I posted the following as three separate comments on a blog hosted by a member who was an evangelical, anti-Mormon prior to her conversion. One evangelical commenter had asked how we can trust our feelings (especially since he is convinced Mormons have been predestined for damnation).
Here are my responses:
How do you differentiate among emotions (that can be manipulated), spiritual experiences that are NOT from God and interaction with the Holy Ghost? That is one of the greatest dilemmas of the Gospel of Jesus Christ - and not understanding it has led to some truly abominable creeds. Adding to the difficulty is that the Bible clearly teaches that signs will follow those who believe (including miraculous manifestations), but it also teaches that not all signs and “miracles” come from God.
From everything I have been able to discover in scripture, and from what my heart tells me, there are a few ways I use to tell the difference.
1) Does it help someone else in a very direct, non-self-serving way, or it is essentially nothing more than “a sign” - an attempt to “prove” something?
2) Does it focus on a gift of the Spirit mentioned in scripture, or does it focus on “the spiritual” (palm reading, contacting the dead, communicating with spirits, etc.)?
3) Does it result sometimes in unwanted outcomes (”God’s will, even when it isn’t our will”), or does it always result in what is wanted?
4) Most importantly, does it prompt me to do good, or does it prompt me not to do good?
The problem is that there are exceptions recorded throughout scripture when the Lord has used spiritual experiences for different purposes. Generally, these exceptions have been for prophets in huge, vitally important communal crises (e.g., calling down fire from heaven), but there are enough instances where it becomes almost impossible to tell objectively based on some kind of predetermined matrix.
All I know in the end is that there are very real instances of being able to tap into a very real power, and all I can rely on is what I believe God has given me - a discerning heart.
You ask, at least implicitly, Colin, why I believe what I believe. It is because I have studied just about every religious teaching available and what I have come to accept is what I believe the Holy Ghost has confirmed to my heart as the source of ultimate joy, peace, love and unity with my God, my Father, and His Son, Jesus, the Christ. It’s what I feel to the depths of my soul, and it has brought insight and understanding and assurance and miraculous inspiration that I cannot begin to describe adequately here. I literally have seen the physical elements abated; I have participated in healing the sick and binding up the broken heart; I have seen the wonderful fruit of sweet repentance; I have felt to sing the song of redeeming love; I have experienced a mighty change of heart and a desire to praise my God for His loving grace; I have seen lives change and souls shine forth out of previous darkness - all because of the atoning sacrifice of a God who condescended to give His life for those who accept Him.
These discussions are important to me, but it is FAR more important to me to continue the actual ministerial work that I do each day - strengthening the feeble knee and raising the failing spirit and visiting the sick and lonely and widowed in their affliction. I love God and try my hardest to love Him and my neighbor as He has asked me to do. My intellectual understanding of Him is important to me, but my spiritual relationship with Him is more important - and my faith has brought that relationship. What’s in my head can change as I strive to study and learn; what’s in my heart never will.
I had a bit of an epiphany tonight as I was in the middle of a normal, mundane activity - as often is the case. It hit me completely out of the blue - as often is the case. I’m not sure you will understand fully, but I share it in the hopes that it will explain a bit better why it is hard for me to describe how I am confident in my spiritual impressions.
A common phrase in Protestantism that is unfamiliar to most Mormons is “in-dwelling” - but the concept is central to our faith. Since we never use the phrase, it sounds odd or strange, but it really is an integral part of our doctrine and ordinances.
In Acts 8 there is an account of people who were baptized but had not received the Holy Ghost. Peter and John were sent from Jerusalem, and they gave these people the gift of the Holy Ghost by laying their hands on them. (vs. 16-17, particularly) Simon saw that the Holy Ghost was given through the laying on of hands and tried to buy that authority.
When hands are laid on our own heads after baptism, we are told to “receive the Holy Ghost” - that He may be with us always. My epiphany was that the laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost that we experience after baptism is our symbolic version of the “in-dwelling” of which Washer speaks in his video. He speaks of letting God into my heart so that it may be regenerated; we speak of opening a broken heart to the gift of the Holy Ghost so that He may enter it and be our constant companion, making us a new creature in Christ. In this way, we may be born again of water *and* the Spirit.
You asked how I can recognize which of my feelings are of God and which are not. I gave a bit of an intellectual answer about my thoughts and impressions, but I failed to answer your actual question about my *feelings*. For that, I apologize.
I truly believe that I have the companionship of the Holy Ghost in my life. I believe it influences and alters the very way I think and feel. Over the years, since I received that companionship, I have come to recognize how I feel when I am being guided by His light. I feel differently than I do about other things. Some speak of a unique burning sensation (from the baptism of fire), but I rarely feel that burning. For me, occasionally I sense words, but usually there is a certain, unique quality of peace that floods my heart and quickens my mind. I can’t explain it very well, but I recognize it when I feel it. When I wander from the narrow path my ability to feel that type of feeling decreases - and it is just that withdrawal of the Spirit that usually prods me back to the path.
Finally, because I have received this gift, I try hard to follow any feeling or thought that crosses my mind or my heart - as long as it obviously is not a “natural (fallen) man” inclination. I have come to trust that the gift of the Holy Ghost acting within me can prompt me to know and say and do things that I wouldn’t be able to know and say and do otherwise - and that sometimes it would be easy to dismiss or ignore them - or to take credit for them as “good ideas”. I have learned by the working of the Spirit within me to give the glory and credit to God for even those things that appear on the surface to be my own.In short, I trust my feelings because I truly believe that God has planted His Comforter in my heart - and that I can trust the fruits of that planting.