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Sunday, December 10, 2017

The Gift of Discernment Part 5: Discerning the Half-Truths of Which We Proudly (and Regularly and Publicly) Testify

Salt Lake Tribune columnist Robert Kirby once said that a "Mormon fast and testimony meeting is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get."

Actually, there's a pretty safe chance that at least once during a Fast and Testimony meeting, you'll hear phrases like "I know the church is true", "I know the gospel is true" and even "I know that my Redeemer lives." Or perhaps the word "IknowthechurchistrueandjosephsmithisaprophetofGod".

Often, these phrases are punctuated with the time-tested "beyond a shadow of a doubt" and/or the ever-popular "with every fiber of my being."

Starting at age....five-ish.

Do we?

Do we really KNOW?

I've read several accounts of investigators who found such claims to be disingenuous, shocking and astounding. Maybe even arrogant or programmed. Wouldn't you think so, too, if you saw person after person arrive at the pulpit to say they KNOW that their Redeemer lives...beyond a shadow of a doubt? Now, what would that investigator think if they later discovered that many church members equate the words hope / belief / faith / trust / confidence with actual knowledge? Yes, some investigators have considered this tantamount to a testimonial "bait and switch". Here's one such (unverified) experience:
"So last fast and testimony meeting, I had a guy who was sitting behind me in sacrament meeting tap me on the shoulder and ask me how our members could say that ["I know the church is true"]...he is my neighbor and came to church at my daughters asking. I told him that it was because we know that it is. He again pressed me as a young child got up and said those words. He pointed to the child as he said. so your telling me that that little kid knows that this church is true?" (Source)
The more I study the Gift of Discernment, the more I discover it is an extremely, highly sensitive gift from Father. When we are even slightly less-than-honest with others, we inject imbalance not only into our own souls, but also those around us. You can't be seeking discernment and even be slightly dishonest at the same time, no matter how well-intentioned you are. Nooo way.
“We believe in being honest.” (13th Article of Faith)
“When thou art obliged to speak, be sure to speak the truth; for equivocation is half-way to lying, as lying the whole way to hell.” (William Penn, "Fruits of Solitude").
It's one thing if such conflation of words is mistaken. But when these absolute convictions of unquestioned certainty are used intentionally, consistently and ubiquitously, by many people -- when the truth is, they do not have a "knowledge" of these various doctrines --  what is one to think about our steadfast appreciation of unvarnished truth?

And in this age of faith crises (especially among our youth and young adults), what of those members who understand the distinction, but because they don't "know", they feel their "I believe" testimony is inadequate and inferior to the "I know" testimony...when in fact it's not? After all, the seedlings of faith are often deemed inferior when compared alongside the old oak trees of sure knowledge.

I have personally sat across or alongside people who've said (even tearfully), in one way or another, "When will I KNOW that my Redeemer lives? Everybody else does. Why not me?" Could such members start to wonder if there's a place in church for them, too?

When we conflate, mix, blend, fuse and unite "belief" to mean "know" (which implies sure knowledge), we do two things simultaneously: First, whether intended or not, we leave others with the impression that we have a sure knowledge of various doctrines. In my experience, very, very few people have a sure knowledge that their Redeemer lives. Second, they unintentionally dilute the specialness, the uniqueness of those rare, exceptional testimonies which have as their foundation a sure knowledge of the Savior's existence.

Last time I checked, the church was still a hospital for sinners, not a museum of saints. It's built on a foundation of "faith and works", not "knowledge and works". It should be perfectly fine and acceptable to be seen at church with a cast on your spiritual arm, a bump on your spiritual head and crutches under your spiritual arms. 

2,000 years ago, a father brought his possessed son to the Savior, to be healed. Although the Savior’s disciples thought “that they should cast him out; and they could not,” the Savior quickly rebuked His disciples. He then turned to the father and said, "If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth." (Mark 9:23)

The father’s response: “Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.” (Mark 9:24)

Ponder THAT one for a while.

Members are often instructed to look at all the bad things they're doing -- or all the good things they're not doing -- and to repent accordingly, in order to enjoy a more profound degree of discernment in their lives. Yet in many cases, we continue to deceive -- yes, deceive -- people by saying we (emphatically / with every fiber of my being / beyond a shadow of a doubt) KNOW something is true, when, in fact, we do not.

Maybe it's high time for us to also evaluate what we say -- and don't say -- in addition to our actions.

This isn't a call for watered-down testimonies so we don't hurt anybody's feelings. Nor should we create a culture of doubt and encourage others to publicly share why they have doubts. And yes, it is possible to know some things, and believe in other things.

I think that now, more than ever, we need to be making bold statements and highlighting the many miracles God performs in our lives. And we should be doing so without the routine clich├ęs and with the utmost honesty and solemnity. When such testimonies are borne, we can rest assured the Spirit will deliver our message into the hearts of those ready to receive it.

Imagine if our pronouncements at our pulpits used the language of faith ("the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen" -- Hebrews 11:1). Imagine if it was perfectly fine to chuck those facades and masks, and say you hope in God, believe in God, have faith in God, trust God, are confident in God. After all, didn't the Savior once say, “blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed” (John 20:29; also see Alma 32:21, 2 Corinthians 5:7; Romans 1:17)?

Imagine if it were suddenly OK in our church to not be perfect. To not have a perfect knowledge of things. Imagine if it were normal and acceptable to incorporate more terms of faith into our vernacular. Do you think that by germinating and acknowledging faith more proudly and abundantly, the Gift of Faith would naturally flourish more abundantly among us?

