Tuesday, January 30, 2018

A Testimony Settled as Dust

by Erin & John West  
At a youth fireside in Bellvue, Washington during January of 2016, Elder Dallin H. Oaks was asked what one should pray for in order to receive the same testimony that Alma the Younger had.  Elder Oaks’ answered the question, saying,

“I’ve never had an experience like that and I don’t know anyone among the 1st Presidency or Quorum of the 12 who’ve had that kind of experience. Yet every one of us knows of a certainty the things that Alma knew. But it’s just that unless the Lord chooses to do it another way, as he sometimes does; for millions and millions of His children the testimony settles upon us gradually. Like so much dust on the windowsill or so much dew on the grass.  One day you didn’t have it and another day you did and you don’t know which day it happened. That’s the way I got my testimony. And then I knew it was true when it continued to grow.”

While Oaks’ makes a valid point in that the Lord can choose to give us a testimony in a variety of ways, unfortunately it is used to support a faulty method of receiving a testimony of the Gospel, of Christ, or of anything we seek to understand.  A testimony settles gradually like dust on a windowsill?  Or like dew on the grass?  Why is comparing a testimony to dust and dew so problematic?

Dust in the Wind

Picture the windowsill Elder Oaks spoke of and imagine the dust settling on it over time.  What happens to this dust when someone comes and blows it away with one strong breath, or comes and wipes it away with a cloth?  The questions answer themselves.  The dust is gone and there is no trace of it and you are left with a clean windowsill.  Now, what if your testimony is like this dust?

Some scriptures come to mind here.  The first is from Ephesians 4.  In verse eight, Paul teaches that when Jesus ascended, “he gave gifts unto men.”

“It was he who gave some as apostles, some as prophets, some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, that is, to build up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God—a mature person, attaining to the measure of Christ’s full stature. So we are no longer to be children, tossed back and forth by waves and carried about by every wind of teaching by the trickery of people who craftily carry out their deceitful schemes.” (Ephesians 4:11-14)

If our testimony is like dust, it can be blown away by “every wind of teaching” that comes our way.  It can be wiped away by the trickery of other people.  Paul tells us we are to come to a knowledge of the Son of God.  In the epistle of James we are told to ask God and He will give liberally (not exactly a gradual, unnoticeable thing there.)  “But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed.” (James 1:6).  If our testimony is dust, or like the waves of the sea, it is easily changed and even removed. 

A Sure Nail

What if our testimony was something different, like a nail?  Look back to our windowsill and imagine someone coming and driving a nail into the windowsill.  Can that be wiped or blown away?  Even if someone were to come and pry the nail out again, evidence of the nail’s existence remains—a hole.  Regardless of what one does, there is evidence on that windowsill that cannot be removed.  A testimony based on evidence is no different. 

How is such a testimony gained?  1 Nephi 10 contains a very simple answer, “For he that diligently seeketh shall find; and the mysteries of God shall be unfolded unto them, by the power of the Holy Ghost, as well in these times as in times of old, and as well in times of old as in times to come; wherefore, the course of the Lord is one eternal round.”  We are promised that if we diligently seek, we will find something…we are going to find that witness.  Christ in Doctrine & Covenants 93:1 makes the same statement but in a more vivid manner, “Verily, thus saith the Lord: It shall come to pass that every soul who forsaketh his sins and cometh unto me, and calleth on my name, and obeyeth my voice, and keepeth my commandments, shall see my face and know that I am…”  Seeing the face of Christ is not an undetectable subtle event to which we don’t come to a realization to twenty years down the road.  It is a very clear, unmistakable event, a witness upon which our testimony of Him can be based.

Nephi and Thomas

The truths contained in the two scriptures quoted above are proved in the examples of Nephi in the Book of Mormon, and Thomas in the New Testament.  With Nephi, his father revealed to him and his siblings the vision of the Tree of Life,

“And it came to pass after I, Nephi, having heard all the words of my father, concerning the things which he saw in a vision, and also the things which he spake by the power of the Holy Ghost, which power he received by faith on the Son of God—and the Son of God was the Messiah who should come—I, Nephi, was desirous also that I might see, and hear, and know of these things, by the power of the Holy Ghost, which is the gift of God unto all those who diligently seek him, as well in times of old as in the time that he should manifest himself unto the children of men.” –1 Nephi 10:17 (emphasis added)

Nephi’s request was very specific.  He wanted the power of the Holy Ghost to manifest to him in several ways: to help him see, hear, and know.  How long it took for what happened next isn’t very clear.  What is clear is that the answer he received didn’t settle like dust imperceptibly over a long period of time.  It was a nail driven into his soul—

