How Do You Know?
When we were younger, we threw the word “know” around a lot. We said we knew “with every fiber of our being” that X, Y, and Z were true. And we knew not because of reason or “evidence” but because of the witness of the spirit. This kind of knowledge is the foundation of a Mormon life. Here’s Richard G. Scott’s take on it: “A strong testimony is the unshakable foundation of a secure, meaningful life where peace, confidence, happiness, and love can flourish. It is anchored in a conviction that an all-knowing God is in command of His work (â€œThe Power of a Strong Testimony,â€ Ensign, Nov. 2001, p. 87).
And I had this knowledge. I was firm in the faith and unshakable. Here’s something I wrote about this kind of knowledge way back in 1998:
“When the Spirit speaks to you, you know it. Although others may dismiss
the Spirit as “feelings,” those who have received a witness of the truth
know the difference. I don’t share why I know (and yes, I do know) the
gospel is true because I can’t find words adequate to define or describe
why I know, and to do so would cheapen the witness. And besides, there
are plenty of critics who would mock and denigrate a sacred experience
(you know, casting pearls before swine).
“So, yes, I will be “evasive” about this because I cannot really explain
how the Spirit and revelation work in my life. I don’t begrudge people’s
saying they know, because I know.”
It sounds hopelessly naive to me now, but I was sure I knew. I had a knowledge that surpassed any earthly understanding. But I’ve been thinking today about a nagging contradiction in our earlier use of “knowledge.” We were warned continually that we had to constantly nurture our testimonies, or we would lose them. Again, here’s Elder Scott: “Your testimony will be fortified as you exercise faith in Jesus Christ, in His teachings, and in His limitless power to accomplish what He has promised.” Conversely, he says, “Yes, these things can be lost by succumbing to [Satan’s] temptations. But he has no power in and of himself to destroy them.”
What always struck me was that there was something different about this kind of “knowledge.” If, for example, I learn that gravity is a true principle, there’s not much I can do to have a stronger knowledge of gravity, except perhaps to understand the physics behind it. And I will not likely forget that gravity is true. So, what is it about a knowledge that the church is true that can be increased or decreased or even lost?
I knew back in 1998. Sometimes I wonder what my life would be like had other facts not superseded the knowledge I had. What do you do, for example, when facts collide? How do you determine what is true? I suspect that the answer to those questions determines where we stand in relation to the “weightier matters” of religion and belief and science.
For me, it’s enough to admit that I don’t know as much as I think I know. I like it better that way.