You Have To Want It To Be True to Know

I’ve carried on a few rather extensive conversations on this blog regarding the matter of a testimony of what the LDS Church teaches to be true. Some of the people with whom I’ve been discussing this topic are former members of the LDS Church who have left. Similarly, I’ve had family members, friends, and friends of friends who have either left the Church recently, or are struggling with their belief in the Church. Amongst all these people, perhaps 10 in number, I’ve noticed patterns in the words they use. In many cases the words are so close to being verbatim that I’ve wondered whether or not they’ve all read a common article or book from which they’re all speaking. I’ve also noticed certain common actions or behaviors. As far as what they’ve said, I’ve heard the following over and over again:

1. I truly wanted to know if the LDS Church was true.

2. I studied and prayed and followed the formula in Moroni 10:3-5 to get a testimony.

3. I didn’t receive an answer, therefore the LDS Church isn’t true.

This is often followed up with the statement “I’ve never had a spiritual experience that told me or led me to believe the LDS Church was true.”

In some cases people have expressed that they’ve never had any spiritual experience whatsoever, and therefore they are certain there is no God. Others say they’ve had spiritual experiences that lead them to believe in God and/or Jesus Christ, but not the LDS Church, Joseph Smith, the Book of Mormon, etc.

I propose that these people have not received knowledge that the LDS Church is true because they do not want it to be true.

In bringing up this idea to those with whom I’ve discussed the matter, some are offended and angry. They tell me they did indeed want to know if the LDS Church was true, and they cried and pleaded with God to tell them, but they received no answer, and they cried when they realized it wasn’t true. I don’t intend to cast doubt on whether these people wanted to know if the Church was true, but this is different than wanting the Church to be true.

How do I know that, at least in some cases, these people did not want the Church to be true? Because; 1) they placed the burden of truth on the Church rather than on those sources against the Church, and 2) their behavior changed after they “discovered” the Church was “not true”.

If someone wants the Church to be true, they will fight to believe in it and will discount all evidence against it until there is something that provides absolute proof against it. There is no such proof against the LDS Church. Oh, I know people think they have proof, but they don’t. They have circumstantial evidence that depends on assumptions. The challenge detractors of the faith have is that the burden is on them to prove a negative. Those I’ve talked with have required far less than negative proof, which is what anyone who truly wants to believe the Church to be true would require. Instead, those I know who have left the Church have assumed the Church was false based on limited evidence and faulty assumptions.

With regards to behavior, if someone leaves the Church and immediately began a life of debauchery boozing it up, sleeping around, selling crack, spitting, cussing, and burning flags, growing a beard, betting on cock fights, etc., you would naturally and logically assume they were simply looking for a way out of the Church because what they really wanted was to participate in these types of activities. I don’t know anyone who has left the Church and gone on to participate in all those activities, but in some cases I have seen people participate in one or more of these activities, and do so in such a manner as to make one wonder. But I know of others who have left the Church and have continued to live very good, “Christian” lives. They might even work harder at being good than they did while a Mormon, which would seem to lay waste to the charge that they’re merely lazy.

In making the claim that one must want the Church to be true in order to discover if it is, I open myself to the criticism “Well of course if someone wants the Church to be true then they’re going to feel good about it.” Allow me to clarify what I mean, because I’m not necessarily saying someone has to want the LDS Church to be true, but that they want the doctrines to be true, or they simply want to know what the truth really is and they’re open to it being anything. I think the following story helps explain.

President Woodruff was ordained an apostle on April 26, 1839, and just a short time later left for Great Britain. The following is an anecdote from his service there:

