How do we know when it is truly the Holy Spirit we feel and not only an internal desire that springs forth emotion in us that makes us feel good? Can anyone claim truth on the merit of strong internal feelings and desires? Is there a verifiable way to discern truth and know what is right?
Matthew chapter 7: 13 ¶Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat:
14 Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.
15 ¶Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.
20 Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.
Truth cannot merely be declared because you feel strongly it is right and aligns with your view points. It must be tried and tested! There are those who feel that people of all religions want their religion to be true so badly that they convince themselves that their religion is true. They feel that any spirit or feeling or power felt by an individual is caused by a strong internal desire to feel something to solidify their belief. What is the Mormon opinion on this subject and what is a good way to refute this argument?
This theory of “convincing themselves” is a view point common among people who would claim to be agnostic or atheist, and we would agree with them to a point that it does and can happen that way. As human beings we do have the ability to excite our own mental state resulting in a desired effect. An example could be reactions such as crying or getting really excited or overwhelming feelings, especially in those people who seemed to get emotional more easily than others. (we see this among all humans and Lds in different scenarios). However, it is also true that me may react in these ways by influence of being touched by the spirit as well. So how do we discern and differentiate?
We are taught that in order to know something, or in order to receive a testimony we must first “desire” to know truth and then experiment upon the word of God as read in (). Also we must consider the essential and precise wording from Moroni 10:
3 Behold, I would exhort you that when ye shall read these things, if it be wisdom in God that ye should read them, that ye would remember how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men, from the creation of Adam even down until the time that ye shall receive these things, and ponder it in your hearts.
4 And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.
6 And whatsoever thing is good is just and true; wherefore, nothing that is good denieth the Christ, but acknowledgeth that he is.
7 And ye may know that he is, by the power of the Holy Ghost; wherefore I would exhort you that ye deny not the power of God; for he worketh by power, according to the faith of the children of men, the same today and tomorrow, and forever.
We do not agree with the statements of generalization that it is the same for “all religions”, or that all people “convince themselves” through a false sense of internal desire and emotion. Desire is necessary for any knowledge, especially spiritual knowledge. Without a strong internal desire our life would be very different as human beings. Desire is necessary for progression. Nephi explains his personal desire to know if the words of his father were true as shared in .
17 And it came to pass after I, Nephi, having heard all the words of my father, concerning the things which he saw in a vision, and also the things which he spake by the power of the Holy Ghost, which power he received by faith on the Son of God—and the Son of God was the Messiah who should come—I, Nephi, was desirous also that I might see, and hear, and know of these things, by the power of the Holy Ghost, which is the gift of God unto all those who diligently seek him, as well in times of old as in the time that he should manifest himself unto the children of men.
18 For he is the same yesterday, today, and forever; and the way is prepared for all men from the foundation of the world, if it so be that they repent and come unto him.
19 For he that diligently seeketh shall find; and the mysteries of God shall be unfolded unto them, by the power of the Holy Ghost, as well in these times as in times of old, and as well in times of old as in times to come; wherefore, the course of the Lord is one eternal round.
When we are opposed with this kind of objection that our spiritual feelings are false and internally made up, we should try to learn more about what they mean regarding “strong internal desires, or mind created emotions.” I would ask for examples of what he/she interprets as a falsified witness through a person’s personal desire to know something to be true. Once this is discovered I would then share the First Vision. The appearance of God the Father and God the Son would not have been some random experience. This experience is either true or it is false. You may also share the Book of Mormon. Again, it is either true or false. I would share the importance of having living prophets. I would then share examples of how the Holy Ghost has influenced the lives of people, and how it has blessed their lives. You might find it helpful to share a personal experience where you felt the spirit in a way that was outside of just raw emotion, perhaps a prompting that lead you to do something that blessed you or someone else, or a miracle of healing or change in thought and enlightenment.
As an example I would like to share a personal story that happened to me a couple of years ago.
