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- 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.

Seeking Spiritual Witnesses- Summary

This was a very soothing study for me. My childhood was full of agitation when it came to hearing God’s voice. I really, really wanted to, but just had no idea how. I know that this is a common struggle for many others as well, so hopefully some of you will find the scriptures that we have explored helpful.

One thing that stuck out to me from this study was how it reminded me of the importance of diving into the scriptures. All of my questions had answers, they were there for the taking, but I needed to be in God’s word to find them.

In fact, this experience has itself been a witness to me of the importance of God’s word. As I am about to discuss, God has answers and manifestations ready to share with us, we only have to turn the stones over to find them.

Seek With Action

I have been guilty of saying I wanted a closer relationship with God…and then doing absolutely nothing to achieve it. In essence what I was saying was “I want to feel the spirit more…but only if it comes free and without any work.” That’s about the limpest form of ‘wanting’ imaginable!
Receiving a witness from God is free in that it does not cost money, but it does take time and effort. His manifestations are not cheap experiences, to be handed out to anyone that is flippant or half-sincere. God is willing to give us signs and miracles, but He needs us to be serious about this first.
The Spirit is not going to attest to the run-of-the-mill behaviors that we are already doing. It has no need to encourage our default discipleship. Where the Spirit comes in full force is when we do something new, something that stretches us. If you consult your conscience, I am certain there is something that you know you should be doing but really don’t want to. Perhaps it is overcoming a vice, perhaps it is accomplishing a greater good.
Do it. Sincerely. And I promise you that God will show up.
James 1:5-8- If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.
But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed.
For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord.
A double minded man is unstable in all his ways.

Accept What Comes

If you act sincerely, God will show up for you. But in what way depends on Him. My wife and I paid tithing for years without fanfare, it was easy to do. Then we reached a time where finances were tight, and we had to make an actual conscious choice to keep following that commandment. We did, and God showed up for us numerous times.
Each of those times He came in a different and unexpected way. One of the most surprising was when a contractor gave me one extra paycheck after I had finished working for them. I informed the company of the error, but it took them months to process the return. Well it turned out that a one-time-interest-free loan was exactly what we needed to get us through those particular months. We came through, they asked for the refund, and we sent it back without any trouble.
Is that how I asked God to handle the situation? Certainly not, that would have been ridiculous to expect. But I did ask that everything would work out, and it certainly did. When we ask God for miracles and witnesses, we should expect Him to have solutions, but we should keep an open mind for how they might arrive.
Isaiah 55:8-9- For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.

This is a Joint Effort

As a child I was very obsessed with getting rituals right. I thought that if I didn’t say all the right words, then God might shrug off my efforts to reach Him. He was the strict teacher, grading my every prayer, and refusing to show up until I got an A. Thus whether I ever connected or not didn’t really matter to Him, the onus was entirely on me.
But obviously that is not right. God does not merely hope for us to have a relationship with Him, he fights for it. He isn’t “okay” with the idea of you not receiving spiritual witnesses in your life. He didn’t reserve those for Moses and Mary, and shelve them for you. The truth is that He wants this connection even more than we do.
So perhaps He is mysterious, perhaps He appears absent and we don’t understand why, perhaps He hasn’t revealed Himself to us just yet. But it is not because of indifference. Though you cannot always see it, He is always championing for your every spiritual epiphany, tirelessly working for your good.
Psalm 27:14- Wait on the Lord: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the Lord.

Isaiah 49:14-16- But Zion said, The Lord hath forsaken me, and my Lord hath forgotten me.
Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee.
Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands; thy walls are continually before me.

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.

Seeking Spiritual Witnesses- Revelation 3:15, Ether 12:6

I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot.

And now, I, Moroni, would speak somewhat concerning these things; I would show unto the world that faith is things which are hoped for and not seen; wherefore, dispute not because ye see not, for ye receive no witness until after the trial of your faith.

COMMENTARY

I would thou wert cold or hot
Relationships can be positive or negative. We can be reaching for God, chasing after Him with a vibrant fire, or we can be steeling ourselves against Him, cold and bitter in our hearts. In either case, there is a connection, and our passion will be met with a response.
But what a relationship cannot be is tepid. If we feel indifferent towards something then we have no meaningful interaction with it. If you are idly sitting on the fence about God, apathetic about whether He exists or what He is like, it’s going to take a lot longer for Him to get your attention.

Ye receive no witness until after the trial of your faith
I held a spiritual apathy for many years. I was “okay” with God, and that was it. I did not try to push our relationship in any way. As such, I received no spiritual witness. But God loves us too much to leave us in a neutral state. So my life started to unravel, my faith revealed its limpness, and I felt truly miserable. Then there was no shortage of strong, even if conflicting, feelings towards God. I was both desperate for his reality, and frustrated at the life He had given me. It was then that I finally started to get some spiritual witnesses.
This process worked to get me started, but I have since realized that I have the power to instigate the trials of faith myself. They don’t only have to occur whenever something bad happens…they can also be when I try to do some new good thing. Whenever I stretch myself beyond my comfort zone and put myself on shaky ground, then God manifests Himself to me again.
So if you’ve been following God on autopilot and wonder why He hasn’t shown up for you, try doing something meaningful!

Seeking Spiritual Witnesses- Matthew 7:7, Malachi 3:10, 1 Corinthians 14: 1 (ESV)

Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.

Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.

Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy.

COMMENTARY

Ask, and it shall be given you
Prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing
When it comes to spiritual witnesses, some might feel that it is inappropriate to ask for them. “Do not test the Lord” we are frequently reminded. Yes, there certainly are things that are inappropriate for us to ask, such as for God to grant our every passing fancy. But when it comes to spiritual blessings, we are not only sanctioned to pursue these, we are encouraged to!

Seeking Spiritual Witnesses- Question

Scriptures, and the testimonies of others, are full of spiritual witnesses: moments where God showed up for an individual in a very personal and powerful way. It might be an angelic manifestation, hearing a heavenly voice, receiving a miracle, or just a powerful message spoken straight to the heart. Those that have not yet experienced these moments wish that they could. Those that have had them wish they could happen more frequently!

Much of my childhood I found myself trying to “make” spiritual experiences happen. I would try to convince myself that I was having one when I wasn’t, and fear that some might have happened without me even realizing it. As a father I am now anxious that my son have spiritual experiences, but I don’t want to repeat in him the same frantic, second-guessing game that I employed.

I would like to explore this concept over the next few days, that of how we can properly pursue and recognize God’s witnesses to us. In the meantime, I would love to hear about your own experiences as well. What ways have you found to foster spiritual experiences? Have you had any control over when or how they occur, or is it entirely up to God? How have you been able to tell the difference between an actual witness versus your own mind playing tricks on you?