Approaching Truth, Keeping an Open Mind

Feb 24, 2015
4 min read

I have found this to be a very peaceful way to truth. Contention often arises when prideful individuals play intellectual ‘king of the hill’ and declare things about God, heaven and earth that they may only believe and not really know. A particular verse from the Qur’an reads:

“Satan…always commands you…to say things about God that you do not really know.” 2:169

Joseph Smith echoed something similar when he said:

“Men of the present time testify of heaven and hell, and have never seen either;” – Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 160

Is bearing testimony of something that you don’t know is true good or is it bearing a false witness? Even if well-intentioned, does bearing false witness tend to bring the Spirit or does it invite contention? To what degree does bearing a ‘wishful witness’ contribute to the endurance of problematic paradigms?

“I know that he loveth his children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things.” (1 Nephi 11:17)

In this verse, Nephi is experiencing a vision and is being asked questions by an angel. One of the questions is, “Knowest thou the condescension of God?” to which Nephi answered with the one thing that he does know while acknowledging what he didn’t know. It’s ok to say, “I don’t know,” but I don’t think it is ok to pretend that you know things that you don’t; isn’t that called lying?

Like Nephi, we can be comfortable with the knowledge we have while acknowledging that we don’t know the truth of all things. We can focus more on collecting rather than contending, more listening and observing instead of preaching. Sharing what you find is good, even if it is imperfect (like this blog).

Kevin Christensen shared his approach:

“If I wanted to know, to be prepared, I had to take personal responsibility. In retrospect, my program involved three elements. Keep my eyes open. Give things time. And re-examine my own assumptions now and then. The alternative is to not pay attention. Insist on final answers now. And never re-examine my own assumptions. Either choice on these three points has consequences in life.” – Kevin Christensen, Eye of the Beholder

Hugh B. Brown who was a first counselor to Church president David O. McKay contributed these words:

“One of the most important things in the world is freedom of the mind; from this all other freedoms spring. Such freedom is necessarily dangerous, for one cannot think right without running the risk of thinking wrong, but generally more thinking is the antidote for the evils that spring from wrong thinking. More thinking is required, and we call upon you students to exercise your God-given right to think through every proposition that is submitted to you and to be unafraid to express your opinions, with proper respect for those to whom you talk and proper acknowledgment of your own shortcomings.

We live in an age when freedom of the mind is suppressed over much of the world. We must preserve this freedom in the Church and in America and resist all efforts of earnest men to suppress it, for when it is suppressed, we might lose the liberties vouchsafed in the Constitution of the United States.

Preserve, then, the freedom of your mind in education and in religion, and be unafraid to express your thoughts and to insist upon your right to examine every proposition. We are not so much concerned with whether your thoughts are orthodox or heterodox as we are that you shall have thoughts. One may memorize much without learning anything. In this age of speed, there seems to be little time for meditation.” – Hugh B. Brown (First Counselor to Church President David O. McKay), An Eternal Quest – Freedom of the Mind, May 13, 1969

I’m a huge fan of more thinking, more pondering, more meditation, more questioning our own paradigms and approaching God on his terms. More seeking for good, more treasuring the smallest blessings from on high, more trust in God rather than the arm of the flesh. Joseph Smith stated:

“The best way to obtain truth and wisdom is not to ask from books, but to go to God in prayer, and obtain divine teaching.” (History of the Church, 4:425)

That’s not to say books aren’t important, after all, D&C 109:7 says, “seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom, seek learning even by study and also by faith;” Those are good ways to obtain truth and wisdom, but the best way is to receive it from divine sources.

In my experience “going to God in prayer” isn’t just getting on my knees and making demands. It involves patience, personal change, sincere desire, real intent, deep pondering and results in growth. Prayer isn’t about just using your mouth, it is about your whole soul ascending. Deliberately and carefully studying the scriptures and extending oneself in the service of others makes such a positive impact on life.

I have so many thoughts on this subject, I haven’t even scratched the surface. No real solid point to this article, these were just some thoughts that materialized.


