I’ve recently been engaging in discussions with two friends (you can find one of those discussions in my post “An Apple Not Quite Ripe”, and the other in my post “More Discussion About Spiritual Truth”) where the subject of knowing truth came up. I thought I might share my thoughts with you.
How do we answer the question,
“How can I come to know truth? How can I come to know spiritual truth?”
A Cunning Plan, A Vicious Murder
The portion of Nephite history covered by the book of Alma was tumultuous and violent. Not only were the Nephites engaged in a bitter, long-lasting war with the Lamanites, but they were experiencing political turmoil from within as wicked men sought to usurp power.
In chapter 47, a Nephite dissenter named Amalickiah takes control of the Lamanite army at the direction of the Lamanite king (you can read of the takeover in verses 1-19). With control of the army, Amalickiah marched back to the Lamanite capital to meet the king. The scriptures tell us,
“And the king came out to meet [Amalickiah] with his guards, for he supposed that Amalickiah had fulfilled his commands, and that Amalickiah had gathered together so great an army to go against the Nephites to battle.
“But behold, as the king came out to meet him Amalickiah caused that his servants should go forth to meet the king. And they went and bowed themselves before the king, as if to reverence him because of his greatness.
“And it came to pass that the king put forth his hand to raise them, as was the custom with the Lamanites, as a token of peace, which custom they had taken from the Nephites.
“And it came to pass that when he had raised the first from the ground, behold he stabbed the king to the heart; and he fell to the earth” (Alma 47:21-24).
With the king dead, Amalickiah and his men needed to fabricate a scenario to give the appearance that they were innocent. The scriptures continue,
“Now the servants of the king fled; and the servants of Amalickiah raised a cry, saying:
Behold, the servants of the king have stabbed him to the heart, and he has fallen and they have fled; behold, come and see.
“And it came to pass that Amalickiah commanded that his armies should march forth and see what had happened to the king; and when they had come to the spot, and found the king lying in his gore, Amalickiah pretended to be wroth, and said: Whosoever loved the king, let him go forth, and pursue his servants that they may be slain.
“And it came to pass that all they who loved the king, when they heard these words, came forth and pursued after the servants of the king….
“And the army which pursued after them returned, having pursued after them in vain; and thus Amalickiah, by his fraud, gained the hearts of the people” (Alma 47:25-30).
I find the invitation of Amalickiah’s men, to “come and see” the physical evidence of the fabricated version of the murder, very interesting. By all appearances, and according to eye-witness testimony, Amalickiah was telling the truth. And because the Lamanites relied on evidence that was readily and easily seen, the deception worked.
A Precious Gospel, A Loving Invitation
Decades after Amalickiah, the Nephites were blessed by the personal visitation of the Lord Jesus Christ. After his resurrection, he appeared to and taught members of the lost tribes of Israel, including the people who authored the Book of Mormon (you can see this post on the song “Hello” from the Book of Mormon musical for more).
This portion of the Book of Mormon is one of the most tender sections of scripture you can find. The Savior instructed them about his gospel, baptism, the sacrament, and much more. He also allowed each person to individually feel the marks of the nails in his hands and feet. He prayed for them, and groups were ministered to by angels.
During this visit, he told them,
“And ye see that I have commanded that none of you should go away, but rather have commanded that ye should come unto me, that ye might feel and see; even so shall ye do unto the world; and whosoever breaketh this commandment suffereth himself to be led into temptation” (3 Nephi 18:25).
Doubtless, the Savior’s mention of “feeling” is a reference to the opportunity each person had to feel the evidence of the Atoning sacrifice in his hands, feet, and side. Still, it got me thinking about the manner in which the Lord has provided for us to learn truth. He allows us to study physical and empiric evidence, but he also expects us to seek a witness from the Holy Ghost. It is this witness from the Spirit upon which I base my testimony of the Savior and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Of those who were part of the Savior’s visit to the Americas it is written,
“And it came to pass that the disciples whom Jesus had chosen began from that time forth to baptize and to teach as many as did come unto them; and as many as were baptized in the name of Jesus were filled with the Holy Ghost….
God doesn’t expect, or even want, us to just rely on physical, empiric evidence. Those who know nothing of linguistics or archaeology can still know, in a very real way, that Jesus is the Christ, the Savior of the world. This is because the ability to “see” is balanced with the ability to “feel,” not with our hands, but with our hearts.
A Divine Companion, A Burning Heart
The scriptures are replete with accounts of the Spirit’s involvement in testifying of divine truth. It’s not my intent to present a comprehensive list or argue the point ad nauseam, but rather to present the doctrine in a memorable way, and perhaps pave the way for further personal study. With that intent, I’d like to share one more account, this time from the New Testament.
There were many of the Savior’s ancient disciples who did not understand his death. Two of these disciples were journeying to Emmaus when they were joined by the Savior (see Luke 24). He kept his identity hidden from them, and as they walked, they talked of the events in Jerusalem – the “prophet mighty in deed and word”, his trial and crucifixion, and the empty tomb.
Recognizing their astonishment, the Savior taught them, “expound(ing) unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning [Jesus]” (Luke 24:27).
After arriving and sharing supper, the Savior revealed himself to the disciples and then vanished. At this, the two said to each other,
“Did not our heart burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the scriptures?” (Luke 24:32).
In the Doctrine and Covenants, the Lord tells us,
“Verily, verily, I say unto you, that assuredly as the Lord liveth, who is your God and your Redeemer, even so surely shall you receive a knowledge of whatsoever things you shall ask in faith, with an honest heart, believing that you shall receive….
“Yea, behold, I will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy Ghost, which shall come upon you and which shall dwell in your heart.
“Now, behold, this is the spirit of revelation” (Doctrine and Covenants 8:1-3).
Learning is by and large a cerebral process, and the Lord does not want us to abandon logic or reason or empiric evidence in our quest for spiritual truth, Yet, the Holy Ghost working in our hearts is an essential element in coming to know spiritual truth, even if it is not the lone element. Both our hearts and minds must be actively involved in the development of faith.
Hugh Nibly commented on this balance between secular learning and divine revelation. He said,
”…The words of the prophets cannot be held to the tentative and defective tests that men have devised for them. Science, philosophy, and common sense all have a right to their day in court. But the last word does not lie with them. Every time men in their wisdom have come forth with the last word, other words have promptly followed. The last word is a testimony of the gospel that comes only by direct revelation. Our Father in heaven speaks it, and if it were in perfect agreement with the science of today, it would surely be out of line with the science of tomorrow. Let us not, therefore, seek to hold God to the learned opinions of the moment when he speaks the language of eternity.”
How true are those words! May we remember this as we seek spiritual truth, particularly before we demean others for basing their testimony on “feelings”.