This week, we were honored to bring back Michael Wilcox for one of the most spiritually-enriching discussions we’ve ever had. We’ve discovered just how well-versed he is in all world religions, not just in Latter-day Saint theology.
This episode will be coming in two parts. In this first part, Brother Wilcox explains why it is that he’s spent so much time with the ideas and in the holy books of other religions. In his words: “God has been speaking to his children all the time. Every way he can, everywhere…I can hear (his voice in) the voice of a sage, or a philosopher or a poet or playwright. God’s voice is like an orchestra. We believe in a God that is speaking all the time, everywhere, every way he can.”
And in the second part, to be released next week, we’ll get into some of his favorite ideas and passages from sacred texts like the Qur’an, the Bhagavad Gita, and several others. It’s remarkable to see some of their most beautiful ideas echo so strongly with some of our own cherished beliefs.
Michael Wilcox received his PhD from the University of Colorado and taught for many years at the LDS Institute of Religion, adjacent to the University of Utah. He has spoken to packed crowds at BYU Education Week and has hosted tours to the Holy Land, China, Church history sites, and many others. He’s also written several books. He and his late wife, Laurie, are the parents of five children.
Aubrey Chaves: Hey everybody. This is Aubrey Chaves from Faith Matters. This week, we were honored to bring back Michael Wilcox for one of the most interesting discussions we’ve ever had. We’ve discovered as we’ve gotten to know him, just how well versed he is in all of the world’s religions, not just Latter-Day Saint theology. So we’re breaking this episode into two parts.
In the first part, Brother Wilcox explains why it is that he spent so much time with the ideas and in the holy books of other religions. And to give you a little preview in his words, he said, “God has been speaking to his children all the time. Every way he can, everywhere. I can hear his voice and the voice of a sage or a philosopher or a poet or playwright. God’s voice is like an orchestra. We believe in a God that is speaking all the time, everywhere, every way he can.”
And in the second part, which will air next week, we actually get into some of his favorite ideas and passages from books like the Quran, the Bhagavad Gita, and several others. It’s been really remarkable to see how so many of these beautiful ideas echo so strongly in our own cherished beliefs.
And then many of you are familiar with Brother Wilcox, but just to give you a little background, he received his PhD from the University of Colorado, and taught for many years at the LDS Institute of Religion, adjacent to the University of Utah. He’s spoken to packed crowds at BYU Education Week, and is hosted tours to the Holy Land, China, Church history sites, and many others. He’s written several books and he and his late wife, Laurie, are the parents of five children. All right, thanks so much for listening. And with that, we’ll jump right into the episode.
Tim Chaves: All right, Michael Wilcox, thank you so much again for coming back and joining us on the podcast.
Michael Wilcox: Oh, my pleasure. I had a lot of fun last time.
Tim Chaves: We did too. We did too, and we wanted to have you back as soon as possible. This particular conversation actually grew out of a conversation that we had off air, after we finished recording the last episode, in which you shared an analogy that really stuck with us. It’s analogy that has to do with a compass, the drawing tool, not the directional tool, and how will it relates to your approach to finding truth? Maybe we could start, would you share that analogy?
Michael Wilcox: Yeah. I can’t actually, it’s the last gift my wife gave me before she died. So it’s a navigator’s compass. It’s not a scout compass that shows directions. I actually brought it for those who can see it.
A navigators compass has two feet. And one of those feet, I call the fixed foot. And one of them, I call the searching foot. And maybe I love the compass, because when I was a little boy, I couldn’t draw a circle to save my soul. And a teacher gave me a compass, and she said, “If you’ll just fix the foot, if you’ll just plant the one foot, and there’s a little lad in the other one, you’ll be able to draw a perfect circle.” I was a little bit unbelieving at first, but I did draw a perfect circle. And then for the next months, I went circle crazy. I drew circles on everything.
And because of that, I’ve loved the compass. I’ve traveled a lot in the world. And I think the question has never been, as we’re looking at other religions, other cultures, other people, the question has never been, let’s find the one true faith, the one true religion, the best culture, whatever, among all the false ones. That’s not the question. The question is, where will I find truth and goodness and beauty in its most mature form?
