My first responsibility as an academic administrator at the university level at BYU was to manage the process by which “tenure” (we call it “continuing faculty status”) is granted to faculty members. Part of that responsibility involved reading the tenure files of faculty from across the university and the evaluations of their students, peers (both inside and outside the university), and their department and college leaders. What a surprise it was for me to see how very different the criteria were across the many disciplines for determining whether faculty members were qualified to “profess” that they knew something in their discipline. Criteria included performance virtuosity, theoretical rigor and insightfulness, creativity and care demonstrated in laboratory manipulation and statistical analysis, novelty of perspective, the number of others who cite the faculty member’s work, artistic flare, etc. Nevertheless, each department in the University was required to clarify for those of us outside that discipline how they determined whether the contributions and professions of a faculty member were valid.
This request to share my testimony with others whose criteria for professing that they know something might differ from mine leads me to first clarify the basis for my claims. Using these criteria I will then share several things that I “know.”
The last chapter in the Book of Mormon contains a promise that people can know that the things presented in this book of scripture are true if they “ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ.” If they ask with a “sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you by the power of the Holy Ghost. And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.”1 The things of God, says the apostle Paul in the New Testament, can only be learned through the “Spirit of God.”2 By that spirit, God speaks to us in our mind and in our heart.3 If we study something out in our mind and then ask God, he will cause us to feel through that same spirit either a confirming feeling indicating that our conclusions are appropriate or a “stupor of thought” suggesting that our thinking is wrong.4 We can study out or test the truthfulness of the things we are seeking to understand and know by living what God asks—for example, through reading the scriptures and obeying what we learn. As we do so, if these things are true, the Lord will help us to feel that our soul is being enlarged and our understanding enlightened. By this means, we can know that they are good and true.5
I have used these promises and understandings to experiment on the word of God and have felt a powerful confirmation of the truthfulness of several things. In this light, I want to share some things of God that I know.
I know that God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ appeared to Joseph Smith in 1820 and that through him they restored the Church of Jesus Christ in our era. That witness has been confirmed to my heart and mind so powerfully on so many occasions that I cannot doubt that it really occurred. I therefore know that God is a real being and that He loves His children and that we can communicate with Him as one person communicates with another. I also know that He is a being of glory whose light and power are beyond description.
I know that Jesus Christ is God’s Son and that He died for all of us so that we can overcome our sins and so that He can comfort and support us through life’s trials and struggles. I have felt His forgiveness by the power of the Holy Ghost and have experienced a change in my heart so that I want to do better and be better. As a church official I have helped many who sought forgiveness to trust in the Savior, repent of their wrongdoing, and make covenants with Him. I have seen their lives changed for the good. I have watched them become better fathers, mothers, children, friends, etc. I have helped many to find comfort in the loss of loved ones, strength to endure emotional and physical illness, and hope for even greater blessings in this life and in the life that surely follows because of His suffering for us and His resurrection from the dead.
I know that the Book of Mormon is the word of God because I have read, pondered, and applied the teachings of the Book of Mormon and because I have asked God in prayer according to the promise cited earlier. When my mother died as I was starting my senior year in high school, the Book of Mormon’s teachings about the world of spirits and the reuniting of body and spirit in the resurrection were among my greatest reassurances. I have thrilled to feel a growing conviction that the Book of Mormon contains the words of Christ and is thus a companion to the Bible in witnessing His divinity. The words of one of the Book of Mormon prophets are an example of the straightforward, simple, and powerful claims and teachings made in this holy writ: “And now, my beloved brethren . . . hearken unto these words and believe in Christ; and if ye believe not in these words believe in Christ. And if ye shall believe in Christ ye will believe in these words, for they are the words of Christ, and he hath given them unto me; and they teach all men that they should do good. And if they are not the words of Christ, judge ye—for Christ will show unto you, with power and great glory, that they are his words, at the last day; and you and I shall stand face to face before his bar; and ye shall know that I have been commanded of him to write these things, notwithstanding my weakness.”6
I have come to know that people don’t cease to exist when they die but go on to live in a world of spirits wherein they have the opportunity to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ if they haven’t heard it before. I have come to know that they can be close to us at times. In temples built and dedicated to that purpose we may make covenants with God that will unite us with our families for the eternities and we may do work (baptisms and other ordinances) for those who have died without hearing the gospel. They may choose to accept this vicarious work or not.
I have felt guided in my work as a professor. As I have done all I could do and asked for help, I have received ideas that came from beyond me and that were better than I am normally able to develop. I have experienced often in the classroom the guidance of the spirit of the Lord to remember something that would further the learning of students or been impressed to ask questions that weren’t in my teaching notes but that significantly improved the discussion and learning. I am not always guided this way but I know that from time to time something higher than I is helping and lifting my efforts, especially when I forget myself and desire deeply to help others.
In these and in many other similar experiences I feel humbled by the power for good that I feel working with and through me. I know that God lives, that He loves us, and that He wants to bless us as we seek Him and submit ourselves to His tutoring and transforming influences.
1 Moroni 10: 4-5
2 1 Corinthians 2:11
3 Doctrine and Covenants 8:2
4 Doctrine and Covenants 9: 8-9
5 Alma 32: 28-29
6 2 Nephi 33: 10-22
Posted November 2010 on FairMormon.org
Alan L. Wilkins earned his Ph.D. in Organizational Theory from Stanford University and is a professor in the Department of Organizational Leadership and Strategy in the Marriott School of Management at Brigham Young University. He chaired BYU’s Department of Organizational Behavior from 1992-1993, and then served as the University’s Associate Academic Vice President (1993-1996) and Academic Vice President (1996-2004) before being called to preside over the Argentina Buenos Aires North Mission of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from 2004-2007. He currently serves as Associate Director of the BYU Faculty Center.