Time for another installment in this occasional series. As reported in the Deseret News, Elder Christofferson delivered a presentation to new mission presidents at the Provo MTC in June. He first discussed the use of the Book of Mormon as a proselyting tool: “[H]ow will your missionaries get people to read the Book of Mormon, and also to pray with real intent about its truthfulness?” Then he recounted a personal conversation he had with a returned missionary who had completed his mission and served well, but had some concerns.
As the story summarized Elder Christofferson’s description, the young man “was bright, confident and well-spoken, and who had served as an assistant to his mission president. He was troubled, having learned for the first time that there are several accounts of the First Vision that are not identical. He felt this information had been hidden from him.” Here is how the story summarized Elder Christofferson’s response to the young man: “Elder Christofferson told him that, far from being hidden, there had been more than one article in Church magazines discussing the accounts. The apostle also told the young man that with a testimony of the Book of Mormon, he need not be unsettled or feel his faith had been shaken.”
The article then presents the following commentary as a direct quotation from Elder Christofferson:
I was shocked to hear him say that he didn’t know that the Book of Mormon was true. How is it possible that a faithful, successful missionary could not have received that witness? … Presidents, Sisters, please don’t let this happen with any of your missionaries. Be sure that each one does what is necessary so that he or she does not leave the mission without a sure conviction of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon and all that implies.
I will offer a few observations before I ask you, dear reader, to offer your own suggestions, perhaps even a draft paragraph, on how you would respond to the doubting elder’s concerns.
- I’m a little surprised Elder Christofferson did not reference the Gospel Topics essay titled “First Vision Accounts,” either in his response to the doubting elder or in counsel given to the new mission presidents.
- I’m a little troubled that Elder Christofferson did not emphasize the accomplishment of the doubting elder in completing his mission and serving well rather than giving him a hard time for not having internalized the Sunday School answers about the First Vision.
- His closing counsel to the new mission presidents was to make sure no missionary completes their mission “without a sure conviction of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon and all that implies.” But operationally, the effect will be to make sure that no missionary is allowed to verbalize any concerns about the Book of Mormon, the First Vision, or any other issue. It seems like he ought to be teaching these new mission presidents how to respond in a positive and supportive way to such concerns, not deflect or minimize them. A Book of Mormon re-education program (Elder Christofferson’s response) doesn’t really address the doubting elder’s legitimate concerns.
So how would you respond to the doubting elder? Keep in mind that thousands of Latter-day Saints have such concerns, and increasingly they are bringing those concerns to friends, family, local leaders, or even senior leaders like Elder Christofferson. So this isn’t just one young man’s concern. It is an issue for many troubled Latter-day Saints, and what sort of response is appropriate or helpful is a question for the rest of us. It’s not just the doubting elder’s problem, it’s our problem too.
Here’s my own one-paragraph suggested response. I welcome your own suggestions in the comments.
Elder, congratulations on serving a fine mission. To have served well and completed your missionary service even while developing doubts or questions along with your growing faith is even more commendable. For your particular concerns about the four First Vision accounts that Joseph Smith prepared during his lifetime, I suggest you read the essay at LDS.org titled “First Vision Accounts.” That essay provides links to each of those accounts and discusses the similarities and differences between them. Whatever was done in the past, clearly the Church is now making these documents available to the membership. Make sure you purchase and read the new four-volume history of the Church being published starting next year as well. Elder Uchtdorf has counseled members of the Church to doubt their doubts before they doubt their faith. I would add that you should inform your doubts and also inform your faith. That means reading informative books and articles by good LDS scholars, which you are allowed to do now that you are off your mission. We are directed to “seek learning, even by study and by faith.” As you do so, I am confident you will find answers to your questions. Feel free to come back and visit me and let me know how your faithful study is going.
I agree with your approach. It is much kinder and encouraging. I had the same experience (or lack thereof) during my mission over 45 years ago. I prayed mightily for a witness of the B of M and Joseph Smith but never received one. Of course back then, you just didn’t openly discuss such doubt or lack of conviction. In spite of that “failing” I soldiered on for the next 40+ years remaining active and struggling with my ever-increasing doubts and faith struggles until recently when I decided it was better for me to withdraw from activity. If some GA had approached me with the apparent condescending response demonstrated from Elder Christopherson’s remarks, or if my mission president had enforced a requirement of professing a testimony (where I couldn’t honestly confirm one), I think my activity in the church would’ve ended much sooner.
