When I Couldn’t Answer Their Question

“When I Couldn’t Answer Their Question,” Ensign, Apr. 1988, 36

When I Couldn’t Answer Their Question

I determined to never again be unprepared. I opened the scriptures, studied carefully, and began to discover the gospel again.

I was walking through a Denver shopping mall twelve years ago when two young women asked if they could speak with me. “Sure,” I replied.

“If you died today,” they asked, “would you go to heaven?”

They must have noticed my surprise, because they immediately opened their copies of the Bible and quoted a verse from the New Testament. “All you need to do to go to heaven,” they declared, “is to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.”

What followed is still a painful memory. I was amazed at their doctrine, and my mind flew back to the Sunday School, seminary, and BYU classes I had taken on the New Testament; but I could recite only one scripture to indicate that there was more to entering the kingdom of heaven than simply a profession of faith.

The two women quickly quoted other scriptures similar to the first. I could share some of my beliefs as a Latter-day Saint, but I could not quote the principles from the scriptures. They were unconvinced and soon left me. I could see them out of the corner of my eye walking hurriedly up to the next shopper. I walked slowly to my car.

“It is a common thing,” President Spencer W. Kimball said, “to have a few passages of scripture at our disposal, floating in our minds, as it were, and thus to have the illusion that we know a great deal about the gospel.”

Such an illusion was mine!

“Each of us,” he continued, “at some time in our lives, must discover the scriptures for ourselves—and not just discover them once, but rediscover them again and again.” (Ensign, Sept. 1976, p. 4.)

The experience discouraged me, and I determined to never again be unprepared. I set aside some regular study time, opened the scriptures, and began to discover the gospel again.

How exciting it was to see patterns repeated over and over in the New Testament. Individuals learned of Christ, repented, demonstrated their faith by being baptized by immersion, received the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands, and then pressed forward in obedience.

I was most interested in the verses that indicated what was required to enter the kingdom of heaven. I memorized these and imagined myself being prepared to meet two young women in a shopping mall, armed with scriptures such as “Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God?” (1 Cor. 6:9) and “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven” (Matt. 7:21).

Something else began to happen, however, that I had not foreseen. I found myself comparing my behavior and attitudes with the truths I was reading. I was greatly humbled by the example and love of the Savior—his prayers to the Father as recorded in the book of John, his declaration that he came to do not his own will, but the will of his Father. I realized how much I needed to change my life. More often I found myself not in an imaginary discussion, but on my knees in prayer. I began to yearn for a closer relationship with my Heavenly Father and his Son Jesus Christ. I began to look at a different kind of preparation, one that could indeed lead me to eternal life.

Through the scriptures, the Savior speaks to us. He teaches us his will. I remember when my reading brought me to John 1:12–14:

“But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name:

“Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.”

This was the relationship I was seeking! I earnestly prayed that I might be given that power—that I might be born of God. The answer came in a strong impression that I recorded in my journal and have pondered many times: By living the commandments, we receive the power to become the sons and daughters of God.

As I studied the scriptures, I found that I could come to them each day as the young man came to the Good Master, asking, “What good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?” (Matt. 19:16.) As it says in 2 Timothy 3:15–16 [2 Tim. 3:15–16], the scriptures are “able to make [us] wise unto salvation.” They are “profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.”

The more I read on a regular basis, the more I found myself turning to the scriptures in times of need or distress. On one occasion, I became extremely angry with someone who had broken an important promise to me. For days I was resentful and considered retaliation. I was miserable. I knew that it was wrong not to forgive, but I did not know how to dispel my feelings. Finally, in anguish, I walked to the bedroom and picked up the Book of Mormon. Without any real intention of reading, I let it fall open. The words of the Lord from Mormon 3:15 [Morm. 3:15] jumped out at me: “Vengeance is mine.”

In an instant, everything was brought into eternal perspective. I was chastened and humbled, realizing that I was out of order. At the same time, this scripture brought great relief. The Lord was aware of my feelings! He cared. How much easier, then, to pray and to let go.

How often the Lord answers our prayers through the scriptures. They are his voice, reminding us of our covenants and the glorious promises that are ours. I found, as I began to study the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price, that the inspiration I received in answer to prayer would often come in the form of a scripture!

On one occasion when I was expecting our second child, I viewed a television program presented by a famous anthropologist. The documentary showed the impact of Western civilization on some island cultures. At the end of the program, the focus changed, and film clippings showed crowded cities and impoverished peoples across the world. The anthropologist pleaded with her audience to persuade their governments to institute birth-control measures. She predicted world disaster.

