Should “I Know” the Church is True?

I just listened to the podcast of the Mormon Miscellaneous radio show by Van Hale from August 17th talking about Mormon apologetics and with guest Mike Ash about his new book Shaken Faith Syndrome.  This post isn’t a critique of Hale’s show or of Ash’s book, but it is about one tenet expressed during this particular program that is false.

I consider myself an apologist in the Church, meaning that I have covenanted to sustain and defend it from error.  I always bear my testimony that “I know” the Church is true, and that “I know” the Book of Mormon is true, and that “I know” Joseph Smith was a prophet of God, and that “I know” that President Monson is a prophet of God, and that “I know” that Jesus Christ is our only Savior and Redeemer.  The reason why is that I have received an unmistakable witness from God, through His Spirit, that it is so.  Come rain or come shine, I will always hold on to this sure witness.  Should it be any different? 

One of the initial comments that Van Hale made on the radio program, which was emphasized several times throughout the program, was that this kind of talk that “I know” is not good to have as a Mormon, and it seems that Mike Ash concurred (although at one point Ash said that we should “know,” and Hale corrected him).  The sentiment was expressed that it is better to say that “I believe” something is right and from God, than to say that “I know” it is, for doing so would be setting oneself up for disillusionment, disaffection, and doubt in one’s gospel learning and development in the Church.  This just isn’t right.  It seems to me to be a concession of true principles.  Indeed, it seems to be an oxymoronic position to take for a believing apologist, or a believing disciple of Christ, by promoting a more doubtful view over a sure knowledge of the gospel.  Now, I know that the “I believe” position is taken to seemingly open oneself up to be able to better receive historical facts about the Church that one has not encountered before, and to not be “shaken” in one’s faith by them, but, on the other hand, where does it leave us?  It leaves us without a firm testimony of the gospel.

Consider the talk given just recently in the last April 2008 General Conference by Elder Oaks entitled “Testimony.”  I counted over 50 times that Elder Oaks used the word “know” in his talk, in one form of the word or another.  His very first sentence was this:

A testimony of the gospel is a personal witness borne to our souls by the Holy Ghost that certain facts of eternal significance are true and that we know them to be true.

Elder Oaks goes on to explain how we come to “know” these truths.  It would seem to me that a testimony that doesn’t “know” certain truths is not much of a testimony at all.  In that case, it would be a belief, but not a firm conviction of truth.  Elder Oaks seems to be teaching us that we need to “know” the doctrines of the gospel are true, not just “believe” in them.  If we are new in the Church, and do not yet “know” truth but “believe” in it by the faith and words of others, then we should be striving diligently to gain such a testimony of the Spirit so we can say, each individually, that “I know.”

In closing his talk Elder Oaks said this:

I close with my testimony. I know that we have a Heavenly Father, whose plan brings us to earth and provides the conditions and destiny of our eternal journey. I know that we have a Savior, Jesus Christ, whose teachings define the plan and whose Atonement gives the assurance of immortality and the opportunity for eternal life. I know that the Father and the Son appeared to the Prophet Joseph Smith to restore the fulness of the gospel in these latter days. And I know that we are led today by a prophet, President Thomas S. Monson, who holds the keys to authorize priesthood holders to perform the ordinances prescribed for our progress toward eternal life.

Of course this does not mean that we must believe that prophets are infallible, or that they can never speak opinion, or that they are never wrong.  But the fundamental principles and doctrines of the gospel we can know with a surety that they are true, and we should not be shy in proclaiming it, over the pulpit, to our friends, online, over the airwaves, and in every medium we can.  This is true missionary work.  Should we not emulate the example of the prophets?  Should we not have a goal to be like them (Num. 11:29, cf. Rev. 19:10)?  Should we not strive to “know” with a surety, by a continual revealed witness of the Holy Ghost?  I know what I believe.  It seems to me that proclaiming otherwise is heading down the same path of doubt that we are trying to prevent against, as well as stating things contrary to the words of the prophets.  “Doubt not, fear not” (D&C 6:36).

Christ once asked his apostles, “But whom say ye that I am?”  And Simon answered and said, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.”  He didn’t say “I believe that thou art the Christ…”  And how did Christ respond?  “Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven” (Matt. 16:15–17).  Alma also agreed that we should “know,” by the Holy Ghost, and bear testimony of such (Alma 5:45–48).  Moreover, the most often quoted scripture in the Church teaches us that we can “know the truth of all things” (Moroni 10:3–5).

(Bryce Haymond is the editor of TempleStudy.com, a blog dedicated to sustaining and defending the LDS temple by comparative studies of religious worship found around the world and throughout history.)

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About Bryce Haymond

Bryce grew up in Sandy, Utah, where he attended Jordan High School. He served a mission to the El Salvador San Salvador East mission, including eight months as mission financial secretary. Bryce graduated from Brigham Young University in 2007 in Industrial Design and a minor in Ballroom Dance. He loves all things Nibley and the temple, and is the founder of TempleStudy.com, and also blogs at BlackpoolCreative.com. Recently Bryce joined the Executive Board of The Interpreter Foundation, where he serves as a designer and technologist. Bryce has served in numerous Church callings including ward sunday school president, first counselor in the bishopric, and currently as temple and family history instructor. He is a Product Manager and Design Director at HandStands in Salt Lake City, and lives in Pleasant Grove, Utah, with his beautiful wife, three children, and another on the way!

149 thoughts on “Should “I Know” the Church is True?

  1. Good thoughts Bryce. The gospel is inclusive of so many different pieces of knowledge and information, it sometimes can be overwhelming to process.

    I think it would be worthwhile to separate the aspects of testimony that can can be acquired through experimentation (a la Alma 32) and those that are to be accepted by faith.

    Following the commandments is a great way to “know” of certain principles’ veracity. Particularly, regarding the fundamental Christian principles of love and service. A man who loves his family dearly will experience the enriched life that comes from that, and will experience a portion of the love of God. I don’t think he would be bashful in saying that he “knows” of God’s love, and of the truthfulness of the commandments, because he has experienced it.

    However, take the corporeal nature of God. One might very well say “I know that God has a body of flesh and bones,” but that knowledge is essentially hollow. What is God’s flesh like? How strong are his bones? An “I know” would be most inappropriate to either of those questions, yet one can still have a testimony of the physical aspects of God–through faith. It does one little good to know of of something so unknowable that the knowledge is useless, and perhaps even non existent.

    Someone might feel the spirit very strongly when reading a revelation given to Joseph Smith, to the point that every rational sense in their being confirms to them that he was indeed God’s servant, but that doesn’t come with it a comprehensive catalog of everything Joseph ever did or didn’t related to secular or spiritual matters. A spiritual confirmation, while powerful, leaves a lot unknown.

    I think this is the critical factor in why some are uncomfortable with the blanket “I know” statements. It requires a leap of faith to connect what confirming experiences they DO have with the abyss of the unknown—and this leap of faith must be done without full “know”ledge.

    So to many, statements like “I know the Church is true” or “I know Joseph Smith was a prophet” are so ambiguous that they essentially are rendered meaningless. This is because they rely on qualifiers to obtain meaning: what makes a prophet? what makes a church true? And these issues are far more complex than binary thinking allows.

    Also, since effective communication requires two parties, it is important to consider how the listener interprets these words. If they think that “true church” means a zionist city of enoch, fully endorsed by GOd, free from historical blemish, where everyone is without reproach where everything that has ever been taught is crystal clear and gospel truth, the speaker might think twice before saying this. Or if they think “true prophet” means a man who can do no wrong, who chats with God day in and day out, who never gets angry, who is in perfect accord with God’s will day in and day out, again the speaker might refrain from trowing them a bone that he knows is not fully true.

    I think in the church there are many of these unrealistic idealist notions about what make something authorized by God. And this might discourage more educated members from saying things that perpetuate these ideas. Not because they don’t believe, or even know, that Joseph’s revelations are authentic, or that the Book of Mormon is truly divine, or that the Priesthood has actually been restored, and that the Church is the unique holder of it; but rather because, despite these known truths, they are aware of a greater scope of facts and issues, that don’t undermine, but do add complexity to them.

    So, do I know that Joseph Smith was truly inspired of God? Yes. Do I know how many times he enjoyed a beer? No. Does Joseph Smith drinking beer undermine his claims inspiration? To me, no. To others, it very well could. So was he prophet or wasn’t he? So prophets can drink beer?

    Do I know God’s love? Yes. Do I know what color his eyebrows are? No. Do I know he lives? Well, I know the eyebrow colors of those living people I do know, but not his…but how could I know God’s love if he didn’t live?

    And so you see, these issues enter into labyrinths of logic, inferences, assumptions, faith, and reason, and sometimes, an simple “I know” does them terrible injustice.

  2. Statements of “I know” or “I believe” can mean different things, depending on the context. While I agree in general with the post, “I know” can be inappropriate at times (as illustrated quite nicely by the Alma/Zoramites/faith as a seed discourse). The fact that I can know the truth of all things does not mean that I do know the truth of all things and there are times when making that distinction is important. That said, Hale’s suggestion that “I know” should never be used is simply wrong.

  3. James,

    Thanks for your comments. I agree that we need to be thoughtful about everything in the gospel, and to analyze things in the light of the spirit. I will disagree with your analysis of some things, however.

    I don’t think there is a separation between those things acquired through experimentation and those that are accepted by faith. You’ll notice that Alma 32 is a chapter about acquiring faith by experimentation on the word. They are inseparable subjects.

    I don’t think it is inappropriate to say that “I know that God has a body of flesh and bones,” or that such a statement would be hollow. On the contrary, such truth is a fundamental principle of the nature of God and His restored gospel. If the Spirit has witnessed to us of this truth, then why not say that we know it? I’m sure there have been many General Authorities who have witnessed of this truth, then why not I? (I’d check but apparently LDS.org is down right now. Never seen that before!). The point is, if the Spirit witnesses to us of a truth, then we know it. We might not know all the intricacies, details, why’s and wheretofore’s of it, but we know the general principle is true, and that is fundamentally important to know. We build upon that step by step, line upon line.

    I would say that a spiritual confirmation is the most powerful way that we can receive and understand truth. I believe it was once said that even if an angel was manifested to you, a spiritual witness would still be stronger, and leave a more memorable impression upon your soul.

    Yes, I do believe that in many instances there is a “leap of faith” that must be taken to say “I know.” But it is precisely that “leap of faith” that is necessary to gain more faith. I believe Elder Packer gave a talk on the subject once where he said that you can’t gain more faith unless you take that step of faith into the darkness, into the unknown. That is faith, isn’t it, at least initially to have a hope of something that is unknown. Gradually our faith becomes more sure, until the perfect day. “And now as I said concerning faith—faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things; therefore if ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true… Now, as I said concerning faith—that it was not a perfect knowledge—even so it is with my words. Ye cannot know of their surety at first, unto perfection, any more than faith is a perfect knowledge. ” (Alma 32:21).

    Saying that “I know that someone was a true prophet” leaves details unexplained, but that is why we continue to explore, learn, study, and pray, to extend the reach of our faith. Just because there is more to learn, however, doesn’t mean that we can’t “know” that the general principles are true, and to testify of them. It will be a great while yet until we know everything perfectly.

  4. Brian,

    Just because we can know something doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t say that we do know it, in the gospel. Clearly we don’t know all things, but the particulars that we have received a witness of we should know. A testimony is gained in the bearing of it. The Spirit will witness of truth as we speak it, even if we did not perfectly know it previously.

  5. Testimonies seem to be a mix of three major routes; line upon line, intellectual exploration and personal revelation. I disagree that a testimony that doesn’t “know” certain truths is not much of a testimony at all. All three routes lead to the same place. “Knowing” simply means something different to each of these groups.

    My intellectual and scholarly friends have a hard time saying that they “know” anything to be absolutely true, let alone something spiritual. Using their definition I would have to agree with them, they are referring to scientific proof not spiritual truth.

    When I say that I know that the gospel is true, they know that I mean the truth of the gospel was revealed to me by the Spirit, that it seemed familiar and rang true in my heart and my mind.

    Personally, I find the phrase “the church is true” odd, sure the gospel is true but what do you really mean when you say the church is true? Are you conflating the two?

  6. To me, I decided in my late teens that there were things that I believed and things that I knew and I realized the difference. If you don’t “know” something, then it’s perfectly ok to ‘believe’ it. I then made a list, believe it or not, and determined to move things from my “believe” list to my “know” list. As time went on, I moved all of the items on that list to the “know” side and added new things to the “believe” side. Listen, if you know then you have no reservations about stating that you do. This is probably a distinction that should be clarified. I think many people say they “know” when they really “believe”. I can see where that would cause problems with people trying to reconcile their testimonies.

  7. By definition a testimony is something that we have a winess of. If I were a witness to a car accident, of which I received personal knowledge by my senses, I wouldn’t testify in court that I believe that driver A’s car hit driver B. I know because of my witness and one’s belief would not be admissible as direct evidence.

    I don’t see why we can’t testify that God has a body of flesh and bones, especially if the Spirit has testified to a person about that enternal truth. Did not Moroni say that the HG would testify of the truth of all things. Perhaps we won’t receive a knowledge about the color of his eyebrows, but the spirit surely would testify to a principle that is already canonized.

    I like this quote from Elder Ballard’s talk in the April 2004 Conference:

    “My experience throughout the Church leads me to worry that too many of our members’ testimonies linger on “I am thankful” and “I love,” and too few are able to say with humble but sincere clarity, “I know.” As a result, our meetings sometimes lack the testimony-rich, spiritual underpinnings that stir the soul and have meaningful, positive impact on the lives of all those who hear them.”

  8. Corey-

    I really like your idea of making a list of things that you believe and things that you know. I think that provides a very concrete way to strengthen and work on aspects of our testimonies that often seem abstract. Your exercise highlights the fact that testimonies do not have to be achieved by seemingly abstract and mysterious means. We can work on them, through study and faith, and, in that way, turn beliefs into knowledge.

    Anyway, just wanted to say that I thought your idea was an excellent one, Corey. I’d like to see that one used in the Church curriculum.

  9. Bryce, now it seems that you and I agree and disagree at the same time—which probably means that I am misreading you.

    “Clearly we don’t know all things, but the particulars that we have received a witness of we should know.” I could have written exactly those words myself (in other words: I agree.)

    Where I am balking is when you talk about saying that we know a thing that we do not know—or do not yet know. You quote the oft-used phrase “a testimony is gained in the bearing of it,” but I’m not so sure I really understand that. I can imagine a time when one is prompted to go out on a limb and say “I know” before one has actually received a witness, and in doing so one’s words would be confirmed by the Spirit, but without that prompting it seems that a knowledge claim would be false. Without that cautious approach, what is to prevent the following:

    “I know X…{waits for Spirit to witness}…{Spirit does not witness}…Uhhh, actually, I take that back.”

    I posted a related discussion a while back. Find it here if interested.

  10. For all intents and purposes, I think this is more about semantics. In context of epistemology it is beneficial to acknowledge ground rules of what constitutes knowing. Often times, believers and doubters talk past each other when they speak of knowing. To a secularist, a believer cannot “know” because they cannot provide unequivocal empirical evidence. Thus, according to the rules of a secularist, I cannot “know.” I
    don’t mind granting that to them as long as we are clear that we differ on what it is to know and what counts as evidence.

    In the end, belief is more than a hope of a mental guess, it is action in life. So believing, in that sense, can actually be more important than knowing. The devils tremble because they know, but that knowledge does not save them. Belief; ie faith unto repentance, beats out “knowledge” when we use the terms in the way I have here.

  11. There are times when we should step out into the unknown and say that “I know” before we have received a witness, for it is by doing so that the Spirit will witness and our faith will be strengthened in that thing.

    I found the talk by Elder Packer, entitled “The Candle of the Lord” given at a seminar for new mission presidents, June 25 1982, and reprinted in the January Ensign 1983. It is an excellent discourse on faith and how to gain it. This is how he put it:

    It is not unusual to have a missionary say, “How can I bear testimony until I get one? How can I testify that God lives, that Jesus is the Christ, and that the gospel is true? If I do not have such a testimony, would that not be dishonest?”

