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As a boy, I loved visiting Uncle Keith. He lived at the base of a very high and invitingly beautiful mountain. So, one sunny summer day, the cousins decided to climb, to the very top. We were certain we could do the round trip if we left mid-morning to return before dinner. We took a lunch and enough water and began with enthusiasm. As we climbed, we looked lustfully at the pinnacle, trying to keep it always in sight. Sometime mid-afternoon, we crested what we thought was our goal only to find that it was just the first visible bump on the side of this towering peak. Hot, tired, and with time running out, we turned to descend…dinner beckoned. I have driven past that towering mountain many times, each time noting how tiny our “pinnacle” really was, as compared to what it felt like. I have also noted, after many climbs, that from one victorious pinnacle, others become visible, towering over the first.
I love fast and testimony meetings; the Spirit seems especially sensitizing as we, struggling saints, labor to express our pinnacle witness to the process of gaining knowledge beyond our mortal perceptions and experiences. While visiting another ward last week, I was again struck as an eight-year-old youngster proudly yet simply testified, “I know that the church is true!” With that, he closed and sat down. Each adult that followed bore witness with the words, “I know.”
These quotes from Alma 32 give the impression that knowledge is “grown-up” faith or that it is somehow superior to say that “I know.”
21 And now as I said concerning faith—faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things
26 Ye cannot know of their (the word) surety at first, unto perfection, any more than faith is a perfect knowledge.
29 Yea; nevertheless it (your faith) hath not grown up to a perfect knowledge.
34 And now, behold, is your knowledge perfect? Yea, your knowledge is perfect in that thing, and your faith is dormant;
35 O then, is not this real? I say unto you, Yea.
Many have demeaned faith as something for the weak or that science is superior to faith without realizing that it is part of the scientific process.[i] To bear testimony with, “I believe,” or “I have faith that….” has, to some, become a sign of weakness. Most LDS children, as the one mentioned, boldly exclaim that they know without knowing that they don’t know what they don’t know or even the difference between perception and knowledge. In reality, we are all children who don’t know what we don’t know. We struggle all through our lives trying to adjust our mental maps to fit the reality of the hazardous mortal terrain only to stumble, yet again. A distillation of this process towards becoming, as exhibited through the lives of the ancients, would be useful to our own discipleship.
The young Nephi wasn’t apparently anymore thrilled with the idea of a permanent wilderness adventure than the rest of his siblings. His reaction to his hardened heart was different from theirs, however. He chose to pray in solitude where the Lord softened his heart[ii] and revealed to him some of his future. A short time later he and his brothers went back to get the brass plates where they all had a visual encounter with an angel. All four boys consequently knew something about the reality of spiritual beings and could testify that they knew angels exist and minister to men in the flesh. After listening to Lehi’s dream, Nephi was taken to an unknown mountain top for a revelatory conversation with at least one multimedia-equipped divine tutor. Surely after these experiences, Nephi could exclaim that he “knew” God was real and lovingly involved in this family adventure. But then why, after arriving at the comparatively paradisiacal Bountiful, would God say to him,
“After ye have arrived in the promised land, ye shall know that I, the Lord, am God; and that I, the Lord, did deliver you from destruction; yea, that I did bring you out of the land of Jerusalem.” 1 Nephi 17:14
Weren’t these three things already experienced and known?? Perhaps, God meant that multiple knowing experiences are necessary since, to our mortal minds, spiritual experiences have little shelf life. Yet President Joseph Fielding. Smith said,
“The Spirit of God speaking to the spirit of man has power to impart truth with greater effect and understanding than the truth can be imparted by personal contact even with heavenly beings. Through the Holy Ghost the truth is woven into the very fiber and sinews of the body so that it cannot be forgotten.”[iii]
Or, perhaps, in this material world of coarse matter, and input distractions, spiritual experiences are better recognized in hindsight because of the changes they can render in our very being. President Uchtdorf quoted Steve Jobs saying:
“You cannot connect the dots looking forward, you must look backward. We therefore must trust that our future dots will connect when they become the past.”[iv]
Spiritual communication of all kinds can be very potent but obviously something was missing for Laman and Lemuel. And, they were not alone as examples of how multimedia spiritual experiences imparting immediate knowledge, turns out not to be the expected pinnacle in our mortal sojourn.