I would think that you have no way of knowing whether or not he congratulated him on serving a successful mission. It is not like the entire conversation is recounted here. Clearly there was some preliminary conversation where he learned that the missionary had completed his mission and served well which would be the time when congratulations would be expressed. I expect it is more likely than not, even as a matter of common courtesy, when he was initially advised that the young man had completed his mission he expressed his congratulations, admiration and/or appreciation.
“Be sure that each one does what is necessary so that he or she does not leave the mission without a sure conviction of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon and all that implies.”
It is also not clear how you interpret the words “… does what is necessary …” as excluding dealing with any doubts that a missionary may have. To the contrary, since that is the scenario he has expressly set out for the MPs, it seems a more likely interpretation that he was counselling the mission presidents to ensure they dealt with the precise fact situation he had detailed, which would include ascertaining whether or not any missionary had such doubts or questions and working with the missionary on them. A MP could not say he had done all he could to ensure there was a sure conviction if he didn’t first ascertain if there were any doubts to begin with. If I were a MP hearing this account in my orientation that is the way I would interpret his words.
I was an active member of the church growing up. In that time no one ever mentioned anything about different accounts of the first vision to me they never mentioned the use of seer stones other than than the Urim and thumim. I now I have a completely different perception of what translating buy the gift and power of God means. I have less concerne about the content or truthfulness of the book of Mormon now than I do about the fact that there was an apparent cover up while I was growing up and it is still going on. They may have put out the essays but the church does not want to talk about these things. I think the leaders are embarrassed to talk about it. That is more bothersome to me than anything and I suspect it was to this former missionary. If I were Elder Kristofferson I would tell this missionary that the church did not want to bring those things up because they didn’t realize they would just come to be so immediately available to everyone. Based on that they didn’t see any real need to provide that information. My real concern is that Elder Kristofferson somehow thinks these missionaries should have some form of sure witness of the book of Mormon and the church. However, any witness that a person Has does not take away the need for faith. No one will ever know for sure. Even a visitation might be a sign of mental illness. The real key is do you believe it and does it help you in your life. The Kristopherson statement reminds me of something my daughter said to me about going to girls camp she said that she felt like when she went they were trying to force them to have a spiritual experience. We might like spiritual things to work like some physical process but I think that’s probably a little bit naïve and that those who believe it and try to sell it that way are going to be disappointed and the people they sold it to will be disappointed too.
I think this all raises some huge concerns. If we do not remedy some things we are going to continue seeing an exodus from church activity and continued slowed growth. Some of my concerns are: 1. The impulse to first shame the person expressing doubts. I think we need to acknowledge these are tough questions and people are confused, hurt and angry discovering this new information and not spiritually defective; 2. No familiarity with the issues and a few possible responses or directing him to the right resources. 3. The impulse to give lawyerly answers and become defensive, i.e. an article in the Ensign in 1982 does not totally absolve us from not discussing the multiple accounts of the First Vision. 4. Sadly, I worry that this shows that at the top we’re ready to tackle these issues head-on, we just keep hoping the issue will go away and continue to blame the people who express doubts.
I’m here in happy valley, and I’ve never heard of anyone being “shamed” for their lack of a testimony. My singles ward seems to have a very, very strong culture of “wherever you are in testimony, lets help you grow and we welcome you”.
Heck, on my mission, I didn’t initially feel like I had a “witness for myself” or conviction or whatever like that, and I was very open about that with my companions, and they were very chill with it.
No amount of gospel topics essays or apologetics rebuttals will give a person a testimony. Recommending they read the gospel topics essays is a good start, but that won’t give a person a testimony. Only communion with the living God does that, which is a necessary part of seeking a testimony as Elder Christofferson recommends. I mean, studying antimormon stuff and finding the logic holes in it was great for me, but it certainly never led me to know God. So there’s kind of a balance between “here are the answers to your question” and “here is the solution to your root issue”. The church is sort of trying to do both now, but in the past its focused on just the roots and I think that’s fine.
