Why My Friend Wouldn’t Pray about the Book of Mormon

Nathan Richardson

Come listen over my shoulder to my online chat with a friend as we discuss praying to know whether the Book of Mormon is true.

In a previous post, I reproduced a live internet chat I had with a good friend of mine who is Protestant (he also uses the term “interdenominational Christian”). He’d read the Book of Mormon and even met with the missionaries, but he wouldn’t pray about it. As he explained, this was because he trusts objective evidence.

I wanted him to have his own experience of receiving an answer from Heavenly Father in prayer about the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon. The only way I could see that happening is if he believed that God actually could and does reveal knowledge through personal spiritual revelation. So I explained the process as best I could and asked if he believed in it.

The Conversation Continues

Nathan: I can see where you’re coming from. I guess my question is this: Observing the objective data, weighing the evidence—that is a very effective way of obtaining some areas of knowledge. But where does that method come from? When I read the scriptures, I see a very different method laid out.

Wedge: God invented reason.

Nathan: That He did. I think reason is one step in a larger process which culminates in a witness of the Spirit. That witness is the highest form of absolute knowledge, carried straight from the source directly to your heart and mind. …

Wedge: I admit, it is amazingly awesome to hear from God, to have him direct your path. …

By this point, my friend had said a couple times that he believed God could answer prayers like this. If he acknowledged that prayer was a way to gain knowledge, it seemed a simple matter to just invite him to try out Moroni’s promise. After all, what did he have to lose? The worst that could happen is that it wouldn’t work, and he could return to objectively observable evidence. I was surprised, though, at what followed.

Wedge: I admit, it is amazingly awesome to hear from God, to have him direct your path. But that does very little initially to someone new to the faith, or who has none—relativists.

Nathan: I think it depends on the person. …

Wedge: But the foundation of how we see in this Western world is reason.

Nathan: Is that necessarily a good thing?

Wedge: Not necessarily, but to me a Westerner, I need my faith to be Western to me in some sense. I cannot be a Hindu, who believe the Ganges is clean. …

Nathan: I think there are many who are initially brought to the path of the gospel by rationality—

Wedge: That is what I asked the Sister missionaries to do.

Nathan: —I just hope you’ll try to complete that knowledge by the Spirit.

Nathan: And what if the Book of Mormon is true, but there is insufficient evidence for it right now?

Wedge: Then I will wait.

Nathan: Would you deprive yourself of the blessings of accepting it?

Wedge: Yes, willingly.

Nathan: Why? There is another source of that knowledge that God had provided.

Wedge: I believe that God is big enough to work the evidence in his favor.

I was simultaneously amazed and saddened at his admission. He conceded the possibility that God could convey knowledge through spiritual experiences. Yet he not only wanted God to show him the truth—he wanted God to show him the truth in his preferred manner. And until such time, he freely acknowledged that he might be needlessly missing out on potent blessings that Heavenly Father was willing, even urgent, to give him.


I don’t know if my friend still feels exactly this way about gaining knowledge; his views might have adjusted in different ways since this conversation. But I’m pretty sure I was understanding him correctly over the course of this and a few other internet chats. I suppose I could have referred my friend to several places that provide some objective evidences of the Book of Mormon’s truth.

But I didn’t. For one thing, it doesn’t lead to lasting conversion. For another thing, I don’t think there is enough evidence to prove the Book of Mormon true. Neal A. Maxwell said, “It is the author’s opinion that all the scriptures, including the Book of Mormon, will remain in the realm of faith. Science will not be able to prove or disprove holy writ. However, enough plausible evidence will come forth to prevent scoffers from having a field day, but not enough to remove the requirement of faith. Believers must be patient during such unfolding.”3 It seems that the limited evidence is by design—to teach us how to employ faith and hone our spiritual senses.

I mournfully recognized that my friend was decisively not going to rely on spiritual revelation in his search, even though he understood that he might be denying himself some incredible blessings by doing so. I later thought of an analogy that expressed my frustration and sadness—I guess you could call it “The Parable of the Helicopter.” I’ll share it in my next post.


1. Joseph Fielding Smith, Answers to Gospel Questions, 2:151.

2. Personal communication, 2 May 2004, live internet chat.

3. Neal A. Maxwell, Plain and Precious Things (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1983), p. 4.


  1. I’m looking forward to your next posting. I’ve had this type of conversation with Christians in the past. I don’t understand the reluctance to pray and ask God.

  2. Ditto. I always think, “What do you have to lose by trying?”

    To his credit, when I asked my friend this, he said that he wanted to be consistent in his principles, and he wasn’t going to seek knowledge in this way unless he was convinced it was a biblical method. (I tried to persuade him it was, but he had a different interpretation of every passage I brought up.) My friend has a lot of integrity, and I know that if he wasn’t trying prayer, it’s for exactly the reasons he said. I just hope someone can help him see it differently some day.

