Editor's note: This week, Mormon Times shares the testimonies of five scholars who are faithful members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Click here for the list of scholars.
My testimony of the truth of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and that of the Book of Mormon is certain. I say without any hesitation that I possess a knowledge that there is a God in heaven and that he has revealed himself to me. That knowledge has come not through physical demonstrations or by reason alone, but by God's Spirit speaking to me personally, in a manner that could only have come from God.
This knowledge and the relationship I have developed with my Maker have carried me through many difficulties and I am grateful beyond measure to know these things for myself. Without a doubt, knowing the reality of God and of the truthfulness of His Church is the greatest blessing of my life.
Although my belief is certain now, it was not always so, and answers to my inquiries about God and religion did not come immediately when I asked.
I gained my knowledge of the reality of God and the truth of the Book of Mormon at a time of personal struggle. At the age of 18, having just finished my freshman year in college, I came to feel that I needed to know for myself whether there was a God and whether the things I had been taught in Mormonism as a child were true.
To that point, I had prayed intermittently and had read — though somewhat irregularly — from the Book of Mormon, with an occasional inquiry to God asking to know if it was true. No answer that I could recognize came, and I wondered why my asking did not produce the answer that the Book of Mormon promises and whether I was asking in the right way.
However, despite the lack of an answer, I continued to believe in Mormonism since so many of its teachings made sense to me. The most compelling claims to me included the belief that God continues to send prophets to the earth in modern times, that God can and does speak by personal revelation to ordinary, lay members of the LDS Church and not just to its leaders, and that spiritual gifts are available now, just as in ancient times. On this basis I formed a belief, yet I wondered when and whether my prayers to know definitively concerning God and religion would be answered; I was sure that if Mormonism was true, I too had claim on personal revelation.
In my early teenage years, I made the determination to stay true to Mormonism for at least a period of time since I could not then decide if it was true or not. If, by the time I reached 21, I had not experienced divine revelation, I planned to reevaluate these questions.
It is now clear to me that the primary reason I did not recognize any answers to my prayers or perceive a witness about the Book of Mormon as a young teenager was because I put forth little effort and had only a small desire for an answer. Though I did want to know, I did not put my heart and soul into prayer the way I did years later.
My freshman year in college was an exciting one, as I had the opportunity to deepen my understanding of subjects I felt passionate about and also had the chance to interact with a wider range of individuals than I had grown up with. I attended the University of Utah, and although this campus is located in Salt Lake City, there were a large number of students who were not Mormons, and this was especially true in the sciences and in engineering.
I became good friends with a small group of atheists and agnostics and felt eager to share my beliefs with them, thinking that they would see the uniqueness of the tenets of Mormonism and would want to learn more about the church. I am grateful for these friends and the discussions we had, because I have had dozens more since then with other sincere disbelievers among my classmates, colleagues, and friends in academia.
My freshman classmates challenged my beliefs in ways that were often constructive, but also introduced me to the experience of being mocked and belittled for belief in God. Such is the persuasive device that some revert to in an attempt, if not to refute faith, then at least to intimidate faith's adherents. (Paradoxically, atheism involves a unique style of faith that is not practiced by believers since, if God does exist, his presence has the possibility of being verified through divine communication, while a claim that there is no God cannot ever be substantiated by any kind of evidence.)
I came away from these discussions with a greater desire to know for myself — sooner rather than later — whether there was a God. If there was no God, I had no interest in aligning myself with a religious institution.
The questions that arose at this time served as a backdrop to a great challenge that came a short while later when I had a falling out with a close friend that left me feeling sad and somewhat lonely.
In these circumstances, my attitude regarding the question of religion and God was quite different than it had been in prior years. I turned to my Maker and to the scriptures — most especially to the Book of Mormon and other modern revelations — with an eager yearning to know whether God really lived. I asked in prayer more sincerely than I ever had before whether there was a God and whether the Book of Mormon was true. I read God's word with more intensity and desire than ever before. I needed to know. And I felt certain that if there were a God and if The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were true, I would receive an answer as I had heard so many other members of the Church describe having received.
Through the act of reading the Book of Mormon and praying concerning it, I was following the invitation contained in its pages to "experiment upon the word'" (Alma 32:27-37, 41-42). The book's predicted outcome of this experiment is divine communication confirming that the book is of God and is true (Moroni 10:3-5).