And that is where I want to plant my fixed foot. Now, part of the purpose of the searching foot is, it’s looking for a fixed point, but I want to try and find a fixed position. So if you’re Muslim, you think truth and goodness and beauty in its most mature form is in the Quran and the teachings of the prophet Muhammad. If you’re a Buddhist, it’s in the Dhammapada and the teachings of Eightfold Path of the Buddha. If you’re Catholic, you fix your foot, you think it’s in the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, as those teachings are passed down through Catholic tradition. If you’re Protestant, teachings of Jesus of Nazareth in need of reformation. If you’re a Latter-Day Saint, we believe it’s in the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, as seen through the lens of the restoration. So I fixed that, I plant, I fixed that foot.
Now I have this other foot that I call the searching foot that wants, that yearns, that reaches for all truth, all goodness, all beauty, wherever it can find it. So many people, unfortunately, of all religions and cultures, I mean, I’m applying this to religion, I can apply it in other ways, they take the searching foot and they put it right up close, next to the fixed frame, and they draw this little tiny circle around it, for a number of reasons.
Maybe they don’t think there’s anything out there. We have it all. Maybe they’re afraid of what’s out there. Maybe they’re too lazy to look for what’s out there. There may be a lot of reasons why people don’t. But what we want to do as Latter-Day Saints, as Christians, is to reach out. I just want to stretch that searching foot as far as I can, and draw the biggest circle. Now I haven’t moved my fixed foot, so I don’t have to think, you don’t have to fear what’s out there. I can stay planted, but I want to reach out and see.
And I will find that as I reach out, I have found in life that there will be some things other faiths, other cultures, other approaches to life may do better than I do. The head of the Harvard Divinity School, Krister Stendahl, called that holy envy. There are things that they’d made you better than me, and it will enhance and enrich all that I have. So I’ve tried to do that in my life.
I think I started out life very narrow, I think probably most of us do, with small circles. God spoke to the Old Testament prophets, Jesus came, the Apostles we had, for Latter-Day Saints, the Book of Mormon, there’s a restoration. We’ll give a little credit to the reformers, but it’s a fairly small understanding of God’s interaction with man. And yet we say he loves all his children. So now, I would say, God has been speaking to his children all the time, every way he can, everywhere. And if I can’t hear the voice of an Apostle or a prophet, maybe I can hear the voice of a sage or a philosopher or a poet or a playwright or an artist or in the lives of beautiful men and women.
So that’s kind of my approach. There will be times I can’t reach out far enough. I’ll have to move my fixed foot. I’ll have to give up something, if I’m going to accept another, there are limits. I want a broad circle, but there are certainly going to be things that I can embrace without giving something up. Anyway, I hope that’s-
Aubrey Chaves: Oh, it’s so good.
Michael Wilcox: … what you’re looking for.
Aubrey Chaves: Yes. I just can feel my soul just light up with this idea. I love this metaphor. I wondered if you would talk specifically about those of us who have our fixed foot in the restoration, and what do we have inside our tradition that sort of feels permission to seek for goodness?
Because I think we have a lot of, specifically, restoration scripture that talks about this idea. But then on the other hand, we have language like the fullness of the gospel, and I think there’s another way to think about our tradition as complete, that we have it all. Isn’t that literally what we mean by fullness of the gospel? That’s what’s special about it, that we don’t need anything else. So would you talk about how you reconcile both of those?
Michael Wilcox: I reconcile.
Aubrey Chaves: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Michael Wilcox: We take the phrase, fullness of the gospel, there’s another phrase we use in the Church, in the scriptures that I think has equal weight, it’s, the dispensation of the fullness of times, the fullness of times. Now, we can play with that phrase a lot, but I would say fullness of times, as I understand it, as I look at it is that God is saying, in your modern world, with all the advantages that you have, I get to look back and take all the goodness and the beauty and the truth of all times, all climbs, all places. So I get Shakespeare and I get Michelangelo and I can have Confucius. And I got to have the Book of Mormon and I can have the Bible. I get Francis of Assisi. I get Joan of Arc. I get Tolstoy and Dostoevsky.