As a missionary, I received a strong confirmation of the First Vision. That sufficed for the time. Since then, however, I have prayed repeatedly for 40 years about the Book of Mormon. Silence. Nothing. I have no reason to doubt the historical accounts surrounding the coming forth of the book, even though they do sometimes conflict in some details. And I have no reason to assume that Joseph Smith somehow concocted this book out of his own head. It’s far too complex, with elements that simply couldn’t have come from Joseph. That said, the Book of Mormon is problematic for me on many levels. Even though I have no reason to doubt the truthful intent of the personal accounts, I also have to deal with what’s in the text itself. In many ways it doesn’t add up. For starters, if the book really does contain the “fullness of the gospel,” as Joseph claimed, there’s sure a lot of stuff missing, and making the odd claim that “fullness” means just a few of the fundamentals doesn’t cut it in my mind. The book is full of theology that no early nineteenth-century Protestant would have found unusual. All the unique Mormony stuff came later. And Joseph never really referred to the contents of the book in his teaching, as if its existence was enough. Theologically, he wanted to move forward and leave the rather binary, prosaic theology of the BoM behind. He was far more interested in what the Bible had to say. I find that odd. There are also doctrines in the book that actually preempt such later developments as temple work and family history and that conflict with the very idea of missionary work. In addition, there are recurring plot problems and anachronisms. On the positive side, Grant Hardy has done excellent work in pointing out such unexplainables as the differing strategies and personal purposes of the three main authors (Nephi, Mormon, and Moroni). This is a massively complex book that is not easy to explain. Personally, I don’t think we have a clue yet about where this book came from. There are too many pieces of this puzzle that just don’t fit together well. So if I got a spiritual “witness” of the book at this point, I’m not sure what I would make of it. Could I trust a “feeling” when the evidence is so all over the board? I doubt we’ll know the full truth about the Book of Mormon until we get to the “other side.”
As for the returned missionary, I would tell him to pray and to study, but I would warn him that any studying he does in a serious vein may not give him the degree of certainty he thinks he ought to have.
I would also tell him to write down some of his spiritual experiences from his mission then lock them away and not look at them for 10 – 15 years. Then before you reread them after that decade or so write your account of them. See how well they match and ask if you did better than Joseph.
Typically people right at that age have most of their prominent memories being recent. The things forgotten are things from their youth that don’t seem important. They don’t really yet have the basis to judge the fragility of memory nor how ones interests and contexts change memory. So it’s hard to even explain concepts like nostalgia or the like. My guess is that older people with experience with memory are perhaps a bit more sympathetic to the differing accounts of the first vision.
I view Elder Christofferson’s counsel differently. I understand him to be saying that MPs should ensure missionaries have ample time for scripture study and personal spiritual development rather than the emphasis was on tracting and sales techniques (Missionary Guide) that I experienced as an Elder in the mid 1990s.
Ample, not maple. Sorry.
I quite like your new version. I especially like the penultimate line, “I am confident you will find answers to your questions.” This is about as far as one should go in dictating to another what those answers will be.
Regarding the reported line from Elder Christofferson (“Be sure that each one does what is necessary so that he or she does not leave the mission without a sure conviction of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon and all that implies.”) I imagine three ways to take it:
1. If you mission presidents do X, Y and Z your missionaries will actually end up with a sure conviction . . . and all that implies.
This incorporates the error of dictating someone else’s agency and inspiration. Furthermore, it is contrary to lived experience. However many “sure conviction” stories we hear, the different results and no results stories continue. And there is no proven way to ensure results.
2. Be sure your missionaries all learn to talk the talk, to profess a sure conviction and act in accord with all that implies, whether or not they have such a conviction..
3. If your missionaries don’t secure a sure conviction, usher them out.
I observe that not everybody secures a sure conviction, that the Church I grew up in managed to communicate the “learn the talk” response, and that today it seems increasingly common to hear the exit message instead.
A “witness” of the BoM is not enough to confirm historicity, i.e., verisimilitude, any more than a witness of Napoleon might alone confirm his existence. It just doesn’t work this way. The BoM was presented as a record of the ancestors of Native Americans. I see absolutely no evidence of this – which begs the question: in what sense is BoM truthful?
