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- 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.

COMMENTARY

When thou art converted
Yesterday I 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.

A Surety of Truth- Matthew 16:16-17

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.

COMMENTARY

And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God
Yesterday we 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.

A Surety of Truth- 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.

COMMENTARY

Would not this increase your faith? Nevertheless it hath not grown up to a perfect knowledge
Yesterday 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.

For Our Own Good- Summary

There is a natural aversion to rules that we don’t understand. In our fallen world there are countless examples of laws and rules given to suppress and oppress, to maintain power for tyrants, to be followed without question, no matter how they destroyed the very people that obeyed them. Even if a rule doesn’t seem intended to harm, we still want to know the reasons why we should exert effort to follow it.
And I would say that our need to understand the rules that we follow is actually a good thing, even God-given. Yes, there is a need for following by faith alone, but also God intends for us to dig into the gospel and find answers. He gave us a hunger so that we would work to satiate it with understanding.
But even as we seek understanding, there will necessarily be a period of time before we have received it. From my study I believe there are a few principles which can help us through that intermediary time.

A Healthy View For Ignorance

One of the hardest things can be to admit that we don’t know something. Each of us has been through that unpleasant experience of being spoken to us as if we already understood, when really we did not. It might be in an education or training setting, or someone disclosing their personal feelings, or during a philosophical discussion. It isn’t that we don’t wish to understand, but that we simply don’t. In fact, many times, we don’t even know what it is that we don’t know, or how to put together the question whose answer would unlock our ability to comprehend.
And while the gospel can speak directly to our soul in such a way that no words are necessary, there are still elements of it that are difficult to fully grasp. We are divided beings, after all, one part spiritual and the other part carnal. And that carnal part just “doesn’t get” certain commandments and principles.
Instead of feeling shame for our lack of knowledge, and instead of pretending to understand more than we do, we need to be able to accept that we are ignorant, that all are ignorant in some way or another, and that this is a perfectly acceptable platform to begin our spiritual journey from. But we also need to know and accept that we can learn. Our lack of understanding is not proof that we cannot understand. Perhaps the words don’t click with us now, but one day the feelings will.
2 Nephi 28:30- For behold, thus saith the Lord God: I will give unto the children of men line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little; and blessed are those who hearken unto my precepts, and lend an ear unto my counsel, for they shall learn wisdom; for unto him that receiveth I will give more; and from them that shall say, We have enough, from them shall be taken away even that which they have.
1 Corinthians 2:14- But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.

An Environment for Learning

As mentioned above, we have both a spiritual and a carnal part to us, and the carnal (or natural, as Paul called it) cannot understand that which is spiritual. As a result, the capacity for one to understand the principles of the gospel will be directly tied to how far one dips into a spiritual lifestyle or a carnal one.
The more we surround ourselves with worldly messages, the more we indulge in carnal pleasures, the more we identify ourselves by the flesh, the harder time we are going to have perceiving and comprehending the spiritual. Our understanding will be more and more limited only to carnal understanding. On the other hand, the more we seek messages of spiritual enlightenment, the more we do the things that satiate our conscience, the more we identify ourselves by the entire soul, the more we will accumulate spiritual understanding instead.
Much of being educated is in just putting oneself in an environment of learning. If you wish to develop your sense of music, you should surround yourself with music and those that live in it. If you wish to grow more analytical, you should surround yourself with algorithms and those that solve problems by them. You find a place where you can breathe in its atmosphere, you find mentors, you look for sources that can answer your questions, and you learn by pure osmosis. It is no different with developing a fluency with the soul.
Galatians 3:24-Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.
Ruth 1:16- And Ruth said, Entreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God.

The Blessing of Learning

Finally, let us make clear that this natural ignorance and this difficulty of acquiring knowledge is not a mistake. The fact that we have to work for this understanding is by design. For while it is important for us to learn things, it is even more important for us to simply learn how to learn.
God did not send us here to know everything right from the start. He did not send us here to be perfect from the outset. Rather He sent us broken, flawed, and confused. The reason being that if we already possessed all, we would never develop the wisdom and quality of character that can only come by walking the journey. We would be stagnant, and would not develop ourselves as individuals.
God gave us the blank slate that we start off with, but also the desire to change that state. We feel in our hearts that it is better to know than to not know, and so we chase and pursue, we study and we discover, we invent and we explore. The greatest things we make and do, we make and do because God made us both flawed and self-aware of that flaw. These two qualities are both the fuel and the spark, the power and the catalyst of our great journey. They drive us into defining and becoming who we are and will be. Where they will take us we get to choose, but it will be far.
Ether 12:27-And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.

