As they grappled with “signs and wonders” which called into question their unbelief (Helaman 16:4, 23), many of the Nephites, and even some of the Lamanites, resorted to high-pressure arguments to rationalize their inflexibility. Here are some of those arguments:
- “Some things they may have guessed right, among so many” (Helaman 16:16). If you predict enough things, some of them are bound to happen. It doesn’t follow that your other prophecies are true.
- “It is not reasonable that such a being as a Christ shall come” (Helaman 16:18). Challenge the judgment of your audience: No sensible person would take these prophecies seriously. Would you?
- “If so…why will he not show himself unto us?” (Helaman 16:18-19). Argument by envy: Reject the prophecy because it seems so unfair!
- “Thus they will keep us in ignorance” (Helaman 16:20-21). Question the motives of the messengers: These prophets are trying to obtain or retain power over you. If you believe them, they win.
I’ve been thinking the past couple of days about the second of these arguments. What does it mean for something to be “reasonable,” and how should I respond when my beliefs are labeled as unreasonable?
A few years ago, I had the opportunity to share the origin story of the Book of Mormon with a co-worker. He was an intelligent, capable, Harvard-educated banking executive, and he was interested to learn more about my beliefs. When I said the word “angel,” his facial expression changed. Receptiveness gave way to skepticism. The idea of an angel appearing to a young man in upstate New York was simply beyond my friend’s scope of reasonableness.
My manager at the time was similarly uncomfortable with religion. But a few years later, he suffered a heart attack which caused him to rethink his boundaries of belief. Today, he is a devout Catholic, who provides training to adults preparing for baptism and who speaks about his faith with enthusiasm and with conviction.
My point in sharing these two stories is this: Don’t be intimidated by skeptics. Don’t let yourself become flustered when they label your beliefs as “unreasonable.” As Elder Paul B. Pieper has observed:
Secular voices are growing in volume and intensity. They increasingly urge believers to abandon beliefs the world considers irrational and unreasonable. Because “we see through a glass, darkly” (1 Corinthians 13:12) and “do not know the meaning of all things” (1 Nephi 11:17), at times we may feel vulnerable….
Rely on sacred personal witnesses already received when [your] faith is challenged…. These divine encounters serve as spiritual anchors to keep us safe and on course in times of trial.“To Hold Sacred,” General Conference, April 2012
Today, I will share my convictions with sincerity and without fear. I will remember that the boundaries of “reasonableness” may vary from person to person and can evolve over time as we gain experience and knowledge. I will not be shaken if my beliefs are viewed by some as unreasonable.