Do you have doubts about Joseph Smith? Or struggle with certain testimony weaknesses?
Below is the transcript from a podcast episode where Cali Black and I covered this topic in the most faith-promoting way!
Kristen: Welcome everyone to a very special bonus episode of the One Minute Scripture Study podcast. This episode is actually brought to you by our FHE-on-the-Go Patreon members. Our Patreon members get to vote for each month’s bonus episode and this is the one they chose for November and we’re so excited to dive into it.
Cali: I know many of you are signed up for FHE-on-the-Go and it really has just been a fantastic thing to share each week. Kristen and I talk about a General Conference talk and it’s meant to be like a family night that you can just press play anywhere (like in the car on your couch) and then we’re asking discussion questions. You can pause and talk with your kids or with your spouse or if you’re just by yourself, you can even write it down. We know a lot of people do that or just empty nesters wanting to have good gospel conversations together. You can sign up through Apple, but you can also sign up through Patreon. They’re the same price, it’s just five bucks a month, super cheap, but then if you’re signing up through Patreon, you can help us decide, you can have a say on what these bonus episodes are. So we’re so grateful for the topic you guys picked because this is going to be a fantastic kind of weighty but really needed episode.
Kristen: And this actually was not the one that we had planned on talking about this was like our plan b, but our Patreon members really wanted us to talk about this question : How do I handle doubts about Joseph Smith? And if you can relate to this question, first of all, you are not alone! Based on an in depth study that was done, and we’ll link to it in the show notes, only about 51% of LDS millennials and 54% of LDS gen-xers are totally confident that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God.
Cali: That’s fascinating. So let’s be honest, if those are the percentages, that probably means that many of you, probably half of you listening are struggling to understand whether or not Joseph was actually a prophet of God, and so we hope to kind of start a discussion today that can lead you to a bit more clarity or hope and give you maybe some next steps of what you can take. And Kristen and I are going to be honest about how we’ve dealt with some of our own doubts and questions as well, and hopefully that can help you as you move forward through your own journey of faith.
Kristen: Yeah, and even if you’re listening to this and you’re feeling like, well, I don’t have doubts right now in general, the same study that I referenced before talked about how Latter-day Saints were just less sure about Joseph Smith than we are about Jesus Christ and God. Our testimonies of Jesus Christ and God are so strong, but then when it comes to Joseph Smith we’re a little bit less sure. So even if you just want to bolster your testimony, this is going to be an awesome episode for you,
Cali: I just want to add, because I’ve talked with a lot of moms who have teenagers and if you don’t have these questions, your teenagers will have these questions. And so I think it’s also good to learn how to be empathetic and maybe guide your kids instead of telling our kids “Just have more faith,” we’ll talk about how we can actually be helpful and help them work through some of these questions that they might have. Because we’ve all had them.
Kristen: So we’re actually going to cover three topics.
The first is why doubts are okay.
The second is how not to be overwhelmed by your doubts.
The third is how to get real answers to your questions.
1. Why Doubts about Joseph Smith are Okay
Kristen: First, why doubts are okay. And this is this is something I love! When I taught at E. F. Y. this is actually one of the first lessons we taught at every single session and it was how to handle gospel questions. And the first thing we taught these kids was surprising to them, and that was that questions and doubts are fine. Like, you can still be a good member of the church and have questions and doubts. They were like, “What?! I didn’t know that!”
Cali: I feel like for me, and maybe this is not real and it was just in my mind, but I felt like all of a sudden there was this shift where church leaders were saying it’s okay to have doubts, it’s okay to have questions. And in my mind, it happened while I was at BYU and I had a lot of friends who actually were wondering, “Why would a religion tell people that they want people to have doubts and even encourage it?” Like, it seemed a little strange at first, like, wait, shouldn’t you be just telling us have faith and don’t doubt? And yet they were embracing this idea of it’s ok to have doubts and questions. So honestly, we talk about doubts in really vague terms, right? We say I have doubts, but let’s let’s get specific, let’s get real today because we’re focusing on the prophet Joseph specifically. And so that’s where I want to guide our conversation. That means church leaders are saying it’s okay to think “Hmmmm, I wonder if Joseph really did experience the First Vision if there’s so many different various accounts of it?” Or “Wow, polygamy makes me really uncomfortable and learning about how Joseph went about it really does not make me feel awesome. How could a prophet have done this?” It’s okay to be thinking these thoughts and that’s what I feel like, because when we learn new information and we had no idea about it before, we need to do something with that information.