If the Brethren have taken it upon themselves to change or alter the definition of the word “truth” and its derivatives, they should inform the membership.
I also appreciate your response. But I have learned to keep my own counsel on faith and the Book of Mormon. For me, faith is personal, and therefore cannot be communicated or provided. Each of us reach our own understanding of the gospel, through reading the Book of Mormon, learning from other good books, pondering, and communion with God on the matter. Nephi demonstrated this pattern in the translation of his record, and so far my faith has grown considerably by following this pattern myself. I may risk being labeled apostate, but I’m a quiet apostate, for the most part.
p, I am assuming you’re question is rhetorical. Although I agree that the details of what people have revealed to them does vary. I had some investigators for whom the historicity was explicit and others form whom the question likely didn’t even arise for them. Ultimately the only way to know is ask. And by the very nature of personal revelation the answer is only good for them.
Franklin, I’m of the opinion that a lot of the “19th century theology” likely isn’t but we read it through a 19th century often distorting what the text actually says. For instance reading Mosiah 15 through a lens of modalism or trinitarianism is hugely distorting. Throw in a slightly different context and you get very different readings.
As to “fulness of the gospel” I think we tend to muddle that as well conflating the good news of Christ’s atonement with a smorgasbord of doctrines that aren’t really the gospel proper. The New Testament scholar N. T. Wright when talking about how Paul uses gospel say it means “the good news that the crucified and risen Jesus is the Messiah of Israel and therefore the Lord of the world.” As Wright reads Paul salvation comes by the gospel but is not the center of the gospel message. So what would be missing? Well the idea that Christ appeared to nations other than the backwards province of Syria in the Roman Empire for one. Second Jesus’ victory over evil and the rescue of his people entailed all of scattered Israel. The way it was typically understood — especially in Lutheran Protestantism — was that it was merely a personal message of justification. The Book of Mormon put as center the literal gathering of Israel with Jesus as its king. That is the announcement of the good news. Finally the revelation of God in Jesus was the fulfillment of prophecy in a way that many had denied. That element, as they say, was the Book of Mormon establishing the truth of elements of the Bible.
Now of course there’s more to the Book of Mormon than that. But that alone is pretty important.
Dave, I cannot improve on your suggested response. Instead, a comment on Christian’s 3 ways to take the reported line from Elder Christofferson (“Be sure that each one does what is necessary so that he or she does not leave the mission without a sure conviction of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon and all that implies.”):
The third (show them the door) is inconsistent with Elder Christofferson’s statement (be sure they don’t leave without…), but “exit” is sometimes the message received by those folks who honestly try to do X,Y and Z (the Moroni 10:4 promise) without experiencing the promised result. I cannot believe Elder Christofferson meant the second, but it has often been the result. In fact it was demanded of missionaries in the language training mission in the era of memorizing and delivering 6 discussions word for word. Even then, however, I suspect the originators of that method began with the erroneous assumption that the missionaries already had sure convictions of the things of which they were required to state “I know…” Unfortunately for some, there remains in the Church a common insistence on certainty and an emphasis on following Moroni’s formula to achieve such certainty. Experience shows that either Moroni got it wrong, or he got it incomplete (he doesn’t say when the manifestation will come), or he was mistranslated, or has been widely misunderstood. It seems to me Elder Christofferson meant Christian’s first alternative, that his charge taken seriously could increase pressure for missionaries to behave as described in the second and, for those who do not achieve or have a sure conviction thrust upon them, ultimately to exit (the third) or learn to live with ambiguity and uncertainty and find other value in maintaining membership or participation in the Church.
Regrading revelation and testimony, Moroni 10:4 needs to be balanced with 2 Ne 28:30 “For behold, thus saith the Lord God: I will give unto the children of men line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little; and blessed are those who hearken unto my precepts, and lend an ear unto my counsel, for they shall learn wisdom; for unto him that receiveth I will give more…”
I see no problem with examining how little we really know and then acting on that and waiting patiently for more. I don’t believe the testimonies of every person who testifies of the Book of Mormon, especially when they recite the trite phrases so common in the church.
That verse also condemns complacency and self-assuredness in the seeking of spiritual things, “and from them that shall say, We have enough, from them shall be taken away even that which they have.”
