September 17, 2013 by FHElessons
I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, a.k.a. the Mormons. In this article I will be discussing “testimony.” What I mean by testimony is a belief or knowledge that the gospel of Jesus Christ is true and right and that the LDS Church is the church which teaches that gospel in its fullness and contains the ordinances necessary for us to return to live again with our Heavenly Father.
If you are using this Q&A session as an outline for a lesson for FHE or other (this is actually a lesson I gave in Young Women’s a few years back), I suggest you ask each question and allow the class/your family to answer and discuss it first. You can use the quotes and scriptures that I have in the “answer” section to guide your discussion or you can present the information after the class has finished giving their answers.
Hymn Suggestion: Testimony #137
For an introduction to my new Why I Believe series for this blog, please scroll down to the end of this post.
Gaining a Testimony
Q: Is it okay to question the truthfulness of the gospel?
A: For many years I have owned a book called A Thoughtful Faith: Essays on Belief by Mormon Scholars. It is a fantastic book, and I will talk more about it below. But in answering the above question, I would like to quote from one of the articles in it. In the introduction to the article, “Faith and Knowledge: Products of an Open Mind” by E. Gary Smith, the editor (Philip Barlow) writes,
The Savior admonished us to “be believing.” Unfortunately, some people extend this counsel beyond its probably intent. They try to deal with religious doubts by repressing them, or by partially deliberate ignorance. However, doubt can, when coupled with patience and honesty, actually aid the quest for a deeper faith. (p.117).
Each of the articles in A Thoughtful Faith is a kind of a “Why I Believe” essay by a scientist or scholar. Each of these scholars has learned much of the philosophies of the world and of different scientific theories and has had to rectify science and philosophy with religious belief. The authors of this book are the kind of people who have “inquiring minds.” They are the kind of people who do not just believe on the faith of others or accept anything blindly but want to know and understand for themselves. Here is what Gary Smith writes about his struggle to gain a testimony:
If I encounter difficulty in understanding some theological or historical question, I do not conclude that I have lost my testimony. A degree of uncertainty is not the same as unbelief. Indeed, to question in an honest and constructive way should lead eventually to a stronger belief. And while I have doubts, questions, and less than perfect understanding, I hope to continue engaging positively in those areas where I feel more confident in my understanding. Commitment to the process can and should remain strong and constant while the good fight is being fought.
I look forward to the time when members can stand in testimony meetings and freely share their struggles with faith, doubts, or lack of full understanding, while committing publicly to the struggle before them. I am hopeful the time will come when more members understand not only the need to protect from failure, but the need to allow true success, through honestly facing the uncertainties of the unknown as they search for truth. (p. 123-124)
I agree with Bro. Smith that “a degree of uncertainty is not the same as unbelief.” I also feel that no true knowledge can be gained unless we allow ourselves to question. If the gospel is true and the Church is the right one, then questions will lead us to better understanding and more knowledge. If we want to be certain that what we believe is correct, then we need to be able to honestly question whether it is so and then seek to answer those questions. If it is true, then the answers will be found.
On the other hand, we also need to be careful not to let our doubt overwhelm the testimony that we already possess. I love this quote by Elder Jeffrey R Holland:
When problems come and questions arise, do not start your quest for faith by saying how much you do not have, leading as it were with your “unbelief.” That is like trying to stuff a turkey through the beak! Let me be clear on this point: I am not asking you to pretend to faith you do not have. I am asking you to be true to the faith you do have. Sometimes we act as if an honest declaration of doubt is a higher manifestation of moral courage than is an honest declaration of faith. It is not! So let us all remember the clear message of this scriptural account: Be as candid about your questions as you need to be; life is full of them on one subject or another. But if you and your family want to be healed, don’t let those questions stand in the way of faith working its miracle. (“Lord I Believe”, April 2013 general conference)
Q. If we allow ourselves to question, how do we go about answering those questions? How can we prove the gospel to be true or false?
