A Surety of Truth- Summary

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.

A Surety of Truth- 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.

A Surety of Truth- Question

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?

I would be curious to see how you have dealt with these conundrums in your own life? How do you avoid crippling yourself with doubts? Have you ever had to reconstruct your beliefs after one of your pillars was toppled? What is the core foundation of your belief system now?

Who Am I?- Luke 4:3, 13; Matthew 16:13-14; Mark 6:3; Matthew 26:63, 65; John 18:33

And the devil said unto him, If thou be the Son of God, command this stone that it be made bread.
And when the devil had ended all the temptation, he departed from him for a season.

When Jesus came into the coasts of Cæsarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, Whom do men say that I the Son of man am?
And they said, Some say that thou art John the Baptist: some, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets.

Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, the brother of James, and Joses, and of Juda, and Simon? and are not his sisters here with us? And they were offended at him.

But Jesus held his peace. And the high priest answered and said unto him, I adjure thee by the living God, that thou tell us whether thou be the Christ, the Son of God.
Then the high priest rent his clothes, saying, He hath spoken blasphemy; what further need have we of witnesses? behold, now ye have heard his blasphemy.

Then Pilate entered into the judgment hall again, and called Jesus, and said unto him, Art thou the King of the Jews?

COMMENTARY

And the devil said unto him, If thou be the Son of God…
And when the devil had ended all the temptation, he departed from him for a season.

In the account of Jesus’s temptations in the desert, twice the nature of his divine identity is brought under attack. Satan tries to stir doubt that Jesus really is who he is, and goads him into proving hos holy sonship.
It is an ingenious ploy, for to rise to the challenge and prove that he really was the son of God, would be for Jesus to reveal that he actually had an insecurity about it. If you really know that you are who you are, you don’t need to prove it to anyone.
Jesus resists the temptations, and finishes the encounter safe and secure. Surely, though, this was not the end of the his and the devil’s duel. Indeed, the entire exchange finishes with the telling phrase “he departed from him…for a season.”

Whom do men say that I the Son of man am? And they said, Some say that thou art John the Baptist: some, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets.
Is not this the carpenter?
Tell us whether thou be the Christ, the Son of God….He hath spoken blasphemy; what further need have we of witnesses?
Art thou the King of the Jews?

In fact, a review of the gospels readily proves that the assault on Jesus’s identity was far from over. Many times the claims of his divine sonship was challenged, questioned, and rejected.
People tried to tell him that he was a carpenter, a devil, a blasphemer, a prisoner. Even those that probably meant well mislabeled him as John the Baptist, or some other prophet. At one time Jesus remarked that even his own disciples did not know who he really was (John 14:9).
Satan knew that Jesus’s entire mission could be broken if he could get the Savior to question who he really was. If he could make Jesus unsure, even once, he would be defeated.
But Jesus was sure.

What Chance Do I Have?- Isaiah 28:10, Matthew 6:34

For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little:

Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.

COMMENTARY

Precept upon precept; line upon line
It is easy when reading the stories of the saints to wonder how you could ever measure up to their great example. But it isn’t fair to compare yourself at the beginning of your journey to them at their end. Moses was not born as a prophet and lawgiver, he spent nearly a full lifetime growing into that role. Young Moses might not have been ready to stand up to the entire Egyptian nation and rescue all of the Hebrews…but he was ready to stand up to one soldier who was beating one Jew (Exodus 2:11-12).
So long as you are fighting down complacency and actively progressing, then it is alright to not yet be able to do all things. Just take it one line at a time.

Take therefore no thought for the morrow. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.
I think the fear that we might fall away is simply the recognition that we are not yet ready to bear all things. And that is true, we are still unfinished vessels. But God is not going to ask the world of you today.
There is such a thing as preparing for the future, but there is also such a thing as fretting over things unnecessarily. You do not have to succeed today in tomorrow’s trials. If you do not feel ready to face a sacrifice like Abraham’s, that is fine. Simply ask if you are ready to face the sacrifices that are actually before you right now. I have found that I always am.

What Chance Do I Have?- Matthew 28:19-20, Philippians 4:13, Joshua 1:9

Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:
Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.

I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.

Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest.

COMMENTARY

Go ye and teach all nations, and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.
The very last passage in Matthew is that of the Savior calling his disciples to spread the gospel to all the world. It was a joyful call, but also one that was fraught with danger. Many of the disciples would ultimately lose their lives for this cause.
How does Jesus encourage and inspire them in this great undertaking? How does he give them confidence that they can even succeed? With the assurance that they will not be doing this work alone, he will be with them…always…even to the end of the world.

I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me
Be not afraid, neither dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest

When we consider the challenge of discipleship, we may very well doubt that we can meet its demands. Yes, we have what it takes to try…but to succeed? Going back to the original question of this research: what chance do I, as I am, have of remaining forever faithful? Well… none.
But what chance does Christ have of remaining faithful forever?
All.
So long as we think that we have to maintain our faith on our own, then our fears of failure are completely warranted. We won’t be able to do it! But if we accept that he will be the one strengthening and preserving us, then any fear is completely unfounded. Our success is guaranteed. The only question, then, is on which foundation are you building: yourself, or him?