And I share those examples because these are questions that have crossed my mind if I’m being totally honest. Those are questions that have crossed my mind and it can be a little scary because I’m totally all in with the gospel, I am committed. And so the idea of me even having a thought that someone could possibly even refer to as a doubt, it was really scary to me Like, whoa, I’m not that type of person, I don’t want to be that person. And yet here were these thoughts in my head. So here’s the conclusion that I came to. I think it’s okay to think these thoughts and I personally believe that that is the point that church leaders have been trying to make about having doubts and questions. We don’t have to resist and think, “No, no, no, a good church member would never even think about that question.” Because I don’t think that’s helpful at all. Instead we can just acknowledge, like that’s a question that I currently have and we can be okay with that.
Kristen: I love that you’re so honest about that, because that has been really upsetting to me when questions have come up. And even recently we had an interview about Joseph Smith and polygamy and when I studied for it, I mean I had all these questions come up and it was very uncomfortable. And I think my life is so based on the Gospel that I start to get angsty, I get anxious when I have questions because I’m like “No, I can’t have questions.”
But I love what Elder Ballard taught, he said “Of course having questions and experiencing doubts are not incongruent with dedicated discipleship.”
The quote goes on, but I have to stop there. So he basically just said you can be a dedicated disciple and still have questions and doubts. That doesn’t make you a lesser member, it doesn’t make you a fringy member to have questions, we’re all welcome to have questions.
Then he said, “Remember Joseph Smith himself had questions that began the Restoration. He was a seeker and like Abraham found the answers to life’s most important questions. The important questions focus on what matters most: Heavenly Father’s plan and the Savior’s atonement.” And I just love that! That brings me so much peace that this gospel started because a boy had questions he wouldn’t stop asking. Questions are welcome here.
Cali: And I love that ending part that President Ballard talks about about. We need to focus on the Savior. That’s kind of what we’ll dive into next, talking about what to do with those doubts and questions. But I just want to drive that point home. It is okay to have these questions about things that we don’t know and it’s okay to doubt something that you may have been previously taught or that you thought you already knew and now something doesn’t fit and you’re starting to doubt.
In 1 Nephi chapter 11 verse one, this is when Nephi had just heard his father Lehi talk about the big dream that he had. And Nephi was not happy with just hearing his father talk about it. So listen to what Nephi said here because I think this is fascinating. Nephi said “I had desired to know the things that my father had seen.” So here was an authority figure telling him about a revelation and Nephi was like “Mmm nope, I want my own witness of that. Like I need to know for myself.” I just love that! It gives a little bit of a different glimpse into what Nephi said and then he says next “And believing that the Lord was able to make them known unto me… ” Nephi had confidence that God could tell him the answer that he was looking for and I think we can approach God with that same confidence with our doubts and our questions.
He could give us the answers to anything, He could make anything clear to us but a lot of times I don’t think that’s His will either. But what He can do is He can slowly bring a more peaceful mindset to the questions that we have or lead us in a new direction or find a new perspective. So having doubts and having questions are totally fine and it’s a lot more normal than it may seem.
2. Hold Onto the Trunk
Kristen: I love that, thank you for sharing that. The second point that we wanted to talk about is kind of going back to what the most important questions are. The second point is to hold on to what you already know. I think this is critical because I look at the gospel of Jesus Christ as a tree and Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ are the trunk and the roots of this tree. We need to hold on fast to them. Then one of the tree’s branches might be Joseph Smith and we feel pretty good about that branch. But then we notice a little twig on our Joseph Smith branch and that bothers us, say for example we get bugged about the different First Vision accounts and we just let it eat at us that we don’t understand why there’s so many different accounts. And then we focus so much on that, that we start trying to hang our whole testimony from that one twig and it just, it doesn’t work. So if we want to find real answers, I’m not saying to let go of the twig, to ignore the twig. But we have to hold onto the trunk so that we’re not completely distracted by that twig.
