Atonement and Testimony

Adam S. Miller


What distinguishes asking for a testimony from seeking for a sign? What prevents a need for the one from bleeding into a desperation for the other? Why is testimony essential to godliness, while with respect to sign-seeking, as Joseph Smith so bluntly puts it, it is a principle “eternal, undeviating, and firm as the pillars of heaven” that “whenever you see a man seeking after a sign, you may set it down that he is an adulterous man”?  Insofar as testimony is essential to Mormonism, correctly marking this difference is a matter of some importance. This crucial distinction, however, becomes clear only when the question is framed in terms of the atonement of Jesus Christ. And, further, this difference is rendered especially sharp when the meaning of the atonement is itself articulated in terms of the category of possibility. In short, we may, by way of anticipation, say that the principle of distinction is simply this: because a testimony qualifies as such only to the extent that it is an unconditional response to an unmediated experience of the atonement, testimony is never anchored in the objective mediation of signs. Whereas asking for a testimony exposes us without reserve to the potency of God’s unremitting grace, sign-seeking attempts to hide from the demands of the atonement behind the ego-reassuring interposition of mediating figures.

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