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.