I get all this richness and fullness of God’s interaction with man in not just the religious realm. So fullness of the gospel, great. We might say, “Our fixed foot point is the best place to understand Jesus, and what he came to do for us.” Because we have this other testament of him, this Book of Mormon, because God is present in the Latter-Day Saint faith. He’s not just a past God.
So I think the phrase fullness of the gospel is great, but let’s weigh it with fullness of times, and then we get to go out and get all the fullness. Even in a religious perspective, I sometimes like to take people to 2 Nephi 29. I like 2 Nephi 29, because it’s the a Bible, a Bible, we have a Bible. So it’s the scripture that Latter-Day Saints use to say to the rest of the Christian world, “Why are you against more? Okay, here’s another testament of Christ.”
But if we’re not careful, we might find ourselves saying a Book of Mormon, a Book of Mormon, we have a Book of Mormon or a doctrine and covenants in, and we have to just be careful, we don’t limit. God has been speaking all the time, everywhere, every way he can.
So in 2 Nephi 29, just look at these phrases, God is speaking to you and I to this question. And he says, “Know ye not that there are more nations than one.” There’s a China. There’s an India. There’s a Europe. “Know ye not that I, the Lord your God, created all man, more nations, and they’re all mine. I remember those who were upon the isles of the sea.” I’ve learned beautiful things from Polynesian mythology, beautiful things. We go a little bit further. He says, “I remember one nation like unto another. I command all man, both in the east and in the west and in the north and in the south, and in the islands of the sea.” In other words, in the tiniest speck of land, I’m speaking. I’m interacting. I’m engaging. I’m giving. “That they shall write the words, which I speak unto them.”
It sounds like it’s everywhere. And then this, “I speak unto the Jews, they’ll write it.” Okay, we got that point, that’s the Bible. “I speak under the Nephites, they’ll write it.” We got that, Book of Mormon. “I’ll speak under the other tribes of the house of Israel,” there’s debate on that, “which I’ve led away.” And this one that we, I think, miss, “I shall also speak unto all nations of the earth and they shall write it.”
And so I raised my hand, I say, “Lord, when did you speak to the Chinese?” And I can just hear him say, “Mike, well, haven’t you read the Analects of Confucius?” We can do a little bit in there. I brought it.
Aubrey Chaves: Did you?
Michael Wilcox: Haven’t you haven’t you read Mencius? Have you read the Dao De Ching?” “Well, when did you speak in India?” “Haven’t you studied the life of the Buddha and some of his teachings.” So I think that there is ample permission in Latter-Day Saints scripture, section 88, “I want you to learn about everything,” he says. Alma 29, then I’ll quit, and let you ask another question.
Aubrey Chaves: No, this is great.
Michael Wilcox: Alma says, this is when he wants to be an angel, “Oh, I want to just spread Latter-Day Saintism, as I think you called it in one of your [inaudible]-
Tim Chaves: I got that from Terryl Givens [crosstalk].
Michael Wilcox: Because we can’t call it Mormonism anymore, right?
Tim Chaves: Yeah, exactly.
Michael Wilcox: We got to eliminate word Mormon. Alma wants to just spread this message. And then he says, “The Lord doth grant unto all nations, of their own nation and tongue, to teach his word. In wisdom, all that he seeth fit that they should have.” So I just want all that. I want God’s footprint… I want to see his footprints everywhere. And I do. And it just enriches and enhances. I’m not moving my fixed foot. I may have to adjust it a little bit.
And we do missionary work, because we were hoping people will move the fixed foo. We say, “We believe we have the best fixing point, the most stable, solid, which will enable you to embrace and correlate and mingle together, and live by all the goodness and truth and beauty in the world.” That’s what we say, but we certainly don’t say, “See our little circle. This is it.”
Aubrey Chaves: I love that you say that, if you can’t hear these words, you may hear it from a sage or from art or from music. And back to 2 Nephi, just a few chapters later in chapter 31, he says that “God will speak according to the language and understanding of the people.” And I love the idea that maybe that means not language. Maybe that means that God reaches you through music or through art. And so that just is one more layer of exploration that I think sounds really interesting.