    Oh, if I could teach you this one principle. A testimony is to be found in the bearing of it! Somewhere in your quest for spiritual knowledge, there is that “leap of faith,” as the philosophers call it. It is the moment when you have gone to the edge of the light and stepped into the darkness to discover that the way is lighted ahead for just a footstep or two. “The spirit of man,” is as the scripture says, indeed “is the candle of the Lord.” (Prov. 20:27.)

    It is one thing to receive a witness from what you have read or what another has said; and that is a necessary beginning. It is quite another to have the Spirit confirm to you in your bosom that what you have testified is true. Can you not see that it will be supplied as you share it? As you give that which you have, there is a replacement, with increase!…

    “And now, I, Moroni, … 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.” (Ether 12:5–6.) …

    The skeptic will say that to bear testimony when you may not know you possess one is to condition yourself; that the response is manufactured. Well, one thing for sure, the skeptic will never know, for he will not meet the requirement of faith, humility, and obedience to qualify him for the visitation of the Spirit.

    Can you not see that that is where testimony is hidden, protected perfectly from the insincere, from the intellectual, from the mere experimenter, the arrogant, the faithless, the proud? It will not come to them.

    Bear testimony of the things that you hope are true, as an act of faith. It is something of an experiment, akin to the experiment that the prophet Alma proposed to his followers. We begin with faith—not with a perfect knowledge of things. That sermon in the thirty-second chapter of Alma is one of the greatest messages in holy writ, for it is addressed to the beginner, to the novice, to the humble seeker. And it holds a key to a witness of the truth.

    The Spirit and testimony of Christ will come to you for the most part when, and remain with you only if, you share it. In that process is the very essense of the gospel.

    The whole talk is wonderful.

  12. As a convert, one of the things that has been interesting for me is the change I have in attitude toward death. Before I converted I was very unsure about death and what happens after — now I am sure I will be OK (and perhaps much happier) after I die than on the Earth (as long as I endure to the end). So, do I KNOW something new? Definitely — something inside of me has confirmed this undeniably. I look at my wife and I KNOW we will be together after this life because of the sealing ordinances of the temple.

    Having said that, there is no way you could ever prove to an unbeliever that I know anything at all. There is no empirical evidence available that will show that I have any true knowledge EXCEPT for my actions since my conversion. Have my actions shown that I believe in good works and therefore have I done more good works since my conversion than before? The answer is undeniably yes. Have I stopped drinking and am I healthier? Undeniably yes. Do my friends say I am happier, and do I have goals and try to achieve them? Undeniably yes.

    So maybe there are ways of proving that a religious conversion has real, undeniable benefits and that faith involves knowledge on some level.

  13. I think D&C 46 especially verse 13 suggests all won’t know. After all it would be very odd for God to say there’s a spiritual gift to some to know while for others it is a spiritual gift to believe the knowledge of others.

    Who is to say who is the greatest? It’s much easier to stay faithful when we know. Those who are faithful on the basis of far less knowledge are probably more praiseworthy.

  14. Furthermore, by forcing others with a shoehorn into saying “I know” when they fit better in the latter category as mentioned in that revelation, one can actually damage the belief of another; something testimony is not intended to do, but can. Thanks for your post, Clark.

  15. I don’t think we should force others into saying “I know,” but in the progression of one’s testimony in the Church, I think it is a worthy goal for each to strive earnestly for. As Elder Packer points out, often it is a “leap of faith” to say it the first time. Peter taught us to “give diligence to make your calling and election sure,” which can only come by knowing (2 Pet. 1:10).

  16. I like the way Robert Bohn explains:

    In the process of studying the German and English languages, I have gained some insight into my perception of what “knowing the gospel” means. When testimonies are shared in German using the present tense, we are limited to one way of expressing wissen, “to know,” in that we would say Ich weiss, dass das Evangelium wahr ist (I know that the gospel is true). However,
    in English we have three ways of sharing the present tense of “to know.” In the simple English present tense of expression we say “I know.” In the emphatic present tense we say “I do know.” In the present progressive tense we say “I am knowing.”

    I like the added dimension of the progressive tense in English. Rather than being limited to saying ‘I know the gospel is true,” we can more meaningfully say “I am knowing that the gospel is true.” In other words, knowing is a changing progressive process—rather than a static event. We are each on different rungs of the progressive ladder of “knowing.”

    The awareness of the present progressive tense “am knowing” helps us become tolerant of little children who say “I know,” while accepting our own level of knowledge. It should also motivate us to attain higher levels of knowing which others have already achieved.

  17. Part of the issue depends on how ‘high’ we want to set the bar in terms of what counts as ‘knowledge’. If seeing and experiencing something firsthand is the only thing that counts as knowledge, then there are in fact very few things that we can say “we know” (I’ve never seen or experienced Antarctica for instance, and probably never will, so this line of reasoning would mean that I can never know the existence of Antarctica). I imagine we don’t want to set the bar that high. On the other hand, if we set the bar too low then just about anything will count as ‘knowledge’ (if for instance a random stranger were to tell us that a new continent was discovered). Our challenge is to articulate the degree in which the bar is set within the discourse of testimony bearing. We tend not to think about this very clearly. IMO, I may be able to say that I know that the ‘seed’ in Alma’s sense is good because it brings forth good fruit. However to say that “I know I lived with my wife in the pre-existence” due to the great feeling I had when we met, is a little specious. I think feelings can testify of the goodness of things/trueness of things, but not the details.

    There are times when we should step out into the unknown and say that “I know” before we have received a witness, for it is by doing so that the Spirit will witness and our faith will be strengthened in that thing.

    Bryce, this takes us right back to our discussion on the usage of ‘only’, where you want ‘the only true church’ to mean ‘the church with the most truths’, except here you cannot leave my comments in moderation. This is an explicit equivocation of terms. Saying “I know”, when one in fact does not “know” can be considered a falsehood. You can of course refer me back to Elder Packer’s talk, but even there he says, “Bear testimony of the things that you hope are true, as an act of faith.” I don’t see how this necessitates a statement that begins “I know…”.

    But it is precisely that “leap of faith” that is necessary to gain more faith.

    How odd that you follow this quote with Alma 32 where ‘faith’ is explicitly made ‘dormant’ as one gains knowledge!

  18. SmallAxe, I actually could put your comment in moderation, but I won’t. I think most people will see my statements, read Elder Packer’s words, and understand what I am saying.

    If the brethren repeatedly say that they “know” something is true, I think it is rightly appropriate and encouraged for me to also take that “leap of faith” and say that “I know” it is true too. The Spirit will witness to the truth in that case, and my faith will grow. This increases faith; but it is not a perfect knowledge. When we have that perfect knowledge, our faith is dormant, but it is not lost. Our faith becomes perfect. We don’t “lay aside our faith” thereafter (Alma 32:36). The seed of our faith has grown up into a full tree, but it is not hewn down. God has a perfect knowledge – He is omniscient – and yet it is by the principle of faith that he created and currently holds the universe in order. Yes, bearing testimony of your knowledge of truth increases faith (Alma 32:29). When our faith has increased to a perfect knowledge, then will we eat of the fruit thereof (Alma 32:42).

  19. I think most people will see my statements, read Elder Packer’s words, and understand what I am saying.

    This is exactly my point. The same point I was making in our previous discussion. Your statements do not cohere with Elder Packer’s words.

    Part of the problem, as I allude to above is a definition of terms, or coming to a consensus of where the bar is set. How do you define ‘know’?

  20. What does it mean to put a comment in moderation?

    BHodges, I don’t know you very well (although I’ve read and appreciate your blog), so I’ll assume that you’re being serious. It means that your comment awaits the blog owner’s permission to appear before it appears. My comments used to appear automatically on Bryce’s blog, but they now await his ‘moderation’.

  21. Just to clarify, all commenters on my blog who have been approved once are allowed to post comments freely without moderation. Those who I feel cannot be given such leeway I have put into moderation, such as SmallAxe.

    As for defining “know,” I think Reed explained it very well above.

  22. I assume you’re referring to this passage:

    “I am knowing that the gospel is true.” In other words, knowing is a changing progressive process—rather than a static event. We are each on different rungs of the progressive ladder of “knowing.”

    Does this mean then that we should instead be saying “I am knowing that the gospel is true”? That doesn’t seem to meet your “General Authority” test. In other words I don’t see the brethren bearing their testimonies this way. I’m not convinced that this provides a definition of “know”, or “knowing” for that matter.

  23. I think it helps define well or explain what “know” means in gospel terms, for it is an ever-changing, constantly-progressing thing, as Reed wisely noted. But no, we would not necessarily express our testimony like that.

  24. I am not blessed with the same certainty that many in the Church have or profess. I am comforted, though, that the core and primary principles of the gospel focus on faith and belief.

    With commenter James, above, I can comfortably affirm that I “know” God lives and loves me and all of God’s creations, because I have experienced God in my life and felt of God’s love. Similarly, I can comfortably affirm that I “know” God wishes me to continue to participate in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and accept and follow its teachings as best I can. There are very few other things that I “know” with that level of certainty. For some this may not be worth much; for me it is enough and I am at peace with myself and with God.

    I differ in my reading of President Packer’s statement that a testimony is gained as we bear it. I used to think that he and others who encourage testimony bearing to gain one meant that we should, to put it crassly, “fake it until you make it.”

    I chose to interpret President Packer’s advice to be that we should “bear testimony” in an honest way from our hearts. The “leap of faith” consists of standing to bear testimony of what we do know, believe, and feel. And that as we strive to articulate to others the feelings of our heart about God and the principles of the gospel, we may be surprised at the depth of our feelings and beliefs. I know that I have. And I know that I personally find myself uplifted, strengthened and touched by the Spirit by those who have born honest and heartfelt testimony even if it is incomplete or not absolutely certain.

  25. Well, regardless, I am still going on the approach that it isn’t meet to shoehorn people into saying they “know” when they don’t yet feel comfortable to do that. As the D&C clearly state, belief is a viable way to God; belief indicating assent, obedience, hope, faith, resulting in charity, etc. I’m not advocating for weak testimonies, but a verbal declaration is not a magic spell or a way to coerce the Spirit into witnessing that what we say is true. If you are sure you don’t know, you actually may be lying by saying “I know,” and I believe lying, being dishonest, is deception and not of God. Pres. Packer actually makes the same assertion in the Candle of the Lord:
    It is not wise to wrestle with the revelations with such insistence as to demand immediate answers or blessings to your liking. You cannot force spiritual things. Such words as compel, coerce, constrain, pressure, demand, do not describe our privileges with the Spirit. You can no more force the Spirit to respond than you can force a bean to sprout, or an egg to hatch before it’s time. You can create a climate to foster growth, nourish, and protect; but you cannot force or compel: you must await the growth.

    Do not be impatient to gain great spiritual knowledge. Let it grow, help it grow, but do not force it or you will open the way to be misled.

    Leaving aside the issue of saying we “know” as a leap of faith (though belief is also a leap of faith in its own sense), I submit that above the whole discussion, even knowing won’t matter anyway if someone doesn’t live the gospel. And ironically, doing is the best way to come to “know,” anyway.

  26. Two possibilities that I haven’t seen in the comments yet, (sorry if they are there and I missed them):

    Scenario “A”:

    1. A person _believes_ that the gospel/church/BoM is true.

    2. The person states (to another) that he _believes_ the gospel/etc is true.

    3. Upon stating that, the Holy Ghost gives him a witness that what he said is in fact true.

    4. The person says: “Uhhh, actually, I take that back. I _know_ that the gospel/etc is true.” (Hat tip to BrianJ’s comment.)

    ===================

    Scenario “B”:

    1. Same as above.

    2. The person leaves out the “I believe” or “I know parts”, and merely makes a declaration:

    “The gospel/church/BoM is true.”

    3. Same as above.

    4. Same as above.

    ==================================

    In a casual or public situation (not a formal missionary discussion, not in private, not time enough for a full or detailed converstation, etc) the “I know…” preface can often get in the way of non-members understanding you.

    The “I know” part is very foreign to most people. They don’t believe that one can know, or how one can know. The concept of _knowing_ is just inconceivable to them. And it can be a stumbling block without further explanation of _how_ you came to know.

    So while “I know that…” statements are excellent for private or personal teaching moments in a setting where everyone can feel the Spirit. “I believe” can also be acceptable in some circumstances.

    Or a simple declarative statement “The Book of Mormon/Church/Restored Gospel is true” can also be acceptable in most circumstances. With such a statement, you let the context, your tone of voice, your confidence, your actions and your attitude be the conveyor of the un-spoken introductory clause “I believe that… ” or “I know that… ” Or let the listener use their own assumptions as to how to fit your statement into their frame of reference.

    Another point: Emphasizing “believe” or “know” makes the speaker the subject (gramatically and figuratively), and there may be an egotistical implication. Whereas a simple declarative “X is true”, leave “X” as the subject and focus.

    -==================

    Just came up with Scenario “C”:

    1. “X is true, and there’s a way you can find out for yourself.”

  27. “…but a verbal declaration is not a magic spell or a way to coerce the Spirit into witnessing that what we say is true.”

    I agree with you. However, let me offer this from President Marion G. Romney:

    I always know when I am speaking under the influence of the Holy Ghost because I always learn something from what I have said. (Quoted by Boyd K. Packer, “Teach the Children,” Ensign, Feb. 2000, 15.)

    If we learn something from what we have said, that means that we must not have known it prior to saying it. The Spirit must do this. I experienced this on my mission, when I would occasionally teach things that I had not heard or known before, but felt compelled to say it anyways.

    I would also say that knowing without doing isn’t really knowing, at least defined in terms of wisdom, for “faith without works is dead.” Truly knowing should compel us to doing.

  28. Here is a good word on the subject from Elder Carmack of the Seventy:

    Members may describe their testimonies as growing. A few say they have lost their testimonies. In bearing testimony, some use the term know, some believe. Some say, “Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.” (Mark 9:24.)

    I desire to edify all, no matter what the status of their testimonies…

    I testify that He lives! I know His presence and have heard His voice in my mind and in my heart (see Enos 1:10; D&C 8:2)…

    Faith begins by a desire to know if the gospel is true. To desire is to want or long for something. It is a strong wish.

    When we desire to gain a testimony, desire to know, desire to believe, testimony can begin or grow.

    Abraham became the great patriarch because he desired “to be one who possessed great knowledge, and to be a greater follower of righteousness, and to possess a greater knowledge, and to be a father of many nations, a prince of peace.” He desired “to receive instructions, and to keep the commandments of God.” (Abr. 1:2.)

    Alma also explained that one must start on the road to a testimony by having a desire, or as he stated, you must “awake and arouse your faculties, even to an experiment upon my words, and exercise a particle of faith, … even if ye can no more than desire to believe.” (Alma 32:27; italics added.)

    Desire begets faith and testimony. Testimony isn’t achieved by logic and study. For example, we can list hundreds of evidences that the Book of Mormon and the New Testament are true, but the skeptic can probably match us point by point. Without desire, the skeptic is “ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (2 Tim. 3:7.)…

    Jesus explained, “If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.” (John 7:17.) In other words, as you try it you can know it is true. This requires the faith to try, but it yields spiritual evidence. To the disciple who tries the experiment will come conviction, knowledge, and light. As the disciple continues, he receives “more light; and that light groweth brighter and brighter until the perfect day.” (D&C 50:24.)

    So when I declare that I know this gospel is true, that Christ lives, and that Ezra Taft Benson is God’s prophet, I am saying, in effect, that doing and serving have brought me the conviction that this work is true…

    The three keys then, are, to be rooted in Christ, to have a desire to know, and to do the things God has commanded. All can come to know that the doctrine is true, growing from light and truth to further light and truth until the perfect day…

    Yes, there are other ways to a testimony. Paul was converted by a heavenly manifestation. By study and reason one can find the truth. But a testimony based on reason and knowledge alone, without a spiritual witness, can be in danger when a premise of its tight logic gets weak or crumbles. Thanks be to the Lord that my testimony is founded on faith and continues to grow through experience. I have seen, I have felt, and I know what I know.

    Yes, I have a whole box of unanswered questions, none of them threatening to my testimony. New questions enter that box regularly. Others come out of the box, yielding to both study and experience. My hope is that I will endure the summer heat and retain that testimony, anchored in Christ, until the end of my mortal probation…

    I do not mean, however, to suggest that we should not continue to learn and deepen our knowledge about life and about the gospel. A solid, mature, and growing knowledge of the gospel is desirable and should be a constant goal. (Elder Carmack, “The Soil and Roots of Testimony,” Ensign, Nov. 1988, 25.)

