Joseph Smith, a man who I believe was a prophet of God, said, "Let us here observe, that three things are necessary in order that any rational and intelligent being may exercise faith in God unto life and salvation. First, the idea that he actually exists. Secondly, a correct idea of his character, perfections, and attributes. Thirdly, an actual knowledge that the course of life which he is pursuing is according to his will. For without an acquaintance with these three important facts, the faith of every rational being must be imperfect and unproductive; but with this understanding it can become perfect and fruitful, abounding in righteousness, unto the praise and glory of God the Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ [sic](Lectures on Faith 3: 2-5)." I find these words extraordinarily profound, because they not only mean that we cannot worship God without understanding who and what He is, but it boldly contradicts the common belief that God is unknowable. Through my experiences, I have been able to prove that Joseph Smith was right. God is knowable, and when we understand who God is, what He wants, and what He has done, we can develop a powerful faith in God that helps us understand ourselves and our role in God's plan. The scriptures are the best tool to understand what God has done, as they are a record of how God has interacted with His children. In addition to the scriptures, I have learned about God through my own experiences, and I would like to offer a brief summary of what I have learned about my Heavenly Father through this fusion of experience and revelation.
1. Prayer is the gateway to understanding God and His plan for us.
When I was in college, I took a course called "Philosophy of Religion," where I got an eye-opening glimpse into the ways philosophers have been trying to describe, prove, or disprove God since humankind began. The most important thing that I learned was that while great thinkers from Russel to Aquinas tried with all their might to discover the truth about God the way that we discover truth about the natural world (i.e. arguments of reason, proofs, etc.), I had already learned more than they knew when I was a child. Furthermore, I have heard testimony from various individuals who had a similar experiences at similar ages, which means that I'm not unique because of the knowledge I received, but rather, these experiences testify of the method in which I received my knowledge: prayer. Millennia of reason have failed to prove conclusively whether or not God exists or even what His attributes are, but in one moment of thoughtful, sincere prayer, any person can learn for his or herself that God is there. Prayer is the power to communicate directly to God, to speak to Him as a child speaks to a father, and as such, prayer is one of the most important and useful powers given to human beings. If you want to know anything about God, I recommend that you ask Him.
2. God exists, and He will confirm His existence to us if we ask Him.
I remember what it was like before I knew that God lives. I was very young, and very confused. My parents took me to church ever since I was born, and though I enjoyed going, I distinctly remember coming home and being very conflicted about the truth of what I was being told. I had been taught that there was a being that had the power to create me, love me, and sacrifice for my well-being, and yet I was never expected to see this being in the entire course of my life. It was an easy thing to doubt. Doubt consumed my little body and tormented me with conflict until one day when I bowed my head and said four words: "God, are you there?" It wasn't the first time I had asked, but it was the sincerest I had ever uttered the question, and sufficed to say, I was overpowered with a strong response in the positive. The response was so strong, in fact, that even in my weakest, darkest moments, I have never been able to deny that it happened. For me, denying the existence of my Heavenly Father would be as nonsensical as denying the existence of my earthly father, and I know for a fact that this knowledge isn't reserved for any elite group of people, but rather it is open and available to anyone who wants it. If you want to know if God lives, all you have to do is kneel in prayer and say these words with a pure, sincere heart: "God, are you there?" If the answer doesn't come right away, don't be discouraged; just ask again. The answer isn't always instant, but it will come.
3. The more we pray, the more we learn who God is and what He means to us.
You can never get to know a person by seeing them from the other side of the room. Someone can point to that person and say, "That is Miles Stephanolopolis," and you can instantly be aware that a person named Miles Stephanolopolis exists. But knowing about Miles's existence is essentially worthless compared to knowing what kind of person Miles is. He could have the potential to be your greatest friend or worst enemy. He could have been plotting your destruction for years or not even be aware that you exist. The only way to know is to go up to Miles and talk to him, and the more time you talk to Miles, the more you come to understand his worldview, his accomplishments, his character, and ultimately, you develop a relationship of one kind or another. The same principle applies to our relationship with God. When we talk to God, and we receive answers from Him, we become acquainted with God's character. My prayers to God have revealed a benevolent being, a being who loves me with a perfect love, who wants me to be happy, and who understands that He has to teach me to do things that I don't understand in order for me to be happy. I have heard many talk of a vengeful God, of a God who apparently enjoys thrusting souls to the bowels of Hell and takes pleasure in punishing the sinner. This sounds to me to be a description of Satan, and bears no resemblance to the God that I have been communicating with for two decades. If God ever punishes someone, the punishment has the purpose of teaching correct principles. If God tells us to do something or to live a certain way, it doesn't mean that he is trying to enslave us, but that He is trying to teach us how to be free. That's just who God is, and the more you talk to God, the more you'll learn this for yourself.
4. God is deeply invested in our success.
The scriptures teach us that God sent His Only Begotten Son, Jesus the Christ, to earth for the benefit of all of the children of God. In order for any human being to be saved, Jesus Christ had to be sacrificed to redeem to us from the Fall and cleanse us from our sins. This sacrifice was the most painful, excruciating experience that any person has ever experienced, causing Jesus Christ, "the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit—and would that [He] might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink (Doctrine and Covenants 19:18). The Atonement, the redemption that came to pass because God and Christ did not shrink, is described by modern prophets as infinite, and the sacrifice was of the same magnitude. God gave everything He had for us, His only Son of the flesh, who was perfect and blameless from birth, and was born specifically for this end. He literally watched as His perfect Son was mocked and debased, saw as He suffered as much suffering as is possible to bear, and let His best servant die at the hands of hard-hearted sinners without a shred of intervention. This was all for us. The sacrifice gave us the choice, the opportunity to allow Christ to redeem us and return to the arms of God Himself. When I pray and feel the presence of God, the presence I feel is benevolent, caring, and positive. Because of this, I am convinced that this grand sacrifice was only the down payment in what God has sacrificed for us, because He spends every ounce of His infinite power and knowledge to watch over each of us, provide for each of us, and help each of us find the way back to Him. He only wants what's good for us. He wants us to succeed with all of His heart, and with everything He has. He wants us to be redeemed, and he has already invested too much in us to ever give up on us.
I have a lot more to say on the subject, but in the interest of length, I plan on postponing the rest until next Tuesday. In the meantime, I encourage you, Gentle Reader, to take Joseph Smith's counsel and find out what you can learn about God. I believe that it's a life-long process, but I also believe that it's worth it.
Regards, best wishes, and unshakable faith,