Because we talk about like the apostasy, there was all this darkness, and there were no holy books I’m like. I think Fiona Givens was the one who pointed this out, that if you’re looking for more than holy books… I mean, holy books from Europe or from Jerusalem or the United States or the Americas, then you have this whole other world of art that God was reaching his people through.
So you have this book 10 Great Souls I want to Meet in Heaven, and I love the prologue of this book. I want the prologue to also be its own book, because it really hits on all of these points that you’re making. And I love that you ask, you say, “Surely God would speak to humanity through every voice.” Like every voice, and I don’t think that necessarily has to be text. And I just love entertaining that idea. Like, how else has God trying to reach humanity?
Michael Wilcox: Yeah. God’s voice is like an orchestra, and Apostles and prophets, maybe they’re the violins, they dominate, but we have other things out there. And the greatest sermon, I think, that has ever been preached on the dignity of man is Michelangelo’s David. To stand and look at that, and I feel guilty, I get to do it often. It’s a solemn religious experience. This is man. This is God’s noblest creation. Forward-looking strong, dignified, self-assured the highest thing God created.
If I were on a island and I couldn’t take scripture with me, I’d take Shakespeare. There isn’t anything better for understanding the human experience. I underline Shakespeare as much as the Bible, as the Book of Mormon. He’s beautiful. So, yeah, there’s a lot of voices and we want to hear them all. I want the whole orchestra, if I can get it.
Tim Chaves: Let me ask one thing that’s sort of been on my mind as you’ve been speaking about this, I’m wondering why it is that sometimes, culturally, I think we, we do tend to draw those smaller circles? The thing that comes to mind for me, very first is my own mission experience, where we would go back to one of the accounts at the first vision, I think it’s the one that we publish in the Pearl of Great Price. But that essentially, tells us that part of the answer that Joseph received was that, none of the other churches were true.
And it sort of sets up then to me, at least from a very simplistic point of view, this idea of a binary between this Church being true and all other churches being false. And if that’s true, then what’s really the point of looking, I guess you could say at other churches, but also we’re talking about, obviously, much more broadly than that as a whole?
So I guess I just use that as an example, but to ask more broadly, why is it, do you think, that we sometimes tend to bring those two feet so close together? And what are some practices, if we find ourselves in that sort of mindset, that will actually help us broaden the angle?
Michael Wilcox: Well, I think part of the reasons we tend to draw a smaller circle is, for years, the church was under attack and you’re defensive. And when you’re defensive, you put your fists up.
Tim Chaves: Yes.
Michael Wilcox: You’re defending what you have, and you can’t look at what others have under those circumstances. Now, I don’t know, in this context, we want to go into maybe why the Lord would have said some of the specific Christian doctrines that Joseph Smith is going to clarify, that would cause the Lord to say, “I really don’t want you to go after these.” He’s in a New England environment, for instance, and I hate to ever criticize other doctrines or ideas.
But the idea that God has elected just a few people for salvation, everybody else is going to be damned. If you are God and you are loving and you’re doing what I’m claiming he’s doing here, speaking every way he can to everybody, I don’t want to worship that kind of God. That restrictive of God. I’ve talked to other Christian people who are absolutely certain that no Muslim, no Buddhist, no Latter-Day Saint has any hope at all whatsoever of heaven.
So I can understand the Lord’s instruction to Joseph about be careful of the other faiths. And I think he’s saying, be careful of it, because they have a very small circle and we don’t want to make the same mistake of having a very small circle.
But when you’re on the defensive, you tend to defend what you have. Islam in a sense is going through this a little bit. Fundamentalism arises out of often, you feel you’re under attack. So we’re not so much under attack now, we’re more comfortable with ourselves. We’re more comfortable in interacting with people. And because of that, we’re a little freer to go out and look. I think we have a tendency too much to quote ourselves, if I can say it that way.
Tim Chaves: We do love to quote ourselves, yes.
Michael Wilcox: I love the Ensign. I don’t want to be critical of any church, certainly not my own, but if I’m going to be critical of a faith, better that I be critical of my own than somebody else’s.
Tim Chaves: Sure.
