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MormanityThe LDS Testimony: There's More Than Meets the Eye
by Jeff Lindsay
During my two years in the Zürich Switzerland mission, I had the privilege of working with a large variety of people. I counted 52 different nationalities of people that we taught in that charming fondue pot of humanity (granted, it wasn’t much of a melting pot, but I had to find some way to mention cheese which somehow helped even the toughest of days seem not so bad). We taught people from all social ranks, and while the poor and humble were the easiest to teach, we found the highly educated and wealthy to be far warmer and willing to talk with us than I had assumed. The Swiss are a friendly people, though I'll admit this was back before America became a hiss and a byword among many nations that once respected my nation.
We had relatively little success among the intellectuals that we met, but I greatly value the opportunities we had to talk. They gave us plenty to think about, and we certainly tried to make it mutual, young and naive as we were.
One highly educated man, though, was quite angry with us. In nearly perfect English, he chastised us for thinking we had testimonies. He explained that he was familiar with our faith and had attended our meetings while he was in the US, and was amazed at how little children in fast and testimony meetings would go up and parrot words their parents gave them, as if that were a testimony. He insisted that we had been brainwashed and couldn't think for ourselves. His unkind critique stuck with me and influenced the way I would later instruct my ward about testimony meetings when I served as a bishop.
While some young children can have sincere testimonies about some aspects of the Gospel, I personally want people to express testimonies from their hearts and not to simply parrot the words of others. I had a genuine strong but fledgling testimony of God and the power of prayer at age 6, though I don't think I publicly expressed it until I was a teenager (shouldn’t have been so shy!).
My testimony of the Book of Mormon did not really begin until I earnestly sought to determine its truthfulness or fraudulence at age 14. I came away from that quest first with disappointment that nothing happened when I prayed, and then, after taking Moroni 10:4 more seriously and reading the book again, more slowly this time, with deeper pondering, I would eventually arise from my knees stunned at the power of the Spirit and the joy of being greeted with its embrace as I received the beginnings of a knowledge that the Book of Mormon is true.
That was, though, still a beginning, a beginning of a lifelong pursuit of understanding, filled with questions and struggles, stumbling and renewal, blessings and miracles, gentle whisperings of the Spirit and occasional smack-downs from a loving but firm God. I am grateful that I have kept a journal along the way because some of the most significant, dramatic, and testimony-building moments can be easily forgotten, questioned, and discarded. We need help in remembering what God has shown us and done for us, and a journal is one way to do that. The scriptures, of course, are another.
As for that angry Swiss man, there was some merit to his criticism, but much of it was a caricature of the LDS testimony, especially the testimonies of those who have sincerely sought to know for themselves of the reality of Jesus Christ as our Savior and the truthfulness of the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ. In spite of some children who wish to participate but end up just repeating a parent’s words, the typical faithful Latter-day Saint has done a fair amount of soul-searching, studying, and prayer, just as the Book of Mormon teaches us. Recall the story of Enos and his quest for a testimony, along with many other Book of Mormon references to study, prayer, and fasting to obtain personal knowledge, and then the promise of Moroni 10:3-4 to those who study, ponder, and pray to know of the truth of the Book of Mormon. The LDS testimony is based upon a combination of mental effort, such as studying and pondering, coupled with spiritual effort through prayer and listening to the Spirit, in a quest to receive revelation from the Spirit of God to our own spirit to help us understand the things of God. The knowledge that comes to us is not just fickle emotion. It is knowledge that comes to our heart and mind (see Doctrine and Covenants 8:2-3). The mind is certainly involved. This is about enlightenment, understanding, and knowledge from a real God, not just a mood and a whim of the heart.
Unfortunately, the critics of our faith make a mockery of this thing that we call our testimony. In their caricature of the LDS testimony, logic, evidence, and facts have no bearing on our faith, just random heartburn or the warm feelings we get during meetings in LDS chapels with suspiciously poor air conditioning.
Some insist that our so-called testimonies represent shear ignorance, unlike the evidence-based belief system of Evangelical Christianity. In comments posted by readers at Mormanity, a number of critics have told me how foolish it is to pray to know the truth, for that is a sure path for deception. Instead, real Christians simply have to look at the clear evidence God has given us and accept the facts--no need to seek subjective "revelation" since God has already revealed plain facts in black and white. It gets interesting when you press for details and ask which facts, and how to interpret them, and why there are so many different teachings if all truth is so clear-cut. The evidence for things like the truthfulness of Genesis become an occasional ancient document mentioning some ancient city also mentioned in the Bible, or some find showing that maybe there was a king named David. The evidence for things like the Atonement and Resurrection of Jesus Christ and the miracles He performed become little more than assertions of a much copied and edited document that is long removed from those events, with absolutely no original manuscript available for any part of the New Testament. I believe in the Bible, but to say that no faith is needed to accept Jesus as the Christ because of irrefutable evidence is ludicrous-- and rather unbiblical.
