Several weeks ago, a friend mentioned in a conversation about the gospel that after this life we would know the truth about all things. It then occurred to me that a lot of people are going to be, or already have been, shocked by how wrong they were about their views of life, the universe, and, well, everything. And, in among everything, we have to include ideas about religion. The Buddha must have been shocked. Mohammed, Martin Luther, Calvin, John Wesley, and even, I think, Joseph Smith.
Of course some were probably more shocked than others. But, assuming our current conception of the gospel to be correct, all of these must have been surprised to some degree. Yes, I think Joseph Smith least of those above, but I suspect that even he found some truth to be unexpected. Was it something about polygamy? Or maybe his understanding of gender roles? I can’t say. And I admit that regarding Joseph Smith this is my own speculation. After all, I have no idea what ideas he believed were wrong in the eternal sense.
My point is not that Joseph Smith was wrong about things, but rather that we, Mormons, have been wrong in the past, and if we are correct now, then past members and leaders must have been surprised or shocked when they found out the truth. Those who taught and believed that race is a qualification for the priesthood were surprised after they entered the next life, weren’t they? Or perhaps those who believed that polygamy is a requirement for the celestial kingdom were likewise surprised, don’t you think? If it isn’t these, then probably it was something else. Like it or not, over time our conception of Gospel Truth has changed a bit. I think the core beliefs are the same—certainly the atonement of Christ, the plan of salvation and our belief in continuing revelation, and more.
If Mormons from the past were wrong about some things, then what will prevent us, today, from being wrong about some things? Regardless of what those things might be, isn’t it likely that we’re wrong about something? We do believe in continuing revelation, so we have to admit the possibility of change in the future, right? And we even believe that humanity, as well as each of us individually, is taught line upon line, precept upon precept, so in the future we should be taught new and important truths, right?
Somehow it seems like we aren’t always humble about doctrine. We readily turn simple ideas into rigid rules. Advice from general authorities is sometimes turned into cultural taboos instead of thoughtfully considered guidelines. Shouldn’t we ask ourselves from time to time, “is this really a core part of the gospel? Or could this simply be something that we’ve been asked to do for now, in this particular time and place?” And even when we have made our best guess about teachings, we should have the humility and patience to recognize that some part of it is probably wrong. We just don’t know which part.
One of the biggest disappointments I have in talking to those who leave the Church is how rigid they can be about doctrine—almost as much as some “true believers” can be about doctrine (which sometimes appears as a result in official Church publications). We are all so certain that we know “The Truth” about abortion or homosexuality or blacks and the priesthood or whatever position you might name today. As far as I can tell, our predecessors have been just as certain about everything from the trinity, transubstantiation, baptism, the resurrection, and other “heresies” that have arisen in Christianity to polygamy, race and the gathering in Mormonism.
Lest someone misunderstand, I am NOT suggesting that we should not follow the brethren. There are clearly things in the gospel that we should do now, but that are not eternal principles. The general authorities have been given the responsibility for determining what should be done today. They are the Lord’s anointed, and responsible for receiving revelation today. I AM suggesting that we should be humble about how we think about doctrine and patient with the pace of the Church toward perfection. I don’t know why it took so long for the Church to progress to the point where the priesthood ban could be overturned by revelation. But I do see that it took over a century for the correction to be made. Perhaps I should be willing to have patience to that degree, if necessary.
We should not expect perfection now. Nor should we expect that our beliefs and knowledge can be perfect in this life. And, we should be ready to accept the changes that will come, both in this life, and in the life to come.
What will be the changes? I don’t know. In my life I’ve seen large changes, like the removal of the priesthood ban, and I’ve seen small changes. And I’m trying to ready myself mentally for how the next life will be different from this one, and for how the truth will be different from what I, in my imperfection, think it is now. Do I have enough humility and patience to accept things as they are now, and also as they will be? I hope so.
How shocked will we be after this life?