There seems to be a trend away from religion and religious beliefs, especially beliefs that take a firm stand on certain issues. I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, commonly known by the abbreviation "LDS" or known as the "Mormon" church due to a book of scripture read in the Church called the "Book of Mormon". Since animosity towards religion seems to be increasing, I wanted to offer an explanation as to why I'm a Mormon.
To be honest, being a Mormon is challenging. To fully live my faith, it requires a lot of sacrifice of time, energy, and resources. We are asked to dedicate much. I have served in a variety of positions in the Church, many requiring lots of time away from home. I have had the opportunity to visit and administer to those who are sick, and to be visited and administered to when I am sick. I donate resources to help further good works in the world, and I do these things just the same as the countless other individuals in the Mormon Church.
Despite the challenges, I love being a Mormon. Here is a non-exhaustive list of reasons why I am Mormon. Feel free to ask me about any other aspects of the Mormon religion that you have questions about. I have no problem discussing my beliefs. Some of these items below I do not find present in other religions, which helps to solidify my adherence to the Mormon religion.
Christ is certainly the main focus of the Mormon religion, and the main focus of everything I do. The Mormon Church teaches more depth on His atonement and resurrection than any other religion I know. We're taught that His atonement allows us to overcome our shortcomings, mistakes, and problems to become better, whole, complete, and more like God. It also allows us to be healed from the bad things that happen in life. Mormonism teaches that Christ is our path back to God, and teaches the requirement of belief and good works to qualify for the highest of God's blessings.
Mormons take a different view of Heaven than most others do. Most religions are divided into a simple Heaven and Hell scenario. To me, this simple scenario would not promote any individual to good works, and as I often see, just causes one to express, in words, that they accept Christ, but does little to change their actions or course of conduct. Mormons though believe in three major divisions of Heaven, called the Celestial, Terrestrial, and Telestial Kingdoms, with further divisions present inside the three major divisions. To me, these divisions reconcile what other religions cannot, and that is having a place for all to go based on who they decide to become. If the "Saints" in life will be in the same Heaven as one who only accepts Christ in word but not deed, I cannot see how that is fair to the Saint who gave so much for the cause of good, or similarly, why it would be just to send a 'good' person to Hell simply because they never said 'I believe' during this life. We will all receive are appropriate due. To me, the belief in divisions in Heaven is an important piece in having a just God.
Mormons have churches for Sunday worship as well as Temples where additional ordinances take place, including the sealing of families together for eternity. In addition, vicarious work for the dead is completed in Temples, allowing those that have died without a knowledge of God's Gospel to accept the ordinances necessary to become a better person and live with God. To me, this vicarious work is absolutely essential for God to be both merciful and just, as it balances the requirement that all must participate in certain ordinances with the realities of life for those that never heard the fullness of the Gospel. Due to choices of mankind, truths have been lost from the earth at times and people have lived without the ability to know or believe all that is necessary, and the vicarious work for the dead shows the way God prepared to provide every person the opportunity to fully partake of all that His gospel offers.
I know of no other religion that has a way to justly reconcile what happens to people that do not get the opportunity to hear the Gospel and participate in the necessary ordinances. In addition, it is amazing to go to a Temple and see the vast amounts of Mormons who work tirelessly to perform vicarious work for the dead. Nothing, in my mind, could compel such a large group of people to do such a work except for the love of God. To me, the Temples provide such amazing evidence of God's love for all of his children.
The Spirit World
Mormons believe that after we die, we go to a place called the 'Spirit World' prior to being resurrected. The Spirit World goes hand in hand with the Temple, as it is in the Spirit World where all receive a full opportunity to be taught the Gospel and accept the ordinances performed for them in the Temples. The Spirit World again helps to balance the justice and mercy of God and provides a way for all of God's children to be saved. It also helps me be less judgmental of people as I recognize that we all get a complete chance to accept the Gospel, and my limited view of a person in this life is not a complete view of who they may become.
