Discussing Spiritual Differences- Summary

The idea of how to share the gospel message with others has been a recurring theme on this blog. I guess I have many questions about how to negotiate that intersection of living a godly life and living as a cooperative member of society.
Wanting to share the gospel in a socially kind way isn’t only about avoiding unpleasant tension, it is also essential to presenting your message in the light that was always intended to accompany it. You simply do not become a good missionary without first learning how to be a good brother or sister to your fellowman.
This study helped me to reiterate some of the ideas I’ve had on the subject before and also gave rise to some new ones. Here are some of the core concepts that stood out to me from my research.

Come to Your Own Knowledge)

First and foremost, you cannot properly testify of what you do not personally know. Testimonies that come from a place of “or so I’ve been told” are unhelpful to everyone involved. A testimony is not what you think and it’s certainly not what you’ve been told, it is what you have come to actually gain a knowledge of for your own self.
But most of us are terrified by the idea of admitting when we do not know something. Everyone has an answer to every moral question, even when they haven’t given the matter any prior thought. And I know that this game of pretended knowledge occurs because I have played it myself. I have spoken as if I had a sure confidence when I really didn’t. And I have seen enough to know I am not the only one that has done so. There are pretenders everywhere.
And there is no point in considering the question of how to testify of good and renounce evil unless we have first come to truly know what is right. To be able to testify with power you must be able to testify with confidence. You have to be able to believe your own words before you can expect anyone else to. And if you don’t really know what you’re talking about, then set aside the question of testifying for a time and focus instead on just coming to really, really know.
Matthew 15:14- Let them alone: they be blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch.
Alma 32:34- 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.

Wake Up the World)

But bit-by-bit one can come to know what they’re talking about. Not all at once, not the entire whole as a single piece, but gradually one can come to be sure that faith yields fruit, that repentance yields cleansing, that sacrifice yields humility, and that following God yields true happiness. Even before one can testify of all things they are able to testify of some.
And not only are they able to testify, they must! For there is already such false confidence given to hurtful philosophies that many men and women are left confused and derailed. When one awakens to the truth one sees how much untruth is being championed as fact. And untruth actively causes harm, it is sure to hurt the lives of those that abide by it.
One cannot idly sit back when these realities become apparent. We must try to help those in harm’s way, even if it means speaking with such boldness that some will become angry at us. We are compelled to renounce the lies and champion the truth. Not because we wish to condemn our brothers and sisters who are deluded, but because we love them and we want to help them.
Matthew 5:14- Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid
Acts 4:29-30- And now, Lord, behold their threatenings: and grant unto thy servants, that with all boldness they may speak thy word, by stretching forth thine hand to heal; and that signs and wonders may be done by the name of thy holy child Jesus.

Ever an Invitation)

We are meant to preach with boldness, we are meant to renounce sin without reservation, we are meant to speak of absolute truth in absolute terms. Our words and our example should testify of the truth with such weight that those who hear it cannot help but be moved. Moved to say to themselves “well I had better find out for myself on this matter.” Truth testified boldly has that effect: to compel the hearer to come to their own knowledge. It inspires men and women to find their own surety.
But…though we seek to be bold, to compel, and to inspire, in none of these ambitions is there justification for trying to force. I can make clear my own convictions, but I must never try to make your own convictions for you. This gospel is one of invitation. The message should be given in a very clear and powerful manner, but then it must be left to the hearer what they will do with it.
And some will choose to do nothing with that message and some of them will choose to fight against it, and we must accept and allow that. Though we seek to make the world a better place, we know that it can only be better when people are able to choose it for themselves.
2 Nephi 2:27- Wherefore, men are free according to the flesh; and all things are given them which are expedient unto man. And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil; for he seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself.
Doctrine and Covenants 121:41- No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned;

Discussing Spiritual Differences- John 18:37-38, Matthew 5:14

Pilate therefore said unto him, Art thou a king then? Jesus answered, Thou sayest that I am a king. To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice.
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.

Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid.

COMMENTARY

Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice
Pilate saith unto him, What is truth?
It is in our nature when we hear something untrue to correct it. Even small children cannot help but call out when a known fact is misstated. Point at something and call it the wrong color, mess up on a simple mathematical operation, attribute a quote to the incorrect historical figure, lie about where you were yesterday…someone will call you out on it. There is something in each of us that just wants for the truth to be spoken.
And certainly this applies to moral truth as well. When we have awoken to the balance of right and wrong we become unsettled to hear any declaration that is morally askew. When others speak a morally untrue message we feel compelled to correct it.

Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid
And this is a great source of friction to those that proselyte, for there are some who would rather they just kept their moral truths to themselves.
But exercising that restraint runs contrary to the very nature of truth. Truth is like a light: it shines forth. It is a city on a hill that cannot be hid, a candle that cannot be stowed beneath a bushel. When someone casts shades of untruth, whether it be “1 + 1 = 3” or “joy can be found in carnal living,” then truth is compelled to sweep forward to correct it. Truth, even undesired truth, yearns to fill every dark corner with light.

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- 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.

A Surety of Truth- 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.

COMMENTARY

If I bear witness of myself, my witness is not true
We 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.

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.

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?

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- How Many Ribs?

One day I had a conversation with my wife, and in passing I mentioned the different number of ribs between men and women. She asked me what I was talking about, and I said “oh, you know, how men have one less rib than women do.” She smiled and told me that that wasn’t true, and a quick Google search confirmed that she was right.

And to be honest, I don’t remember how that notion ever got into my head to begin with. I assume it was some childhood misunderstanding based on the story of Eve being made from one of Adam’s ribs. The idea took hold, was never challenged (I mean, how often do you really talk out loud about how many ribs people have?), and so I never critically considered whether it was true or not.

It’s an embarrassing story I suppose, but I thought it worth sharing, as I learned an important lesson about human nature from it. It was a firsthand experience of how we intensely desire to hold onto our notion of reality, even when it is clearly flawed.

Because, you see, when my wife corrected me I felt like I would rather die than admit I was wrong. Even when the internet search backed up her claims, I didn’t want to believe the evidence I was seeing. Though it was irrational, I wanted to maintain that my reality was the right one and she and the rest of the world were still wrong. To be clear, I didn’t maintain that stance, but I wanted to.

And I don’t think I’m too unique in that. Many people exhibit that same desire to be right, even when it’s clear they’re not right. I have known people that repeat the same destructive behavior over and over, all while maintaining that things will work out better this time. I have known people that remain in toxic relationships, all while spinning a story about how things really aren’t so bad. I have known people who stay away from loved ones because they aren’t willing to admit that they were the one in the wrong.

So yes, It is actually very common for us to fabricate our own realities, deluded as they are, and hold firmly to them no matter what. Even when we know that they are wrong, it is hard to let them go. Even when we know what the actual truth is, it is easier to keep living the lie.