I would first also address hope­ful­ly briefly why I don’t just rely on a spir­i­tu­al inspi­ra­tion as the con­fir­ma­tion of the true­ness of Book of Mor­mon or any oth­er church teach­ing, as most mem­bers do. As I stat­ed ear­li­er, we believe that the Holy Ghost will con­firm the truth of it to us by a burn­ing in the bosom or a feel­ing of com­fort and peace. Here are some real descrip­tions of indi­vid­u­als describ­ing these feelings:

The first time the mis­sion­ar­ies gave me a copy of the Book of Mor­mon, it was like a jolt of elec­tric­i­ty went through my body. From that moment, I knew that the Book of Mor­mon was the word of God. How­ev­er, it was through study, prayer, and a con­fir­ma­tion from the Holy Ghost that I knew for cer­tain this was true.”

But what can I say? How can I describe an expe­ri­ence so pro­found and so beau­ti­ful? Shall I say that it was the most blessed expe­ri­ence of my life? Shall I say that [God] touched my heart and gave me a feel­ing of peace I had not known before? Shall I describe the tears that flowed freely from my eyes, affirm­ing my […] faith, as I […] beg[ged] [God’s] bless­ings for myself and for those I love?”

As I read these books […], I felt a burn­ing in my heart that I should come and inves­ti­gate. My wife and I at that time had two chil­dren, and we made a deci­sion that we should pray and fast for the four days that I would be gone […] I am read­ing now the writ­ings […] regard­ing prophe­cy and pri­vate rev­e­la­tion. You find a beau­ti­ful bond between a prop­er cau­tion regard­ing a report­ed mes­sage, and also open­ness to the Holy Spir­it, and to prophe­cy and mirac­u­lous intervention.”

With­out under­stand­ing much […], he was attract­ed to tem­ples. There he often felt a strong feel­ing of peace flow­ing through his body.”

While on my jour­ney, I was ask­ing God what the truth was. I mean I was angry and I tru­ly want­ed to know. After a few weeks, I stum­bled onto a web­site that talked about the very things I was curi­ous about. It answered my ques­tions in a way that I had not heard of before. I read every­thing on the web site and I even tried the exper­i­ment of ask­ing God […]. After about 6 weeks, I felt a burn­ing in my chest and a sen­sa­tion that was unlike any­thing I had ever felt.”

Only the first one was an LDS mem­ber. The rest were a Mus­lim, a Catholic, a Hin­du, and a New Age each speak­ing about their spir­i­tu­al con­fir­ma­tion of their own reli­gion. The peace or burn­ing and con­vic­tion of the truth that each of these peo­ple felt was real. All of these mem­bers of dif­fer­ent reli­gions are all feel­ing spir­i­tu­al prompt­ings that they are in the right reli­gion. How could they all be right, when all of these reli­gions teach very dif­fer­ent doctrines?

As I believe the LDS approach goes, all church­es have some truth, so they will all feel the Spir­it in some way. But is that real­ly what’s going on here?

This is the sit­u­a­tion of the reli­gious world:

  • There are thou­sands of reli­gions, Chris­t­ian and non-Chris­t­ian, all with con­flict­ing doctrines.
  • Each one of them has many mem­bers in it who claim to know that their church is the right one.
  • They “know” they are right based on spir­i­tu­al prompt­ings dur­ing prayer or meditation.

LDS mem­bers claim to have access to a spe­cial and unique expe­ri­ence that oth­er peo­ple in oth­er reli­gions don’t expe­ri­ence. But that is just not true. The LDS church isn’t spe­cial in its use of spir­i­tu­al prompt­ings as “proof” of the truth. That’s the method every­one uses in every religion.

