Our Own Reality- The Fifty-Two United States of America

I once spent two years in a country that was foreign to me. While I was there I encountered a bizarre example of misinformation several times, where the locals were convinced that the United States of America had fifty-two states.

Whenever I encountered this belief I tried to convince them that there were still only fifty states, but to no avail. I mentioned that there were several territories that were also a part of the USA, and that perhaps they had been hearing about a couple of those? They insisted not, it was two full-fledged states had just recently been added, and perhaps I hadn’t heard about it yet. I said that two states were added a few decades ago (Alaska and Hawaii), bringing it from forty-eight to fifty, perhaps they had heard about that and thought it was a recent event? They said no, they were sure. It was fifty before, plus two more, now fifty-two.

In the end it didn’t matter very much. I don’t feel personally offended if someone thinks there are two more states to my country than there actually are. Eventually I just stopped discussing the matter altogether.

It was a curious lesson in human nature, though. It did not matter that I was a native of the United States of America, a citizen that had been educated in its history and geography for years, and was being kept abreast of current events. For though I was a local in the USA, in this land I was the foreigner, and thus my perspective was suspect. In a case of he-said-she-said, we tend to side with the individual that we are personally closer to, regardless of whether their stance is as well-founded as the other.

And I have no delusions about the fact that my own opinions and beliefs are also molded by my culture’s biases. I am sure there are many things that I take as a matter of fact, which are absolutely wrong. In fact, I have a personal example of how I came to be corrected in one of those misconceptions just a few years ago. I’ll share that, and the lessons that I learned from it, tomorrow.

Our Own Reality- 2 Kings 6:14-17, Numbers 22:31-33

Therefore sent he thither horses, and chariots, and a great host: and they came by night, and compassed the city about.
And when the servant of the man of God was risen early, and gone forth, behold, an host compassed the city both with horses and chariots. And his servant said unto him, Alas, my master! how shall we do?
And he answered, Fear not: for they that be with us are more than they that be with them.
And Elisha prayed, and said, Lord, I pray thee, open his eyes, that he may see. And the Lord opened the eyes of the young man; and he saw: and, behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha.

Then the Lord opened the eyes of Balaam, and he saw the angel of the Lord standing in the way, and his sword drawn in his hand: and he bowed down his head, and fell flat on his face.
And the angel of the Lord said unto him, Wherefore hast thou smitten thine ass these three times? behold, I went out to withstand thee, because thy way is perverse before me:
And the ass saw me, and turned from me these three times: unless she had turned from me, surely now also I had slain thee, and saved her alive.

COMMENTARY

And the Lord opened the eyes of the man; and he saw: and the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha
Then the Lord opened the eyes of Balaam, and he saw the angel of the Lord standing in the way, and his sword drawn in his hand
If we cannot see the divine reality around us, then the behavior of those that do might seem like insanity. Like a prophet who has no care for the armies assembled against him, or a donkey that repeatedly turns from its path. It can be easy to only accept the worldly reality that we physically perceive, observe that the behavior of those who are spiritual are not in harmony with that reality, and simply reject them out of hand.
But of course, if the spiritual are observing another real reality, then it is our behavior that is then erratic and insane.
To be sure, there are such things as mirages and false paradigms and genuine insanity. There are perceived realities that others others hold which are not real. We should not believe every report that we are given. But we should be humble enough to suppose that we might not see everything as it really is. We should be open to the idea that perhaps we still have a need for our eyes to be opened.

Our Own Reality- Alma 18:24-30, 33

And Ammon began to speak unto him with boldness, and said unto him: Believest thou that there is a God?
And he answered, and said unto him: I do not know what that meaneth.
And then Ammon said: Believest thou that there is a Great Spirit?
And he said, Yea.
And Ammon said: This is God. And Ammon said unto him again: Believest thou that this Great Spirit, who is God, created all things which are in heaven and in the earth?
And he said: Yea, I believe that he created all things which are in the earth; but I do not know the heavens.
And Ammon said unto him: The heavens is a place where God dwells and all his holy angels.
And king Lamoni said: I believe all these things which thou hast spoken. Art thou sent from God?

COMMENTARY

And he answered, and said unto him: I do not know what that meaneth.
Yea, I believe that he created all things which are in the earth; but I do not know the heavens.
Previously we considered the example of King Agrippa, who was “almost” converted by the testimony of Paul. Here we see the example of another king taught by a missionary: King Lamoni.
King Lamoni was very ignorant of the gospel being shared with him, even of its most basic tenets. His reality up to this point had been very different from what Ammon was teaching, and for each of us it is far easier to hold to the realities we already have than to let go and embrace something new. Objects at rest tend to stay at rest after all.

And king Lamoni said: I believe all these things which thou hast spoken.
Yet it is possible to change or paradigms. Sometimes a new philosophy strikes our hearts as simply being too true to deny. Sometimes our prior perspectives bring us to rock bottom, and we have to enact an intervention just to survive.
For whatever reason, King Lamoni was ready to embrace the new gospel being shared with him. No matter how strange or alien it must have sounded, he felt the truth of it nonetheless. In his quiet simplicity he was willing to do what King Agrippa was not.

