How to gain a testimony

In the August 2005 issue of the Ensign, LDS church president Gordon B. Hinckley challenged church members to read the Book of Mormon again by the end of that year as a tribute to the 200th anniversary of Joseph Smith’s birth. Said the prophet:

“I offer a challenge to members of the Church throughout the world and to our friends everywhere to read or reread the Book of Mormon. If you will read a bit more than one and one-half chapters a day, you will be able to finish the book before the end of this year. Very near the end of its 239 chapters, you will find a challenge issued by the prophet Moroni as he completed his record nearly 16 centuries ago. Said he:

“‘And I exhort you to remember these things; for the time speedily cometh that ye shall know that I lie not, for ye shall see me at the bar of God; and the Lord God will say unto you: Did I not declare my words unto you, which were written by this man, like as one crying from the dead, yea, even as one speaking out of the dust? … And God shall show unto you, that that which I have written is true’ (Moro. 10:27, 29).

“Without reservation I promise you that if each of you will observe this simple program, regardless of how many times you previously may have read the Book of Mormon, there will come into your lives and into your homes an added measure of the Spirit of the Lord, a strengthened resolution to walk in obedience to His commandments, and a stronger testimony of the living reality of the Son of God.”

Having had a crisis of faith that month, I decided to give it one more shot and try to regain my lost faith. In Alma in the Book of Mormon, we read how we should approach the text:

“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 in a manner that ye can give place for a portion of my words.”

In the past I had taken this attitude: I wanted the Book of Mormon to be true, so I exercised faith in reading and praying about it. But this time was different: I still wanted it to be true, and desperately so, but I resolved to read with an open mind, without trying either to convince myself it was or wasn’t true. I did read prayerfully every day, but as I read the problems in the text were obvious, and they kept on coming day after day. By the end, I knew the evidence was not in the book’s favor, but I prayed anyway, because I thought maybe God wanted me to believe in it. I ended up kneeling by a bench in the middle of the woods in a park in Texas, pleading with God to give me an answer.

And it came. It wasn’t a voice, just a strong impression: You don’t have to believe in things that aren’t true. That answer replayed over and over in my mind until I accepted it, and it felt as if all the weight of years of struggle were off my shoulders. I walked home feeling better than I had in a long time.

Was that the spirit, or was it just me acknowledging what I already knew? I’m not sure it matters. What I discovered is that desiring to believe is not enough: you have to be willing to talk yourself into believing. Reading with an open mind won’t cut it.

I’m not passing judgment on any person’s spiritual experiences, but it helps me to understand how things worked in my case.

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12 Responses to How to gain a testimony

  1. Apron Appeal says:

    And if it is the work of Satin, making these doubts seem inconsequential to our eternal salvation and giving us the ability to move on past our unbelief, then why, I pray, isn’t the voice of the Lord louder?

  2. Apron Appeal says:

    Of course I meant Satan. 🙂

  3. FireMountain says:

    How can a question be actually answered if there is no real question? The presumption, in this case, is always that the answer is, must be, yes. The Church allows for only one answer, so there is no “experiment” here, no honest inquiry. Until we allow for a NO there can’t be a real YES. This “promise” is only one more form of manipulation.

  4. FireMountain says:

    I was quite entertained by the thought of “the work of satin…”

  5. aintnomonomo says:

    I hear you. I just came out of the apostate closet to my mother. I know she’s hurting, and I wish I could give her different answers. But you’re right–you don’t have to believe what isn’t true.

  6. Thank you for sharing that. An open mind is not enough to induce faith. And not everyone has the will or capacity to think critically. An especially emotional nature, or an especially emotional moment, can often obviate the need to convince oneself.

    • jewelfox says:

      Everyone has an emotional nature. They just value different emotions, are biased towards different things, and have different levels of awareness of their needs and the needs of others.

