Do I Really Know, or Do I Just Believe?

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From time to time, I read blog entries that interest me. Recently, I read a blogger (and lost the post, so I can’t link to it — bummer!) who was stating her reasons for not using the words “I know” as she bears her testimony any more. I’ve thought a lot about her post, because I wasn’t totally comfortable with it.

Some of the reasons she stated were

  • It makes Latter-Day Saints come off as arrogant: I will concede on this one. To anyone unfamiliar with the traditions of the church and the value we place on not just believing but seeking to know, a bold statement that begins with the words, “I know,” sounds incredibly haughty.
  • It works against the need for faith: I’m not so sure here. I agree it can be confusing, especially to children, youth, and recent converts, but that’s where seeking learning by study and faith come in. When I study and reflect on all of the teachings I know about faith and knowledge, I find that there is room for both in the heart of any believer.
  • In many ways, to say “I know” is deceptive: I think that depends on the speaker. Each member of the church has a responsibility to speak the truth in love. If I say I know, but I really haven’t gotten that far in my spiritual journey, then I am a liar. I am personally fine with hearing people tell me what they believe and hope to be true, as those are vital parts of the gospel, too. I think the problem here is the idea that there is a set formula for bearing a testimony in public. While leaders have set forth some do’s and don’ts, the bottom line is the responsibility to speak what the Spirit puts into your heart.

Knowing vs. Believing

Which brings me to what looks like an obvious point: there is no way for the average person to know everything about the gospel. (In fact, I suspect that even our prophet doesn’t know everything, even though he knows a lot more than I do!) How do faith and knowledge work, then?

I think the best sermon on the concept is given in Alma 32, where Alma basically gives the formula:

  1. Learn: There is no way to test any idea or principle of the gospel unless you know about it.
  2. Desire: If you don’t want to know and understand, you won’t make it to the next step.
  3. Try: Even if you are not 100% certain that the “experiment” is going to work, live the principle with exactness and with enough patience to give it time to see if there’s something to it.
  4. Examine: The point of putting something to the test is to look closely at the results. Of course, this may be the trickiest part, because God will keep his word and his promises — they just don’t always look like what we were expecting.
  5. Assuming the results are positive, Accept them and change your live accordingly.

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Conclusion

Having thought my testimony through yet again, I have reached a conclusion with which I can live.

When I bear my testimony — in public or in private, verbally or in writing — I have the responsibility of being honest with myself and with my audience. If I say I believe when I know something to be true through the witness of the Holy Spirit and my personal experiences, I am being dishonest with God. If I say I know when I’m still at the believing and hoping stage, then I am being dishonest with others.

In the end, it all boils down to faith: faith that what I do have is enough for Heavenly Father to put to good use, faith that I will continue growing and learning, and faith that my intent and desires are just as important as my “growth measure” of what I know.