Cali: I think that’s important. It doesn’t mean let go of the twig or stop worrying about the twig necessarily, although you could eventually get to that point. But while you’re holding that twig, you’re still holding on to that tree trunk. I love it. Elder Holland had a beautiful thing to say about this that I love. He says “In this church what we know will always trump what we do not know. And remember in this world, everyone is to walk by faith. Hold fast to what you already know and stand strong until additional knowledge comes.” I’ve mentioned this before, but I have had friends leave the church specifically because of issues with Joseph Smith and something that just fascinates me and interests me is “What about that belief in God, what about that belief in Jesus Christ?” And I don’t know, I have not had those conversations with those people. But that’s something that we can’t let go of, that needs to be the core of our testimony.
And then when we find these scary twigs hanging down, we stick with the tree that we know is true. There are so many more things that we do know, there’s so many truths about the atonement of our Savior, Jesus Christ and the creation of the world and Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother. There’s so many more things that we do know that will always trump what we don’t know. And Elder Uchtdorf had, I think one of classic phrases about this : ” Doubt your doubts before you doubt your faith.” And to me it’s that last phrase. We can’t doubt the faith that we already have that is so important to cling too.
Kristen: I love that. I think that’s so important and one of the things that– as a practical application of this “hold onto the trunk thing”– is this. So there are honestly twigs on the Joseph Smith branch that I still don’t get and they still kind of bug me. So what I’ve had to do is figure out for myself what I can hold on to on that Joseph Smith branch, like what parts of it am I totally okay with?
And many, many times for me it has come back to one question and that is, “Do I believe that Joseph Smith was a prophet the day he died?”
Kristen: And I have worked on my testimony of that and I have a sure testimony now that yes, he was. Which means that even if I don’t understand everything else that happened in his life, I know God upheld him as his prophet and he kept him in his office as prophet until the day he died. And so even though I’m still investigating the twigs, I can hold on to that and I can feel feel comfortable and confident in my testimony of that. Does that make sense?
Cali: Yeah, I think that’s a perfect application. Absolutely. And one thing I learned this in my “Prophets of the Restoration” class that I took at BYU that really shaped my foundation and I feel like changed my understanding of what prophets do and what they are. We focused a lot on this next quote that I’m going to share. It says “The Lord will never permit me or any other man who stands as president of the church to lead you astray. It is not in the programme, it’s not in the mind of God. If I were to attempt it the Lord would remove me out of my place. And so He will any other man who attempts to lead the children of men astray from the oracles of God and from their duty.”
And Kristen I have to say, you and I have been studying the Old Testament as we gear up for next year and isn’t that very apparent in the Old Testament? God does not let prophets go around and teach false doctrine. And as soon as they do that, they are struck down by any sort of means necessary. And sometimes it’s a little harder to translate that to today. Not that prophets can have different opinions as well, but they’re not going to actually lead the church astray and if they try to God knows exactly how to take care of that.
Kristen: Yes, He does. He has practice from Old Testament times and I love that. I think those two things together are so powerful. So if you’re struggling with Joseph Smith, a testimony of these two things would be really helpful. So first try and see if you can gain a testimony that God really won’t let His prophet lead us astray. I mean, I can’t even imagine that being a part of His plan. That’s just not His plan. And the second, can you gain a testimony that Joseph Smith was a prophet the day he died? Having a testimony of those two things has helped me so much to be able to hold onto the trunk when I’m struggling.
Cali: I love that. And for me actually my core testimony, even though I talked about the First Vision accounts, my testimony has been rooted in the First Vision. Like to me it’s been very easy for me to have a testimony that that really happened. So that’s kind of my place that I go back to. But, whatever it is that you can find as your anchor points, I think that’s awesome.