One dark winter night while driving home with my family after a baptism we stopped in at a gas station to refuel. As I pulled into the lot I noticed that all station slots were open. Normally in such a case I would pull through to the farthest gas pump to make room for those who may come in after me from behind. In just a second of a moment I heard the still small voice and received a very distinct prompting to stop at the first pump. Without thinking further I listened to the prompting. After stopping and getting out to start refueling everything seemed fine and I gave it no further thought. However, within less than a minute something very drastic happened that may have changed my life. Just then a car came speeding down the street very fast and out of control heading towards a busy intersection. The gas pedal had somehow got stuck and the driver had little time to react. The driver chose to steer off the street away from the other cars and into the station lot and within 2 seconds crashed his car into the gas pump right where I would have been standing had I pulled through as usual. The gas pump was destroyed and his vehicle totalled. Miraculously, besides being shaken up and some minor injuries the driver and passengers were all okay. I am glad I don’t have to know what might have happened to me had I not heeded the prompting and pulled ahead as normal, as it is very likely I would have been killed or at least seriously injured. Also of note, was the attendant inside blessed with the insight to react quickly to shut the pumps off at the point of impact immediately as he heard the vehicle come racing onto the lot. It was later mentioned that his quick thinking possibly had saved a devastating fire. Besides a bruised knee from a reactionary dive away from the action, I drove home that night very thankful to my Father in heaven for keeping me and my family safe from harm’s way. I offered many prayers of thanks that night and the days following. It was comforting to know that my Heavenly Father was close by and I was thankful to be worthy of the influence of the Holy Ghost. This event strengthened our family as we saw in a very real way God’s hand at work in our lives.
“I drove my carriage one evening into the yard of Brother Williams [a local member of the Church]. Brother Orson Hyde [of the Quorum of the Twelve] drove a wagon by the side of mine. I had my wife and children in the carriage. After I turned out my team and had my supper, I went to bed in the carriage. I had not been there but a few minutes when the Spirit said to me, ‘Get up and move that carriage.’ I told my wife I had to get up and move the carriage. She said, ‘What for?’ I said, ‘I don’t know.’ That is all she asked me on such occasions; when I told her I did not know, that was enough. I got up and moved my carriage. … I then looked around me and went to bed. The same Spirit said, ‘Go and move your animals from that oak tree.’ … I went and moved my horses and put them in a little hickory grove. I again went to bed.
“In thirty minutes a whirlwind came up and broke that oak tree off within two feet from the ground. It swept over three or four fences and fell square in that dooryard, near Brother Orson Hyde’s wagon, and right where mine had stood. What would have been the consequences if I had not listened to that Spirit? Why, myself and wife and children doubtless would have been killed. That was the still, small voice to me—no earthquake, no thunder, no lightning; but the still, small voice of the Spirit of God. It saved my life. It was the spirit of revelation to me.”
I would then ask, by what “strong internal desire” did Wilford Woodruff convince himself to move his wagon in the middle of the night? What strong emotion did I create in my mind to avoid an accident? I would then bare testimony that by the same spirit Wilford Woodruff’s life and family was spared is by the same spirit God witnesses to His children the truth of His gospel. However, it is more likely this witness will not come until an individual has a strong desire to know and then act upon the witness received. In essence, there are times, due to our desires, that we may convince ourselves that something is true that is in reality false. This, however, doesn’t prove, that “all” witnesses would be false. This again would be a generalization, which can be more easily refuted by speaking with people who didn’t have a desire to know truth, actually persecuted it, and then received a witness that caused them to join the Church (Saul who became Paul is a great example of this from our scriptures). We also have modern examples of people who persecuted the Church, had no desire to join, and received an experience that changed their hearts and minds.
One will find that applying the principles found in Alma 32 speaking of the “Seed of faith” is the “Great Key” to truly gain a testimony and become converted. The spirit is neither a loud voice, nor one of confusion but it speaks clarity and peace when one knows they have felt and heard it. It is in the application of desire and faith that we see the fruits of the spirit and are able to recognize it for what it is and is not.
I want to bear my witness to all that I know through the spirit that Jesus the Christ lives and his gospel is true. I know the scriptures are true. I know that, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is the true church restored on the earth by the prophet Joseph Smith and other latter day prophets. I have with desire tried and tested the word in faith and have tasted of the sweet fruits of the spirit and it has blessed my life immensely. I look forward with an eye of faith and am impressed by the spirit that one day we may return to our Heavenly parents and live forever in their presence.