As long as I can remember, I have had a belief in God, the mission of his Son, and the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ. My testimony began as a child’s simple unquestioning belief that has matured into a view of eternity centered on a burning conviction of the gospel of Jesus Christ, with its tireless invitation to form and give unending purpose to life. Though the growth of my testimony has been marked by a diversity of confirming experiences, it is also rooted in the verifying witness of the Holy Spirit.
But because my journey as a believer was not always smooth and upward, the development of my testimony has been refined by periods of some perplexity and uncertainty. There have been stretches of spiritual stagnation and regression, times when doubt challenged some beliefs, occasions when adversity went without immediate relief in answer to earnest prayers, and days when the much greater suffering of many others in the world overseen by a loving and all-powerful God demanded explanation. There were nights when I confessed belief to my Heavenly Father while asking him to help my unbelief. My patriarchal blessing warns me that, to know light from darkness, I would be required to endure times when it seems that God has forgotten me. From many experiences I have learned to know and love the things of light and to fear and shun the dark.
By trade I have been a student of certain parts of philosophy, from which I learned somewhat how to reason. I have learned to question and to doubt. So my life of faith has not gone without challenges. But my training in philosophy and the resultant modest development of the ability to reason has served me well as far as the growth of my faith goes. The grounding of my testimony has been broadened, my understanding of scripture enriched, my appreciation of its teaching deepened, and my ability to defend my beliefs has been sharpened. Notably, my training in philosophy has enabled me to better evaluate the arguments of those bent on attacking the truth claims made by and for Church of Jesus Christ. I have typically found these arguments wanting. Of course, there is a risk in being both a student of philosophy and a student of scripture: the risk is that one will mingle the former to the determent of the latter. But scripture is vulnerable to contamination from various cultural sources, and training in philosophy can also help expose such problems.
I know that the Holy Spirit can be a real guiding presence in our lives. That very Spirit has delivered answers to my prayers, sometimes in a still small voice, other times in a more powerful and transparent way. I feel reluctant to share these experiences, but let me relate three of them without elaboration, trusting that my concern is unfounded.
1. As a young man, and in preparation for receiving a patriarchal blessing, I fasted and prayed for certain gifts and an answer to one specific question. I did not share these concerns with anyone, not even members of my immediate family. During my fast, part of the answer to the question came to me from the Holy Spirit as a clear and unmistakable impression. The partial answer contained a prediction which, some years later, come true. When the patriarch, who did not know me, laid his hands on my head, the first words out of his mouth finalized the answer to my question and bestowed the gifts I desired. The confirming presence of the Spirit filled my heart and mind. I wept with gratitude.
2. On my mission, my companion and I were invited by a dear sister to meet with her husband, who was not a member. He was a tough truck driver who had been around the block more than once. Though he had been taught the missionary lessons, he did not believe that the Church was true. As we prepared to meet with him, we fasted and prayed for forty-eight hours. The last evening of our fast, we sat in the living room of his home not knowing what to say. I was physically tired and emotionally spent. Then I felt impressed simply to read Joseph’s story of the First Vision. As I proceeded to do so, the Holy Spirit entered the room—I experienced it as a powerful, tangible presence outside of me as I witnessed to this man. He broke down and wept. He knew the Church to be true.
3. When I was a bishop, the time came to call a new Relief Society president. As a bishopric, we had narrowed the list of possible successors to six good sisters. But we could not decide who should be called. Then a definite impression came to me that the Father wanted one whose name was not even on the list to fill the position. I immediately recognized the impression as the still small voice of the Spirit.
Joseph Smith is indeed a prophet of God! The Book of Mormon is ancient scripture! It is a book above all the great books I have studied and taught. The Son of God is the Word! As Alma the Younger testifies, through faith in Christ, obedience to God, and the purifying power of the Holy Spirit, the Word will enlarge our souls and expand our minds unto everlasting life. Then we will know with a perfect knowledge the true way to live as immortal beings.
After receiving his PhD. in political science at the University of Illinois, Alma Don Sorensen taught courses in political and moral philosophy and the philosophy of social science and history at Indiana University (for six years) and at Brigham Young University (for twenty-nine years).
Posted May 2010