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.