Question: Did Elder Boyd K. Packer suggest that we should "lie our way" into obtaining a testimony?

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Question: Did Elder Boyd K. Packer suggest that we should "lie our way" into obtaining a testimony?

Introduction to Criticism

Critics of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have pointed to to certain statements from General Authorities and criticized them for the manner in which they suggest a testimony might be obtained.

For instance, the now late Elder Boyd K. Packer, an apostle, once wrote:

It is not unusual to have a missionary say, “How can I bear testimony until I get one? How can I testify that God lives, that Jesus is the Christ, and that the gospel is true? If I do not have such a testimony, would that not be dishonest?” Oh, if I could teach you this one principle. A testimony is to be found in the bearing of it! Somewhere in your quest for spiritual knowledge, there is that “leap of faith,” as the philosophers call it. It is the moment when you have gone to the edge of the light and stepped into the darkness to discover that the way is lighted ahead for just a footstep or two. “The spirit of man,” is as the scripture says, indeed “is the candle of the Lord.” (Prov. 20:27) [1]

Another apostle, Elder Dallin H. Oaks, has expressed similar sentiments about the obtainment of a testimony before.[2] Elder Gary E. Stevenson, another apostle, has reiterated those sentiments in print.[3]

Critics have also taken issue with a statement by Elder Neil L. Andersen, another apostle, who has counseled those seeking conviction of the truthfulness of Joseph Smith's claims to "[c]onsider recording the testimony of Joseph Smith in your own voice, listening to it regularly, and sharing it with friends. Listening to the Prophet’s testimony in your own voice will help bring the witness you seek."[4]

In the critics' point of view, these General Authorities are encouraging people to simply think and pray about the Church being true until they finally believe that it is i.e. "lie their way to faith."

Elder Packer is talking about having faith, which one must exercise before receiving a witness

Elder Packer and the other general authorities are not suggesting that a person must "lie their way" into having a testimony. Elder Packer is talking about having faith.

For instance, we read in Hebrews 11:1:

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

One exercises faith before one has the evidence to prove it. Elder Packer and the other authorities are simply restating the scriptural definition of "faith" in terms of "testimony."

When one exercises faith, results follow which strengthen that faith

When one exercises faith, results follow which strengthen that faith, but one has to take that first "leap of faith." One does not take a "leap of faith," unless they already have a seed of faith to begin with. Elder Packer and the other authorities are not suggesting that you should be "lying your way into" having a testimony. Attempting to "lie" your way into having a testimony would be ineffective: your testimony would not grow, and you would become increasingly frustrated.

Elder Packer makes this clear by addressing this particular concern:

It is not unusual to have a missionary say, “How can I bear testimony until I get one? How can I testify that God lives, that Jesus is the Christ, and that the gospel is true? If I do not have such a testimony, would that not be dishonest?”

Oh, if I could teach you this one principle: a testimony is to be found in the bearing of it!

Somewhere in your quest for spiritual knowledge, there is that “leap of faith,” as the philosophers call it. It is the moment when you have gone to the edge of the light and stepped into the darkness to discover that the way is lighted ahead for just a footstep or two. “The spirit of man is,” as the scripture says, indeed “the candle of the Lord” (Proverbs 20:27).

It is one thing to receive a witness from what you have read or what another has said; and that is a necessary beginning. It is quite another to have the Spirit confirm to you in your bosom that what you have testified is true. Can you not see that it will be supplied as you share it? As you give that which you have, there is a replacement, with increase!

To speak out is the test of your faith.

Notes

  1. Boyd K. Packer, "The Candle of the Lord," Ensign 13 (January 1983); Boyd K. Packer, "The Quest for Spiritual Knowledge," New Era 36 (January 2007). The latter source cited is a reprinting of a talk given at a seminar for new mission presidents on June 25, 1982. This was quoted in Jeremy T. Runnells, CES Letter: My Search for Answers to my Mormon Doubts (American Fork, UT: CES Letter Foundation, 2017), 78. <https://cesletter.org/CES-Letter.pdf>.
  2. Dallin H. Oaks, “Testimony,” General Conference (April 2008). “We gain or strengthen a testimony by bearing it. Someone even suggested that some testimonies are better gained on the feet bearing them than on the knees praying for them.”
  3. Gary E. Stevenson, "Testimony: Sharing in Word and Deed," New Era 48 (March 2019).
  4. Neil L. Andersen, "Joseph Smith," General Conference (October 2014). Quoted in Runnells, CES Letter, 78.