The Unauthorized Investigator's Guide to
The Church of JESUS CHRIST of Latter-day Saints

Lesson 4


The Missionaries Will Teach...

God is our loving Heavenly Father and he issues commandments for our own good.  The purpose of the commandments is to help us lead happy lives.  If we obey God's commandments, God will bless us.  If we are obedient, we are promised peace in this life and eternal life in the world to come. 

If we love God, we will obey him.  But we have agency which means we can choose between good and evil.  If we chose to disobey, the result will be sorrow.

Some Additional Thoughts...

A question that needs to be raised in response to this principle is what, specifically, does it mean to obey God? 

In Mormonism, obeying God means obeying what God tells you through the scriptures, through the living prophets, and directly through the Holy Ghost. But with God giving you commandments from different sources, is it possible that you could receive conflicting messages?  Of course.  When you get conflicting messages from the scriptures, from the church, and from your heart, choices need to be made about what it means to "obey God."  The practical reality of the LDS religion is that "obeying God" means first do what the church tells you to do, and then do whatever you believe God tells you directly, as long as it is in harmony with what the church tells you to do.

This principle is documented and explained very clearly in a speech given by Ezra Taft Benson when he was the president of the 12 Apostles. 

President Wilford Woodruff stated:

“I say to Israel, the Lord will never permit me or any other man who stands as president of the Church to lead you astray. It is not in the program. It is not in the mind of God.” (The Discourses of Wilford Woodruff, pp. 212–13.)

President Marion G. Romney tells of this incident which happened to him:

“I remember years ago when I was a bishop I had President Heber J. Grant talk to our ward. After the meeting I drove him home … Standing by me, he put his arm over my shoulder and said: ‘My boy, you always keep your eye on the President of the Church and if he ever tells you to do anything, and it is wrong, and you do it, the Lord will bless you for it.’ Then with a twinkle in his eye, he said, ‘But you don’t need to worry. The Lord will never let his mouthpiece lead the people astray.’ ” (Conference Report, October 1960, p. 78.)...

Said President Harold B. Lee:

“You may not like what comes from the authority of the Church. It may conflict with your political views. It may contradict your social views. It may interfere with some of your social life … Your safety and ours depends upon whether or not we follow … Let’s keep our eye on the President of the Church.” (Conference Report, October 1970, p. 152–153.)

...the living prophet gets at what we need to know now, and the world prefers that prophets either be dead or worry about their own affairs. Some so-called experts of political science want the prophet to keep still on politics. Some would-be authorities on evolution want the prophet to keep still on evolution. And so the list goes on and on.

How we respond to the words of a living prophet when he tells us what we need to know, but would rather not hear, is a test of our faithfulness.

Said President Marion G. Romney, “It is an easy thing to believe in the dead prophets, but it is a greater thing to believe in the living prophets.” And then he gives this illustration:

“One day when President Grant was living, I sat in my office across the street following a general conference. A man came over to see me, an elderly man. He was very upset about what had been said in this conference by some of the Brethren, including myself. I could tell from his speech that he came from a foreign land. After I had quieted him enough so he would listen, I said, ‘Why did you come to America?’ ‘I am here because a prophet of God told me to come.’ ‘Who was the prophet?’ I continued. ‘Wilford Woodruff.’ ‘Do you believe Wilford Woodruff was a prophet of God?’ ‘Yes, sir.’

“Then came the sixty-four dollar question, ‘Do you believe that Heber J. Grant is a prophet of God?’ His answer, ‘I think he ought to keep his mouth shut about old-age assistance.’

“Now I tell you that a man in his position is on the way to apostasy. He is forfeiting his chances for eternal life. So is everyone who cannot follow the living prophet of God.” (Conference Report, April 1953, p. 125.) (Ezra Taft Benson, "First Presidency Message: Fourteen Fundamentals in Following the Prophet," Tambuli, June 1981).

When the missionaries tell you to obey God, they are telling you to obey the leaders of the Mormon Church. 

That isn't a bad thing, of course.  There are any number of lifestyles that are worse than the Mormon one.

But what happens when you feel uneasy about obeying something the church tells you to do?  What are the feelings of uneasiness?  Are they temptations from Satan?  Are they messages from God telling you to do something other than what the church is telling you?  Could it be your own sub-consciousness telling you that you are making a bad decision?  Or what if the church tells you to do something and you as a human being don't understand the commandment and don't agree with it?  Then what should you do?

There are three scriptural examples of obedience that the church repeatedly uses as examples of what to do when you aren't sure whether or not you should obey.

Example 1

This story of Adam is taken from one of Joseph Smith's versions of the story as recorded in the book of Moses in the Pearl of Great Price.  In this story, when Adam was kicked out of the Garden of Eden, God commanded him to kill lambs in burnt offerings.  After living in the blissful Garden of Eden, this must have been a violent and disturbing activity to engage in.  Adam had no clue as to why he was commanded to do such a thing.  What should you do in such situations?  According to the apostle N. Eldon Tanner, it isn't blind obedience to obey when you don't know why!  Rather, it is faith in God's infinite wisdom:

We do not suggest blind obedience, but obedience by faith in those things which may not be fully understood by man’s limited comprehension, but which in the infinite wisdom of God are for man’s benefit and blessing. Adam and Eve learned this lesson shortly after leaving the Garden of Eden. We read:

“And he [the Lord] gave unto them commandments, that they should worship the Lord their God, and should offer the firstlings of their flocks, for an offering unto the Lord. And Adam [having faith in God] was obedient unto the commandments of the Lord.