“When I arose to speak at Brother Benbow’s house, a man entered the door and informed me that he was a constable, and had been sent by the rector of the parish with a warrant to arrest me. I asked him, ‘For what crime?’ He said, ‘For preaching to the people.’ I told him that I, as well as the rector, had a license for preaching the gospel to the people, and that if he would take a chair I would wait upon him after meeting. He took my chair and sat beside me. For an hour and a quarter I preached the first principles of the everlasting gospel. The power of God rested upon me, the spirit filled the house, and the people were convinced. At the close of the meeting I opened the door for baptism, and seven offered themselves. Among the number were four preachers and the constable. The latter arose and said, ‘Mr. Woodruff, I would like to be baptized.’ I told him I would like to baptize him. I went down into the pool and baptized the seven. We then came together. I confirmed thirteen, administered the Sacrament, and we all rejoiced together.
“The constable went to the rector and told him that if he wanted Mr. Woodruff taken for preaching the gospel, he must go himself and serve the writ; for he had heard him preach the only true gospel sermon he had ever listened to in his life. The rector did not know what to make of it, so he sent two clerks of the Church of England as spies, to attend our meeting, and find out what we did preach. They both were pricked in their hearts, received the word of the Lord gladly, and were baptized and confirmed members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The rector became alarmed, and did not venture to send anybody else.” (In Cowley, Wilford Woodruff, p. 118.)

The constable who was sent obviously didn’t want to believe in the LDS Church, nor did those clerks sent after him. But they evidently were interested in the truth, whatever the source, and when they heard it they recognized it. Consequences of joining the LDS Church were secondary to them.

Much of the reason why these three so easily joined the LDS Church has to do with the culture of the time. Doubt about religion in general was nowhere near as prevalent as in the developed nations of today. People were more apt to believe things of a spiritual nature generally, as they are in many places of the world today, although not so much in the United States and western Europe. People today are more hardened, jaded, doubtful, skeptical, etc. and that may not be their fault so much as merely the result of the environment.

The point is that it’s not that someone has to want the Book of Mormon or the LDS Church to be true to know, they have to want the doctrines taught by those sources to be true. And in saying that, I am not saying they have to have a preconceived notion of those doctrines, but that upon hearing them they have to be appealing.

A case in point is the doctrine of eternal marriage. If someone hears that upon becoming a faithful member of the LDS Church they can be joined with their family in a marriage that will not be merely ’til death do you part, but for all eternity, lasting beyond this life, but that doesn’t sound like something they want, then they will not receive a testimony of that doctrine. Partly because they will not likely take the steps to gain a testimony of that doctrine, but also because why would God give them a spiritual confirmation of it if it’s not something they want? In doing so, God would be giving them knowledge that does no good for them, but only places them in a position of knowing something they don’t want to know, which opens them to more condemnation than they would otherwise be subject to.

Likewise if someone wants to believe there is no God, they will never find out if there is one. If someone wants to believe that only the Bible is true, and that nothing else is, they will never gain a testimony of the Book of Mormon. If one does not want to believe that modern-day prophets exist, they will never gain a testimony of Joseph Smith’s calling.

It is only when someone hears the message of the gospel, likes it, and wants to know if it’s true so that they can live it, and then take the steps necessary to find out, that they will find out. This is what sincere faith looks like, as opposed to idle curiosity.

One last comment…there is this issue of time. Some will say “I wanted to know if these things were true, and I prayed and studied for two years and I never got an answer.” Well, maybe God was testing you to see if you really wanted to know, and it would have taken three years. For others perhaps it would take 10 years, maybe 20 for others. When we put arbitrary time limits on God, we are showing that we do not have real faith. I don’t mean that a lack of real faith is a character flaw, I mean we don’t really want that thing, the object of our faith, to be true. If I really want the LDS Church to be true, if I want the things it teaches to be true, I will go through all the actions of being an active member even if I don’t have an answer. Or even in the face of doubt and evidence against the Church. This is the definition of faith. If one has an answer that something is true, they have knowledge, not faith. Therefore, if someone says they left the LDS Church because they didn’t receive an answer, the lack of an answer is not the root cause, but rather a lack of faith, or a lack of wanting the LDS Church to be true.

Now, if someone does not want the LDS Church to be true, what can be done to convince them? Nothing. It is like trying to convince someone who doesn’t like chocolate that they really do. If our goal is to spread the gospel we should not be engaged in trying to convince those who have no interest. We should be focused on finding those who already do want it to be true, but simply don’t know about it yet, or have misunderstandings but are ultimately seekers of truth. For those who don’t want the gospel to be true, we might as well stop trying to convince them and just love them as they are, regardless of whether they ever join the Church or not.

