A Surety of Truth- 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.

COMMENTARY

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.

Our Own Reality- Summary

One of the reasons this study occurred to me was the deep conflict of opinions I have seen in the world recently. People has always found it simpler to vilify those that embrace a different reality from their own, rather than accept that “the other side” might have legitimate reasons for the reality that they perceive.

In my experience, though, the first step to improving world problems is to consider one’s own failings in that regard. Before I can try to bridge the gap between other peoples’ realities, I have to be able to understand my own reality, the reasons why I hold it, and whether it is valid. Because yes, some of my perspectives have been detached from truth, and I’ll never be the one to judge right from wrong until I have taken any beams out of my own eye first.

In this study I considered ways to recognize truth from error, how to correct my flaws, and how to know when I stand on truer ground. Here are a few of the principles I learned along the way.

Reality is Personal

The first thing I have come to realize is that the reality I perceive is far from objective. It is extremely biased. In fact I tend to view the world with the same lens as the one I view myself with. Thus the entire world becomes a place of deceit and suspicion when I am hiding personal shame, and the entire world becomes a place of potential and grace when I am forthcoming.
But of course coming to this realization is a tricky thing to do. Most often we deny that there is any bias to our perspective whatsoever. Our perspective, we maintain, is one based on common sense, the natural truth that anyone can see for themselves if they would just look. And anyone that disagrees with it must therefore be delusional or a liar, for they are denying fundamental truth.
Taken to the most extreme, we feel a deeply personal attack whenever another disagrees with our perspective, and then there is no greater cause than to get them to understand just how very, very wrong they are.
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?
Proverbs 21:2- Every way of a man is right in his own eyes: but the Lord pondereth the hearts.

A More True Personal Truth

Fortunately, there is a way to live other than in this war of isolated realities. Because the way we view the external world is based on how we view our inner self, we can cultivate a truer perspective by first cultivating a truer inner self. In fact, putting our focus on the self first is the only way we’ll ever achieve a proper view of the world.
So if I want to see reality in a way that is objectively true, I need to cease living as a contradiction. Not only a contradiction in how what I do differs from what I say, but also in how what I do and say differs from what I think and feel. In short, I need to live with integrity.
The more aligned I become with that spark of divinity God put in me, the more I am living in harmony with my conscience, the more I am consistent in every facet of life, the more I will start to see the world in a way that is actually true. I will start to see the world the same way that God sees it.
Matthew 7:5- Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.
Psalm 24:3-4- Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? or who shall stand in his holy place?
He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart; who hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity, nor sworn deceitfully.

Reality as a Choice

And so the reality we hold is ultimately a matter of choice, not of chance. It is a matter of choice in that the environment we choose, the sources we listen to, and the patterns we implement will all bleed into how we view the world. Whether we choose those thoughtfully or not, still we are choosing. And if we don’t make a conscious choice of it, then we are making an unconscious choice, one that is heavily influenced, and influenced by others that do not necessarily have our best interests at heart.
But also there is another way in which we choose our reality, too. For while our perspectives are usually altered slowly and imperceptibly, there are also key moments where we make a dramatic and conscious decision for what reality we will pursue.
These might come after our daily practices have softened our hearts to the point that we can accept a reality we had previously been averse to. It might come when we encounter a testimony that moves us powerfully, and makes us reconsider other long-held beliefs. These are critical junctures in life, and though we might make up all manner of reasons in them to not follow our conscience, we must be true to our better nature or else our growth will come to a stop.
Acts 26:27-28- King Agrippa, believest thou the prophets? I know that thou believest.
Then Agrippa said unto Paul, Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian.

Alma 18:24, 33- And Ammon began to speak unto him with boldness, and said unto him: Believest thou that there is a God?
And king Lamoni said: I believe all these things which thou hast spoken. Art thou sent from God?

Our Own Reality- Proverbs 21:2

Every way of a man is right in his own eyes: but the Lord pondereth the hearts.

COMMENTARY

Every way of a man is right in his own eyes: but the Lord pondereth the hearts
Yesterday we considered the fact that those of us with obscured vision still believe that we see the truth perfectly. It is easy to make the assumption that if other people have wrong views, and our views are different from them, then our views must inherently be right. But that is a logical fallacy.
How then, when our perspective is genuinely clear and correct, do we even know that it is so? How are we to know when we see the truth that we even are doing so?
That is a whole other topic of study worth exploring. For now, though, I’ll settle with the second half of the verse I’ve quoted. We will know that we have finally the right perspective when it is not our own perspective anymore, but His.

Our Own Reality- 1 Corinthians 13:4-7, Mark 7:21-23

Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up,
Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil;
Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth;
Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.

For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders,
Thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness:
All these evil things come from within, and defile the man.

COMMENTARY

Charity suffereth long, and is kind, rejoiceth in the truth, beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things
For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, wickedness, deceit, all these evil things come from within, and defile the man.
That which is within us comes out. If we are filled with defilement then we frame the world with evil thoughts and act in selfishness for our own gain. But if we are filled with charity then we frame the world with hope and act with kindness. If we are filled with corruption we will see all around us as corrupted. But if we are filled with love we will see all around us as beautiful.
In either case, the reality we perceive is merely the outward manifestation of who we are within. Thus the way we view the world says much more about ourselves than it does about the world.

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.

Count Your Blessings- Summary

This proved to be an excellent couple of weeks for me to study the notion of counting one’s blessings. This period has been full of many little rises and falls to my mood, as small things have continually come along both to aggravate and delight me. What I have learned from all this is just how fickle my sense of gratitude can be. When times turn even slightly up I praise God, when times turn even slightly down I have no interest in Him.
Feeling both sides of the coin, I have been able to consider why it is difficult to count my blessings at times. For me it is due to a sense of wounded pride, an indignation at sweeping away the hurt and saying all is well. But I have further discovered that that is not what counting one’s blessings is about at all. It is about dispelling a momentary fiction with the reality of truth.
Indeed, though at times it is difficult to lean into grateful retrospection, during these past two weeks I have felt markedly improved each time that I managed to do so. So let’s take a look at what it really means to count one’s blessings, and why it matters.