  7. Ray Agostini says:

    I tend to take the view of Kierkegaard in regard to the “leap of faith”:

    “Kierkegaard thought that to have faith is at the same time to have doubt. So, for example, for one to truly have faith in God, one would also have to doubt one’s beliefs about God; the doubt is the rational part of a person’s thought involved in weighing evidence, without which the faith would have no real substance. Someone who does not realize that Christian doctrine is inherently doubtful and that there can be no objective certainty about its truth does not have faith but is merely credulous.

    Kierkegaard relies on the notion of paradox, absurdity and blind leaps of faith as applicable modes in which the presence of God can be affirmed in an individual. To better explicate the notion of paradox that leads to the belief of God according to Kierkegaard, I will explain what he refers to as the “Absolute Paradox,” which is what he considered his faith revolving around – the paradox of Christ. The paradox of Christ was one in which God, the antithesis of human existence, took the form of a human in Jesus Christ. How God took take the form of its antithesis in essence, existing as human and God simultaneously, is an absurd paradox according to Kierkegaard. The absurdity of this concept is one stemming from its illogical grounds, the synthesis of an antithesis and a thesis. In having faith in the notion of God by virtue of this paradox one is abandoning all reason and rationality, and in this abandonment is where Kierkegaard finds the closest incarnation of truth available. Kierkegaard stated in regards to faith that such is “… the highest passion in a person. There perhaps are many in every generation who do not come to faith, but no one goes further” . In light of a paradox which defies all commonplace logic, one must take what Kierkegaard defines as a ‘leap of faith,’ a belief that one holds in virtue of its absurdity. Kierkegaard, a Christian, admitted and attested to the illogical grounds of his basis for his beliefs openly as according to his beliefs God himself was the ultimate expression of the absurd. Thus, Kierkegaard found science to be the least revealing application as to which the existence of God could be validated or expounded as logic and rationality do not maintain the connection to God and Absolute Truths that blind faith can provide one with.” (Kierkegaard on the Proof of God)

    I don’t view it *all* as being “illogical” or “blind”, but enough of it is so that, in the end, one *must* take the leap of faith, but that faith comes from assurances within, or, as Paul said, “the evidence of things not seen”. “Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.” (1 Cor.13:12) Paul sometimes referred to this as “foolishness” in the eyes of men. For me, a “testimony” doesn’t have much to do with the Church. I could have read the Book of Mormon cover to cover, and absorbed its teachings, and never felt any need for a church. I left the Church, but I don’t think I ever left the Book of Mormon.

  8. […] and recommend strategies for getting at truth. Solutions include I’m Not Going To Worry About It, reading with an open mind, and staying calm in the face of cognitive […]

  9. Truthy says:

    I can’t read the Book of Mormon uncritically anymore. Something has changed within me…something is not the same (to borrow from ‘Wicked’ 🙂 I was reading 1 Ne 18 during Regional Conference yesterday and counting off the things I now question. The location ‘Bountiful’ had to have a mount nearby, high enough relative to the surroundings to be considered a ‘mount’ for Nephi to periodically (often, per v. 3) retreat to, to get guidance from the Lord; it had to have a growth of large timbers for constructing the ship (v. 1); and fruits, meats & honey were readily available in this wilderness (v. 6). Is there such a location on the Arabian Peninsula where all these characteristics converge? I really don’t know, but now I ask the question rather than accept the account authoritatively. My suspicion is that there is not. If there is not such a location, and there never has been, but an apologist says that God prepared that location with all those features, then there is no limit to the magical explanations that can be generated for any number of situations. At that point, when the connection to reality and the physical world are suspended, I lose all faith in apologetic explanations.

  10. Lauriston Y. says:

    Thanks for having courage to share your great experience to other. I am really sure that’s came from a great heart prooving experience. Become true with yourself is a great thing because too many may have done this marvelous experience or discovered, so by attachment to tradition or fear they will not be able to open the minds and the eyes of others because they unconsciously so motivated.

    Thanks for your sharing experience and discovered. …
    http://ylauriston2.blogspot.com
    http://ylauriston.blogspot.com

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