In my previous study I considered how each of us has our own personal beam or mote within the eye. As flawed humans we all have a bias, and as a result see patterns in the world that are not there. However we never see our own biases as biases, we see them as empirical truths, inseparable from the foundations of reality.
If we are lucky, one day we will have our perspective irreconcilably challenged, such that we cannot deny that we were wrong. There are few blessings as wonderful as realizing that we have been wrong. For knowing that we were wrong is a prerequisite to becoming better.
But in that effort to become better some confounding questions arise. Now we know that our personal truths were flawed…how can we have confidence that the next truths we settle on will be any better? If we humans are fundamentally flawed, then are we doomed to just always hold fractured philosophies?
With this study I want to consider how we go from a broken belief system to a sure one. How can be confident in our principles, after we were let down by our previous ones? How can we know when we know rightly? How can we not be paralyzed by the fear that we will still make mistakes even as we try our best? How can we accept the guidance of wise leaders, while also accepting that even wise leaders will have some opinions that are wrong?
My Better Truth
The journey of discipleship is mostly a slow and gradual process. We make a sincere commitment to following our Savior, we make him the central force in our life, and then we incrementally become more aligned to his nature. Slowly our behavior pulls itself into harmony with our conscience, and one day we look back and are amazed at how far he has brought us.
But every now and again the changing of the heart is not so effortless or subtle. At some moments we come to a critical juncture, one that will make a dramatic impact one way or another. For now that we have become improved, and can see more clearly, we finally realize that a long-held pillar of our belief is deeply flawed. Where before it seemed a critical foundation of truth, we now see it as an attempt to shore up our childish misconceptions.
To topple it seems a terrifying prospect, though, as we are uncertain what else might break if we do. Is it possible to let go of a misconception without letting go of everything else along with it? If the rotting wood is a piece of your foundation, what happens when it is removed?
I once faced this very dilemma after I had been cleaning up my soul for nearly a year. With the Lord’s help many layers of grime had been cleaned from my windows, and I was finally starting to see a clearer view of reality. And through them I suddenly came to the realization that maybe God wasn’t the severe and condemning Father I had always made him out to be. I knew the scriptures said “God is love,” but I had always seen Him as “tough love.” He punished me for my own good, I believed. My default prayer always began with “I’m sorry for…”
But now, this image just wasn’t lining up anymore. It didn’t fit with the new God I was discovering, and I felt as though God was hurt that I continued to approach Him in that manner. I was actively becoming a better person, and it didn’t have anything to do with a God who punished me into it. He had been overflowing me with grace, not fear, and that had been what made the change in me.
Was it heresy to let go of the old image of God, to try approaching Him in a different way? A part of me insisted yes, but another part said it had to happen, or else I would be forever limited. And in between those two I was amazed that I simply got to choose. Truth is truth, no matter what, but to align with it is a personal choice.
In the end, I chose the reality that I felt was truer: that of a kind and loving God.
Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock:
And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock.
And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand:
And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it.
A foolish man built his house upon the sand: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it
Sooner or later, we all seem to have a moment in life where the house of cards we carefully built comes crashing down all at once. It could be because of our own folly, or because we put our trust in unworthy sources, or simply due to unforeseen storms. In any case, if we are built something unstable, then there is nothing to catch us as we fall, and so we drop until we hit rock bottom.
And often in these circumstances we don’t even think that there’s any problem until everything falls apart. So long as everything is still standing upright, we believe they always will.
Whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock:
And the rain descended, and the floods came; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock.
The difference between being built upon the rock and being built upon the sand is whether we are built upon our own power, or upon that of a higher being. The simple truth is that we can do our absolute, genuine best….and that just isn’t good enough. That’s not a criticism of any person, it is a fact of being a part of the human race. The last thing we want is to be limited to our own best. Not when His best is an option instead.
Matthew 7:4, Proverbs 21:1, John 18:38
Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye?
Every way of a man is right in his own eyes: but the Lord pondereth the hearts.
Pilate saith unto him, What is truth? And when he had said this, he went out again unto the Jews, and saith unto them, I find in him no fault at all.
How wilt thou say, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye?
Every way of a man is right in his own eyes
I examined in my previous study how each of us is biased and flawed in our own way. Each of us has our personal way of making mistakes. But though this shortcoming applies to us all, we often refuse to see ourselves this way. Most of us tend to see our perspective as being perfectly right, even after receiving evidence to the contrary.
