How Reliable is the Spirit?

CES Letter Core Question

How can people trust the Spirit when they've been wrong sometimes?

How Reliable is the Spirit?

There are many members who share their testimonies that the Spirit told them that they were to marry this person or go to this school or move to this location or start up this business or invest in this investment. They rely on this Spirit in making critical life decisions. When the decision turns out to be not only incorrect but disastrous, the fault lies on the individual and never on the Spirit. The individual didn’t have the discernment or it was the individual’s hormones talking or it was the individual’s greed talking or the individual wasn’t worthy at the time.

This poses a profound flaw and dilemma: if individuals can be so convinced that they’re being led by the Spirit but yet be so wrong about what the Spirit tells them, how can they be sure of the reliability of this same exact process and method in telling them that Mormonism is true?

How are faith and feelings reliable pathways to truth? Is there anything one couldn’t believe based on faith and feelings?

If faith and feelings can lead one to believe and accept the truth claims of any one of the hundreds of thousands of contradictory religions and thousands of contradictory gods... how then are faith and feelings reliable pathways to truth?


CES Letter, Page 79

If they are not careful, people can embrace spiritual darkness as easily and simply as spiritual light is embraced.

The author of The CES Letter does not mention the millions of people who have received genuine answers to their prayers, which is why they keep believing. While individuals can be deceived by their own feelings and by false spirits, we must not forget that the Spirit can and will lead us into trials so we can be tested. The Holy Ghost does not guide us to instant joy, but to eternal joy.

Receiving light brings great blessings: “That which is of God is light; and he that receiveth light, and continueth in God, receiveth more light; and that light groweth brighter and brighter until the perfect day” (D&C 50:24).  “And if your eye be single to my glory, your whole bodies shall be filled with light, and there shall be no darkness in you; and that body which is filled with light comprehendeth all things” (D&C 88:67). 

John Taylor instructed: “When the light that is in heaven communicates with the light within us, when the Spirit that dwells in the bosom of the Almighty dwells in ours, and an intercourse is opened between heaven and us, we are then placed in a position to understand that which it would be impossible to comprehend upon any natural principle known to us” (The Gospel Kingdom,  45).

Nephi explained: “When a man speaketh by the power of the Holy Ghost the power of the Holy Ghost carrieth it unto the hearts of the children of men. But behold, there are many that harden their hearts against the Holy Spirit, that it hath no place in them; wherefore, they cast many things away which are written and esteem them as things of naught” (2 Nephi 33:1-2).

Moses easily distinguished between spiritual light and darkness.  He viewed the premortal Christ who, though a spirit being, possessed glory and was even then “like God” (Abr. 3:24).  He also saw Satan’s darkened spirit: “For behold, I could not look upon God, except his glory should come upon me, and I were transfigured before him. But I can look upon thee [Satan] in the natural man.... or else where is thy glory, for it is darkness unto me? And I can judge between thee and God (Moses 1:13-15; italics added).

When people encounter and entertain falsehoods, a spirit of darkness whispers to their hearts bearing a deceptive witness of the validity of that darkness. Satan is the source and he “telleth them there is no hell; and he saith unto them: I am no devil, for there is none--and thus he whispereth in their ears, until he grasps them with his awful chains, from whence there is no deliverance” (2 Nephi 28:22). 

Many are deceived, leaving the Spirit, light, and truth, to become immersed in spiritual darkness until they can no longer remember or comprehend the light: “The light shineth in darkness, and the darkness comprehendeth it not” (D&C 88:49). These are they who are "past feeling” (Ephesians 4:19; 1 Nephi 17:45). 

Brigham Young explained: “[I]gnorance covers them as with a mantle, shuts out the light of truth from them, and keeps them in darkness; and if the light were to shine upon them, as it does now and as it did in the days of the Apostles, would they receive it? No, they would not. Light has come into the world, but the wicked choose darkness rather than light. Why? It was told in days of old that their deeds were evil. That is the fact today—‘They choose darkness rather than light, because their deeds are evil,’ and their hearts are fully set in them to do evil.”  (Discourses of Brigham Young, 79). 


Additional Resources:

Best of Fair 11: “Believest thou…?”: Faith, Cognitive Dissonance, and the Psychology of Religious Experience, Dr. Wendy Ulrich, 0:53:25

Best of Fair 4: Shaken Faith Syndrome, Michael R. Ash, 0:53:15

Best of Fair 13: “Uh oh!” to “Ah ha!” in Apologetics: 20/20 Foresight for a Faithful Future in Defending the Church, John Lynch, 0:57:08

FAIR Questions 2: Recognizing the Voice of the Spirit 0:10:55

FairMormon Frameworks 9: Richard Bushman – Helping Those in Doubt, Richard L. Bushman, 0:49:17

Keeping the Faith 5a: Don Bradley–Seeing with an eye of faith, pt 1, Don Bradley, 1:22:46

Keeping the Faith 5b: Don Bradley–Seeing with an eye of faith, pt 2, Don Bradley, 1:19:34