Jacob even warned,
“O that cunning plan of the evil one! O the vainness, and the frailties, and the foolishness of men! When they are learned they think they are wise, and they hearken not unto the counsel of God, for they set it aside, supposing they know of themselves, wherefore, their wisdom is foolishness and it profiteth them not. And they shall perish. But to be learned is good if they hearken unto the counsels of God.” 2 Nephi 9:28-9
It has always been interesting to me in 3 Nephi after the very public witness of the miracle of “the day, a night, and a day” of no darkness at the birth of Christ that,
“there was not a living soul among all the people of the Nephites who did doubt in the least the words of all the holy prophets who had spoken; for they knew that it must needs be that they must be fulfilled. And they knew that it must be expedient that Christ had come, because of the many signs which had been given, according to the words of the prophets; and because of the things which had come to pass already they knew that it must needs be that all things should come to pass according to that which had been spoken. Therefore, they did forsake all their sins, and their abominations, and their whoredoms, and did serve God with all diligence day and night.” 3 Nephi 5:1-3
A total absence of doubt is certainty. This entire population were not only certain, they were responsive and helped the faltering to achieve a communal cleansing and unity by the 22nd year. Yet, just eight years later, these same people were willfully engaged in the most wicked abominations and contentious war.[v] As Mormon abridged the account of this certainty and the subsequent Nephite apostasy, he testified of his own discipleship by saying,
“Behold, I am a disciple of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” 3 Nephi 5:13
So, is there a difference between knowing/certainty – being a witness, and conversion – being a disciple? Apparently, conversion has staying power, like the people of Ammon who never did fall away.[vi] It would seem that knowledge acquired without faith is not transforming! Knowledge acquired through the process of faith transforms the heart and mind because faith requires focus and action…repeated, regular, devoted action motivated first by faith in Christ and then by a hope through Christ that allows the Holy Ghost to change the heart and mind. This is the essence of the Savior’s sermon at the temple…the pathway to discipleship and exalting knowledge through the furnace of faith.[vii] Faith leads to and empowers knowledge unto conversion and ultimately to discipleship. Elder Scott clarified,
“Being converted and having a testimony are not necessarily the same thing…. A testimony comes when the Holy Ghost gives the earnest seeker a witness of the truth. A moving testimony vitalizes faith. That is, it induces repentance and obedience to the commandments. Conversion is the fruit or the reward for repentance and obedience.” … Converted implies not merely mental acceptance of Jesus and his teachings but also a motivating faith in him and his gospel. A faith which works a transformation, an actual change in one’s understanding of life’s meaning and in his allegiance to God in interest, in thought, and in conduct. In one who is really wholly converted, desire for things contrary to the gospel of Jesus Christ has actually died. And substituted therefore is a love of God, with a fixed and controlling determination to keep his commandments.” Elder Richard G. Scott, Conference April 2002, “Full Conversion Brings Happiness.”
Elder Christopherson detailed and chastened:
“This is the covenant we make by our baptism and in temple ordinances. But some have not yet fully received the gospel of Jesus Christ into their lives. Although, as Paul says, they were “buried with [Christ] by baptism,” they are still missing the part that “like as Christ was raised up from the dead …, even so we … should walk in [a] newness of life.” The gospel does not yet define them. They are not yet centered in Christ. They are selective about the doctrines and commandments they will follow and where and when they will serve in the Church. By contrast, it is in keeping their covenants with exactness that those “who are the elect according to the covenant” avoid deception and remain firm in the faith of Christ.