A: The scriptures themselves answer this question for us. Consider this:
And as all have not faith, seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith. (Doctrine and Covenants 88:118)
It begins by acknowledging that “all have not faith” and then tells us what to do about it – learn from each other, study from the best books, seek learning, and exercise faith.
Alma also gives us step by step directions on how to gain and nourish a testimony. He tells us we can answer our questions about faith in the same way we answer other questions about the world – by using a scientific process.
But behold, if ye will awake and arouse your faculties, even to an experiment upon my words, and exercise a particle of faith, yea, even if ye can no more than desire to believe, let this desire work in you, even until ye believe. (Alma 32:27)
To begin the experiment, all you need is a desire to believe. He does not ask that you begin with faith or knowledge, only with a desire.
Let me share another quote with you from A Thoughtful Faith. This one is from an article entitled “One Scientist’s Spiritual Autobiography” by Robert C. Fletcher. You can actually read the entire article HERE. He describes a time in his life when he was working at the MIT Radiation lab and also received a calling to do missionary work. The fact that he didn’t feel he could say he “knew” the church was true was causing him some spiritual stress since he was called to preach to others. Then, he had this experience:
One day, as I was walking back to our bachelor apartment from MIT and contemplating this problem [that he didn’t feel he could say he “knew” the gospel to be true], I had an experience which hit me with such force that I can only describe it as a revelation. The words came to me as though spoken: “God does not expect you to believe anything but what is true. Nor does he expect you to say anything but what you believe to be true.” As I contemplated this, I was impressed that the whole gospel was built on this principle. By insisting that we discover for ourselves its truth, the gospel had within it the seeds of its own destruction if it were false….
If God didn’t make known to me his truth with the same kind of evidence as presented for scientific experiments, what was reasonable for him to expect of me? I decided he could expect me to order my life according to what I thought good even though I didn’t have a perfect knowledge. Indeed, this seemed consistent with the teachings of the Church that all men were given a basic knowledge of right and wrong. By consistently following that which we deeply believe to be right, we will improve our discernment and be led to the kind of life that god desires of us.
I believed The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints led to a good life and, at least for me, was the best life that I knew. (p.131-132)
Bro. Fletcher began with just a desire to believe. He let go of the idea that he had to force faith upon himself and let himself, instead, experiment upon the word. He decided to first order his life according to that which he knew to be good and then wait to see what happened. Would living the teachings of the Church bring him a good and happy life? If he began with the truths that he already knew, would his understanding eventually blossom into a strong faith in the truthfulness of the Church as a whole?
Here’s another quote from Elder Holland’s awesome talk, “Lord, I Believe”:
A 14-year-old boy recently said to me a little hesitantly, “Brother Holland, I can’t say yet that I know the Church is true, but I believe it is.” I hugged that boy until his eyes bulged out. I told him with all the fervor of my soul that belief is a precious word, an even more precious act, and he need never apologize for “only believing.” I told him that Christ Himself said, “Be not afraid, only believe,”12 a phrase which, by the way, carried young Gordon B. Hinckley into the mission field.13 I told this boy that belief was always the first step toward conviction and that the definitive articles of our collective faith forcefully reiterate the phrase “We believe.”
Here’s what Alma tells us next:
Now, we will compare the word unto a seed. Now, if ye give place, that a seed may be planted in your heart, behold, if it be a true seed, or a good seed, if ye do not cast it out by your unbelief, … behold, it will begin to swell within your breasts; and when you feel these swelling motions, ye will begin to say within yourselves—It must needs be that this is a good seed, or that the word is good, for it beginneth to enlarge my soul; yea, it beginneth to enlighten my understanding, yea, it beginneth to be delicious to me. ( Alma 32:28)
How do we experiment on the word? Take a teaching of the gospel and try it out in your life to see what happens. Or, if you cannot try it, think it through to its logical conclusion. If the gospel teaches that it is right to avoid smoking, and you try following that principle, do you find that it will lead you to a happy life? For a more detailed discussion of this topic, please see my article How to Use Spiritual GPS.