  29. I think that “knowing” something has its own inherent risk. I don’t think that there is anything wrong with wandering around searching for truth. I think that there can be problems the moment we stop wandering and invest in some narrative the authority of absolute truth (thus ending – among other things – the need to continue searching).

  30. Here is another good word from Elder Brough of the Seventy:

    But how can one say, “I know?” How can anyone be categorically certain of anything? Heavenly Father has told us that we can know that He lives and that His Son is the Christ, born in Bethlehem. We can know that as surely as we know anything. I know these things with absolute certainty, and so can you.

    One time in Minnesota, where I served as mission president, we had a missionary fireside where at the end I used the words “I know” as I bore my testimony. An investigator came up to speak with me after the meeting was over. He said, “Unless I can touch, smell, hear, see, or taste, I do not believe.” He, of course, had listed the five physical senses, which are an integral part of our mortal and temporal beings. I asked him if he believed in radio signals or gravity or even Hong Kong.

    There are many physical elements that exist but we cannot detect them without some additional processes being involved. My cell phone, radio, and other devices convince me that these extra sensory concepts also exist. I cannot see them, I cannot taste them, I cannot feel, hear, or smell them, but I know that they are there.

    How Does One Come to Know?

    Let us first examine the sense of hearing. For example, I picked up the phone one day to hear a voice say, “Would you hold the phone a moment? President Kimball would like to speak to you.” After extending a call to serve as a mission president, he asked that I keep the call confidential until it appeared in the Church News. I anxiously waited for the news. Three or four weeks passed without any confirmation of the telephone conversation. I honestly began to wonder if I had actually heard the prophet’s voice. Without some verification, I learned, I did not completely trust my hearing.

    What about seeing? Just observe a basketball game and see how the referee and the players see so very differently. It continues to amaze me how two people can observe an event and yet see it in a very different fashion. How many times have I thought I saw something only to have others see it differently. You can’t trust your sight.

    I have come to believe that our physical senses, while very powerful, are very inadequate and really not trustworthy. The Lord confirmed this idea of unreliable senses when He explained why He used parables:

    “Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand.

    “And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias, which saith, By hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive” (Matthew 13:13–14).

    By now it should be clear that the accumulation of information from our five physical senses is very unlikely, by themselves, to produce the ability to say “I know!” But there are what I will call “spiritual” senses. These are senses that we can take with us when we leave this mortal existence. The development and use of the several categories of spiritual sense are also called “principles of intelligence” (see D&C 130:18–19).

    In explaining His use of parables, Jesus identifies two spiritual senses: understanding and perception. Perception is part of understanding, but reinforces the nature of the sense of understanding. We can see but see not, hear but hear not because of the absence of understanding and perception.

    The words perception and discernment are very similar. Discernment is the ability to comprehend that which might be hidden or obscure. It is a spiritual sense that is a very important element in the whole concept of agency. The development of our spiritual senses is an important part of our ability to function as a human being.

    I first became aware of this sense when I was on my first mission some 43 years ago. I recall being interviewed by my mission president. I had the distinct impression that he could look right into my soul. Seventeen years later, while I was serving as a mission president, I came to know that he could. I often had the experience of knowing more about a missionary than he or she ever thought I did…

    To feel that something is right brings peace—a confirmation from the Holy Ghost that something is true. So, we return to our basic question, “How do I know?”

    Knowledge is gained in a multitude of ways. Apparently, the plan of mortality is such that some experience with a physical body is required. We learn from pain, sickness, time, and age. These lessons are only available through experience with the physical senses. After that, the Lord asks two questions: “Did I not speak peace to your mind concerning the matter? What greater witness can you have than from God?” (D&C 6:23).

    The Christ confirmed the final spiritual gift as He declared: “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (John 14:27).

    No more certain knowledge can come to you than that bestowed by God through the witness of the Holy Ghost.

    Finally, the peace that knowledge of the things of God brings begets love for Him and for His children.

    I love my wife. How do I know that I love her? I just know. I love many people, but with a different type of love. I love God. I love His Son. I love His Church. I know that I love them. I have felt the burning in my bosom. I have heard the “still small voice,” and I have a collection of physical and spiritual senses that all point to a complete and comprehensive conclusion: I know what I know! (Monte J. Brough, “‘I Know What I Know’,” New Era, Oct 2006, 34–37)

  31. Elder Carmack: “Testimony isn’t achieved by logic and study.”

    Maybe, but I know a ex-professor who sat out to disprove the BoM and ended up with so many proofs that he became convinced it must be true. His testimony is primarily based on that effort alone.

  32. Bryce, the Carmack quote, when taken as it stands, shows the weakness of its own position. I agree that at times we can be given utterance, or learn from what we say, but to equate that as “always” happening when the Spirit speaks through us would mean we cant retain any knowledge. Every time we bear testimony, did we forget, and then have to say it again and learn anew? It doesn’t really make sense.

  33. By now it should be clear that the accumulation of information from our five physical senses is very unlikely, by themselves, to produce the ability to say “I know!” But there are what I will call “spiritual” senses…. In explaining His use of parables, Jesus identifies two spiritual senses: understanding and perception.

    Bryce, I imagine you agree with this position. Would you mind explaining how “understanding” and “perception” work, and how they are more reliable than our five physical sense?

  34. Ok, just one more. Good news from Elder Neuenschwander of the Presidency of the Seventy:

    As we read in Alma 30, Korihor had made many untrue allegations about the Church and was brought before Alma, who listened but was not challenged by Korihor’s claims. Alma recognized the allegations to be false—not only because he knew the doctrines of the Church and the history of his people but because he had unshakable confidence in his own personal experiences with the gospel.

    It is a good thing for us to know what we believe. We should know and be familiar with the doctrines, ordinances, covenants, and teachings of the Church and its modern-day prophets. Equally important, however, to knowing what we believe is believing what we know. Believing what we know has to do with recognizing, trusting, and learning from our own spiritual experiences…

    1. We can know some things without knowing all things.

    When Nephi desired a confirmation of his father’s vision, the angel asked him, “Knowest thou the condescension of God?” Nephi’s answer was, “I know that he loveth His children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things” (1 Ne. 11:16–17). Nephi seemed satisfied to permit his knowledge of some things to expand his faith and give him confidence in areas where his knowledge was not quite as complete. We would do well to nurture this understanding. President Spencer W. Kimball (1895–1985) taught that “faith is based on past experience. It is not blind obedience, even without total understanding, to follow a Father who has proved himself” (The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, ed. Edward L. Kimball [1982], 59). For example, each time the Lord answers a prayer, my knowledge that He does answer prayer is strengthened. This knowledge expands my faith and confidence into those times when His answers do not come as quickly or when His timing is far different from my own.

    In an academic setting we understand this principle of not knowing all things quite thoroughly. We are comfortable with the idea that we must take basic courses before we move on to more advanced work. The absence of complete knowledge in a discipline does not hinder us in knowing some things about that discipline. In fact, our pursuit of additional knowledge is driven by our understanding that we do not know all things…

    2. Spiritual experiences are very personal and may not be understood by others.

    The Lord cautions us to exercise great care in how, where, and with whom we share our spiritual experiences. We cannot expect a basically unbelieving world to understand experiences of a deeply personal and spiritual nature.

    A most interesting example of this is found in the ninth chapter of John: “And as Jesus passed by, he saw a man which was blind from his birth” (John 9:1). Jesus spat on the ground, made clay of the spittle, anointed the eyes of the blind man with the clay, and then told him to go wash. “He went his way therefore, and washed, and came seeing” (John 9:7). What was the reaction among the people to this miracle? Did they accept it as a confirmation of their faith? First his neighbors didn’t even recognize him. “And they which before had seen him that he was blind, said, Is not this he that sat and begged?” (John 9:8). “Some said, This is he: others said, He is like him: but he said, I am he” (John 9:9). They asked him, “How were thine eyes opened?” (John 9:10). He answered their question very simply, surely anticipating that they would accept his response and take joy in his good fortune. “A man that is called Jesus made clay, and anointed mine eyes, and said unto me, Go to the pool of Siloam, and wash: and I went and washed, and I received sight” (John 9:11).

    His was a simple explanation and testimony of a deeply personal spiritual experience. The neighbors, however, could or would not understand, so they brought him to the Pharisees, who also asked him how he had received his sight. He said to them, “He put clay upon mine eyes, and I washed, and do see” (John 9:15). The reaction of the Pharisees is also insightful. As the miracle was performed on the Sabbath, some said, “This man,” speaking of Jesus, “is not of God, because he keepeth not the sabbath day. Others said, How can a man that is a sinner do such miracles? And there was a division among them” (John 9:16).

    Didn’t the Pharisees completely miss the point? They pressed the blind man again, not to gain understanding of the miracle but to determine his opinion of him who had performed the miracle. “What sayest thou of him, that he hath opened thy eyes?” Again, a simple answer: “He is a prophet” (John 9:17).

    “But the Jews did not believe concerning him, that he had been blind, and received his sight, until they called the parents of him that had received his sight.

    “And they asked them, saying, Is this your son, who ye say was born blind? how then doth he now see?

    “His parents answered them and said, We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind:

    “But by what means he now seeth, we know not” (John 9:18–21).

    Even his parents failed to appreciate the miracle in their son’s life. Because they feared the Jews, the parents simply said, “He is of age; ask him” (John 9:23). Again they called the man who was blind and again pressed him about Jesus, saying, “Give God the praise: we know that this man is a sinner” (John 9:24).

    I suppose by now, after several explanations, the man was growing increasingly impatient, which is felt in the terseness of his reply. “Whether he be a sinner or no, I know not: one thing I know, that, whereas I was blind, now I see” (John 9:25). No amount of explanation, however simple and straightforward, would help others to understand and accept what he himself had experienced. After all the explanation and testimony, they reviled the recipient of the miracle and said, “Thou art his disciple; but we are Moses’ disciples” (John 9:28). The man answered them again, “Why herein is a marvelous thing, that ye know not from whence he is, and yet he hath opened mine eyes” (John 9:30). They answered him and said: “Thou was altogether born in sins, and dost thou teach us? And they cast him out” (John 9:34). In the end, no one accepted the miracle, the doer of the miracle, or the recipient of the miracle. No one even seemed happy that the blind man could see…

    3. Spiritual experiences not understood by others will often be rejected, but their rejection does not change the experiences.

    Joseph Smith writes in his history that he shared his experience of the First Vision among the professors of religion, which caused great persecution towards him. In his reflection, the Prophet compared himself to the Apostle Paul in his defense before King Agrippa. The Prophet writes that Paul “related the account of the vision he had when he saw a light, and heard a voice; but still there were but few who believed him; some said he was dishonest, others said he was mad; and he was ridiculed and reviled. But this did not destroy the reality of his vision” (JS-H 1:24; emphasis added).

    The Prophet continues: “So it was with me. I had actually seen a light, and in the midst of that light I saw two Personages, and they did in reality speak to me; and though I was hated and persecuted for saying that I had seen a vision, yet it was true; and while they were persecuting me, reviling me, and speaking all manner of evil against me falsely for so saying, I was led to say in my heart: Why persecute me for telling the truth? I have actually seen a vision; and who am I that I can withstand God, or why does the world think to make me deny what I have actually seen? For I had seen a vision; I knew it, and I knew that God knew it, and I could not deny it, neither dared I do it” (JS-H 1:25)…

    4. As others may reject our spiritual experiences, they will often try to dissuade us from believing them.

    There will always be those who are not content to simply reject your spiritual experiences but will do all they can to convince you to deny what you yourself have experienced. One of the most interesting examples I could find in the scriptures relating to this principle is the reaction of the Nephites toward the signs given at the birth of the Savior. Samuel the Lamanite had come among them only a few years before the signs were to be given. He made clear predictions of the signs they would witness. These would not be simple things. The sun was to go down, but there would be no darkness through the whole night. “A new star” would appear, and there would be “many signs and wonders in heaven” (see Hel. 14:3–6). Such would be their amazement that they would all fall to the earth (see Hel. 14:7).

    It seems to me that such occurrences would be hard to miss. Yet when all happened according to the prophecy, many people found them hard to believe. “And it came to pass,” we read, “that from this time forth there began to be lyings sent forth among the people, by Satan, to harden their hearts, to the intent that they might not believe in those signs and wonders which they had seen” (3 Ne. 1:22)…

    5. Sometimes only upon reflection, or when someone else points it out, do we recognize what we have experienced.

    The experience of the disciples on the road to Emmaus on the day of the Lord’s Resurrection exemplifies this. He appeared to them and questioned their sadness as He spoke with them along the road. They rehearsed the events of the last few days. The Savior took the opportunity to teach them from the scriptures concerning the prophets and Himself. When they came into the village, they invited Him to stay with them. He ate with them, took bread and blessed it and broke it and gave it to them, and at that point their eyes were opened and they knew Him, but He vanished out of their sight. Only upon reflection did the disciples understand what had occurred. “Did not our heart burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the scriptures?” (Luke 24:32).

    This is a common experience for all of us. It seems to me that we often do not immediately recognize the importance of what is happening to us.

    Many of us have served full-time missions. Every successful missionary teaches the investigator to recognize the Spirit. At the height of a wonderful gospel discussion, a missionary will ask the question, “What do you feel right now?” It is a difficult feeling for the investigator to describe. Usually, phrases like “I feel warmth” or “I feel peace and comfort” are heard. What they feel is something they have never experienced in quite the same way. It is then that the missionary explains what is happening and what it means. So it is often with us. Only with good teachers may we sometimes begin to understand that which is occurring in our lives. Knowing this, the Lord has told us continually to ponder His word in order that we may understand.

    6. Trusting our spiritual experiences will help keep us from deception.

    A most revealing experience regarding this principle is that which occurred to Moses (see Moses 1:1–13). “Moses was caught up into an exceedingly high mountain” (Moses 1:1), where he saw God face to face and talked with Him. The glory of God was upon Moses so that he could endure His presence. God showed Moses some of the workings of this earth. When this marvelous vision was complete, God withdrew from Moses, and Moses was left to himself. Satan now came, tempting and commanding Moses to worship him. Moses queried him, asking: “Who art thou? For behold, I am a son of God, in the similitude of his Only Begotten; and where is thy glory, that I should worship thee?” (Moses 1:13). Moses, because of his previous experience with God, understood the deception that was being offered to him. “For behold, I could not look upon God, except his glory should come upon me, and I were transfigured before him. But I can look upon thee in the natural man. Is it not so, surely?” (Moses 1:14). Moses then commanded Satan to depart. Moses’ knowledge and trust in his first experience most assuredly kept him from the deception of his second experience.

    On 2 August 1913, the First Presidency published a statement, which bears the title “A Warning Voice.” Their statement embodies a basic principle that, if followed, will keep us from deception: “In secular as well as spiritual affairs, Saints may receive Divine guidance and revelation affecting themselves, but this does not convey authority to direct others, and is not to be accepted when contrary to Church covenants, doctrine or discipline, or to known facts, demonstrated truths, or good common sense” (in James R. Clark, comp., Messages of the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 6 vols. [1965–75], 4:285–86). Those who fall away from the Church generally struggle with this principle. Recognizing and understanding our own spiritual experiences within the gospel framework keep us safe from deception.

    7. Spiritual experiences confirm our testimonies and help us to endure moments of doubt and uncertainty.

    President Kimball has said that “faith grows through spiritual experience” (Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, 76). When I was a mission president, I would ask missionaries leaving the mission field to write down for their final interview with me the major lessons they had learned through the course of their mission. What I heard most often was: “I learned the importance of prayer,” “I learned that God answers prayer,” “I learned the importance of regular scripture study,” or “I learned to appreciate hard, disciplined work.” Never did I hear anything that related to the goals of the mission, the number of baptisms, or number of hours worked. After reviewing what they had learned, I returned their written accounts to them with the counsel that they keep them in a safe place. I told them that a time would come in their lives when matters would not be so clear as they had been in the mission field. It was then that they were to retrieve and read what they had written about their own spiritual experiences.