For Our Own Good- Question

I can see why the commandments of God are often seen by the world as a burden. They do, many times, put restrictions on the things that we would otherwise do. I think it is fair to say that were it not for our conscience, we would all live a far more hedonistic and sensual life, catering to the carnal tastes that are in us all. Thankfully we do have our conscience, though, and as a result, overcome many passions for our own greater good.

But even with the help of our conscience, we inevitably come to another sticking point. Sooner or later we will encounter a commandment which we do not necessarily feel the importance of. Perhaps we totally get why it is wrong to steal and kill, and will gladly restrict ourselves from such behavior, but keeping the sabbath day holy? Living a chaste life? Paying our tithes? If we list out enough commandments, sooner or later each of us will likely find one that just doesn’t resonate in us as much as the others.

What is one to do in such a circumstance? Do we ignore the laws that we don’t understand? Is it possible to gain full benefit for following them in a state of “just going through motions,” where our hearts are not in it? I would like to consider these questions, as well as contemplate why we even come to this conundrum in the first place. In the meantime, I would be curious to hear how you have dealt with the laws that you did not fully understand the reasons for? Did understanding come eventually? If so, what did you have to do to gain it?

Personal Commitment: Month 2

June’s Review)

For June I continued regulating my use of media, and also started a practice of checking in with myself every couple hours, and giving my soul what it needed to remain grounded and connected.

For the first of those goals, I do feel that my media remains in a better balance, though there still comes the occasional indulgence from time-to-time. A pattern that I have recognized in those indulgences is that I am always trying to distract myself with something that is one level less pleasant than what I should be doing. So, for example, if I know that the house needs cleaning, I will try to justify consuming media instead. Whereas if I know I should be getting to task on a difficult patch of work, then suddenly cleaning the house seems very appealing!

In other words, there is a force pushing against responsibility, trying to get me one step lower on the ladder wherever it can. And sometimes I have been able to fight that force, and sometimes I have given in.

The same is true for my two-hour spiritual check-ins. I have not attempted to abandon them altogether, but I do try to “forget” to set the next reminder on my phone, or justify that what my soul really needs right now is to unwind with media…every single time.

The temptation for each of my commitments is to compromise it down just one level. And then one more.

July’s Commitment)

So how do I wish to address this in July? Part of me says: “Life is meant to be spent pushing upstream. Gravity is always there, you just have to stand against its pull forever.” Another part says “Doing right things shouldn’t feel forced. You need to figure out how to get things sorted out in your heart, and then the desire for self-improvement will just flow.”

I think there is some truth to both voices. Life does take grit and determination, but also a paradigm shift can make that which was painful become pleasant.

Something I have noticed is hinge points where suddenly the desire to do good accelerates. Sometimes they come at random, such as when I happen to wake up on the right side of bed, and sometimes they feel deliberate, such as when I make a conscious decision to follow my conscience.

I will always hope and pray for the random moments of spiritual vitality, times where grace lifts me to places I cannot take credit for. But at the same time I can also strive more to be true to my conscience, thus opening the door for God’s light to enter my soul.

Which brings up a question: why do I ever not follow my conscience. And the answer is because I am afraid. I am afraid that if I stop doing the thing that feels important to me, and instead focus on what my conscience directs, that I will miss out on something, or leave something undone, or feel unfulfilled in some way.

My commitment for July, then, is to take a leap of faith. I lack trust that if I just follow my conscience, that things will work out. So let’s focus on that. I’m still keeping my other two commitments to regulate media use and regularly check-in with my soul, but now whenever I feel like giving up ground on those commitments, I am going to ask myself what I am afraid of, and ask myself to exercise a little faith and trust instead.

Thank you.

The Virtue of Remembering- Judges 6:12, 14, 17, 21-22, 25, 27

And the angel of the Lord appeared unto Gideon, and said unto him, The Lord is with thee, thou mighty man of valour. Go in this thy might, and thou shalt save Israel from the hand of the Midianites: have not I sent thee?
And Gideon said unto him, If now I have found grace in thy sight, then shew me a sign that thou talkest with me.
Then the angel of the Lord put forth the end of the staff that was in his hand, and touched the flesh and the unleavened cakes; and there rose up fire out of the rock, and consumed the flesh and the unleavened cakes. Then the angel of the Lord departed out of his sight.
And when Gideon perceived that he was an angel of the Lord, Gideon said, Alas, O Lord God! for because I have seen an angel of the Lord face to face.