Most of us find ourselves at this moment on a continuum between a socially motivated participation in gospel rituals on the one hand and a fully developed, Christlike commitment to the will of God on the other. Somewhere along that continuum, the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ enters into our heart and takes possession of our soul. It may not happen in an instant, but we should all be moving toward that blessed state.”[viii]
Modern parlance says, “knowledge is power” but the means of acquisition seems to be the issue. Joseph Smith added, “knowledge is the power of God unto salvation.”[ix] However, knowledge for knowledge sake or for self-aggrandizement, as a pinnacle in our climb from the swamps of mortality, is deception. The process is as sacred as the product and requires more than just blind acceptance.
Joseph Smith testified, “The things of God are of deep import; and time, and experience, and careful and ponderous and solemn thoughts can only find them out. Thy mind, O man! if thou wilt lead a soul unto salvation, must stretch as high as the utmost heavens, and search into and contemplate the darkest abyss, and the broad expanse of eternity—thou must commune with God.”[x]
Who then added, “Whatever principle of intelligence we attain unto in this life, it will rise with us in the resurrection. And if a person gains more knowledge and intelligence in this life through his diligence and obedience than another, he will have so much the advantage in the world to come.” DC 130:18-19
Knowledge is power but even our all-knowing God created the worlds using faith[xi] which is the powerful process of employing knowledge, whether in priesthood or creation. Gaining knowledge WITH light and truth (intelligence) requires both diligence AND obedience because gaining knowledge that imparts power both in mortality and eternity requires “learning by faith.”
And as all have not faith, seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom, seek learning even by study and also by faith. DC 88:118; 109:7
Perhaps, then, “learning” includes the word “earning” because knowing how to “learn by faith” is a skill one needs to acquire by diligence.[xii]
[i] Though faith is part of the scientific process, religious faith has a different focus. See the author’s article here: https://meridianmag.wpengine.com/understanding-the-essential-connection-between-faith-hope-and-charity/
[ii] 1 Nephi 2:16 I Nephi… having great desires to know of the mysteries of God, wherefore, I did cry unto the Lord; and behold he did visit me, and did soften my heart that I did believe all the words which had been spoken by my father.
[iii] Joseph Fielding Smith; Doctrines of Salvation, 1:47-48
[iv] Elder Dieter F. Ucthdorf YA Satellite broadcast January 18, 2018 https://www.lds.org/broadcasts/article/worldwide-devotionals/2018/01/the-adventure-of-mortality?lang=eng
[v] And thus, in the commencement of the thirtieth year—the people having been delivered up for the space of a long time to be carried about by the temptations of the devil whithersoever he desired to carry them, and to do whatsoever iniquity he desired they should—and thus in the commencement of this, the thirtieth year, they were in a state of awful wickedness. Now they did not sin ignorantly, for they knew the will of God concerning them, for it had been taught unto them; therefore they did wilfully rebel against God. 3 Nephi 6:17-18
[vi] Alma 23:6 …were converted unto the Lord, never did fall away.
[vii] See author’s article here: https://meridianmag.wpengine.com/understanding-the-steps-on-the-pathway-to-discipleship/
[viii] Elder Todd D. Christopherson, Conference Oct 2018, “Firm and Steadfast in the Faith of Christ”
[ix] Quoted by Martha Jane Knowlton Coray, reporting a discourse given by Joseph Smith on May 21, 1843, in Nauvoo, Illinois; Martha Jane Knowlton Coray, Notebook, Church Archives.
[x] History of the Church, 6:459; from a letter from Joseph Smith to Washington Tucker, June 12, 1844, Nauvoo, Illinois.
[xi] Hebrews 11:1-3 Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. For by it the elders obtained a good report. Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.
See also by this author: https://meridianmag.wpengine.com/how-can-we-use-the-priesthood-with-greater-power/
[xii] Elder David A. Bednar, “Seek Learning by Faith”, Ensign Sept. 2007 https://www.lds.org/ensign/2007/09/seek-learning-by-faith?lang=eng
See also, “Unlocking the Liahona” by this author: https://meridianmag.wpengine.com/unlocking-the-liahona/