God’s Compelling Witness by Elder Callister
Whether we grew up in the church or joined it later in life, I think we all have that moment when we realized that the Book of Mormon was an important part of our religious faith. What sets us apart from other Christian religions is this other set of scripture that does indeed shed new light on gospel subjects and gives us further information. It is a huge part in helping us have the fulness of the gospel.
What makes the Book of Mormon so important to our faith?
It gives further aspects of the gospel.
The existence of the book define the truthfulness of our church.
It supports the story of Joseph Smith and his claim to the priesthood.
I have heard people say that the church would be a very nice place, a very nice religion, if only it weren’t for that Book of Mormon. Perhaps we should reduce it to a nice philosophy, or get rid of it altogether. It’s at this point that I wonder what would become of our church if we did not have the Book of Mormon. Back in the day people in the church were mocked by the name Mormon, obviously from this book of scripture. Today we tend to happily accept the term, a nod to just how we value this book and what it does for our faith.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints would not have much to stand on if it weren’t for the Book of Mormon. While I hate to use words like proof and evidence when talking about things of faith, the Book of Mormon is indeed clear evidence of the restoration of the gospel here on earth. Without it, would Joseph Smith had any clout in claiming to be a prophet, or even just a fervent effort in restoring another Christian religion? Or would he have just been some crazy guy talking about seeing angels and whatnot?
The fact that he did present the Book of Mormon is indeed evidence of all he witnessed. It is scripture given to us, blueprints for the return of the fullness of the gospel, written down clearly for us to read. In his talk, Elder Callister speaks of just what the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith mean.
He says ” critics must explain how Joseph Smith, a 23-year-old farm boy with limited education, created a book with hundreds of unique names and places, as well as detailed stories and events. Accordingly, many critics propose that he was a creative genius who relied upon numerous books and other local resources to create the historical content of the Book of Mormon. But contrary to their assertion, there is not a solitary witness who claims to have seen Joseph with any of these alleged resources before the translation began.
Even if this argument were true, it is woefully insufficient to explain the Book of Mormon’s existence. One must also answer the question: how did Joseph read all of these alleged resources, winnow out the irrelevant, keep the intricate facts straight as to who was in what place and when, and then dictate it by perfect memory? For when Joseph Smith translated, he had no notes whatsoever. In fact, his wife Emma recalled: “He had neither manuscript nor book to read from. … If he had had anything of the kind he could not have concealed it from me.”1
We could debate and discuss for ages all the things that simply don’t add up when it comes to Joseph Smith creating the Book of Mormon himself. The book mentions historical details scoffed at the time only much later to proven true by those who study such things. There are different organizations out there with the express purpose of working to prove or at least defend many of the things in the Book of Mormon. The point is, practical, likely evidence lands on the side of Joseph Smith writing the book himself, giving us the proof that everything the book says comes from another source, giving us evidence of a fullness of the gospel. If Joseph Smith or someone else had simply made up the book, we would be listening to pretty principles made up by man only, void of authenticity from Heavenly Father.
Why is it so important we have instructions from God rather than Really Good Ideas from man? If it is the same principle, why does it matter from whom it comes?
I think again to those who would rather have the Book of Mormon as a source of nice ideas. This is not to condemn at all the concepts in the book, but to celebrate them. What they do to give us a fullness of the gospel, to help create our church, is wondrous. However, to simply put them as fine ideas made up by man makes them rather incredulous. If man could make up principles, who is to say he could not change them as so many other great concepts and idealolgies have changed? That these ideas and concepts are gospel coming from heaven makes them so much more than the good idea of the day. It makes them timeless and crucial, things we can trust on for our salvation.
As much as we honor Joseph Smith, we recognize him as a prophet and helper of this dispensation as the gospel, certainly not as the person who made up a new religious, even a really good religion. The Book of Mormon’s existence helps support Joseph Smith in his calling as prophet. If we know he didn’t make the book up, if we know this book comes from God, then we can then believe what else comes with it. We know Joseph Smith is a prophet because of a testimony that likely comes from a testimony of the Book of Mormon. If we believe in the Book of Mormon’s truthfulness, then we believe Joseph Smith was called of God and we know that he was given proper priesthood authority.