The Book of Mormon
Christ came to Jerusalem and reached such a small portion of the earth's population during His time on the earth. The Bible is a compilation of different things written by different people about Him or about the events of people and groups that believed in Him. However, the Bible offers no satisfactory reason as to why Christ would be limited to the Israelites and the Jews. If Christ is the God of all, why not visit others at various times on the earth? To me, the Book of Mormon highlights a very important truth, that God is the God of all and forgets none of us. The Book of Mormon gives an account of Christ and his visit to peoples in the Americas after His resurrection. The Book of Mormon serves to highlight that Christ is concerned for all, and that His teachings are not limited to the Bible. I have found great access to God through the simple truths in the Book of Mormon.
Prophets and Apostles
The Bible makes readily clear that God has used prophets to communicate His will to the earth. Prophets provide an appropriate balance between our need to know God's will as well as our need to exercise faith. The Mormon Church is lead by a Prophet and Apostles, just as Christ's Church was. I can find no good reason why God would cease talking to us after His resurrection as we are just in need of direction in our day as others would have been earlier. The fact that we have Prophets and Apostles leading us provides me with trust in God, as He is still using His established practices to guide His Church. These Prophets and Apostles speak to the entire world twice a year in a General Conference. I invite you to listen to what they have to say, as by listening you too can feel the Spirit of God testify to the words of God they speak. They hold a General Conference the first Saturday and Sunday in April and October, and can be viewed online at www.lds.org.
Mormons believe in a pre-mortal, or pre-earth, life. We believe that we existed as Spirits before coming to this earth. To a Mormon, this earth is but a short stop on the path of eternity. We believe in the eternal nature of life, meaning that we have always existed in some form and will always exist. I find many answers to question of "why" wrapped up in the fact that we lived pre-mortally. This knowledge helps to reconcile many holes in the big picture of our life and gives me a very different outlook on the purpose of this life.
The Big Picture
Ultimately, many of the pieces present in the Mormon religion fit together to produce an awe inspiring masterpiece for life. It takes time to understand the full picture created by the Mormon Church, and just hearing one piece of it may make it seem that the Mormon religion does not make sense. However, when you fully study all that it teaches, it produces a very complete picture of life.
You could say that I am Mormon because it produces the most complete outlook on life, ranging from eternities past to eternities yet to come, and it helps me look outside my limited vision to see a little bit more of what God might see. My mind always wants to understand the "big picture". When I read the Bible, listen to things that are taught, or otherwise review doctrinal matters, I want to know why. I want to know how that piece I am seeing fits into the purposes and designs of God and life. I want to know how my choices today affect my life tomorrow. From what I can see, the Mormon faith provides a far more expansive view and understanding of the big picture and gives far more answers than what I can otherwise find.
Of course, God does not give us all the answers yet. Faith is a necessary component of this life, and so there are still questions that exist in my mind. I don't have all of the pieces in place yet, and I don't see the entire picture. Yet, I don't let myself get hung up over one matter that I am working on understanding since the big picture is still there. I have found that as I continue to move forward, answers do come, pieces fit, my perception changes, my heart softens, and I am able to see how my area of concern fits into the bigger picture. There are items I have been working for years to understand and don't yet understand, but I am comfortable that once I grow in understanding, I will be able to grasp these things and see their place.
To me, a great truth found in the Mormon religion is that there "is opposition in all things." While many people do not feel that they have experienced God in their life, most people I have met would readily agree that they have experienced darkness and evil. I certainly have been faced with many dark periods of life and know firsthand the depths of darkness. I also see on a daily basis the reality and spread of evil. Evil and darkness lead some to believe that God must not exist, but they lead me to find God and become more sure of his existence.
Many people I have talked to say they cannot believe in God because bad things happen. Yes, bad things do happen, but I firmly believe that our view of what is "bad" will be readily and quickly altered as our minds are opened up to the eternal nature of what is taking place on this earth. I believe in an all powerful God who can take all bad things and turn them into something good for us. I believe in an all powerful God who can remove the pain, suffering, and darkness associated with the bad and fill it with health, joy, and light.
