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Mormon Scholars Testify: John Mark Mattox

TitleMormon Scholars Testify: John Mark Mattox
Publication TypeWeb Article
Year of Publication2011
AuthorsMattox, John Mark
Access Date28 March 2018
Last Update DateAugust 2011
PublisherMormon Scholars Testify
KeywordsArchaeology; Heavenly Father; Holy Spirit; Jesus Christ; Power of the Holy Ghost; Testimony; Truth

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John Mark Mattox

I have known that God is our Heavenly Father, that He lives, that Jesus Christ is the Savior of humankind, and that the Holy Ghost is a revelator of eternal truth for as long as I can remember. That knowledge has been supplemented from time to time by empirical data and by rational argument. However, these things have never ascended beyond the status of supplement; they have never constituted the basis for the knowledge I have of sacred truths. One might ask, “How can you know—or claim to know—that which you cannot directly encounter with the senses?” But the question strikes me as an odd one, since the senses merely mediate one’s encounter with the world. One person might sense a particular phenomenon in one way, and another sense ostensibly the same phenomenon in quite another way. While, as far as workaday matters or “present particulars” are concerned, most of us are largely in agreement on questions of how the world around us looks, sounds, feels, tastes, or smells, still even a young child soon becomes aware that there appears to be room for wide divergence of opinion or interpretation. As for rational argument—as vital as rationality is to our present existence, the conclusions on which such argument is based are only as good as the assumptions which underwrite them. Thus, when it comes to the really big questions—“What is existence?” “What is the purpose of life?” “Does what I do or not do really matter?” “Is there such a thing as right and wrong or does morality merely boil down to personal preference or societal convention?” “Is there life after death?” “Is there a God?”—I have always felt drawn to a search for the fixed points of the universe. It is my certain conviction that such fixed points exist, and my search for the fixed points has led me to feel in my heart that, if indeed I can claim to know anything at all, it is that God lives and that Jesus Christ is the Savior and Redeemer of humankind. That assurance has both informed my convictions relative to the “big questions” and has directed the choices I have made during the course of my life.

Although I feel that words are inadequate to describe fully life’s most important meanings and concepts, perhaps I can attempt to reduce to words some of the feelings I have had over the course of my life, which have led me to view the universe—and in particular, the answers to life’s “big questions”—in the way that I do. Once, as a new Second Lieutenant in the United States Army, I found myself far from home on a major training exercise in the middle of the Mojave Desert. I was newly married, feeling rather homesick to be with my bride who was expecting our first child, and quite overwhelmed by the scope of the responsibilities that were now mine as an Army officer. One night, I went out of the field headquarters where I was working to be alone and to try to get my bearings. There was not a man-made light to be seen anywhere—only the sky illuminated by more stars than I had ever seen at any one time in my entire life. In the quiet of that night, I sensed very clearly that I was not alone and that a Power above and beyond anything I could lay claim to—a Power that had made the stars I was now beholding—was there to direct me and would not leave me utterly to fend for myself. Then and there was renewed in my soul an awareness of the conviction I had always had that I have a Heavenly Father, Who, although greater and more infinite in power, might, dominion, or influence than all the starry heavens for as far as my eyes could see, was somehow aware of me in intimate detail, and that He loved me. If the account of that experience seems inadequate to explain the verities of the eternities, I wholeheartedly agree. It is nonetheless the case that I have sensed through experiences like this an inaudible whisper to the depths of my soul that says, “Yes, God, your Heavenly Father, does live; Jesus Christ is His Son. He is the Savior of the world.”