Keeping the Faith 5c: Don Bradley–Seeing with an eye of faith, pt 3, Don Bradley, 1:26:24

Keeping the Faith 5d: Don Bradley–Seeing with an eye of faith, pt 4, Don Bradley, 1:03:01

Keeping the Faith 12: Janet Eyring–Lost then Found, Janet Eyring, 0:48:15

RiseUp Podcast: Building a Testimony on a Sure Foundation – Part 1, J. Max Wilson, 0:22:24

RiseUp Podcast: Building a Testimony on a Sure Foundation – Part 2, J. Max Wilson, 0:16:11

Best of Fair 18 – Mike Parker: The Challenge and Choice of Faith, Mike Parker, 1:00:15

RiseUp Podcast: Trying to Serve the Lord Without Offending the Devil, James E. Faust, 0:22:01

Keeping the Faith 14: Leaving and Returning–Lessons Learned pt. 1, Rich Millar, 1:00:31

Keeping the Faith 14: Leaving and Returning–Lessons Learned pt. 2, Rich Miller, 1:06:44

Articles of Faith Podcast #22 – Neal Rappleye – Making God in Our Own Image to Cast Aside His Prophets, Neal Rappleye, 0:19:29

RiseUp Podcast – Israel’s Faith Crisis 0:07:49

RiseUp Podcast: Small and Simple Truths Blog Interview, Blake, 0:18:45

RiseUp Podcast: Helping People in Faith Crisis, Tanner Gilliland, 0:12:49

Articles of Faith 20: Geoff Biddulph – Why Didn’t The Church Teach Me This Stuff?, Geoff Biddulph, 0:36:03

Articles of Faith Podcast: Dan Peterson – Reason, Experience, and the Existence of God, Daniel C. Peterson, 0:31:55

RiseUp Podcast: Building a Testimony on a Sure Foundation – Part 2, J. Max Wilson, 0:16:11

RiseUp Podcast: Building a Testimony on a Sure Foundation – Part 1, J. Max Wilson, 0:22:24

How I Lost and Regained my Faith pt 2

How I Lost and Regained my Faith pt 1

Israel’s Faith Crisis

Our Own Image to Cast Aside His Prophets

Interview with Terryl and Fiona Givens: Crucible of Doubt

Why Didn’t the Church Teach Me This Stuff? Controversial Topics in the Church

Reason, Experience, and the Existence of God – Daniel C. Peterson

Building a Testimony on a Sure Foundation

To Help Advance the Pursuit of Truth as it Concerns our Way of Life — Ralph Hancock

Reflections on the Quest For Faith by Terryl and Fiona Givens

Defend Your Beliefs Game Show Podcast

Finding Answers to Your Prayers pdcast

Overcoming Struggles and Doubts Podcast

Keeping the Faith 10: Reconverted.Org

A Household of Partial Faith, pt 2–Keeping the Faith 6b

A Household of Partial Faith, pt 1–Keeping the Faith 6a

Seeing with an eye of faith-pt 4-Keeping the Faith 5d: Don Bradley

Seeing with an eye of faith, pt 3–Keeping the Faith 5c: Don Bradley

Seeing with an eye of faith, pt 2–Keeping the Faith 5b: Don Bradley

Seeing with an eye of faith, pt 1–Keeping the Faith 5a: Don Bradley–

Navigating difficult doctrinal, historical or political issues–Keeping the Faith 4: Mike Parker

Keeping the Faith 3b: Cody Anderson–Cultivating the seeds of faith, pt 2

Keeping the Faith 2b Michael Ash and Shaken Faith Syndrome, pt 2 — Fair Mormon Podcast

Keeping the Faith 2a Michael Ash and Shaken Faith Syndrome, pt 1 — Fair Mormon Podcast

Keeping the Faith 1: Letter to a Doubter by Terryl Givens– Fair Mormon Podcast

The Cure for an Intellectual Apostasy — Fair Mormon Podcast

Can Imperfect Scriptures Lead us to God? Part 2 Fair Mormon

Can Imperfect Scriptures Lead us to God? part 1 Fair Mormon Podcast

Are Prophets Perfect? — Fair Mormon

What are the Consequences for not Following the Prophet? Fair Mormon Podcast

Can we Pick and Choose When to Follow the Prophet? — Fair Mormon Podcast

Is an LDS testimony based only on emotional “feelings”? — Fair Mormon Podcast

Is it a sin to have doubts? — Fair Mormon Podcast

Shaken Faith Syndrome- Michael Ash- Fair Mormon Podcast

Tom Mould on Folklore and Personal Revelation- Fair Mormon Podcast

Dealing With Difficult Historical and Theological Puzzles–Terryl Givens–Fair Mormon Podcast