Let me give a poor but hope­ful­ly suf­fi­cient exam­ple. An old friend who had strug­gled with drugs invites you to his house to share to won­der­ful news that he has over­come the addic­tion with the help of his LDS bish­op. Your friend explains after reread­ing the teach­ings and exam­ples of Alma and Enos, in the Book of Mor­mon, he felt hope for the first time. He prayed and fast­ed, met reg­u­lar­ly with his bish­op, and he was giv­en the strength he lacked on his own. As your friend speaks and then the bish­op shares his tes­ti­mo­ny of repen­tance and for­give­ness, you feel joy and a warmth all over. What do these feel­ings mean? Well, we would say it is con­fir­ma­tion of the truth of our friend’s tes­ti­mo­ny and of the Book of Mor­mon and church that helped him change

Now, what if instead of the LDS bish­op, it was the Catholic priest? You friend read from the bible and found help at the Catholic church. The priest deliv­ers a beau­ti­ful mes­sage at this gath­er­ing about change and mer­cy. You feel joy and a nice warm feel­ing as he speaks. What does this mean? If you ask the priest, what would he say? It isn’t hard to imag­ine the answer being some­thing to the effect that he is a mes­sen­ger of God deliv­er­ing the truth, and you should join him at mass on Sunday.

Being LDS, you might ratio­nal­ize that the Catholic priest has some truth and the change was good, and so the mes­sage reached you through the Holy Ghost, but it didn’t mean any­thing else oth­er than that the mes­sage was good.

Now, what if instead of the LDS or Catholic church, your friend found help through the local Hin­du tem­ple, the local Hin­du pujari was shar­ing the mes­sage, and you feel the same burn­ing in your bosom. Does it mean that the Hin­dus have the truth? Or does it just mean that the mes­sage was an uplift­ing and inspir­ing mes­sage which touched you deeply?

Last exam­ple. I love the Lion King movie, as many peo­ple do. Every time I watch it, I have intense feel­ings when Sim­ba speaks to his father in the stars. I felt that it was the Holy Ghost. Why did I feel that way? Did it mean that the Lion King movie actu­al­ly hap­pened? Did it mean that our ances­tors are real­ly the stars we see? Or just a won­der­ful­ly touch­ing message?

I give these exam­ples to show:

  1. There are very pos­si­ble and real sit­u­a­tions out­side of church/prayer where you could feel these spe­cial feelings,
  2. and what we take those feel­ings to mean is per­son­al — it depends great­ly on our past expe­ri­ences and our per­spec­tive in that moment.

What does it mean if we feel the burn­ing in the bosom upon read­ing the Bible, or the Book of Mor­mon, or the Quran, or the Bud­dhist Kangyur, or the Sikh Guru Granth Sahib? I pro­pose that it means that what we read is a beau­ti­ful, uplift­ing mes­sage. I love many of the teach­ings of the Book of Mor­mon and find it to be a won­der­ful­ly inspir­ing book. The issue is that the LDS church holds up the Book of Mor­mon as proof that Joseph Smith, Jr saw what he said he saw, received what he said he received, and did what he said he did.

As Joseph Smith, Jr and many oth­er prophets and apos­tles have sim­i­lar­ly said, “… the Book of Mor­mon [is] the most cor­rect of any book on earth, and the key­stone of our reli­gion…” I hung my faith on this, just as we are taught to do — if the Book of Mor­mon is an actu­al his­tor­i­cal book as it pur­ports, then Joseph Smith, Jr was the cho­sen prophet of our dis­pen­sa­tion to restore the true gospel of Christ and with it the legit­i­mate church of Christ. If not, then under the best pos­si­ble light, he was an inspir­ing leader who either pur­pose­ly with good inten­tions or unin­ten­tion­al­ly con­vinced oth­ers to believe in beau­ti­ful but untrue doc­trines. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, that would also mean he was a fraud, as Pres­i­dent Hinck­ley stat­ed in the ear­li­er quote. If that be the case, and the Book of Mor­mon is not the tru­ly his­tor­i­cal book as claimed, the key­stone is gone and the LDS reli­gion is should not con­tin­ue to be held up by unfound­ed faith and hope alone.

Series Nav­i­ga­tion: My Search for Truth — Wes Trexler« Should We Avoid Doubts and Ques­tions?The Book of Mor­mon: Keystone »
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