Comments

  1. Almighty God likes the open-minded that will hearken to the voice of the Holy Ghost as it speaks and sends divine confirmation to the seeking and honest in heart who pray to know whether the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ is true – or not.

    I had a discussion with a young man that attended a fireside presentation I gave in a ward some years ago about the reality of Jesus as our Saviour. Afterwards he engaged me in conversation about his own unanswered prayers. I answered his questions as best I could.

    Finally, he said, "I suppose that before God answer's prayer you have to humble yourself first."

    I'd say he was inspired to reach that conclusion.

  2. Good post. Have you ever noticed that in preach my gospel (missionary handbook) it says that investigators should pray to know THAT the Book of Mormon is true? It doesn't say IF. On my mission, this lead me to similar conclusions as the ones you have stated here. People have to see the gospel as something beautiful–otherwise it is not possible for them to sincerely want to know THAT it is true.

  3. I did want it to be true. Very much so. And it didn't make a lick of a difference.

  4. BTW, I spent 10 years after my mission wanting it to be true. Watching other people getting married, watching my life pass me by, seeing beautiful girls that I wished I could spend a lifetime with if I could just believe. If I could only believe. It has been hell. To say that those who don't believe only don't believe because they don't want to believe is an utter lie.

  5. "To say that those who don’t believe only don’t believe because they don’t want to believe is an utter lie."

    Yes that is an utter lie Scott, but I don't believe that is what is being said here, rather:

    "Those who don’t want to believe will never know until they do want to believe."

    Your statement is all inclusive; wherereas, this post is directly referencing those people who choose to not want to believe.

    With that said, I want to address your other concern, the more you would be willing to share the better I can understand where you are coming from.

    1. What makes you feel that you did not believe and still do not believe?

    2. "If I could only believe," What prevented you from believing?

    I want to share with you a very personal struggle; which I do at risk to myself and against my better judgement.

    From a very young age I found myself caught deep within a crippling addiction. I fought every single night against this addiction and for many years would cry myself to sleep. I continued to attend church and listen to individuals preach about the saving power of the atonement of Jesus Christ and it broke me in every sense of the word. How could Christ not take this burden from off my shoulders when all I have done is try with every fiber of my being to break its hold on me. I would spend every moment I could to preach the gospel and live the commandments and to no avail. As the years passed I came to the age to serve a mission and I was beside myself as to what to do. I read the entire Book of Mormon and received a testimony of it through prayer, but still no change in my power over my addiction. I prayed about the decision to serve a mission and received another answer I could never deny that I needed to serve. I went to speak with my bishop and, "air my laundry" as they say. Few people can understand the level of humiliation and embarrasment one must descend to in order to bear their most guarded and darkest secrets of themselves to others. The experience is painful to say the least.

    I served my mission and struggled greatly, I returned and struggled worse. My future was grim and my hope was lost, for I had tried so hard and still no hope would last for more than weeks. I gave in as I had done so many times before in my life, but this time was the worst, I stopped attending church and I stopped praying to my Heavenly Father. I still believed in my savior Jesus Christ, but I pushed Him away because I was sick of trying so hard with no lasting success. I felt that my Savior had left me alone to suffer for my whole life. Those were the darkest and most hopeless moments of my life, I remember the pain and I remember the hatred. Yet, in His infinite love He reached one more time into my life. I do not know why this time was different from any of the previous times, but slowly my mind began to understand that for some reason it was the way it was. For some reason it was a grueling 11 year journey for me to find the peace and hope which I always knew was found in the Atonement of Jesus Christ. For some reason I had to walk that path and see failure every way I turned. For some reason I was finally ready to face a new challenge in my life and move on with a profound love of my Savior and an unflinching trust in His love and mercy. In all my suffering and in all my pain I could never have known it would make me the man I am today but proudly I will always defend my Savior, untill the day I die for He never abandoned me and I was always watched over and protected. Although I may not fully understand the reason behind my sufferings, I am grateful that I now personally know and taste of the strength of Jesus Christ daily.

