Sunday, October 14, 2012

My Testimony of the Book of Mormon

As of last week, I have finished the Book of Mormon.

This might be a dangerous thing to say, but until recently I had never even come close to accomplishing such a feat. In fact, in past years I was far more interested in reconciling my religion with others than with actually delving into its doctrine and scripture. This has changed. I now know that you must recognize the truth of your intellectual roots before you can begin to look for it elsewhere, and as a result my life and testimony have grown immeasurably richer. If I were to put it boldly, I would say that reading the Book of Mormon has caused me to experience my religion's truth in a way unlike anything else. Here I will try to convey this experience, show that it is indeed a rod leading to God's love, and testify that it is true.

The Book of Mormon is not a collection of disparate stories and sermons - it is a unified whole with consistent and coherent themes. But there is one motif that is more all-encompassing than any other, and it is stated in very clear words near the beginning. I speak of 2 Nephi 2:11, and I now insist that Lehi's teaching of an opposition in all things is the book's most important passage. This work of scripture is filled to the brim with opposition of all sorts, as it depicts persecution, war, suffering, and destruction. But the key truth at its heart is that this opposition leads to harmony. Think of the trans-oceanic journeys in 1 Nephi and Ether, the Nephites' half-millennium-long wait for Christ, and the destruction that occurs just prior to his coming: in each case the conflict leads directly to joy, making it worth more than it would be otherwise. Even seemingly meaningless conflicts like the wars of Alma or Mormon find their import in the significance they give to the reader's lives. All of this speaks directly to us: our own suffering and opposition will ultimately have meaning and be for our good. 

However, there is an opposition which was uniquely significant to me, as it turns out that I was opposed to the book itself. When I read it, I was suddenly struck by how many flaws there were: it was often condemning, had dubious historicity, and was, to put it bluntly, awkwardly-worded. The critical reader inside of me was initially very resistant, wondering how such an imperfect work could have any inherent worth. But I trudged through the "wo unto"'s and the "and it came to pass"'s, having faith that it would ultimately mean something. Though it was very frustrating, and though I felt at times like I should give up, I ultimately emerged from the mists of darkness and experienced something extraordinary: I found that I didn't care about the book's foibles, for I had tapped into the heart of gold beneath them. In fact, the words on the page soon became completely irrelevant. Everything written there was merely a conduit, transparent glass that allowed me to perceive the ineffable light of divine truth within. I ultimately became a prism for this light, as when I was in the resultant spiritual "zone" I became more virtuous, receiving spiritual epiphanies like machine-gun-fire.

I do not believe I could have experienced this state without struggling through the literary flaws which preceded it. The oppositions of language, history, and ethics that some readers may experience with this book are spiritual paradoxes, (koans) which are quite intentional and serve a specific purpose. In truth, the Book of Mormon is a test. These paradoxes check our spiritual mettle, causing the critical reader to either dismiss or believe the claims made therein. For if one is to get anything out of this book, he or she must read it with faith. And if they do so, they will be rewarded.

Though the Book of Mormon was an amazing experience, the reward I speak of came to me in its fullness only near the end. No, I'm not talking about Christ's visit to the Americas, though that was rewarding in its own right. Instead, I speak of the Brother of Jared's divine vision. You see, I had always had a problem with the notion of God's body. To think of the origin of the universe - the link between you, me, and everything else - having body parts like a nose, elbows, or toenails was the epitome of ugliness. Considering this, and that Ether 3 is the most clear elucidation of divine corporeality short of the King Follett discourse, I thought I was headed into a train wreck. But I was to be surprised. I cannot tell you why, but in that moment I had absolutely no problems with the doctrine of God's body. This intellectual peace, my goal since long before I began this blog, was nothing less than miraculous. To me, it was a divine encounter in itself.

But is the Book of Mormon true? That seems to be the key question, doesn't it? Answered with a "no", everything falls apart. It means there is no priesthood, that the first vision never happened, and that all the saints' sufferings were for naught. But if it's true, then all else follows. So, which is it? After taking a course in epistemology, I cannot claim that the words on a page grant me any knowledge about the historical events in ancient Mesoamerica. There are too many factors that might interfere to positively claim you know the book is true. However, this is only a problem when using knowledge in a traditional sense. There is another, better, model of knowledge which makes the Book of Mormon true without any question. Devised by a man named William James, it goes like this: something is true if it proves useful to one who believes in it. Or, if I might rephrase it, something is true if it has "good fruits". And what are the fruits of the Book of Mormon if not good? Think of how many people's lives, including mine, have been made better for reading it. It is beyond measure.

I am suddenly reminded of Alma 32: "O then, is not this real? I say unto you, Yea, because it is light; and whatsoever is light, is good". The Book of Mormon, because it has so much of this light and good, is real. Moreover, it is true, in every way that matters. Knowing this, I humbly leave this testimony with you, saying these things in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.