Yesterday evening Tristan and I sat down together with our kids Ellie and Evan and we wanted to talk to Ellie about testimony – what it is, where it comes from, how to get it if that is something that is desired. Ellie’s been really interested in testimony so we thought it was a good time for a heart-to-heart. On a 5 year old level, of course. 🙂
For those not familiar with the term, a testimony is “a personal witness borne to our souls by the Holy Ghost that certain facts of eternal significance are true and that we know them to be true.” (Dallin H. Oaks, “Testimony,” 2008)
How can we know something to be true, when we don’t have any physical evidence to go off of?
That’s what we wanted to get to the bottom of.
To hash it out.
Ellie has become really interested in testimony recently because she has heard people in church share their testimony of things they believe or know to be true. She has asked us if she also can share a testimony at church. So we decided to have this conversation.
We explained to Ellie that a testimony is not just words that you speak. It’s not just words you have heard other people say that you can then repeat. A testimony is something you must seek to obtain for yourself. It’s a knowledge which you must personally receive, by the Spirit (the Holy Ghost) – and it comes about in the process of first asking questions.
Tristan and I are also of the belief that most likely it will be a matter of years before Ellie is able to share a testimony that comes from personal knowledge and belief.
But for now we wanted to introduce Ellie to some of the questions that might precede a testimony.
Is God real?
If he’s not real, how do you know? If he is real, how do you know?
If you don’t know if he’s real, but you want to know, how do you find out?
When we first asked the question, “Is God real,” Ellie joked and said, “No! Yes! No! Yes!” She was also playing with legos as we talked. So there’s a decent amount of evidence that she’s not at an age yet to share a testimony with others. 🙂 The goofy-ness around things of a reverent nature is real around here. And it’s fun. She’s 5 after all. 😉 When I asked her, “How do you know if he is real or not?” She then stopped and said, “Because of the scriptures.” I asked, “What scriptures tell you about that?” She said, “Well I know he’s real because Joseph Smith saw him and Jesus.” She has heard this story because Tristan and I have shared it with her and she has heard it at church.
I explained that it was great that she had heard that story, but just hearing about someone else’s experience with God, and even believing that their story is true, does not mean you personally know it.
In other words, you can’t rely on what other people say. You have to do the work yourself. You have to ask the hard questions, and discover for yourself what is true and what is not.
So if you don’t know if God is real or not, how do you find out?
I then told Ellie in my best 5-year-old terms, “I’ll tell you a story about how I know that God is real. Do you want to hear it?” She did.
“I wanted to know if God is real. So I prayed. I asked the question, ‘God, are you real?’ Then I had a feeling in response. The feeling that came was overwhelming. It was good and it was peaceful. And with that feeling, I also had words come to my mind. I felt the words in my mind: ‘Yes. I am real.’”
Okay, so here’s the thing about this experience.
I can say that I know that God is real because of what I felt and because of the words that came to my mind, which I believe were the Holy Ghost or the Spirit bearing witness of that to me. But the whole premise of that whole experience is belief. Faith and belief are the only things that validate this experience. Faith and belief that that actually was the Spirit, faith and belief that the Spirit is how God is able to speak to me. Faith and belief that using this process, I can gain spiritual knowledge by spiritual means.
It’s a precious belief to me, because it’s what allows me to know things for myself, so I don’t have to rely on others or just repeat what I have heard others say about God. It is what allows me to ask difficult questions with a conviction that I can get some answers – answers to questions about life, about spirituality, about God, about what I should do with my knowledge about God, and how I should live as a result of it.
Some other people said stuff about it too
Jesus Christ taught about this type of knowledge. In response to the apostle Peter’s testimony that he (Christ) was the son of God, he said: “Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 16:17). The apostle Paul later taught that “the things of God knoweth no man, but [by] the Spirit of God” (1 Corinthians 2:11), and that “the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14).
I gain a lot from these insights from the New Testament.
I have asked and received answers about Jesus Christ and his apostles which make me want to pay attention to their words. I believe what is taught there, and I have experienced through my own seeking, and through asking questions, this process Christ and Paul allude to.
The cool thing, then, about the “testimony” that I’ve gained, or the knowledge I’ve received, is that no one can refute it.
Sure, anyone can disagree with me or say that my faith is misplaced. And I want people to be able to do that – I think it’s important for all of us to believe what we choose, to express those beliefs, and to allow others to do the same. But no one was there with me when I asked those questions, and no one knows what I felt and what I experienced — just me. It’s not possible to refute it because it’s based on that personal experience which is mine alone.
You can get your own, but you can’t have mine. 🙂 And you can’t rely on mine alone to know for sure if God is real or not.
Isn’t that a cool concept? I think so.
As a parent, it’s super important to me to let my kids discover for themselves what is true and what is not. It’s important for them to make their own choices and carve out their own path for pursuing the knowledge that is important to them. I can’t do that for them, nor would I want to. That’s the beautiful thing about life — we get to go through life and make our choices freely. We get to choose the things that bring us the most happiness and pursue those things of our own free will. Allowing others to do the same is one of the most basic, human things that we could do for one another.
I am certainly going to teach my children about the process of faith, belief, asking questions, and receiving knowledge by the Spirit. It’s up to them to believe it or not, and that is a personal choice.
I love to talk about this stuff.
To me, it’s the stuff life is made of: Questions, seeking, learning, choosing what we want to do, believing or not believing, choosing to live life fully, being kind to others.
If anyone has questions about anything here, hit me up with an email or in the comments.
If you have thoughts or questions, I love to chat. I’m a nerd about a lot of stuff, and talking about gospel (“good news”) is one of those things.
More info about my beliefs: http://comeuntochrist.org