When I served my mission, I would often come across people who would agree to meet with us, but after a single visit would say they were not willing to inquire further. We would ask if they had read the Book of Mormon or prayed to God, and they inevitably would not have. Others read the book for a brief time but never really engaged in sincere heartfelt prayer to know if it was true. Yet others read and struggled for an answer for a long time before finally getting one. And finally, there were those rare individuals that almost instantaneously knew it was right and true.
During the October 1974 conference, President Howard W. Hunter spoke about the importance of working to gain a witness and sure knowledge of God.
“[T]he greatest quest is a search for God–to determine his reality, his personal attributes, and to secure a knowledge of the gospel of his Son Jesus Christ. It is not easy to find a perfect understanding of God. The search requires persistent effort, and there are some who never move themselves to pursue this knowledge. In place of making the struggle and effort to understand, they follow the opposite course, which requires no effort, and deny his existence.”
What I found most striking about President Hunter’s talk is that he does not hide the fact that this search for truth is a struggle that requires a lot of diligent effort. Sometimes we make the process of gaining a witness sound simple and instantaneous and we therefore do a disservice to the struggle required.
President Hunter quoted Joseph F. Merrill who compared acquiring spiritual knowledge to developing musical talents:
“There are musicians but most of us are not musicians, some lacking musical talent, but the majority probably lacking inclination. But of those who are musically talented none ever becomes a great musician without years of persistent, continuous work. Great performers continue long hours of practice even though their reputations may be international. … No athlete becomes outstanding, no mechanic becomes skilled, no physician becomes an expert, no orator becomes great, no lawyer becomes renowned, except by persistent practice and many, many hours of hard work. … How foolish it would be for me to close my eyes and ears and say there are no musicians because I am not talented to become a musician; that there are no Edisons because I cannot become an inventor; that there are no artists because I do not have the talents and inclinations to become an artist. Does not reason tell us it is equally foolish for a man to declare there is no God simply because he has not discovered him?”
What stands out to me about this analogy is that if we all have different degrees of spiritual inclination, then some will have to work harder than others to gain a witness. I am not very musically inclined, and am quite rhythmically challenged, and so I have to work a lot harder to learn to play an instrument or to pick up on music. But I can still learn if I try hard enough.
Of course, the analogy breaks down somewhat since there are people who are deaf and can never hear music during this life. On the other hand, I don’t believe anyone is truly spiritually def. However, one’s spiritual sense can break down as a result of neglect or abuse. Nevertheless, through diligent prayerful effort, our spiritual sense can be restored.
And Elder Hunter promises that the effort is truly worth it:
“Thus we have the formula for the search for God and the tools to accomplish the quest–faith, love, and prayer. Science has done marvelous things for man, but it cannot accomplish the things he must do for himself, the greatest of which is to find the reality of God. The task is not easy; the labor is not light; but as stated by the Master, “Great shall be their reward and eternal shall be their glory.” (D&C 76:6.).”