Two simple experiences I have had illustrate how seeing a bigger picture can alter our perception of what is 'bad'. In high school, I enjoyed wrestling. I wrestled my sophomore year and was excited to start again my junior year. The coach had high expectations for me that year, and I was looking forward to working to go to the state wrestling competition. However, due to my class load that year, I did not have time to wrestle and complete all of my homework. I decided to wrestle anyways, and quickly fell behind in homework.
The first meet came and I started in my weight class in the varsity spot. Not more than two minutes into the match, I tore the ligament in my elbow and was out for the entire season. Due to a torn ligament, I couldn't do much besides homework, and so I was able to get good grades that year. Those grades enabled me to obtain scholarships to get through college, something that I probably would not have been otherwise able to afford to do. Looking back, I am grateful for the torn ligament as it gave me much more than wrestling would have. At that time though, there was intense pain, rehab, and disappointment, but it put me on a better track, one that I couldn't see at the time.
A second experience came when I was walking with my children to an appointment. One of them was refusing to walk for no reason that I could see. I was getting frustrated as we were going to be late. As I walked back to get the child refusing to walk and pull the child along, a car suddenly jumped the curb onto the sidewalk a little ways ahead of us, right about the spot where we would have been if we had been walking at normal pace. Seeing the car land on the sidewalk made all of my anger and frustration disappear in a second as I was suddenly grateful that we were not walking at normal pace. I often wonder in life how many 'cars' were on the sidewalk, or path, ahead in life, but which I simply never saw. One day, I am confident I will see the full picture, and at that day much of my frustration will turn to appreciation.
To be clear, I do not profess that all "bad" experiences are good, which is one reason why Christ offers healing to us through his atonement. However, I am certain that many things we view as bad or troublesome will no longer be viewed that way when we see the big picture of life. Being a Mormon helps me expand my perspective far beyond what I normally would as I reach into the pre-mortal and post-mortal worlds to gain a greater appreciation and understanding for the things of this life. This view helps me be grateful and put things into the proper perspective.
Ultimately, I fully believe the Mormon teachings that experiencing the good and bad of life educates us in a way impossible to replicate. The classroom can only go so far, and personal experience becomes the best educator as well as the best testing scenarios to see how well we internalized what we have been taught. As I turn to God and his Gospel as revealed to past and present Prophets, my mind is opened to many possibilities and my heart is changed to better understand how God can take bad things and make them good things for us. In short, Mormonism expands my outlook on and deepens my appreciation for life in a way that nothing else has come close to doing.
Ultimately, I fully embrace the teachings in the Mormon Church that I can one day become like God. This fills me with hope and purpose in life as it ingrains two principles into me - one, that I am a child of God and therefore have infinite worth, and two, that I have much to look forward to in life as I will always be able to progress. We believe that God will always be our God and Father, but that He will share all that he has with those who choose to abide by His requirements. While His mercy will save us all from death, His justice requires that we learn to abide by certain principles in order to be able to receive all that He has. Therefore, Mormonism encourages me to become better each day and offers me a purpose and reason to look outside the pleasures of the moment to see the worth of working today for a better tomorrow, or of working in this life to build a better eternity.
In addition to the ultimate picture produced by the Mormon faith, I have had God's Spirit testify to me of the truth of the Mormon Church, which is really the Church of Jesus Christ as Mormon is simply a nickname, not an official name. The Mormon religion fully teaches that God will speak to both our mind and heart to give us confirmation of His truth, and I have had such experiences, where I can know in my mind and feel in my heart what is true. The Book of Mormon extends a promise to everyone that they can also know, if they diligently seek and study these things.
Ultimately, you could say I am Mormon because I dare to believe in great things. I dare to believe that I can be a father to my children and a husband to my wife for eternity. I dare to believe that God provided a way for me to move past my mistakes and follies in life. I dare to believe that God is both just and merciful with ways to fully provide for both. I dare to believe that I can know truth. I dare to believe that I am an eternal being, one of great worth, even to God. I dare to believe that I can progress, improve, learn, and grow and ultimately become like God. I dare to believe that the darkness of today is temporary and that it can be replaced with the light of tomorrow. In short, I am Mormon because I dare to believe we are literally a Child of God and that we are capable of growing up to be like Him.