Nearly three years have passed since I was first invited to contribute a testimony to this site. I have often wondered what I should say and how best I might express it. My decision has not been made any easier with the passage of time, and I have determined that additional time will not solve the problem. Time, however, has further strengthened my understanding of Jesus Christ and His teachings.
Jesus taught: “whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance; but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath” (Matthew 13:12). Steeped in the redistributionist philosophy of Japanese upbringing, I was a little taken aback when I first read this passage. But I have increasingly found this principle operative in my own life. I now enjoy a portion, though I once had none.
This has been a remarkable journey. I was born a Buddhist by heritage, raised in an atheist family, and educated in the most secular of all secular societies. There was nothing in the world around me that would encourage spirituality, let alone belief in God.
The Lord found an ordinary teenager on a small island of the Japanese Archipelago. He placed a copy of the Holy Bible in his way, inspired in him a desire to read the book. When the time was ripe, the boy found a copy of the Book of Mormon in a doctor’s office, soon received his own copy from missionaries who happened to come by his house; having kept the promise to read the book, he called the mission home while attending school in Tokyo some 700 miles away.
The old Tokyo mission home, where I took my first missionary discussions in 1972, was demolished some time later to make room for the construction of Asia’s first Mormon temple. The old Japanese house on a busy Tokyo street where I attended my first Mormon service was sold by the Church to raise funds for the Temple construction. My occasional visits to the Tokyo Temple, and to the area of Tokyo where that house once stood, seldom remind me of the physical setting in which my earnest soul searching began. Too many things have happened since to care where it all started.
The theophany claimed by Joseph Smith did not challenge me in the least. If Moses could talk to God, why couldn’t Joseph do the same? Nor was I disturbed by any other supernatural occurrence associated with the origins of Mormonism. I believed that Jesus had performed many miracles. If he performed them two thousand years ago, why wouldn’t he perform them now? It was evident to this 18-year old boy that these claims, however extraordinary, could not be used against the truthfulness of Mormonism. Couldn’t the same accusations be made more broadly against Christianity?
The message was logical and consistent. If there was apostasy, there must be restoration. Man cannot establish the Lord’s church; man must be authorized by the Lord to do so. Authority is a concept universally applied in worldly organizations, including universities; how amazing it is that religious organizations hardly mention the word! Likewise, the doctrine that everyone is given a chance to hear the Gospel made sense, as did the doctrine of continuous revelation. If God is fair, how do we account for the millions who have died in ignorance, including my own heathen ancestors? If God spoke through the prophets in ancient times, why doesn’t He do so now? The Mormon message went even further: we are entitled to personal revelation, and can find for ourselves the truth of all things.
I was overwhelmed by the idea that God is both personal and corporeal, someone I could intimately approach in prayer. I was intrigued by the explanation offered by a missionary that the people drawn in a painting hanging on the wall of the old Tokyo mission home represented Adam and Eve. I had assumed that the story of Eden was fiction, and that man was the outcome of evolution. But somehow what the missionary said sounded congruous. If true, not only was I a literal spirit son of Heavenly Father but also I was a literal descendant of the common parents of the human race.
Adam became part of the coherent message. If Adam had not transgressed, there would have been no need for redemption. Adam and Christ go hand in hand; there couldn’t be one without the other. If one denies Adam, it logically follows that one must also deny Christ. I don’t know how the dinosaurs and the cave men would fit in this picture or how much of the Biblical stories should be taken literally. I have only learned to set aside these and other similar issues to another time and place.
I accepted the message with conviction. But baptism was only the beginning of a life-long process of spiritual reconstitution. Among other things, I needed to more fully come to grips with two of the most fundamental tenets of Mormonism: the Book of Mormon and Jesus Christ! I accepted both on faith; and I intellectually understood what they were about. But when the Book of Mormon or Jesus Christ was preached from the pulpit, it did not generate much personal excitement. Occasionally I thought there was too much hype in Mormon meetings about these things; sometimes what I heard sounded rhetorical.