“For it came to pass after I had desired to know the things that my father had seen, and believing that the Lord was able to make them known unto me, as I sat pondering in mine heart I was caught away in the Spirit of the Lord, yea, into an exceedingly high mountain, which I never had before seen, and upon which I never had before set my foot.  And the Spirit said unto me: Behold, what desirest thou? And I said: I desire to behold the things which my father saw.  And the Spirit said unto me: Believest thou that thy father saw the tree of which he hath spoken?  And I said: Yea, thou knowest that I believe all the words of my father.  And when I had spoken these words, the Spirit cried with a loud voice, saying: Hosanna to the Lord, the most high God; for he is God over all the earth, yea, even above all. And blessed art thou, Nephi, because thou believest in the Son of the most high God; wherefore, thou shalt behold the things which thou hast desired.” (1 Nephi 11:1-6)

We all know how the rest of this goes.  Nephi is shown his father’s vision, and is given its interpretation.   He witnesses the birth of the Savior, watches His ministry and death.  He is also shown a great deal more beyond that, such as Christ visiting the Nephites in His resurrected glory, and the destruction of the Nephite nation, etc.   He was able to see and know all things.  Were anyone to try and sway Nephi from his testimony, they’d fail, as he’d be able to counter them with the variety of witnesses he received.  

It is as Christ said in Matthew 7, “Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock:  And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock.”  Nephi followed the godly counsel to seek diligently.  He kept the Lord’s commandments, and he received witnesses from the Lord.  His testimony was built on a rock.  You might even say it was like a nail hammered into a windowsill.

Thomas is another example of how those that seek, will find.  Unfortunately, he’s been labeled “Doubting Thomas” and this is used to describe anyone who seeks a witness, even if they are a faithful individual desiring confirmation of something they already believe.  Jesus taught his disciples about not just His death, but also His resurrection:

“Then said some of his disciples among themselves, What is this that he saith unto us, A little while, and ye shall not see me: and again, a little while, and ye shall see me: and, Because I go to the Father?  They said therefore, What is this that he saith, A little while? we cannot tell what he saith.  Now Jesus knew that they were desirous to ask him, and said unto them, Do ye inquire among yourselves of that I said, A little while, and ye shall not see me: and again, a little while, and ye shall see me?  Verily, verily, I say unto you, That ye shall weep and lament, but the world shall rejoice: and ye shall be sorrowful, but your sorrow shall be turned into joy.  A woman when she is in travail hath sorrow, because her hour is come: but as soon as she is delivered of the child, she remembereth no more the anguish, for joy that a man is born into the world.  And ye now therefore have sorrow: but I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man taketh from you.”  (John 16:17-22)

Christ said He would see them again!  The general response of the disciples went as follows, “His disciples said unto him, Lo, now speakest thou plainly, and speakest no proverb.  Now are we sure that thou knowest all things, and needest not that any man should ask thee: by this we believe that thou camest forth from God.” (John 16:29-30)  Surely Thomas was among them and claimed this same belief?

After Jesus’ resurrection, he visited his disciples and showed the nail prints in His hands and feet to the disciples.  All but Thomas were present at that time (John 20:19-24).  The disciples came and told Thomas all that had happened.  He responded, “…Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe.” (John 20:25)  He wanted to experience what they had.  He wasn’t going to rely on their witness alone.  Jesus seems to recognize Thomas' desire when He comes to visit just over a week later.

“And after eight days again his disciples were within, and Thomas with them: then came Jesus, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, Peace be unto you.  Then saith he to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing.  And Thomas answered and said unto him, My Lord and my God.   Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.” (John 20:26-29)

Jesus showed great love for Thomas by giving him the witness he desired.  This confirmed what he foretold back in John 16:22, “And ye now therefore have sorrow: but I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man taketh from you.”  This testimony Thomas received was very much a strong nail driven into him and brought him joy.  It couldn’t be taken away from him.

When we allow our testimonies to be as dust, with no concrete, undeniable evidence, we place power into the hands of others to take our testimony away, wiping it clean so there is no trace of it.  As a result, we toss to and fro, and our testimony is as the man who built his house on sand, “And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it.” (Matthew 7:27)

However, if we seek God and pray faithfully for witnesses from Him, then our testimony is as  a nail.  It leaves a mark which cannot be removed by others.  We can boldly testify to the truth of all things when we have the evidence to back it up. 

(A special thanks to my husband for coming up with the idea that gave birth to this article.)

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