That’s a very important scripture – especially since I think it implies many answers come via personal revelation and not necessarily to the church as a whole. (Important for people demanding the Church give answers)
The other scripture I refer to regularly is D&C 46:13-14
With good reason we emphasize knowledge in the church. But I think we err if we assume that gift necessarily comes immediately for everyone.
First, thank you for addressing this! My brother and I have were discussing this last month and were left very unsatisfied by Elder Christofferson’s comments (and I’m a big fan of Elder Christofferson’s thought-process and talks). Simply saying, “Make sure this missionary’s experience doesn’t happen to your missionaries” is hollow and doesn’t provide much direction. A much better rule of thumb could be what a Bishop in our stake did – he made the Gospel Essays mandatory study prior to a missionary’s departure into the field. According to Elder Ballard, CES instructors need to know these essays like the back of their hand, so why shouldn’t missionaries?
Second – in addition to your paragraph, I would add only a few thoughts:
“A church historian, Rick Turley, said his big worry was that members of the Church would study the history of the church too little. Read all you can find. Study it, and play an active role in the development of your faith. Then, remember the promise of the Lord, from the Doctrine & Covenants: He will reveal himself to you, but it will be in His own time, and in His own way. Be where you need to be, so that you will be ready for Him.”
Dave, the only problem I have with your suggested response is the use of “LDS” as a modifier in the phrase: “. . . informative books and articles by good LDS scholars, . . .” There are excellent works on Mormon history by non-LDS historians that merit our attention. And when it comes to biblical and general theological topics, Catholic, Jewish, and Protestant scholars are generally head and shoulders above their LDS counterparts.
Apart from this, I like your response. As to Elder Christofferson’s, it is problematical on so many different levels that it would be irksome to enumerate them.
“According to Elder Ballard, CES instructors need to know these essays like the back of their hand, so why shouldn’t missionaries?”
That’s a really good point.
Dave with all due respect I am not convinced that your response engages the main issue.
The issue as you report it seems to be a lack of knowledge of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon which is separate to not knowing of the various accounts of the First Vision which your response aims to address. In addition, you have conflated the issue of not knowing the truthfulness of something with holding doubts about something. This distinction is important as these states are arrived at differently and for the most part from different origins.
I’m partial to invoking OM’s use of 2 Ne 28:30 to generate reflection on a process the Lord uses to reveal truth; also Thor’s reminder of the Lord’s timing. From the report there is a sense that Elder Christofferrson’s response is overly insistent and not of the apostolic tenor of ‘…but such as I have give I thee’, unless that’s all he’s got.
I too would commend the young missionary for diligently serving, and reinforce that faith is a work which grows over a lifetime and to read and learn all he can, and continue to commit to living the gospel and serving in the church despite doubts he may have.
But then again, I am quite opposed to the simple, linear “I know” culture we promote and reward. I believe in the power of Moroni’s promise, but also think we need to allow ourselves and others space to growth throughout a lifetime because doubt is a necessary condition of mortality. It’s what we do in spite of our doubts that may matter most. (Mother Teresa’s example seems to fit here.)
There are so many problems with the approach that a perfect testimony can and should be had by everyone in one week, in two years, and if not it’s their fault. Just pray harder, damn it! Not to mention the conflict the approach can create, the unintended consequences, when members who feel they must “know” perfectly (or felt they thought they did know) and then who battle cognitive dissonance whenever they question, challenge a conventional wisdom, experience doubt, or struggle to pull apart the conflation of gospel teachings and church culture or policy.
(…but more than history the young missionary didn’t know, I think his message to Elder Christofferson was about trust more than hidden history. This is the message Elder Christofferson failed to address and resolve.)
I think we rob ourselves and members of extraordinary spiritual growth opportunities by not promoting a culture that encourages and rewards more honest expression. Members should be able to say in quorum meetings or a Sunday school class setting, “I feel the power of the Book of Mormon. I believe it to be of God. Yet I struggle to embrace the claims of its literal historicity. Nonetheless, I am committed to my faith and continue to seek understanding, conviction and enlightenment.” I have yet to live in a ward where a member is viewed as being stronger and more faithful for this kind of honest expression. To the contrary, those who express similar sentiment are often viewed as weaker in faith, of thinking too much and as a question mark when it comes to consideration for important callings.
