I know you are probably growing tired of introductory material. Don’t worry; we are getting ready to dive into some of the underlying themes of LDS apologetics and criticisms. However, since the vast majority of this blog will be dedicated to my intellectual insights on the Book of Mormon and LDS teachings, I want to make it clear here, at the beginning, that the Book of Mormon and the LDS Church are more than just academic fascinations for me.
In my last post I explained a little bit about my purpose. I explained that although I can’t “prove” to you that the LDS Church’s claims are true, I feel it is my duty to defend them. The words of one of my favorite progressive metal bands sums up my message from the last post quite well: “I may never find all the answers, I may never understand why; I may never prove what I know to be true, but I know that I still have to try.” 
Although I can’t prove it to you by any man made methods, I know that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is God’s kingdom here on the earth. I don’t know solely based off of the evidences I will be presenting on this blog, nor do I know even primarily because of the evidences we will be discussing in the near future. As I previously said, no one can come to know the absolute truth by way of human reason and intellect. The primary basis for my testimony is rooted in an understanding on a spiritual level.
The Foundation of My Testimony
I would like to share my testimony with you, and I will do so shortly; but first I would like to explain the foundation upon which I have built that testimony.
In the Book of Mormon, the prophet Alma teaches us a way in which we can “experiment” on the things we are taught to test the truthfulness of them (See Alma 32:27). As he goes on, he uses the analogy of a seed which is planted, and promises four results will come if the planted seed is a “good seed”. Those results are, “it will begin to swell within your breasts…it beginneth to enlarge [your] soul; yea, it beginneth to enlighten [your] understanding, yea, it beginneth to be delicious…” (Alma 32:28). So, according to Alma, if something is true (or good) it will: (a) “swell within your breast”, (b) “enlarge your soul”, (c) “enlighten your understanding”, and (d) “be delicious”
What is meant by each of those four statements by Alma? Each of those four things represents a way in which we can learn and know truth. Here is how I would define each one:
1. Swell Within Your Breast: By this Alma is referring to the spiritual feelings which confirm the truth. These spiritual feelings are hard to explain, and the scriptures commonly use different terms to try and relate the sensations you get as the Holy Ghost testifies of truth. Alma here describes it as “swelling within your breast” others have explained it as a “burning in the bosom” (See D&C 9:8), or the “pricking of your heart” (See Acts 2:37), or the “consuming of your flesh” (See 2 Nephi 4:21) among other things. There is really no way to precisely describe these spiritual feelings. On my mission, we often related it to salt. How would you describe the taste of salt to someone who has never tried it before? Just as it is difficult to explain the taste of salt, it is likewise difficult to explain the feelings of the Spirit; but once you have felt them, you know. I still remember the first time I distinctly felt the Spirit. I was sixteen years old, and I was in seminary, only half paying attention, as Brother Leatherwood explained his thoughts and feelings when his wife gave birth to his first child. He said he felt as if God was saying to him, “I’m trusting you. That is my child, and I am trusting you to take good care of them for me.” As he said those words, I felt this incredible sensation completely overwhelm me. It was so powerful; it rocked me like a spiritual jack-hammer. Right then I knew exactly what is meant by the “burning in the bosom” or “pricking in the heart” or “swelling in the breast”, though I think in my experience, I would best relate to the “consuming of the flesh” way of describing it.
On my mission, people would often try and discredit the testimony I would share based on spiritual feelings by telling me, “You can’t trust your emotions, they are too unstable. You shouldn’t be making big decisions based on emotions.” First of all, that is simply untrue. Many people make one of the biggest decisions of their lives based primarily (if not entirely) on emotion when they decide to get married. While for some people other factors such as finances, living arrangements, and car ownership might also play a role in the decision; the ultimate deciding factor is the emotion of love. If you ask anyone who is happily married they will likely tell you (as I would) that the love they have in their marriage (and likely in their family relations in general) is not an “unstable emotion” but a steady, consistent feeling of trust between each other in which they know they can always rely upon. It is that stable love we have in our marital and family relations that we should be seeking with our Heavenly Father as well.
