To testify is to give a witness. I am grateful for the chance to stand with colleagues and friends as part of a “cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1) of the divinity of Jesus Christ and the reality of the Restoration of His Church through the prophet Joseph Smith. In doing so I can briefly give my witness of that which I have seen and experienced with the hope that others might desire to “experiment upon the word” and know through their own experience (see Alma 32:27).
I am a believer, a Christian, and a Latter-day Saint. This should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with the criteria for being a Religion professor at one of the universities operated by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The surprise might be that I made it there. That I am still a believer and a faithful Latter-day Saint after my doctoral work in Religious Studies, a field that is notorious for promoting skepticism and doubt.
The experiences that I have had that make me a believer in many ways are no different than any other faithful member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who seeks to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. What may put me and fellow faithful academics in a unique category is prolonged exposure to a perspective on reality that has fundamentally different ontological and epistemological assumptions.
There will always be some historical or theological questions to which we do not have answers, but the fundamental questions and answers are the most important. My witness is that reality does include more than we can perceive with our senses. My experience is that there is a God that loves us and communicates with us, both personally and through modern-day prophets. My testimony is that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and that His redemptive power can be felt today on an individual level.
In this sense I identify strongly with the man born blind in John chapter 9, who, when asked about something to which he could not answer, replied: “I know not: one thing I know, that, whereas I was blind, now I see” (John 9:25). I am not worried to answer either my students or critics with an admission of my lack of omniscience because of this “one thing I know.” My life has been profoundly changed through the healing, sanctifying influence of Jesus Christ. And I have found Him through The Book of Mormon and through my faithfulness to the covenants that I have made in His restored Church.
I was twenty years old, a student a Brigham Young University, a believer, but struggling on many levels. I had been faithful in reading scriptures daily since starting Seminary, our early-morning religious education, in High School, but life was more complicated as a college student and I found myself feeling helpless amid the challenges I faced. At that time the recent words of the then-current Church President, Ezra Taft Benson, came to my mind. “When we put God first, all other things fall into their proper place or drop out of our lives” (Ensign, May 1988, 4). Because I believed that he was the Lord’s prophet I was willing to experiment on this word, to try it out for myself. At that point my frame of reference was such that I wasn’t completely sure what this involved, but I knew that he had encouraged Church members to read the Book of Mormon every day and I knew that I wasn’t doing that.
So I took the challenge to do this and a few other small practices of religious observance that I knew I could do better. I cannot describe all the changes that occurred in my life over the course of the next weeks, months, and years, but I can testify that I changed. I began to be able to recognize the voice of the Lord speaking to me individually. Even more importantly I began to experience a change of heart in regard to the things of righteousness. I wanted to be different. I wanted to be what God wanted me to be and I was willing to make changes in my life.
My faith in Christ continues to increase as I feel the sanctifying influence of His Spirit and Atonement in my life. Paul taught “For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God” (1 Corinthians 2:11-12). Seeking for and following this kind of knowledge is a life-long process.
I continue to read the Book of Mormon on a daily basis, along with the Bible, as I also continue to read and learn from the insights of secular scholarship in Religious Studies. It does not bother me that others, more secular scholars or scholars from other faith traditions, have perspectives that differ from mine about Jesus Christ’s divinity, the calling of the prophet Joseph Smith, the authenticity of the Book of Mormon, and the revelations and ordinances held sacred in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I believe that most of them are very good people of integrity, but I know what I know through experience that has changed me: “one thing I know, that, whereas I was blind, now I see” (John 9:25). My hope is that others will “come and see” if anything good can come out of the Restoration through their own experience (see John 1:46).
Jennifer C. Lane is an associate professor of Religious Education at Brigham Young University-Hawaii. She received her Ph.D. in Religion from Claremont Graduate University, with an emphasis in History of Christianity, in 2003. She received her M.A. and B.A. from Brigham Young University in Ancient Near Eastern Studies and History, respectively. She serves on the Executive Board of the Society for Mormon Philosophy and Theology. Her presentations and publications include work on adoptive redemption in the Old Testament, the writings of Paul, and the Book of Mormon; Franciscan piety in late medieval Jerusalem pilgrimage and interactions with eastern Christians; New Testament historical context; and Latter-day Saint theology and doctrine.
Posted December 2009