Michael Wilcox: So maybe it’s just my own observation, but we just tend to quote ourselves exclusively. If I read the Ensign, occasionally, Elder Holland, maybe will quote a great literary master or something. So when I have written, and when I teach, deliberately, I don’t quote us. It’s just a habit that I’m not going to quote us. And sometimes when I publish something with Desert Book, I’ll get a new editor that doesn’t know this about me. I mean, I’ll quote a few things, if I need it, but I consciously try not to quote us. Not that I don’t think we have a great things to say. I just want people to reach out with a searching foot a little bit more.
And a new editor will say, “Well, you need to quote the brethren or some…” and I’ll have to explain to them, that-
Aubrey Chaves: It was deliberate.
Michael Wilcox: If I can quote Confucius or Francis of Assisi or Tolstoy or Dostoevsky or Dickens or David Livingston, I’m going to quote them. Because, for me, it is extremely important that we believe in a God who is speaking all the time, everywhere, every way he can, and that we tune our ears to those things.
I don’t have to move my fixed foot. We need a fixed foot. Part of the challenges of today’s world is that people don’t even believe maybe there is a place to fix. George Bernard Shaw is a Anglo-Irish philosopher said, “The new golden rule is there is no golden rule.” And so the old dialogue, the old conversations between the ages and the countries of, what is the best way to live? What is the right way to live? What defines the good person? Those questions that everybody’s wrestling with, we’re not sure we should even be asking those questions now. We don’t think in the last couple of centuries that there is a possibility to answer those questions.
Part of the restoration was to affirm, we can answer those questions, we’re trying to answer those questions, we’re searching to answer those questions. We want to find the fixed foot, if we can, but then let’s not draw a little circle around it. I don’t know if that-
Aubrey Chaves: Yeah, definitely. And I wanted to ask you that, because I think that I can see the appeal of kind of having this surface level relationship with all of the best, what feels like it especially resonates with you across the world, with religions across the world, specifically. So is there something especially growth inducing about going deep in one place?
Michael Wilcox: Yeah. I think it is at the deep level, we find all the similarities and correlations. It is at the core, at the beginnings of Islam, of Buddhism, of Chinese wisdom, Christianity, of Judaism. It’s in the beginnings that you find all the similarities. Religions have a tendency to make complex, the simple. We just like an onion, we just add layer and layer, and you get ritual and then different things on it, and pretty soon those core values, ideals that all people share that really make us better people, get hidden.
So for instance, a very easy one to see, what is the key operative value, the center of what a good person is in China, in Confucianism? The keyword taught by Confucius and Mencius and all the big philosophers, the sages they call them, is benevolence. Benevolence, harmony, courtesy. These define the ideal human being. Benevolence is the big one.
Aubrey Chaves: Wow.
Michael Wilcox: Now I go to India, the teachings of the Buddha, what is the core, deep value that defines, we’re aiming for? And the word is compassion, selflessness. Well, I go to Christianity, what is the core essential as Paul says, “We have three big ones, faith, hope, charity.” But then he tells us of those three, which is the big virtue, and which is it, charity, empathy, mercy, forgiveness. Now I look at… let’s take those three words, benevolence, compassion, charity. Is there any real difference between those three words?
Those words are the same. So in the core, when I go deeper, when I peel the layers back, and I get past the outer forms that religion develops, I will find beautiful, deep things. Great minds, great hearts, I’ve discovered as I’ve tried to look for God’s voice everywhere. Great minds, great hearts for them, the similarities are always more important than the differences. For small minds and small hearts, the differences are always more important than the similarities, and you can write that down in stone. You are going to find that every single time.
So we want large minds and large hearts. I actually brought this, maybe you have another question and I… When I would go to China, I like to stop in Xi’an, there’s a stele, a stone. There are words in China worth writing on stone. There are words in all cultures worth writing on stone. And there’s a little Temple to Confucius, actually, where they have all the great Chinese classics in stone, engraved.
Aubrey Chaves: Wow.
Michael Wilcox: We like them in metal plates. They like them in stone. And when Christianity entered China, the year is 633, when this was written, it’s still there. It’s one of the great treasures of China. It’s called a Monument Commemorating the Propagation of the Luminous Religion of the West, the luminous religion of the west was Christianity. Here it comes into China.