But what about that time . . . (Handling specific doubts about Joseph Smith)
Cali: Okay, Kristen, I have a question. These are questions that I have heard from many different people and I don’t want to go too far down this rabbit hole and I hope I’m asking this in the right spirit, but we talk about how God won’t let his prophet lead us astray.
What about when Joseph instituted the Kirtland Safety Society and he wanted members to invest money that was never paid back. Or what about some things that Brigham Young had taught in the past about black people or interracial marriage. There’s some things that he taught or even things as recently as President Hinckley and President Monson really pushing the ” I Am a Mormon” campaign just to then have President Nelson show us the extreme importance of using the Church’s real name. So I’m curious and I hope it’s coming across in the right spirit, but how do you reconcile these things with the idea that a prophet is never going to lead us astray?
Kristen: Okay. I love that you’re asking me that. I think it’s an interesting question and I don’t know that there’s a right answer, but as you’re saying that I have four thoughts that I would think about. The first one you mentioned was the Kirtland Safety Society, which always gets to me because I think sometimes there are things in the history of Joseph Smith or any prophet that we just are not totally aware of. And as I’ve studied the Kirtland Safety Society, there was a man embezzling tons of money who destroyed that bank and there was a collapse of banks all over the country at the same time where millions of people were losing money. It was not just that Joseph Smith messed up. It’s that people were doing things the wrong way and this was actually a country wide issue. So I think sometimes there are facts we’re just maybe not aware of, and that sometimes is the issue. But when there really is an issue, there are three other things that I think and I want you to talk about too.
I think first of all we have to recognize that prophets do things on their individual time that are not necessarily led by God, like a prophet can have an opinion that isn’t God’s opinion. I don’t know if that’s crazy to say but I always hear the prophets after General Conference saying “I’m going to go home and make some changes.” That means they’re not perfect, right? So that means they have opinions and do things that aren’t perfectly in line with God’s will on their own time. So that would be my second thought.
The third one, and I hope this is not offensive to anyone but especially when you’re talking about Brigham Young there’s no excuse necessarily for what he said, but we also have to look at the culture in which he lived and how normal that opinion was at the time. And even though now we know that was incredibly wrong, he didn’t and so I’m not excusing him but I do think sometimes we need to take into account the culture of the time a prophet lived in.
And then the last thing like with President Nelson talking about how important the name of the church is, well just in this last conference Elder Andersen asked that same question: why are we doing this now? And he said it’s part of the ongoing restoration. All things have to come to pass in their time and he said that now is our time, this is the time when it’s really important that we emphasize the name of the church.
So those are my thoughts, but what do you think?
Cali: I think those are fantastic thoughts. I want to add just one thing. I also learned it from my “Prophets of the Restoration” class because that was a good class. It really was like, it kind of, it shook my foundation of what I thought prophets were and I felt like it changed it. So I don’t know if you have access to BYU classes or an institute class and you’re able to take “Prophets of the Restoration” or anyone can go look at the manual online. Honestly, you can go look at it and your Gospel Library app–it is fantastic. Fantastic. But one thing that really impressed me is prophets always teach the same doctrine. And so if we are trying to evaluate, because I think sometimes we hear like “prophets have opinions” and then “sometimes they’re acting as a prophet” and we’re like, well, how do we know, how do we know that? How do we know that President Nelson wasn’t just like, “Well, I think we should change the name of the church. That sounds good.” You know, like, how do we know that that wasn’t his opinion?
And this pattern and what I was taught that really clicked with me was, we have to look back and see the patterns, prophets are always teaching the same exact things. So if we had every single prophet saying, “Hey, I’ve created a new financial institution, come invest in it,” then we would be like, hey, that’s a part of the doctrine. Like I can clearly see that’s part of the doctrine. But since that has not happened ever since Joseph Smith, it’s easier to separate that as “Okay. That was something that Joseph was trying to do in order to help build up more investments for the town of Kirtland as it was struggling.” And then yes, he ran into all sorts of issues and it ended up being a really faith promoting event for a lot of people. And it also weeded out a lot of people who weren’t, who didn’t stay with it. Like that makes it more clear. We look at what Brigham Young has taught and it’s pretty clear to see that prophets throughout time have not echoed those same exact sentiments.