I did not have to wait long before discovering a sweet peace flowing into my heart both as I prayed and as I read scripture. This peace contrasted sharply with the feelings of sadness and loneliness that were otherwise in my heart. Soon my desire to commune with God became frequent and deep.
In the ensuing year, I often poured out my soul in private, seeking to know more of the Being who filled me with such peace and hope, feelings that otherwise seemed so elusive. The results of my experiment proved to be consistent with the outcome predicted in the Book of Mormon.
Through all of this I came to know that God does live and that he is the Father of my spirit; that he is a loving, tender, and devoted parent; and that he is keenly aware of me and my life.
I came to know that God lives as certainly as I know that I exist. The spiritual manifestations that came were poignant, and so sharp and profound at times that I knew my own mind could not conjure them.
When I felt a heaviness of heart, I would turn to my Father in Heaven and, shortly thereafter, I would come away feeling buoyed up, lightened, and hopeful about the future. Sometimes the state of mind I was in before seeking God's support was heavy indeed and the lightness and strength that came into my heart and soul through earnest seeking were the polar opposite of what I had felt beforehand.
I am a witness to the reality of the promise given throughout scripture, "seek and ye shall find" (Matthew 7:7-11). That phrase and other semantic equivalents are among the most common to occur in scripture.
God is eager to reveal himself to us. Despite his eagerness, however, God wants us to be clear — both to him and to ourselves — that we really desire the manifestations we ask for.
Receiving a knowledge that God lives has the power to fundamentally change the course of one's life and carries with it some responsibility (Alma 32:17-19). Because God does not wish to burden an individual with the responsibility of knowing concerning him without that person having a deliberate and earnest desire to know, His answers to some inquiries may be subtle and difficult to recognize.
In the varied conversations I have had with my disbelieving friends — and friends they are! — I have sometimes been accused of being brainwashed or deluded. I have considered these ideas very seriously because I know that our minds are complex and that self-deception is a possibility. Reflection has convinced me that my experience is simply too profound and too distinct from what I might envision by my own mental devices to be accounted for as springing from within me.
To some, this statement affirming a divine source of my spiritual experiences may not carry much weight.
I offer three points in answer.
First, one who dismisses my accounting of spirituality — or that of countless others — as delusional are deeming themselves better judges of my experience and psyche than I am, even though they were not present during these experiences.
Second, if such persons have not sought or had spiritual manifestations for themselves, and if they have not experimented with prayer as I and others have, their pessimistic explanation about the fruitful results of others' efforts is at best hollow.
Third, there is simply no evidence that I or other believers are delusional. Those claiming delusion rely on blind faith—blind disbelief—to support their claims that another's mental state is flawed.
The evidence I have in support of the truth of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints grows with time as I continue to seek to know God and to live by his teachings. The experiences I had when I was 18 were only the beginning of what has become a rich and vibrant part of my life, and I now turn to God daily to deepen a relationship that provides me with support and answers to life's challenges. The depth and persistence of my connection to God expands, though in a nonlinear way, as I strive to devote myself more and more to him. Because of my faith, I see others on this earth as my spiritual brothers and sisters, with infinite divine potential. I vaguely glimpse the immensity of God's love for his children and I am in awe of the Creator of the universe, our Heavenly Father.
I testify that God lives and loves us. I testify he knows your name just as he knows mine. He will answer any and all who earnestly seek a witness of his reality. You can know for yourself, independent of anyone else, that God lives and loves you. You can know that the Book of Mormon is true and that prophets are again on the earth, speaking boldly concerning proper morals and providing a code of conduct for life. As I have, you can feel a peace permeating through your heart that carries and sustains you and leads you to learn of God's plan for your life.
Most fundamentally, what draws me to Mormonism is the claim that all can know for themselves — through "experimenting upon the word," as the Book of Mormon invites — that God lives and that Mormonism is true. I invite all to experiment upon the word as I have.
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Amy Williams is a postdoctoral research fellow at Harvard Medical School, studying population and medical genetics. She graduated with dual bachelor's degrees in 2003 from the University of Utah in computer science and mathematics, and received an master's degree in 2005 and a doctorate in 2010 from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, both in computer science. Her research focuses on leveraging computational techniques to empower genetic studies and to learn about patterns of genetic variation and evolution, with the aim of inferring human history and demography.