I was deeply distressed; my husband and I were bringing another child into the world! I pleaded with the Lord to help me to understand as he did—at least in part—to help me know if I was obeying his will. I prayed for some time, and finally I felt as if I had crossed a barrier. Through the still small voice came these words: “You are helping to fulfill the promise made to Abraham that his seed would be as numerous as the stars of the heavens and the sands of the sea.”

I turned to Abraham 2:11 [Abr. 2:11]and read the Lord’s words: “In thy seed … shall all the families of the earth be blessed, even with the blessings of the Gospel, which are the blessings of salvation, even of life eternal.”

In Abraham 3:12–14 [Abr. 3:12–14], the Lord shows the patriarch the starry skies and says, “I will multiply thee, and thy seed after thee, like unto these.”

When my reading brought me to Doctrine and Covenants 132:31–32 [D&C 132:31–32], I found with great excitement that the Lord had expounded upon this promise to Abraham: “This promise is yours also, because ye are of Abraham, … and by this law is the continuation of the works of my Father, wherein he glorifieth himself.

“Go ye, therefore, and do the works of Abraham; enter ye into my law and ye shall be saved.”

The promise to Abraham was meant for all our Father’s children! I was reminded of the covenant I had made at baptism to share the gospel. I had covenanted to bear the burdens of my fellowman. The Lord explains in Doctrine and Covenants 104:17–18 [D&C 104:17–18]:

“For the earth is full, and there is enough and to spare; yea, I prepared all things, and have given unto the children of men to be agents unto themselves.

“Therefore, if any man shall take of the abundance which I have made, and impart not his portion, according to the law of my gospel unto the poor and the needy, he shall, with the wicked, lift up his eyes in hell.”

Through my searching of the Book of Mormon, I gained an appreciation that the Lord’s prophets all desired to prepare us to stand at the last day before Christ and to be received by the Father. I tried to be disciplined in my study of the Book of Mormon, not letting my day go beyond ten in the morning without reading another chapter. The great discourses of Nephi and Jacob, of King Benjamin and Alma affected me deeply. I often felt harrowed in my own soul. Surely coming before Alma as I read chapter 5 was practice in standing before the Lord! Alma asks us:

“Have ye walked, keeping yourselves blameless before God? Could ye say, if ye were called to die at this time, within yourselves, that ye have been sufficiently humble? That your garments have been cleansed and made white through the blood of Christ, who will come to redeem his people from their sins?” (Alma 5:27.)

I was particularly affected by the experiences of the sons of Mosiah. What tremendous power they gained as they turned their lives to the Savior and sought to take the gospel to their Lamanite brethren! For the first time in my life, I fasted about my desire to share the gospel and prayed to be directed. On one memorable day, the gardener who worked in our living complex responded that he would like to know more about the Church, and a neighbor knocked on my door and said, “I’ve noticed your family goes to church on Sunday. What church do you go to?”

The Book of Mormon brought me a great desire to be accepted of the Lord. One night, my newborn daughter awakened me. I fed her, and she soon fell asleep, but I was left awake in the stillness of the night. I thought of the changes in my life and the many things that yet needed changing. My thoughts were drawn out to God, and I prayed, remembering the words of the Lamanite king who cried, “O God, … wilt thou make thyself known unto me, and I will give away all my sins to know thee.” (Alma 22:18.)

One by one, the Lord showed me my weaknesses. In the early hours of the morning, I received a sweet assurance, which I recorded in my journal and have pondered many times: “I am your Father. Your Father!”

I now see my experience years ago in a Denver shopping mall in a new light. I am grateful that I saw then how much I needed to search the scriptures. I wish I had been prepared to share knowledge and testimony with those young women. I realize how much more I need to study and to live the principles of the gospel. I am grateful for the tremendous study helps in the new Latter-day Saint editions of the standard works. Particularly helpful are the footnotes and indexes, which give cross-references on gospel topics to all the books of scripture.

Two years ago my goal was to read the entire Old Testament for the first time in my life. Little did I suspect that I would find in Jeremiah 29:13 [Jer. 29:13] this beautiful promise of the Lord: “Ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye search for me with all your heart.”

That search very much involves the scriptures, and it leads to eternal life.

  • Christy Williams and her husband, Brian, teach the Gospel Doctrine class in the Newport Ward, Renton Washington North Stake.

Illustrated by Rober Motzkus