The emperor reads the Christian scriptures that have been translated for him into Chinese. He’s got to decide if he’s going to let it be preached in China. He reads it and carves on this stele, these words, “The way for humanity at different times and different places did not have the same name, and the great sage at different times and different places was not in the same human body. Over history, heaven ordained that true religion would be established in different countries and different climates, so that all of humanity could be saved and benefited. And we’ve considered the Christian scriptures…”
Here’s an emperor, a Chinese, Daoists, he’s Confucian, “And we’ve considered the Christian scriptures, and have decided that in all their essentials, they are about the core values of humanity. And we have decreed that they be propagated throughout the empire.”
Aubrey Chaves: Wow.
Michael Wilcox: That’s a high level of civilization. That’s an open. It’s the Tang Dynasty. It’s a very confident period in Chinese history. And when you’re confident in your own fixed foot, you don’t fear going out and looking at other places. You don’t fear.
Tim Chaves: Yeah.
Aubrey Chaves: Wow, that’s so true.
Tim Chaves: This point that you’re making is actually made by Patrick Mason in his book Restoration, too, he calls it the Fortress Church. And he says, “When we were under attack, we built up this fortress around ourselves.” And I think what he’s saying is, and that caused this sort of isolation of sentiment where we are afraid of reaching out. And he’s kind of making the point that you’re making, like, guys we’re we’re okay now. We can let the drawbridge down.
Michael Wilcox: We can. Yeah.
Tim Chaves: And I wanted to ask you, too, a clarifying point, and based on a couple of things you said, I’m not sure if you and I see this the exact same way, and that would be totally okay, too. But I guess I like the idea that there are fixed feet planted by wonderful souls, all around the world, that are not fixed in what we’re calling Latter-Day Saintism. And I think it may be the case that it’s totally appropriate for me to have my fixed foot in Latter-Day Saintism. But I think of some of these special souls that have really affected my life, Richard Rohr, for instance, the Franciscan theologian and mystic.
And he’s so deep and drawing so much wisdom from the Catholic and Franciscan traditions that, that’s giving me light, but I think it’s only because his foot is fixed there. And I think we could probably say the same about Confucius or Mohammad, or anyone.
Michael Wilcox: Well, you might say, certainly, if it’s Franciscan, that our foot’s fixed in the same place.
Tim Chaves: Yeah, okay. Yeah.
Michael Wilcox: It’s in Jesus of Nazareth.
Tim Chaves: Sure.
Michael Wilcox: So there is something about Helaman says, “Remember, remember, it is upon the rock of your Redeemer, that you must build your foundation.” So we do affirm that Jesus of Nazareth, we would hope everybody would fix the foot there. If they’re not going to fix the foot there, at least send your searching foot out and encompass his teachings. Jesus’ teachings is what I call velvet truth. I don’t know any other way to say it. It’s velvet truth. There’s something uniquely positive and beautiful that keeps my foot fixed there. And I just call it velvet. It’s just soft. It’s prodigal son, a good Samaritan. There’s a softness. It’s him looking up at the tree to find the Zacchaeus and bring him down. It’s inclusive. There’s a softness in that foot.
Tim Chaves: I feel that too, yeah.
Michael Wilcox: I look at Joseph Smith, there’s something… I stick my foot in the restoration, because Joseph gives us an expansive concept of humanity. It’s massive. We have an eternal past of intelligence, spirit, family of God, this infinite past, and this divine deified, destiny in the future. So Joseph just expands man. He gives us eternal family.
The Latter-Day Saint religion takes love’s demands seriously, by nature love demands eternal relationships. All the love songs are all about it. All the poetry’s about it. Well, we take love’s demands seriously, and we have been enshrined as our highest ordinance, our highest sacred space is where love is taken seriously.
The Danes say, “When two people will not love each other forever, their love is not we’re talking about.” And that’s not just husband/wife, that’s parent/child, that’s-
Tim Chaves: Wow. I like that.
Michael Wilcox: So the temple is a unique element that keeps my foot fixed there. Joseph teaches us, God is a present God. He’s present. He’s a revealing. He speaks, he didn’t spake to obscure boys and girls, which is what he calls himself. So there’s something about the nature of our highest ordinances, about the presence of God. He’s here. He didn’t speak in the past. He’s now. He’s present. And that expansive massive vision of the dignity of the human soul that keeps my foot fixed, and says, even to the Franciscans, “We were both fixed in Jesus, but let me show you something else.”
