Should our testimony of the spiritual aspects of our lives be an ‘all or nothing’ situation? As a missionary many years ago, I challenged investigators engage in the promise of Moroni 10:4-5 and pray about ‘these things’ to arrive at a testimony of the truthfulness of the message; not just the Book of Mormon, but the whole package. Is that how things should work? Here is a similar comment from a recent conference:
After I read, pondered, and prayed, the Lord gave me the assurance that Joseph Smith was His prophet. I testify to you that Joseph Smith is a prophet, and because I have received this answer from the Lord, I know that all of his successors are prophets too. (Carlos Costa, Oct 2010 General Conference)
Does a testimony that Joseph Smith is a prophet automatically give us the knowledge that Thomas S. Monson is a prophet? In a similar vein, does a knowledge that Peter, the apostle, was called to lead the church in the meridian of time automatically lead to the conclusion that the keys were passed down to Pope Benedict XVI?
I think not.
Paul taught the Thessalonians:
Prove all things; hold fast to that which is good. (1 Thess. 5:21)
According to Strong’s Concordance, the word ‘prove’ could also be translated as ‘test’ or ‘examine.’ The message here is that we should examine all aspects of what is presented as truth and only keep what is validated.
In the 28th chapter of second Nephi, we read a series of ‘woes’ starting with ‘wo be unto him that is at ease in Zion. Wo be unto him that crieth: All is well.’ What I find that is pertinent to this topic is the following warning:
Wo be unto him that shall say: We have received the word of God, and we need no more of the word of God, for we have enough!
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; and from them that shall say, We have enough, from them shall be taken away even that which they have.
Cursed is he that putteth his trust in man, or maketh flesh his arm, or shall hearken unto the precepts of men, save their precepts shall be given by the power of the Holy Ghost. (2 Nephi 28:29-31)
I would suggest that one should read this scripture from an individual perspective in consideration of the development of a testimony. The word of God, just as it was used by Lehi (1 Nephi 2:3), is most appropriately considered as personal revelation. God will give us answers ‘line by line, precept by precept.’ We should ‘prove’ all things and not assume that one answer applies to all. In other words, the development of a testimony should require us to test each and every concept or idea presented, not just assume that because part of the message is true, it all must be true.
I think it is also important to note that God promises us in 2 Nephi that if we continue to seek knowledge and testimony, He will give us more. If we deem that we have enough, that which we think we have will be taken away. Wo be unto him that assumes he needs no more revelation.
This is the same message that is found in Alma:
And now Alma began to expound these things unto him, saying: It is given unto many to know the mysteries of God; nevertheless they are laid under a strict command that they shall not impart only according to the portion of his word which he doth grant unto the children of men, according to the heed and diligence which they give unto him.
And therefore, he that will harden his heart, the same receiveth the lesser portion of the word; and he that will not harden his heart, to him is given the greater portion of the word, until it is given unto him to know the mysteries of God until he know them in full.
And they that will harden their hearts, to them is given the lesser portion of the word until they know nothing concerning his mysteries; and then they are taken captive by the devil, and led by his will down to destruction. Now this is what is meant by the chains of hell. (Alma 9:9-12)
Here the Lord refers to those who no longer seek revelation as having ‘hard hearts.’ We must break our hard hearts and exhibit a spirit of contrition in order to receive the word of God. This must happen line upon line, precept upon precept; we are called upon to examine all things, not blindly assume that A equals B equals C.
While this is very important on the way in to a testimony, I feel that it is equally important when our testimony is challenged. Stories abound of good members of the church who, upon being presented with aspects of uncorrelated church history, lose their testimony and walk away. I sincerely believe that having an ‘all or nothing’ testimony as proposed by Carlos Costa, increases the chances of a person rejecting ‘the church’ when difficulties arise. On the other hand, building a testimony line by line, allowing the person to reject aspects that are not revealed as true should preserve those aspects of revealed truth.
My message here is: Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. When I had my ‘crisis of faith,’ I went through a process of evaluating my options. Do I reject all of my testimony because one part of it turned sour? Or, do I attempt to reconstruct my testimony based on ‘line by line’ of those items where I did receive revelation?
I chose the latter. At the beginning of my journey, I began asking simple questions and seeking simple answers. Because of past experiences, I knew that God was there; mainly from my second baptism event cataloged earlier in this blog. I also had a revelation on the truth of the message of the gospel in the Book of Mormon (this last sentence was carefully constructed). I made sure that each step I took, each precept I considered, was stripped of any assumptions and preconceived notions. As I read and studied the scriptures, new perspectives developed that I had not previously considered. These were taken to the Lord through prayer and meditation.
Today, my ‘testimony’ is significantly different from what I held a decade ago. I have tried to build my belief system line by line, proving each item through study and meditation. My testimony is no longer ‘all or nothing;’ I hold fast to that which is good and look to continue the path in understanding the mysteries of God.
What think ye?