Testimony: How can you really know?

August 4, 2008

girlprayingI gained my first witness that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is true at a very young age. I was about three or four years old and one night as I was lying in bed, my mind started wandering and speculating and the thought occurred to me, “What if my parents and church leaders are wrong? What if there really is no life after death? What then? What if they’re just mistaken?” The response was immediate. No sooner had I begun to mull over this possibility than I felt an overwhelming sense of peace engulf me. I felt the reassurance of the Holy Ghost testifying to me that I needn’t worry about such a possibility because such is simply not the case. My parents and teachers are correct, there is a life after death and Christ is the Savior of all mankind. Since that time, my testimony has gone through numerous fluctuations as it has grown and developed, but its essence remains the same. I know of the truthfulness of the restored gospel.

Some may find my story remarkable or unbelievable. How could a child think such adult thoughts? More importantly, how could a child come to such a conclusion as I did? Some may scoff in disbelief that one can really know such things. I’d like to share another story. This is told by Elder Boyd K. Packer, of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. He says:

“I will tell you of an experience I had before I was a General Authority which affected me profoundly. I sat on a plane next to a professed atheist who pressed his disbelief in God so urgently that I bore my testimony to him. “You are wrong,” I said, “there is a God. I know He lives!”

He protested, “You don’t know. Nobody knows that! You can’t know it!” When I would not yield, the atheist, who was an attorney, asked perhaps the ultimate question on the subject of testimony. “All right,” he said in a sneering, condescending way, “you say you know. Tell me how you know.”

When I attempted to answer, even though I held advanced academic degrees, I was helpless to communicate. . . .

When I used the words Spirit and witness, the atheist responded, “I don’t know what you are talking about.” The words prayer, discernment, and faith, were equally meaningless to him. “You see,” he said, “you don’t really know. If you did, you would be able to tell me how you know” . . . .

Such an idea came into my mind and I said to the atheist, “Let me ask if you know what salt tastes like.”

“Of course I do,” was his reply.

“When did you taste salt last?”Do you know what salt tastes like?

“I just had dinner on the plane.”

“You just think you know what salt tastes like,” I said.

He insisted, “I know what salt tastes like as well as I know anything.”

“If I gave you a cup of salt and a cup of sugar and let you taste them both, could you tell the salt from the sugar?”

“Now you are getting juvenile,” was his reply. “Of course I could tell the difference. I know what salt tastes like. It is an everyday experience—I know it as well as I know anything.”

“Then,” I said, “assuming that I have never tasted salt, explain to me just what it tastes like.”

After some thought, he ventured, “Well-I-uh, it is not sweet and it is not sour.”

“You’ve told me what it isn’t, not what it is.”

After several attempts, of course, he could not do it. He could not convey, in words alone, so ordinary an experience as tasting salt. I bore testimony to him once again and said, “I know there is a God. You ridiculed that testimony and said that if I did know, I would be able to tell you exactly how I know. My friend, spiritually speaking, I have tasted salt. I am no more able to convey to you in words how this knowledge has come than you are to tell me what salt tastes like. But I say to you again, there is a God! He does live! And just because you don’t know, don’t try to tell me that I don’t know, for I do!”

The Holy Ghost testifies of the truth of the gospel. The Holy Ghost can be recognized a number of ways, but let me highlight a few references from the Doctrine and Covenants.

Section 6: 22-23 says, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, if you desire a further witness, cast your mind upon the night that you cried unto me in your heart, that you might know concerning the truth of these things. Did I not speak peace to your mind concerning the matter? What greater witness can you have than from God?”

8:2 reads, “Yea, behold, I will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy Ghost, which shall come upon you and which shall dwell in your heart.”

And Section 9 verses 7-8 explain, “Behold, you have not understood; you have supposed that I would give it unto you, when you took no thought save it was to ask me. But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right.”


Everyone can know these things. If you earnestly desire to gain a testimony, be it of the Book of Mormon, the Restoration or whether the current prophetic counsel really applies to you personally, take the matter to the Lord in prayer. I know from my own experiences that God answers prayers. The Holy Ghost does testify of Truth. If you truly want to know, then study, ponder, research and pray in faith; act on that faith; believe that you will receive an answer to your prayer. It may be immediate or it may take years for you to realize that you have received a confirmation and a testimony, but your answer will come.

Suggested Reading:

Elder Boyd K. Packer, “The Candle of the Lord,” Ensign, Jan 1983, 51

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4 Responses to “Testimony: How can you really know?”

  1. Steven

    I’m new to this blog, but I love it already. It’s not preachy, it’s not arrogant, it’s not proud. It’s simple, well thought out, and clear. Perfect for someone wanting to know a little more about the Church.

    Quick intro, since I’ll be “haunting” this blog a lot- my name is Steve, born and raised in the Church, live in Missouri, served a mission in Russia, work in the TV news business.

    Again, thanks for creating a great blog.

  2. Thaddeus

    Steven, welcome to our blog. We appreciate your feedback.

    We are astonished at the wide audience we are reaching and we hope to spread our message to even more people (especially non-LDS readers). Tell your friends about our site.

  3. Anonymous

    I find your story completely unremarkable. Everyone has peaceful feelings when they imagine that their ethnic system of traditions and beliefs is going to give them eternal peace and happiness. How is that special? It’s the fuel on which ethno-centrism thrives. Do you believe God makes the chemical that provides such strong convictions for only Mormons and those who pray about the “LDS truth.”

    Our feelings and eventually core beliefs can be manipulated. Do you believe that? I do. If you live in Texas your whole life, then pretty early in life you’ll “know” that Texas is the BEST state. Have you ever lived a whole life as all the other religions, or even lived outside of Utah (2-year missionary service with an extra helping of indoctrination doesn’t count)?

    Our sensory perceptions don’t give us total reassurance, and that’s just the way it is. Humans find they are wrong no matter how much math they do or how many prayers they say. Such a humble conclusion gives my being peace. I value peace because it feels good. I try to maximize good feelings by following certain traditions (because they have been polished like stones in rivers of experience) but also abandoning those that cause dissonance with what I’ve been convinced is good (pushing away from sharp edges of the rock). I think that’s how most people try to feel good most of the time. Don’t you think that is how most people should live?

  4. Chris

    I’m not so sure that the salt analogy is quite useful. Anybody who has ever tasted salt will agree on the taste and come to one conclusion. However, it seems the religious don’t agree on what the Spirit is telling them and thus come to quite varying conclusions. One person says the spirit confirms the doctrine of ‘once saved always saved.’ While others say that the spirit confirms the doctrine of ‘enduring to the end.’ These are incompatible doctrines. Why is the spirit testifying of both? Who are we to trust? How can I trust my feelings?