Lately, I’ve been confused about the church. I have been apart of it my whole life, and now I’m questioning everything. Everywhere I go, people tell me that God isn’t there, he doesn’t answer prayers, that the scriptures are pure lies and made to make people believe there is a god, and that the first vision is entirely a story made up by Joseph smith. No matter how many times I pray and keep reading 1 James, I don’t get any answers. How do I know if it’s true?
I hope you’ll forgive me for taking so long to respond to your question. There are a lot of different approaches to answering your question and I’ve had a hard time choosing one. I hope the one I’ve chosen will help you to receive the answers you need.
D&C 46 speaks of the gifts of the spirit. Verses 13 and 14 were the first thing to come to my mind when I read your question:
13 To some it is given by the Holy Ghost to know that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and that he was crucified for the sins of the world.
14 To others it is given to believe on their words, that they also might have eternal life if they continue faithful.
Knowing truth is a gift of God. Some gifts just seem to be there from birth or a very young age, other gifts, we have to work hard for. This might be a gift you need to work hard for. But don’t let that discourage you – the things we work for become most precious in our lives.
The second scripture which came to mind when I read your question is John 7:17:
17 If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.
One of the single best ways to know whether something is true is to try it out and note the results. This can’t be done casually or passively – it has to be deliberate. Like that verse in James you reference, you must have real intent. Alma 32 teaches us how to go about this. Some of the key things we learn in these verses are:
- we mustn’t cast out the truth because of unbelief, or resist the influence of the Spirit (v28)
- recognize the good which comes through acting in faith (v30)
- we must continue the experiment, nourishing the faith which comes from our initial efforts (v36-37)
- we mustn’t neglect our faith – we must continue our efforts (v38-39)
- If we continue to nourish the word in faith, we will eventually receive eternal life (41-43)
Often at this point in the discussion, we might turn to “the Sunday School answers” of prayer, scripture study, and church attendance. But these alone are not enough. They restore and strengthen our spirit, but if we do nothing with that strength, it will fade quickly. We must also find ways to serve God and our fellow men. This may be through callings, volunteer work, home and visiting teaching, or helping our family and neighbors, but whatever forms it takes (and it should take multiple forms), service is required for growth.
Remember that you are seeking a gift from God – faith, and confirmation of the truth. Let’s go back to D&C 46. Verses 8 through 12 remind us that the gifts of God are given “that all may be benefited”. Have you considered that the testimony you seek will be given not only for your own benefit, but for the benefit of all of us? Pondering this may help you seek with a different spirit and intent.
James 1 has two more teachings that I think are important to your pursuit:
6 But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed.
In my opinion, this can be one of the hardest prerequisites for receiving answers from the Lord – it’s hard to cast away our doubts and fears, to go to the Lord with total trust and willingness to accept the answer no matter what it is or when it comes. Sometimes, we have to work a long time, pleading for help, and serving as best we know how until finally, after much effort, we receive the answer the Lord wishes to give us.
12 Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him.
The temptation to give in to doubt or the discouraging words of non-believers is in fact a temptation. Like all temptations, it is to be endured and overcome through faith in Christ.
One final thought, from Ether 12:6 (see also 1 Peter 1:6-9):
6 And now, I, Moroni, would speak somewhat concerning these things; I would show unto the world that faith is things which are hoped for and not seen; wherefore, dispute not because ye see not, for ye receive no witness until after the trial of your faith.
Witnesses and blessings come after we have acted in faith – after we have obeyed. I know this is hard, and it is the exact opposite of what the world would have us believe – that we should demand proof before investing – but we aren’t seeking what the world has to offer, we’re seeking the gifts and blessings of God which are given on his terms, not man’s.
I hope, Elise, that this will help you to plan how you can experiment on the truths of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and that as you act in faith, you will observe the fruits of your actions, that they are good, and that this will lead you to the strong testimony you seek.