It may be that some will respond, “OK, I can see how you might interpret experiences like these to bear witness to the existence of a Supreme Being, but how do you, on that basis, extrapolate to the conclusion that the Man, Jesus of Nazareth, is the Supreme Being’s Son Who has saved the world?” That leads me to recall another experience I had as an Army officer many years later. I was now a Major and the Executive Officer of a 430-soldier air assault field artillery battalion. Again I found myself on a training exercise—this time in the dead of an extraordinarily cold winter. I was sitting with my staff inside a field logistics headquarters, huddled with them around a small heater. Again it was night, with illumination provided not by stars but by electric lights inside our headquarters, powered by a small generator. Without warning, the generator went out and our headquarters became pitch dark so that I could not see my hand in front of my face. In the ensuing conversation, a sergeant of mine—apparently taking advantage of the relative anonymity conferred by the darkness—said to me, without a prompt from anything which had preceded in the conversation: “Sir, I have a question for you. The Bible mentions many, many sites which are well documented by archeology. However, The Book of Mormon has no similar documentation. How do you account for your belief in The Book of Mormon?” I responded: “I am quite aware of the substantial archeological evidence of the veracity of the biblical record. In addition to being a life-long student of the Bible, I also had the opportunity to visit and study at first hand biblical sites in Israel, Egypt, Jordan, Greece, and Italy while a college student, and I hold an undergraduate minor in Near Eastern Studies. I am similarly aware that there are virtually no archeological sites which are known to correlate with events recorded in the Book of Mormon. However, my knowledge of the truth of the Bible and the events it records is in no way reliant upon archeological evidence. I know that the Bible is true, that the events it describes are true, and that its teachings are true because the Holy Ghost has borne witness to my soul that they are true. Hence, I know that they are true because I have felt that witness in the depths of my soul, independent of any other person or evidence. In that very same way, I know that the Book of Mormon is the word of God.” From the testimonies of the divinity of Jesus Christ unambiguously recorded in both the Bible and the Book of Mormon, I know that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the Savior of the world.

To this, one might respond, “OK, I understand why you claim to know that God lives and that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the Savior of world, but what is this ‘Holy Ghost’ on which you rest your testimony of God and Jesus Christ?” The Holy Ghost is a revelator of truth. He bears witness of God, our Heavenly Father, and of His Son, Jesus Christ. In fact, without His revelations, it is impossible to know of either of them—of that I am convinced. How, then, does one receive revelation from the Holy Ghost? Listen; just listen. His voice is there. It whispers to each of us. And, when we are quietly resolved to act upon the directions indicated by that still, small voice, it whispers again, giving additional guidance and direction. Indeed, countless times during the course of my military career, honest reflection required my recognition that I was in receipt of insights and understandings far beyond any capacity of mine to produce, which directed me in the conduct of my professional and personal life. I am not so bold as to assert that I understand the mechanics of the process; I do not. However, there are countless processes I do not understand which inform and enrich my life. All I know is that it is real, and for me, that is enough. I know that the Holy Ghost guides, directs, teaches, testifies, warns, chides, corrects, comforts, and heals. I know it because I have experienced each of these manifestations, just as I am convinced that anyone who desires to experience them can. (One must, however, be willing to turn off the producers of incessant noise and distraction in the world around us and really listen so that he or she can hear.)

My conviction that God lives, that Jesus Christ is the Savior of the World, and that the Holy Ghost testifies of Them and of all truth has led me to further understandings, to wit: that the heavens are not closed; that man is not left to function without divine aid; that every member of the human family is literally a son or daughter of God, our Heavenly Father; that life has meaning and purpose; that our present existence in this life is but a drop of water in the ocean of our eternal existence; that life after death is as real and certain as is our present existence, and in crucial ways it is more so; that throughout the ages, God has spoken to men and women who were willing to hear Him; that in this latter age of the history of the world, God has revealed Himself in an extraordinary way by calling a prophet, Joseph Smith, Jr., just as He has called other prophets like Noah or Moses or Elijah in earlier periods of history; that He has restored through that medium His “Gospel”—the pattern for happiness in this life and for eternal salvation in the world to come; and that He has institutionalized His Gospel, with all of its ancient blessings and glory, in His uniquely authorized kingdom upon the earth, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The invitation to discover that these things are true is universal; none are excluded from the opportunity to learn these truths. Indeed, the knowledge associated with them is ultimately non-transferrable, such that each must acquire it for him- or herself. But acquire it he or she can, directly from the Source of all truth. I know that is so. I know it by my own experience. I have seen this reality operate in the lives of others. Most importantly, I know that Heaven’s invitation to “come and see,” to come and know for oneself, is freely extended to all who will acknowledge and hearken to the still, small, transcendent voice that leads to vistas of understanding, meaning, and joy to which unaided human agency cannot attain.


John Mark Mattox (Ph.D. in Philosophy and Semiotic Studies, Indiana University, 1999), Colonel, United States Army (Retired), is the former Dean of the U.S. Department of Defense’s Threat Reduction University and Commandant of the Defense Nuclear Weapons School. He has also served on the faculties of the United States Military Academy at West Point and the University of Maryland and as a lecturer at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) School in Oberammergau, Germany. He is currently a Senior Research Fellow at the Center for the Study of Weapons of Mass Destruction, National Defense University, Washington, D.C. His works include Saint Augustine and the Theory of Just War (London: Continuum, 2006, 2009).

Posted August 2011