As I reflect on my witness of the gospel and church of Jesus Christ, I find it anchored in one of several spiritual gifts spoken of in the Book of Mormon, that of “an exceedingly great faith.”1 I assume that we are, for the most part, to live on this earth by faith, for, as the apostle Paul wrote, “whilst we are at home in the body, … we walk by faith, not by sight.”2 To live essentially by faith while striving for improvement in one’s love and obedience to God and His creation is to pursue that incomprehensibly distant goal of perfection, of which the Savior spoke in the Sermon on the Mount.3 It may be that the spiritually most devout and resilient among us will live out their lives almost entirely by faith, rather than by sight. Generally, for them, observation, experience, and the acquisition of knowledge during earthly life broaden and deepen faith, without replacing it with sure knowledge. For most of us lacking incontrovertible knowledge, confusion, perplexity, and doubt at times will compel us to “circle the wagons” around our faith in a determined self-defense.
For the most part, we who, nevertheless, are striving to improve in even small increments will experience relatively infrequent and ineffable confirmations that our faith is well-placed. These typically brief but sustaining moments lift us beyond faith toward the doorstep into sure knowledge. As they occur, one’s faith is buttressed with a more certain confidence and assurance. One’s humble faith on such occasions melds for the moment with something approaching a knowledge of Truth.
During my life, there has been a small number of such affirming occurrences. While normally I would not share such events with a public audience, nevertheless, when speaking to fellow searchers after Truth, I consider it appropriate to make an exception. First, however, I emphasize my assumption that in the economy of Heaven it may well have been preferable for me to be content with a life devoted to strengthening my faith and to service of my fellow man, rather than seeking surer knowledge beyond faith. Nevertheless, at the time of this witness, I felt that my need for divine confirmation was a surpassing consideration.
This occurrence was not the result of or prevented by mental or spiritual acuity. It seems to have been an expression of grace for me—at the moment, an especially inadequate and suffering soul. I had found myself assigned to administer a rather significant church entity in a foreign land where I was responsible for the spiritual well being of a considerable number of Latter-day Saint (Mormon) members. My almost numbing concern for them was combined with a tormenting worry about an adult member of my own immediate family whom I had left behind in the USA. My prayers for greater wisdom and strength to appropriately address the needs of those who had a claim on me for guidance were sincere and frequent—and, it seemed for a considerable time, unanswered.
And yet, a blessing did come. Early one morning as I was driving to my office while again pondering my seemingly overwhelming challenges, I suddenly “saw” or perceived what I assume was akin to a vision. It must have lasted only a few seconds, if that, for I continued to drive in traffic without accident. As it were, I saw clearly in the sky above my head two long, slightly wavy, but (at least at the beginning) distinct lines of people standing one behind another. I immediately recognized in the front of their respective lines my deceased grandparents, uncles, and a cousin. I did not have time or sufficient presence of mind to look carefully at the faces of others, but I sensed that the lines stretching, it appeared, into infinity were made up of my departed relatives, beginning with the more recently deceased and extending back through ages of time. I perceived that these people all were looking at me with warmth, compassion, and encouragement, as though assuring me of their pledge of support.
Arriving at my office, I wrote this experience down in as much detail as I could recall, and I pondered the meaning of this, for me, highly unusual occurrence. As I did so, I fairly soon recalled a verse from one of our Latter-day Saint scriptures complementing the Bible which contains a promise from the Lord to all who are willing, even though barely able, to serve Him as His humble messengers: “I will be on your right hand and on your left, and my Spirit shall be in your hearts, and mine angels round about you, to bear you up.”4 At that moment it all felt so reasonable to me: Who of His angels would more willingly and with greater purpose bear me up than those of my own ancestors? This glimpse into eternity provided me with a feeling of greatly needed reassurance, peace, and confidence.
I have said that in my life these extraordinarily remarkable “tender mercies” are not frequent, but quieter feelings of inspiration, prompting, and confirmation do occur at irregular and unpredictable times. Taken together, they provide me with a sufficient and warm blanket of assurance, but without destroying a basic premise and condition of our earthly existence, that we primarily live not by sight but by faith “whilst we are absent from the Lord.”5
1 Moroni 10:11.
2 2 Corinthians 5:6-7.
3 Matthew 5:47.
4 Doctrine and Covenants 84:88.
5 2 Corinthians 5:5-7.
Gary L. Browning was born in 1940 in Idaho Falls, Idaho. He served an LDS mission to Finland between 1960 and 1963 and presided over the first LDS mission in the Soviet Union from 1990 to 1993. He currently serves as a patriarch to Russian-speaking members of the Church.
Professor Browning earned degrees in Slavic languages and literatures from Brigham Young University (B.A.), Syracuse University (M.A.) and Harvard University (Ph.D., 1974). After serving as a teaching fellow at Harvard, he taught as an assistant professor at Bryn Mawr and Haverford Colleges, and then at BYU as an assistant, associate, and full professor. While at BYU, he also served two terms as chair of the Department of Germanic and Slavic Languages, as a member and then as chair of the Faculty Advisory Council, as University Honors Program director, and then as first dean of University Honors Education. He received the Alcuin General Education Fellowship, the Karl G. Maeser General Education Fellowship, and the Eliza R. Snow Fellowship.
Professor Browning has published books on the life and art of Boris Pilnyak, leveraging one’s knowledge of Russian through roots and affixes, and Russia and the Restored Gospel, and edited a special number of BYU Studies in the interest of peace. A volume on symbolism and allegory in Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina is now at press.
Posted June 2010