    You may know that before one is considered for employment at BYU, an interview with a General Authority is required. Not long ago I interviewed a brilliant individual for a position. His training was in a discipline that could possibly pose some challenge to his testimony. I asked him whether he had ever wavered in his faith or, in the course of his study, ever lost his testimony. He answered the question candidly and told me, yes, he had. His integrity was impressive. I asked him how he had overcome the challenge. The answer was simple. He said, “I went back to my missionary journals and read them in order to rediscover what I once knew to be true.”

    Spiritual experiences are granted to us by a loving Heavenly Father. They are meant to strengthen us and educate us in His ways. We need to ponder our lives that we may comprehend our spiritual experiences, learn from them, and be strengthened by them. (Dennis B. Neuenschwander, “Knowing What You Believe, Believing What You Know,” Ensign, Sep 2002, 20)

  35. Also, such confident unequivocal knowing can actually cause us to lack humility, and essentially, to be unteachable. Joseph Smith dealt with that whenever introducing a principle that opposed something his listeners already “knew,” and they would fly to pieces like glass. Such rigidity can be an easy road to apostasy in that regard.

    Eric Hoffer quoted Martin Luther as saying “So tenaciously should we cling to the world revealed by the Gospel, that were I to see all the Angels of Heaven coming down to me to tell me something different, not only would I not be tempted to doubt a single syllable, but I would shut my eyes and stop my ears, for they would not deserve to be either seen or heard.”

    As Hoffer points out, the absolute suspension of reason can cause absurd conclusions or beliefs. In Mormonism, though, we are to find away to combine the reason and revelation in a synthesis rather than choose one side of the dichotomy.

  36. SmallAxe,

    How would I explain “understanding” and “perception,” and how are they more reliable than our five physical senses? Well, I don’t claim to be the best philosopher (asking Blake Ostler might be a better choice), but I can offer my thoughts.

    First would be, did you read Elder Brough’s comments on the subject? He gives two clear examples, one of hearing and one of seeing, where our physical senses are not that reliable. A spiritual witness, however, is far more powerful. President Faust noted,

    Knowledge comes through faith. In our day and time we must come to know the truthfulness of what was on the golden plates without seeing them. They are not available for us to see and handle as they were for the Three Witnesses and for the Eight Witnesses. Some of those who actually saw and handled the golden plates did not remain faithful to the Church. Seeing an angel would be a great experience, but it is far greater to come to a knowledge of the divinity of the Savior through faith and the witness of the Spirit (John 20:29). (James E. Faust, “It Can’t Happen to Me,” Ensign, May 2002, 46.)

    Secondly, I would say that “perception” is what comes into our minds and hearts by the spirit, and “understanding” is what comes into our minds and hearts when we can apply what we’ve previously perceived. Discernment, moreover, is the ability to perceive and understand the thoughts and intents of another.

  37. Bryce,

    Thank you for engaging this comment.

    I would say that “perception” is what comes into our minds and hearts by the spirit, and “understanding” is what comes into our minds and hearts when we can apply what we’ve previously perceived.

    I think this is as good an interpretation as any. Certainly better than any that I could come up with. What I don’t see however is how these are senses that are independent of our five senses. Isn’t perception somehow related to or based on some sense-contact? I don’t feel the Spirit out of the blue, it’s usually after I’ve heard or seen something for instance. And why are these senses more reliable than the five senses? Sure we can be mistaken in what we hear or see. These senses are not completely accurate, but how are perception and understanding not open to the same critique? In other words if we treat the five senses with a certain amount of skepticism, concluding that “it should be clear that the accumulation of information from our five physical senses is very unlikely, by themselves, to produce the ability to say ‘I know!’”, shouldn’t we require that these other senses pass this test?

  38. Some scriptures and quotes that shed light on the subject:

    “And he said unto me: Knowest thou the condescension of God? And I said unto him: I know that he loveth his children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things.” (1 Nephi 11:16–17)

    Here is an important lesson. Nephi did not know what that meant. He perhaps had never heard such a phrase before. However, he did not let what he did not know detract from what have absolutely knew to be tree, that God loved his children. He states it as a fact, “I know that he loveth his children.” Having been willing to stand by what had been revealed to him previously the Lord was then able to give him further understanding.

    “And now, when they heard this they cast up their eyes as if to behold from whence the voice came; and behold, they saw the heavens open; and angels came down out of heaven and ministered unto them. And there were about three hundred souls who saw and heard these things; and they were bidden to go forth and marvel not, neither should they doubt.” (Hel 5:48–49).

    Here they are given first hand empirical evidence, but then receive the curious commandment to “marvel not, neither should they doubt?” The fact that doubting is even possible is insightful. The issue is not whether we know or don’t know, as these people surely knew, the issue is whether we have the courage to testify of that which has been revealed to us by methods that the secular world does not accept. Why would they doubt? Perhaps because they might start listening to the “experts” that say it was a hallucination, or such things are not scientifically feasible. Perhaps out of fear of rejection. This is the essence of Lehi’s vision and those falling away from the tree after having partaken of the fruit.

    In the April 2007 Gen Conf President Hinckley gave a talk “The Things of Which I Know” in which he said:

    “I confess that I do not know everything, but of some things I am certain. Of the things of which I know, I speak to you this morning.”

    Here President Hinckley humbly admits the limitations of his knowledge. However, he boldly asserts that which he does know, much like Nephi knew that God loved His children.

    It seems that this is part of our test. Are we willing to accept a witness of the Spirit as valid evidence? That is more a test of our hearts than of any evidence itself. By doing so we are subject to ridicule of the “more enlightened.” It’s the same test of all ages past. However, once we step out on that limb and believe the Spirit, more knowledge comes, line upon line.

    That is why the ultimate sin is to “Deny the Holy Ghost.” Even with a sure knowledge of the Spirit (note, not based on archeology or logical argument) it is possible to dismiss it. That will always be a choice. Faith is a choice. Believing the Spirit is a choice. Do we believe the Spirit or the opinion of a radio host? Such is the test.

  39. Some scriptures and quotes that shed light on the subject:

    “And he said unto me: Knowest thou the condescension of God? And I said unto him: I know that he loveth his children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things.” (1 Nephi 11:16–17)

    Here is an important lesson. Nephi did not know what that meant. He perhaps had never heard such a phrase before. However, he did not let what he did not know detract from what have absolutely knew to be tree, that God loved his children. He states it as a fact, “I know that he loveth his children.” Having been willing to stand by what had been revealed to him previously the Lord was then able to give him further understanding.

    “And now, when they heard this they cast up their eyes as if to behold from whence the voice came; and behold, they saw the heavens open; and angels came down out of heaven and ministered unto them. And there were about three hundred souls who saw and heard these things; and they were bidden to go forth and marvel not, neither should they doubt.” (Hel 5:48–49).

    Here they are given first hand empirical evidence, but then receive the curious commandment to “marvel not, neither should they doubt?” The fact that doubting is even possible is insightful. The issue is not whether we know or don’t know, as these people surely knew, the issue is whether we have the courage to testify of that which has been revealed to us by methods that the secular world does not accept. Why would they doubt? Perhaps because they might start listening to the “experts” that say it was a hallucination, or such things are not scientifically feasible. Perhaps out of fear of rejection. This is the essence of Lehi’s vision and those falling away from the tree after having partaken of the fruit.

    In the April 2007 Gen Conf President Hinckley gave a talk “The Things of Which I Know” in which he said:

    “I confess that I do not know everything, but of some things I am certain. Of the things of which I know, I speak to you this morning.”

    Here President Hinckley humbly admits the limitations of his knowledge. However, he boldly asserts that which he does know, much like Nephi knew that God loved His children.

    It seems that this is part of our test. Are we willing to accept a witness of the Spirit as valid evidence? That is more a test of our hearts than of any evidence itself. By doing so we are subject to ridicule of the “more enlightened.” It’s the same test of all ages past. However, once we step out on that limb and believe the Spirit, more knowledge comes, line upon line. Note that we do not know _all_ things, just some. We must always be open to the idea that there is more, and as we learn more truths of the Spirit, our previous conclusions will be refined.

    That is why the ultimate sin is to “Deny the Holy Ghost.” Even with a sure knowledge of the Spirit (note, not based on archeology or logical argument) it is possible to dismiss it. That will always be a choice. Faith is a choice. Believing the Spirit is a choice. Do we believe the Spirit or the opinion of a radio host? Such is the test.

  40. SmallAxe,

    I think the sense which perceives and understands the Spirit is entirely separate from our five physical senses, although it can manifest itself within them, such as with the burning bosom (Luke 24:32). It can also manifest itself in tears of joy, a feeling of peace in your heart, a vision from God, etc. But ultimately it is a sense which touches our spirit, and often not our physical body. The physical sensations are effects from the primary cause.

    I think the perception and understanding that is given from God to our Spirit is much more powerful and reliable because it is God’s Spirit touching our spirit. It is a direct spirit-to-spirit interaction, which leaves an impression upon our soul, not only our intellect or brain. Thus we are taught to learn by study and also by faith, because through both we have truth distilled upon us both through physical and spiritual means.

  41. SmallAxe,

    As for being critical of spiritual impressions, yes, we need to do that too. The Prophet was always teaching the Saints that they should be on guard lest a false spirit revealed something to them. However, I don’t think such a manifestation would be the same kind of spirit-to-spirit witness as that which comes from God (see Moses 1:18, “wherefore I can judge between him and thee”).

  42. “wherefore I can judge between him and thee”

    I doubt that this judgment is possible without experiencing both. Those who haven’t may find perception and understanding to be just as reliable and unreliable as their five senses.

  43. Moses knew only after experiencing both. How could he have known before?

    Are you arguing that you have experiencing both and we should to?

  44. From a practical standpoint you have to know how to identify the Spirit long before you ever encounter Satan in a similar way or you are in big trouble. Arguing that Moses could tell the difference between the two is not really useful.

  45. Howard, how do we tell the difference between the two the first time we experience them? How did Moses tell the difference the first time he experienced them? There must be an obvious difference. Clearly Moses wasn’t overcome by Satan the first time he experienced him. Neither was Joseph Smith.

  46. Bryce,
    Knowing that there is a difference and that Moses could detect that difference is not very useful to anyone who has only encountered one of the two.

    They need to know that they are dealing with the Spirit and not dealing with Satan before a chance meeting of the second takes place.

  47. Bryce,
    I think that’s the point!

    For me it is has been a process of watching and testing the fruits of his direction. I began by casting out dark spirits in the name of the Godhead. Over time I came to trust him as much as I trust my own senses.

  48. Howard,

    No, I think we’re missing the point. How did you know to cast out the dark spirits? How did you know they were dark spirits at all? How do you know which fruits are from God and which are from Satan? That is the point I’m getting out. We can judge between the two without having extensive experience with both beforehand.

  49. “We can judge between the two without having extensive experience with both beforehand.”

    Right, and the point I’m making is that Moses’ experience isn’t helpful to your argument, which returns us to SmallAxe’s question.

  50. The idea that there are self-interpreting or worse yet indubitable experiences seems false to me. I’ve been in circumstances where the spirit was overpowering but because of how they’d been taught people didn’t interpret it that way. Even with regards to our basic senses they aren’t somehow self-interpreting. We may interpret at an unconscious level but we’re doing it.

    The idea that there is a spiritual perception that just is seems false to me.

    I’d given my own view on LDS epistemology last year at my old blog if anyone was interested. There were a series of posts but this one might get you started. I suspect most don’t quite want the technical discussion though. (grin)

  51. Most people will never encounter both so Moses’ experience simply won’t help them.

    If you have only encountered one, they cannot be compared and contrasted, so how do you know which one it is?

  52. Some scriptures and quotes that shed light on the subject:

    “And he said unto me: Knowest thou the condescension of God? And I said unto him: I know that he loveth his children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things.” (1 Nephi 11:16–17)

    Here is an important lesson. Nephi did not know what that meant. He perhaps had never heard such a phrase before. However, he did not let what he did not know detract from what have absolutely knew to be tree, that God loved his children. He states it as a fact, “I know that he loveth his children.” Having been willing to stand by what had been revealed to him previously the Lord was then able to give him further understanding.

    “And now, when they heard this they cast up their eyes as if to behold from whence the voice came; and behold, they saw the heavens open; and angels came down out of heaven and ministered unto them. And there were about three hundred souls who saw and heard these things; and they were bidden to go forth and marvel not, neither should they doubt.” (Hel 5:48–49).

    Here they are given first hand empirical evidence, but then receive the curious commandment to “marvel not, neither should they doubt?” The fact that doubting is even possible is insightful. The issue is not whether we know or don’t know, as these people surely knew, the issue is whether we have the courage to testify of that which has been revealed to us by methods that the secular world does not accept. Why would they doubt? Perhaps because they might start listening to the “experts” that say it was a hallucination, or such things are not scientifically feasible. Perhaps out of fear of rejection. This is the essence of Lehi’s vision and those falling away from the tree after having partaken of the fruit.

    In the April 2007 Gen Conf President Hinckley gave a talk “The Things of Which I Know” in which he said:

    “I confess that I do not know everything, but of some things I am certain. Of the things of which I know, I speak to you this morning.”

    Here President Hinckley humbly admits the limitations of his knowledge. However, he boldly asserts that which he does know, much like Nephi knew that God loved His children.

    It seems that this is part of our test. Are we willing to accept a witness of the Spirit as valid evidence? That is more a test of our hearts than of any evidence itself. By doing so we are subject to ridicule of the “more enlightened.” It’s the same test of all ages past. However, once we step out on that limb and believe the Spirit, more knowledge comes, line upon line. Note that we do not know _all_ things, just some. We must always be open to the idea that there is more, and as we learn more truths of the Spirit, our previous conclusions will be refined.

    Even with a sure knowledge of the Spirit (note, not based on archeology or logical argument) it is possible to dismiss it. That will always be a choice. Faith is a choice. Believing the Spirit is a choice. Do we believe the Spirit or the opinion of a radio host? Such is the test.

  53. In fact, I think I asked you the same question at 1:45pm. And I would suggest that the answer is that you can know the difference without prior experience.

  54. Some scriptures and quotes that shed light on the subject:

    “And he said unto me: Knowest thou the condescension of God? And I said unto him: I know that he loveth his children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things.” (1 Nephi 11:16–17)

    Here is an important lesson. Nephi did not know what that meant. He perhaps had never heard such a phrase before. However, he did not let what he did not know detract from what have absolutely knew to be tree, that God loved his children. He states it as a fact, “I know that he loveth his children.” Having been willing to stand by what had been revealed to him previously the Lord was then able to give him further understanding.

    “And now, when they heard this they cast up their eyes as if to behold from whence the voice came; and behold, they saw the heavens open; and angels came down out of heaven and ministered unto them. And there were about three hundred souls who saw and heard these things; and they were bidden to go forth and marvel not, neither should they doubt.” (Hel 5:48–49).

    Here they are given first hand empirical evidence, but then receive the curious commandment to “marvel not, neither should they doubt?” The fact that doubting is even possible is insightful. The issue is not whether we know or don’t know, as these people surely knew, the issue is whether we have the courage to testify of that which has been revealed to us by methods that the secular world does not accept. Why would they doubt? Perhaps because they might start listening to the “experts” that say it was a hallucination, or such things are not scientifically feasible or verifiable. Perhaps out of fear of rejection. This is the essence of Lehi’s vision and those falling away from the tree after having partaken of the fruit.

    In the April 2007 Gen Conf President Hinckley gave a talk “The Things of Which I Know” in which he said:

    “I confess that I do not know everything, but of some things I am certain. Of the things of which I know, I speak to you this morning.”

    Here President Hinckley humbly admits the limitations of his knowledge. However, he boldly asserts that which he does know, much like Nephi knew that God loved His children.

    It seems that this is part of our test. Are we willing to accept a witness of the Spirit as valid evidence? That is more a test of our hearts than of any evidence itself. By doing so we are subject to ridicule of the “more enlightened.” It’s the same test of all ages past. However, once we step out on that limb and believe the Spirit, more knowledge comes, line upon line. Note that we do not know _all_ things, just some. We must always be open to the idea that there is more, and as we learn more truths of the Spirit, our previous conclusions will be refined.

