I’m grateful for the opportunity to share my testimony in this forum as it has encouraged me to stop and think carefully about why I believe in the gospel of Jesus Christ as proclaimed by the Prophet Joseph Smith. I was born and raised in the LDS Church and have never, not for a moment, considered leaving. But why? What is it about the LDS version of the gospel that has such a hold on me? Why do I resonate with these truths? Why am I willing to devote my entire life to this cause? Why, when I believe my eternal salvation is at stake, is there no doubt or hesitation in committing to this path? Up to this point, I don’t think I had a reason to dig deep for an answer. I was just completely convinced, beyond doubt, that it is true.
As I have considered these questions, I have examined many reasons for my faith, all of which are good and legitimate. This gospel is sound, logical, beautiful, and profound. It bears good fruit, and I feel the witness of the Spirit of its truth. All these, and many more, are reasons to believe, but to believe this passionately? Why do I believe this passionately? Perhaps the simplest answer is this: it fills me with immense joy.
The gospel of Jesus Christ, as it has been taught to me from my youth, has given me, and continues to give me, immense joy. It fills me with feelings, thoughts, and desires that are utterly delicious and soul-satisfying to me. These truths make my spirit sing with joy and thanksgiving. Since before I can remember, I have experienced this joy and have been convinced that it testifies of the truth.
From the time I was very young, I knew God lived, I knew God loved me, and I knew He answered prayers, even if He did not always answer mine. Once, when I was in first or second grade, I stood on a street corner in southern California and prayed to God that He would help me jump higher than it was physically possible for me to jump, just so I would know that He could do it. I prayed very hard and very sincerely, all the while knowing that this was not the type of prayer I should be praying. Sure enough, the experiment failed. I jumped my usual height and no more. But this reinforced the fact that I knew better than to ask that type of thing of God. I think, even at that young age, I appreciated a God who did not show signs simply to satisfy our whimsy. So, while my prayer was not “answered” in the way I asked, this experience confirmed my understanding of a living, loving God who cares about the things that are truly important.
We moved a lot while I was growing up. As a Mormon, I was intensely conscious of being very different than others in the community. I felt I knew some important things that other people did not know. I believed that what I knew about God, and about His restored gospel, obligated me to live my life in a certain way, to follow the Savior and be more like Him. My life was certainly not very Christ-like, but when it was not (as was too frequently the case), I had a keen sense that I knew better, and that I could do better.
I loved learning and I loved school, but I recognized the difference in joy that spiritual learning produced in me over secular learning. I felt keenly aware of the fact that what we learned at school, as useful and as important as it often was, was not based on the premise that God lives, much less that He appeared to Joseph Smith in a grove of trees. Minus that intense joyful foundation of life, I felt that some of what we learned at school was not only less important than what we learned at church, but could also be false, or at least not as true. I kept this in the back of my mind and therefore was somewhat skeptical of secular knowledge, as much as I loved learning of all kinds.
As I finished high school, I eagerly anticipated entering Brigham Young University as a freshman. Having lived outside of Utah for most of my life, I had very little experience with BYU or LDS scholars and could not anticipate what I would experience there. But I was very hopeful because I knew my professors would be both disciples of Christ and competent scholars, and I naively assumed that every professor would be able and eager to help me integrate the joy of spiritual learning with the joy of secular learning. I felt that these joys should not be radically different, that they could be combined to create one beautiful whole.
The diversity of opinion at BYU was a bit of a surprise to me. I was used to diversity of opinion among “non-members,” (after all, they did not have “the truth”). But why were faithful LDS faculty members disagreeing with each other? And why were so many teaching their disciplines as though God’s existence had no impact on it? How could the central, joyful fact of God’s life and God’s love not change everything?
But though I was puzzled why every BYU professor did not make the gospel a central aspect of their search for truth, this disappointment was more than made up for by the number of BYU faculty members I encountered who surpassed my hopes and dreams as role models of faithful LDS scholars. These men and women had a deep, profound, and lasting effect on the development of who I am and how I think, believe, and behave. They helped me to see that the joys I had experienced through the gospel in my youth were only the mere beginnings of all the joy Heavenly Father has in store for us.
