When I look at the religious conversations I’ve had again and again, the papers I’ve written, the books I’m fascinated by, I can’t help noticing how frequently I find myself coming back again and again to some of the same themes. There are certain questions which have haunted me for years; I feel almost compelled to keep returning to them, to explore them further, to try approaching them from yet another angle. When it comes to these particular problems, you might fairly accuse me of being somewhat obsessed (my siblings and friends could certainly attest to this). Some examples:

1) Issues related to grace. What is it? Where is it? How does it work? How does it relate, in particular, to human freedom? How do faith and works interact? How is change possible in a human life? In a nutshell, I keep coming back to the driving question behind much of Martin Luther’s theology: how can a sinner find a merciful God?

2) The conundrum of religious pluralism. How do I make sense of the multiplicity of religions in the world? Is there a way to remain committed to the particular truth claims of one faith while remaining open to truth existing outside of it? Is there really “one true church,” and if so, what does that mean about the rest of them, and about God’s involvement in the world?

If anyone would like to share, I’m curious–to what issues (religious or otherwise) do you find yourself returning again and again? What are the questions you find particularly compelling, the ones you can’t seem to leave alone?

(Added note: In this particular thread, I’d prefer that people keep their comments focused on the questions they themselves have, as opposed to answering those of others.)


  1. What issue do I keep returning to, over and over, befuddled by it?

    1. How can deeply religious people who believe so strongly in someone like Jesus Christ be so hateful and violent towards someone who doesn’t? I will never understand that paradox.

    Good luck in getting answers that you find satisfying to the questions that befuddle you.

  2. 1. How does the atonement work? Why was Christ suffering for us necassary?

    2. Why was the plan of salvation necassary? Why is mortal life the way it is?

    I find all other theological questions eventually lead me to these two. I have answers to them, in part, of course, but they seem to always be capable of more probing, addition, and refinement.

    To answer your questions as vaguely as possible ๐Ÿ™‚

    1.) By looking for one.
    2.) Yes.

  3. The question I always keep coming back to is-

    The Book of Mormon and New Testament speak of a strictly “saved” or “damned” dichotomy with Christ being the very center and cornerstone speaker of that gospel. So why as the true church do we not teach that doctrine like most other Christian church’s?

  4. How do we deal with depression in a faith affirming and nonjudgemental manner. How do we understand mental illness, and what purpose does its existence have in the Universe?

    What can we know through study about the Heavenly Mother, how much of the ancient apocryphal or non hebraic literature about the divine feminine is accurate doctrinally?

    How on Earth will we ever be able to accept the new scripture written by people outside our tradition, of the lost 10 tribes? We can’t even agree on the Proclamation on the family.

    Why is the physical act of performing ordinances so key to our salvation? What is it we receive specifically?

    How possible will it be to overcomes the traditions of our fathers that blind us to truth in everyone’s religion, cause mass confusion, antipathy, and war, in the next life. Will it be easier to accept the gospel. Does every knee bowing and tongue confessing mean that everyone will get it, but decide whether they can or want to follow?

    What exactly are we referring to when we refer to the priesthood? Does marriage as an priesthood ordinance and sealing confer authority on both parties, making wife and mother offices therein?

    Of course, I don’t have my own blog so these issues mostly just kick around in my mind and jump on the rare opportunities I find to discuss them.

  5. 1. If I’m righteous and my children are righteous and we all end up in the Celestial kingdom, why do we need to be sealed together?

    2. What is the priesthood? If a man gives a priesthood blessing and a woman says a prayer in faith over a sick child, is the priesthood blessing any more effective? (I keep answering this question “no” which then makes me wonder again what the priesthood, exactly, is.)

  6. 1) How on earth can we trust anything prophets say, when they seem to be just as blinded by cultural biases as the rest of us?
    2) Does God really believe in the gender roles the church subscribes?
    2) Do I believe in the gospel, or not? (Sort of a big one, but that’s what’s been on my mind for the last three years.)

  7. Why is it that the things that physically define a woman are frequently the cause of great amounts of physical pain (childbirth, morning sickness, nursing, menstrual cramps, pain during initial intercourse).

    What on earth was the nature of my premortal spirit (ie did we have spirit hormones that regulated stuff in our spirit minds?) Is my spirit as great or my body as bad as I tend to think it is. Is my DNA *mine* or could someone else have inhabited this body?

    Is the dark (read:invisible) matter and energy that astronomers can’t really account for, but are pretty sure is there higher orders of exaltation that are hidden from us due to our fallen state? How cool would that be if it was?

  8. Nate #5.

    This is most likely not the appropriate way to do this, but I really wanted to take a personal stab at your second question. Well, indirectly anyway.