And so it’s a little easier to weed that out as well. That was clearly his opinion and he was not preaching. So it makes it a little easier to judge past prophets when we can see that. And even when we’re looking at President Nelson, if you’re trying to develop your testimony of President Nelson as a prophet. You can look and see he’s made so many changes, I know, but none of the changes have been doctrinally shaking. He’s not asking us to suddenly do something completely different than what has ever been announced before. On on a doctrinal level, procedures are changing, applications are changing, but the doctrine is not changing. So for me that has brought me so much peace to be like, okay, if someone is talking about political leanings 50 years ago, it’s easy for me to see that that’s just that person’s opinion because it’s not something that’s continuously taught in general conference by prophets anymore because that’s how God works. He is the same. And so his prophets are always teaching those same principles.
3. Go to God, not Google
Kristen: That is such a good measuring stick to use as you’re considering stuff like that. I love that, awesome. Okay well let’s move to our last point which is how do we move forward? We’ve accepted the fact that it’s okay to have doubts and questions were holding fast to what we already know and and leaning on that doctrine. For me that next step is we can look for great resources to help answer our questions.
Cali: M. Russell Ballard said this quote that of course makes you laugh. He said, “James did not say if any of you lack wisdom, let him Google.”
Kristen: Okay, I seriously love that quote but I do have to say a quick aside. If you do want to use Google– this was actually something one of the youth taught me at E F Y–apparently if you type in your search and you say “Joseph Smith’s First Vision” and then after that if you type “:lds.org”, then it is going to bring up all of the results from lds.org first. So that kind of helps weed out like having weirdo opinions in blog posts that might not be from great resources. It puts the ones that you want at the top. So just in case, I mean elder Ballard’s right, but if you do want to use Google, there’s a tip for you because let’s be real, we all still love Google, right?
Cali: There’s so many great resources out there that can help you get more clarity on these specific questions that you have. And the cool thing about doubts, if I’m allowed to say that, is you probably are not the first one to have the same exact doubt that you’re thinking of. Which I think is cool and I know for an absolute fact and I want to make sure this is emphasized here, I know for a fact that there are many faithful church members who have dealt with these similar doubts or who are still experiencing strong doubts right now, who are continuing to stay true to the core of their testimony and they’re choosing their faith in God and their faith in Jesus Christ and their love of the Book of Mormon and other scriptures and their love of temples and temple work and their understanding of priesthood power and their devotion to the Holy Spirit.
They are placing that above any other questions that they may have. Sometimes it feels like we are alone when we have those doubts and that the only option is to take a break to step back or to explore other options. But I just want to let you know, you are not alone. There are people who are doing this every day, every week. And since I absolutely love learning from the scriptures I thought that we could turn to Joseph Smith as our example today because I also think it’s important to build up your arsenal of good and amazing things that he did, you know, find some more spiritual proof in your mind that he did great things of what this man gave and wrote. He wrote so many powerful sermons that give us just a little sneak peek into how his mind worked and his relationship with revelation.
Kristen: Well, if you don’t mind, I would love to start with a scripture. We’re going to be reading from Joseph Smith History. He said that as he dealt with his questions, “His mind was called up to serious reflection and great uneasiness.” I love that. He said uneasiness.
Cali: Yes. And like doesn’t that sound familiar like that? That’s how I have felt when I’ve encountered these issues. But he just let his mind sit there in serious reflection, being okay with uneasiness and to me honestly, this is one of my favorite things to do. It looks like staring out a window mindlessly and just letting my mind try to piece together little things that I know. I’m not adding new information. I’m not bombarding it with a screen. I’m not talking to someone else, I’m just reflecting and giving my mind time to think. It is such a powerful place to start.
Kristen: I have a hard time doing that. I love that you said that because I’m like, let’s fix this. Let’s find answers. So I love that you and Joseph are great at that. So take time to just think. Also In that same verse, verse eight he said “I attended their several meetings as often as occasion would permit.”