    Even with a sure knowledge of the Spirit (note, not based on archeology or logical argument) it is possible to dismiss it. That will always be a choice. Faith is a choice. Believing the Spirit is a choice. Do we believe the Spirit or the opinion of a radio host? Such is the test. Do we trust God? I think’s that what it boils down to. Do we trust that if we really try to reach Him He will guide us in a way we can understand? At some point we just have to decide if we trust Him.

  55. “…you can know the difference without prior experience.”

    Yes, you can do some work to find out but a single encounter is not nearly enough to know for sure.

    So, in the beginning it is not more reliable than the five senses, is it?

  56. I think the sense which perceives and understands the Spirit is entirely separate from our five physical senses, although it can manifest itself within them, such as with the burning bosom (Luke 24:32). It can also manifest itself in tears of joy, a feeling of peace in your heart, a vision from God, etc. But ultimately it is a sense which touches our spirit, and often not our physical body. The physical sensations are effects from the primary cause.
    I think the perception and understanding that is given from God to our Spirit is much more powerful and reliable because it is God’s Spirit touching our spirit.

    Wow, I step away from the computer for an afternoon and much gets said in the meantime.

    The question is whether perception and understanding are predicated on the senses, which are supposedly less reliable than these modes of knowing. I don’t see how one could have a perception of the Spirit without seeing, or feeling, or experiencing something beforehand. For instance, gaining a testimony of the BoM seems predicated on ‘seeing’ it, or at the very least ‘hearing’ about it. If these senses are so untrustworthy I don’t see how the faculties of perception can work through them, which is why I was saying that an account of the relationship between the two needs to be explained.

    Not only that, but it seems quite a leap to move from ‘experiencing a burning in the bosom’ to ‘knowing that this is the Spirit’. How do you account for this? We both have a what feels like a burning in the bosom about quite different moral decisions, how do we account for who has the ‘right feeling’ coming from the Spirit?

  57. I am Van Hale, host of the Mormon Miscellaneous Worldwide Talk Show. I appreciate Bryce’s interest in last Sunday’s talk show with Mike Ash as my guest.

    I was expressing my claim that I am a believer. I briefly extolled the value of belief in contrast to sure knowledge. I have met quite a number of former LDS, and have known several personally, who spent many years professing their sure knowledge of many aspects of Mormonism, but now will declare that they “know” that what they used to “know” is false.
    I was suggesting that there is nothing wrong with being a believer. In fact, as a believer, if evidence or logic comes to light which challenges something I believe, that might weaken my belief on that point without shattering other points of my belief.
    There are things which I believe, things which I strongly believe and things which I know. I strongly believe that Joseph Smith was a prophet, but I cannot say that I know that he saw God and Jesus in the sacred grove in the spring of 1820. I do not hesitate to state this. I do not feel any urge to defend this and I do not consider a member who declares that he knows Joseph saw God and Jesus in the Spring of 1820 inherently more spiritual, more committed or, in any way, a stronger or better LDS than I because of our differences in what we claim.

    There are many problems which I believe Saints have encountered by not thoughtfully considering what claims they make about themselves. It is an extensive subject. I have enjoyed the discussion here and have decided to discuss this on my talk show this Sunday 24 Aug.

    Those interested in listening or participating with me are invited to call in or send email during this upcoming talk show. It broadcasts live in the Salt Lake area Sunday from 5:00-7:00 pm MST on the radio station KTKK found on the radio dial at 630 AM. It also broadcasts live on the internet at http://www.k-talk.com.

    I will address myself directly to Bryce’s comments and a number of others posted on this site.

  58. To different people, are given different gifts. It is not given to everyone to “know” for themselves. For some of us, it is good enough to believe on the words of others who do.

    This is my situation.

    I don’t “know” this Church is “true” (whatever that phrase means). Never have. Don’t know if I ever will, though I’m certainly open to going there someday.

    What bothers me, is the pressure that many Church members to “fake it” even when they don’t “know.” I don’t like the idea of bearing a testimony that is not, in fact, true of you. I don’t like the idea of saying “I know” just because you feel like all your fellow worshipers expect it of you.

  59. We could even take this to another level of abstraction and discuss: “Do you _know_ that you know, or do you merely _believe_ that you know?”

    And, then _how_? The discussion in the above comments of the how is fraught with circular reasoning, undefined or unclear terms, and people talking past each other.

    It’s somewhat relevant because most of the world, even mainstream Christendom, doesn’t even think that one can know for sure.

    There are even people in leadership positions in the church, (I had a BP at the MTC who was one) who said you can’t ever _really_ know in this life. But I wonder how he fit those who claim to have seen the Savior into his blanket statement.

    And, um, yeah, I know that:

    1. There is a God.
    2. There is a Jesus Christ, the Son of God who brought about the Atonement and the Resurrection from the dead.
    3. Joseph Smith Jr saw God and Jesus.
    4. The Book of Mormon is what it claims to be.

    I’ve often said I _believe_ those things, when I wish to hold back and not give full-bore testimony. But to give more of the complete story, and the proper degree of things, I have to say, that I literally _know_ those things, and that I know that I know. The Spirit has “burned” the knowledge of those things into me, along the lines of page 38 of Gospel Principles:

    The convincing power of the Holy Ghost is so great that there can be no doubt that what he reveals to us is true. President Joseph Fielding Smith said:

    “When a man has the manifestation from the Holy Ghost, it leaves an indelible impression on his soul, one that is not easily erased. It is Spirit speaking to spirit, and it comes with convincing force. A manifestation of an angel, or even the Son of God himself, would impress the eye and mind, and eventually become dimmed, but the impressions of the Holy Ghost sink deeper into the soul and are more difficult to erase” (Answers to Gospel Questions, 2:151).

    President Smith also said, “Through the Holy Ghost the truth is woven into the very fibre and sinews of the body so that it cannot be forgotten” (Doctrines of Salvation, 1:48).

  60. All I can say is that every time I see a comment by Van Hale my mind says it is a comment by “Van Halen.” And then I can’t get all of those Van Halen songs out of my head. Something about Beautiful Girls and Jamie is Crying and somebody is Running with the Devil…

  61. From Orson Scott Card’s “Saintspeak” dictionary:

    knowledge

    “The ultimate level of certainty, much stronger than faith. It means that you have had faith in something so long you can’t remember ever thinking about it and you certainly don’t intend to start now.”

  62. Geoff,

    My middle name is Edward – Eddie. I live in anticipation of accidently receiving a royalty check once in a while. When I do, I think I will keep it. Would that be so wrong?

  63. I believe the Holy Ghost has prompted and directed me, perhaps daily. I find it common for Saints to speak of the Spirit (Holy Ghost) being stronger on one occasion than another. If the Holy Ghost imparts sure knowledge would that mean that sure knowledge is to be considered stronger on one occasion than another.

    As I will support on my talk show this Sunday from a plethora of sources, we have very good reason to be more careful or more precise in our use of faith, belief, knowledge and sure knowledge than I suspect is typical among the Saints.

    While, in principle, I have a strong opinion as to how these terms should be defined and used and what it should mean when someone says “I know,” in practice, I do not question or challenge or criticize those who say they know, unless they are expecting me to accept something as fact because they have told me they know.

  64. Van,

    The problem that I saw in your show last Sunday was that you were exclusively limiting what you thought members of the Church should say, and that was “I believe,” instead of “I know.” In fact, at one point you corrected Mike Ash from saying “we know.” That doesn’t seem to me like not questioning or criticizing those who say they know. It seems more like you’re setting a standard of “I believe” that you think should prevail in the Church over “I know,” which is contrary to the teachings of the Brethren (see comments above). If we “believe” then we should be diligently striving to “know.” In our daily growth of “believing” we will one day come to “believe” so much so as to be comfortable saying we “know.” We don’t have to have a perfect knowledge to say it. If the Spirit witnesses to us that something is true, then we “know” it. The Spirit doesn’t lie.

    One of the things that “I know,” which should be a fundamental part of every member’s testimony, is that continual revelation is being given to living prophets and apostles today. You too emphasized this strongly on your program with one of your callers. So if something I am in the process of “knowing” seemingly changes, it is probably the result of new revelation, either to myself (through study and faith), or from the living prophets and apostles of the Church. If you wait to say “I know” until you have a perfect knowledge, you’ll be waiting for eons of time. Alma didn’t think he had to wait to have a perfect knowledge to say “I know” (Alma 5:45–48). His testimony was that the Holy Ghost had witnessed to him, and so he “knew.” Should we not also follow the example of Alma?

    You said that there are some things you “know.” What are they?

  65. Van-

    I didn’t have a chance to listen to the show with Mike Ash, so I’m still a bit confused. Please forgive my ignorance. In your view, can people “know” things about the gospel, or is that impossible? I can’t tell from your comments whether you feel using the phrase “I know” is valid or not. If someone says, “I know….”, do you auto-correct them in your mind and substitute “I believe…” thinking that that’s what the speaker really means? I’m just trying to get a feel for what your view is on this.

  66. People can surely “know” things about the gospel; typically, in my view, from participation in them, or experience. How many Church members do you know who will stand and say they acquired knowledge through an ascension vision?

  67. Raven,

    My program with Mike Ash is archived on my podcast at: http://mormonmisc.podbean.com if you wish to listen to it.

    I will address the topic more directly this coming Sunday. I became interested in it more than 40 years ago on my mission.

    I typically think that when members of my ward say “I know” in reference to God, Jesus, the prophets, the Book of Mormon etc. that they probably strongly believe, but I would not think of trying to impose my view on them.

    My main point in my discussion with Mike Ash was that I am very comfortable with being a believer and not feeling that I must KNOW and declare knowledge on our LDS claims. I have found that my belief is much more secure than many who have insisted that they know, but now are bitter and aggressive ex-Mormons trying to destroy my faith.

    One of the great advantages of being a believer is that I can have many levels of. There are aspects of my faith in which my belief is nominal and others where my belief is stong enough that I think I would lay my life on the line. I would like to know that God lives, but I would only feel that my belief is inferior to someone’s knowledge that God lives, if he had actually seen God, and does, by my definition, know. I desire to know that God lives, and believe that someday I will, but until then, my belief is sufficient.

    I believe that many who have considered knowledge the only appropriate statement for a true LDS have come to realize that something they knew was wrong and then could not muster even a little belief and have discarded their lifelong commitment to what I would call their faith.

    I believe there is a God and I believe that he can lead us in subtle ways which result in belief but to declare it to be knowledge would be inaccurate; and I believe that he can personally appear to us in such a way that to declare anything other than “I know” would be inaccurate.

  68. Van,

    I think it is an incredibly faith-lacking position to say that I would like to know that God lives, but I can’t in this life. As Alma said, faith is not a perfect knowledge, but it is still a knowledge. You don’t know with a surety, but you still know (Alma 32). What you are seeming to say, to me, is that unless you have a perfect knowledge you can’t say you know anything. That is just plain absurd. Faith is a progressive knowledge of things.

    Know therefore that the Lord thy God, he is God, the faithful God, which keepeth covenant and mercy with them that love him and keep his commandments to a thousand generations” (Deut. 7:9).

    I, for one, know that God lives.

  69. This is an interesting discussion. I think the crux of the issue is the following. The scriptures and prophets teach that the Holy Ghost testifies of and imparts truth. Joseph Smith called revelation “pure knowledge.” The issue is not really whether we know the Book of Mormon is true or Jesus Christ really existed. Once we receive a spiritual witness, then the issue becomes do we believe the spiritual witness? Do we believe the Holy Ghost? Do we believe in the spirit of prophecy and revelation?

    This was the whole thrust of the Hel 5:49 quote above, “go forth and marvel not, neither should they doubt.” The issue was not whether they had seen or had a spiritual witness. The issue was whether they would continue to believe that witness or whether they would allow worldly influences to doubt and perhaps eventually deny the witness.

    At some point we come to a fork in the road. We have to _decide_ whether we believe a spiritual witness. We as human beings can even doubt spiritual witnesses when we are the process of receiving them as our faculties are still ours. Van Hale stated:

    “I do not question or challenge or criticize those who say they know, unless they are expecting me to accept something as fact because they have told me they know.”

    That is a faulty principle. There is no compulsion in acquisition of knowledge. Van Hale, just like the rest of us, have to decide if we are willing to fully trust spiritual witnesses or not. It is a decision that we and only we can make. I do know, notwithstanding my failure to do so at times, that once we surrender our mind and heart and _choose_ to fully accept and believe all the Spirit teaches us and tells us, the windows of Heaven will open. But that scares us because we might be told something that we don’t really want to do. And I think in the end, that’s the crux of the issue. To move into knowledge brings a new level of accountability, and that scares us (at least it does me).

  70. Let’s also not forget that knowledge is a spiritual gift that not all have:

    Knowledge “that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and that he was crucified for the sins of the world” (D&C 46:13).

    Knowledge of “the differences of administration” (D&C 46:15; see also 1 Corinthians 12:5).

    Knowledge of “the diversities of operations” (D&C 46:16; see also 1 Corinthians 12:6–7).

    The gift of “the word of knowledge” (1 Corinthians 12:8; D&C 46:18).

  71. Let’s also not forget that knowledge is a spiritual gift that not all have

    I’ve yet to see a good response to your position, for what it’s worth.

  72. If we don’t have the spiritual gift of knowledge, then we should be seeking it diligently until we have it. But I don’t define knowledge as a perfect knowledge either. So it’s not as hard to come by as Van depicts. I come to know new things every day.

    For instance, yesterday I came to know from the president of the Mt. Timpanogos temple that if you do any ordinance work at the temple (i.e. initiatories, baptisms, sealings, etc.), then afterwards you are allowed to put on your white clothes (minus the other sacred items), and go to the Celestial room to ponder, pray, or read scriptures. I didn’t know that before. But now I know. I don’t just believe it, I also know it, particularly since it came directly from the temple president. I don’t have to have the prophet tell me in person, or have a theophany, to know this is true.

    I bet many people are coming to know this for the first time right now too.

  73. The upcoming (next month) “Alma 32 Conference” should be of interest to everyone following this discussion:

    An Experiment on the Word: Reading Alma 32
    A Collaborative Approach to Mormon Theology

    Friday, September 19, 2008
HBLL Auditorium (first floor)

    Julie M. Smith – So Shall My Word Be: Reading Alma 32 through Isaiah 55

    James E. Faulconer – Desiring to Believe: Philo-Sophia and the Word of God


    Adam Miller – You Must Needs Say that the Word is Good


    Jenny Webb – It Is Well that Ye Are Cast Out: Alma 32 and Eden


    Joseph M. Spencer – Faith, Hope, and Charity: Alma and Joseph Smith


    Robert Couch – “No Cause to Believe”: Knowledge and Other Signs of Dormant Faith

    Sponsored by the Richard L. Evans Chair of Religious Understanding and the Mormon Theology Seminar

    =

    Further light and knowledge at:

    http://alma32.wordpress.com/

  74. Returning again to Elder Oaks last talk at Conference:

    One of the greatest things about our Heavenly Father’s plan for His children is that each of us can know the truth of that plan for ourselves. That revealed knowledge does not come from books, from scientific proof, or from intellectual pondering. As with the Apostle Peter, we can receive that knowledge directly from our Heavenly Father through the witness of the Holy Ghost.

    When we know spiritual truths by spiritual means, we can be just as sure of that knowledge as scholars and scientists are of the different kinds of knowledge they have acquired by different methods.

  75. I actually see this statement as a recognition of what I stated at the outset.

    “In context of epistemology it is beneficial to acknowledge ground rules of what constitutes knowing. Often times, believers and doubters talk past each other when they speak of knowing. To a secularist, a believer cannot “know” because they cannot provide unequivocal empirical evidence. Thus, according to the rules of a secularist, I cannot “know.”

    I don’t mind granting that to them as long as we are clear that we differ on what it is to know and what counts as evidence.”

    In short; we are talking about different kinds of knowing. We can equate our knowledge with experiential only in that which we have experienced.

    And again, Bryce, you have yet to address the issue of humility, and of spiritual gifts that differ.

