Is there a God? How Can I Know?

God and Man

Perhaps Julie Andrews said it best:

Let’s start at the very beginning.

El numero uno question above has to do with the existence of God. A quick glance at this wikipedia page reveals a potentially complex subject with myriad opinions, theories, and arguments for and against the existence of a Supreme Being in the universe.

And among some groups of people, confidence in God’s existence is changing. A recent Pew Research Center asserts that more Millennials are doubting the existence of God than the Millennials of five years ago. (To be precise, the question appears to be phrased: “I never doubt the existence of God” [my emphasis]. I would argue that’s quite a high hurdle.) Nevertheless, the data suggest there is a growing number of 18-29 year olds who are less confident in the existence of God.

Interestingly, women tend to be less doubtful than men on the subject, and highly educated persons tend to be more doubtful than those who only attained a high school diploma or less.

Zooming out from specific demographics, however, 88% of all respondents in 2002 reported never doubting the existence of God, compared to 83% of respondents in 2007, and 80% in 2012. That 80% of Americans seem to be absolutely confident in the existence of God is impressive, to be sure. But the decline in the number of people who do have such confidence shows that this is a topic worth talking about.

For me, this is where specific teachings from the Book of Mormon provide a powerful and dynamic witness to the nature of God. The very existence of the Book of Mormon – its origin and underlying message – attest to the involvement of a loving God — a topic I’ll address in a future post. But the narrative within the Book of Mormon is full of prophetic declarations and testimonials concerning God’s attributes, presence, and concern for His children. Consider for a moment the following tweetable material from the Book of Mormon:

God as Creator

There is a God, and he has created all things, both the heavens and the earth, and all things that in them are, both things to act and things to be acted upon (2 Nephi 2:14).

The Lord hath created the earth that it should be inhabited; and he hath created his children that they should possess it (1 Nephi 17:36). -Spoken by Nephi to his brothers, Laman & Lemuel, approximately 591 B.C.

Believe in God; believe that he is, and that he created all things, both in heaven and in earth… (Mosiah 4:9). -Spoken by one King Benjamin to his people, approximately 124 B.C.

Attributes of God

He has all power, all wisdom, and all understanding; he comprehendeth all things, and he is a merciful Being (Alma 26:35)

…Believe that he has all wisdom, and all power, both in heaven and in earth; believe that man doth not comprehend all the things which the Lord can comprehend (Mosiah 4:9). -Spoken by one King Benjamin to his people, approximately 124 B.C.

The Lord God worketh not in darkness (2 Nephi 26:23).

God Knows Our Hearts

He looketh down upon all the children of men; and he knows all the thoughts and intents of the heart; for by his hand were they all created from the beginning (Alma 18:32). -Spoken by Ammon to King Lamoni, sometime before 77 B.C.

He Invites All People to Come Unto Him

[God] inviteth…all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile (2 Nephi 26:33). -Written by Nephi to his people, approximately 545 B.C.

God’s Love and Mercy Are Over All the Earth

God is mindful of every people, whatsoever land they may be in; yea, he numbereth his people, and his bowels of mercy are over all the earth (Alma 26:37). -Spoken by a missionary named Ammon to his brothers, approximately 77 B.C.

He doeth not anything save it be for the benefit of the world; for he loveth the world (2 Nephi 26:24).

I know that [God] loveth his children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things (1 Nephi 11:17). -Nephi’s response to a question, posed by an angel of God inquiring as to Nephi’s understanding of the condescension of Christ. About 592 B.C.

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There are more – many more, in fact – but hopefully you get the idea that the Book of Mormon has a lot to say on not only the existence of God, but his character, attributes, and desire to bless, help, direct, and instruct his children. In fact, these verses and stories not only teach about God, but teach that He can be revealed. Not just to prophets, but to all people, regardless of age, sex, race, condition, or religion.

Perhaps the most poignant and stunning view on God in LDS belief comes from an extra-Biblical account (i.e., not the Book of Mormon) involving the Old Testament prophet Enoch, in which God does reveal himself, but in an amazingly unique, and well, human, way.

Straight to the verses:

And it came to pass that the God of heaven looked upon the residue of the people, and he wept; and Enoch bore record of it, saying: How is it that the heavens weep, and shed forth their tears as the rain upon the mountains?

…The Lord said unto Enoch: Behold these thy brethren; they are the workmanship of mine own hands, and I gave unto them their knowledge in the day I created them…

…And unto thy brethren have I said, and also given commandment, that they should love one another, and that they should choose me, their Father; but behold, they are without affection, and they hate their own blood (Moses 7:28, 32-33).

Here we learn that God is touched in a very real and emotional way by the conduct of His children. Despite His omnipotence and glory, still he weeps for the wickedness and pain caused by human beings. His Fatherly concern reaches out and compels Him to feel after us. Surely, such a compassionate, personal God demands at least our heartfelt consideration of the possibility that He might be in very fact real.

Such consideration leads us to wonder, How can I know? From my own experience, a little faith and a little patience, with a regular amount of sincere prayer and desire can call down the powers of heaven. I have found that I experience God through feeling His Spirit, the Holy Ghost, which for me brings feelings of peace, comfort, clarity, gladness, and joy.  The first step in this journey is to choose to place your faith in this type of God. As one believing scholar put it:

The call to faith is a summons to engage the heart, to attune it to resonate in sympathy with principles and values and ideals that we devoutly hope are true and which we have reasonable but not certain grounds for believing to be true (emphasis in original).

Or, as the Book of Mormon teaches:

If ye will awake and arouse your faculties, even to an experiment upon my words, and exercise a particle of faith, yea, even if ye can no more than desire to believe, let this desire work in you, even until ye believe in a manner that ye can give place for a portion of my words (Alma 32:27). [Read verse 28 in the link for the promised result if one does this.]

For how knoweth a man the master whom he has not served, and who is a stranger unto him, and is far from the thoughts and intents of his heart? (Mosiah 5:13)

This journey of faith and understanding ultimately results in sweet spiritual experiences that affirm the existence and Fatherliness of an almighty God, anxious to take us by the hand and allow us to “partake of his goodness.”

A Mormon’s Book of Mormon – “And the one being is as precious…”

Here’s a beautiful teaching of God’s view of humankind that can easily be overlooked because it’s embedded within a longer and somewhat disjunctive verse in the Book of Mormon.

…And the one being is as precious in [God’s] sight as the other.

-Book of Jacob chapter 2, verse 21. Spoken by Jacob, a Nephite prophet, spoken to fellow-believers in the temple (between 544 and 421 B.C.)