Friday, April 22, 2011

Faith of My Father

As a kid, my Dad was one of the most devout people I personally knew. He had rock solid faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ. I was well into my adult years before I fully understood the journey that had brought him to that point.

Dad grew up in a nonreligious family in Germany during the 1930s and 1940s. As the Nazi regime gained control of the country, school teachers and administrators were replaced with Nazi loyalists who taught the children a mixture of nationalism and rationalism.

Dad had no reason to consider religion to be a reasonable approach to life. He had no religious friends. Most of the people he knew thought of religion as a quaint tradition and thought that anybody that took religion seriously had to be deluded or crazy.

But Dad was also very analytical. Studying electrical work, he was used to being able to drive to something that was true. Electrical theories could be tested and proven. The whole war made no sense to him. His analytical mind saw a lot of people doggedly pursuing things that were obviously not true.

After World War II as Dad progressed into young adulthood, he took a very philosophical approach to life. All of his companions drank, smoked, and caroused. These obviously self destructive activities seemed stupid to Dad. He could not bring himself to participate in them from a rational standpoint.

Once Dad was doing a job for a private telecommunications firm installing a complex system in a building that housed several businesses. One of the largest was a tobacco wholesaling company. Seeing how hard Dad worked, one of the bosses offered Dad a job that dealt with the firm's transportation logistics. Dad would have immediately more than tripled his salary. Dad felt that taking such a job would be hypocritical. He could not accept the job and be true to himself, so he continued being an electrician.

During this whole time, Dad searched for philosophical truths wherever they could be found. He took opportunities to study from learned professors and to explore the works of the great philosophers. The more he studied these, the more he felt that all of these missed the mark. They had a semblance of truth but they always veered off before hitting on real truths.

Dad left no stone unturned in his search for truth. He began studying religion, delving deeply into all major religions and even many non-mainstream religions. It became one of his hobbies. He compared and contrasted all kinds of philosophies.

One one occasion Dad had an opportunity to meet with one of the top priests in Germany. He thought that this man surely must know the truth. They had a very frank discussion. Dad was quite disappointed to discover that this high ranking church man had little certainty about his beliefs. At least the man was honest about that fact.

While visiting his parents one weekend, Dad met and was taught by two missionaries from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. They spoke poor German and wore ill fitting suits. But they caught Dad's attention when he discovered that they were spending 2½ years (missions were longer in those days) preaching the gospel with no pay. In fact, they were paying their own way. Dad had never heard of such a thing.

The missionaries told of the origins of the LDS Church. Dad listened curiously. When they told of Joseph Smith's first vision of Deity, Dad thought of the similarities this story had with other descriptions throughout history of mortals experiencing encounters with God.

Then one of the missionaries bore witness of the truth of Joseph Smith's testimony. Dad experienced a feeling he had never had before. He didn't know for himself, but he knew that the missionary knew that what he was saying was absolutely true. Dad could not deny it.

A few weeks later Dad met with LDS missionaries in the city where he was living. He had read everything the missionaries had given him and he wanted to know more about what he had felt that day. The missionaries opened with prayer. Dad found this meeting somewhat less satisfying because he had an agenda to get certain deep philosophical questions answered while the missionaries had an agenda to teach a set lesson plan. But Dad agreed to another meeting.

When the time came to start this next meeting, the missionaries invited Dad to kneel with them to pray. One missionary then turned to Dad and informed him that it was his turn to pray. Dad had never prayed in his life. If God existed at all, Dad could only imagine a non-personal entity. He couldn't imagine a God that was intimately interested in the lives of each person on the earth. He had seen too much evil and carnage in his life to think that such a being could exist.

Dad was a bit flustered, but not wanting to offend the missionaries, he decided to give a short prayer. He opened his mouth to speak, but before the first word escaped his lips he was overcome with the most intense outpouring of love he had ever experienced. He was suddenly aware of the presence of God; not some imaginary being, but an all powerful Divine parent that very personally loved him and wanted the very best for him.

Through his tears Dad finished his brief prayer and the missionaries gave their lesson. But the words of the lesson were nothing compared to the relationship with God that Dad had suddenly discovered. Knowing that God listened to his prayers, Dad prayed almost constantly over the following days. He prayed silently when he was out and about. He prayed aloud in his apartment.

Visionary gifts run in Dad's line. He had many experiences that many believers would love to have and that some nonbelievers chalk up to mental problems. For example, scriptures were hard to come by in Germany in those days. Not having access to his own set of scriptures, Dad saw them in vision.

Upon retiring to his bed at night, something akin to a computer screen would appear before his eyes. The scriptures would appear on the screen in German and would scroll up the screen for hours. This went on night after night until Dad knew the scriptures very well even before he owned a printed set.

Although Dad had a tremendous spiritual conversion to the LDS Church, he did not experience a social conversion. He had to admit that most of the church members he encountered were seriously odd and flawed people. While Dad felt alive in Christ, many church members went about their church activities with seemingly little attention to having a vibrant relationship with God.

When Dad came to the states, he encountered people in the church that he said would have made great Nazis. That creeped him out. But Dad was completely certain about the truths that had been revealed to him and he knew that he could not deny those truths. This approach became the hallmark of Dad's life. It became Dad's identity.

That is the kind of father I grew up with. No matter what questions and perplexities I faced in my younger days with respect to the gospel and the church, I knew with absolute certainty that Dad knew that the gospel was true. Over time I came to know gospel truths for myself. But I would be ungrateful if I did not acknowledge how much Dad's witness influenced me. His faith was strong enough to keep me upright. For that I will be forever grateful.


Jeremy said...

Thanks for this post. It is a great star tip my Easter weekend. Happy Easter.

John Teal said...

Thank you for sharing, a conversion story is always a testimony builder.