While working through our Come Follow Me material this week, a very small thing reminded me of something that I think can be a very large thing:
Why do we, as Latter-day Saints, enjoy speculating so much about the gospel?
Case in point: This week we are studying about the Savior’s childhood and youth. It is a process that takes about 20 seconds, because there is precious little revealed about his life as a child. We know the “whens” and “wheres” like his being taken to Egypt and Nazareth to protect his life.We know he had brothers and sisters, but we don’t have much info about him.
Here are the two references I am aware of:
- He went to the Feast of the Passover with his family at age 12, and ended up in the temple, speaking with the Elders. (Luke 2: 41-50)
- And a great summation of his youth by Luke: “And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.” (Luke 2:52)
That’s pretty much sums up all of what we know about his childhood, that and that he learned the trade of a carpenter – which isn’t a lot.
What do we actually learn from these two examples? The only story from his youth was that he ditched the family without telling his folks, and then, when confronted, talked back to his mom. (Sorry, but that IS what it says.)
The other summation lets us know that his development was a process. He grew in four key areas: Mentally, physically, spiritually, and socially. The fact that he grew tells us he, like all of us, was a “work in progress” as he grew up. He didn’t start out perfect, or perfectly knowledgeable.
All of this is great! I actually like the fact that he had to deal with a mom and dad and brothers and sisters. I like the fact that he had to learn and grow in his childhood and youth. It makes him more approachable and more…real.
So here is what stuck out to me this week as I studied about his childhood this week: There are many who like to speculate and draw conclusions that don’t really have a basis in any kind of doctrine or scripture.
For example, let’s sing!
Jesus once was a little child, a little child like me; And he was pure and meek and mild, as a little child should be. So, little children, let’s you and I try to be like him, Try, try, try.
He played as little children play, the pleasant games of youth; But he never got vexed if the game went wrong, and he always spoke the truth.
So, little children, let’s you and I try to be like him, try, try, try. (link)
Well…. most of those lyrics are total conjecture. Was young Jesus meek and mild? Did he never lose his temper when he lost at games – or did he never lose because, because he’s Jesus? We have no idea. I can assure you of one thing – if he was a little child like ME, the description in the song is way off-base!
(No, the purpose of this post is not to call out a 100 year-old cherished children’s hymn. There’s more to it than that.)
Back in the day….when I was a younger man and teaching the Elder’s Quorum, I grew tired of the endless speculation that would enter quorum discussions. Speculation on doctrine, history, motives, policies, etc. So I figured out a way to combat it:
The Speculation Chair.
At the beginning of every lesson, I would put a folding chair up front next to me, and extend this invitation: “If you have something you would like to add to the discussion, but you can’t support it with scripture or teachings from the Brethren, I would invite you to come sit in The Speculation Chair while you share your thoughts.”
Yes, it sounds harsh, and there was an initial chilling effect, but gradually, the quality of our discussions improved. More truth was taught, rather than going off into the weeds with some bizarro theories or rumors from a friend of the prophet’s third-cousin’s paperboy.
Enter the now defunct High Priest Group of yore. In my experience, this was the place where the most egregious speculation took place. Thankfully, most High Priests were savvy enough to discern the truth from the speculation, but there were times where things got, well, weird.
Why do we do that? Why do we like to gossip about stuff, and share ideas and thoughts that might not actually be supported by anything legit? Worse yet, why do we feel the need to come up with something “new” – even if it isn’t necessarily accurate?
This past week I have seen some articles discussing Jesus youth which were interesting, but mostly interesting precisely because of the author’s speculation. It is prevalent. I have seen essays written enlightening us with lots of details regarding Heavenly Mother, when all the details that aren’t speculation would fit nicely in one small paragraph. Other speculation regarding Church policies seem to be floating around all the time.
Whenever new policy or program changes are rumored or announced, many of us spend a lot of time speculating as to the “whys,” but usually end up with ideas that are just opinions without any foundation. (Or, just as bad, gossip with foundation)
I am guilty of this at times as well. It is fun sharing “new” stuff. For example: One of my favorite stories about Christ’s youth is when he travelled the world extensively with his rich uncle, Joseph of Arimathea, and even spent some time in Britaiin.
— See what I did there? I just shared some non-doctrinal speculation. What happened? Did you perk up? Are you curious now about Jesus in Britain? Sounds interesting, and fun, and….new! See how easy it is to hijack a lesson with speculation?
Sometimes, when teaching a concept or talking about an issue, I have a natural tendency to voice my opinions, theories, or conjectures – even though they are not always based in truth or fact. I try and resist that temptation. (Those of you who follow me online know that I do make an effort to qualify everything I say with scripture or prophetic support. Occasionally I will write something and then decide that I need to delete it, simply because I can’t find the support I need.)
Why do we do it? Why do we speculate instead of focusing on teaching truth, in all its simplicity?
I have some ideas – but I’m not going to speculate on it. (wink)
I will add a few quotes by the Brethren that seem to have a better idea on it than I do. Overall, they aren’t fans of speculation:
President Gordon B. Hinckley spoke about magnifying callings and said this: “We diminish that calling, we shrink that mission when we spend our time speculating about or advocating that which is not set forth in the scripture or that which is not espoused by the prophet of the Lord.” (link)
Presiden Henry B. Eyring gave a great talk called “The Power of Teaching Doctrine” that reinforced this point:
“Because we need the Holy Ghost, we must be cautious and careful not to go beyond teaching true doctrine. The Holy Ghost is the Spirit of Truth. His confirmation is invited by our avoiding speculation or personal interpretation. That can be hard to do. You love the person you are trying to influence. He or she may have ignored the doctrine they have been taught. It is tempting to try something new or sensational. But we invite the Holy Ghost as our companion when we are careful to teach only true doctrine.”
As we are teaching our classes, are we fixated on the truth? Or do we bring in a little dash of speculation or unsupported opinion to spice things up and make the lesson more “interesting” or “entertaining.” (I know this is a real temptation when we are teaching concepts we have heard a million times – and the more well-read you are, the harder it is!) There are a lot of resources out there in the world that like to expand beyond what we consider to be accepted truth. Be careful!
As we are teaching our families, are we teaching them truth, so that they can learn to recognize it? It is a commandment after all:
“But I have commanded you to bring up your children in light and truth.” (D&C 93:40)
The recent Church curriculum changes, and renewed emphasis in teaching the gospel in our homes makes our own discipline even more important: Are we disciplined enough to teach only truth, and let the other stuff go?
One final thought: One of the most worthy answers when asked a tough doctrinal question is this: “I don’t know!” Many times speculation comes from trying to act like we know the answer when we don’t. It is better to not know, than to pretend to know and spread disinformation. As Mark Twain said, “A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.”
As Jacob teaches, “…I know that the words of truth are hard against all uncleanness; but the righteous fear them not, for they love the truth and are not shaken.” (2 Nephi 9:40)
Great talk from last General Conference by President Oaks: “Truth and the Plan.”