We also need to consider the nature of the ideas in this book. While we indeed share plenty of doctrine with other Christian religions, there is still much we believe, even stemming from the Book of Mormon, that is very different,
Elder Callister says “how did Joseph produce a book that radiates with the Spirit, and where did he get such profound doctrine, much of which clarifies or contradicts the Christian beliefs of his time?’
Without the authenticity of the Book of Mormon, we are either another nice church of no particular originality or a church of very odd beliefs with no particular source for them. The fact that this book which is true had some different ideas makes it another witness for our church and the gospel.
We learn from the Book of Mormon that the Fall of Adam was a good thing. We learn the covenants of baptism. We get the allegory of the Olive Tree. We get the full understanding of just what Christ’s atonement does for us, perfecting us rather than just saving us.
Elder Callister says “God’s fingerprints are all over the Book of Mormon, as evidenced by its majestic doctrinal truths, particularly its masterful sermons on the Atonement of Jesus Christ.”
Even as literature, the Book of Mormon is beautiful, complex, full of incredible and powerful themes that go beyond the skill of even one decent writer. The beauty of the book can be a witness of its truthfulness, and it is certainly a celebration of all that God offers us in this dispensation.
Elder Callister describes that believing criticisms of the Book of Mormon goes beyond finding little errors or historical issues we don’t agree with or fully understand. While I do love reading now and then all the fun proofs of the Book of Mormon, I have to think of just why I would want to find fault with the Book of Mormon. With all the goodness it offers, why would we want to deny the amazing spiritual and doctrinal truths it has to offer? Even if we don’t fully understand them yet, even if we don’t have a testimony in each of them yet, what good does it do to for us to condemn them? I really have to ask, what sort of person is going to seek to find fault with Book of Mormon doctrine?
Now, most of this talk really is some remarkable ways of justifying the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon, but the truthfulness goes beyond proof. Callister says that if he were to believe the critics, he would have to “I would have to reject the divine doctrine that fills page after page of this sacred book with its supernal truths; I would have to ignore the fact that multitudes, including myself, have come closer to God by reading this book than any other; and above all, I would have to deny the confirming whisperings of the Holy Spirit. This would be contrary to everything I know to be true.”
What I find fascinating is that even while we are told above all else to pray about the Book of Mormon’s truthfulness, we still have so much evidence that is difficult to deny. Heavenly Father will reveal further revelation to those who have faith. Elder Callister tells of a friend who had left the Church. One of my good and bright friends left the Church for a time. He recently wrote to me of his return: “Initially, I wanted the Book of Mormon to be proven to me historically, geographically, linguistically, and culturally. But when I changed my focus to what it teaches about the gospel of Jesus Christ and His saving mission, I began to gain a testimony of its truthfulness. One day while reading the Book of Mormon in my room, I paused, knelt down, and gave a heartfelt prayer and felt resoundingly that Heavenly Father whispered to my spirit that the Church and the Book of Mormon were definitely true. My three-and-a-half-year period of reinvestigating the Church led me back wholeheartedly and convincingly to its truthfulness.”
Despite the evidence we have of the Book of Mormon, our ultimate evidence is prayer and faith, taking the time to search, ponder and pray over this scripture. This is where we will be converted to its truthfulness. This is where we will learn all that it has to teach us.
Heavenly Father gave us the Book of Mormon for our time.
Callister says It is both sword and shield—it sends the word of God into battle to fight for the hearts of the just and serves as an arch defender of the truth. As Saints, we have not only the privilege to defend the Book of Mormon but also the opportunity to take the offense—to preach with power its divine doctrine and bear testimony of its crowning witness of Jesus Christ.
There is no book on earth quite like the Book of Mormon. It brings us a fulness of the gospel, clarifying and supporting other doctrines while revealing more. It is indeed a cornerstone of our faith and is very much meant for us in this latter day.