Years ago, I attended a series of lectures at BYU where the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha, the Bible, and the Book of Mormon were discussed. I later learned that some of the scholars who lectured were agnostic. This surprised me. I was hard pressed to understand how someone could spend their life studying the Bible, the Book of Mormon and other religious text and yet be agnostic: neither believing nor disbelieving.
Since then, I’ve come to understand that the gospel net really does “gathereth of every kind.” Apparently, Mormonism can be attractive on many levels. Some individuals are born and raised in the church and therefore are “Mormon”, while some individuals are drawn to the message of the restoration, others by those who proclaim the gospel—their missionary, some are intrigued by the doctrine and or history, and still others are drawn to the culture, and some find the moral and ethical principles to their liking—and yet all of them can ultimately be agnostic—never being “brought into the light”.
The scriptures explain it this way:
And he said: Go and tell this people—Hear ye indeed, but they understood not; and see ye indeed, but they perceived not. 2 Nephi 16:9
But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. 1 Corinthians 2:14
Whatever our initial exposure is to the phenomena of Mormonism, in order to receive “the things of the Spirit”, certain things must be done. The scriptures teach:
Wherefore, now after I have spoken these words, if ye cannot understand them it will be because ye ask not, neither do ye knock; wherefore, ye are not brought into the light, but must perish in the dark. 2 Nephi 32:4
Those who “ask and knock” receive light, in other words “the things of the Spirit”.
The Book of Mormon recounts the transformation of individuals and even groups of people because of “asking and knocking”. Nephi prayed and his heart was softened so that he believed the words of his father Lehi (1 Nephi 2:16). Enos says he received a remission of his sins after a “wrestle” with the Lord in mighty prayer (Enos 1:2-4). King Benjamin and members of the Nephi church experienced a mighty change of heart at their “general conference” (Mosiah 5:2). Lehi and Nephi in prison with hundreds of nonbelievers experienced an out pouring of the spirit. All the nonbelievers were converted (Helaman 5:21-52).
Generally, asking and knocking creates transforming experiences that distils upon the soul as the “dews from heaven”, rather than a dramatic answer. This kind of transforming experience “descends upon the recipient as gently and almost imperceptibly as the moisture of dew descends upon the earth”.
If we desire to be brought into, and grow in the light, the Book of Mormon teaches the importance of knocking, seeking, yearning, and even wrestling with the Lord in mighty prayer before we can have access to “the things of the Spirit.” Developing faith and growing in faith takes time, effort, and diligence.
There are millions of Mormon church members who can testify that they have paid the price and received the things of the Spirit because they have asked and knocked and been brought into the light.
However, there are some among us like a blogger named Mike. He says, I’ve read and prayed about the Book of Mormon for many years. I must have read it 10 to 15 times. I’ve done a good job keeping the commandments, I’ve maintained a temple recommend since my mission. I’ve married in the temple and accepted callings, how is it that I haven’t had an answer to prayer about the Book of Mormon, or anything else, like others in the church claim? I want to believe, but I don’t have the kind of witness to say that I know the church is true.
How do we answer Mike’s questions?
I don’t have special insight into how to answer these questions. My experience is that the Lord has heard an answered my prayers in unmistakable ways. My testimony of the Book of Mormon came on the first reading.
Based on my understanding of the scriptures I answer these questions using the following passages of scripture.
Doubt not, but be believing, and begin as in times of old, and come unto the Lord with all your heart, and work out your own salvation with fear and trembling before him. Mormon 9:27
I believe this verse is applicable to all who would follow Christ. This is true for the current prophet or Mike the blogger. Faith is a decision.
Nephi’s brothers, Laman and Lemuel, witnessed and participated in many miracles to the extent that there was no room for doubt in their hearts. They knew God was working through Lehi and Nephi, but they wouldn’t humble themselves and consistently keep the commandments of God. Therefore, they were not brought into the light.
On the other hand, there are people like Nephi’s brother Sam. He believed in the words of Nephi (1 Nephi 2:17).
The following scripture describes why Sam believed Nephi, and remained faithful all the days of his life:
To some it is given by the Holy Ghost to know that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and that he was crucified for the sins of the world.
To others it is given to believe on their words, that they also might have eternal life if they continue faithful. D&C 46:13 – 14
Sam made the decision to believe and was faithful in very trial he encountered.
Lastly, Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin related the following:
A friend of mine once told me about his experience in coming to know and understand the gift of the Holy Ghost. He had prayed often and longed to know the truth of the gospel.
Although he felt at peace with his beliefs, he had never received the certain knowledge for which he hungered. He had reconciled himself to the fact that he might be one of those who would have to walk through this life relying upon the faith of others.
One morning, while pondering the scriptures, he felt something surge through his body from the top of his head to the bottom of his feet. “I was immersed in a feeling of such intense love and pure joy,” he explained. “I cannot describe the measure of what I felt at that time other than to say I was enveloped in joy so profound there was no room in me for any other sensation.”
Even as he felt this outpouring of the Holy Ghost, he wondered if possibly he was just imagining what was happening. “The more I wondered,” he said, “the more intense the feelings became until it was all I could do to tearfully say, “It is enough.” The Unspeakable Gift, Joseph B. Wirthlin, April 2003 General Conference