Hopefully, everybody, wherever they fix their foot, believes deeply in it. But as you reach out with the searching foot, you’re going to find out your fixed foot isn’t so far away from the Buddhist foot or the Confucian foot or the Jewish foot or the Catholic foot or the Orthodox foot. In the core, deep, essentially, you’re going to find that, that’s true. I don’t know if that helps.
Aubrey Chaves: Love that. Yes.
Tim Chaves: That’s beautiful. Thank you. And we want to spend quite a bit of time, if you’re okay with it, on some of the examples of the things that you found with searching foot, that you’ve been searching with for decades. But I wanted to ask-
Michael Wilcox: Sure.
Tim Chaves: … maybe one question before we get there is, how do you recognize God’s voice in your search? Obviously, not all ideas are true, not all ideas are useful, and you must have some sort of heuristic that helps you determine, when you’re searching, what really is God’s voice?
Michael Wilcox: Okay. Yeah, I do have one Moroni and Mormon give it to me. I mean, I find it other places, but this is probably the best place. So in Ether chapter four, Moroni is talking and he’s giving us, I’m sure he got it from his father Mormon out of Moroni 7, I’ll go there real quick. He kind of gives us a backwards formula that we get from Moroni 10:4. Moroni 10:4 is, you read, you pray, God manifests the truth. So that kind of puts all the weight on God. So people sometimes get a little frustrated, how come God’s not answering me, because he’s the one that’s got to tell me if it’s truth and goodness?
And I say, “Well, let’s look at another formula by the same author.” Ether 4:11 and 12, “He that believeth these things, which I have spoken,” he’s talking about the Book of Mark, “him will I visit with the manifestations of my spirit.” Now that sounds backwards to me. I believe first, and then he manifests. I swear that’s backwards.
“And he shall know and bear record.” Well, that’s the word we love. I know this Church is true. Actually, the doctrine and covenant says, “and living.” I just wish people would get up and say, “I know this church is living.”
Tim Chaves: Oh, that’s interesting.
Aubrey Chaves: Wow.
Michael Wilcox: It means it matures. It grows. It adapts. It changes. That’s not all at once, we ought to be better as a people now than we were in 1850.
Aubrey Chaves: Wow, that’s a great point.
Michael Wilcox: We ought to have better insight. We ought to be able to apply the gospel better. We ought to understand our doctrines better. So he says, “They’ll know and bear record. Believe the spirit would be manifested. You can now go out and bear record.” Now, how will I know in order to believe, he says, “Because of my spirit, he shall know that these things are true.” Why? “For it persuadeth men to do good, and whatsoever thing persuadeth men to do good is of me.”
That’s just plain and simple, “For good cometh of none save it be of me. I am the same that leadeth men to all good.” That’s our search. That’s what that searching foot is. I want all good. And so now I read something. I read the Book of Mormon. I read the Quran. I read a great novel. I look at a great piece of art. And I asked myself, as I read some of the teachings of the Buddha, does this persuade me to do good? Or of the Catholic saint, does this persuade me to do good? And if I read the Book of Mormon, my answer is, “Well, yes, it’s obviously persuading men to do good.”
So what do I know? It’s of God. And I do that with everything. Section 91, the Lord says, “Do that with the Apocrypha.” Because Joseph is saying, “Do I need to straighten out the Apocrypha?” Which is in a Catholic Bible and not in Protestant Bible. And the Lord says, “No, you don’t need to do it. People have the spirit, they can read it. And if they read it with the spirit, they’ll find benefit in it.” I just say, that’s true of everything. In Moroni 7, he just really emphasizes that same thing, “That which is of God,” I get two more verbs. I have persuades to do good in Ether 4, and Moroni 7, I get invites and entices. Lovely verbs, persuade, invite, entice.
“That which is of God invites and entices to do good continually, wherefore, everything which inviteth and enticeth it to do good, and to love God, and to serve him, is inspired of God.” Now you can’t read about Francis of Assisi or Patrick of Ireland, and not see somebody who’s inviting and enticing and persuading you to do good, to love God, and to serve him. And so what do I know about those people? That doesn’t mean everything they do I embrace. Everything Latter-Day Saint prophets say and do isn’t always the best.