And it came to pass the same night, that the Lord said unto Gideon, Throw down the altar of Baal that thy father hath, and cut down the grove that is by it:
Then Gideon took ten men of his servants, and did as the Lord had said unto him: and so it was, because he feared his father’s household, and the men of the city, that he could not do it by day, that he did it by night.

COMMENTARY

The Lord is with thee. Go in this thy might, and thou shalt save Israel: have not I sent thee?
Shew me a sign that thou talkest with me
The entire account of Gideon, in Judges chapters 6-8, is well worth studying for how it shows the man moving from one great act to another, in each step being motivated by the remembrance of the last. Today I have shared snippets just from the very foundation of his campaign.
Here we see God calling Gideon to free the Israelites, and Gideon asking for an assurance which is granted. A small miracle occurs, and it is enough to convince Gideon of his holy calling. The memory of that moment will be fundamental for him moving forward.

And it came to pass the same night, that the Lord said unto Gideon, Throw down the altar of Baal
Then did as the Lord had said unto him: and because he feared his father’s household he could not do it by day, that he did it by night
That very same night, when the memory of the holy encounter would still be fresh in Gideon’s mind, the Lord gives Gideon his first test. Gideon is motivated enough to carry out the task, though he is also still weighed by the fear of the people. He performs the deed in the dead of night when none can witness it, but he does do it.
This, I believe is a turning point for Gideon. Now he does not only have the memory of the angelic visitation, he also has the recollection of he, himself, acting for good, even when it was hard to do.
God uses this same pattern numerous times throughout the scriptures. David faces a lion before Goliath, and Goliath before leading a nation. Abraham is commanded to sacrifice the home of his birth before sacrificing his son. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego hold to their principles of diet before holding to their principles in the furnace.
God is very wise in this pattern of initiating us through a small test of faith. It isn’t just about building up our confidence in Him, it is building our confidence in ourselves. When we reach our hardest times we are preserved by two memories:
1) God is good
2) And so am I

The Virtue of Remembering- John 14:26, Doctrine and Covenants 6:22-23

But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.

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?

COMMENTARY

The Holy Ghost, shall bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you
Did I not speak peace to your mind? What greater witness can you have?
We have seen how many of us begin our path of discipleship by remembering the good that God has done for others, and by that having hope that He will do the same for us. But this is not to be the end of our journey. Each one of us is meant to join the scriptural records with some personal accounts of our own.
Notice how Jesus left his disciples with the promise that they would be able to remember what he, himself, had said to them. All their lives they had had the story of Moses to reflect on, but that was not to be the only pillar of their faith any longer. Now they had their own personal experiences, words of the Savior spoken directly to them, to help sustain them as well.
Peter, James, John and the others had forefathers who had lived by the manna that was sent from heaven. But now Jesus was pointing out to them that they had a manna of their own to take courage from as well.
Each one of us must also come to see how God has nourished us directly, and then hold to the remembrance of that forever after.

The Virtue of Remembering- Hebrews 12:1, 2 Corinthians 3:12 (ESV)

Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us

Since we have such a hope, we are very bold

COMMENTARY

Seeing we are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us run the race before us
Since we have such a hope, we are very bold
Yesterday we considered how Paul inspired the Hebrew saints with the memory of all the miracles that had been done to their ancestors. Immediately after this is his statement from Hebrews 12, that all of these examples of the faithful ought to empower them to be faithful themselves.
Thus Paul used the stories of the Old Testament prophets to inspire those that were familiar with those legends, but to those that were not, such as the saints in Corinth, he instead recalled their own firsthand experience of gaining hope in the message of Christ, and tells them that such faith should make them bold. It is the same message as to the Hebrews, but it is rooted in a different set of memories.
The point is that each of us is given something to start remembering the goodness of God by. For some of us it might be the words of the scriptures that we learned in our youth, for others it is the example of good men and women who pointed us in the right direction, and for others it is the first time that God spoke directly into our hearts. Whatever it is, each of us have something to think back to that inspires us to do great things.