Alma invites us to experiment upon the word, to plant the seed of faith and see if it grows. It reminds me of the first grade bean experiment in which school children put lima beans in wet paper towels against the glass of a jar. Within a few days, the kids can see their beans sprouting.
I have sometimes wondered why the experiment Alma outlined worked so well for me but apparently not for others. I was fortunate in that I was a little bit like Nephi in that I wanted to know the truth of what my father had taught me. And over the years I looked for evidence to support that truth. And I found it. And many other people do, too.
But some others don't seem to. Someone very close to me, whose testimony of the Book of Mormon gave water and sunshine to my own barely sprouting one, finally parted ways with the church while I stayed strong. Another very close friend and I explored young adult questions of history and doctrine together and ended up on different sides of membership in the church. I am not in a position to know the hearts of these two people who still mean a great deal to me. And I suppose there is a possibility that they are right and I am wrong, though frankly I don't entertain that idea.
I've known quite a few young people who have wrestled with questions of faith and felt their pleas have gone unanswered. One told me once that he decided to try a year of inactivity to see if anything bad would happen. When it didn't, he concluded that church activity was not important. (I suggested that it might take longer to see the final results of that experiment, but his mind was made up, at least at the time.) Another, when I suggested he read the Book of Mormon again and put Moroni's promise to the test, told me he'd already read it; why bother reading it again? (I suggested that although he was very bright, there might be things he missed the first time around.)
Most troubling to me are those who claim they cannot get answers to their prayers. And I wonder (and sometimes ask) how long they have prayed, and for what? What in their view constitutes an answer? I think about Mother Teresa, who served the destitute and sick of India for 45 years who confided in her biography that she had felt separated from God for 50 years. And it causes me to wonder what kind of faith held her where she was despite her spiritual loneliness.
In my own life, times of no-answers (and I never had a 50 year stretch) grew into times of faith. Because sooner or later I came back to memories of things I did know, things I had felt, things I had read that were meaningful, uplifting and strength-giving.
Shortly after Oliver Cowdrey arrived in Harmony and began to work with Joseph Smith, he sought a blessing at Joseph's hand. It would not be unthinkable to imagine that he wanted renewed confirmation that he was on the right path, as he sequestered himself with this young prophet engaged in translating an ancient record. His answer in this blessing (after rather specific and pointed testimony of the truth of the work): "Verily, verily, I say unto you, if you desire a further witness, cast your mind upon the night that you cried unto me in your heart, that you might know concerning the truth of these things. Did I not speak peace to your mind concerning the matter? What greater witness can you have than from God?" (D&C 6:22-23).
There is power in remembering our connections to the Divine. They are for me evidence in The Great Experiment of Faith. And I am grateful for them.