Despite the momentum the essays are receiving and how assessable they have become, I also know members who think the church is publishing the essays because *they have to…* I have heard in ward council some conjecture there must be some motive other than the publication of better history as the reason the church published the essays. As if trouble-makers won out and the church was compelled to respond, but really doesn’t mean everything it writes. Elder Christofferson could have done more to strengthen the young missionary’s testimony and validate the essays and better history the church is producing. I see the interaction as a missed opportunity, and even the counsel he gave to the MPs as a missed opportunity. The message could have been so much more.
Notwithstanding, I do think the momentum may be changing, at least in some areas. I’m encouraged by bobdaduck’s comments. I hope his experience is shared by others.
Johannesdedoper–said, “. I prayed mightily for a witness of the B of M and Joseph Smith but never received one. Of course back then, you just didn’t openly discuss such doubt or lack of conviction. In spite of that “failing” I soldiered on for the next 40+ years remaining active and struggling with my ever-increasing doubts and faith struggles until recently when I decided it was better for me to withdraw from activity.”
When I hear or read about this kind of experience I shake my head in disbelief. Why? Because my testimony of the Book of Mormon came easily. I have no doubt about the truthfulness of the claims of Mormonism. The Lord has been near to me for over 50 years answering prayers and guiding me. Yes, I have had many trials, temptations, and reasons to leave lose my faith, but I can’t because of the experiences I’ve been given.
Some struggle for a testimony and others are born with a testimony or acquire one quickly after learning of the restoration and the coming forth of the Book of Mormon. The word of God teaches the following to help us understand:
13 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.
14 To others it is given to believe on their words, that they also might have eternal life if they continue faithful.
It takes real courage and commitment to believe on the words of others. Many do. I wonder if would if I were required to do so.
“How is it possible that a faithful, successful missionary could not have received that witness?”
Um, let me think. High social pressure to serve a mission. Groupthink. Conditioning. Shaming on the mission for expressing doubt or falling out of line.
“So how would you respond to the doubting elder?”
Dear Elder, let me introduce you to the sunk-cost fallacy, which is the baseless idea that you have to continue doing something because you put time, money, and effort into that something. Just because you served a mission does not mean that you have to continue participating in the LDS church. Don’t let believers browbeat you into submission. You are the only one who gets to interpret your feelings and experiences. If you feel that you have never experienced some spirit or god telling you that the Book of Mormon is true, then there is no reason that you should be LDS. Don’t let people pressure or shame you into being Mormon.
A long time ago I was going on a mission. At the time I had not even read the BofM, so I determined that I should if I was going to go. I was a very converted young man, in any case. So I read it. No chills. I decided to put it to the test and knelt in prayer. When I stopped praying a very quiet voice said: “It is true enough.”
Being a credulous and callow young man I said, “Good enough,” and went on the mission. So, long before DNA there were language similarities with the Mongols. There were dentition studies showing the Mongol relationship. Then, I realized that all of those geologic upheavals must have left recognizable scars. I recognized all of the inconsistencies. Then I mourned for Nephi, I still do.
But the book is still miraculous in its own right. Complex plot, biblically more or less consistent. Written by a kid in short order in a most miraculous fashion.
After many years passing I was telling my nephew, son of my non-believing brother, about the book. I was apologizing, literally, about the book. But K. stopped me short and told me that every religion has its founding myths. So there you are. The book is complex. Joseph did a miracle. Joseph moved people. I really like Joseph’s theology. In addition and on the whole I like Mormons. My life has been richly blessed by my association with the Church. I would not do it over again any differently, well maybe a little.
The book must be true enough.
And I have grown to recognize that quiet but commanding voice. So, if God does not require absolute truth in anything, particularly something so important, who am I to argue?
I would have tried to tell that young returned missionary all of these things, but he would have shrugged, like my son did, and not understood what I was saying.
As a convert, I would respectfully suggest that perhaps we need to do a better job of teaching young men and women to recognize when they have received an answer. I read the Book of Mormon before the missionaries taught my sister & I, then had to wait for 2 years to be baptized because my father would not sign the permission slip. I had prayed and received an answer, but I had not separated out “Is the Book of Mormon the word of God?”, “Is Joseph Smith a prophet”‘ etc. I prayed more as “Is this Thy church?”, “Is this true?” I was baptized 4 days after my 18th birthday, & asked to leave my fathers house that night.