Part of the reaction was cultural. I felt uneasy or even cultish about venerating the writing of a human hand and deifying a historical individual. Finding what appeared to be grammatical or syntax errors in the Book of Mormon did not help, nor did the self-declaration of divinity and perfection by Jesus Christ. In Japanese culture a great man never calls himself great in contravention of modesty. The Book of Mormon offered doctrinal insights in some passages, but it was largely a collection of interesting stories. I accepted Jesus as the savior of the world, but principally it remained an abstract idea.
My spiritual reconstitution, still an on-going process, has involved efforts on two fronts. The first is to examine the life and teachings of Jesus Christ; the second is to make a systematic study of the Book of Mormon. The two are interrelated, with one reinforcing the other. A careful reading of the New Testament, especially the Book of John, has generated a sweet conviction that Jesus was perfect in everything he said and did; His every word and action embodied what a perfect person would say or do under the circumstance. Modern Mormon scholarship has uncovered traces of ancient Hebraism in the Book of Mormon, which one cannot easily dismiss. Once it is taken seriously, the complexity of the book, with multiple layers of authorship, becomes evident. I determined that fiction could not have produced the transparency and power with which individual authors spoke.
The Prophet Mormon, for example, became no less real than the Apostle Paul, my other favorite author from the scriptures. Mormon was a fourth century AD prophet-general who abridged the first century BC record called the Book of Alma. The book is mostly about the Prophet Alma, but almost a third is devoted to a military general named Moroni. Mormon evidently thought much of Moroni. Mormon must have seen in Moroni a model for himself—a disciple of Christ who was a military leader in an age of great wickedness. Moroni is described as “a man of a perfect understanding,” “a man whose heart did swell with thanksgiving to his God,” “a man who did labor exceedingly for the welfare and safety of his people,” and “a man who was firm in the faith of Christ” (Alma 48:11-13). But how did Mormon know that? The only answer I can think of is that he, recognizing his own traits in Moroni, was describing himself.
Some five hundred years later, in another era of great wickedness, Mormon named his own son Moroni. In the concluding book, the son Moroni quotes his father’s teaching about faith, hope, and charity (defined as the pure love of Christ), concluding with the admonition that we should “pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that [we] may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ” (Moroni 7:47-48). Moroni joins with his own admonition that we should “come unto Christ, and lay hold upon every good gift” and “be perfected in him” (Moroni 10:30, 32). To me, these sound like real people telling me what they know to be true, having experienced it themselves. These and other Book of Mormon authors have taught me how one can attempt to become a follower of Jesus Christ, my Savior.
The Bible has shown me that Jesus is everything He claimed to be; the Book of Mormon continues to teach how to make that knowledge a living force in my life.
Shinji Takagi has taught economics since 1990 at Osaka University, Osaka, Japan, where he was made a full professor in 1995. Born and raised in Japan, he studied at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania on a scholarship from the Grew Foundation (established in honor of Joseph C. Grew, US Ambassador to Japan during the ten year period preceding the outbreak of war in 1941) and subsequently obtained a Ph.D. in economics at the University of Rochester in New York. Professor Takagi has authored or coauthored over 150 journal articles, monographs, book chapters, and other publications, most of which are in the English language. His textbook on international monetary economics, currently in its fourth edition, is a long seller in the Japanese academic market, where nearly 30,000 copies have been sold. He has lectured at nine universities in Japan and the United States, and worked for or consulted with seven national and international public agencies. He has alternated his residence almost equally between Japan and the United States in his adult years; his work has taken him to over forty countries on six continents during a professional career spanning thirty years. Professor Takagi’s favorite pastimes include visiting ancient Buddhist temples in Kyoto and Nara to enjoy their gardens and surroundings, eating Japanese soba noodles at authentic soba restaurants, and accompanying his wife to visit pottery kilns in various parts of Japan. They have four children and an increasing number of grandchildren.
Posted January 2013