In our faith, we are often told that we can know our church is true by sincerely asking God in faith. Many members I know ground their faith largely in answers to such prayers. I have felt strong spiritual feelings at times as well in response to seeking this very inspiration. My question is what to make of other faiths that make the same claim specifically faiths that necessarily contradict on key issues of doctrine with ours. I really believe that they feel something authentic just as I believe I felt things and other Mormons have felt things. I have heard testimonies of others that say their experiences are proof to them that their faith must be the true faith or path. Often these experiences are just as powerful or more so than what I have experienced. I believe in revelation. I believe that good answers prayers, but this question has given me a lot of cognitive dissonance. Two contradictions can’t be true at the same time. How do I work through this?
One of Satan’s greatest tactics is to have us believe there are contradictions where there are no contradictions. His hope that we might experience cognitive dissonance such that we lose hope in the truth/witness we have received from the Father through his Holy Spirit. Your question causes me to ponder a few principles and scriptures that might provide some clarity to your question. The first is that God loves all of his children. The second is that God is no respecter of persons. The third is that we all learn line-upon-line or grace for grace. The fourth principle covers two concepts: the source of the inspiration and opposition. The final principle is that the Lord will give or take away according to our desires or what we are able to bear.
God is Love
In the gospel of Jesus Christ three core foundational principles are: faith, hope, and charity. We learn in scripture that without faith it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6). The actual verse of scriptures declares,
“But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.”
The decision to come unto God/Christ can only be accomplished through an act of faith, and often that act to experience God’s love is prayer. No matter what faith a person belongs to, that if one of God’s sons or daughters humble themselves and ask in faith, believing they shall receive, they will receive an answer to their prayer according to the Lord’s will and timetable. In light of this fact, we shouldn’t be at all surprised when God answers the prayers of his children, no matter their faith. He loves them and is taking every measure possible to help his children to receive truth according to his plan.
God is No Respecter of Persons
The second principle, God is no respecter of persons, is part of that plan, and is a result of his love toward his children — all of them. In our Bible, the following verses of scripture Matthew 5:45 and Acts 10:34 give evidence to this point:
“That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.” (Matthew 5:45)
“In correlations with Matthew, we are able to read these words from Peter, “Then Peter opened his mouth, and said, Of a truth, I perceive that God is no respecter of persons.” (Acts 10:34)
Who is then answering the prayers of every individual that is living upon this earth (no matter their faith, the God they may call by a different name or the same name)? Does the answers to their prayers remove any validity to the truthfulness of the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ? No, not in the least.
Grace upon Grace and Line upon Line
The third principle is learning by grace upon grace, line upon line, and precept upon precept. This scripture highlights this principle,
“For behold, thus saith the Lord God: I will give unto the children of men line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little; and blessed are those who hearken unto my precepts, and lend an ear unto my counsel, for they shall learn wisdom; for unto him that receiveth I will give more; and from them that shall say, We have enough, from them shall be taken away even that which they have.” (2 Nephi 28:30)
Let’s review a wonderful story in the Book of Mormon. Ammon and his brethren decided the Lamanites needed to hear the word of God. The Lamanites believed in a Great Spirit. When Ammon found favor with the King he began expounding the scriptures unto them. The Lamanites appear to misunderstand what Ammon is asking when he asked if they believed in a God. This created an very interesting dialogue between Ammon and Lamoni. A series of questions that then resulted with Lamoni now understanding that the Great Spirit and the God of the Nephites were ONE — the same God.
At this moment though, anyone who heard this would have had choices/opposition. First, they could have continued believing Ammon was this Great Spirit who had come to torment them. Two, they could have disbelieved Ammon regarding God, and continued believing in a Great Spirit while accepting Ammon was just a strong man. And finally, they could choose to believe Ammon’s words.
A truth that is taught through this experience is that no matter what witness they had received previously (remember they believed they had received witness that Ammon was this Great Spirit) God will provide further witness if we have not come to a full knowledge of his truth, his gospel. We know that God will provide further witness, and he will teach his children line upon line, grace for grace, until they reject his word or receive his word and be given more.
The Source of our Inspiration and Opposition
In the Bible and the Book of Mormon we are informed how God will teach us all things through his Holy Spirit, and that opposition is necessary for our growth to become like our Heavenly Father. We are also made aware that the adversary will also seek to teach the children of humankind his ways. For example, the Book of Mormon tells the story of a man named Sherem. Sherem had received an opposing witness to that of Jacob’s many revelations and adamantly taught his (Sherem’s) witness. After Sherem spoke with Jacob we can read the following words from Sherem, “And he spake plainly unto them, that he had been deceived by the power of the devil. And he spoke of hell, and of eternity, and of eternal punishment.” Sherem’s experience teaches clearly people are able to be deceived by the adversary. This example is one of the reasons why there are contradicting witnesses, source of witness. Was Sherem’s witness real?