So, in order to do the experiment we must:
- 1. Desire to believe.
- 2. Study the scriptures and listen to living prophets to learn what the word is.
- 3. Keep the commandments in order to try out whether they are right.
In other words, as Jesus taught, “Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.” (Matthew 7:20) You can know the truthfulness of the gospel because it brings forth good fruit in people’s lives.
from lds.org media library
Q: Is logic the only way to get a testimony? Is it even the best way?
A: After teaching the Zoramites how to experiment on the word and prove the truthfulness of the gospel logically, Alma goes on to teach them more about how to gain a testimony. He asks them:
And we have beheld that the great question which is in your minds is whether the word be in the Son of God, or whether there shall be no Christ. (Alma 34:5)
In other words, he perceives that they are wondering whether they can believe that what he has taught them is true. He knows they do not yet have a testimony. Then he answers them:
And now, behold, I will testify unto you of myself that these things are true. Behold, I say unto you, that I do know that Christ shall come among the children of men, to take upon him the transgressions of his people, and that he shall atone for the sins of the world; for the Lord God hath spoken it. (Alma 34:8)
He bears his own testimony of what he knows. How did Alma come by this testimony? If you will remember, at one time Alma did not believe in the gospel at all. In fact, he went around trying to destroy the church by preaching against it. His conversion began when an angel appeared to him and his companions. But was he truly converted at that time? In Alma 5:46 he tells the people,
Behold, I have fasted and prayed many days that I might know these things of myself. And now I do know of myself that they are true; for the Lord God hath made them manifest unto me by his Holy Sprit.
Did he gain his testimony by seeing an angel? No. Did he gain his testimony after kneeling down one time to ask God if it was all true? No. He says he fasted and prayed many days to get his testimony. So he counsels the Zoramites:
Therefore may God grant unto you, my brethren, that ye may begin to exercise your faith unto repentance, that ye begin to call upon his holy name, that he would have mercy upon you;
Yea, cry unto him for mercy; for he is mighty to save.
Yea, humble yourselves, and continue in prayer unto him.
Cry unto him when ye are in your fields, yea, over all your flocks.
Cry unto him in your houses, yea, over all your household, both morning, mid–day, and evening.
Yea, cry unto him against the power of your enemies.
Yea, cry unto him against the devil, who is an enemy to all righteousness.
Cry unto him over the crops of your fields, that ye may prosper in them.
Cry over the flocks of your fields, that they may increase.
But this is not all; ye must pour out your souls in your closets, and your secret places, and in your wilderness.
Yea, and when you do not cry unto the Lord, let your hearts be full, drawn out in prayer unto him continually for your welfare, and also for the welfare of those who are around you.
And now behold, my beloved brethren, I say unto you, do not suppose that this is all; for after ye have done all these things, if ye turn away the needy, and the naked, and visit not the sick and afflicted, and impart of your substance, if ye have, to those who stand in need—I say unto you, if ye do not any of these things, behold, your prayer is vain, and availeth you nothing, and ye are as hypocrites who do deny the faith. (Alma 34:17 – 28)
He tells them to start praying. To pray about everything in their lives – their crops, their flocks, their households, their enemies. He tells them to pray everywhere they are and all the time – at work, at home, in private places morning, noon, and night. And when they have filled their lives with prayer, they should add to that service. They should do service for those who are in need.
from lds.org media library
So here is the formula:
- 1. Experiment upon the word (desire to believe, study, test it out by keeping the commandments, measure the fruits).
- 2. Pray A LOT!!!!
- 3. Do service.