Cali: Yes. Okay, I loved President Oaks’ talk about this from the most recent general conference about the importance of church. We don’t necessarily go to church for us. We go to church to serve and love and learn and teach and uplift. And there are also essential ordinances there that help us keep the discerning power of the spirit with us, which you’re probably going to want because that helps us know when we’re coming across something that is true or something that is partially true, but also very misleading. So attending church meetings is so important as we’re navigating through these questions.
Kristen: I love that, that is awesome. And I love that talk how he just talked about how church was important. The next thing that Joseph Smith did– this is in verse 11– he says, “I was one day reading the epistle of James first chapter and fifth verse, which reads, if any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally and upbraideth not and it shall be given him.” So what was Joseph doing? He was reading his scriptures, right? Your favorite thing!
Cali: Yes, He reads James 1:5. He stays in his scriptures, he doesn’t take a break. That’s a phrase that I hear often, he stays in the scriptures. And I’ve mentioned this before in previous episodes, but when churches were shut down last year, I felt like as much as I have already loved the scriptures the importance of the scriptures shone even brighter than ever before because I realized that is true religion. There are no misinterpretations by anyone else, There’s no one mingling their opinions with it. Good or bad, scriptures are just my direct line to God and I still don’t think that I live up to my privilege of how much I should be in them. There is so much to learn in them that we can get direct revelation that is just so powerful and we need it.
Kristen: I can personally attest to that, that has been where I have received some of the most important answers to questions in my life. I just love the scriptures.
The next thing Joseph did in verse 13, he said, “I at length came to the determination to ask of God.”
Cali: Yes. Okay, so he did what he read in the scriptures, right? He asked God. Joseph clearly had a huge prompting while he read James 1:5. I just want to point that out because I’m sure that he had read plenty of other scriptures before that said something along the lines of, “pray or ask God” or he had been to sermons and he had heard his parents say that, but for some reason it was that day that the spirit made a powerful impression.
Obviously we know the reason, but there was a powerful impression on that message for young Joseph. So what scriptures are sticking out to you as you read? That’s what we can pay attention to. We don’t have to understand everything that we read, we just have to pay attention to what is sticking out to us. What messages do you feel like the spirit is just leading you towards and then what can you actually do about it? How can you change a little bit every time you read your scriptures? And these are the questions I ask myself all the time. We always do our takeaway of the day at the end of our podcast because we’ve got to do something about it. We have to let the scriptures motivate changes in our life, so maybe it’s a new source you’re going to go look for, or maybe it’s a person you’re going to talk to all of a sudden after studying the scriptures that you’re going to have a conversation with someone where someone says, “Hey I know this is random, but I was just wondering. . . ” And bam, it is like all of a sudden it’s there and you know to start that conversation. Or maybe it’s just a feeling of peace, like you just feel a little more comfortable with not knowing. That’s why I love that the spirit teaches you what you need to know and what you need to do, but then we have to act on it. Joseph wasn’t just like, oh cool, I’ll have to ask God that question. He did it. He went and did it and that changed the world, right?
Kristen: Yes. Well and I love that you talked about that because I was recently listening to Brooke Snow. We had her on the podcast, but she said, “Knowledge isn’t power. Knowledge is potential power.” She’s basically said you have to act on your knowledge for it to become powerful. And that totally goes with what you’re saying.
Kristen: And then the last part of what Joseph Smith did is found in verse 14 he said, “So in accordance with this my determination to ask of God, I retired to the woods to make the attempt.”
Cali: Yes, so he prayed right and he prayed vocally, which I actually recommend for real heartfelt prayers, especially if you have doubts and questions, praying vocal is very powerful. But don’t feel like you need to hide these questions from God. And for some reason Satan is so good at making us think”don’t let anyone know that that thought crossed your mind.” And of course God is like “I know exactly what’s going on.” So He wants to hear your doubts in your questions, He wants to hear every question you have about Joseph Smith, I promise you. And the more honest that you try to be then I think the easier it is for God to then lead you in that next direction that you need to go.