  1. Only the humble can discern truth from “problematic paradigms”: the contentious are more interested in defending their dogma.

    Bearing false witness means deliberate lying, not ignorance. Relative to the testimony bearer, Pres. Packer has said, “A testimony is to be found in the bearing of it!” Therefore, the Spirit can confirm truth to the bearer even if the bearer does not already have a testimony of that which is testified–this is not bearing false witness. But when willingly lying, expect no confirmation of the Spirit but a stupor of thought, darkness.

    The gift of discernment should be “coveted,” cultivated.

    • I have to respectfully disagree with the idea of seeking a “testimony” just by saying things and hoping they are true. I find it to be much more appropriate to teach people to testify of things they know while understanding that it is ok to not have all knowledge right now. I think it is also fine to state that you believe.

      But when people think they can go around saying “I KNOW that this or that is true” with the hope that God will someday confirm that dogma, you’ll unavoidably end up with people looking for God validate false paradigms.

      This can lead to further confusion to the listener. A fiery well-expressed “testimony” can encourage others to adopt the same paradigms, that might not be correct in many cases.

      To me, I think it is better to simply stick with what is authentic, rather than becoming a community where you have people repeating popular paradigms and never knowing if someone is being truthful or just “trying on” certain expressions hoping to see them validated.

      I believe that this practice does damage because it is dishonest and it doesn’t have a scriptural foundation.

      I respectfully disagree with Packer on this one, and I do so by invoking Joseph Fielding Smith:

      “STANDARD WORKS JUDGE TEACHINGS OF ALL MEN. It makes no difference what is written or what anyone has said, if what has been said is in conflict with what the Lord has revealed, we can set it aside. My words, and the teachings of any other member of the Church, high or low, if they do not square with the revelations, we need not accept them. Let us have this matter clear. We have accepted the four standard works as the measuring yardsticks, or balances, by which we measure every man’s doctrine…

      Every man who writes is responsible, not the Church, for what he writes. If Joseph Fielding Smith writes something which is out of harmony with the revelations, then every member of the Church is duty bound to reject it. If he writes that which is in perfect harmony with the revealed word of the Lord, then it should be accepted.” (Doctrines of Salvation, comp. Bruce R. McConkie, 3:203–204.)

      • I would also disagree with such an idea, an idea that I was not implying.

        And while one may infer contradiction between those Packer and Smith quotes, I wouldn’t pit them against each other. I see that both have their place.

        The Standard Works are indeed a yardstick but also an open canon. Current revelation can be expanded by future revelation. In addition, an individual can be given revelation beyond what may be proven in the current canon, but testifying is not how to go about it.

        • I don’t have an issue with the Spirit confirming the truthfulness of something that a person has spoken because I know that it can happen.

          What I disagree with is the idea that this is THE way a “testimony” is found. The quote says, “A testimony is found in the bearing of it” and is often repeated as the “way” one gets a testimony.

          I’m not sure what you were getting at with that quote from Packer, could you clarify?

          • The quote actually says “is to be found.” But if misquoted as “is found” and interpreted as the *only* way, then that’s a problem, and I’ve never heard it that way. I interpret it simply as *a* way, and I think this is clear from its context in his talk. And this is probably an uncommon way.

            What I was getting at with the quote was nothing more than what follows it. But generally, that one can discern the truth or untruth of a statement as it is spoken. If you have ever felt the Spirit confirm your or someone’s words–not necessarily of a testimony–or felt the Spirit withdraw after you or someone has made a false statement, you should know what I mean.

          • You are correct, I did misquote, but I don’t think it alters the meaning in a way that distances itself from my original concerns. The quote in context is still problematic in my mind because it doesn’t seem to suggest that is an uncommon way, but the established way. Personally, I don’t like how we use the word “testimony” as Latter-day Saints. It seems to be this nebulous status meter that rises and falls depending on your way of seeing things.

            I feel like we talk about things in a way that sounds familiar and cultural but have no substance or concreteness. Language is both a blessing and a curse.

            However, as to your second point, I am in complete agreement, I have witnessed that type of thing.

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