How do I know if the church is true?
Lately in my life I have been thinking about the church being true. There are a whole lot of churches in this world, and they all believe that their church is true, and that they all have proof of it being true. How can I be truly sure that this church is the right church?
Is the Church true? How do I know that it is true? How did you learn that it is true?
I want to know
Once upon a time, I had a seminary teacher who told his students the same thing every day: “I would never dare go a day in my life without reading the Book of Mormon.” I’m not really sure why, but it is a phrase that has stuck with me for years and years. It has always come into my mind at random, even inconvenient moments.
It came at four in the morning when I laid my head down on my pillow after working on a paper for fifteen straight hours, “How could you dare not read the Book of Mormon today?” It came while I was falling asleep in a cold cabin when all I wanted to do was close my eyes and listen to the soft sounds of rain rustling the leaves of the trees. But “You wouldn’t dare not read the Book of Mormon, Ruby” caused me to sit up and walk across a cold concrete floor to retrieve a battered Book of Mormon from a dusty shelf.
It came once while I walked to work on a blustery, but bright autumn day, or any night I went camping, often without access to a Book of Mormon, when I recited verses in my head from memory. “He is the light and the life of the world; yea, a light that is endless, that can never be darkened; yea, and also a life which is endless, that there can be no more death . . . I would never dare go a day in my life without reading the Book of Mormon.” That phrase has pulsed through my thoughts on and off for the last 10 years.
A few years ago, I found myself living a story of testimony tragedy. For reasons I can’t necessarily explain, and certainly reasons I don’t really understand, I found myself severely doubting the truthfulness of the Gospel, and even my belief in God himself. I continued to attend church, I continued to live the teachings of the Gospel, but my heart wasn’t in it, and I was sure I had lost my faith. And still, that phrase came. Every night. It came when I didn’t even believe in the very book which had inspired its inception. “I don’t even believe this book,” I thought over and over, “but I wouldn’t go a day without reading it.” And read it I did. For nearly 9 months, I read the Book of Mormon, even just a verse, every single day, even though I didn’t believe it.
I wish I could tell you that one morning I woke up and knew the Book of Mormonwas true. Or that one night while I was reading, I received clear spiritual confirmation of its divine merit. Perhaps there are many who have experienced this kind of intervention, but I am not one of them. After 9 months of disbelief, I found myself coming to terms with the idea that I would probably never know the Book of Mormon, and consequently, the Church, is true. I also realized I would probably never know it isn’t true, either. I was a faced with a choice to either believe, or not. And in that moment, I realized I had already made a choice. I had chosen to read a book every single day, despite not knowing if I believed in it or not.
After the Israelites had been delivered from Egypt, they spent decades wandering around in the desert. Moses taught them about God, and told them that all they had to do was look toward him, and they could live. “And many did look and live, [even though] few understood the meaning of those things.” These people walked around the wilderness for 40 years, which means many of them weren’t even alive when their parents and grandparents had been saved from bondage in Egypt. I’m sure it was pretty hard for them to believe in a God they had not seen evidence of, despite their parents and aunts and friends telling them He really did save them. Plus, walking around in a desert probably didn’t feel like any sort of life. “He saved you and brought you to this forsaken wilderness? Some God.”
In Alma 33, Alma recounts this story to a bunch of people who must have felt as disconnected from the experiences of the Israelites as we sometimes feel. He said that all the Israelites had to do was look to God and live, but “because of the hardness of their hearts, they would not look, therefore they perished.” He explained that “the reason they would not look is because they did not believe it would heal them.” I read this scripture at some point toward the end of my 9 month testimony crisis, and it really resonated with me, you know? All they had to do was choose to believe. All I had to do was choose to believe.
But, “O my brethren, if ye could be healed merely by casting about your eyes that ye might be healed, would ye not behold quickly, or would ye rather harden your hearts in unbelief, and be slothful, that ye would not cast about your eyes, that ye might perish? If so, wo shall come upon you; but if not so, then cast about your eyes and begin to believe in the Son of God, that he will redeem his people.”
My friends, you’ll probably never know. And I will tell you this: believing in this Gospel, believing in Christ, believing in His atonement? It will be the hardest thing you’ll ever do. And somehow, it will also be the easiest. But you have to look. You have to look after you’ve pulled an all-nighter or when you haven’t looked in several months. You have to look when you’re flat broke or when it seems boring and cumbersome. You have to look when you’re camping or studying 40 hours a week or when your husband dies or when you’re raising children or caring for your ailing mother. You have to look when your friends don’t want to. You have to look when you don’t want to. It’s hard to look–the hardest thing is the world. And yet, all you have to do is look.