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Seeking truth and developing unshakable faith

Searching latter-day teachings and scriptures will provide evidence to strengthen faith, taught instructors at BYU Education Week

PROVO, Utah — Asking questions and finding answers can lead to stronger testimonies of the gospel of Jesus Christ, explained two religion professors in their classes at BYU Education Week. 

President Russell M. Nelson in the worldwide devotional on May 15 said: “I plead with you to take charge of your testimony of Jesus Christ. Work for it. Own it. Care for it. Nurture it so that it will grow.” 

The classes this week outlined how to build faith through seeking truth in the teachings of the prophets and the scriptures — and then trusting the evidence. 

Seeking truth 

Anthony R. Sweat, a professor of Church history and doctrine at BYU, gave a multi-day course on seeking truth. He said people should work on becoming self-sufficient learners, like President Nelson explained with his plea “to take charge of your testimony.”

Sweat began by saying, “Jesus said, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life’ (John 14:6 emphasis added). He didn’t say this is the truth, or that scientific finding or that fact or that knowledge —  he said ‘I am the way.’”

Doctrine and Covenants 93:26 says: “The spirit of truth is of God. I am the spirit of truth.”

“In other words, truth is not an idea; truth is a person,” said Sweat. “If anybody can learn a fact, then we don’t need God. But if we understand that truth is a person, and we can know God and have a relationship with Him, then we understand that truth is found by the way we live.”

Sweat said knowledge is gained by diligence, while intelligence is gained by obedience. 

“We gain knowledge, which is important. Knowledge is found by being diligent, by studying, researching and listening. But truth is found in the way we are living. It is a pursuit of a relationship. It is found in particular in a covenant relationship,” Sweat said.

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Seeking truth through Latter-day teachings

Sweat said searching and researching seems easy in this day of the internet. Sometimes when people say they researched it, “they say they Googled it.” 

But in researching Latter-day Saint teachings, the very best sources are the scriptures and the words of the prophets, Sweat said.

BYU professor of Church history and doctrine Anthony R. Sweat shows the Marriott Center audience what a Google search looks like when trying to find answers to gospel questions during BYU Education Week in Provo, Utah, Aug. 17, 2022. | Nate Edwards, BYU

So how can people search the scriptures and the words of the prophets in great ways? Sweat gave the following resources:

  • The Gospel Library (churchofjesuschrist.org/study ), which contains primary sources and links to every book of scripture, general conference talks, “Come, Follow Me,” Church magazines, lesson manuals, handbooks, videos and more.
  • BYU General Conference Corpus (lds-general-conference.org), which shows how much certain terms, words or topics are used by Church leaders in general conference talks. 
  • Scripture Citation Index (scriptures.byu.edu). This allows someone to search the entire standard works connected to general conference as well. It links scriptures to when they have been referenced or explained in general conference.
  • Joseph Smith Papers (josephsmithpapers.org). This includes all of Joseph Smith’s writings and documents.
  • Religious Studies Center (rsc.byu.edu). “The religious studies center is a great place to go to get peer-reviewed research,” Sweat said. It was formed under the direction of then-BYU dean of religion Jeffrey R. Holland. “I can’t emphasize enough the value of peer-reviewed research.” 
  • Gospel Topics on the Gospel Library app or online, and the Gospel Topics Essays. Go straight to those instead of using Google, Sweat said.

Other places Sweat listed for scholarship included BYU Studies, Latter-day Saint Historical Studies, Church History Library Catalog, “Saints,” Church News podcast, Y Religion podcast, Joseph Smith Papers podcasts and others.  

Seeking truth through studying scriptures 

“All scripture is given by inspiration of God,” says 2 Timothy 3:16. But scriptures can be constrained by human language, said Sweat, with limited expressions seeking the right words to communicate the divine. 

As outlined in Doctrine and Covenants 1:24, “These commandments … were given unto my servants in their weakness, after the manner of their language, that they might come to understanding.”

Said Sweat, “Scriptures are a launchpad to revelation so you and I can understand it ourselves.”

How can this be done? Sweat said to:

  1. Read mindfully. Slow down, analyze words, ask questions. Why, where, how come?
  2. Listen reverently. Try to get in tune with the same spirit that revealed the concept.
  3. Restate personally. Restate it in one’s own words.
  4. Substantiate externally. Check the cross references, check against other translations, check historical context and look for how modern prophets have used those verses.
Audience members listen to BYU professor of Church history and doctrine Anthony R. Sweat teach a class during BYU Education Week in the Marriott Center on Aug. 17, 2022. | Nate Edwards, BYU

Developing unshakable faith through evidence

Scott C. Woodward, a professor of religious education at BYU-Idaho, taught a four-day youth class about having unshakable faith. 

He started with quoting from Jacob 7:5: “I could not be shaken.” Then he brought in the definition from Hebrews 11:1: “Faith … is the evidence of things not seen.”

He pointed out that the word faith does not show up much in the Old Testament. But the word trust is often used instead. 

“Trust is earned over time, so it is with faith,” Woodward said. “Trust is based on evidence. If you are trustworthy, it’s because over time you have given me reason to believe.”

Woodward told the youth that a strong testimony has three different sides — one side is personal feelings, one side is logic and reason, and one side is personal experiences. The Holy Ghost works with all three.

He quoted Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles from a talk at BYU in August 2017 titled “The Greatness of the Evidence” when he said, “In making our case for the restored gospel of Jesus Christ, I believe God intends us to find and use the evidence He has given — reasons, if you will — which affirm the truthfulness of His work.”

Showing evidence

Alma responding to Korihor in the Book of Mormon is a good example of showing evidence, said Woodward. 

Korihor asked for a sign. Alma responded: “I have all things as evidence,” said Woodward, paraphrasing Alma 30.

Alma’s evidence:

  1. The testimonies of members of the Church
  2. The testimonies of the holy prophets
  3. The scriptures
  4. All things denote there is a God

a) The earth and all things upon the face of it
b) The motion, or orbit of the earth
c) The orbits of the planets which move in their regular organized way

And Alma concluded that “All this and more witness that there is a Supreme Creator” (Alma 30:44), Woodward said, paraphrasing the scriptures.

Painting of Alma and Korihor by Walter Rane
“All Things Denote There Is a God (Alma and Korihor)”, by Walter Rane | The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Woodward gave the example of someone warning other people about a big wildfire on the other side of a mountain. The others could see smoke, but not the fire. But they could trust the evidence that there was a fire, even though they couldn’t see it.

“Where there is smoke, there’s fire,” Woodward said. “Where there is creation, there is a creator. Where there are witnesses, there is something that has been witnessed.”

He asked the class to consider what evidence they have and what personal experiences they have had that strengthen their faith. 

“Ask what evidence you have that God answers prayers, that He is aware of you, that it is worth it to repent of your sins, that the commandments are worth keeping, that prophets are worth following, and that you can trust God?” he said.

Evidence is a crucial part of faith. “Our faith is not blind,” Woodward taught.

He quoted then-Elder Boyd K. Packer of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles from the April 1983 general conference titled “Agency and Control.” “We are not obedient because we are blind, we are obedient because we can see.”

Both Sweat and Woodward concluded their classes with their testimonies of the restored gospel and being a part of such a great work.

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