Monday, July 19, 2010

Belief

Scott and I were discussing the another couple and their decision to sell their business. He reminised about a discussion on their blog, where the husband mentioned that in the past, a decision like selling a business would be made after praying about it.  But, now that he does not really believe in prayer any more, how does he make this important decision? Scott commented on the post, saying that he could still go through the process similar to what he learned to do when praying about something--think about the decision and the pros and cons, and then go with what feels right.

While he was sharing this information, I couldn't help but wonder how people lose their testimony of prayer. I am not entirely happy with the Church's actions in the Prop 8 campaign, and it does make me question revelation and following church leaders a little bit, but I simply cannot question my testimony of God and Christ and prayer. I have had too many experiences with such things through my life to stop believing in them. Why don't Scott and others feel the same way?

A few days later, I read this article in the Deseret News and found it to be an interesting addition to this subject.  It has been so long since I cut and pasted it here, that I don't remember what my original impressions and thoughts were. (And now I need to go take care of the baby and will lose my train of thought again.) Maybe I will have time to read through it again later, or maybe I will just let all of you read it and hopefully share your own thoughts on this subject. Thanks!

PARK CITY — It may not be easy to be an LDS scientist, but it can be one of the most inspiring combinations, said Dr. Anne Osborn Poelman, a renowned neuroradiologist and member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

"We are fortunate indeed to have the gospel of Jesus Christ to give us a foundation from which we can be free to fly, investigate and ask, because as we know, all truth is circumscribed into one great whole and there is no difference between science and religion," she said Friday at the LDS Life Science Research Symposium, sponsored by BYU.

While some want to credit a specific "believing gene," Poelman said she favors the idea of spiritual instinct, or the light of Christ, which is given to everyone.

Yet despite a desire to believe, it's not always easy, she said, referencing the Bible story in Mark, where a father brings his ill son to the Savior and asks that he be healed, then tearfully pleads, "Lord, I believe, help thou my unbelief."

"No matter how much we believe, how hard we believe, we still have that element of unbelief in us," she told the group of scientists.

Poelman shared a conversation that she and her husband, Emeritus General Authority Elder Ronald E. Poelman, had with a woman who was learning about the church. Eventually the woman told them, "It's wonderful what you believe. I wish that I could believe. Where's the bridge between doubt and belief, between hope and faith?"

The bridge is built step by step through our faith, Poelman said, referencing her days as a Stanford medical student being taught by LDS missionaries.

She said she prayed to know if the church was true and received a "big, cosmic zero" for an answer. But she realized she had asked the wrong question, and prayed again, this time informing the Lord she had decided to get baptized and that he should stop her if this was a mistake.

It was only after she made the leap that Poelman felt the Lord confirm her choice and her faith, she said.

There's no reason such faith cannot coexist with science, added students and professionals during a subsequent discussion.

Dixon Woodbury, a BYU professor of physiology and developmental biology, said he views the counsel to pray over his "flocks and herds" a bit differently as a scientist.

"I've come to understand there's nothing wrong, and it's actually appropriate for me to pray over my experiments, that I will have insight and wisdom in directing them appropriately and interpreting the results correctly," he said. "It's a little different, but still appropriate to ask for the Lord's help in that."

Poelman's sister, Dr. Lucy Osborn, talked about inspiration in her work as a pediatrician.

"It happens to you once, and you go, 'What a coincidence,' " she said. "It happens to you twice and you say, 'Isn't that odd.' It happens to you over and over and over again and you realize that we have a source of information that isn't something you are going to find in your textbooks, or in your laboratory or in the laboratory tests. It simply comes from the Lord, … and it happens when you're open to it and when you're willing to listen."

Yet sometimes, answers to questions may not come quickly or even in this lifetime, Poelman said.

"One of the great things in the gospel is to feel comfortable enough in our spiritual skins, to say 'I don't know,' " she said. "But I do know that the Lord is consummately fair and that in the end, as C.S. Lewis says, 'All things will be fair, and there will be wonderful surprises,' (and that is) enough for me."

It boils down to faith, said Phil Low, a renowned LDS biochemist at Purdue.

"When we were in the pre-existence, there was no opportunity to develop faith," he said. "As a consequence, this is our one and only opportunity to really take that step forward in the darkness and experience the joy that comes by seeing the promises, which we believed in faith might be fulfilled, actually come to pass."

"There isn't a bridge," Poelman concluded. "We do our homework, we pray, we use all the resources we have, at the end we simply trust and step into the dark time after time after time again. And do we do it because we inherited a believing gene? No, we do it because we have something even better, which is hope and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ."

3 comments:

MoHoHawaii said...

I think Sister Poelman conflates two questions: 1) does prayer cause changes in external events and 2) does prayer change us? Unfortunately, she uses #2 as evidence for #1, which makes no sense at all. Yes, of course, we are changed by our prayers-- they are a means by which we can gain access to parts of ourselves that may not be apparent to our conscious minds.

The question of whether prayer can cause intervention in external events has a less satisfying answer (and has a huge body of counterevidence), which is why the scientifically-minded Sister Poelman equivocates on this point and speaks only of the additional insights she has received from prayer and not of any ability to alter external outcomes.

I have a friend who is the minister of a large mainline Protestant church. When I ask him about prayer, he tells me that prayer changes us, and that's why we do it. I can see his point. As with Sister Poelman and her experiments, praying for insight seems a lot more realistic than praying for intervention.

P.S. Don't believe me; I'm an apostate. :- )

Good to be Free said...

I had almost forgotten about that post.

So I don't think I got out exactly how I was feeling at the time well enough. What I meant to say, was that I had changed my understanding of prayer. Not that I had lost my belief in it, but that I had altered my view of its purpose, and the outcomes that could be expected from praying.

I still pray, on a regular basis. But my prayers have changed significantly. Instead of asking should I do one thing or another, or instead of asking for things in particular, I try to ask God to help me focus. Focus my thoughts on others and their needs, focus my attention on the pain of others, and focus my life to finding opportunities to serve those around me.

So I suppose I have lost my belief in prayer as I was taught. I don't believe that God concerns himself with lost keys or things of that sort, or even if I should take job A or job B. But prayer certainly hasn't lost importance in my life, just changed a little.

Hope that made sense in a rambling sort of way.

J G-W said...

Why do some believe and others don't? Why do we lose belief? How do we come back to it?

I'd start by saying that I don't think one person's ability to believe makes them morally superior to someone else who can't believe. I know from personal experience and through close friendships with people who wrestle with belief that when people lose belief, they often experience anguish. I frequently hear people express the sentiment that they wish they could believe, but they just can't bring themselves to...

Personally, I experience faith as a gift. I find it an incredible source of strength and joy. And I'm not sure how it came to me... Certainly not because I'm a better person than individuals who can't believe. My awareness that my faith is, in some sense, "in spite of myself," is a reminder to me of my complete dependence on God, and also a reminder that I need to approach the universe with a fundamental sense of gratitude...