Fast forward a year later when I was at BYU. Within a couple of months, I was not at all sure that I had a “testimony” that matched all the check marks I was being taught comprised a “real” testimony. I was praying diligently for confirmation of things that had already been confirmed to me before, and it was not until I landed on the verse in D&C 6 where it talks about the Lord speaking peace to your mind, that I realized what had happened, & why I was questioning what I had already received.
Marivene, I think that’s something the church could definitely do better at. (And by church I mean all of us – especially those teaching) We emphasize getting personal revelation because honestly not enough people seek it in their life. But we don’t do nearly as good a job at helping people recognize it nor importantly distinguishing it from counterfeits.
SVBob, to be fair the mesoAmerican model does explain the geological catastrophe by volcanoes and earthquakes that fit broadly the time period. (Not all fit exactly and there is a certain uncertainty in dating eruptions) Jerry Grover’s “Geology of the Book of Mormon” goes through a lot of this. It’s not perfect but seems believable. I’d also say there are compelling reasons to think Lehi’s group merged in with existing groups so the DNA issue is only an issue if you adopt certain naive views of the Nephites being the only inhabitants of the Americas that were popular in the mid-20th century.
One of the remarkable things about The Restoration is that there are 12 official witnesses of the BOM. Three received a manifestation of the power of God, heard His voice, saw an angel, and viewed the plates. Eight others viewed and handled the plates without a supernatural experience. Joseph Smith had both. Also, Martin Harris and David Whitmer handled, but were not allowed to view the plates before their supernatural experience. Many have pointed out the complimentary nature of these 2 forms of testimonies. In other words, if there was only the testimony of the 3 witnesses, skeptics could say they were drunk (ask Peter), ate mushrooms, we’re hypnotized, were mad (see Paul’s testimony), or were whipped up into an emotional frenzy. But the witness of the 8 without in broad daylight argues strongly that there were actual plates. The witness of the 3 witnesses places a divine approval on the witness of the 8.
Unlike the 8 witnesses, we have the advantage of reading the translation of the plates. We can readily read whether we should baptize infants, be baptized ourselves, what the name of the church should be, whether miracles exist today, why there is evil, and the state of churches and people in the last days. Or we can obtain a doctrinal or mental understanding of gospel truths that makes sense. Like the 3 witnesses we can also have a spiritual, or supernatural experience whether large or small, that can witness to us of God’s existence and love. Shortly after my mission 3 handwriting experts claimed that Joseph Smith and his scribes did not write the BOM. I remember looking upward and saying “Well it seems they have a strong case, dear Lord, but if I have to choose between 3 handwriting experts and the power of God and manifestations I felt and experienced in the mission field, I am choosing the Holy Ghost and its witness every time. Six months later the handwriting experts and the minister behind them were discredited. Later I heard of 4 different versions of the First Vision. Fortunately I had a book on the subject and was able to read the accounts and additional information, such as that of Orson Pratt, who heard about it in 1832. Part of our difficulty is that we have agency, which is not just choosing the right, but not knowing or having all the answers, and oftentimes what the answer is. As Nephi said ” I was led by the Spirit, not knowing beforehand what I should do”. Oliver Cowdery found out it was not enough to just ask, but he had to study it out in his mind. ” Behold, I will tell you in your heart and your mind by the power of the Holy Ghost…” . In short, we need both natural and supernatural experiences and testimonies. The miracle of the restoration is that others besides the 12 witnesses have had manifestations and spiritual experiences.
After reading McKonkie’ s “New Testament Commentary where the Four Gospels are listed side by side, I was shocked at how much they differed, and seem to contradict each other at times. Scholars say that The Book of John has poor Greek grammar. If apostles and prophets were mere demographers I would be worried. But God does not do for man what they can do for themselves, and he allows them to use their own language to testify. Otherwise, Isaiah, Paul, Peter, and John would all sound the same.In summary, we need both a divine witness, and our own best efforts at study to have a strong testimony. Joseph had to study and ponder before the First Vision as do all the apostles, both ancient and modern.