David L. Paulsen: A confirmation of the truth at Bellingham, Wash.
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.
As a professor of philosophy at Brigham Young University (1972-2011), I have rationally defended the restored gospel in local, national and international venues. Indeed, in all my published work, I have done nothing else. Yet my own conviction of the restored gospel is not based on philosophical or theological reasoning; it is grounded in personal manifestations of the Holy Spirit. Though these are sacred experiences, not often communicated or communicable, I share one such experience here.
Several years ago I attended an eight-week Institute in the Philosophy of Religion at Eastern Washington University in Bellingham, sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities. The Institute was directed by Professors William Alston and Alvin Plantinga and included as faculty some of the most prominent philosophers of religion in both the U.S. and Great Britain.
We met all day Monday thru Friday and a half day on Saturday, as well as three evenings a week. Near the end of July, sensing participant burnout, Professor Alston announced that we were going to take a day off the coming Friday and that, for those interested, plans had been made for a whaling boat excursion of the coast of Puget Sound. All of us eagerly signed up.
On Thursday night — the eve of the excursion — I remembered that I had accepted an invitation to teach the priesthood lesson on Sunday in the high priests group of the Bellingham 2nd Ward — my ward for the summer. Realizing that there would be little time later, I decided to read and begin to prepare the lesson.
The manual that year was based on the Old Testament. The particular lesson dealt with seeking and receiving spiritual confirmation of gospel truth. The introduction to the lesson included a passage from Jeremiah containing the phrase "in mine heart like a burning fire," and a quotation from President Harold B. Lee which said (I'm paraphrasing): "One is not truly converted until he sees the spirit of the Lord resting upon the leaders of the church and that testimony goes down into one's heart like fire."
As I read and pondered the lesson material, I felt a very strong impression that there was someone who was struggling with his faith who very much needed this lesson and that I consequently I needed to prepare the lesson with great care and prayer —so much so that I should forego the whaling boat excursion on the morrow and spend the entire day Friday in preparation.
I tried to brush these feelings aside — I really wanted very much to go on that whaling boat expedition. But the feelings persisted. The thought came to me: you will only pass this way but once. There is someone who will especially benefit from your thorough preparation of the priesthood lesson.
The battle continued. That's a very vain and presumptuous thought, I countered. God doesn't need me; he can do his work through anyone. The conflict continued for some time, but eventually my lower self lost the battle. I gave up the excursion and spent all day Friday preparing the priesthood lesson. I read and reread the lesson, together with the scriptures cited.
I took several walks to ponder the manual's content and spent much time on my knees praying for guidance. And guidance came. Impressions were clear. You need to deal with these issues; you need to invite class members to respond to these questions. You need to reflect on these scriptures, you to need to share these experiences.
Never before had I felt such clear direction in my preparation. By the end of the day, my lesson outline was completely and clearly spelled out. I thought about the members of high priest group, wondering for whom I was specially preparing the lesson, but I drew a blank. Having been in the group for only six weeks, I didn't know any of them very well.
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