Elder Holland goes on to say:
When doubt or difficulty come, do not be afraid to ask for help. If we want it as humbly and honestly as this father did [referring to Mark 9-22–24], we can get it. The scriptures phrase such earnest desire as being of “real intent,” pursued “with full purpose of heart, acting no hypocrisy and no deception before God.”11 I testify that in response to that kind of importuning, God will send help from both sides of the veil to strengthen our belief. (“Lord I Believe”, April 2013 general conference)
Ultimately, it is the Holy Spirit that converts. Thinking about the gospel logically and experimenting on the word can give us a start and help us know why we want a testimony. But it is communion with the Spirit that truly teaches us that the gospel is true.
I wish I could give you a link to another article in A Thoughtful Faith entitled “Facing Spiritual Reality” by John T. Kessler. It was originally published in Sunstone magazine in the Winter 1975 issue, so perhaps you can find it in a library or order a back issue of the magazine from Sunstone’s website if you want to read it. Throughout the article Kessler describes his own spiritual journey, one where he was converted by the Spirit. He concludes:
Doubts were gradually dispelled from my mind…not, I believe, because I had given up maintaining a critical intellect, but because I would better allow communications from God to reach me and the blessings and realities of the gospel to take their proper perspective in my mind as well as in my heart.
It may appear to a non-Mormon reader that I have fallen victim to self-delusions of a type which I had wanted so much to avoid, a spiritual conversion through emotional catharsis based on an overwhelming desire to confirm what I wanted to believe. All I can say to the skeptic is that living the gospel of Jesus Christ as taught by the Mormon Church works. It changes one’s life for the better, and one receives spiritual confirmation of the correctness of this commitment….
It is my firm belief that whoever plants the seed of this Church in his heart and humbles himself just enough to let it grow will travel down the same road that I have. As so many people in all walks of life all over the world are experiencing, he will come to know that Christ’s true church exists on the earth today: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. (p.36-37)
One thing I would like to add is that once a person receives a testimony through prayer and revelation, he is never done. One can never say, “I have a testimony, so I am all set.” We must continue to nurture our testimonies and allow them to grow in the same way that we first received them: by prayer, study, and keeping the commandments. Here is a quote from an amazing talk by President Henry B Eyring:
Testimony requires the nurturing by the prayer of faith, the hungering for the word of God in the scriptures, and the obedience to the truth we have received. There is danger in neglecting prayer. There is danger to our testimony in only casual study and reading of the scriptures. They are necessary nutrients for our testimony. (“A Living Testimony”, Ensign, May 2011)
And for those of you who may have received a witness in the past but are now feeling some doubts or questions, please remember this scripture:
Verily, verily, I say unto you, if you desire a further witness, cast your mind upon the night that you cried unto me in your heart, that you might know concerning the truth of these things. Did I not speak peace to your mind concerning the matter? What greater witness can you have than from God? (Doctrine and Covenants 6:22 – 23)
Q: What if I pray and the revelation doesn’t seem to come?
A: Here is a scripture to consider:
For all have not every gift given unto them; for there are many gifts, and to every man is given a gift by the Spirit of God. To some it is given by the Holy Ghost to know that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and that he was crucified for the sins of the world. To others it is given to believe on their words, that they also might have eternal life if they continue faithful. (Doctrine and Covenants 46:11 – 14)
Faith is a spiritual gift, and like all spiritual gifts it is granted in the Lord’s time and the Lord’s way. If you notice, one gift is to have one’s very own faith, but another spiritual gift is to be able to believe on the words of others. Be grateful for the spiritual gift that God has granted to you, and learn to use it. If there is a spiritual gift that you desire to possess, what you need to do is ask for it. Pray for it. Beseech your Heavenly Father to grant you the spiritual gift that you desire. Until the time that you receive your own spiritual witness, here is one last quote from Elder Holland:
What was once a tiny seed of belief for me has grown into the tree of life, so if your faith is a little tested in this or any season, I invite you to lean on mine. I know this work is God’s very truth, and I know that only at our peril would we allow doubt or devils to sway us from its path. Hope on. Journey on. Honestly acknowledge your questions and your concerns, but first and forever fan the flame of your faith, because all things are possible to them that believe. (“Lord I Believe”, April 2013 general conference)
from lds.org media library
Q: Who is responsible for me to receive a testimony?