Second of all, while I disagree with the idea that all emotions are unstable, the stability of emotions is actually entirely irrelevant to this matter. When I talk about receiving a spiritual witness, the feelings I’m talking about are not emotional. Just as physical feelings are distinct from emotional feelings; spiritual feelings are likewise different than emotional ones. We feel physical things with our physical senses, emotional things with our emotional senses, and we feel spiritual things with our spiritual senses. As the Apostle Paul taught, we must compare “spiritual things with spiritual” (1 Corinthians 2:13) not spiritual with emotional.
I can understand why our critics get confused. We often describe spiritual feelings with terms such as love, joy, and peace (See Galatians 5:22), which are typically used for emotional feelings. But the terms we use for feelings can often be crossed over into the different types of senses. For example, words like pain, hurt, and touch can refer to something you are feeling physically or something you feel emotionally. Feeling physical pain or hurt (or being touched physically) is something distinctly separate from feeling emotional pain or hurt (or being emotionally touched). While you might feel both physical and emotional pain simultaneously, they are separate experiences. In like manner, to spiritually feel love, joy, or peace is different from emotionally feeling love, joy, or peace. Jesus taught of a peace not found in the world when He said “peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you” (John 14:27). The Apostle Paul taught of a love (charity) that is greater than all other gifts; rejoices in truth; beareth, believeth, hopeth, and endureth all things; and without it, we are nothing (See 1 Corinthians 13). The Book of Mormon prophet Mormon expanded on this when he explained that this kind of love (charity) is “the pure love of Christ, and it endureth forever” (Moroni 7:47). It should be obvious that the kinds of love and peace described by Jesus, Paul, and Mormon are more than just “unstable emotions.”
Furthermore, it is important to point out that while spiritual and emotional feelings are distinctly separate, they may (like both physical and emotional feelings) manifest each other simultaneously. This creates further confusion between spiritual and emotional feelings, and often even LDS members are frequently confused by this occurrence. For this reason, President Howard W. Hunter gave this caution:
I get concerned when it appears that strong emotion or free-flowing tears are equated with the presence of the spirit. Certainly the Spirit of the Lord can bring strong emotional feelings, including tears, but that outward manifestation ought not to be confused with the presence of the Spirit itself. 
Thus, it is important that we make that distinction. It is spiritual feelings that come to us from the Holy Ghost to confirm to us truth, not emotional feelings.
2. Enlarge the Soul: As hard as it is to define spiritual feelings, defining what is meant by “enlarging the soul” is even harder. S. Michael Wilcox defines it as “a behavioral response to truth.” I think that is part of it, but not quite the essence of the “enlargement of the soul.” When ones soul is enlarged, they have grown as a person and have been changed for the better. It’s something they experience. Their behavior is a reflection of this inner change and growth, but is not itself the actual enlargement of the soul. Behavior and experience also play a role in the changing, or “enlargement” process. When one changes their behavior to conform to specific ideas, they have experiences that affect themselves, and demonstrate whether those ideas are true or false (good or bad). Over a period of time in which you continually reform your behavior based on confirmatory experiences, you become a different person. If that “different person” is a better person then who you were before, then you have experienced an “enlargement of the soul” and you can conclude that the principles which produced the change are good. If you are worse off then you were before (if you have experienced a “shrinking of the soul” so to say), then you know that the changes were not good, and the principles which caused the change are also wrong.
So, when testing the truthfulness of the Gospel (or the Book of Mormon, etc.) with this method, one simply needs to ask (after making the changes required to conform to its teachings): Have I become a better person because of these principals and the changes made in my life? If the answer is yes, then your soul has been enlarged and you know that those principals are good and true.