The truth is that we inevitably have limitations and errors in both our observation and our reason. The truth is that we will inevitably misconstrue some things. But instead of accept this, we still assume that we see rightly, and then we warp reality to try and make sense of the insensible.
Pilate saith unto him, What is truth?
Fortunately, we do not have to remain so deluded forever. Some are able to break out of their arrogance and admit their failings. For some of us this will only occur when our mistaken beliefs cause us serious harm, and we are forced to face the fact that we are blind guides, stumbling about in vain.
Having made this admission, we are somewhat enlightened. We are able to admit that we are biased, and unable to discern authentic truth on our own. But then there is a danger of entering another delusion. Like Pilate, we might then become cynical, doubting that there is any such thing as universal truth. If we cannot be entirely sure of what is perfectly right, it is tempting to soothe ourselves with the claim that there is no perfectly right.
Assuming that there is no truth is just as deluded as when we believed we had no fault. We have traded one extreme for another, and are still trying to project our own limited perspective on the rest of the world. There is still a better way.
Numbers 23:19, Mark 10:18
God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent: hath he said, and shall he not do it? or hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good?
And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God.
God is not a man, that he should lie; hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good
And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God.
Previously I spoke of building ourselves on solid foundations, and I have just considered the folly of relying on our own self for that. We have to find external sources that we can trust, ones that we can ever be sure of for support and demonstration.
And as today’s verses illustrate, that reliable source is not found in any human. No person is a perfect foundation to build on. It is good to have friends and it is good to glean from the example of noble souls, but they cannot be the core of our faith. I have come to realize that the greatest value of mentors is simply for them to point the way to God, as He alone can provide that sure foundation.
And that applies to me, too. I am a father, and I want to always be a help and support to my children. But because I am mortal, I know that they will have needs that I cannot provide for, there will be times that I let them down, there will be examples of mine that would lead them astray, and there will be moments where my absolute best just isn’t good enough. If I want to be a good father, I must encourage them to detach their reliance on me, and put it instead on the Lord.
John 5:31-32, 34, 37
If I bear witness of myself, my witness is not true.
There is another that beareth witness of me; and I know that the witness which he witnesseth of me is true.
But I receive not testimony from man: but these things I say, that ye might be saved.
And the Father himself, which hath sent me, hath borne witness of me. Ye have neither heard his voice at any time, nor seen his shape.
If I bear witness of myself, my witness is not true
I have considered how all mortals have a perspective that is subject to bias, how each of us is destined to make flaws in our judgments, and how we believe things that are simply false. Thus, if my testimony comes from my own understanding, then it is not much to rely on. An “Abe Austin original” is not worth much at all. If ever I do manage to say something that is true or wise or edifying, it will be because it came from some other source.
But I receive not testimony from man: but the Father himself, which hath sent me, hath borne witness of me.
As we saw in the first verse, Jesus himself felt that a testimony which emanates only from the self is extremely suspect. If it was only his own claim that he was the Son of God, then that argument wouldn’t hold water. Anyone could say that, and in fact many of the insane have.
But Jesus is not the witness of his own divinity, and he did not ask his disciples to just take his own word for it. It is very significant that his witness of truth came from without himself. It came from the only sure and flawless source: God.
It might seem a bold thing to call out God, Himself, as the witness to the truths you speak, but it is the only testimony that will ever carry weight. It becomes less bold of an idea, though, when we realize we aren’t invoking Him to back up our truths, we are invoking Him to back up His own. If we don’t feel that we can call on Him to stand behind what we’re saying, then maybe what we’re saying isn’t actually from Him, and we should reconsider its validity.
We Hold These Truths to Be Self-Evident
My country was founded on the belief that there are certain truths which do not have to be proven because they are “self-evident.” The assumptions is that a simple examination of them will reveal their inherent rightness, and they were therefore chosen as the fundamental building blocks for all that the nation should pursue and preserve.
But just because a truth is claimed to be “self-evident” does not mean it cannot be disagreed with. The fact is there have been many other nations that have rejected the “self-evident” truths of my own country, and have instead chosen fundamental principles that are totally different.
Indeed this is a common pattern of popular philosophies through the ages. A great many of them claim to be unquestionably true, given that they have been built upon self-evident truths, which will be obvious to anyone who simply regards them. But no matter how confident the author is in the theory, there always follows mass criticism, and the founding precepts of that philosophy are rejected by another competing philosophy. Though it has been claimed that the opening assertions are obvious to everyone, they frankly are not.