A: Even though faith is a spiritual gift, we are each ultimately responsible for our own testimony. We are responsible to reason it out for ourselves, to ask God for guidance, for spiritual experiences, and for the gift of faith, and to live our lives in such a way that we will be open to receive that gift.
Every man may act in doctrine and principle pertaining to futurity, according to the moral agency which I have given unto him, that every man may be accountable for his own sins in the day of judgment. (Doctrine and Covenants 101:78)
In the end, we all have a choice. We can choose to believe or we can choose not to believe. We can choose to have that desire that plants the seed of faith. We can choose to nourish that seed. Or we can choose not to.
If we do choose not to believe, it is our own selves who will suffer. Our Heavenly Father does not compel us to believe. He allows us our agency. He allows us to choose not only our actions but our attitudes and beliefs.
And now remember, remember, my brethren, that whosoever perisheth, perisheth unto himself; and whosoever doeth iniquity, doeth it unto himself; for behold, ye are free; ye are permitted to act for yourselves; for behold, God hath given unto you a knowledge and he hath made you free. (Helaman 14:30)
Q: What is the difference between belief and knowledge? Is it possible to actually know that God lives and that this is His Church?
A: One time I had a substitute seminary teacher try to tell me that belief and knowledge were the same thing, that if you truly believed in the gospel of Jesus Christ, you knew that it was true. At 14 or 15 years old, or however old I was, I knew that what he was telling me was not right, but I didn’t know the scriptures well enough to prove it. Well, here’s what Alma has to say on the subject:
And now as I said concerning faith—faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things; therefore if ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true. (Alma 32:21)
Alma plainly says that faith and knowledge are two different things. However, after he gives his analogy of faith as a seed, he says this:
And now, behold, because ye have tried the experiment, and planted the seed, and it swelleth and sprouteth, and beginneth to grow, ye must needs know that the seed is good. And now, behold, is your knowledge perfect? Yea, your knowledge is perfect in that thing, and your faith is dormant; and this because you know, for ye know that the word hath swelled your souls, and ye also know that it hath sprouted up, that your understanding doth begin to be enlightened, and your mind doth begin to expand. (Alma 32:33 – 34)
Alma affirms that it is possible to have knowledge, even if you gain it in one area at a time, of one gospel principle at a time.
I would add that it is also possible to have a knowledge of God’s existence and of the truth of His gospel as a whole. It is possible to have spiritual experiences so profound that they can eliminate all doubt. In fact, Joseph Fielding Smith testified that the power of the Holy Ghost is the ONLY way to gain this knowledge. Speaking of the Holy Ghost, he said:
Its convincing power is so great that there can be no doubt left in the mind when the Spirit has spoken. It is the only way that a person can truly know that Jesus is the Christ and that his gospel is true. (Joseph Fielding Smith, Answers to Gospel Questions, comp. Joseph Fielding Smith Jr., 5 vols. (1957–66), 3:31)
Let me conclude with a final quote from A Thoughtful Faith. It is from the same article by Robert C Fletcher that I quoted above which can be found HERE.
Scientists can conclude many things with a high degree of confidence. They can indeed say they “know” those things. But there is a vast area of truth which they have not yet touched. In particular I find the methods of science, which deal primarily with the material world, do not necessarily exclude the existence of a world of spirit. In fact I believe the two worlds together represent the totality of reality. The world of spirit gives value, meaning, and purpose to our lives.
