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Obeying When You Don’t Understand Why

Obeying When You Don’t Understand Why November 17, 2021

smiling baby
Image by Victoria Borodinova from Pixabay

Would you throw your beautiful baby out the window?

Of course you wouldn’t! But some years back, there was a family who did throw their baby out the window. Why would they do such a thing?

A Good Reason Why

Imagine walking down the street in the city. Suddenly, you see a baby plummeting to the ground. A police officer on the ground catches the baby, and you sigh in relief. Then you look up to see who would’ve dropped this baby and why.

You see that the apartment building is on fire. By throwing the baby out of the building, the family saved its life.

Just like there was a good reason why this baby was thrown out the window, there are good reasons why God gives us commandments and standards.

As we would’ve looked up to see why the baby was thrown from the building, we should also try to understand the reasons behind the commandments. As parents, teachers, and leaders, we should teach that why to our children and friends.

Elder David A. Bednar taught:

It concerns me as I see young people in our Church who know all the correct things they should do and do not have a clue as to why. . . . Do we understand why? If we do not understand the why, then the power available to us through the doctrine of Christ will not be evident in our lives.

If we strive to learn the reason why we follow Christ and His commandments, we will feel His power.

Not Knowing Why

But what do we do when there is a commandment that we don’t fully understand? We may face times when a certain commandment doesn’t make sense to us, when we don’t understand why we should follow it. Even after study and prayer, we’re still not sure. What do we do then?

A powerful answer to this question is given by our ancestors Adam and Eve. After they were driven out of the Garden of Eden, God “gave unto them commandments, that they should . . . offer the firstlings of their flocks, for an offering unto the Lord. And Adam was obedient unto the commandments of the Lord” (Moses 5:5).

We sometimes assume that this was easy, but these animals were likely needed for other purposes, such as food. It may have been difficult for Adam and Eve to follow this commandment.

But they still did what the Lord commanded, until one day, they were visited by an angel.

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.

And then the angel spake, saying: This thing is a similitude of the sacrifice of the Only Begotten of the Father, which is full of grace and truth.

Wherefore, thou shalt do all that thou doest in the name of the Son, and thou shalt repent and call upon God in the name of the Son forevermore. (Moses 5:6-8)

The angel gave Adam and Eve a reason for the commandment. But it is important to highlight that they followed the commandment for many days without knowing the reason why. They acted on faith that God had a reason, even if they didn’t know it. There will be many times in life when we are told to do something by the Spirit or by the Lord’s prophets, and for many days, perhaps many years, we will not know why.

Faith to Obey

One of our purposes here on earth is to develop faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Without faith, it is “impossible to please [God]” (Hebrews 11:6).

The first lecture in the Lectures on Faith states that faith is “the principle of action in all intelligent beings” (emphasis added). Sometimes the Lord wants us to act without knowing the reason why. Such action will increase our faith. Elder Boyd K. Packer taught:

Faith, to be faith, must center around something that is not known. Faith, to be faith, must go beyond that for which there is confirming evidence. . . . Faith, to be faith, must walk to the edge of the light, and then a few steps into the darkness. If everything has to be known, if everything has to be explained, if everything has to be certified, then there is no need for faith. Indeed, there is no room for it.

This does not mean that we should not try to know the reason why. I hope that as we teach others, we appropriately focus on the why behind the commandments. Knowing and teaching the why will connect us more fully with Christ.

But in times when the why might not be clear, I hope that we can continue to obey God’s words as we await further clarification. Acting in faith will also connect us with Christ. May Adam’s words resonate in our hearts—“I know not, save the Lord commanded me.”

About John Hilton III
John Hilton III is an Associate Professor in Religious Education at Brigham Young University. He received a M.Ed. degree from Harvard University and a Ph.D. in Instructional Psychology and Technology from Brigham Young University. John has authored over ninety articles and written twelve books, including Considering the Cross: How Calvary Connects Us with Christ. John and his wife Lani have six children. They have lived in Boise, Boston, Miami, Mexico, Jerusalem and China. Currently, they live in Utah. In his spare time John enjoys practicing magic tricks and learning Chinese. You can read more about the author here.

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