“Theological Questions,” New Era, Sept. 1971, 24
In The Articles of Faith, Elder James E. Talmage of the Council of the Twelve wrote that the ultimate boundaries of theology, “if boundaries there be, are beyond the capacity of man to survey.” (Articles of Faith [Deseret Book Co., 1968], p. 4.)
Brigham Young said that the gospel “embraces every fact there is in the heavens and in the heaven of heavens—every fact there is upon the surface of the earth, in the bowels of the earth, and in the starry heavens; in fine, it embraces all truth there is in all the eternities of the Gods. … ‘Mormonism’ embraces all truth that is revealed and that is unrevealed, whether religious, political, scientific, or philosophical.” (Journal of Discourses, vol. 9, p. 149.)
“In other words,” said Oscar McConkie, Jr., our discussion leader, “Mormon theology encompasses everything.”
To those who attended, it was obvious that there is real interest among youth in genuinely theological issues as well as in contemporary social and political matters.
After hearing Brigham Young’s comment, one participant observed, “If this is so, shouldn’t we have confidence that there aren’t any questions that we shouldn’t be concerned with?” Others in the group felt strongly that this was so—that even though the principles of salvation should receive our daily attention, we should still be at complete liberty to think and wonder about anything and everything.
One participant asked about the nature of Christ’s perfection—did he have to overcome our weaknesses or was he better to begin with? The group determined that since Jesus was literally sired in the flesh by God the Father, it meant that he had it in him to be immortal as well as mortal, but that even in the premortal existence, there was one “that was like unto God.” (Abr. 3:24.) Even so, the New Testament says that “though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things he suffered; And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation to all them that obey him.” (Heb. 5:8. Italics added.) The group agreed that Jesus faced all the temptations that we face, including temptations of mind, heart, body, and soul, and that he successfully applied his Father’s plan to withstand them.
One student wondered why more is not said in Church meetings about the kind of love Jesus had and how we can get it. “I can’t tell you about that,” said the discussion leader, “but I can give you a two-minute outline of how you can find out. The way to show love for Christ—the way to develop that love—is to keep Christ’s commandments. How much does God love us? He allowed his son to take on himself all of our sins. But I believe that none of us can begin to understand this kind of love until we are parents and until we take the discipline of Christ upon us. When we do that, we start to get an idea, ever so fleeting, of the love of God for us.”
One participant asked how God could be happy with such a miserable world. Another student replied that the accomplishments of those around us far outweigh the failures.
Another participant asked whether God is the source of truth or if truth is coexistent with God. It was determined that both statements are true. “As far as we are concerned,” said Brother McConkie, “God is the source of truth. But ultimately the answer to that is found in the King Follett discourse, the greatest talk ever given in this dispensation, where the Prophet Joseph Smith indicates that God operates under preexistent law.” In fact, in the Book of Mormon Alma says that if God were to violate the laws he would cease to be God. (See Alma 42:13, 22, 25.)
Some interesting questions related to the personal impact of doctrinal questions, such as the scriptural basis for restitution as a part of repentance. It was determined that in the Old Testament, the law set out in many instances what the restitution was to be. But with many sins, restitution is impossible—there can be no restitution. We simply have to apply for God’s grace.
On the matter of the psychological and practical purposes of confession, it was determined that confession is a true doctrine and part of repentance; the question is really how to apply it. Some people seem to get their kicks by telling their problems to others. But it is the bishop who is “the common judge in Israel,” and we should confess to him those sins that have a Church sanction—excommunication, disfellowshiping, loss of temple recommend, or failure to advance in the priesthood. Otherwise we should confess to the Lord and to the parties we have injured.
There were numerous questions on how we can know and how much we should know—questions dealing with the nature of revelation to individuals and to the Church. One student asked what effect current events and trends have on revelation to the Church. The answer to this question seemed to be the “line upon line” principle. The Lord seems to give people as much as they can take—not just to the Saints, but to all who prepare themselves.
“If the question is whether social circumstances lead us to truth or whether the Lord reveals everything to his prophets, the answer is that there are all kinds of revelation that we should be getting from the Lord. I have a great wife and eight great kids: and since the family is the basic kingdom, I should be getting revelation about the McConkie kingdom of God,” said Brother McConkie.
What about discourses in general conference? Are they scripture for the Church? The group concluded that the only canonized books are the four Standard Works—they have been accepted by the Church as binding.
“There is a more general concept that when one speaks under the influence of the Holy Ghost, what he says should be adhered to. And how do you know if someone is speaking with the power of the Holy Ghost? By having it yourself. That’s what Brigham Young taught,” said President McConkie.
One student asked, “How far should we go in answering theological questions? The Lord expects us to be gospel scholars. It is a sin to be in darkness at noonday. Alma said that to some it is given to understand the mysteries of godliness. That is also the promise of the temple endowment.” President Hugh Sorenson, priesthood leader for the Anaheim-Santa Ana region agreed and noted, “Some things have not been revealed to us. But that gives life to the Church, because we know more now than we did five, ten, or twenty-five years ago.”
In conclusion, the discussion leader noted that when the President of the United States once asked Joseph Smith what justification there was for one more church, the Prophet replied, “We have the Holy Ghost.” It was concluded that the basis for personal understanding of all theological questions is an understanding of the scriptures and the witness of personal revelation.