We Live in a State of Ever-Changing Fiction

When it rains it pours. Though our lives are usually mixed with elements that are both good and bad, we usually grab onto just one of those elements and shade all the rest by it. If we are struck most by something in our lives that is good, then we perceive every wrong thing as slight and forgettable. If we are struck most by something that is bad, then we perceive every good thing as hollow. We tally up only one side or the other at a time. Either I have seven things that make me feel so blessed right now, or else I have nine things that are leaving me down in the dumps.
One practice of meditation is to separate the different parts of one’s self and see each as being in its own unique state. Thus I might be feeling physically exhausted and emotionally depressed, but spiritually cared for. Absent this more granular awareness I might simply say that overall I feel “bad-ish,” which is not the greater truth.
It is understandable for us to live with a fickle mood, it is the common nature of us all. But if we are ever to live as dependable, steady beings, then we need to accept the fact that how we feel in the moment is probably not the truest expression of things as they really are.
James 1:8- A double minded man is unstable in all his ways.
3 Nephi 13:24- No man can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will hold to the one and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and Mammon.

We Might Be Fickle, but There Are Permanent Things

It is true that the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away, but in my experience He tends to do one of those more than the other. So many of the truly important blessings in life are the ones that are with us forever. Our very existence, for example, is a gift from God, and one that we are assured will continue forever. It may change its state through the grave and the resurrection, but still we remain an ongoing identity. This is a permanent thing, one that is left unaffected by whether I am having a “good day” today or a “bad one.”
Love is another eternal gift. Both the love that God ever holds to us, and the love that He means to help us cultivate in ourselves. Existence is already a wonderful blessing, but all the more so when it can be paired with eternal love. Even if the woes of the moment temporarily darken us from being able to perceive the love of God, yet it is sill there even so. It is only a matter of breaking through the mold before we can perceive that eternal stream once more.
And when we are learn how to never be darkened and always perceive that eternal love, then we also discover the gift of eternal happiness. For living in the love of God is always an experience of joy. It takes time, even a long time, even so long that we may not find it until the next life; but eventually we can find out this great secret of how to forever live, love, and be happy.
Jeremiah 31:3- The Lord appeared to him from far away. I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.
John 3:16-For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

A Brighter View of Life is Truer

In the end, there must be one permanent reality. On the one hand it could be that there forever remains a mixture of happiness and sorrow, the same as we perceive now, one side never fully overthrowing the other. On the other hand, it could be that one of these sides will eventually prevail over the other, either plunging the world into constant misery, or else reclaiming it to a state of constant joy. We have had it proclaimed to us that this mixed reality is only a transitory state, and that after it does come a totality: a sweeping victory for goodness and joy.
Those that believe this to be true are inherently optimistic, and hold to those undercurrents of eternal good: life, love, and joy. To hold this sort of optimism is not to blindly ignore the pain of today. It does not require us to turn a deaf ear to the hurts happening around us. It does not preclude us from mourning our temporary losses. It is only to recognize that after this time of very real sadness, there still comes an eternity of even realer joy.
I think where most of us go astray with counting our blessings is when we start listing out the transitory, worldly goods that we enjoy: a new car, a roof over heads, and not having lost one’s job. These are good things, we should be grateful for them, but the deeper, abiding peace will only come when we start counting the infinite goods as well.
Isaiah 54:10- For the mountains shall depart, and the hills be removed; but my kindness shall not depart from thee, neither shall the covenant of my peace be removed, saith the Lord that hath mercy on thee.
Matthew 24:35- Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.
Psalm 102:26-27- They shall perish, but thou shalt endure: yea, all of them shall wax old like a garment; as a vesture shalt thou change them, and they shall be changed: But thou art the same, and thy years shall have no end.

Count Your Blessings- Luke 1:46-49; Psalm 86:10, 12-13

And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord,
And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.
For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden: for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.
For he that is mighty hath done to me great things; and holy is his name.

For thou art great, and doest wondrous things: thou art God alone.
I will praise thee, O Lord my God, with all my heart: and I will glorify thy name for evermore.
For great is thy mercy toward me: and thou hast delivered my soul from the lowest hell.

COMMENTARY

My spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour. For he that is mighty hath done to me great things
I will praise thee, Lord, for great is thy mercy: thou hast delivered my soul from the lowest hell
After Mary was given the calling to be the mother of God she took to praising Him for it. The Psalmist, too, was well versed in recalling the many blessings he had received, and giving God glory for them.
Of course Mary had prepared for her holy station by the way she lived a pure life, and the Psalmist had shown how brave he was, facing down giants in the name of the Lord. They had unquestionably done many good things, and arguably therefore deserved good thing. Even so, both of them acknowledged that what God had done for them had left them in awe. It wasn’t just good, it was incomprehensibly, abundantly good.
These two Saints remind us that you can be a good person, even a great person, and still acknowledge that God has made you what you are. You can accomplish wonderful things, wield powerful talents, and still hold on to your humility. For the great among us are the greatly blessed, and it behooves them to remember that fact.
When life has been good, when blessings have flowed richly, I have felt that temptation to say “look what I have done.” I have had the urge to praise myself, even when the gifts being given I had done literally nothing to obtain. At times like these I have had to remind myself that even my ability to breathe and continue in life should be considered a blessing. And everything beyond just breathing and living should be considered a blessings as well. In short, all things should be counted among my blessings.