The doctrine and covenants makes plain that they’re going to make mistakes and they’re going to err and they’ll sin. It’s kind of a little bit humorous, but Catholics believe, as a point of doctrine, they’re Pope is infallible, but nobody believes it. Mormons admit that their prophets are not infallible, but nobody believes that either. Okay, so we-
Aubrey Chaves: At least not currently, right? I think we are so uncomfortable with that idea, with current leadership. We’re getting more and more comfortable saying, “Oh, it was a long time ago.”
Michael Wilcox: Let people be human. Let them make a few mistakes. Not say things exactly the way they want. They’re going to be right nine out of 10 times. So then he goes on, “It is given unto you to judge.” You judge, and what do I have to judge? Does it invite, persuade, and entice me to do good, to be good, to love God, to serve my fellow man. “That ye may know good from evil; and the way to judge is as plain, that ye may know where the perfect knowledge, as the daylight is from the dark night. I show him to you the way to judge.”
He really is pounding this into us isn’t it?
Aubrey Chaves: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Michael Wilcox: “Everything which inviteth to do good and persuade to believe in Christ, is sent forth by the power and the gift of Christ and God.” So I just have to read, and I can hear God say to me, “Mike does this persuade and entice and invite you to do good, and to be good, and to love and to serve.” And I say, “Yes, Lord.” “Then what do you know?” “It’s of you.”
Aubrey Chaves: Wow.
Michael Wilcox: Now, if you want to make a hierarchy of, well, but my scriptures are going to be a little bit higher than my Shakespeare or something, but that’s how I do it. That’s the question I’m asking.
Aubrey Chaves: That’s such a simple litmus test, I love it.
Michael Wilcox: Very simple. And then I get to incorporate it. I get to marry it to my religion. I get to-
Aubrey Chaves: Yes.
Michael Wilcox: It becomes one of the children of Latter-Day Saintism, if that’s our new phrase. I get to incorporate Saint Teresa’s teachings on prayer. She had beautiful teachings on prayer. I get to own it. It’s mine. I don’t have to be afraid of it, and say, “Well, a Catholic saint did that. So I have to turn…” No, I say it invites and persuades and entices me to do good, and therefore, it belongs to me-
Aubrey Chaves: Yeah. And-
Michael Wilcox: … because it belongs to my God.
Aubrey Chaves: Yes. Yeah. And wasn’t Joseph Smith such a good example of that. That’s what he did, just like gathering, gathering, gathering truth, and asking people to do the same. Let it come from where it may or what… do you remember that-
Michael Wilcox: Yeah, Joseph’s mind was expansive. Yeah. Yeah. “Thy mind, oh man. If thou wilts lead a soul unto salvation, must stretch,” he said, “as high as the utmost heavens and search into the darkest abyss and the broad expanse of eternity.”
Aubrey Chaves: Wow.
Michael Wilcox: That’s what we want to do, as high as you can go and as low, from the top to the bottom, and as broad-
Aubrey Chaves: Yes.
Michael Wilcox: … as you can look, you’re going to look. And I still get to do what? I’m still fixed.
Aubrey Chaves: Fixed.
Michael Wilcox: Okay. I’m still fixed, but I’m enriching my fixed point, because when I go to God, I want my circle to contain all the good that I possibly could to gather on Earth. I want to see him everywhere, as, Edna St. Vincent Millay said, in a poem, “I can put my finger between the blades of grass and find God.”
Aubrey Chaves: All right, thanks so much for listening. We hope you enjoyed the first part of this two-part conversation with Michael Wilcox. Like I mentioned, in next week’s episode, we’ll jump into several specific books and ideas from traditions around the world that really resonated with us as Latter-Day Saints. And as always, if Faith Matters content is resonating with you and you get the chance, we would love for you to leave us a review on Apple Podcast or whatever platform you listen on. It really helps us to get the word out about Faith Matters, and we really appreciate the support. Thanks so much for listening, and as always, you can check out more at faithmatters.org.