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Nine Moons » Blog Archive : I Believe. I Know. Or, I Believe I Know. » I Believe. I Know. Or, I Believe I Know.

I Believe. I Know. Or, I Believe I Know.

Rusty - April 13, 2011

Yesterday morning my wife and I were reading Alma 32. We’ve all read this chapter a million times, sometimes for the faith verses, other times for the humility verses and most often for the seed experiment verses. But this time I concentrated on the language of “believe” and “know” in their relation to faith. As has been noted many times in the Bloggernacle, our church culture is infatuated with bearing testimony using the words, “I know…” It isn’t clear when this started (I’m sure it wasn’t always this way like 97% of our church culture), but I understand why we do it. Simply put, knowing is stronger (better?) than believing. But lately I’ve been skeptical of this, which is why I focused where I did reading Alma 32.

My most memorable lesson in the MTC was learning the two Spanish verbs for “to know,” saber and conocer. Our teacher turned it into a mini testimony meeting in which we said things like “yo sé que Cristo vive,” yet we didn’t have a similar lesson when learning creer, to believe. We teach that if you pray you can come to the knowledge (not belief) that the Church is true. In our talks and testimonies we almost exclusively say that we know these things, rarely do we hear that someone believes them. And yet, unlike so many folks in the Bloggernacle who get their panties in a bunch about such things, this inclination doesn’t bother me. But I do wonder about its practical application. What, exactly, is the advantage of expressing (or feeling) that you know something rather than believing it?

Admittedly, in verse 19, Alma’s logic for favoring belief over knowledge (or at least the kind of knowledge a sign would offer) is peculiar. He only offers a negative (greater condemnation when sinning against it) but no mirror positive (which could be any number of things such as stronger resolve to not sin, or a greater capacity for righteousness, or whatever). I’m not convinced that THAT is the reason belief is better (according to Alma) than knowledge, but it sets up a really interesting insight: according to his logic, knowledge compels you to obey. It is better that you obey because you choose to, not because you are forced to. Now this dovetails nicely with previous verses in the chapter in which he suggests that it is better to be humble because you choose to, not because you are forced to. This idea of having a choice and choosing the right goes to the very core of what I love so much about our doctrine, that we are BECOMING new beings, not just checking boxes to “get into heaven.” We are looking to change our DNA, something compulsion cannot actualize.

A couple years ago a friend and I were talking about the Church and whether we had any particular doubts (which I admitted to having plenty). He admiringly suggested that my continuance of belief in the face of those doubts surely requires more faith, and in his view more strength, than if I had no doubts at all. Now, my level of faith (or strength) is surely less than he thinks, but he nevertheless makes an interesting observation: once you know something, it’s easy to keep knowing it, but believing while having doubts is hard. Now, I’m not suggesting that we should seek after doubts, but I don’t believe that they are a sign of weakness, rather they are what give definition to your belief. And if we continue to believe in the face of those doubts, Alma says that we will receive mercy (v. 22).

I don’t know if that answers the question of whether expressing knowledge is an advantage to expressing belief, but for me it provides a decent framework to consider my knowledge, my beliefs and my doubts.

27 Comments »

  1. Like.

    Comment by Clean Cut — April 13, 2011 @ 4:56 pm

  2. I think you make an interesting point about Alma’s view concerning belief vs. knowledge. Like many things in the BoM, we seem to ignore this in our modern application of the principle. Someone who, in testimony meeting, chose to express “I believe” instead of “I know” would cause a bit of a stir, unfortunately. Doubts are healthy, belief is a choice, and one we should honor. In reality, I believe that those who say “I know” are actually expressing belief, witnessed by the Spirit.

    Comment by MCQ — April 13, 2011 @ 5:34 pm

  3. There seems to be a teaching I hear from time to time of how Church members cannot always rely on “borrowed light”. I’m not sure if “borrowed light” has an expiration date or if a Spiritual repo-man comes to snatch it while you’re eating breakfast. It may stem from a worry that those who only “believe” truth are in a far more precarious position than those who “know”. I tend to think the opposite is true. More mileage is often seen in Saints who obey without knowing exactly why then the person who declares they know it all and yet can’t quite know how to be more Christlike. I also think knowledge and belief are on a continuum and knowledge is inevitable for the patient believer.

