Revelation, Experience, and Testimony

May 29, 2008

I was reading a post and some thoughtful comments at Mormanity, and some questions came up about the fallibility of seemingly spiritual promptings and the role of rationalism in establishing one’s testimony. I’d like to respond to some of those comments here.

Requesting a basis for religious conviction that is grounded in a purely rationalist perspective suggests an unfounded confidence in the ability of the scientific method to establish absolute truth. I’ve learned two related principles in my PhD program: 1) there is no such thing as unbiased, purely objective research, and 2) the understanding of the world that we establish using the scientific method inevitably changes over time.

Admittedly, it is challenging at times to differentiate between personal revelation from God, one’s own thoughts and emotions, or inspiration from any other source. In my own life, I believe that difficulty often stems from failure to adequately work for the answer. I believe firmly that the Lord expects us to study things out in our minds, to use the powers of reason with which he has endowed us. I also believe there’s no substitute for learning the truth of a principle or doctrine except for living it. I’ve prayed to know whether The Book of Mormon is true and have felt the Spirit confirming a witness in my mind and in my heart.

The answer I received to a given prayer, however isn’t what keeps my testimony intact. It’s the results, the fruits, I see in my life and the life of my children that come from studying the scriptures daily and in understanding the doctrines established in The Book of Mormon.  I go to Church every Sunday and take the sacrament and have repeatedly felt a sense of renewal, humility, forgiveness, love, and renewed commitment to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ. Just because I don’t have an overwhelming experience every Sunday doesn’t negate the reality of the experiences I’ve had.  My training as a behavioral researcher has taught me that outside of strictly controlled environments (i.e., in daily life) confounding factors often lead to results we don’t expect.  For example, my kids may be fidgety, or I may not have come to Church in a spirit of reverence and preparation. In such cases, my failure to have a spiritual experience during sacrament meeting does not bear on the reality of the Savior’s atonement nor of the divine authority held in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

If you want to know if The Book of Mormon is true, try it out. Don’t just read about it. Read it regularly, try to live by its teachings and see if you notice a difference in your life. It continues to bless my life and my family, and I know it can bless yours as well.

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