“And after many days an angel of the Lord appeared unto Adam, saying: Why dost thou offer sacrifices unto the Lord? And Adam said unto him: I know not, save the Lord commanded me.” (Moses 5:5–6.)

May that be sufficient reason for us to keep the commandments. May we increase in faith until we can say, with Adam, “We keep the commandments because the Lord has given them.” (N. Eldon Tanner, “Obeying the Right Voice,” Ensign, Nov. 1977, 42)

Example 2

The favorite story about obedience is probably the story of Abraham from the Old Testament.  In this story, an angel appeared to Abraham and told him to take his son to the mountains and offer him as a human sacrifice.  If an angel commands you to do something (even if it involves murder), what should you do?  According to the prophet Spencer W. Kimball, the correct thing is to jump right on it! 

There are many examples of Abraham’s obedience to the Lord’s will. In Genesis we learn that God commanded Abraham to circumcise every male in his household. Upon receiving that commandment, Abraham did not say, “Yes, I will obey the Lord, but first I must move my sheep to another pasture, and mend my tents. I should be able to obey by the end of the week, or by the first of next week, at the latest.” But instead of so procrastinating his obedience, Abraham went out and complied “in the selfsame day.” (Gen. 17:26.)

A similar, but even more impressive, example is Abraham’s obedience to God’s command that he sacrifice his only son, Isaac. Abraham could have put this abhorrent task aside or even chosen to ignore the commandment entirely, but instead he arose early the next morning and began the journey to the appointed place. (Spencer W. Kimball, "First Presidency Message: The Example of Abraham," Ensign, June 1975)

Example 3

When the Book of Mormon hero Nephi heard a voice in his head that told me to chop of the head of a passed-out drunkard, he wasn't quite as enthusiastic about his obedience as Abraham was. But he thought about it a little bit more, and then obeyed.  According to the apostle L. Tom Perry:

Nephi was commanded by the Lord to obtain the brass plates to carry with them as they journeyed into the wilderness. Laban resisted every effort they had made to obtain the record. The Lord then delivered Laban into Nephi’s hands. Concerning the slaying of Laban, Nephi was taught: “It is better that one man should perish than that a nation should dwindle and perish in unbelief.”

This revelation helped Nephi recall something the Lord previously promised him in the wilderness: “Inasmuch as thy seed shall keep my commandments, they shall prosper in the land of promise.”

Then Nephi reasoned: “Yea, and I also thought that they could not keep the commandments of the Lord according to the law of Moses, save they should have the law.

“And I also knew that the law was engraven upon the plates of brass.”

Repeatedly the scriptures declare that the Lord gives His commandments to the children of men through living prophets. No committee, assembly, or any other authority has the right to dictate to Him doctrine that is contrary to His law. God’s eternal blessings are contingent upon our obedience and adherence to the word of the Lord that is revealed to us through His holy prophets. (L. Tom Perry, "We Believe All That God Has Revealed," General Conference Address, Ensign, November 2003)

Don't take these quotes out of context.  As I said above, obedience in Mormonism means only obey what you believe God tells you to do as long as it is in harmony with what the church teaches you to do.  The church does not condone the murdering of innocent children such as Isaac or even the murdering of scoundrels such as Laban.  In contemporary Mormonism, these scriptures are used to emphasize that you should obey what the church says no matter your what your lack of understanding or doubts might say (but it shouldn't be surprising that a few people with Mormon backgrounds have committed atrocities and claimed that they were obeying commandments from God that were similar to the commandments God gave Abraham and Nephi.  Under the Banner of Heaven : A Story of Violent Faith by Jon Krakauer is a fascinating read if you are interested in the lunatic fringe of obedience).

If you become an active Mormon, you will be hammered with messages emphasizing that you need to obey no matter what.  What concerns me is the relationship between who makes the decision and who lives with the consequences.   If you have faith and obey the commandments that the church gives you, what you are doing is choosing to delegate the decision making authority to the church.

But the responsibility and the consequences of your obedience still come back to you.

As the missionaries will undoubtedly claim, the consequences of obedience are peace, happiness, and eternal life.

But what if the results of your obedience aren't peace and happiness, but rather the opposite?

Remember this.  Life is short, and your life is yours.  If obeying the leaders of the Mormon Church doesn't cause you to be as happy and as fulfilled as you can possibly be, then you owe it to yourself  not to follow the leaders of the Mormon Church; you owe it to yourself to live the best life for you.

You are the one who has to live with the consequences of your decisions.  Make the absolute best decisions that can be made.  Make decisions wisely.


I Call That Mind Free, a poem by William Ellery Channing

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If you have a question or would like to discuss these topics, I suggest that you go to a Mormon-related bulletin board (here are some recommendations). If you'd like to contact me with comments or feedback, you may send an email to