David L. Paulsen: A confirmation of the truth at Bellingham, Wash.

By David L. Paulsen

For the Deseret News

Published: Wednesday, June 20 2012 5:00 a.m. MDT

It was the first Sunday in August and ward meetings began with fast and testimony meeting. Near the end of the meeting, a young woman, who was probably in her early 40s, came to the podium to share her testimony. Before doing so, she explained that she and her family were from out of state and that they were on their way to Vancouver, Canada, which was hosting the World's Fair. They felt impressed to stop in Bellingham to attend their meetings. She bore her testimony and returned to the bench, a few rows ahead of mine, where her husband and children were seated.

Her husband immediately followed her to the podium. He explained that, before the meeting, he had made a deal with his wife: although he had never spoken a word in a church meeting, if she would bear her testimony, he would bear his. He began by sharing some personal background. He reported that he had never been a believer. And that his study of the hard sciences, including chemistry, in college had served to confirm him in his atheism. While in college, he met and subsequently married the woman who was now his wife. She was, and she had always remained, an active member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Throughout their married life, she had always taken their children to the church, while he almost always spent his Sundays reading the newspapers, watching TV and resting.

Occasionally, he went to church with them, almost always when a family member was speaking or otherwise performing. And he sometimes participated with his wife in church social activities. In time, his rabid atheism was supplanted by an open agnosticism. It was then that he, at his wife's urging, was baptized. He became fully active in LDS Church activities. Nevertheless, he said, until this morning, he had never before borne his testimony, asked a question, or even spoken a word in an LDS Church meeting. In ending his remarks, he said: "I cannot honestly say 'I know the church is true.' I have never experienced a spiritual confirmation of its truthfulness. But, I can honestly say 'I know the church is good.'" And, he concluded: "I hope the church is true." He then returned to his seat.

While this brother was speaking, I received a powerful spiritual confirmation that he was the person for whom, with God's help, I had prepared the priesthood lesson. Accordingly, immediately following the close of the fast and testimony meeting, I introduced myself to him and invited him to our high priest group meeting. "Thank you," he said, "but I'm an elder." "That's alright," I said. "You're supposed to meet with the high priests this morning." Puzzled, he nonetheless came with me.

In the group meeting, I presented the lesson material — asking the questions, pondering the scriptures, sharing the experiences — as I had been divinely guided to do. Consistent with what he had reported in his testimony, this brother did not say a word.

But he lingered in the classroom following the closing prayer until only the two of us were left in the room. Then he thanked me for the priesthood lesson, reporting that the issues dealt with in the class were the very ones that he had struggled with throughout his life.

"Now I know how to resolve them," he said, "Thank you very much." He continued, "During the lesson, I received a spiritual confirmation that the restored gospel is true."

And then with tears streaming down his cheeks, he continued, "God brought me to Bellingham this morning."

And, through my tears, all I could say was, "I know."

David Lamont Paulsen is an emeritus professor of philosophy at Brigham Young University, where, from 1994 to 1998, he held the Richard L. Evans Chair of Religious Understanding. Professor Paulsen received an associate's degree from Snow College in English, a bachelor's degree from BYU in political science (graduating that year as BYU's valedictorian), a J.D. from the Law School of the University of Chicago in 1964, and then, after several years spent as a practicing attorney, a Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Michigan in 1975, with emphasis in the philosophy of religion. With Donald W. Musser, Professor Paulsen edited Mormonism in Dialogue with Contemporary Christian Theologies (Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 2008). He also wrote the foreword to The Mormon Doctrine of Deity: The Roberts-Van Der Donckt Discussion (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2000). Professor Paulsen has contributed articles to The International Journal for the Philosophy of Religion, Analysis ("Divine Determinateness and the Free Will Defence" [43:1]), The Harvard Theological Review.

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