Recognizing the important role that experience plays in testimony has great value. We can know things with a high degree of certainty through experience, and no matter anything else that happens, no one can challenge your experiences. They are what they are, and that can never be altered. The knowledge learned through experience is powerful and priceless in terms of its value, not only for a testimony of the Gospel, but in how we understand the world in general. Experience provides a concrete way to test anything for its truth or value. If someone promises you a reward for a specific act, and then follows through with that promise, you then know that was a true promise, and you have also learned that you can trust that person who made that promise. You know their good for their word, and you know this because you have experienced it. If this happens repeatedly, then that knowledge is even stronger, and the trust you have in them is greater. The same applies to the Book of Mormon, or the Gospel in general (or any specific principal within the Gospel). If you live the principles and the promised results follow (if your “soul is enlarged”) then you know those principals are true. The more you repeat the pattern, the stronger and more certain that knowledge becomes. Jesus himself taught this same principal for learning truth when he said, “My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me. If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.” (John 7:16-17)
One example of how experience and behavior interplay to “enlarge the soul” is my LDS mission to Virginia. Over the course of those two years, I went through a series of behavioral changes (as I strived to constantly better live the Gospel principals, as well as conform to mission rules) and positive experiences. After my two years, I came home a different person, a better person. My mission “enlarged my soul” to use Alma’s phrase.
3. Enlighten the Understanding: Here we have the intellectual part of discovering truth. Here we use our reason, logic, learning, and study to assess the truth. Does it all make sense? Is it logical and reasonable? Is there information (or evidence) which supports (or is consistent with) this claim? If the principals conform to logic and reason then we can rationally conclude that those claims are valid. If there is information and research which supports the claims, we can further conclude that the claims have a factual basis. Along with that, it should help you better understand things that you were previously confused about. It should shed greater light on matters that previously seemed unknowable.
Some simple examples of this in my testimony of the LDS Church are that Christ’s Church had apostles and prophets before (See Ephesians 4:11), and so it makes sense that His Church would have prophets and apostles today. In the Bible we have many teachings of baptism, but there is confusion throughout the Christian Churches in regards to the mode of baptism, purpose of baptism, necessity of baptism, and who should (or needs) to be baptized. The Book of Mormon provides clear answers to each of these questions, helping me better understand the meaning and symbolism for baptism. Those are just some simple examples of how the restored Gospel has “enlightened my understanding.”
4. Delicious: When Alma speaks of the word becoming delicious he talking about the effect it will have on our desires. When you eat something that tastes good, it affects your desires. You respond by wanting (or desiring), even craving more. Well, if a principal and idea is good, it will likewise affect your desires, you will respond by wanting to learn or know more about it. It is “delicious” to you. Good things lead to good desires. Delicious things are also satisfying. I am more satisfied after eating a thick, juicy, delicious Bacon-Cheese Burger at Five Guys Burgers and Fries than when I just eat a cheap, cold, flimsy Jr. Bacon-Cheese Burger from Wendy’s. Likewise, when the principals and ideas we test are delicious, they are satisfying. They fulfill a need or void which was previously left open in our lives. As Jesus taught, “they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness…shall be filled.” (Matthew 5:6)
The Gospel has done this for me. The more I live and experience the blessings of the restored Gospel, the greater desire I have to experience more. I also feel a fullness, or completeness within me. I have been filled, and I am satisfied.
Each element, independent of the others, has its problems or limitations and is entirely insufficient to discovering the absolute truth. With the Spiritual witness, the vagueness and ambiguity of our language, along with the apparent tie of strong emotions with the presence of the Holy Ghost, can make it difficult (at times) to distinguish the difference between spiritual impressions and our own thoughts and desires.
Experience and behavior suffer from more serious limitations – we just can’t do and experience everything. Some behaviors are dangerous and destructive, and would be harmful to experience. Experience also is greatly impacted by our own preconceived perspectives. Some of these limitations can be accommodated for by also considering the experience and behavior of others. We can see how certain behaviors and experiences affect other people and then decide if we want to make the same choices. However, the experiences of others are not nearly as powerful (for ourselves) as our own. This creates a further problem when we consider that two people can do the same thing, but have different experiences. You and I may go to the same restaurant, but I might have a negative experience and you might have a positive experience. This is because individual experiences are just that: individual; because of this we cannot always trust the experience of another. This problem is likewise compounded when we think about the impact that an individual’s perspective might have on their personal experience.