I thought I knew a few things about the world, even as a freshman, but I soon learned that I had much to learn, and that learning “by study and also by faith” (D&C 88:118) could lead to new vistas and worlds of understanding that I had never before imagined. In other words, the joy I felt in the gospel, as great as it seemed in my youth, was relatively small compared to the increased measure of joy I felt as I continued to study and learn and grow, both in the gospel and in my understanding of the world around us. And the tutelage of faithful BYU faculty members was central to this growth.
The gospel and this church give me joy and satisfaction in ways that are hard to describe. The gospel is satisfying on so many levels, most of all spiritually, but also intellectually, emotionally, and socially. All my years of academic study continue to teach me that the LDS faith is up to the intellectual task and burden of the ages. Through this gospel, there is no end to the questions that can be pursued, the answers that can be received, the joy that can come from learning and growing and discovering the greatest joys. I see now that this exhilarating learning, this opening to new vistas, can continue forever, and again, it fills me with joy.
So, I believe in the gospel of Jesus Christ as revealed through the Prophet Joseph Smith for many reasons, but the joy that is gives me is the best assurance I have that what I am pursuing is worth every bit of the time, energy, and effort that I have expended and will continue to expend. This joy certainly does not assure me, however, that I have all the truth or that all my present understanding is correct. Not at all. Rather, it assures me that God is faithful and trustworthy, and that if I follow Him, He will correct my misunderstanding, my ignorance, my weakness, and my failings, and through His grace, I can be redeemed from everything that keeps me from Him: “Line upon line; here a little, and there a little” (Isaiah 28:10).
Interestingly, the more I grow in the gospel, the less different I feel I am than every other person who lives or has lived on this earth, no matter what their religion or lack of religion might be. There is so much in the LDS church and this gospel that is uniquely rich and beautiful. I know this is God’s work. But I have long since come to understand that God’s work is not limited to this church. He loves and works with all His children, and just as others may learn some beautiful truths from me, so may I learn some beautiful truths that He has revealed to them.
I appreciate the fact that while my testimony of the gospel has given me precious knowledge and joy, God has showered knowledge and joy on His children in a wide variety of ways, not all of which may appear “religious.” I am much more aware now of the many profound truths that others, not of my faith, have and which I can learn from, and I’m eager to learn these truths. I’m grateful for a God who loves all His children and generously blesses them, as much as they are willing to receive. He is not stingy with joy or with blessings. I am grateful that if we aren’t willing or don’t have an opportunity to learn in one way, He seems willing to teach us in other ways. After all, there is so much to learn and so many ways to develop!
While I believe it is true that others will eventually need to learn the truths I have learned as a Mormon, I believe it is equally true that I will need to learn the things that people not of my faith know in order to become all I can be. I have been given great blessings, but sin, weakness, and the tradition of the fathers blind me and make it impossible for me to enjoy even more of the blessings God has in store for His children. Life-changing, life-altering insights and realizations can come from many places, and when they prove to be good, true, and beautiful, we know their ultimate origin is God. I look forward to the future with great anticipation, knowing that there is even “greater happiness and peace and rest for me” (Abraham 1:2).
In conclusion, I bear testimony of our Savior and His love for all us. I feel the presence of God every day of my life. This reality does not wipe out all my fears or solve my problems, but it remains an anchor to my sanity and the source of my joy. Perhaps the greatest joy we can receive in this life is to understand and embrace the mysteries of God: who He is, who we are, and what we can achieve together through the love and atoning sacrifice of our Savior. “As it is written, eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9). This is a “joy no [one] taketh from you” (John 16:22).
A. Jane Birch is assistant director for faculty development at the Brigham Young University Faculty Center. She received her B.A. in History and Ph.D. in Instructional Science at BYU. She directs the BYU Faculty Development Series, an 18-month program for new faculty hires. It is designed to assist new faculty in building a strong foundation for quality teaching, scholarship, and citizenship. Central to this program is helping faculty understand and embrace the unique mission of BYU, which is to “assist individuals in their quest for perfection and eternal life.” In addition to serving new faculty, Jane loves helping all faculty members think about how to blend religious faith with their academic disciplines and professional work. Her research interests center on the relationship between faith and intellect.
Posted April 2011