As I reflect back on my hesitance to use the word “know” in describing how I feel about the Church, I still feel that my use of the word is consistent with that described by Alma in Alma 32. We can know with some certainty of the burning within, or the enlargement of our souls, and yet have only faith in the truths of the Church. But at the same time I’m not inclined to be critical of the culture in the Church which requires good members of the Church to say they know the Church is true. To me it reflects an indication of a strong degree of conviction about the Church. It is not too hard for me to translate “I know the church is true” to “ I know I have had a burning in my bosom which confirms the goodness of the church and the truth of the principles which it teaches.” This feeling can be so consuming as to eliminate all doubt. (p. 135-136)
As always, be sure to conclude your lesson by bearing your own testimony of Jesus Christ and His gospel. I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.
In this article I have frequently referenced the book A Thoughtful Faith. Unfortunately, this book is out of print. You can still buy it used, but it will probably run you about $50. If you ever find it in a library or used book store, I definitely recommend reading it and/or purchasing it. But until you do, I have found that of the 22 articles contained in the book, 6 of them are available to read on the internet! Here are the links to them below (click on the title to go to the link):
- What the Church Means to People Like Me by Richard D Poll
- My Belief by Richard L Bushman (click on the link on this page to download the PDF and read it)
- One Scientist’s Spiritual Autobiography by Robert C Fletcher
- The Faith of a Psychologist: A Personal Document by Victor B Cline
- Reason and Revelation by Noel B Reynolds (the text differs slightly from the one in the book as the online version was a BYU devotional given a few years before the book was published, but it is essentially the same)
- The Miracle of Faith, the Miracle of Love: Some Personal Reflections by Bruce W Young
My New “Why I Believe” Series
As I mentioned above, the articles in A Thoughtful Faith are in essence Why I Believe essays. I love Why I Believe essays and have decided to make it one of my life’s goals to collect them. I have quite a few collected so far, and thus, I will be starting a series on this blog of testimonies in the form of Why I Believe. The first one will be published shortly. If you would like to give me the gift of your own Why I Believe essay, you can e-mail it to me at FHElessons@aol.com.
If you are willing to allow me to publish your essay on this blog, please give me permission to do so in your e-mail. Also, please include your first name and a photo of yourself to go along with your testimony. Below are a list of writing prompts to help you as you write your essay. Basically, I would like to know what you believe and how you came to acquire that belief. I would like to know the experiences that led you to your faith and how they brought you there. I will be sharing my own Why I Believe essay with you, and I would love to hear yours as well!
For the first essay in this series, go HERE.
I would also like to add that the process of writing down why you believe can be a very spiritual experience in and of itself. Even if you do not share your Why I Believe story with me or with the world on the internet, I encourage you to find time to write it down just for your own benefit. It will also benefit your children and your children’s children and be a wonderful piece of your personal history! Here are the writing prompts to get you started:
- Answer the question, “Why do I believe?”
- How did you feel about God when you were young?
- Write about the first time you questioned whether the church was true and how it was resolved.
- Record some specific spiritual experiences you’ve had throughout your life.
- Record the evolution of your testimony.
- Write about what you’ve learned from other people about faith.
- Things you’ve learned from the scriptures
- Experiences you’ve had with prayer
- How you feel about the Book of Mormon
- Prophets whose lives & works or words you appreciate or have helped you
- Why it is good to give service
- Mention some of your favorite scriptures and why you like them.
- List your favorite hymns and why they are special to you.
- Remember things you’ve learned during General Conference.
- What you feel about missionary work
- Specific experiences you’ve had with missionary work
- Times when you have heard God’s voice
- Times when you have felt the hand of God touch your life
- Miracles you have witnessed or been a part of
- Why you appreciate the Atonement
- What you believe about Creation
- Your ideas about pre-earth life or the world to come
- How your testimony has evolved over the years
- What does it mean when you say “I believe”.
- The differences between faith and knowledge and what it means to you and your testimony
- Answers you have received to specific prayers
- Ways God has directed your life for good
- What blessings you have been given in your life
- Whether you think Joseph Smith was a prophet and why