Hugh Nibley’s Faith Crisis Solved by Prayer

Hugh Nibley (1910-2005). There may be some reading this who don’t know much about Hugh Nibley. I got acquainted with him in the 1970’s, attended his class, lectures and had the opportunity to talk with him on a few occasions. For anyone interested in knowing more about him I suggest reading “Hugh Nibley A Consecrated Life” (The Wikipedia piece on Nibley just doesn’t give the reader even the slightest idea of who he was). Those who knew Nibley the best say that there will never be another Nibley. He was a unique personality and faithful follower of Christ.

When Nibley was 26 years old the depression was in full bloom and creating economic challenges for him. In addition he was having questions about the gospel, we might say it was a faith crisis. From his biography:

“Those were desperate time, remembers Hugh. This was not only the Depression, but this was when all the world going bad. He was getting by–it was not easy, nor was it pleasant–but it was a new reality that he felt he had to face. I had been feeling that I would have to be entirely independent and I didn’t want to depend on anybody. That fact left Hugh discouraged. It also led him t see certain flaws in the gospel, as he put it. One Sunday afternoon, he went to Mount Wilson and slogged around in the heavy snow, brooding about theology. I was terribly bothered about this afterlife business and that sort of thing. I had no evidence for that whatever.

That evening, he attended sacrament meeting in the Hollywood Ward with his family. It was Hugh’s first visit since his family had moved into the ward after he went to Berkeley, but he was impressed by the speaker that night: Matthias F. Cowley. Cowley, ordained an apostle in 1897, had resigned under pressure in 1905 and then had his priesthood suspended in 1911 for his adherence to the principle and practice of post-Manifesto polygamy. He returned to full fellowship, though not to his former office, in April 1936…Following the meeting, Hugh’s mother took him up to the front of the meeting hall to meet Brother Cowley. As soon as he took my hand, he said, come with me, Hugh says. He took me into the back room there and he said, I want to give you a blessing. In the blessing, Cowley stated that the Lord was award of his questions and would give me an answer immediately.

Within the week, Hugh was stricken with appendicitis and taken to the Seventh-Day Adventist Hospital in Loma Linda, not far from San Bernardino. Dr. Raymond Weyland, the family physician, was in charge of the operation. When he turned the ether on, Hugh swallowed his tongue and stopped breathing. The staff scrambled for the resuscitator, panicking when it was nowhere to be found. Meanwhile, Hugh could hear everything that was going on…Something big’s going to happen, and sure enough. Then, pop! Then it happened. Then all of a sudden down this thing like a tube, you know, you get sucked down this thing and you come out. [I thought,] Oh, boy, I know everything, and everything is there, and this is what I wanted to know! Three cheers, and all this sort of thing. … All I wanted was to know whether there was anything on the other side, and when I came out there, I didn’t meet anything or anybody else, but I looked around. and not only was in all possession of my faculties, but they were tremendous. I was light as a feather and ready to go, you see.” Hugh Nibley: A Consecrated Life, Pages 114-115.

Years later, reflecting on his Near Death Experience, Nibley said,

[Absolute knowledge of the afterlife] gives me a great relief, so that’s why I don’t take this very seriously down here. We’re just sort of dabbling around, playing around, being tested for our moral qualities, and above all the two things we can be good at, and no two other things can we do: We can forgive, and we can repent. It’s the gospel of repentance. We’re told that the angels envy men their ability both to forgive and to repent because they can’t do either, you see. But nobody’s very clever, nobody’s very brave, nobody’s very strong, nobody’s very wise. We’re all pretty stupid, you see. Nobody’s very anything. We’re not tested on those things, but in the things the angels envy us for — we can forgive, and we can repent. So, three cheers, let’s start repenting as of now. H. Nibley, Faith of an Observer, p. 162.

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