  76. Lastly, Bryce, perhaps you feel like Van, myself, and others are somehow trying to take away from your testimony or what you say you know. That isn’t the intent in the least. In fact, I feel like we are granting you every right to say as often as you like that you “know the Church is true.” On the flip side, however, you seem to be denigrating the testimony of fellow Saints who prefer to say that they believe (and verily do believe) the Church is true. I can say that I know the atonement works for forgiveness on the basis that I have experienced forgiveness. I strongly, strongly believe that. I still, however, remain in my fallen state, and though I live as I believe I do not feel to say I “know the church is true” in all cases, though I verily believe it is, because I would still feel to qualify why I believe I know that.

    Spiritual gifts differ.

  77. BHodges,

    Van corrected Mike Ash when he said that “we know” certain things. “Oh no, ‘we believe’…” Van said. Tell me that that is granting him every right to say what he wants. No. Van, and those like him, are setting a standard of “I believe,” over “I know,” which I don’t believe is right or in accord with what the Brethren teach.

    I am not denigrating those who prefer to say that they “believe.” I am saying that they can come to “know,” and should be striving diligently to that end. Believing is not life eternal. Knowing is (John 17:3; cf. D&C 132:24).

  78. Was Van speaking for himself and Ash? Or for the entire Church?

    By the way, your assertion that “knowing” is life eternal is flawed in that the mere knowledge of truth does not entail wisdom, or acting in accordance with knowledge. Satan likely knows that Jesus is the Christ. Does he have life eternal?

  79. Well, apparently he was speaking for himself and Ash, since he corrected him. And they were both talking generally about how we, as Church members, should approach our knowledge of certain things in the Church. So, yes, it sounded to me like they were applying it to the entire Church as well.

    And, I think the kind of knowledge spoken of in the scripture is wisdom, not solely intellectual storage of facts.

  80. So we have a few options. Van Hale could be saying that-speaking for himself and Mike Ash- they believe such and such. OR he could be saying that-speaking for the Church as though approaching the knowledge from an epistemologically positivist point of view- we can only believe, according to the rules of that knowledge. Or he could be saying that, no mater what, we cannot know in general.

    I could generally agree with the first 2, and say that the last one is possible in the realm of certain aspects and not totality.

  81. Elder Samuelson just commented at BYU Education Week:

    Many other Christian faiths believe in the divinity of Christ. But it is a special blessing to know that he is the Redeemer and he lives today. (BYU NewsNet)

  82. Bryce,

    You said:

    “I think it is an incredibly faith-lacking position to say that I would like to know that God lives, but I can’t in this life.”

    The way you stated this it seemed that you think that this is my position. It is not. I believe that it possible, and that it has happened, that God has revealed himself to a few in such a way that for them to declare, “I know that God and Jesus live,” would be appropriate and accurate.

    I believe Joseph Smith’s testimonies. He knew that God lives and that Jesus is the Only Begotten of the Father. From what you say, I assume that you also know this. Thus, your knowledge and Joseph’s are the same.

    Joseph testified that he knew, because he saw and spoke with God and Jesus. But, I have not. I have been given the gift of believing Joseph’s claim, but I have not had experiences like he claimed – I have not seen nor had a direct two-way conversation, speaking face to face, as one man with another, with either God or Jesus. There is a significant difference between Joseph and me, which I consider to be expressed appropriately by the use of “Knowledge” for Joseph and “Belief” for me.

    If you think that there is a difference in the basis for your testimony and Joseph’s, I wonder how you would express that difference. If not, I wonder how one would differentiate between your testimony and mine, if there is any. If you have seen and talked with God as did Joseph, then it is clear to me that you and Joseph have a testimony which is significantly stronger than mine. I would say that both of you should declare, “I know.” However, If you have not had such experiences as Joseph, then I would conclude that your testimony, no matter what terminology you use, probably is substantially the same as mine, eventhough you claim to know, and I claim to be a believer.

    As is obvious in the discussions here one can build one argument by assembling a set of quotes, while another can build a different argument from a different set of quotes. The the temptation is to call this simply an argument of semantics, but I think it is much more than that. I think it is different for one such as Joseph to declare he knows because he has seen, and for another to claim that he, who has not seen, knows, equating the knowledge from seeing and the knowledge from not seeing to be equal.

    “And now, after the many testimonies which have been given of him, this is the testimony, last of all, which we give of him: That he lives!

    For we saw him, even on the right hand of God; and we heard the voice bearing record that he is the Only Gegotten of the Father” D&C 76:22–23.

    There are many clear scriptures and statements by Joseph and others which persuade me to my position. Further, this whole concept extends into a number of other areas, which I intend to discuss on my talk show Sunday 24 August.

  83. One brief note: One who has knowledge of God cannot be a doubter; one who is a believer, may be a doubter, or may not be a doubter. It does not follow for one to assume that because I say I do not know, but I believe, is, in fact, a declaration that I am a doubter.

  84. As I’m sure you could imagine, I disagree with you Van. Alma did not have a vision of God in Alma 5 in order for him to say that “I know.” A witness from the Holy Ghost was enough:

    45 And this is not all. Do ye not suppose that I know of these things myself? Behold, I testify unto you that I do know that these things whereof I have spoken are true. And how do ye suppose that I know of their surety?
    46 Behold, I say unto you they are made known unto me by the Holy Spirit of God. Behold, I have fasted and prayed many days that I might know these things of myself. And now I do know of myself that they are true; for the Lord God hath made them manifest unto me by his Holy Spirit; and this is the spirit of revelation which is in me.
    47 And moreover, I say unto you that it has thus been revealed unto me, that the words which have been spoken by our fathers are true, even so according to the spirit of prophecy which is in me, which is also by the manifestation of the Spirit of God.
    48 I say unto you, that I know of myself that whatsoever I shall say unto you, concerning that which is to come, is true; and I say unto you, that I know that Jesus Christ shall come, yea, the Son, the Only Begotten of the Father, full of grace, and mercy, and truth. And behold, it is he that cometh to take away the sins of the world, yea, the sins of every man who steadfastly believeth on his name. (Alma 5:45–48)

  85. Bryce,

    I assume, from your last comment, that you believe that a prompting by the Holy Ghost that God lives and Jesus is his begotten and resurrected Son, invokes the same absolute certainty as a direct personal visitation or vision such as Joseph recounted? Is that your view?

    “Knowledge” is used loosely in various ways which connote belief or understanding, however in the context of testimony in our legal system and in many scriptures and statements by Joseph and others it denotes a claim of empirical knowledge. It is in this context that I argue Joseph “knows” that God exists, and in contrast, I “believe” God exists. How would you compare or contrast your testimony on this with that of Joseph?

    I find persuasive support for the position that in the context of testimony, nothing but an empirical claim constitutes knowledge. I suspect that you my not find my reference to testimony in our legal system relevant, but I turn to it to make a point which I think we all understand. Please do not take offense at my crude analogy.

    In a murder case, is the judge and the jury to base their verdict upon a witness who followed the story in the newspapers and on TV and spent time in contemplation during which he received a feeling of certainty and thus testifies in court that he knows that the defendant is not guilty, or in a witness who testifies that he personally knows both the defendant and the victim; was 10 feet away and saw the defendant shoot the victim 3 times in the head and happened to capture the murder on his cell phone? I do not think that the first witness’s testimony would even be allowed in court.

    Even in church courts evidence and experiencial testimony is valued over spiritual promptings.

  86. Van,

    No, a spiritual witness doesn’t connotate the “same absolute certainty” as a direct personal visitation or vision. It connotates much much more than that. Remember that Laman and Lemuel had seen a vision, they had seen angels, and yet they still murmurred, complained, and didn’t know the truth. Their physical witness of God’s power, message, and angels meant absolutely nothing to them (1 Ne. 7:9–12). When Christ Himself walked on the earth there were many who saw Him, and even witnessed many miracles by His hand, and yet they did not know that He was the Son of God, and the Messiah who was prophesied that would come. It is only a revelation of the Spirit that can communicate that knowledge, even if the Savior stood directly before your eyes (Matt. 16:15–17).

    Consider President Joseph Fielding Smith’s words:

    When a man has the manifestation from the Holy Ghost, it leaves an indelible impression on his soul, one that is not easily erased. It is Spirit speaking to spirit, and it comes with convincing force. A manifestation of an angel, or even the Son of God himself, would impress the eye and mind, and eventually become dimmed, but the impressions of the Holy Ghost sink deeper into the soul and are more difficult to erase. (Answers to Gospel Questions, 2:151).

    The witness of the Spirit is anything but similar to the empirical knowledge of science, or the legal system, or any other worldly method. Please read Elder Oak’s last Conference talk entitled “Testimony” on the subject. Here is a selection:

    While there are some “evidences” for gospel truths (for example, see Psalm 19:1; Helaman 8:24), scientific methods will not yield spiritual knowledge. This is what Jesus taught in response to Simon Peter’s testimony that He was the Christ: “Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 16:17). The Apostle Paul explained this. In a letter to the Corinthian Saints, he said, “The things of God knoweth no man, but [by] the Spirit of God” (1 Corinthians 2:11; see also John 14:17).

    In contrast, we know the things of man by the ways of man, 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” (1 Corinthians 2:14).

    The Book of Mormon teaches that God will manifest the truth of spiritual things unto us by the power of the Holy Ghost (see Moroni 10:4–5). In modern revelation God promises us that we will receive “knowledge” by His telling us in our mind and in our heart “by the Holy Ghost” (D&C 8:1–2).

    One of the greatest things about our Heavenly Father’s plan for His children is that each of us can know the truth of that plan for ourselves. That revealed knowledge does not come from books, from scientific proof, or from intellectual pondering. As with the Apostle Peter, we can receive that knowledge directly from our Heavenly Father through the witness of the Holy Ghost.

    When we know spiritual truths by spiritual means, we can be just as sure of that knowledge as scholars and scientists are of the different kinds of knowledge they have acquired by different methods.

    You compare Joseph’s knowledge of God in the same terms that the world does, by an empirical witness by our physical senses, particularly through the eyes. But a knowledge of God does not come exclusively through these senses. Quite to the contrary; He reveals Himself by and through His Spirit, something which the world cannot understand. But that knowledge which comes through the Spirit is just as sure, and just as real, as anything that we can perceive through our physical senses.

    Our testimony is NOT based on physical empirical claims of knowledge. Nothing could be further from the truth. “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” (1 Cor. 2:14).

    God reveals Himself to us through His Spirit. Those who have had a witness of His Spirit know that He is. That witness is not physically discerned; it is spiritually discerned. But it IS sure.

    34 These words are not of men nor of man, but of me; wherefore, you shall testify they are of me and not of man;
    35 For it is my voice which speaketh them unto you; for they are given by my Spirit unto you, and by my power you can read them one to another; and save it were by my power you could not have them;
    36 Wherefore, you can testify that you have heard my voice, and know my words. (D&C 18:34–36)

    If you choose to be a secularist, then I suppose that a physical empirical knowledge will suffice. But the Saints, those who have taken upon themselves the name of Christ, have been called out of the world, and we understand and know the things of God on much different terms than they ever will.

    I hope you will give the URL to this site and article on your show/website tonight so that your listeners can hear and read both sides of the coin. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to listen because of home teaching appointments.

  87. Today during church I had this thought – The Lord will never make His abode with you, unless you have already come to know that He is by His Spirit.

    I read the following account from Ether 3-4 which illustrates this. In this chapter the Lord is speaking with the brother of Jared. The Lord tells him that he was able to see the finger of the Lord because of his faith (v. 9; count 3 “knows” in verses 2, 4 and 5). The Lord then asks,

    Sawest thou more than this? (v. 9)

    The brother of Jared answers,

    Nay; Lord, show thyself unto me. (v. 10)

    Then the following exchange happens:

    And the Lord said unto him: Believest thou the words which I shall speak?

    And he answered: Yea, Lord, I know that thou speaketh the truth, for thou art a God of truth, and canst not lie. (v. 11-12)

    Then the Lord showed himself to him:

    And when he has said these words, behold, the Lord showed himself unto him, and said: Because thou knowest these things ye are redeemed from the fall; therefore ye are brought back into my presence; therefore I show myself unto you. (v. 13)

    Moroni adds his insight about the brother of Jared:

    For he had said unto him in times before, that if he would believe in him that he could show unto him all things-it should be shown unto him; therefore the Lord could not withhold anything from him, for he knew that the Lord could show him all things. (v. 26)

    Then Moroni relates a revelation from the Lord in which the Lord gives the following promise to all:

    But he that believeth these things which I have spoken, him will I visit with the manifestations of my Spirit, and he shall know and bear record. For because of my Spirit he shall know that these things are true; for it persuadeth men to do good. (Ether 4:11)

    He also says:

    And in that day that they shall exercise faith in me, saith the Lord, even as the brother of Jared did, that they may become sanctified in me, then will I manifest unto them the things which the brother of Jared saw, even to the unfolding unto them all my revelations, saith Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Father of the heavens and of the earth, and all things that in them are. (Ether 4:7)

    Lest you think that the brother of Jared had a perfect knowledge of everything about God before seeing Him, Ether 3:6–9 tells us that he didn’t even know that the Lord had a body “like unto flesh and blood.” What he did know was that the finger was the Lord’s (v. 19). The perfect knowledge that the brother of Jared possessed was that God was real, and that He lived, a knowledge and witness he could only have received by the Spirit. It was only then, and not until then, that the Lord manifested Himself unto him.

  88. I’ve read back over this post and I think that it’s becoming clear that Van Hale’s basic argument is an argument in epistemology–how we know.  He is taking the secularist position that knowledge through the physical senses is the path to the most sure knowledge.  I’ve also noticed that Van Hale has hardly quoted a single scrap of scripture or the words of modern prophets to back up his position (just 1 scriptural quote).    In contrast, those who have responded with what I deem as more convincing arguments have copiously quoted the scriptures and the modern prophets to do so in a very cohesive way. 

    To say Joseph Smith’s experience was sure because he saw and that we cannot have that same type of knowledge is faulty and unscriptural.  Why did Joseph Smith believe the vision?  Because his heart was prepared.  Laman and Lemuel had miraculous visitations, but here’s what happened:

    Now, he says that the Lord has talked with him, and also that angels have ministered unto him. But behold, we know that he lies unto us; and he tells us these things, and he worketh many things by his cunning arts, that he may deceive our eyes, thinking, perhaps, that he may lead us away into some strange wilderness; and after he has led us away, he has thought to make himself a king and a ruler over us, that he may do with us according to his will and pleasure. And after this manner did my brother Laman stir up their hearts to anger. (1 Nephi 16:38)

    Van Hale’s argument that if he saw he would know like Joseph Smith simply does not hold water.  It is clear in this verse that seeing something physically when the heart is not prepared results in no knowledge at all.

    Remember Bruce R. McConkie’s final testimony:

    And now as pertaining to this perfect Atonement, I testify that it took place at Gethsemane and at Golgotha. And as pertaining to Jesus Christ, I testify tha pertaining to Jesus Christ, I testify that he is the Son of the Living God who was crucified for the sins of the world. He is our Lord, our God, and our King. This I know of myself independent of any other person. I am one of his Witnesses. And in the coming day I will feel the nail marks in his hands and in his feet and shall wet his feet with my tears. But I shall not know any better then than I know now that he is God’s almighty Son and he is our Savior and Redeemer and that Salvation comes in and through his atoning blood and in no other way.

  89. Bryce,

    I did not read your last post before I went on the air. I am sorry you did not have a chance to listen to my program.  I did give out the address of this site and recommended that those interested should come here and read the several opinions posted here.

    I would like to present you with some of the sources I cited for your consideration. I would like you to reconsider your judgmental comment:

    "If you choose to be a secularist, then I suppose that a physical empirical knowledge will suffice. "

    I would hope that our discussion would not deteriorate by resorting to such comments.

    If I understand your comments correctly, you would be prepared to declare that your witness of the Holy Ghost conveyed a certainty, in fact knowledge of God’s existence, superior to that which Joseph Smith claimed in his first vision. He claimed knowledge from his first vision. I suggest you re-read JS-H 21-25 in the context of our discussion.