Still, there are some who could and (privately) do testify that they know Jesus is the Christ. That He lives. Others may have a sure knowledge that Joseph Smith was and is a prophet of God. Such testimonies do not necessarily need to originate from actual, physical appearances of Jesus or Joseph. With all solemnity, I can state that individuals can see and interact with Christ, and even Heavenly Father, in their dreams. Such interactions are indelibly imprinted on your soul forever more.
“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” (President Joseph Fielding Smith, "Answers to Gospel Questions", 1979, 2:151). 
In a future day, all will be able to unequivocally state that they know the Christ. I long for that day. I dream of that day.

Until that day comes, it's good -- very good -- to be a believer. There is nothing wrong with believing and not knowing (John 3:18). There is something wrong when we abandon the search for truth and even a sure testimony of God.
"A 14-year-old boy recently said to me a little hesitantly, 'Brother Holland, I can’t say yet that I know the Church is true, but I believe it is.' I hugged that boy until his eyes bulged out. I told him with all the fervor of my soul that belief is a precious word, an even more precious act, and he need never apologize for 'only believing.' I told him that Christ Himself said, 'Be not afraid, only believe,' a phrase which, by the way, carried young Gordon B. Hinckley into the mission field. I told this boy that belief was always the first step toward conviction and that the definitive articles of our collective faith forcefully reiterate the phrase 'We believe.' And I told him how very proud I was of him for the honesty of his quest." (Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, “Lord, I Believe”, April 2013 General Conference)
It is my prayer that from now on, we will also recommit ourselves to an honest quest.

Be an example of what? The believers (1 Timothy 4:12). 

How? "in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity" (1 Timothy 4:12).

Why? Because "all things are possible to him that believeth" (Mark 9:23)


  1. Awesome observations and suggestions my friend! I think often people are yearning for a more sure knowledge, and trying to overcome their doubts with such statements, hoping that in the testifying it will become a reality for them. But truth is truth and will always prevail and cannot be circumvented. I believe the Lord recognizes honesty and the yearning but truthful intentions of the heart more than the hollow words. Thanks again for the humble reminder! Until that Perfect Day for each of us, keep up the good work!

    1. Thanks, Eric. Totally agreed.

      IMHO, I think God is more eager to honor the honest, straightforward testimony than the "fake it til you make it" testimony. How can we even presume He's happy with a fake testimony?

  2. I know Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ live even though I have not seen them and this because they answer my prayers, guide me and teach me. I don't need to see them, I hear them and recognise their guiding hands in my life. I know they love me I have felt their love for me All this is not believing, it gets to a point where you can say "you know" without seeing.

    1. My thoughts exactly. Peter knew because the Father revealed it to him, not because he saw.

    2. 35...after ye have tasted this light is your knowledge perfect?
      36 Behold I say unto you, Nay; neither must ye lay aside your faith, for ye have only exercised your faith to plant the seed that ye might try the experiment to know if the seed was good.
      Alma 32:35-36

      Seems like most, if not all those who join the church, or remain active have "tasted" and hence to a lesser degree "know" (lower case "k" in know), but their knowledge isn't perfect and really don't "Know", with uppercase "K", God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ. Even Peter tasted, but wasn't "converted" or baptized with fire until after Christ was crucified, and the Savior told him after he was converted to strengthen his brethren. Then to progress on to receiving the 2nd comforter and to "Know" Christ, and then on to the 3rd comforter, the Father. Only those who have had their baptismal ordinance completed by fire and of the Holy Ghost can become a son of perdition if they deny the Holy Ghost after that ordinance. So, I believe from what I've searched is that, according to Alma, is to not confuse the good seed to the actual final and complete Knowledge, or Know Jesus Christ and God the Father. Even the brother of Jared, after he saw Christ and Knew, "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." Ether 3:13, and after being born again, baptized by fire he became a son of Christ. We're all sons and daughters of God the father, but are we all born again and sons and daughters of Christ? Do we Know? I believe, but I want like the brother of Jared, to Know :)

  3. Great insights here. Hearing a few people recklessly list off all the things they "know" to others can be cringe-worthy. I believe that the adversary pollutes the power of knowledge by getting ignorant believers to claim knowledge (and he's the author of all lies).

    Although, I believe than in certain topics, knowledge can be sure and true as a line-upon-line situation. For example, I can honestly say that I know that Christ can forgive sins. He has done it numerous times for me, and the witness of that is undeniable from the Spirit and the Holy Ghost. Reminds me of Alma 32:33-35:

    "33 ...behold, is your knowledge perfect? Yea, your knowledge is perfect IN THAT THING, and your faith is dormant; and this because you know, for ye know that the word hath swelled your souls, and ye also know that it hath sprouted up, that your understanding doth begin to be enlightened, and your mind doth begin to expand.

    35 O then, is not this real? I say unto you, Yea, because it is light; and whatsoever is light, is good, because it is discernible, therefore ye must know that it is good; and now behold, after ye have tasted this light is your knowledge perfect?

    36 Behold I say unto you, Nay; neither must ye lay aside your faith, for ye have only exercised your faith to plant the seed that ye might try the experiment TO KNOW IF THE SEED WAS GOOD."

    (our knowledge must be capped and contained within only the experiment, never to infer additional knowledge by association. I can say though, that I know that prayers are answered and that repentance works, because it's interrelated by law. But I cannot say now that "I know that my redeemer lives" because I don't. That's not what was revealed to me. Forgiveness of a few select sins that i repented of specifically? Yes, my knowledge is perfect only in that particular moment, when those particular sins were forgiven.)