What Chance Do I Have?- 2 Timothy 1:7, John 14:27

For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.

Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.

COMMENTARY

For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power
Peace I leave with you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid
It might be natural for us to try and weigh the odds of our remaining faithful, to question whether we have the “right stuff” and can hold out valiant. But such a spirit of uncertainty is not divinely approved. Many a soul runs into trouble when they start to question if they have the capacity to be good, creating for themselves a self-fulfilling prophecy of failure. Rather we are reminded that God gives a spirit of power, and of peace.
We are commanded to be faithful in all things (1 Timothy 3:11). Most often we speak of being faithful as being loyal, but the composition of the word literally means “full of faith.” And included among the “all things” that we should have full faith in…is ourselves. When I feel God’s spirit I feel a confidence in myself, an assurance that I am made in His image and that I am good. That isn’t to say that I don’t need help, only that I know God believes in me, so I should, too. The “right stuff” is in me, I don’t need to worry about that. I just need to get out of its way and let it shine forth.

What Chance Do I Have?- Question

One day I considered the records we have of faithful disciples who eventually fell away from the gospel, and it made me wonder if I might ever do the same. I have no intention of ever abandoning my faith…but then that seems to be true of so many that do. And to be clear, I’m not talking about halfhearted disciples who were never invested in the message of the gospel, and unsurprisingly sifted out over time. I am speaking of spiritual giants, ones who it appears had so much more depth of spirit than I ever have, yet somehow still lost their grasp on it.

Judas walked with the living Savior, Solomon was blessed with the wisdom of God, nine of the ten lepers had their bodies restored by a miracle, Lucifer was a son of heaven. These were the elite, the greatly blessed, the glorified…and still they fell. If even these were subject to gravity, then how can I ever hope to defy it?

In times past I have thought up some answers to these questions, but I would like to take a formal study to see what deeper insights the scriptures can provide. The gospel is one of hope, and so I am convinced that I can find the encouragement I need to address this concern.

In the meantime I would be curious to hear if you have ever had thoughts like these? How do you maintain confidence in self, even in the midst of stumbling? What do you think the key difference between disciples that fall and disciples that hold firm is? How do you keep yourself among the latter?

Seeking Spiritual Witnesses- Personal Example

Of all the reasons why God’s children seek witnesses from Him, surely one of the most common is to know if He is even real. As small children we are able to accept the existence of God on authority, but over time we start to require greater proof. If I have not seen it, then how am I supposed to know that it is real?

We especially require greater proof if the thing is doubted by others. I have never seen Australia, but I have never met anyone that disputes its existence, so I don’t really struggle to believe that it exists. The existence of God, however, is most certainly disputed, and so a child that used to believe in Him without question, now wants a reason to continue doing so.

The trouble, of course, is that if you ask God if He is real and you do not receive an answer…have you received an answer? Is silence proof of non-existence? No, you cannot prove a negative.

A common next step is to say “well, I can only be expected to wait for an answer for so long. God, you need to tell me that you’re out there by this date, or else I’m out of here.” One might even have specific stipulations for how they need to be answered. “People in the Bible saw angels, so I want to see them, too.”

If God knows my heart, and this is what my heart needs to believe in Him, then surely He will meet me on those terms, right?

Well…no. If we cannot be faithful unless He manifests in the way that we want Him to manifest, then why would he do so? To win a conditional follower? A relationship does not work with stipulations like “speak to me, but only say these words.”

I have seen these frustrations in others, and I have felt them in myself. In my personal experience, “I will follow you if…” has never worked with God. That simply is not what He’s about.

What did work for me was deciding that I could follow Him in some ways whether or not He showed me that He was real. I wasn’t necessarily ready to do everything, but I could do some things. Thus I put forth an unconditional faith. It was small, but it was real. And when I did, He was willing to give me a witness of His existence. It was a witness that came on His terms and in His own way, but it was real.

What Sort of Disciple Are You? -Question

Whichever belief system you subscribe to, are you a good one? Do you believe in it wholeheartedly? In my youthful years I was convinced that I was as devout a disciple as there could be! Later I came to appreciate how little I really knew in my heart. This moment of self-doubt led me to explore my faith, and I would say that as I result I am a stronger disciple now than when I was young…though also far more tempered in how I describe that spiritual strength.

Of course there are also those that think they are weak in their faith, but when tested are surprised at how well it holds. Also there are those that are a disciple in name only, openly admitting that they don’t really follow the teachings they have been given.

Honest self-appraisal is the first step towards changing oneself, and no matter how positive or negative the outcome of that appraisal, one is progressing just by having done it. So long as one remains deluded about the convictions of their own soul, there is nothing for them to do. With this study I’d like to consider how we can take an honest inventory of ourselves, and work on what we find.

In the meantime, I’d love to hear from you about the development of your own spiritual maturity. What dramatic shifts have you had in your perceptions of your faith-commitment? What events caused you to see yourself more clearly? How did that awareness enable to you to reach for something more?