    I do not believe that any inspiration of the Holy Ghost conveys the same certainty as would a personal appearance of God or Jesus. There are a number of scriptures and statements which I have collected which I will present. Consider these two:

    D&C 93:1 1 Verily, thus saith the Lord: It shall come to pass that every soul who forsaketh his sins and cometh unto me, and calleth on my name, and obeyeth my voice, and keepeth my commandments, shall see my face and know that I am;2 And that I am the true light that lighteth every man that cometh into the world;3 And that I am in the Father, and the Father in me, and the Father and I are one—
    D&C 76:22–24 22 And now, after the many testimonies which have been given of him, this is the testimony, last of all, which we give of him: That he lives!23 For we saw him, even on the right hand of God; and we heard the voice bearing record that he is the Only Begotten of the Father—24 That by him, and through him, and of him, the worlds are and were created, and the inhabitants thereof are begotten sons and daughters unto God.

    Note here that this ultimate testimony of Jesus they declared was not that they had been inspired by the Holy Ghost, but that they saw him.
    D&C 76:113–119 113 This is the end of the vision which we saw, which we were commanded to write while we were yet in the Spirit.
    114 But great and marvelous are the works of the Lord, and the mysteries of his kingdom which he showed unto us, which surpass all understanding in glory, and in might, and in dominion;115 Which he commanded us we should not write while we were yet in the Spirit, and are not lawful for man to utter;116 Neither is man capable to make them known, for they are only to be seen and understood by the power of the Holy Spirit, which God bestows on those who love him, and purify themselves before him;117 To whom he grants this privilege of seeing and knowing for themselves;118 That through the power and manifestation of the Spirit, while in the flesh, they may be able to bear his presence in the world of glory.

    I do not mean, in any way, to diminish the gift and power of the Holy Ghost. I am suggesting that there is substantial support from the scriptures and teachings of Joseph Smith and others that beyond the inspiration and promptings of the Holy Ghost is the knowledge which comes by the experience of direct visual communication with God and/or Jesus.

    I must run, I will add more later. I would at least like to convince you that for me to believe that see and talk with God is a more sure does make me a secularist. 

  90. Van,

    I hope that your last paragraph was a typo.

    I disagree with you.  I believe a witness from the Spirit is just as sure or more so of the existence of God than a vision would be, and I’ve quoted several of the Brethren above who have said as much on multiple occasions, including President Faust and President Joseph Fielding Smith.

    Let me address the scriptures you’ve listed:

    JS-H 21-25 – Do you think Joseph would have been able to have the faith to call down a vision of God if he did not already believe in His existence?  No. Joseph knew that God lived with such a surety that God was able to reveal Himself to him.

    D&C 93:1 – You’ll notice that we only get to see the face of God after we have forsaken sin, come unto Christ, called on His name, obeyed His voice, and kept His commandments.  I would hope that we could know that He is while we are doing most of this, otherwise what would be the impetus to do it?  What if in the end we find out He isn’t really there? Having a knowledge of God compels us to follow Him.  We don’t follow Him so that we can gain a knowledge of His existence.  That’s a faulty and backwards philosophy.

    D&C 76:22–24 – Once again, do you not think that they already knew that God existed prior to this?  A vision of God only confirmed their already existent faith in Him, and as a blessing for having had such faith.

    D&C 76:113–119 – Did you miss the part which says that they saw the vision while "in the Spirit", "for they are only to be seen and understood by the power of the Holy Spirit"?  The privilege of seeing and knowing with our physical eyes is only given to those who already know by the Spirit.  God will not reveal Himself to you in order to prove His existence.  Where would be faith in that case?  There would be none.

    We don’t base our testimony of truth by physical empirical knowledge.  That is what the world does, what the secularist does.  We have the Spirit to teach us the truth, something the world can never understand.  If we wait to know that God lives until the day that we see Him, it will be entirely too late to exercise our faith in Him.  He wants us to gain a knowledge by the Spirit long before that date, which we can most assuredly do, and which we have been promised time and time again.

    Seeing and talking with God is NOT a more sure witness, “for ye receive no witness until after the trial of your faith.” And what is faith?  “Faith is things which are hoped for and not seen.” “Wherefore, dispute not because ye see not” (Ether 12:6). Saying that “I know” that God lives even if I have not seen Him is a trial of my faith in God and of the impressions of His Spirit. It is a hope that one day I will see Him with my eyes. One day we will have a visual witness of God, but it will be after we have already come to a sure knowledge of Him by His Spirit. God will not take away the privilege of exercising faith in Him unless we have already come to have that sure knowledge of His existence, in which case there is no point in the veil being held over our eyes any longer.

    “Did I not speak peace to your mind concerning the matter?  What greater witness can you have than from God?  And now, behold, you have received a witness; for if I have told you things which no man knoweth have you not received a witness?” (D&C 6:23–24).

  91. I think the difference between Bryce’s and Van Hale’s position is becoming clear.  Van Hale’s basic position is that seeing with the physical eyes is the ultimate form of knowing.  This flies in the face of too many scriptural passages _and patterns_ to be true. 

    Joseph Smith saw angels.  So did Laman and Lemuel.  Joseph Smith believed the angels.  Laman and Lemuel did not.  They questioned the angels command to go back to Laban to get the plates, and eventually wrote off the entire incident to the "cunning arts" of Nephi.  If seeing is such a sure way of knowing, how can this be explained?

    It is easily explained.  Seeing is not the ultimate way of knowing.  The Spirit is superior.  That is doctrinal sound and true.  In fact, I would take it a step further.  The state of the heart, ultimately, determines whether we are even capable of recognizing the truth.  As Laman and Lemuel demonstrate, seeing without a prepared heart is actually worse than not seeing at all. 

    Now seeing _and_ knowing by the Spirit is perhaps even pinnacle.  However, the Spirit is the crucial piece here, not the seeing.  It is clearly demonstrated that seeing alone without the Spirit does not convince as demonstrated by Laman and Lemuel.  The Spirit can be just as convincing as seeing, as demonstrated by Bruce R. McConkie’s final testimony. 

    Now seeing and knowing by the Holy Ghost surely is a great gift, which is why denying the Holy Ghost is an unpardonable sin (note it is _not_ denying what you see, but denying the Holy Ghost that is unpardonable).  I simply am certain that Van Hale’s position is not correct.   This is a strong theme that was hit on by Elder Oaks in the last General Conference.  I can’t help but wonder in awe at the timeliness of the message of the modern prophets and apostles.

  92. BHodges question is something I was thinking about but did not write.  I do believe that both seeing with the eyes and receiving a witness of the Spirit is a sure witness.  It is a gift to those who are prepared, as was the case with the Brother of Jared. 

    "And because of the knowledge of this man he could not be kept from beholding within the veil; and he saw the finger of Jesus, which, when he saw, he fell with fear; for he knew that it was the finger of the Lord; and he had faith no longer, for he knew, nothing doubting. Wherefore, having this perfect knowledge of God, he could not be kept from within the veil; therefore he saw Jesus; and he did minister unto him." (Ether 3:19–20).

    Note that his perfect knowledge came _before_ he saw Christ, not after.  Because of his knowledge he could not be kept from within the veil.  The knowledge came before.  Now it’s not clear whether this refers to his knowledge of the Spirit and his faith alone or this coupled with having seen the finger of the Lord.  Either way, the crucial component to this knowledge is the testimony and faith that brought about the sure knowledge.  His was not a wishy-washy position.  It was a position of certainty.  He had heard the voice of the Spirit in the past, and he had this knowledge.

    Of importance here, however, is that it was not the seeing that ensured, but the faith and the Spirit.  Vision with they eyes coupled with the Spirit is the pinnacle of testimony.  However, seeing without the Spirit can work to our condemnation, and as Laman and Lemuel point out, doesn’t convince an unwilling heart.

    The original question was if knowledge of the Spirit is knowledge indeed.  I believe the answer is a resounding yes.  Seeing applies to such a select view in the history of mankind.  To impose the necessity of seeing in order to have knowledge is almost, in my opinion, not different than the requirements of the sign seekers.  "If thou be the Son of God…"  It’s the fish in the fish bowl telling the owner the criteria he has to comply with to prove his existence and his truth. 

    I know for myself the profound spiritual experiences I’ve had have made a lasting impression on me, much more than anything I’ve ever seen or heard.  While I am intellectually convinced of the truth of the gospel (not that I have all the answers to all the questions), when you get on your knees all of those tight logical arguments don’t instill faith in and of themselves.  When we pray we put it all on the line.  I believe it’s when we get on our knees that we truly get a gauge of our faith.  What strengthens mine is the recalling of past communications with the Spirit more than anything else.

  93. Speaking as an outsider to the discussion it appears like you are all talking past one an other because you aren’t being clear what the word "knowledge" means as you use it let along what "certain knowledge" means.A discussion of epistemology would be most helpful to clear up some of the discussion.

  94. I think Alma 32 does a great job of explaining the terms (looking forward to that conference at BYU). 

    When we begin to exercise faith in something that is good and true, then we feel the Spirit.  When we feel the Spirit, we can be sure that whatever thing we are exercising our faith in is good, and comes from God, indeed we can say that "I know that this is good" (v. 30, 33).  Am I sure that it is good and from God?  Yes! (v. 31).  Is our knowledge perfect in this thing?  Is it real? Yes! (v. 34-35).  But do we have a perfect knowledge of everything?  No (v. 35-36).  That is why we continue to learn and grow, gaining more sure knowledge of things, step by step (v. 37).  If we do not continue in the faith, but doubt this sure witness of the thing God has given us, then we will lose it and have to start over (v. 38-40).  If we continue in this path gaining more sure knowledge of the truth of God bit by bit, word by word, thing by thing, then eventually we will have a perfect knowledge of everything, and become omniscient like our Heavenly Father (v. 41-43).

    Do you see why I don’t need to see God to know that He lives?  He has already given me a witness of His presence, of His existence.  That I know by His Spirit.

  95. But Alma uses the term in a non-standard way with English.  That’s why I think you are talking past people.  Plus I’m not convinced Alma’s usage is used everywhere in the scriptures.  I’m sure the conference will address this.  My own thoughts on Alma 32 (as part of a series on epistemology) can be found here.

  96. How are we to understand scripture, particularly the Book of Mormon (since we don’t have the original language), if the words they use are used in non-standard ways?

    For my soul delighteth in plainness; for after this manner doth the Lord God work among the children of men. For the Lord God giveth light unto the understanding; for he speaketh unto men according to their language, unto their understanding. (2 Nephi 31:3)

  97. Context and structure.  The way we understand most conversations.  We all recognize that some contexts have different linguistic usages.   You’re talking about texts written under very different circumstances over hundreds of years.  Do you really think understanding and use would remain constant?

  98. To add, the other big problem is that Joseph will pick the words in English closest to the concept (with perhaps minor expansion).  But that doesn’t mean it’s an exact match.  So some familiarity with ancient Hebrew usage is very useful.  To assume that it matches our usage (which generally arises out of the Greek conception of epistemology) is simply fallacious.(BTW – is there a way to turn off that new editor feature so I can enter in HTML directly?)

  99. I’ve turned off the WYSIWYG comment editor. Sorry for the formatting problems.

    I agree that an understanding of times/cultures, and ancient languages like Hebrew and Greek help us understand more fully what scriptures mean. But a fundamental understanding of the Book of Mormon should be feasible without it. Can we understand Alma 32 basically?

  100. I think though we shouldn’t assume terms mean how we use them. I think that typically (although not always) we can pick up the meaning. For instance I think one reading Alma 32 will quickly see that Alma isn’t talking about knowledge as justified true belief the way it is often used.

  101. Another quote I just came across from President Heber C. Kimball:

    Let me say to you, that many of you will see the time when you will have all the trouble, trial and persecution that you can stand, and plenty of opportunities to show that you are true to God and his work. This Church has before it many close places through which it will have to pass before the work of God is crowned with victory. To meet the difficulties that are coming, it will be necessary for you to have a knowledge of the truth of this work for yourselves. The difficulties will be of such a character that the man or woman who does not possess this personal knowledge or witness will fall. If you have not got the testimony, live right and call upon the Lord and cease not till you obtain it. If you do not you will not stand. Remember these sayings, for many of you will live to see them fulfilled. The time will come when no man nor woman will be able to endure on borrowed light. Each will have to be guided by the light within himself. If you do not have it, how can you stand? (Statement by Heber C. Kimball in Whitney, Orson F. Life of Heber C. Kimball. Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1979. 449-451)

  102. Van Hale doesn’t seem to think it is necessary to have a personal knowledge or witness of the truth. To him, and those he teaches, a belief in the gospel is enough, but not a knowledge of its truth.

  103. If “knowledge” comes at different times in different ways for different people,who am I to force everyone into my own list of qualifications? I’ll leave that in the hands of God, who alone, ultimately is the judge. I guess that is what has disturbed me about this whole discussion is a slight tendency to judge the testimony of other people, to set up a solid standard all must conform to, a standard that has been constructed from various scriptures and statements apart from the vast context of a much more broad gospel than I see being promulgated in certain corners of the Church.

  104. In short, who gives a rats tail if someone can say “I know such and such” if they can’t even fully manifest love for their fellow members and strangers? The two are not mutually exclusive, of course, but in this discussion I see such a heavy emphasis on simply being able to declare something rather than becoming what such a declaration ought to cause one to become. People who don’t even know that they know Christ actually may know Christ so much more than someone who is comfortable with saying they know Christ.

    In short, orthopraxy, and who one is, exceeds orthodoxy, or what one believes one knows. Seeing through a glass darkly is the way we live, and faith without works is dead, as you well know. Again, they are not mutually exclusive, but they certainly can be.

  105. Elder Oaks had it right in one of the most crucial sermons I’ve heard in my life:

    The Apostle Paul taught that the Lord’s teachings and teachers were given that we may all attain “the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ” (Eph. 4:13). This process requires far more than acquiring knowledge. It is not even enough for us to be convinced of the gospel; we must act and think so that we are converted by it. In contrast to the institutions of the world, which teach us to know something, the gospel of Jesus Christ challenges us to become something. …We qualify for eternal life through a process of conversion. As used here, this word of many meanings signifies not just a convincing but a profound change of nature. Jesus used this meaning when he taught His chief Apostle the difference between a testimony and a conversion. Jesus asked his disciples, “Whom do men say that I the Son of man am?” (Matt. 16:13). Next He asked, “But whom say ye that I am?

    “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” (Matt. 16:15–17).

    Peter had a testimony. He knew that Jesus was the Christ, the promised Messiah, and he declared it. To testify is to know and to declare.

    Later on, Jesus taught these same men about conversion, which is far more than testimony. When the disciples asked who was the greatest in the kingdom of heaven, “Jesus called a little child unto him, and set him in the midst of them,

    “And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.

    “Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 18:2–4; emphasis added).

    Later, the Savior confirmed the importance of being converted, even for those with a testimony of the truth. In the sublime instructions given at the Last Supper, He told Simon Peter, “I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren” (Luke 22:32).

    In order to strengthen his brethren–to nourish and lead the flock of God–this man who had followed Jesus for three years, who had been given the authority of the holy apostleship, who had been a valiant teacher and testifier of the Christian gospel, and whose testimony had caused the Master to declare him blessed still had to be “converted.”

    Jesus’ challenge shows that the conversion He required for those who would enter the kingdom of heaven (see Matt. 18:3) was far more than just being converted to testify to the truthfulness of the gospel. To testify is to know and to declare. The gospel challenges us to be “converted,” which requires us to do and to become. If any of us relies solely upon our knowledge and testimony of the gospel, we are in the same position as the blessed but still unfinished Apostles whom Jesus challenged to be “converted.” We all know someone who has a strong testimony but does not act upon it so as to be converted. For example, returned missionaries, are you still seeking to be converted, or are you caught up in the ways of the world?…”

    http://www.lds.org/conference/talk/display/0,5232,89-1-138-15,00.html

    Big deal. You “know” the gospel is true. Congratulations, that is a valuable gift, but it is not salvation or exaltation. The devils know and tremble, but without the conversion, the doing, loving, becoming, it is nothing but sounding brass and tinkling cymbals.

  106. I’ll go as far as to say it is in fact extremely possible for someone to be exalted having gone through their entire lives not “knowing” the Church or gospel is true in the way LDS say it in testimony meeting. Ultimately that knowledge can come, but who we are through Christ (whether we know it cognitively or not) is what makes the difference at the judgment. And I have to stand by that.