    Scott, I now believe in Christ in a way I never would have thought possible. I believe in Him as I believe in a man standing right next to me. No man will ever take my knowledge of my Savior Jesus Christ away from me, and for that, every single moment of pain and suffering was worth it; twice over.

    In His name,

    Amen

  6. "If someone wants the Church to be true, they will fight to believe in it and will discount all evidence against it until there is something that provides absolute proof against it. There is no such proof against the LDS Church. Oh, I know people think they have proof, but they don’t. They have circumstantial evidence that depends on assumptions. The challenge detractors of the faith have is that the burden is on them to prove a negative."

    This is nonsense. Believing in something unless someone provides you "absolute proof" against it is called rationalizing. Jehovah's Witnesses do it all the time. The very suggestion that Mormon testimonies are only obtained by first convincing somebody that these things are true – and getting them to pray about it after you've gotten them to want it to be true – is a discredit to whole experience. It's something I'd expect to hear from someone discrediting and dismissing Mormon testimonies as the result of a combination of wish fulfillment and conditioning. Maybe that's why no canonical support is given for this argument, none whatsoever. The real reason for making this argument is to be able to dismiss and deny the non-testimonies of those who say they prayed and got nothing. Instead of saying something like, "Well, you follow your convictions and I'll follow mine," Scott has invented some psychobabble about not getting a testimony "because you didn't want one." This insular thinking is why some people cough up blood when they hear the word "Mormon."

    As a matter of basic logic, the burden of proof is always on the person presenting a proposition as true, not on the doubter. If I want to establish Proposition X as true, it is on me to show why and how, not on everyone around me to "prove the negative." The best you can say, for something you believe because you've had a special witness, is to say that your conviction is not based on logic but on that special witness. If someone says they tried by didn't get the same result, the classiest approach is to offer your condolences and wish them better success in the future. Telling that person that he or she must not have been sincere about it is just throwing salt in an open wound, especially when the person you're speaking with has scars from burdens that are theirs. If we're going to guess the motives of others, you might want to consider what motivates you to judge others and their motives. I've seen this before, particularly in Utah – though certainly not just in it. Beware the symptoms of the Nephite disease. Make sure the testimony you brag about having isn't just your own pride wrapped in a prettier wrapper.

  7. That reference to "Scott" is a typo. I'm not sure who wrote the above essay. I stand by the rest of my comments.

  8. @scott – I am not advocating "believing in something unless someone provides you “absolute proof” against it…" just because someone wants to believe it. The way I see it, I have absolute proof of the truthfulness of the gospel as taught by the LDS Church. Therefore, would it not be illogical for me to require anything less than absolute truth of its falseness to change my mind?

    "As a matter of basic logic, the burden of proof is always on the person presenting a proposition as true, not on the doubter. If I want to establish Proposition X as true, it is on me to show why and how, not on everyone around me to 'prove the negative.'"

    I agree, but I am not trying to establish Proposition X or anything else as true. Nor is the Book of Mormon, nor the LDS Church, nor God himself. That is, none of these are trying to force anyone to believe anything. We're out there trying to prove that what we believe is true. We are inviting people to find proof. If they don't want to know if it's true then like you say, I offer them my condolences and hope that they'll be interested some day. But when someone comes to me and says "If you can't prove to me that what you believe is true then it must be false." then they are the ones trying to establish a proposition, that is, the idea that if I cannot provide them with proof that the LDS Church is true, it must be false. And so the burden of proof rests with them in this situation, not me.

    As for salt in the wound, surely there are better ways to approach things depending on the circumstances, but my intent here is to explore and find truth, and while I am not out to offend or hurt anyone, I don't see the point in not exploring an idea because someone might have their feelings hurt. I believe that one possibility for why people don't get answers from God is due to a lack of sincerity. If I believe that to be true, why shouldn't I say it? If what I believe is actually the truth, and there are people out there who have been kept from the truth because of a lack of sincerity, perhaps the only way some of them will become sincere is by being called out and recognizing their fault. If I refuse to call them out because I don't want to hurt their feelings am I helping them or hurting them?

  9. Galatians 1:6-9

    6 I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, 7 which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. 9 As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed

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