In the first chapter of the Book of Mormon, the ancient prophet Nephi writes, “[B]ehold, I, Nephi, will show unto you that the tender mercies of the Lord are over all those whom he hath chosen, because of their faith, to make them mighty even unto the power of deliverance” (1 Nephi 1:20). About a millennium later, the last prophet to write in the record, Moroni, invited those who would read his words to “remember how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men, from the creation of Adam even down until the time that ye shall receive these things, and ponder it in your hearts” (Moroni 10:3). Indeed, from start to finish, the Book of Mormon provides a clear and accessible witness to the mercy and goodness of God. It is another witness of Jesus Christ, parallel to the testimony of the Bible, aimed at the “convincing of the Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God, manifesting himself unto all nations.” It is a witness to the truth that God is our Father who loves us and who continues to work and speak for our benefit and salvation.
Ask a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints why they believe that they’re a member of the only church led and authorized by Jesus Christ, and the answer will likely center around that member’s experience with testing the promise outlined in the introduction to the Book of Mormon: “We invite all men everywhere to read the Book of Mormon, to ponder in their hearts the message it contains, and then to ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ if the book is true. Those who pursue this course and ask in faith will gain a testimony of its truth and divinity by the power of the Holy Ghost.” I don’t want to undercut the importance of asking God for a confirmation of truth, but for me and many (if not most) of those who have read the Book of Mormon and asked God about its truthfulness, the answer that came wasn’t accompanied by fireworks and ticker tape but was, rather, very quiet and almost imperceptible. Asking and receiving an answer was not an event that determined the trajectory of my life—it was, rather, a nudge in the right direction.
The Book of Mormon begins with Nephi’s account of his father’s prophetic call. His father, Lehi, was instructed by the Lord to call the people of Jerusalem to repentance: they had strayed from their commitment to the Lord and to His commandments. However, the people of Jerusalem rejected Lehi’s correcting counsel and even threatened to take his life. As a result, the Lord told Lehi to flee the city with his family and take refuge in the wilderness, promising that He would lead them to a choice land. Lehi obeyed and took his family with him into the Palestinian desert on a course to the sea. After a time in the wilderness, some of Lehi’s sons, pining for the pleasures of home, “did murmur many things against their father, because he was a visionary man, and had led them out of Jerusalem, to leave the land of their inheritance, and their gold, and their silver, and their precious things, to perish in the wilderness. And this they said he had done because of the foolish imaginations of his heart” (1 Nephi 2:11).
I imagine that Nephi, with the hope of a promised land eclipsed by the then-present reality of living in a tent in the desert, might have wondered if his father really had been guided by the Lord into the wilderness. Rather than complain about the inconvenience of living in the desert or debate his father’s reasoning for fleeing Jerusalem, Nephi sought a confirmation from the Lord. He did, at the crossroads of his life, what the Book of Mormon invites its readers to do at the crossroads of theirs—ask God which road to take. He writes, “[I]t came to pass that I, Nephi, being exceedingly young, nevertheless being large in stature, and also having great desires to know of the mysteries of God, wherefore, I did cry unto the Lord…” The experience Nephi then had is, I believe, representative of the way God works. He continues, saying, “[A]nd behold [the Lord] did visit me, and did soften my heart that I did believe all the words which had been spoken by my father; wherefore, I did not rebel against him like unto my brothers” (1 Nephi 2:16). In his account, Nephi doesn’t describe the Lord’s answer as a vision, voice, or visitation; in fact, he hardly describes the Lord’s response as any kind of distinct answer. Instead, Nephi relates that the Lord helped him to believe the words of his father. With that encouraging nudge, Nephi was able to go forward with trust (faith) in the Lord and in His purposes.
Decades later, after having lived in the promised land for years, Nephi described the experiences he had had with the Lord in the intervening decades:
I know in whom I have trusted. My God hath been my support; he hath led me through mine afflictions in the wilderness; and he hath preserved me upon the waters of the great deep. He hath filled me with his love, even unto the consuming of my flesh. He hath confounded mine enemies, unto the causing of them to quake before me. Behold, he hath heard my cry by day, and he hath given me knowledge by visions in the night-time. And by day have I waxed bold in mighty prayer before him; yea, my voice have I sent up on high; and angels came down and ministered unto me. (2 Nephi 4:20-24)
The first time that Nephi approached the Lord seeking an answer, the Lord only helped Nephi to believe the truth in question. However, Nephi trusted that quiet feeling and continued to trust in the Lord, turning to Him when new questions and difficulties arose. What is remarkable about Nephi’s knowledge of the truth is not that it came in epiphany, but that it came after years of following quiet impressions with imperfect, though trusting, understanding. Eventually, Nephi’s knowledge and faith grew to the point that he began to see visions and angels—but that is not where he started.
When I first asked God if the Book of Mormon was true, no angel told me it was His word, and no voice from the heavens announced the truth of it. Rather, like He did for Nephi before, the Lord helped me to believe. As I’ve continued to seek the Lord’s guidance and strength, He has blessed me with countless corrective and encouraging nudges. The accumulation of quiet witnesses of the truth has formed, for me, a certain foundation of faith. I don’t know everything, but I do know that God has heard and answered my prayers, strengthening and supporting me through life. Often, the answers and courage I sought have come from the pages of the Book of Mormon, further confirming my testimony that it is the word of God, a book that will bring us close to our Heavenly Father through the teachings and testimonies of Jesus Christ and His prophets.
Ezra Taft Benson, former president of the Church of Jesus Christ—and prophet of God—until his death in 1994 taught that we can really only enjoy the blessings of knowing that the Book of Mormon is God’s word when we begin to seek and apply its teachings:
It is not just that the Book of Mormon teaches us truth, though it indeed does that. It is not just that the Book of Mormon bears testimony of Christ, though it indeed does that, too. But there is something more. There is a power in the book which begins to flow into your lives the moment you begin a serious study of the book. You will find greater power to resist temptation. You will find the power to avoid deception. You will find the power to stay on the strait and narrow path. The scriptures are called “the words of life,” and nowhere is that more true than it is of the Book of Mormon. When you begin to hunger and thirst after those words, you will find life in greater and greater abundance.
Our Father in Heaven respects us too much to force us to believe in the truth, but, as we show our willingness to believe in and live according to the bits of knowledge He gives us, He will help us to know and understand ever greater truths.
My knowledge of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon is rooted in the experience of practicing the truths I’ve learned while studying it: as I’ve applied its teachings, I’ve found greater joy and confidence, and I’ve come to understand and appreciate God’s love more completely. I haven’t seen angels or visions, but I have felt the Lord’s helpful nudges as I’ve tried to find the right path to follow. I know that, as President Benson promised above, anyone who sincerely seeks the Lord through the Book of Mormon will find a greater abundance of life and will be on a surer course to knowledge and joy because, surely, “by the power of the Holy Ghost [we] may know the truth of all things” (Moroni 10:5).
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