Frau Ruster and the Cure for Cognitive Dissonance
I've often reflected on the experience we shared that distant October day. And I've come to two conclusions. First, I'm very grateful for Frau Rüster and her sincere desire to know the truth of our message, even if she did lose that knowledge. I've wondered whose prayer was really being answered that day. I don't know. But I am fairly sure of one thing: Without her faith and persistence, I doubt that I would have received an answer to my plea. My faith was at low tide by that time. Like many people, because I had prayed long and hard and had received no answer, I was at the point of giving up. I was ready to just concede that I didn't have the faith to get a witness. If I am honest, I must confess that it was probably Frau Rüster's faith combined with Elder Callister's love and prayers for her that unleashed the powers of heaven that day.
Second, regardless of why it came, I'm grateful this manifestation arrived in the presence of two other witnesses and that it came in the manner it did. I'm grateful I didn't have a warm feeling about the Book of Mormon some lonely night in the quiet confines of an empty LTM classroom.
Let me be specific about this. What I experienced in Frau Rüster's living room was not a simple burning in the bosom. What we experienced was an outside presence that entered the room and filled it to overflowing. That it filled us, too, was inevitable. But because two other people were present and felt the intense power that I felt, I've never been able to talk myself out of the fact that it happened. I've never been able to convince myself that it was all just in my head -- that I imagined it. No, Frau Rüster and Elder Callister have prevented that. My companion's exclamation as we walked to our bikes has been very significant to me. And so was Frau Rüster's request to be baptized. Those reactions convince me that my sometimes vivid imagination wasn't very vivid that day. This was the most real thing I've ever experienced.
I've often wondered why was I favored to have such an experience when others who pray faithfully for a sure witness find the heavens firmly closed. I don't know. Maybe most of us need a Frau Rüster. I certainly did. In fact, I'm reasonably sure, given what I know about myself and my particular bag of experiences and weaknesses, that without this overwhelming witness I would probably not be active in the Church today, perhaps not even a member. So I'm grateful for this tender mercy from heaven and for its timing.
Testimonies, of course, come in many ways, shapes, and sizes. Most often they probably come as a quiet feeling of confirmation and grow over time. Sometimes, for some reason, they seem not to come at all. But now and then, they come suddenly and with overwhelming force, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with receiving this sort of witness. If God grants it, why should I be ashamed of it or suggest that others can't have a similar experience? At least because of this encounter I understand the difference between the whisperings of the Spirit and the "power of the Holy Ghost" (Moro. 10:4), and the difference, to me, is both immense and important.
When I say I know, I don't mean that I know I had a burning feeling within. What I mean is that I know with perfect certainty the truth about something central to Mormonism. I know that Joseph Smith saw God the Father and his beloved Son. Historians may squabble over the details of the story and the differences between Joseph's various accounts. But I'm no historian. I don't know how factual all the details are. All I know is that his story, the canonized version he recorded in 1838, is accurate enough for God to endorse it as truth. This I know. I know. I know.
Roger Terry is senior associate editor at BYU Studies. He spent seven years as a senior editor at the Ensign and Liahona and in a former life was a faculty member at BYU's Marriott School of Management. Roger has had five books published, including Executioner (Springville, Utah: Cedar Fort, 2005), a courtroom drama that received an honorable mention in the 2005 novel contest sponsored by the Association for Mormon Letters. He has three other book projects in various stages of completion. Roger lives in Orem, Utah, with his wife, Sheri, and their four children. This essay originally appeared in Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 40:3 (Fall 2007): 201-209. References to citations may be found there.