    And he’s way cool. We went and saw “Revenge of the Sith” when it came out—you should have heard some of the cool gospel lessons he pulled out of it afterward.

  3. Empiricism has got to be one of the most convenient lies that Satan could get someone to believe, but unfortunately it’s fundamentally false. When did your sense of taste ever teach you about mercy? Since when was seeing EVER believing? If your friend is waiting for the genetic calculations of the Nephites before he’ll give the Book of Mormon a chance, it’s not on the sister missionaries to give that to him because that isn’t their place. God respects agency, and your friend doesn’t seem to understand that very well.

    In my mind, what he’s waiting for isn’t faith, it’s for certainty, and Heavenly Father doesn’t just hand that out because it’s dangerous. In our knowledge we have a greater ability to sin because we’re being held accountable for that knowledge. And if we’re going to be so arrogant as to cross our arms and say to God, “show me a sign,” my question is, “why should he?” If we aren’t going to invest any faith in His ability to talk to us, then why should He? Considering we aren’t spiritually mature enough to handle it in such an impudent state, then it’s better that He DOESN’T give it to us.

    You might want to redirect your friend to the talks that Elder Holland gave in Oct 2007 and April 2008 about the Bible. He clearly doesn’t understand what the Bible can and cannot do.

  4. At first I thought your friend was saying,”I don’t want to go in the water until I learn to swim.” But I think it goes beyond that. He doesn’t want to learn to swim until he knows he can’t drown. Maybe you can offer him a life jacket.

    I would go so far as to ask — Are you sure he actually read it? He didn’t just get a summary from his pastor or from anti-Mormon tracts?

    I had a co-worker who was clearly anti-Mormon. This was dangerous when half the office was LDS. And it wasn’t even in Utah. So, he remained very polite and professional. He claimed he read the BoM.

    I asked him simple questions about other books and movies and he could answer those easily. I asked him similar questions about The Book of Mormon. He couldn’t answer them. Actually, he partially answered one of them.

  5. Carborendum: I would go so far as to ask—Are you sure he actually read it? He didn’t just get a summary from his pastor or from anti-Mormon tracts?

    I’m positive he read it. He’s impeccably honest, and we’ve talked about specific passages. He’s also working on reading the Doctrine and Covenants. And he reads it carefully. I alluded to intelligences one day when talking about a fiction book, without clearly using the word, and he paused then said, “Oh, you mean intelligence—uncreated, self-existing entities that are the root of spirits.” 🙂 I’ve been impressed several times at how hard he tries to really understand what all we believe.

    At first I thought your friend was saying, ”I don’t want to go in the water until I learn to swim.” But I think it goes beyond that. He doesn’t want to learn to swim until he knows he can’t drown.

    *laugh* That’s actually a pretty insightful way to put it! 🙂 Really, though, praying for knowledge of fundamental truths can be a scary prospect—it really is like letting go of the dock and saying, “OK Lord, I’m letting your river carry me wherever you will.” It takes a lot of trust in the Lord and letting go of your own wisdom.

  6. This is precisely what I have been fighting against my whole life. (Not all of the following may apply to your friend).

    1) People think they know so much that they won’t listen to anyone else (politicians).
    2) They have so much superficial knowledge that they don’t understand anything and won’t look any deeper (Many failures in life).
    3) They can’t leave their own heads long enough to realize that there are other ways to look at things (You know how they say there are three sides to every story — your side, my side, & the truth–it’s the blind man and the elephant).
    4) They don’t realize there are more faculties with which to discern information than just the 5 senses. And often, the 5 senses are less dependable than other methods. (Many atheists).
    5) People are incapable of determining when is the proper time to accept new understanding (many theists) and when it is correct to cling to previous ones with all your heart (many who lose faith).
    6) Many are so mired in their own ideology that they see incontrovertible proof that their entire system is flawed and decide instead that the proof is flawed. (this one is dangerous because often the “proof” IS flawed).

  7. Some of these describe me, in my less-than-admirable moments. 🙂 Especially number 5. That’s my struggle of a lifetime—when to bend and when to be firm.

    The modern world seems to be enamoured of the idea of never being sure of anything. It’s like a foundational doctrine. That’s great for research, but a lousy way to live life in general. I know there are two bad extremes to go to, but since I perceive the “question everything” doctrine as being so widespread, I sometimes default in the other direction of clinging, when perhaps I should give a little more time to practicing discernment.

    Carborendum: 4. They don’t realize there are more faculties with which to discern information than just the 5 senses.

    This one kind of applies to my friend’s situation, but not completely. He accepts the idea of God revealing things individually to a person, but he limits the scope. He sees personal revelation as only happening with such personal questions as, “Should I take that new job or not?” and, “Should I pursue a relationship with this girl?” He doesn’t see personal revelation as happening with such questions as, “Is the Bible true?” or, “Is that person a modern prophet?”

    I’ll have to post a different internet chat I had with him on that topic.

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