Now at the end of the day, if you’re into history, you know about the difference between first person sources and second person sources. First person sources are actual records from the real event. So it’s like someone who was literally experiencing the war and they wrote down what happened or it’s photos that show exactly what happened, right? So for me when I’m looking at these things that I just mentioned, that Joseph did, those are like first person sources because you are going straight to the spirit, you’re going straight to the scriptures, which to me is just like a conduit for the spirit, right? You’re going straight to prayer, which is direct line to God who uses the spirit.
So, I highly recommend all these because these are these are first person sources in my mind. No middleman to the source of where that truth is. But that being said, there are also secondary sources aren’t bad. There are also great secondary sources to look at. We just have to be so, so careful in discerning what’s going to lead to more peace in our lives or what’s going to start pulling us in a different direction or adding on more doubts. And I understand the irony in saying this because I know Kristen and I here, we’re running our own secondary sources right here. So I don’t think they’re bad. I love so many other secondary sources. I love listening to other people’s interpretations of the scriptures and different things. And I’ve read plenty of books about some of these subjects and so there are fantastic secondary sources. But you have to discern. I hope that you feel light and truth in what Kristen and I share.
And there are people who are experts, literally experts who have devoted their entire life to studying Joseph smith and a lot of these tricky topics who are still totally keeping the faith in the church and that Joseph was a prophet. We have been super blessed to have many podcast guests who have been experts on Joseph Smith and polygamy and talking about women and the priesthood and you know, all sorts of different topics. There are so many other resources out there that might lead you to more clarity. Obviously we just want to be careful with the sources we turn to. But I mean at the end of the day, I don’t think anyone can convince you. No one can convince me that Joseph is a prophet of God except for the Holy Ghost manifesting what God and Jesus want me to know.
So I love research. I’m a huge fan of gathering all sorts of information, but at the end of the day it’s a faith journey, right? We can gather all the knowledge that we want and I’m all for that, but at the end of the day, it’s going to be faith driven. We’re going to have to just take that little step and I think that’s very intentional on God’s part.
Testimony Pyramids Help with Doubts about Joseph Smith
Kristen: Yeah, I think so too. And I actually, I want to add in here something that I just, as we’ve talked, I felt like we should add in here. I think a lot of people, when you start having questions, you feel like, oh my goodness, my testimony is shaken because we think our testimony is based on only what we feel. It’s like, “Oh, what I feel is my testimony. What the spirit is making me feel, that’s my testimony.” And something that I found so interesting, John Hilton III, who we had on the podcast– man, we’ve had so many cool guests– but this is something that I learned from him. He talked about when Alma and Korihor were facing off in a spiritual battle, that what Alma did with him is he basically showed and built in front of Korihor this testimony pyramid.
First he tells Korihor about all of the other sources of authority that support his testimony. He says, I’ve got the scriptures, I’ve got all these other people around me here that believe in God. And sometimes with Joseph Smith, that will be what I come back to. I trust Jeffrey R Holland with my life and he believes in Joseph Smith. And so somedays I’m okay with Joseph Smith, because Elder Holland is. We can believe based on authority.
So that’s the base of the pyramid. Then the next level up of the pyramid is when Alma talked about all the evidence he had that there was a God. He’s like, “Hey, look at the planets moving in order. There’s obviously a God in charge of that.” And so sometimes I’m like, okay, the Book of Mormon is my evidence that Joseph Smith was a prophet. He could not have done that on his own.
So even when my top level of my testimony pyramid, my personal experience, feels a little shaky I try to remember that my testimony has three levels. It’s that authority: it’s the other people whose testimonies I trust in and it’s the scriptures. Then the next level is I’ve got evidence that Joseph was a prophet. And then that top level is my personal experience with it. And so even if that top level is struggling, I’ve still got a base to my testimony.
Cali: I think that makes great sense because I think you’re right sometimes we think that our testimony just has to be like what we feel and there’s so many more layers to it. It reminds me of my dad who was an early morning seminary teacher for years. And there was this one young man who he taught in seminary and this man, he got his mission call and he was serving his mission and he wrote my dad one day and said “I’m actually really struggling with my testimony here on my mission. Like a lot of stuff has just been kind of thrown at me and I’m struggling with my testimony. But the one thing that’s carried me through is I knew that Brother Hansen knew it was true and if Brother Hansen knew it was true, there’s no way that he was being deceived because he’s just so awesome that I’m going to just rely on your testimony for a while.”