Another reason would be our misinterpretation of the witness we have received. The source of the inspiration may be sure and true, but our interpretation of the interpretation may have not been fully understood. In my college years I experienced a dream in answer to one of my prayers. I acted upon this dream, according to my understanding of the dream, only to understand later that I had misinterpreted the dream I received. We are human, and human weakness may interfere with us fully comprehending the witness received. This is why humility interwoven with our faith and hope is necessary to further progress on the strait and narrow path.
On my mission, I met many people who have received witness that the Bible was true. They would bear witness of the testimony they had received from the Lord’s Spirit that the Bible was the word of God. They would use this witness to specify there was no other word of God, which by itself doesn’t stand to how we have received the Bible. We are human and we may misinterpret or seek to finalize a witness that was never meant to be a finalized witness. All we have to do is exercise faith, hope, humility, and charity and the Lord will provide further witness. If I had taken a moment in college to truly ponder the dream, and then to seek interpretation I wouldn’t have acted so quickly creating a scenario that didn’t end well.
If there truly is a contradiction, please recognize the Lord isn’t contradicting. The adversary is. If a person were to say, “I know the Book of Mormon is not the words of Christ because it has been made known to me.” (Opposition) I already know the source of that inspiration.
Remember, one of our Articles of Faith is, “We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.” Even when we have opposing knowledge it is wisdom to remember this verse and to respect whatever witness a person feels they have received, even those which are contrary to what we know to be true.
The Lord Will Give or Take Away According to our Desires
The final principle correlates with all the other principles. The easiest example to provide as Christians is that of the Jews who are a chosen and covenanted people of our Lord. The Jews I have met sincerely worship their God. They know he answers prayers. They whole heartily believe in their religion and practices. Their current belief and teachings contradict every Christian religion. The Messiah has already come, or they are correct and they are still waiting for him to come.
According to prophecy the Jews, collectively, will not come to the full knowledge until the Lord himself comes again to his temple and saves his people from destruction. If we want to know, then we have to exercise faith, hope, and charity and put God in front of everything else. For some people, they are fervent in their faith, and it will require at times more than a simple reading of the Book of Mormon to convince them.
The Lord loves all his children. He is taking every measure he can in order to bring all his children to a unity of faith without destroying his own plan. He will provide further witness, the question though, are we listening?
Let me share a personal example of receiving more that happened in my life not so many years previously. A good friend of mine felt really impressed to teach me a principle he KNEW to be true. Each time we were alone he would seek constantly to teach me this principle in hopes I would accept. My response to him, “I appreciate you sharing these things, but I have received spiritual witness that tells me what you are saying isn’t fully correct. Until the Lord tells me more or helps me to see where I may have misunderstood something I will continue to honor the witness I had received.”
Now, understand this important aspect. I did not reject his witness because I could tell he truly believed it. I accepted his witness and began to study for myself. I, to this day, am grateful for his willingness to share his thoughts because the Lord eventually let me see the truth he was teaching which didn’t contradict what I had already received witness of. What I didn’t tell him though is that the Lord had also made clear where he was wrong. The Lord allowed me to receive more as I exercised faith, hope, and humility. If I didn’t exercise faith, hope, and humility I would have never received the additional knowledge the Lord was teaching me through a fellow friend.
This is why I love Abraham 1:2,
“And, finding there was greater happiness and peace and rest for me, I sought for the blessings of the fathers, and the right whereunto I should be ordained to administer the same; having been myself a follower of righteousness, desiring also to be one who possessed great knowledge, and to be a greater follower of righteousness, and to possess a greater knowledge, and to be a father of many nations, a prince of peace, and desiring to receive instructions, and to keep the commandments of God, I became a rightful heir, a High Priest, holding the right belonging to the fathers.”
If all of us, all of God’s children, were truly concerned as Abraham was pertaining to becoming a rightful heir, a High Priest (for women a Priestess), then we all would come to a unity of faith.
You might be interested in two other Gramps answers regarding prayers and prayers that seem to contradict each other:
1) How can two people get opposite revelation?
2) How can people receive opposite personal revelation and both say it came from God?