Fill in the blank.
Say it back to yourself.
What does it mean?
Traditions are things we repeat; sometimes they’re great, other times they aren’t. It seems to me that as Latter-day Saints, we have a settled into a tradition of using a phrase that has come to embody everything from a blazing witness of truth to an assuring affirmation of belief. On any given 1st Sunday of the month at an LDS Sacrament meeting, you might hear a dozen small children courageously march up to the stand and all say “I know the church is true” – whether they do or not.
We don’t intentionally train them to do this, it just seems to be something that gets passed on. They mimic adults and other kids because they like what they see and want to participate. Maybe because we are unsure of how to explain to children the difference between belief and knowledge, so we just cross our fingers and hope that somehow, by activity in the Church, those parroted phrases will some day be supported by actual truth and knowledge.
In many ways this seems to strike me as irresponsible and deceptive. Isn’t this tradition that we have grown accustomed to kind of like building a house without a foundation and then trying to come back and add it later?
I’m not here to question or destroy anyone’s confidence in things they hold dear, only to help separate testimonial tares from the wheat. Do we understand what it means to know something, or have we watered the word down to mean something much less than what it actually implies? Is inadvertently conditioning people to believe that they know something just fine or is it deceitful?
Sometime in my teenage years before I slid the black name tag onto my shirt pocket I came to a realization that changed my life.
I somehow stumbled upon the idea that there was a difference between belief and knowledge. Beliefs are judgments you make about things whether they are true or not, we believe them, we want something to be a certain way. We believe in many things, true things, false things, wonderful things and horrible things. Belief is free, but knowledge comes with a price.
I took a piece of paper and wrote “Believe” on one side and “Know” on the other side and separated them with a line down the middle of the paper.
I went down the list of all the things that I could think of that would be important to know. There were three things on the Know side while the Believe side was full. I felt frustrated to write some things on the Believe side because I remember at having said that I knew they were true over the pulpit. Why did I say I knew? Because I didn’t know any better, I loved what I learned and that way the way I used to express my confidence in those things.
I looked back at my paper; the Know side intrigued me. Those three things burned there on the paper, I knew that I knew them because immediately all the experiences I had with them came flooding back to my mind. I was a witness that those three things were truths and there before me was my short, but powerful testimony. I looked back to the Believe side and found so many wonderful things that I wholeheartedly believed in, so many things that I wanted to be true and that gave the world and afterlife sense and meaning, but I determined that I could not invest my life in any lies, I had to find out what was true.
Frustration soon left me, I felt at peace. The knowledge I did have gave me comfort and a foundation; any new truth would have to rest upon that foundation, I could not deny what I knew to be true.
One by one, I took the things from the Believe side and I experimented on them.
I learned about them, picked them apart and put them into practice if necessary. I was surprised at what happened. Truth came, but it didn’t fit the traditional paradigm that I was used to.
I didn’t learn that “Joseph Smith was a prophet of God”, I learned by many powerful witnesses from the Holy Spirit that God spoke to Joseph Smith in that grove when he was a boy.
I didn’t learn that “the Church is true” but I already knew that the priesthood of God is a real power and that it operates in this Church because I witnessed its power.
I didn’t learn that Gordon B. Hinckley (at the time) was a “true prophet of God” but I did learn that I could hear God’s voice through his.
I didn’t learn that “the Book of Mormon is true” but I learned that God is responsible for its existence because I have been healed by its words and I know what it is.
I didn’t learn that “Jesus Christ is the Son of God” but I did learn that he lives and has the power to heal both body and spirit and that the crushing, overwhelming, pure love that he has for me, he has for all.
There’s much, much more and many things I cannot express in words, but this has been the nature of my experience.
Why it matters
It is written that the finger of God once etched in stone the words “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour (Exodus 20:16)” and I believe that we shouldn’t bear false witness to our neighbor either. Expressing something you believe as something you know is bearing false witness; it’s untrue, it is a lie, even if it is well-intentioned.
I realize how elitist and judgmental I might sound at the moment, but honestly I don’t judge people who use canned phrases to express their feelings, beliefs or witnesses. Sometimes there are things so sacred we have no other way of really expressing them so we choose a phrase that others seem to understand and hope the Spirit conveys the truth to the hearts of the faithful. That’s part of the miracle, that God can actually work through us, imperfect as we all are.
So if you don’t know, but believe, then honestly declare it as a belief, there’s nothing wrong with this because belief is essential to the quest for knowledge. Where is it written that we must know the truth of all things right at this moment or we are failures? Even the great Nephi humbly declared to an angel:
“I know that he loveth his children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things.” 1 Nephi 11:17
We too can know the difference between belief and knowledge and testify accordingly through our words and actions. Don’t be afraid to challenge what you think you know because unchallenged beliefs will never find their way to knowledge.