Verily, verily, I say unto you, I will impart unto you of my Spirit, which shall enlighten your mind, which shall fill your soul with joy; And then shall ye know, or by this shall you know, all things whatsoever you desire of me, which are pertaining unto things of righteousness, in faith believing in me that you shall receive.”
Part of the reason I deviate to explain this process of revelation is this next passage where God seems very empathetic with our situation on earth. He knows that our mortal and spiritual appetites, in the presence of the veil of forgetfulness which enables our agency, can often metastasize our wondering and questioning into pathological doubting. So, He does two surprising things; He forbids doubting and invites us into the feelings of peace and joy – part of a personal relationship, during our research phase. He invites us to believe so that we CAN understand. That requires a personal trust in God as our father, involved in the details of our becoming all that He has created us to become.
“Look unto me in every thought; doubt not, fear not.” DC 6:34
While wrestling with questions whose answers are not immediately obvious or whose answers challenge our past beliefs, He invites us to look from the logic of our thoughts to the feelings of our hearts, to our relationship with Him, trust Him by keeping our covenant promises to Him, and keep studying for answers knowing that He will furnish the revelatory experiences that will bring understanding.
The first question the Book of Mormon gives us to ponder in Alma 32-34 is, “is there a Christ?” We could also ask, “is the Book of Mormon true?” During the “belief protocol,” we live as if there is a Christ by doing what He taught, “If ye love me, keep my commandments.” As study and search for data and conclusion supporting the idea continues while living as if the Book of Mormon is true or Jesus is the Christ, one observes the changes that these life-choices bring in thinking, understanding, acting, in relationships and feelings towards others. Then during the “doubting protocol”, one asks the skeptics questions, “So what?” “if that is true then what about that?” What difference has this made in my desires, actions, relationships, etc. If the idea that the Book of Mormon is true has brought clearer understanding, character improvement, and is delicious then one could conclude that it is indeed true. This is then followed by nourishing the conclusion by further study, and covenant making with God.
With that said, let me suggest some perspective to your questions about the nature of God. How can we maintain that He is all powerful while insisting that both people and matter pre-existed God? Secondly, how can God be the same yesterday, today, and forever and still have been a man on some earth eons ago?
It is true that both the apostle Paul and John taught that God created all things. One is left to ask, “what percentage is all?” Certainly 100% seems to be the meaning. But John speaks, earlier in this same book about the Father of Christ’s father.
“1 The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to shew unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass; and he sent and signified it by his angel unto his servant John:
6 And hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.” Revelation 1:1, 6
This presupposes that there is existence prior to Christ as we know Him. Perhaps the “all” used in speaking of the creation of “all things” refers to the creation of all things in our dimension or “eternity.” Like with a number line, there are infinities within infinities within infinities. Each, like rational numbers, irrational numbers, whole numbers, fractions, etc. are their own infinity. Christ is the creator of worlds without numbers yet that does not obviate that there could be other dimensions of infinite worlds.
The fact that “bara,” the Hebrew word from which “created” is translated means “to shape” or “to form” is just from the dictionary. The idea that “creation from nothing” as part of the accepted nature of God is an evolution in thinking from the Nicaean debate and succeeding years of struggling with doctrine. It is a product of the “Great Apostasy” and a product of the Hellenization of the original apostolic teachings of the New Testament where it is not found. So, your logic is sound but begins upon transitional non-understanding of the nature of God resulting from centuries of apostate teaching that has set religion and science upon diverging paths. The laws of physics dictate that nothing is ever created or destroyed.
Your second question is closely related and is partially answered by what I just shared. Add to that the teaching that God is unchanging, the same through all time as taught in many places like:
“I am the Lord, I change not” Mal. 3:6
“from everlasting to everlasting, thou art God” Ps. 90:2.
“Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever.” Hebrews 13:8
In each case, the unchanging God mentioned is either Jehovah, whose very name in Hebrew means, “I am becoming,” or “I am becoming what I am creating;” or, note in Hebrews, it is Jesus Christ, who we believe is the Old Testament Jehovah. “Unchanging,” or the “same” does not eliminate the idea that He passed through changing states to become who He is to us; our God, because we have record of the changing phases that Christ passed through from pre-mortal Jehovah, new born babe, child, adult, death, resurrected being, God-Son of the Father.
The Prophet Joseph restored such clarity to an illogical world of apostate doctrine that today, is wholly rejected by science. Both religious and scientific pursuits for truth should, in fact, converge as time passes and truth is established, for God is truth and the greatest of all scientists-a God of love through law. It is true that the restored gospel of Jesus Christ reveals God’s nature to be more than just magic or legend. It is the very beginning point of coming to understand who we really are and what we can become. Paul pointed out to those so confused with the nature of God that they worshiped every god including the “unknown god” so fearful that they might offend some higher power; that we are of the same species as God. We are His offspring…literally.
I have noted that God even commands us to “ask in all things.” So, I love questions because God loves our questions. He certainly loves the trust that we, as His children, learn as He engineers our experiences that bring those answers. He loves us and longs for our closeness and trust so that He can, “lead us along.”
17 Verily, verily, I say unto you, ye are little children, and ye have not as yet understood how great blessings the Father hath in his own hands and prepared for you;
18 And ye cannot bear all things now; nevertheless, be of good cheer, for I will lead you along. The kingdom is yours and the blessings thereof are yours, and the riches of eternity are yours.
19 And he who receiveth all things with thankfulness shall be made glorious; and the things of this earth shall be added unto him, even an hundred fold, yea, more. DC 78
 Prophet Joseph Smith taught that revelation may come as “sudden strokes of ideas” that flow into our minds as “pure intelligence” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith , 151).
 John 14:15, 21-23
15 ¶ If ye love me, keep my commandments.
16 And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever;
17 Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you.
18 I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you.
19 Yet a little while, and the world seeth me no more; but ye see me: because I live, ye shall live also.
20 At that day ye shall know that I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you.
21 He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him.
22 Judas saith unto him, not Iscariot, Lord, how is it that thou wilt manifest thyself unto us, and not unto the world?
23 Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.
24 He that loveth me not keepeth not my sayings: and the word which ye hear is not mine, but the Father’s which sent me.
 Colossians 1:16 For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him:
 Revelations 4:11 Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.
 See Elder Jeffery R. Holland, Conference 10/07 “The Only True God and Jesus Christ Whom He Hath Sent
 See “The Conservation of Energy” https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/energy-can-neither-be-created-nor-destroyed/ or https://www.physicscentral.com/experiment/askaphysicist/physics-answer.cfm?uid=20120221015143
 Acts 17:23 For as I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you.
24 God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands;
25 Neither is worshipped with men’s hands, as though he needed any thing, seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things;
26 And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation;
27 That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us:
28 For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring.
29 Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man’s device.
 DC 46:7 But ye are commanded in all things to ask of God, who giveth liberally;