Our Own Reality- Acts 26:26-29

For the king knoweth of these things, before whom also I speak freely: for I am persuaded that none of these things are hidden from him; for this thing was not done in a corner.
King Agrippa, believest thou the prophets? I know that thou believest.
Then Agrippa said unto Paul, Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian.
And Paul said, I would to God, that not only thou, but also all that hear me this day, were both almost, and altogether such as I am, except these bonds.

COMMENTARY

King Agrippa, believest thou the prophets? I know that thou believest.
Then Agrippa said unto Paul, Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian.

We do not know all that went through King Agrippa’s heart during Paul’s sermon, but this passage suggests that he could have become a believer…if he would have let himself. For some reason he felt that he couldn’t, though. Whether it was lingering personal doubts, the pressure of his country, or some other influence that we do not know, he could have accepted this reality, but a part of him would not allow it.
Very often we don’t consider the reality we believe as being a choice. We say that we just believe what we believe, and don’t believe what we don’t, and there is no conscious decision in that. But if we aren’t in charge of our own paradigm, then who is?
Certainly we are subject to predispositions and influence and conditioning for our beliefs. Certainly there are some paradigms that are too radical for us to accept right away. Certainly it is far easier to maintain our current view of reality than to adopt another. But none of this denies the fact that we can choose what we believe. And King Agrippa could have chosen to be converted.

Our Own Reality- Moses 1:9-10, John 4:9

Then saith the woman of Samaria unto him, How is it that thou, being a Jew, askest drink of me, which am a woman of Samaria? for the Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans.
Jesus answered and said unto her, If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink; thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water.

And the presence of God withdrew from Moses, that his glory was not upon Moses; and Moses was left unto himself. And as he was left unto himself, he fell unto the earth.
And it came to pass that it was for the space of many hours before Moses did again receive his natural strength like unto man; and he said unto himself: Now, for this cause I know that man is nothing, which thing I never had supposed.

COMMENTARY

How is it that thou askest drink of me? for the Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans
The woman at the well had an understood reality: that Jews hated the Samaritans, and would have nothing to do with them. Thus her confusion when that reality was disrupted by Christ’s willingness to converse with her.
However this was just the beginning of the new realities that she was about to become acquainted with. For as we see in the next verse, Jesus then began to open her mind to the notion of living water. This is a reality that she struggles with initially, confusing it with a literal water, and not a spiritual nourishment. Bit-by-bit Jesus has to guide her through the first steps into this strange new world.

Now, for this cause I know that man is nothing, which thing I never had supposed
After his encounter with the Lord, Moses found his reality disrupted as well. Each of us is by default well acquainted with the reality of earth life, in which man is the highest form of existence. And while the reality of earth life is real, it is not the only reality that is real. There is also a heaven, a God, and in that broader reality man is a very small thing indeed.
Like the woman at the well, stepping into the greater reality might be awkward at first. Like Moses, we might find that doing so requires accepting uncomfortable facts, such as our own nothingness. But the greater reality is real and it is greater. It is only to our own benefit that we make the transition.

Our Own Reality- Alma 30:17, Helaman 4:13

And many more such things did he say unto them, telling them that there could be no atonement made for the sins of men, but every man fared in this life according to the management of the creature; therefore every man prospered according to his genius, and that every man conquered according to his strength; and whatsoever a man did was no crime.

And because of this their great wickedness, and their boastings in their own strength, they were left in their own strength; therefore they did not prosper, but were afflicted and smitten, and driven before the Lamanites, until they had lost possession of almost all their lands.

COMMENTARY

But every man fared prospered according to his genius, conquered according to his strength
And because of their boastings in their own strength, they were left in their own strength
To the ancient Nephites a false prophet came, denying the existence of Christ, and teaching the people that reliance upon God was foolhardy. Korihor taught that each person had only him- or herself to depend on. If you were to succeed or fail was entirely up to you, and you alone.
As the people came to embrace this philosophy, it actually became a self-fulfilling prophecy. Having rejected God, they became Godless. Having insisted upon relying on their own strength only, they were left to their own strength only. Thus, in a sense they were absolutely right in their beliefs. By denying the existence of God, they ensured that in essence He would not exist (for them).
Of course we cannot change eternal truths by our opinions, we do not have that power. But we do have power over the individual experience of our lives. We have the ability to invite or reject divine intervention. We have the ability to put up or break down walls. We can make our portion of the world a place that is hopeful and blessed, or we can make it into a place that is cynical and isolated. Given that we have this power, we ought to take great care in which reality we are electing for ourselves.

Our Own Reality- Question

There are eternal truths which we are powerless to revert. Things that will always be, and do not require our agreement to be so. However there are also things that we do get to choose about our reality. Thus if God exists, He just exists, and we cannot turn that off…but we can still elect to live a “Godless” life even so.

Indeed it is our common pattern to make up our minds about what we believe to be true, and then find the world reinforcing our opinions at every turn. Almost every situation is able to be construed to support both my reality, and also the exact opposite reality. The same event can be seen as proof that miracles are real and also as proof that only coincidences are.

With this study I would like to consider how we navigate this balance of truth vs personal lens. How do we tell the difference between God telling us something, and us just reaffirming what we want to hear? To what extent are we allowed to create our own reality, and what are the eternal verities that exist regardless of our opinion?

I’d be curious to hear how you have navigated between opinion and truth in your own life. How do you know when you stand on a foundation that is not just your own self? How do you answer those who would impose their reality over your own? How do you, in turn, share your truth without trying to force it upon others?