I see the world through a spiritual perspective developed at age 18 while preparing for a mission. In a previous essay, I shared my sacred experiences in gaining a testimony. I did not think they were all that unique at the time. I thought everyone else followed the same formula. Blogging over the last year has been a real eye-opener for me. Not every member has this same certainty.
Elder James Hamula, sustained in April 2008 General Conference as a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy said, “If there is anything that qualifies me for this calling it is the testimony that I gained at age 18 while I prepared for a mission. I had a most remarkable experience where I received a strong witness of the divinity of the Lord and of His Church.”
Like me, he read of how the young Joseph Smith wanted to know what was right, and felt that he too needed to go to the Lord in prayer. “So I knelt at my bedside and earnestly prayed to the heavens. And in response I got an answer that was as clear and as unmistakable as anything that I’ve experienced in life. I got up off my knees knowing that the Church was true.” I did as well.
Testimony as a process
On the other hand, I compare what I experienced and what Elder Hamula described, with this story that Elder Carlos Godoy shared in the Oct 2008 Sunday afternoon session of General Conference. He told of being asked by a Sunday school teacher to share some powerful spiritual experience that he had received while developing a testimony of the church. He was unable to think of one.
He felt a little uncomfortable being put on the spot. After all, he was an Area Seventy, and should have something impressive to share. He felt the disappointment of the Sunday school teacher that he had nothing to offer but later expressed his feelings in a testimony meeting. You can read his powerful testimony at the end of his talk. He includes all the major elements.
Elder Godoy said, “Sometimes we think that to have a testimony of the Church, we need some great, powerful experience, or a single event that would erase any doubts that we have received an answer…” I suspect this statement is a great comfort to many who have gained their certainty of the gospel and the church without any one great spiritual experience to which they can point.
Certainty is the basis of faith
Sometimes when I make assertive comments while blogging, some readers will write back that they find my certainty offensive. When I teach the gospel or when I share my understanding of some principles of the gospel, I am used to stating things in a positive, matter-of-fact manner. I enjoy this feeling of certainty about my testimony and always have. I thought every member did.
I once wrote, “Those who have once enjoyed the spirit of the Lord in their lives and then lose it through sexual impurity are unable to exercise faith because faith and fear cannot exist in a person at the same time. Lust invites the unclean spirits of the unseen world to use your body for a time. As these spirits are fearful by nature, those who lust soon become fearful themselves.”
When I made this particular comment, this individual responded that he had never heard such a thing. The whole idea of faith and fear being unable to co-exist in a person at the same time is certainly not something that I just dreamed up myself. This is typical of comments I have shared on my blog that are based on things I have read from general authorities and in the scriptures.
Fear is the opposite of faith
Boyd K. Packer taught clearly that fear is the opposite of faith. We find this in the scriptures many times. The Lord encourages us through the prophet Joseph, “Look unto me in every thought; doubt not, fear not.” He also helps us understand why we do not receive revelations. When there are fears in our hearts, we cannot receive a blessing such as a spiritual witness.
I have read many essays on the Bloggernacle defending the idea that doubts about the gospel are good and not anything of which we should be ashamed. I think this stems from the culture of the church where we are always expressing everything in as positive a manner as possible. Those who do experience doubt seem to feel that there is something wrong and that they don’t fit in.
I’ve thought much about how and why this culture of certainty can be offensive to some. I think it is because they perceive the expressions of testimony and certainty as being unfounded fluff with nothing substantial to back them up. They use the examples of little children bearing their testimonies and ask how they could possibly know for certain that God lives and loves them.
Become as a little child
One of my favorite scriptures has always been Mosiah 3:19 about the natural man. The angel who taught King Benjamin made it clear that we must make an effort to put off our natural tendencies to doubt, be skeptical and untrusting. We learn that we must become as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love and willing to submit to all things from God.
When I learn a new concept of the gospel that I am told is important by someone I trust, usually a priesthood leader or a General Authority, it is sometimes easy to put it aside because it is new to me and I do not yet understand the importance of the doctrine or principle. My patriarchal blessing reminds me that I must make an effort through study and prayer to make it a part of me.
One of the best ways to internalize a new doctrine is to teach it to someone else. It has been my experience that when I really want to confirm my faith in something new that I have learned, I take the opportunity to share it in a testimony meeting or make it part of a lesson I am asked to teach. When I bear testimony of the truthfulness of the concept, it is always burned into my soul.
Certainty is a gift of the spirit
It takes child-like faith to accept new doctrine, study it out, and then bear testimony to others. It takes patience to be submissive to the Lord’s tutoring method of studying and teaching in order to know for ourselves. Sometimes the Lord tries our faith and does not send the confirming witness of the spirit until after we have taught a doctrine that is new to us over a long period of time.
This feeling of certainty in spiritual things is a gift from God. It has served me well all my life. It is something for which I am extremely grateful. I work hard to keep this sense of certainty strong. Yet I am well aware that the receipt of the witness of the spirit confirming what I have studied and taught is a gift from God. For me, it only seems to come after I teach it publicly.
To some it is given by the Holy Ghost to know that Jesus 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 might also have eternal life if they continue faithful. I find my testimony is a mixture of knowing and believing. Some things I know for myself. It is this knowledge that gives me that certainty.
Summary and conclusion
I am impressed by the number of attorneys that I find on the Bloggernacle who present such logical arguments when they write their essays. They are proficient in arguing a point and clearly proving it by the expert use of their long-practiced skill. I do not possess that talent and have no desire to develop it at this point in my life. My essays are based more on what I feel.
I have long felt that doubt has some basis in fear. Perhaps it is the fear of change for some. For others it may be the fear of having to make their actions conform to new knowledge presented and then accepted. The Lord tells us to be believing. That means to accept what we are taught by prophets and apostles in spite of doubts and fears. Study it out – teach it to others in faith.
The spiritual perspective I developed at age 18 gave me that certainty I have needed to serve a mission, to accept leadership callings, and especially to teach the gospel. I know that faith is a real power. At times it is illogical and yet it casts out fear. With headlines that seem to scream fear, the certainty of faith is a better way to view life as we prepare for the return of the Lord.