There are witnesses for Christ, as there are witnesses for the Book of Mormon, which itself is a witness of Christ. God has not left us without witnesses and evidence, but the impact of these is greatest after faith is exerted. Faith is still required. That’s part of the plan here.
There are fascinating evidences for the Bible and for the Book of Mormon, as there are for the role of Joseph Smith as prophet. These can play a role in our spiritual journey. Indeed, conversion involves the brain, but not the brain alone. The role of faith and revelation through the Spirit must not be overlooked. After turning one’s thoughts to the Lord, after studying, pondering, seeking, and praying, one can experience the quiet miracle of receiving revelation and enlightenment to both the heart and the mind. It’s not the same for everyone, but I believe that the gift of a testimony can be available to all in various forms. A testimony of Jesus Christ or any other non-trivial aspect of the Gospel is generally not the result of intellectually overwhelming evidence based on tangible, peer-reviewed data, but on revelation from God through the Spirit to our spirits.
This concept is not a Mormon innovation, but is quite biblical and Christian. Consider Revelation 19:10, which teaches that “the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.” A spiritual gift, a miracle, really, is involved in being a true witness for Christ and being able to bear honest testimony of His divinity. A testimony of Christ requires revelation. It's not just the logical result of looking at the hard data. Data rarely changes the heart of man and turns a sinner into a penitent Saint. The influence of the Spirit is needed to do this.
Earlier in the New Testament, Christ explained to Peter that Peter's witness of Christ was not based on logic and human-generated data (“flesh and blood”), but had been revealed to Him by the Spirit:
He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am?
And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.
And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. (Matthew 16:15-17)
As for the basic concept of the LDS testimony, based on revelation from God to the spirit within us, I conclude with the witness of Paul in I Corinthians 2:4-11 (New KJV):
4 And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5 that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.
6 However, we speak wisdom among those who are mature, yet not the wisdom of this age, nor of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. 7 But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the ages for our glory, 8 which none of the rulers of this age knew; for had they known, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.
9 But as it is written:
Eye has not seen, nor ear heard,
Nor have entered into the heart of man
The things which God has prepared for those who love Him.
10 But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God. 11 For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God. 12 Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God.
13 These things we also speak, not in words which man's wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual. 14 But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.
Don't expect the evidence--as impressive as it can be to those who have the eye of faith-- to convert the natural man, the man who insists on evidence and logic and proof. Faith is needed, and prayer is truly helpful, as James teaches (James 1:5). The goal, of course, is to receive personal revelation through the Spirit to help us know and understand the truth of God that is hidden from the wisdom of men. We call that a testimony. It's a valid biblical concept, in spite of the hostile caricatures of our critics, and in spite of whatever weaknesses we have in our own testimonies and the sharing of them.
Lessons from the Cosmos
For those who want to understand the things of God and eternity only through the lenses attached to their own eyeballs, who can only believe what they can see, I would like to ask them how they can be so confident of the conclusions they might reach through this means. Science has recently determined that what we can see and measure is only a tiny fraction of the unseen materials and forces that shape the universe. As recently discussed at Mormanity, mysterious dark matter and dark energy dominate the universe, comprising about 96% of the matter-energy out there. All our glorious instruments, eyes and hands included, are incapable of detecting most of what surrounds us in the cosmos.
Apart from that stunning and recent fact, we stand on one tiny speck of a vast galaxy within a cosmos of millions upon millions of galaxies. Even if your eyes are very sharp, what you see, even if you could see dark matter and dark energy, is a vanishingly small fraction of the scope of the universe. And even for our own domain, in your own town or apartment or wherever you are, what you see even with the sharpest of eyes is limited to photons having a wavelength between about 390 nanometers and 700 nanometers. You can’t see ultraviolet or infrared. You can’t see microwaves or radiowaves or gamma radiation or x-rays. The spectrum of electromagnetic radiation—light—that places a non-trivial role in the physical world extends far below and above the range of visible light by many orders of magnitude. What we can see represents a tiny sliver of the electromagnetic reality right in front of our noses. Are you so sure you’ve got the full picture, even if you’ve got 20/20 vision? (And I haven’t even mentioned optical illusions. Another fun topic.)
Here is a representation of the electromagnetic spectrum, courtesy of Wikipedia’s article on that topic:
There is vastly more to the universe and to life than meets the physical eye, and some of the most important information that we need will be missed if we don’t realize there is a spiritual dimension to life and that light and truth, spiritual information, can be conveyed through the Spirit to supplement the pittance of physical data we obtain with our senses.
Yes, the testimony thing Mormons talk about isn’t easy and can be confusing. But to trivialize it or ignore it is far more serious than just ignoring 96% of reality or nearly all of the spectrum. When it comes to the things of God and His beautiful plans for us, this is one area where we don’t want to be blind.
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