You don’t know what you think you know

I know that some of my readers are lawyers, some are philosophers and some are very active apologists of our faith. I know this because I read your blogs and am much impressed by your sound reasoning and logical approach to questions of religion, both doctrinal and practical.

I am not trained in rhetoric, argument or apologetics. I am just your basic, average member of the LDS church who loves his religion and finds great joy in attempting to understand and to practice it better each day of my life. I love the doctrines of salvation and of the restoration.

A common understanding

My blog attracts all kinds of readers: stalwart LDS members of pioneer heritage, enthusiastic recent converts, those who are trying to become more active in the faith, those who are leaving the church and even former members who are very much opposed to the work of the church.

My dialogs with those who are members of the LDS faith or those who are former members all seem to have one thing I can rely on: we are familiar with the idea of the personal testimony and what it means to Mormons as the fundamental basis for our firm commitment to our religion.

A foreign concept to some

But when it comes to dialogs with those who are not of our faith, never have been, and who state that they have no intention of ever becoming LDS, I find myself constantly having to explain how our testimonies color our world and why they are so powerful in driving our daily lives.

I’m beginning to suspect that the ideas of having a testimony, of holding it, feeding it, losing it and regaining it are foreign concepts to my visitors who are not LDS. I wish I could come up with an analogous experience that they would understand so I could compare apples to apples.

Even Ex-Mo’s understand

I mean, even the Ex-Mormons who now mock us and our testimonies know that it is a very basic part of our faith. They know that the whole purpose of Primary, Sunday school, Seminary and just about every meeting we attend is really to strengthen our testimonies of the restored gospel.

They may say they never had one or that they were the victims of mass hypnosis or that they are so over their participation in the church because they got a “real” education when they grew up. But do members of other churches not have a similar experience growing up in their religion?

Too much logic and reason

I’m thinking that everyone has to deal with how they feel about their faith at some time in their life. It can’t all be an intellectual exercise where you learn the doctrines and history, analyze it objectively for reason and then reject every semblance of emotion that may have been involved.

Is discussing religion and understanding theology only about being objective, reasonable and purely logical? How cold and sterile that seems to me. Perhaps avoiding dialog about the subjective feeling experience that makes religion come alive is limited to the male gender.

Feelings, passion and revelation

My most poignant and revelatory prayers are those that occur when my heart is broken and I am experiencing great distress over some trial or disappointment. It is when I am clearly feeling emotional about something that I seem to reach the deepest in my communications with God.

Likewise, some of the most powerful revelations I have received have come in those moments of passionate pleading when I am explaining to the Lord my need to understand a certain part of the gospel and how it applies to my life’s circumstances at that time. Such answers are powerful.

Revelation separate from emotion

However, on every occasion where I knew I was receiving revelation, when I knew my prayer was being answered while yet on my knees, the feelings of distress and discomfort disappeared. What flowed into my soul in those moments was accompanied with peace and deep satisfaction.

Because so much of my testimony has been gained in this manner upon my knees in conjunction with much pleading and asking, I have strong emotional memories attached to the revelation that has come as a result of my prayer. But I do not confuse the emotion with the answers received.

Revelation without distress

Thus, my faith, my testimony and my understanding of God’s love for me are increased with each revelatory experience. They are not as rare as they used to be. If I pay the price in intense and passionate effort, the revelation comes, and I know things that I did not know previously.

My prayers are not always answered while I am still on my knees. And not all my prayers are full of passionate, emotional pleadings. Faith does not need to be expressed in distressed, gut-wrenching importuning. A simple, quiet, yet powerful prayer will also lead to timely answers.

I know what I know

I long ago resolved any doubts about the church, the doctrine or the history. My prayers these days are more about understanding how I can be more effective in sharing the gospel with others. So I feel extremely comfortable in my knowledge and testimony of the basic tenets of my faith.

When discussing my religion with others not of my faith, I easily express that I know certain things when they come up in our dialog. It can be a shock when the other person responds with, “You don’t know what you think you know.” Excuse me? How do you know what I know?