Testimony and Lifelong Conversion- Fair Mormon Podcast

4th Watch 2: Testimony and Lifelong Conversion, Ned Scarisbrick, 0:31:22

pt 1 Autobiographical notes on my Testimony

pt 2 Autobiographical Notes on My Testimony

pt 3 Autobiographical Notes on My Testimony

pt 4 Autobiographical Notes on My Testimony

pt 5 Autobiographical Notes on My Testimony

pt 6 Autobiographical Notes on My Testimony

pt 7 Autobiographical Notes on My Testimony

pt 8 Autobiographical Notes on My Testimony

pt 1, Enlarging Ones Testimony with Answers and Evidences

pt 2, Enlarging Ones Testimony with Answers and Evidences

pt 3, Enlarging Ones Testimony with Answers and Evidences

Pt. 1, How to receive answers to your prayers

Pt. 2, How to receive answers to your prayers

pt 1, I Don’t Have a Testimony of the History of the Church

pt 2, I Don’t Have a Testimony of the History of the Church

pt 3, Don’t Have a Testimony of the History of the Church

pt 4, Don’t Have a Testimony of the History of the Church

pt 5, I Don’t Have a Testimony of the History of the Church

pt 6, I Don’t Have a Testimony of the History of the Church

pt 1, Spiritual Experiences As The Basis For Belief And Commitment

pt 2,Spiritual Experiences As The Basis For Belief And Commitment

pt 3,Spiritual Experiences As The Basis For Belief And Commitment

pt 4, Spiritual Experiences As The Basis For Belief And Commitment

pt 5, Spiritual Experiences As The Basis For Belief And Commitment

pt 6, Spiritual Experiences As The Basis For Belief And Commitment

pt 1, Seeing our Blindness: The Impact of Personal History on our Understanding of God

pt 2, Seeing our Blindness: The Impact of Personal History on our Understanding of God

pt 3, Seeing our Blindness: The Impact of Personal History on our Understanding of God

pt 4, Seeing our Blindness: The Impact of Personal History on our Understanding of God

pt 5, Seeing our Blindness: The Impact of Personal History on our Understanding of God

How to Recieve Revelation

Autobiographical Notes of my Testimony by Daniel C. Peterson

Being a More Christian Christian- Elder Robert D. Hales

Being Born Again

Endure ‘Til the End — Elder Kevin S. Hamilton

Finding Your Purpose in Life Does Faith Matter – His Grace

Forgiveness After Tragedy

Great Advice on Life from Elder Busche

How to recieve answers to your prayers

I Don’t Have a Testimony of Church History by Davis Bitton

I Have Kept the Faith

Karen Payne Joining the LDS Church

My Story – Finding Hope & Strength Through Trials

No Other Gods

Obtaining Revelation for your Personal Life — Elder Richard G. Scott

Reading Between the Lines in Standing on the Promises

Shaken Faith Syndrome

Sharing Your Beliefs

Spiritual Experiences as the Basis for Belief and Commitment by Blake Ostler

Strengthening Faith and Testimony — Elder Robert D. Hales

Telling Our Story

The Name of the Church

The Plan of Salvation

The Power of Personal Experiences

The Spirit of Revelation — Elder David A. Bednar

The Strength to Endure ‘Til the End

Things Will get Better — Jeffrey R. Holland

Why Do People Ask?

Wrestling with the Scriptures_ Informed Faith Vs. Ignorant Faith

Autobiographical Notes on My Testimony (2004 FAIR Conference) by Daniel C. Peterson

“Believest thou…?”: Faith, Cognitive Dissonance, and the Psychology of Religious Experience (2005 FAIR Conference) by Wendy Ulrich

Can We Trust Our Feelings? by J. Cooper Johnson

Disenchanted Mormonism (2013 FAIR Conference) by Rosalynde Welch

Education, Scholarship, and Mormonism by Scott Gordon

Feeding the Multitudes: Being Fishers of Men (2001 FAIR Conference) by Ross Baron

Hard Questions and Keeping the Faith (PDF) by Michael Ash

I Don’t Have a Testimony of the History of the Church (2004 FAIR Conference) by Davis Bitton

Letter From a Youth Pastor: Four LDS Responses to Frequently Asked Questions

Response to Leaving the Saints by Boyd Petersen

Seeing the Light: Parallels in Mormon Conversion and De-conversion Stories (2012 FAIR Conference) by Rosemary Avance

Shaken Faith Syndrome, Part Deux (2013 FAIR Conference) by Michael Ash

Spiritual Experiences as the Basis for Belief and Commitment (2007 FAIR Conference) by Blake T. Ostler

Shaken Faith Syndrome (PDF) (2008 FAIR Conference) by Michael Ash

Take Heed That Ye Be Not Deceived (online book) by Richard I. Winwood

The Loss and Rekindling of Faith (2013 FAIR Conference) Panel Discussion

The Sariah Dilemma: Finding Increased Faith When Our Children Misplace Their Own (2009 FAIR Conference) by Vickey Taylor

“Well Nigh as Dangerous”: Latter-day Prophecy and Revelation; Infallibility and Blind Obedience by McKay V. Jones

What I Learned about Life, the Church, and the Cosmos from Hugh Nibley (2005 FAIR Conference) by Boyd Petersen

When the Prophet Speaks, Is the Thinking Done?