Now of course, I do happen to believe that there still are universal, self-evident truths. I believe the injunction to “do unto others as you would have others do unto you” is valid, and self-evidently so. It is perfectly balanced, applies universally, does not discriminate, and perpetuates only an increase of good.
But even though I believe there are universal, self-evident truths, I acknowledge that calling them out is not as simple as one might think. Indeed, self-evident truths are actually very rare and precious, and when one is found it should be considered most sacred.
Colossians 3:23, Ecclesiastes 9:10
And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men;
Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest.
And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men
Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might
We have discussed the inherent difficulty in being completely sure of our convictions. We all have our opinions of what we think is right, but we’re probably not 100% correct on the matter. But it would be wrong, because of that uncertainty, to paralyze ourselves into inaction. We do not have to understand all things perfectly before we begin to move forward. We can simply try our best, even if our best has some flaws right now.
Indeed, this is the pattern advocated for several times in the scriptures, including the two verses shared above. We are meant to act boldly and confidently, we are meant to live our convictions with a passion. Do the best that you know to do now. Do it wholeheartedly.
And then, during that, be open to learning an even better way later on. And when you receive that improvement, then do that wholeheartedly. Thus we are always moving forward, and doing so straighter and straighter the farther we go.
Proverbs 1:5, Philippians 4:18
A wise man will hear, and will increase learning; and a man of understanding shall attain unto wise counsels:
Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.
A wise man will increase learning; and a man of understanding shall attain unto wise counsels
I have just discussed how even if we don’t know how to do everything perfectly, we are still meant to try our best. We should move forward with the definition of “good” as we understand it in the moment, and then be open to improvement and correction as we go. Not only this, but we should even seek out that improvement, looking for mentors to instruct and correct us along our way.
At first we may not feel a need to seek out mentors. We’ll likely find that we already have them by default. With the family we were born with and the friends we came by in our youth, most of us have already put together an entire council to direct us without any conscious thought on the matter.
At some point, though, we ought to take a look at who we are being influenced by, and ask ourselves whether they are worthy to that have power over us. They might be or they might not be. “I’m your father” or “I’ve been your friend since grade school” are not reason enough, they need to have something more.
Whatsoever things are true, honest, just, pure, lovely, of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.
As I’ve chosen which mentors I will hold onto or let go of in life, I have found the qualities mentioned in the verse above to be an excellent guide. I do not just look for mentors that speak about these qualities (there are many who invoke these words without meaning), I look for those that actually live them. I want to be led by people whose good words are matched by the lives they are living. I want to be led by example, not just dictation.
When I find someone whose life is in complete harmony with their principles, when I find someone who has integrity through and through…then I know that I have found someone I can learn from.
Alma 32:28-30, 34
Now, we will compare the word unto a seed. Now, if ye give place, that a seed may be planted in your heart, behold, if it be a true seed, or a good seed, if ye do not cast it out by your unbelief, that ye will resist the Spirit of the Lord, behold, it will begin to swell within your breasts; and when you feel these swelling motions, ye will begin to say within yourselves—It must needs be that this is a good seed, or that the word is good, for it beginneth to enlarge my soul; yea, it beginneth to enlighten my understanding, yea, it beginneth to be delicious to me.
Now behold, would not this increase your faith? I say unto you, Yea; nevertheless it hath not grown up to a perfect knowledge.
But behold, as the seed swelleth, and sprouteth, and beginneth to grow, then you must needs say that the seed is good; for behold it swelleth, and sprouteth, and beginneth to grow. And now, behold, will not this strengthen your faith? Yea, it will strengthen your faith: for ye will say I know that this is a good seed; for behold it sprouteth and beginneth to grow.
And now, behold, is your knowledge perfect? Yea, your knowledge is perfect in that thing, and your faith is dormant; and this because you know, for ye know that the word hath swelled your souls, and ye also know that it hath sprouted up, that your understanding doth begin to be enlightened, and your mind doth begin to expand.
Would not this increase your faith? Nevertheless it hath not grown up to a perfect knowledge
I spoke of how we ought to follow our best understanding, even if it might only be partially correct. Even if there are flaws in our beliefs, we should trust that our intuition is generally in the right direction, and therefore worthy of being pursued.
As this verse suggests, it is not unusual for us to have a faith in what we are following…yet not a perfect knowledge. We are able to say “I believe that this is the truth, and so I will follow it. I might have some parts wrong, or a little off the mark, but I believe that I’m doing what is right.” We have faith, but not yet a testimony.