  107. What I don’t agree with, and I don’t think it is judging anyone to say so, is the idea that it is much better to say that you “believe” than to say you “know.” I don’t think that is right or in accord with what the Brethren have taught. A testimony, according to Elder Oaks in the last Conference, is “a personal witness borne to our souls by the Holy Ghost that certain facts of eternal significance are true and that we know them to be true.” Why should we have any other standard than that? If we have had the Spirit witness to us of certain things, then we “know” them to be true. Why seek to declare otherwise?

    But he that believeth these things which I have spoken, him will I visit with the manifestations of my Spirit, and he shall know and bear record. For because of my Spirit he shall know that these things are true; for it persuadeth men to do good. (Ether 4:11)

    Of course being able to declare that you “know” something doesn’t mean you are converted, which comes from living the gospel daily. But it is much harder to live the gospel when you don’t know it is true. As you pointed out in your example of Peter, he knew that Jesus was the Christ before he was converted. Imagine trying to become converted without knowing the truthfulness of the gospel. I don’t think it is possible. If we will not give heed to the Spirit which testifies of the truth all along the way, then we will not grow in our faith, or become converted.

  108. I just watched the devotional which Elder Robert D. Hales of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles gave just two weeks ago on August 19, 2008, for the commencement of BYU’s Education Week. Here were his closing words, which could not be more clear on this subject:

    I give you my testimony that God lives and that we can learn, not just to believe, but to know that God lives. Seek that learning; it will be granted to you. Seek to know, and to have those around you, through your testimony, know that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God, and that in this last dispensation of the fulness of time that we have had restored to us all that has ever been restored to mankind, everything within our temples, and in our scriptures, that we might be able to learn and conduct our lives in such a way to return back in the presence of our Father and His Son. That we might set that as our learning desires and goals I pray in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

  109. “To others it is given to believe on their words, that they also might have eternal life if they continue faithful” (D&C 46:14).

    Belief isn’t where we stop, nor is it what we shoot for. Knowledge is, as Elder Hales clearly taught. We’ve come to this earth to ultimately gain knowledge, not belief. President Kimball also said that we cannot endure on borrowed light. “It is impossible for a man to be saved in ignorance” (D&C 131:6). Knowledge must be our goal, not belief.

  110. And what is the type of sure knowledge I’m referring to? The witness one receives when the Spirit testifies of truth, which is certainly possible during mortality.

  111. You’re taking an issue like knowledge, which Mormonism clearly treasures, but ignoring the mortal paradox between searching and certainty. In so doing, the argument has become a straight-line standard that implies “if you can’t say ‘I know such-and-such’ then you are lesser than.” I appreciate the quotes you provide, but also seem to recognize or remain willing to acknowledge more nuance than your quotes provide. Even your sources recognize more nuance. Pres. Packer’s candle of the Lord is pretty explicit about not trying to force spiritual things. Elder Oaks’ talk about strengths becoming our weaknesses also touches on this. My setting a hard-line standard you eliminate a productive dialog with well-intentioned and faithful Latter-day Saints. Your view becomes a moral one in this regard, setting the ability to confidently say “I know” as a moral standard required for salvation, when in reality it is by the grace of God go we, and those who say “Lord, Lord etc.” may very well find themselves being asked to depart as workers of iniquity despite their knowledge. Sure, a man is saved no faster than he gets knowledge, but that knowledge needs to be differentiated from simple declarative “facts.” And that isn’t all there is to salvation, not by a long shot. If you could concede any of these points I would feel extremely happy.

    To answer your question about why I would say “some people aren’t good enough for you”: It clearly took my argument from rational to emotional/moral grounds, something that made you uncomfortable.
    from my perspective, that is what several of your points have felt like as well, and as you know, it doesn’t feel very good. :)

  112. Elder Hales didn’t seem to recognize more nuance – “I give you my testimony that God lives and that we can learn, not just to believe, but to know that God lives. Seek that learning; it will be granted to you. Seek to know…” I believe that each of us can and should seek sure witnesses of the truth by the manifestations of the Holy Ghost, for that is what the Holy Ghost teaches, truth. I don’t think anyone is above that principle. Each and every person that has been born is capable of knowing the truth through the power of the Holy Ghost. Seeking to believe is good, but seeking to know is better. As Elder Oaks taught, there is good, better, and best. I think to “know” is best.

    The “some people aren’t good enough for you” comment, well, you know better. :)

    One thing is sure, if anyone is teaching precepts that are not in harmony with the gospel as taught by the prophets and apostles, however well-intentioned or faithful they are, I will challenge them on it. One of those things is that it is better to say “I believe” than “I know.” That is fundamentally false.

  113. Hello all – I’ve never commented here before, but I’ve found this discussion very interesting and it is something I’ve thought a bit about, so I figured I would throw a couple of my thoughts into the ring.

    Assuming that we are talking about *knowing* in the sense that one is 100% certain of something, let me use an example. I know, 100%, that no matter how hard I flap my arms I’m not going to fly. I don’t need to try this every week to make sure I still can’t do it – I know I can’t. On the other hand, my testimony of Gospel truths is not perfect in that sense: through obedience, prayer, and study my faith and testimony strengthen. If one *knows* Christ lives, can his testimony or faith in Christ increase? I would suggest that it cannot. Knowledge, in this sense, is the end of the line – absolute certainty.

    The experience of the Brother of Jared has been raised in support of the “pro-know” viewpoint – but I actually see it differently. Ether 3:19..”And because of the knowledge of this man he could not be kept from beholding within the veil; and he saw the finger of Jesus, which, when he saw, he fell with fear; for he knew that it was the finger of the Lord; and he had faith no longer, for he knew, nothing doubting.”

    The key is the last part. “and he had faith no longer, for he knew, nothing doubting.” In this mortal life, aren’t we to live our lives through faith? Faith is essential, not knowledge. If you “know, nothing doubting” you aren’t living by faith. Knowledge is a higher plane, one that we are not necessarily required to reach.

    Lastly, I just wanted to touch on the spiritual gifts outlined in D&C 46. It is interesting to me that believers are divided into two groups: those that know that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and those that believe on their words. This seems to reflect the relationship between our Apostles, special witnesses of Christ who testify to us on a regular basis, and us. Of course, we have the Spirit to confirm and strengthen their witness within us. But if there are those that *know*, and those that believe, I would put the apostles and prophets in the first category and myself in the latter; they probably have a greater witness than I do.

    Anyway, I’ll freely admit that my $0.02 here could be totally nutty. I welcome rebuttals if anyone feels that is the case.

  114. Thanks Ross for your comments. I think you’ve said some valuable things.

    Knowledge of the gospel is progressive. We do not know with 100% absolute certainty and perfection everything about God while in this life. But should this prevent us from saying that “I know that God lives”? I don’t think so. Even if our knowledge is progressive, we can still testify of the limited knowledge that we do have. Knowledge doesn’t have to be perfect in order to have it. It comes precept by precept, as we allow the Spirit to teach us. If we do not know that what the Spirit teaches us is truth, then that is not faith. It is doubt.

    I noted in another comment that even God Himself must still exercise the principle of faith in order to hold the universe in order (cf. Lectures on Faith). There will never be a time when we will not have any faith anymore. As you said, we are to live our lives by faith, but where does that faith lead us? It is to more knowledge. The Brother of Jared did not have a perfect knowledge of everything (Ether 3:8). But he did have a knowledge that God lives, gained through faith. Hopefully we are gaining more knowledge in this life, and not just more belief. As Van explained in his radio program, belief is more comfortable, because one might choose to change that belief at any moment, but that is not what the gospel calls for. Seeking a conviction of the basic truths of the gospel is what we are taught. The theophany and atonement that the Brother of Jared experienced is the ultimate goal of the Latter-day Saint, and is what we are taught in the temple. A perfect knowledge, like our Heavenly Father, should be our ultimate goal (Matt. 5:48). If the Apostles have a greater witness than we do, then what are we doing to gain that same witness ourselves? I think this is what the gospel is teaching us (cf. Num. 11:25–29).

    I keep returning to Ether 4:11 because I think it teaches us well in regard to the Brother of Jared experience as it applies to each of us:

    But he that believeth these things which I have spoken, him will I visit with the manifestations of my Spirit, and he shall know and bear record. For because of my Spirit he shall know that these things are true; for it persuadeth men to do good.

    I know that Christ lives, yet I still have faith in Him. I have not seen Him and I do not know everything about Him, but by the many witnesses I have received of Him by the Spirit, I know that it is true.

  115. The Bro. of Jared’s experience is illustrative in that he was not seeking to find such knowledge in the way he received it. He was going along in faith, doing his duty, actually in order to serve others. That is when he had his experience.

  116. “One of those things is that it is better to say ‘I believe’ than ‘I know.’ That is fundamentally false.”

    I want to make it clear: as for myself I have never asserted it is generally better to say “believe” than “know.” What I insist upon is that one must be as honest as possible. Either phrase could be faulty if there isn’t truth behind it.

    “As Elder Oaks taught, there is good, better, and best. I think to “know” is best.”

    I think to “be” and “know” trumps to simply “know” any day of the week, and as Elder Oaks taught in his excellent “Challenge to Become,” such a thing is incremental. (And it can remarkable happen without a person even being able to phrase it in the same way a Latter-day Saint might! See the parable of the laborers in the vineyard.)

  117. Bryce:

    I agree that we do not know with certainty everything about God – that isn’t quite what I was going for. Let’s look at a “simple” core doctrine that most people would say they know: that Christ died for our sins. For me, my testimony in this specific doctrine is continually strengthened by living in the Gospel, repenting, etc. I’m relatively inexperienced in the Church compared to most other people, but I would propose that most everyone experiences that continual strengthening of their faith and testimony in Christ’s atonement (correct me if I’m wrong here). Doesn’t this suggest that we are not 100% certain? Refer to my arm-flapping story – if we are 100% certain, there isn’t any need for strengthening. Now, some people would probably say that 99% certainty still qualifies for “knowing,” but I’m a little uncomfortable with that notion. How can there be multiple levels of knowing? You either know something, or you don’t. Colloquially we often refer to things we “know” that we really aren’t certain of, but I don’t think testimonies or spiritual truths are the right place for that loose definition of “know.”

    “If the Apostles have a greater witness than we do, then what are we doing to gain that same witness ourselves? I think this is what the gospel is teaching us”

    I agree. That knowledge and sure conviction is what we should strive for. But that is just like how we strive for perfection in our obedience to the commandments – we strive for it, but we don’t necessarily attain it. The Apostles have a greater witness because they are in a calling that requires it. Similarly, the Apostles have demonstrated great sacrifice and willingness to serve and be obedient to the commandments – probably far past what I have accomplished so far. So much of the Gospel is about eternal progress – why do we feel the need to *know* the truthfulness of things in mortality? As I said before, to know something is, in effect, the perfect state of understanding and belief.

    RE: Ether 4:11. I really like that scripture. It does seem to support your viewpoint, but I feel like the qualifications for “knowing” something is true is somewhat variable, and not altogether clear. To be sure, there are lots of scriptures that refer to knowing the truthfulness of certain principles – for that reason, I’m not about to declare my view about this as the hard truth :-). To quote the Bible Dictionary Entry on knowledge:

    “Knowledge of divine and spiritual things is absolutely essential for one’s salvation; hence the gospel is to be taught to every soul. ‘How shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard?’” …”The scriptures, and also living prophets, are given so that the people might have knowledge of things of God and ‘know how to worship, and know what you worship’”

    These two quotes seem to point to more of a declarative-fact statement type of knowledge, rather than the intimate knowledge that a testimony of “I know that God lives” conveys. There are other places in the BD entry that refer to the intimate variety of knowledge – I’m not saying that doesn’t exist in the scriptures – I’m just saying I think there is a distinction, and it isn’t exactly always clear which meaning is in use.

  118. “Christ died for our sins.” That is a great example. Do I know that it happened? Absolutely. Do I know all the intricacies of the Atonement, or fully comprehend it in all its infinite grandeur? Not hardly. I am constantly learning more about it, and it will be eons of time until I can understand it. This is the critical thing. We don’t need to have a perfect knowledge of things to know they are true. That is what the Spirit is for. The Holy Ghost teaches us what is true, in spite of our imperfection (John 16:13). I am confident enough in the witness of the Spirit that if it testifies to me of truth, then it is true, and I know it. The Spirit gives us 100% certainty of truth, even if we don’t have complete comprehension of it. Eventually, if we are faithful, we will arrive at perfection, just like our Heavenly Father, and we will comprehend everything perfectly (D&C 93:28). Until then, we must rely on the witness of the Spirit. I don’t think the Apostles have a greater witness because their calling has required it. They have a greater witness because of their faith and obedience. Theirs is an example of the path we should also follow. By the power of the Holy Ghost we may know the truth of all things (Moro. 10:5). You said, “why do we feel the need to *know* the truthfulness of things in mortality?” Because a knowledge of truth leads us to God (1 Tim. 2:4).

  119. I must not be clear in my remarks, because I totally agree with you that we don’t need to have a perfect knowledge of things to know they are true. Take my example: I don’t need to know the mechanics of lift and gravity to know I can’t fly by flapping my arms. I’ve got the experiences to prove it. Rather than reiterating my previous points, let me try a different tack:

    Consider the “standard” testimony: “I know this Church is true. I know Jesus Christ lives and died for our sins. I know Joseph Smith was a prophet of God…” This isn’t the whole testimony, I know – but this is certainly the core of a testimony.

    Now, consider this quote from President Harold B. Lee, “Testimony isn’t something you have today, and you are going to have always. A testimony is fragile. It is as hard to hold as a moonbeam. It is something you have to recapture every day of your life.” (Church News, July 15, 1972, 4.)

    Isn’t this statement at odds with the standard “I know ____” testimony? Things that we *know* don’t need to be “recaptured every day of your life.” I don’t need to reconvince myself that I can’t fly, that I can’t walk through walls, or that I love my family – I know those things.

  120. I don’t think it is at odds. A testimony is fragile. If we do not nourish that knowledge which we have received, we will lose it (Alma 32:38; 2 Nephi 28:30). That doesn’t mean that the knowledge wasn’t true, it just means that our faith that it is true has faltered, and has no more place in us (Alma 32:39). A knowledge and witness of spiritual things can be lost through carelessness, disobedience and sin, which is somewhat different than the knowledge we receive through our senses.

    But even in other considerations as you’ve mentioned, our knowledge of these might not be as secure as you might think. Even this knowledge must be nurtured and given room to grow. A mortal physical body cannot fly nor walk through walls, but apparently a resurrected physical body somehow can (Luke 24:51; John 20:19; JS-H 1:30). I know a man who loved his family very much when he was married, but subsequently committed adultery, “fell out of love,” got a divorce, and now wants to marry his mistress.

  121. I know a man who loved his family very much when he was married, but subsequently committed adultery, “fell out of love,” got a divorce, and now wants to marry his mistress.

    Relating love to knowledge and faith fits well with my take that knowledge involves faith and action, etc.

  122. “That doesn’t mean that the knowledge wasn’t true, it just means that our faith that it is true has faltered, and has no more place in us”

    We must not be on the same page, because I see a fairly blatant contradiction there. You don’t have faith in something you know. I know I can’t walk through a wall. I don’t need the hope (expectation) that I can’t – I know I can’t. “and he had faith no longer, for he knew, nothing doubting”…(Ether 3:19)

    Regarding my examples: I was referring to this mortal life, if it wasn’t clear. Of course, outside of mortality or with divine intervention many more things are possible – but we’re living in this life, and God isn’t going to make me fly :-).

    With love, it is an instantaneous thing. It is more organic and can change (unlike, for example, “Jesus Christ is the Son of God”), so I probably shouldn’t have used that as an example.

    So, let me reframe my situation. “I know I can’t fly by flapping my arms. I know I can’t walk through walls.” as compared to “I know this Church is true. I know Joseph Smith was a prophet of God.” Does my testimony of walls and flying doesn’t need nurtured or room to grow? I don’t think so. Maybe it did when I was a child – but then that wasn’t really knowledge. I don’t need to try walking through a wall every morning to double-check my knowledge. Nor does running into a wall and stopping cold add any substantive testimony to my knowledge that I can’t go through them. I don’t need faith that I can’t walk through it – I know I can’t. It isn’t something fragile that needs to be recaptured daily.

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