    Comment by Justin — April 14, 2011 @ 6:58 am

  4. This reminds me of a talk that I gave in Sacrament meeting several years ago about faith. I started by quoting William Blake’s “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell” where he talks about contraries, and noted that it can be read as similar to Jacob’s words about opposites in the Book of Mormon. I pointed out that really, doubt is a necessary part of faith, and that there is no need to feel guilty for doubting. The essential thing was to never give up, and believe that God will help you find answers. So in a sense, doubt strengthens faith. I wasn’t ran out of the chapel, so most of the congregation must not have been too offended by such a concept.

    Comment by Jacob M — April 14, 2011 @ 3:19 pm

  5. Now, I’m not suggesting that we should seek after doubts, but I don’t believe that they are a sign of weakness, rather they are what give definition to your belief.

    Agreed, but I’ll take it a step further – claiming to have no doubts is a weakness. Its usually an indication that you’re taking way too much for granted.

    Also, I think we completely misconstrue the word “knowledge” in Alma 32. It should really read as “evidence”. Because that’s exactly the process he’s describing. We can know that goodness is occurring in us and before us when exercising faith in certain things. Alma admonishes us to simply follow the trail of goodness.

    Unfortunately, Mormons turn this into a testimonial domino effect. Or – If I feel enlightened when reading the BoM, then not only is it “true”, everything else associated with the Church is true. That, IMHO, is not only false – but lazy too.

    Comment by CJ Douglass — April 15, 2011 @ 7:30 am

  6. Hold on CJ, let’s be careful who we call lazy,

    If the Spirit of God testifies of the Book of Mormon, we say that it’s “true.” and that this means the Church is “true.” You may call that lazy, but aren’t there a certain amount of conclusions that inevitably flow from a testimony of the BoM by the Spirit?

    Part of the problem is that we don’t really define what we mean by “true.” If the Spirit testifies of it, that means it has divine origins. It’s what it purports to be. It’s from God. If that’s the case, there are only a few possibile conclusions one can then reach about the Church. The most obvious one is that the Church also has divine origin and leadership. One can think of ways where it’s possible not to reach that conclusion from a witness of the BoM, but I wouldn’t exactly call someone lazy if that’s where they end up.

    Comment by MCQ — April 15, 2011 @ 2:07 pm

  7. Gee wiz MCQ, Can’t I use any accusatory or judgmental language without you calling me on it? :)

    Ok, I’ll just say that I think employing the Mormon domino effect is def. an easier route to take. I believe that the easiness of the way is a major factor in why so many people apply it to their testimony. If that makes sense.

    To be fair, we’re hardly alone in this. The domino effect is even more prevalent among orthodox Christians, Jews and Muslims in their approach to sacred text.

    Comment by CJ Douglass — April 15, 2011 @ 7:07 pm

  8. I believe there are three types of testimonies ,1st the good feeling you get that tells you it is true possibly self induced.2nd the true witness from the holy ghost that assures you it is true,few get this,it takes much work and long prayers.3rd the things found,the things that happen and the belief that if this is not true then there is none that are true,this comes from living the gospel and seeing it change lives for the good.Most of us have a little of each of these and from day to day we count on one of them. I depend mostly on number 3,I look into the heavens and into discoveries of science and no other church offers me any answers. The belief that we will spend eternity at the feet of God worshiping him ,seems more like hell the heaven.God could not be so insecure that he would require all this groveling. My God wants me to be happy and he wants me to progress not stagnate for eternity,but I see God not as a person but as an office in the priesthood.

    Comment by marv thompson — April 16, 2011 @ 10:37 am

  9. I see God not as a person but as an office in the priesthood.

    That’s a little odd, marv. He’s supposed to be our father as well. How is it possible for an “office” to be a father?