But behold, as the seed swelleth, and sprouteth, and beginneth to grow, then is your knowledge perfect, and your faith is dormant; and this because you know
Faith does eventually give way to something greater, though. Where at first we only believed, and followed with trust, eventually we can become confident and sure. This we call testimony. And when we have a testimony we testify, not of what we believe, but of what we know. Tomorrow we will consider what it is that takes us from the belief of faith to the knowledge of testimony.
And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.
And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.
And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God
Yesterday I discussed the difference between having faith (believing in something), and having a testimony (knowing of something). Each of us begins with faith first, and it is essential for our growth in discipleship. But each of us also seeks to evolve our faith into a more perfect knowledge.
But what is it that takes us from faith to knowledge? How do we come to really know that something is true, and not merely a personal opinion? How do we gain the sort of conviction that Peter shows in this verse, when he testifies of the divine identity of Jesus?
Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven
The answer is given in Jesus’s response to Peter. Jesus made clear that Peter’s source of truth was not only based on “flesh and blood,” but rather something more.
Now flesh and blood can reveal things to us. Family and friends, even our own minds, might present ideas and teach doctrine, and from their witness we might gain faith and begin following that which we believe to be true. And this is good. But their is a tier above witnesses of flesh and blood, and the surety that comes from it is far greater.
We desire a knowledge that comes neither from us nor any man. A witness directly from God, such as Peter had received.
I have had moments where God spoke a witness to me directly, and in that moment I was more convinced of the truth then than at any other time. I was more convinced by Him than I had been by any family member or friend. Even I was more convinced by Him than I had been by my own self. In that moment I did not believe these things to be true, I knew it.
1 Corinthians 13:13, Luke 22:32
For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.
But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen they brethren.
When thou art converted
I just shared an example from the life of Peter where he was commended for having a testimony of Jesus’s status as the Christ. And yet, while he had this knowledge directly from God, he would later deny the Savior three times in a moment of fear. Though he had a testimony, Jesus still stressed Peter’s need to be more fully converted.
And so it is with each of us. Even after we obtain our first witness from God we still need to become more fully converted.
For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face
Now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known
And perhaps we don’t attain a perfect knowledge for every matter of the gospel in this life. Perhaps some testimonies must wait until we see God face-to-face on the other side of the veil.
And perhaps we only attain moments of pure knowledge, brief experiences where we know the reality of God and His love for us, but then, like holding water in our hands, the experience fades and we have to ask Him to remind us again.
Perfect knowledge is an ever-evasive goal, yet still we strive for it, because just by making the effort we better ourselves every day.
Matthew 10:16, 1 Moroni 7:16-17
Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.
For behold, the Spirit of Christ is given to every man, that he may know good from evil; wherefore, I show unto you the way to judge; for every thing which inviteth to do good, and to persuade to believe in Christ, is sent forth by the power and gift of Christ; wherefore ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of God.
But whatsoever thing persuadeth men to do evil, and believe not in Christ, and deny him, and serve not God, then ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of the devil; for after this manner doth the devil work, for he persuadeth no man to do good, no, not one; neither do his angels; neither do they who subject themselves unto him.
Be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves
Over the course of this study I have noticed that the faithful disciple is expected to live in moderation between two extremes. On the one hand we need to accept that disinformation and false truths are all about us, even within us, and so we must take any mortal testimony with a grain of salt. On the other hand, though, the virtues proscribed in Christianity include qualities like being hopeful and believing, not cold and cynical! So are we expected to be skeptical and trusting?
And as we see in the verse above, this is exactly the counsel Jesus gave to his disciples. They were being sent out as sheep among wolves. So yes, we are to be as wise as serpents, skeptical of any worldly message that hits out conscience the wrong way. But also we are to be harmless as doves, humbly trusting in any divine message that we feel comes from our Father.
For behold, the Spirit of Christ is given to every man, that he may know good from evil
For every thing which inviteth to do good, and to believe in Christ, ye may know it is of God
Whatsoever thing persuadeth to do evil, and believe not in Christ, ye may know it is of the devil
And this brings to mind another virtue that disciples hope to develop: discernment. The closer we draw to our Father, the more we know Him personally, the better we will be at recognizing what messages are spoken in His voice and which ones are not.