Attempts to disprove

I suspect that such statements don’t come from those who are sincere in wanting to understand my point of view on things. For those who view religion as only logical and always reasonable, my assertion that I know something in my soul has often been challenged with a “prove it!”

When attempting to explain that this knowledge is a part of my testimony and that the knowledge was obtained through revelation, the charge is made that I have not really received knowledge and that my experience is totally subjective and therefore must be discredited and ignored.

Summary and conclusion

If you want an example of what I am trying to explain, go read the dialog in the comments of my essay on The Only True and Living Church. Especially note the comment about “retreating into the subjective bubble of your testimony.” How do you explain a testimony in a logical manner?

A testimony is not emotion, but it is accompanied by strong feelings. It is the result of study and effort to understand, and then confirming that knowledge in prayer. It is revelation and it is real. I wish I understood better how to explain it to those who have never experienced it themselves.

5 comments for “You don’t know what you think you know

  1. S.Faux
    April 5, 2009 at 2:22 pm

    Yes, “knowledge” is a tough issue. I wish we had a formal LDS epistemology. The ways in which different people are inspired varies, of course. In LDS theology “the spirit of Christ” is pervasive and universal. “Good” is done in most religions. God’s work can be done in the “Old Jerusalem” as well as in the “New.”I think convert testimonies come more on God’s time schedule than our own. Thus, it can be frustrating at times when we try to make our own testimonies contagious.In any case, Tim, I suspect your impact is far greater than you realize. And, I scoff at your claim to be “basic” and “average.” You see farther and deeper than most. Further, you are unusually articulate. Sorry, I know you were not fishing for compliments. I just could not help myself.

  2. velska
    April 5, 2009 at 5:04 pm

    One of the most profound lessons of my life has been, that God is not our marionette. We don’t pull the strings, but have to wait for the time he sees best. We just have to have the faith that he knows best, what we need.I like the way you explain the difference between the feelings that can be connected to receiving spiritual witness of something, and the witness itself. In Galatians 5:22–23 Paul enumerates some of the things that accompany the Spirit. The joy can be overwhelming, and the tears easily come at times, while other times it’s just peace or excitement or a feeling of “enlightenment”; a “Eureka” moment, if you will. But the tears, etc. are not the testimony. Emotions can be fleeting, and can even be counterfeited, but the witness of the Spirit stays. It can become less intense as time passes and we forget, especially if we drive the Spirit away by constantly going against the promptings.

  3. Delirious
    April 5, 2009 at 6:23 pm

    I think many people, in response to your discussion of testimony will answer, “I prayed and I never got an answer.”. I don’t think they understand the connection between faith and testimony. And they don’t understand that a testimony is tentative. It’s like a muscle that will atrophy with disuse. What they need to understand is that even the most stalwart believer will turn away from what they once knew, if they don’t strengthen what they have. And one of the things that turns people away from their testimony the quickest, is sin. Many people will begin to pick apart their testimony in order to justify some sin in their life. I am like you, a basic, average member of the church. But never discount the power of one voice. I believe that the war in heaven was one of testimony. We raised our voices in support of God’s plan. I’m sure that many were convinced of the correctness of God’s plan because of your voice. There will be many in the world today who will discount what you say, but there will be some who will feel echoes of what they knew before coming to this world, and they will read to know more.

  4. S.Faux
    April 5, 2009 at 9:46 pm

    Tim,My above comment was written too early in the morning. I should say instead that although I appreciate your humility, I continue to believe you are much more than basic and average. I think I should have used the word “reject” instead of “scoff.” Sorry. I am good at sticking my foot in my mouth — especially in the wee hours of the morning.

  5. Elejian
    April 6, 2009 at 8:19 am

    The English word “feeling” can be challenging, because the word may be used to refer to both physical sensation and to emotion. Personal revelation is probably different for everyone, but for me, if I ask a yes/no question, a “Yes” answer is a physical sensation. If I get no sensation at all, the answer is either “No” or “Neither ‘Yes’ nor ‘No’ is an appropriate answer at this moment in time.”

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