The intellectual limitations are even greater. Just as we cannot experience everything, cannot come to know everything intellectually, or otherwise. Sometimes, in order to understand one thing, we need to know other things first, but we may be introduced to the first thing, without understanding the prerequisites. This limitation on our understanding may cause something that is in actuality perfectly true and rational, to appear illogical and irrational. Sometimes, our own human intellect and reason just cannot comprehend the reason of the God. As the Lord told Isaiah, “my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways” (Isaiah 55:8). Sometimes the information (or evidence) that would confirm or support our beliefs or ideas has yet to be discovered or understood. No secular learning is exact (except for maybe some forms of math), and experts in every field are learning new things and making new discoveries all the time. Sometimes the new information may contradict and over turn what used to be thought as true in the academic sense. Which leads to another problem: sometimes the information we are basing our judgment of truth on is incomplete and later new discoveries prove that they are incorrect.
The short comings of “deliciousness” are particularly harmful. Dangerous, destructive, and addictive behaviors can seem “delicious” and appear to be good, and we all have natural (or carnal) desires. For all these reasons, it is important the all four be used together in a “checks and balance” type of a system to ensure that we are properly measuring truth. This is also why you can never stop testing and proving what you know. If we are continually testing things against our feelings (spiritual ones that is), experiences, intellect, and desires, and improving and refining our understanding, then the truth will become ever more apparent.
You may notice the problems and limitations of each one get worse as we get down the list. The first thing (spiritual feelings) is the most sound and sure, while the last one (our desire for more) is the most unstable and has the most dangerous of consequences. I think Alma placed them in this order intentionally, to emphasis the most important first and then go on through to the last and least important. A lot of the time, the first three will control the last one. As I feel the spirit, experience the blessings, and learn the Gospel, my desire for more increases. Your desires follow where your heart and mind take them. This is why it is critical that the Spirit be the foremost and guiding factor in your search for truth.
This is not to be taken to mean that spiritual feelings must be the most dominate factor. Some people respond to truth in different ways. For my wife, she tends to be especially responsive to spiritual impressions, while I have a tendency to be more responsive to intellectual learning. Others might put more emphasis on experiences, while yet others might be more responsive when they feel that desire for more. Regardless of which it is you relate to best, though, the spiritual witness needs to be the main, primary, and deciding factor of a testimony. To go to back to the analogy stated earlier about people getting married; for some couples love might be the most dominate reason for getting married, while for others finances, living arrangements, or car ownership might be bigger factors. One couple might feel it is more important to get their finances in order, while another may not be too concerned about finances, but may feel like they need to have reliable transportation for both (and hence own at least one car, if not two) before tying the knot. Regardless of the amount of emphasis in which they might place on some of these other factors, without love marriage wouldn’t even be in the discussion. Finances may be in order, cars may be owned, and living arrangements may be available, but if two people don’t love each other, they just aren’t going to get married. Likewise, if we are having experiences, learning new things, and have a desire for more, but the Spirit is not with us, then we are doing something wrong. Something about what we are doing is not in harmony with truth.
It is important to note that the spiritual element, while the first and foremost fundamental building block of testimony, it is not, and should not, be the only basis of a testimony. As I already stated, all four elements are essential. When one builds their whole testimony on spiritual feelings, it is very easy for the seeds of doubt (most commonly sown in the intellectual sphere) to discredit those feelings and leave you shaken. But, when you have developed intellect, good desires, and had experiences which have confirmed and supported your spiritual witness of the truth; then when the intellect of men challenges your belief, you can fall back on your spiritual convictions knowing that there are perfectly rational reasons to support what you believe.