We will be able to tell which messages are inviting us to come even closer to Him, and which ones are craftily trying to pull us away. We will be able to cleave fast to the first and firmly reject the second. And in doing this, we will be sure that we stand in the truth.
As I came to the end of my last study I knew that my next topic of research had to be this one. My earlier studies had convinced me of the fact that I was flawed, and prone to all manner of error in opinion and perspective. And while there was an enlightenment in this, it also brought a discomfort to the mind.
For then I felt a vacuum inside of me, and the pull to the other extreme: to be jaded and cynical, disbelieving of all things, rejecting anything that was claimed to be a universal truth. In my heart, this did not feel right either, though. It felt like trading one delusion for another.
But I believed that if I sought I would find, and find the truer perspective in between these two extremes. And in the course of this study I found that to be true. Here are the key principles that I learned.
We Cannot Be Sure of Ourselves)
The first principle was an affirmation of what I was feeling at the end of my last study. I am a human, I am mortal, and I am sure to see the world through an imperfect lens. It is like looking at reality reflected in a fun-house mirror. Some things will be stretched or warped, difficult to make sense of, and prone to faulty conclusions.
There is no great shame in this, because this is the common lot of us all. Each of us has our own, personal wrong way of looking at the world. And because of this, each of our opinions is suspect. Even when we do find universal truths, we are likely to be uncertain of them. We think that they are right, but in and of ourselves we cannot know. Added to that doubt will be the fact that no matter how right they feel to us, they will always be disagreed with by some of our peers.
Now this is not the end of the story, but before moving forward we need to be able to accept this chapter of it. For by embracing this hard truth we are finally able to appreciate the beauty of another: that divine intervention has come to save us from that uncertainty.
Matthew 7:4- Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye?
John 5:31- If I bear witness of myself, my witness is not true
God Can Be Sure)
We are limited because our state is one of being inherently flawed. If we were not flawed, if we were perfect in mind, body and spirit, then when we found a truth we would be sure of it, and would never doubt it. Indeed, part of the tranquility that I believe permeates through heaven is simply the comfort of finally being sure.
We are not such a flawless being, but we do have glimpses of one while here on earth. We feel the love and see the shadow of one who is perfect in mind, body and spirit. Indeed, one of the greatest gifts from God is that just by making His presence known to us we are able to hope for a greater world than our fallen one. Even while we are prone to uncertainty and shifting opinions, we can still believe that there is one out there who does know totally. And even if we do not hold that total knowledge ourselves, it is still a comfort just to know that there is someone out there who does.
And then, when we hear of the the truths that have been revealed by this perfect being, we can cleave to them in faith. Because we’re still flawed we’ll be shaky in our belief at first, just taking His word for it, and not entirely convinced of these precepts ourselves. But still we can trust, and hope, and believe.
Numbers 23:19- God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent: hath he said, and shall he not do it? or hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good?
Matthew 7:24- Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock:
A Personal Witness)
I specifically used the phrase “when we hear of the truths that have been revealed by this perfect being,” because this is how most of us first become acquainted with God’s doctrine: second hand. We hear of them from a parent, a teacher, a friend, a church leader. We are told that this is what God has said, and we can believe it, but…the person that told us this thing could also be wrong. There still remains that layer of doubt.
And frankly, this was my state for all of my childhood and early adult years. And I thought that this was all there was to it. You just trusted, but doubted, but hoped, but were unsure. And in that tug-of-war you just tried to spend more time on the believing side than the doubting. And perhaps this is the pattern for much of life, but there does also exist something more.
For as I have seen, though personal experience, there really are moments of surety. And they do not come when I “hear of the truths that have been revealed” through some second-hand source. They only come when I feel God speak directly to me. In that moment, He not only shares facts with me, He shares His mind and spirit. For a moment I feel I have His perspective, His confidence, and His certainty. In that moment I would say that I know.
For now I’m still learning what the balance is between those brief moments of knowing and all the rest of just believing. Are they bright spots that only occur sporadically, a refresher to strengthen me for the next leg of faith? Do they become more common as I continue in discipleship, until eventually they are the norm? I’m at peace with either, because I’m sure at the end of it all there is an afterlife where I will be always be sure. “Then shall I know even as also I am known” (1 Corinthians 13:12).
John 5:32-34- There is another that beareth witness of me; and I know that the witness which he witnesseth of me is true.
But I receive not testimony from man: but these things I say, that ye might be saved.
And the Father himself, which hath sent me, hath borne witness of me.
Matthew 16:17- And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.