    Comment by MCQ — April 16, 2011 @ 12:56 pm

  10. mcq ,read king follet sermon then get back to me,,,,your father may have been a elder but he was also your father,,you can hold an office and still be something else,,,like being president and being stupid

    Comment by marv thompson — April 16, 2011 @ 2:01 pm

  11. I’ve read KFD, marv, and I think you’re reading a lot into it. It’s not exactly rock solid doctrine, in any case, but to conclude that it says God is an office, rather than a person, is a bit extreme.

    To take your example, my father was my father before and after he was an elder. Are you saying that the person who is our father is no longer God, now? Or he is now, but wasn’t before?

    Comment by MCQ — April 16, 2011 @ 8:08 pm

  12. you are either dense or you just like to argue. I can’t tell which.one god was chosen for us,the us is we the premortal spirits and children of God.Now who were these Gods who chose one for us,were they jesus and the holy ghost or were they brothers and sisters of the one God that was chosen for us.Now if they were the latter then where are their spirit children or are we the spirit children of the council and one of the council was chosen to be responsible for this creation,but one thing is sure God was God when we were born as spirits and he still is God now,but he was not god when he lived his mortal existence in the creation he belonged to.as for the kfs if Joseph is a prophet then the kfs is doctrine,if he is not then we are just another nice church.Your call

    Comment by marv thompson — April 17, 2011 @ 1:30 am

  13. marv, you’re going to get yourself banned if you keep that up. If you want to keep the privelege of hanging around here, then dial back the name calling and the attitude.

    Obviously, God was not God if and when he was mortal, but even that issue is not rock solid doctrine. Just ask President Hinckley, who said we don’t teach that as doctrine and we don’t understand it very well. Now I’ll ask you: was Gordon Hinckley a prophet? Or are we just a nice church. Your call.

    The rest of your comment is unintelligible, but let me say this about the KFD: we don’t even know for sure what Joseph said. There were no recordings at that time. all we have is handwritten notes, and some of those are conflicting. My advice? Don’t get all high and mighty about pronouncements as old as the KFD, marv. We have always been a church that evolves on doctrine, and many speeches by many prophets are completely out of favor now. Or have you not heard of Polygamy, Adam/God, or the priesthood ban?

    Comment by MCQ — April 17, 2011 @ 2:48 am

  14. Mcq ban me if you must ,but attitude,you have more attitude then any one i have every had contact with.polyamy is an eternal doctrine,brother Brigham and the Adam God thing has several answers ,all of which i am sure you are aware of.one of the reasons i was inactive for 14 years was because the priesthood was held from the blacks,but i had a very spiritual friend explain that one to me.when 60 min interviewed president
    Hinckley , Mike Wallace said so you are not allowed to drink cokes right,bro hinckley said yes isn’t it wonderful.You know that we are not commanded to not drink cokes,but the prophet did not feel a need to correct mr Wallace on tv.Many prophets have been quoted out of context,just as you reminded me about the kfs ,would that not also apply to the adam God issue ,no one knows for sure what Brigrahm meant and wheather it was reported correctly. We also know that joseph was just kidding when he told a young man that the ten lost tribes were on a star he pointed to.why did you jump on my statement in the first place,this post is about testimony and i expressed my thoughts on that,the priesthood office thing was intended as an insight on my opinions and that I am not a prophet and but i do have different conclusions then you or others in the church,my beliefs are not strange enough to damn me,I believe joseph is a prophet and that we have a living prophet today,but i also believe that there is a lot that is not taught over the pulpit today that was taught in the past,and the reason is that the church grows so fast that we can not teach all truths with out doing damage to the new converts

    Comment by marv thompson — April 17, 2011 @ 2:35 pm

  15. Yeah, the difference is that I’m a perma here and you’re a visitor, so maybe you could act like a visitor and be a little more polite, if you like being here.

