Saturday, May 24, 2014

Sunday School Lesson Recap: Varying Kinds of Testimonies and Gaining Them Individually

We focused last Sunday on the lesson outline entitled, "What does it mean to bear testimony?"

After the traditional scriptural discussion, I took them through a comparison to court proceedings and what different types of witnesses testify in that setting. (eye-witness, character - both good and bad, expert - like psychiatrists or forensic scientists, etc.) We talked about which ones are least reliable (only one eye-witness) and which ones are most reliable (often experts who analyze data without perceptual biases). One of the students explained about a car accident in which his friend was involved and how the expert was able to reconstruct many details of the accident that were unbiased and based only on what the visible evidence showed.  We talked about why more than one eye-witness is important - primarily to counter confirmation bias and our tendency to see what we believe, rather than believing what we see.

We then applied each of those types to spiritual testimonies and talked about the importance of gaining a testimony from each category - to have a well-rounded, balanced, multi-faceted testimony.

I asked each of them to take a minute and think about one aspect of the Gospel that they feel is the strongest part of their testimony - and why it is. We talked about some of those aspects, very briefly. I am not going to share any of those details, since it was a very personal discussion.

I then asked them to identify one thing about which they didn't have a strong testimony but want to gain such a testimony. One student said tithing, since she hasn't earned much money in her life to this point and doesn't feel like she has a personal testimony of it. Another student hesitated and then said, "Everything." He explained that, due to some pretty serious ward issues where he used to live, he had withdrawn emotionally and become mostly inactive. When he moved here, everyone accepted him - and one friend in particular made a huge difference in his life and helped him look at the Church differently. He said he wants to understand everything better, which wasn't the case a couple of years ago. (On a personal note, it was one of the highlights of my time as a teacher of that class - and I told him afterward that I was grateful he had had the courage to comment.)

We read John 7:16-17, which says:

Jesus answered them, and said, My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me. If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.

I asked them what is the best way to figure out how they feel about something (to "gain a testimony" that is unique to each of them individually, no matter what it ended up being), and they all understood that it was to do it.  I mentioned the idea of an "experiment upon the word", as Alma said - and I stressed the need to try it over an extended period of time, both when it was easy and when it was hard. If they do that, they might come to differing conclusions among themselves, but those conclusions would be uniquely their own.

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