Have you ever met anyone who, through their example and experiences, leads you to seek deeper for God and Christ in your own life? Reverend Dr. Andrew Teal (a chaplain, fellow, and lecturer in theology at Pembroke College, Oxford University) is one of those types of people. Recently, he has been a visiting resident scholar with the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship at BYU to focus on writing a book about Joseph Smith, and sat down with Kurt Manwaring for an interview about his experiences and life. For the full interview, follow the link here. What follows on this page is a co-post (a shorter piece with excerpts and some discussion).
One of the early questions Kurt asked was about when Rev. Dr. Teal realized that “his life’s work was going to be centered on teaching about Christ.” The response was that:
I lived with my grandparents as parents divorced at an early age, and they gave stability and direction for which I am really grateful. When I was 13, my grandmother died, and I found to my surprise that everyone at school was suddenly kinder. I wondered why it was that it took someone’s death to make us more human.
We were reading Mark’s Gospel at the time, and suddenly the drama and power of the death of the Son of God made immediate and relevant sense. I was confirmed and from that point knew that Charles Wesley’s amazing words were spot-on and my life was claimed:
Jesus, confirm my heart’s desire
to work and speak and think for thee;
still let me guard the holy fire,
and still stir up thy gift in me.
Ready for all thy perfect will,
my acts of faith and love repeat,
till death thy endless mercies seal,
and make my sacrifice complete.
It sometimes is through trials and suffering that we come to know God better, and that has been the case in Rev. Dr. Teal’s life in other ways. His time with the Maxwell Institute was interrupted due to a painful incident:
Stupidly, I walked on a patio on the last Sunday of August (to put an avocado to ripen!). There were very hot tiles which profoundly burnt my feet. I was eventually admitted to the University of Utah Burn Unit Intensive Care, where I stayed for three and a half weeks and had two sets of skin grafts. They are much improved, but as now I’m deemed ‘fit to fly’, my insurance company want me back home in the UK where all healthcare is free at the point of delivery.
He has learned greater humility from this incident, but added that suffering in our ‘darkest season’ can turn people away from Christ and the Church:
I think it’s very hard to see people you love suffer, and that can make you bitter and resentful. Two people I’ve talked with here who have left the Church [of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints], left because of witnessing loved ones suffer – and in one case, a sense of betrayal that the Church didn’t make good the perceived promise of financially supporting the person.
I know how awful it is to feel powerless to help or save a loved one, and how easy it is to be tempted to blame God and the Church.
But I’ve also seen people regain a dignity in dreadful circumstances – and to be honest have learnt first-hand (or first-foot) whilst here that I needed to be humbled in order to be healed. I think I’m a better, more faithful and thankful person for the experience of the recent burns, care and healing.
What strikes me as more dangerous to faith than ‘darkest seasons’ is the rage that sometimes comes as a consequence of what happens to us – violent anger which is aimed at people every bit as imperfect as we are – in the church or beyond, and on to God. Rage is real and fury never does lead to the truth or to love.
Weaponizing truth so that there’s no tenderness beneath something that poses as truthfulness will always be an act of violence rather than love. That’s an obstacle – and love and prayer are needed in abundance to overcome.
It’s a profound thought to share—that feelings of rage and betrayal are dangerous to faith during our trials. I think of the statement in the Book of Alma that after the great war: “Many had become hardened, because of the exceedingly great length of the war; and many were softened because of their afflictions, insomuch that they did humble themselves before God, even in the depth of humility” (Alma 62:41). Trials and afflictions have the potential to soften and humble us before God or to be hardened and turn against God, depending on what we embrace as a result of the afflictions we face. We also have to be careful in how we approach others in a religious conversation to avoid the interaction being one of violence rather than love.
It’s a touching interview, and for more from Reverend Dr. Andrew Teal, including a discussion about whether his faith was tried in divinity school, what experiences have led to painful stretching in his life, the scriptural symbolism of feet, and some on his relationship with Jeffrey R. Holland, head on over to the full interview here.