    Look back at the comments, marv, all I did was ask a question about your comment. You’re the one who escalated the rhetoric. If you are now saying that the KFD is equal to other prophetic pronouncements, then I agree with you. You seemed to previously be saying that it was on some kind of higher level, and had to be accepted in the way you were reading it. That’s the part that i disagreed with, becuase there are many ideas about what Joseph was driving at in that speech, and it seems like a good idea to keep an open mind about it until we get further revelation on the subject.

    Comment by MCQ — April 17, 2011 @ 11:25 pm

  16. once again your more concerned with your reply then you are hearing what i said,the post was about testimony not about the God head,what was your purpose to respond to one sentence in my reply ,when that sentence was not about testimony,your a bully. Gee wiz MCQ, Can’t I use any accusatory or judgmental language without you calling me on it? :)and i am not the only one you try to bully,this is my last response,it is not worth it,but i will continue to follow this blog ,there is good stuff here and i enjoy reading it,even if you have tried to make me feel unwelcome.May God bless you and yours and may you seek to enlighten other rather then attack them.

    Comment by marv thompson — April 17, 2011 @ 11:53 pm

  17. I believe there are three types of testimonies ,1st the good feeling you get that tells you it is true possibly self induced.2nd the true witness from the holy ghost that assures you it is true,few get this,it takes much work and long prayers.3rd the things found,the things that happen and the belief that if this is not true then there is none that are true,this comes from living the gospel and seeing it change lives for the good.Most of us have a little of each of these and from day to day we count on one of them. I depend mostly on number 3,I look into the heavens and into discoveries of science and no other church offers me any answers. The belief that we will spend eternity at the feet of God worshiping him ,seems more like hell the heaven.God could not be so insecure that he would require all this groveling. My God wants me to be happy and he wants me to progress not stagnate for eternity, MCQ with out the last sentence do you still have something you can attack me about

    Comment by marv thompson — April 17, 2011 @ 11:56 pm

  18. No, I’m good.

    Comment by MCQ — April 18, 2011 @ 3:04 pm

  19. …Good, ’cause I was just about to stop the car.

    Comment by mfranti — April 18, 2011 @ 3:13 pm

  20. I have always hoped that I would never reach “perfect knowledge status” before I am ready and yet to reach it in time if there is a deadline.

    Comment by Barb — April 19, 2011 @ 9:24 pm

  21. Thank you, Rusty. I’m going to study this out. I’m pretty much over the “I know” Nazis. Anybody who tries to bully me into saying I know is going to get a good hard smack up the side of the head.

    Comment by annegb — April 24, 2011 @ 8:56 am

  22. #8 incredibly good food for thought.

    Comment by annegb — April 24, 2011 @ 9:00 am

  23. #12 Mcq likes to argue, he’s definitely not dense. He doesn’t argue for the sake of it, though, so assume he really disagrees with you. Chuckle. Never “won” an argument with him (“won in quotes because I was always right, but I couldn’t outlast him).

    Comment by annegb — April 24, 2011 @ 9:02 am

  24. Well, my goodness, mcq, threat of banning is a kind of non-sequiter argument. I like that “okay, now I’m just going to beat you up” response, but it hasn’t worked out well for me in the past.

    Comment by annegb — April 24, 2011 @ 9:16 am

  25. I’ve only ever actually banned one person, and I even gave up on that ban. I don’t stay mad, and I don’t hold grudges, but I like the idea of being able to ban someone if necessary. Of course, if Rusty said I was being an ass and to just shut up, there would be no banning. Today, I’m just glad I haven’t been banned.

    Happy Easter everyone!

    Comment by MCQ — April 24, 2011 @ 11:58 am

  26. Good to know….I basically still hold every grudge since I was born and will remind the grudgee at the drop of a hat. I’m coming to realize I have some sort of mental illness with grudge-carrying. I plot revenge. Plot. Don’t carry out. Yet.

    Comment by annegb — April 24, 2011 @ 2:35 pm

  27. I will consider myself to be on notice, annegb.

    Comment by MCQ — April 24, 2011 @ 9:46 pm

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