And obviously that was just so touching and just so powerful but I also think about this young man; what maturity to understand that “Whoa things are slipping. My experience part right at the top of the pyramid is all of a sudden just falling out from underneath.” And so he knew he could rely on other people’s testimonies. I know we say not to do that and obviously you don’t want to only do that and he has since then rebuilt his, but sometimes we need to fall back and think “Well what about this person that I personally know, if they know it’s true, then it’s gotta be true.” I just think that’s a cool little example.
Kristen: That is an awesome example. And yeah, we don’t want our testimonies to be only based on other people’s but sometimes that is what holds ours up for a little while and we need that and it’s definitely happened to me.
Oh you guys, this has been a good discussion. I am really glad that our Patreon members said to do this because we were not going to do this. But I have loved this and I just I want us to close out by saying we really do recognize that many, many people have very real and really troubling gospel questions that they feel uneasy about and we are not saying in any way to ignore those questions. But what we are saying is that you shouldn’t give up everything wonderful about the gospel because of your questions. Hold on to that trunk I guess is what we’re saying.
Kristen: And as we’re closing here, I would love to bear my testimony of Joseph smith if that’s okay because I have had a hard time with Joseph Smith. That has not been a part of the gospel that has just been simple and easy for me to believe.
And I have wanted it to be– desperately. You guys know my dad died when I was young, and he was like Joseph Smith’s number one fan. He loved Joseph Smith. And so I always thought I should too. And I’ve struggled, I really have. And so my testimony of Joseph Smith is based on years of struggling and asking. And I can honestly say that I still have questions but I also still know he is a prophet of God. And I’m saying “is” because when he died, he was one. I still have questions, I still have doubts and I still know that he’s a prophet of God and it’s possible to have questions and know, at the same time. I’ll tell you that that is my testimony of him, that he really was a prophet of God. He was a man. He made mistakes. He was totally human, but God called him and he did the work. God called him and he was a prophet. What about you Cali, would you share your testimony?
Cali: Yeah, absolutely. Um I think about what I said earlier about what are the patterns that the prophets have taught throughout time. And one pattern is they all testified of Joseph Smith, they all testify of him and they all talk about how important it is to still know that he’s a prophet of God. So to me, I felt like I had a strong foundation and then it was kind of a moment of learning some things where all of a sudden I was like “Hold on, what’s going on here?” And so for me, I really have relied on other people that I’ve known and building that foundation. My husband has an infallible testimony of Joseph Smith. He served his mission over by the Susquehanna River and just really has a strong foundation and I’ve always admired that about him. And I know that prophets have testified, current modern prophets testify that Joseph Smith is a prophet of God. And for me it is like I have a missing piece and I’m just gonna set it aside for now. And I have worried about it and I’ve studied about it and I’ve learned things, but at the end of the day, God is not going to give me all the answers and I feel great about that, I feel totally great about it. He wants me to use my faith. So I know that Joseph Smith is a prophet of God and I know that the things that he started must have been impossibly difficult even more so that we could ever imagine; to create all of these temples and ordinances and to receive all these revelations, he did so much that when I find those tricky pieces (and boy are there a lot of tricky pieces) I’m now more comfortable with being okay with not knowing and relying on that trunk. Because at the end of the day I know Jesus Christ is my Savior and I know God is my loving Heavenly Father and that is what’s going to carry me through. I know the scriptures are true, I know temple work is so important and if Joseph Smith had anything to do with any of those things then he is a good fruit too.
Kristen: Oh I love that, I love that. Oh you guys, I hope you’ve enjoyed this so much. In case you missed our tips, just a quick overview of what we said:
1) do not feel bad for having doubts, I hope that you feel that in your heart that it is so okay to have doubts and questions
2) hold on to what you already know
3) use good resources not Google
And our takeaway of the day in five words or less, God has the answers.