    What are the differences between a mother’s prayer and a priesthood blesing? Gospel according to me only, but I think the two can both accomplish the same thing, but in somewhat different ways. A mother’s prayer is one of supplication and relies on the compassion of our Father in Heaven. A priesthood prayer is one of ordinance and is based on a specific delineation of authority that our Father in Heaven gives to us as mortals.

    A simplistic description would be a mother’s prayer relies on her faith in God. The priesthood prayer relies on the faith of the priesthood holder’s in their ability to act on behalf of God. It seems like a semantics thing, but I think we will discover at some point in our progression that they are differences designed to teach us some eternal principles about our relationship with Heavenly Father.

  9. I can well understand the desire to jump in and share thoughts about someone else’s question (especially since people have raised some really good ones!) However, in this particular thread I’d like to just stick with the questions–though if they provide fuel for future blogging, so much the better! Thanks, all.

  10. Oops. I’ve just been chastized. Sorry.

    (currently filled with feelings of remorse)

    In answer to the original question. My studies always bring me to one question that I have never been able to truly grasp.

    “How do I fit into this grand plan of salvation?”

    I’m small and insignificant. In spite of trying to nod my head enthusiastically when people say that salvation is a personal thing. I struggle with something so big and encompassing and how I could possibly be an important puzzle piece in the vastness of this universe.

  11. The one that’s particularly nagging at me – related possibly to your #2, Lynnette – is the multiplicity of religious experience across so many Christian and non Christian traditions. If we believe only a fraction of the accounts, it is clear that intensely vivid and revelatory encounters with diety are not limited to a single creed or even faith. The standard answer is that God grants truth to all, but of course, Cotton Mather’s vision of an angel left him with truth significantly different that that given to Muhammed.

    This is intensely personal – why is it, if I was raised in the true church, God has never deigned to grant me faith, or even assurance, when people like Julian of Norwich and Jonathan Edwards experienced profound revelations that convinced them of the truth of their own beliefs? I’m developing an answer, but unfortunately, the choices are either 1)naturalistic, which I’m uncomfortable with, or 2)We know much less about God than we think we do. Much less.

  12. No worries, cew-smoke; I didn’t state my expectations for comments in the original post as clearly as I could have, and as I said, I can understand wanting to start a conversation about some of these fascinating issues! And thanks for adding to the list.

  13. How did the atonement really work? How did Christ really feel all our pain, suffering, and insecurity in that short time frame? How does he really know what it’s like to be pregnant for 9 months, or deal with a debilitating illness for years, or struggle with self-esteem or a lack of faith for months or years, when the suffering only lasted a matter of hours?

    (And I like your point about turning some of these into future blog posts, Lynnette. Maybe I’ll have to do that.)

  14. I also wonder about the tension between a community of Saints and our individual relationship with God. If we really hold that it is the nature and disposition of almost ALL MEN as soon as they get a little authority as they suppose that they will begin immediately to exercise unrighteous dominion, why is the organization of the Church so important.

    And yet I know that community is important. Joseph pounded on the concept of Zion, and I can see the wonder and the glory and the joy in the concept, if we(especially me) could live in a more perfect way. I actually understand what he was saying when talking of the need for a welding link between mankind to prepare the Earth for the second coming. Sometimes I just don’t know if we are capable or will ever be.

  15. Lynette, you know I am expecting a post on each one of these questions from you now! One a day wuld be nice ๐Ÿ˜‰

  16. 1) I second Matt B’s questions re: Jonathon Edwards and Julian of Norwich (and sooooo many others)

    2) What’s the balance between the “natural man” and the “divine nature” we believe in? Is the former inherent, or merely the natural result of being separated from the divine in a fallen world? In which case, “natural” wouldn’t mean either “biological” or “inherent,” which makes the whole idea of natural gender another hugeoid question.

    2. Why would the universe require suffering (and thus the atonement)in response to error? Why can’t the worldly repurcussions of sin be enough? Is it pre-socratic philosophy run amuck, Newton’s third law of motion, or universal sadism? Why can’t the universe just let penitence suffice? Why did Christ have to endure such pain, exactly?

    3. If God knows what I’m going to do because time isn’t linear for divine beings, how the heck do I still have free will?

    4. Um, that whole death penalty/blood atonement thing is a load of hooey, right? right? Please say yes.

    5. What does Heavenly Mother do with her time and is it Her will or our ignorance and apathy which keeps Her from us?

    6. Even though celestial bodies don’t require food, will we still get to eat lasagna and chocolate? And will we be able to breathe underwater? (I spend a lot of childhood time wondering about those, and sometimes still do :)).