We see, then, that Alma is teaching us how to build a solid foundation for our faith and testimony through a variety of ways, and when we use all four of these indicators together as a cohesive test of truth, we gain a certain knowledge over time. It is still important to remember that it takes time to reach that certain knowledge. As Alma explains before diving into the “experiment”, “Ye cannot know of their surety at first, unto perfection” (Alma 32:26). It takes time, and we must repeat the experiment, continually test our findings and expand our understanding, learning “precept upon precept; line upon line…here a little, and there a little” (Isaiah 28:10) until we come to perfect understanding.
What I know…
Wow, that was long! I hope you better understand the foundation and basis upon which my testimony in the restored Gospel has been built. It is firm and strong, steady and sure, stable and unwavering; and though it is constantly under refinement (as I continually test my conclusions and build upon what I already know), it cannot be shaken.
Now that I have explained that basis, let me share with you my testimony in the restored Gospel of Jesus Christ.
1. God Lives: I know that God is real. That He lives, and that He loves every single one of us as His children. I know that I am a child of God, that I am important to Him, and that He is concerned for my well being. I know that He hears and answers prayers. I know and love Him as my Father in Heaven. I know that we are created in His image; that He has a body of flesh and bones like ours. I know He has a plan, and I have felt His love in my life.
2. Jesus is the Christ: I know that Jesus of Nazareth lived and walked this earth. That He taught the Everlasting Gospel, and established His church based on His authority. I know that He is the Son of God, and the Savior of the world, and my personal Messiah. That He suffered in the Garden of Gethsemane and upon the Cross at Calvary for my sins, and the sins of the whole world. I know that after He suffered, bled, and died to reconcile us all back to the Father, He conquered death and even now lives! Yes, He lives! Even now He is at the right hand of the Father, sitting upon His thrown in Glory and Everlasting life! I know that through His infinite Atonement, I can overcome my sins and shortcomings and be likewise glorified and inherit Eternal life. I know that He understands all the pain and sorrow which I have endured, and will yet endure; and that He is my strength and support in times of need. I know He has carried me through some hard times, and I trust in Him wholly and completely.
3. Joseph Smith was a True Prophet: I know that Joseph Smith was called, by God the Father and Jesus Christ, to be a prophet, and restore the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and re-establish Christ’s Church. I know that he was endowed with power from on high to fulfill this calling, and given the authority to act as God’s representative to the earth. He was not perfect, but severed the Lord! No, I do not worship him. No, I don’t even hold him close to the greatness of Christ. I do thank him, though, for be willing to sacrifice for the cause of Christ, so that the full blessings of the Atonement could be made available to me today.
4. The Book of Mormon is the Word of God: I know that Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon by the gift and power of God. I know that the Book of Mormon is the word of God, as it was given, through ancient prophets, to a group of people who lived anciently somewhere on the American continent. I likewise know that the Holy Bible is the word of God, as it was given, through ancient prophets, to a group of people who lived anciently in the Near East. I know the two together (The Bible and Book of Mormon) stand as a powerful witness of the divinity of Jesus Christ. Furthermore, I know that the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price are also the word of God.
5. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the Lord’s Church: I know that the Church which Joseph Smith established, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, is the Lords Church on the earth today, complete with prophets and apostles, and the priesthood authority of God. I know that Thomas S. Monson is the prophet of God here on the earth today. I likewise know that his counselors and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles have been called to serve God as special witnesses of Jesus Christ.
These are the basics and fundamentals of my testimony; I could go on for a long time to share the whole thing, I have gone on long enough, though. In the near future we will be discussing many of the intellectual reasons upon which this testimony is supported, but I wanted you all to know that my testimony runs deeper – much, much deeper – than all the intellect that I possess. Thank you for taking the time read what I have shared with you today. I know this is true. I share this testimony with you in the name of Jesus Christ!
2. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Preach My Gospel (2007), pg 99.
3. S. Michael Wilcox, Your Faith Becometh Unshaken: Building Your Testimony Pyramid