In what can be called “Mormon Speak,” we typically talk about “getting” and then “having” what we call a “testimony.” None of this kind of talk can be found in our scriptures, which testify to us about faith and then tell us to testify about its contents and grounds—that is, to give an apologia (or defense).
We also speak of this “testimony” that we once got as somehow “growing” stronger and stronger, or being “challenged” or being “weakened.” What we are actually talking about is our faith—what we believe. So our talk about having a testimony is bunk. Why? There is not a single place in our scriptures in which anyone gets or has what we call a “testimony.”
There is, instead, much said about the necessity of our testifying to our faith or to what we believe by giving the reasons for our faith. And there is much in our scriptures about faith—understood as trust—in God. This trust in God is something we can have in the most dire of circumstances, such as when parents or children or friends go missing, or we or someone close faces a painful death, or we fail in the stock market, or when the wrong party gets elected in Wyoming, or when the Brethren disappoint us, and so forth.
As to really knowing, we all see through a glass darkly. We can, of course, nurture the seed of faith bit by bit and grow it little by little into the tree of life, and even eventually see it produce the fruit of the tree of life. Then, if and when we taste that fruit, we really know. We can then speak of our knowing. But until that day, we can only speak of knowing as something like it, already here and now, but not quite yet.
We have, for various reasons, somehow gotten into the habit of substituting the word testimony for the word faith. By doing so, we have created for ourselves a bit of a problem. I can recall going through some confusion about this just as I got started at the university. “Testimony” has become something one gets and hence has, somewhat like the “born again” experience of evangelicals. In addition, we thereby make everything rest on how we feel at the moment. We can then talk about “having had a testimony” and then “not having one” right now, even though we still have faith in God and are striving to keep the commandments. But if we think of “testimony” as something we do when we give reasons for our faith, then we focus on something more than the emotions of the moment, even the very best or worst of which eventually come and go. But the reasons can and do stay in our minds and hearts, if we genuinely hearken, read, listen, ponder, serve as good servants of their Master should, if they are to find favor in his sight.
In addition, when we force bearing our testimonies, or testifying, into an exercise of describing how we came to know, we face the problem of not exactly knowing how or what we know, but still having faith or things we believe, and still being able to remember God and his mighty works, and the covenants we made to serve him, come what may, whether we feel like it or not. And if we are not sure about knowing, then we somehow begin to feel like we are out on the ocean without a rudder or a sail.
I would, if I could, forbid Latter-day Saints from saying that they “have a testimony.” Instead, I want to hear something about their faith—about its object and grounds. I want to hear or read an apologia. Should we not, following a famous passage in our scriptures, be ready to give the reasons for the hope that is in us? These reasons will provide a kind of window into our souls—what makes us tick. I sort of miss hearing someone tell how reading the Book of Mormon turned them from being a beer drinker (or whatever) into a Saint (or aspiring Holy One, which is what that word means).