  17. I have a word doc saved called “Gospel Shelf” with questions I want answered, but know it won’t be anytime soon. Here are a few from my shelf.
    1. Why is it so important for us to learn about Adam and Eve?
    2.In the OT, Jonah refused to follow direct commands from the Lord, but was given a second chance. Even then, he didn’t think others were worthy of the same forgiveness. Have latter-day prophets struggled in similar ways that affected not just their personal souls, but the entire church, and if so, how would we know?
    3. Is it possible that there really isn’t a Mother in Heaven? Perhaps we don’t know much about her because she doesn’t really exist. Many things in nature are created asexually, couldn’t our spirits be one of them?
    I also echo the questions of the multiplicity of religions, especially when I think of a wonderful friend, converted from Christianity to Reformed Judaism who is a better example of Christ than 90% of the Mormons I know. His problem with Christianity (and I’ll add this to my list of questions) is why would God come down and impregnate another man’s wife? (which, when he mentioned it, reminded me strangely of In Sacred Loneliness and Joseph Smith’s polyandrous marriages)

  18. 2) The conundrum of religious pluralism. How do I make sense of the multiplicity of religions in the world? Is there a way to remain committed to the particular truth claims of one faith while remaining open to truth existing outside of it? Is there really “one true church,”ย and if so, what does that mean about the rest of them, and about God’s involvement in the world?
    Lynette, this is a great question and one that I have definitely been obsessed with. To ease my troubled mind, I have come up with the following explanation. You can think about it and tell me what you think. I would love any new insights into it.

    We are eternal beings, and as such we are forever learning. With this in mind, the multiplicity of religions begins to make sense if we look at learning and preparation in degrees. Perhaps one person or one culture does not have the gospel because their hearts have not yet been prepared to receive it. Now when I say receive, I mean truly be converted to it. Just because a person has taken gospel discussions or even been baptized does not necessarily mean they were ready for all of the standards and expectations of the gospel. (This idea could lead to a whole new discussion, but I ramble).
    With this in mind, every religion does have SOME degree of truth to it. It is just a matter of how much. The LDS church has the FULLNESS of the gospel, and that takes a lot of preparation to understand and appreciate. I’ve been a member my whole life and I’m still figuring things out. This idea of learning in degrees is a common concept to all religions, including LDS. Eg. going to the temple and receiving your endowments. Not everyone has received their endowments because not everyone is ready for that knowledge and responsibility. Likewise, not everyone has received or chosen to follow the LDS gospel. This doesn’t mean they are evil or totally wrong, just learning. Also, as a side note, I want to say that just because someone is not LDS, it does not mean that they are any less spiritual or in tune with our Heavenly Father. There are just aspects about the gospel that they have not been, are choosing not to be prepared for. Whew. Does this make sense to you? It seems to make more sense in my head, so I welcome any comments.

  19. Along the lines of Janet’s #6 – my childhood question… In the Celestial Kingdom, will I be able to fly? If so, will I enjoy it like I would on earth, or will it just be boring old flying? If not, plbttttt…. what a jip.

  20. Lilith, as I mentioned earlier, I’m wanting to keep this particular thread focused on the questions that people have (as opposed to attempts to answer them), since pretty much all of them seem worthy of an entire discussion devoted to them alone. But as I said, I’m rather obsessed with problems related to pluralism, and I can guaranteee that there will be future opportunities to discuss the subject here in more depth. In the meantime, you’re welcome to add any other questions that you find particularly compelling.

    Matt W., aaaaahhhh! I’m going to confess that I (like several of my co-bloggers, though I won’t name names) am actually much better at coming up with ideas for posts and starting them than finishing them. Which means that I probably shouldn’t be reading this thread, because it’s only adding to my terribly overgrown collection of half-baked notions that I think would be fun to blog about someday. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Really, I’m loving everyone’s questions. Thanks for all the great contributions.

  21. Should I always follow and uphold the Church’s current teachings and policies, or are forces outside the Church sometimes more in line with the Gospel?

    Since the Church is lead by divine revelation from a perfect God, why has it sometimes been late to outwardly and actively support issues of civil and moral bearing, such as civil and women’s rights? While the Church has slowly changed its position on these issues, it surprises me that it’s not leading the charge in General Conference and weekly sacrament meetings to bring these things about more quickly so we can have a greater understanding of the fulness of the Gospel. How can we know that there aren’t current discriminations of the Church and its policies that will later change after the moral conscience of general people (or other churches) have showed us the way of better incorporating Christ’s message to all souls?

  22. oops. my bad. I really should pay closer attention. sorry.
    How about this. If we are suppose to inherit this earth and no other earth, does this mean that the Celestial, Telestial, and Terrestial are all here upon this earth, just on different planes of existence? And if so, do they exist right now, right here, since we know, according to Joseph Smith, that Abraham has already recieved his glory?


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