21 And when the multitude had witnessed that he spake these things as he was about to give up the ghost, they were astonished exceedingly; insomuch that the power of God came down upon them, and they were overcome that they fell to the earth.
22 Now, this thing was pleasing unto me, Jacob, for I had requested it of my Father who was in heaven; for he had heard my cry and answered my prayer.
23 And it came to pass that peace and the love of God was restored again among the people; and they searched the scriptures, and hearkened no more to the words of this wicked man.
The prophet Jacob tells of a man named Sherem who came among the people of Nephi preaching false doctrines with flattering words. Emboldened by his own persuasiveness, he challenged Jacob to a public dialogue in which he attempted to shake Jacob’s faith. This presumptuous aspiration proved to be his undoing: when he requested a sign, he was shocked to receive exactly what he had asked for: “The power of the Lord came upon him, insomuch that he fell to the earth” (Jacob 7:15). A few days later, he confessed to the people that he had deceived them, that he had lied to God, and that he feared his own imminent death. Shortly after, he was gone.
The people who heard this dying confession were overcome by the power of God. They repented and started living the gospel again, which restored the peace and love they had lost when they had been listening to the words of Sherem.
One part of this narrative strikes me today: Jacob says that, after recognizing their error in believing Sherem’s words, the people “searched the scriptures.” Had they stopped searching the scriptures when they began to believe his words? Apparently. Perhaps the words were so entrancing and mind-numbing that they eliminated all motivation to serious study and thought. Perhaps they liked what Sherem was telling them so much that they stopped thinking for themselves, studying, pondering, and wrestling with difficult questions.
In a speech at Brigham Young University—Idaho, Sister Sheri Dew told of two young adults who were each struggling with a crisis of faith. She asked both of them the same questions: “Do you want a testimony?” “Are you willing to work for it?” The first responded affirmatively, and with much effort was able to find the faith she had lost. The second simply said, “No, I don’t think so.”
Sister Dew concluded:
There have always been and will always be charismatic men and women who can launch what sound like, on the surface, reasoned arguments against the Father and the Son, the Restoration, the Prophet Joseph, the Book of Mormon, and living prophets. But doubters and pundits never tell the whole story, because they don’t know the whole story-and don’t want to know. They opt for clever sound bites, hoping no one digs deeper than they have.
Sound bites will never lead to a testimony. As seekers of truth, our safety lies in asking the right questions, in faith, and of the right sources-meaning those who only speak truth: such as the scriptures, prophets, and the Lord through the Holy Ghost (“Will You Engage in the Wrestle?” Brigham Young University—Idaho Devotional, 17 May 2016).
Today, I will remember that the process of gaining spiritual knowledge requires work on my part. Like Jacob and his people, I will seek for answers by studying the scriptures. As tempting as it may be to settle for easy answers, I will keep asking hard questions, with faith that God will help me to understand His truths as I seek in faith.