Sunday, January 08, 2006


"Know" causes much consternation in the Church. On the one hand, small children are sometimes taught to profess knowledge they may or may not yet posses. On the other hand, most wards have a member who, upon bearing his testimony, will carefully remind members: "I cannot say I know these things, but I want you all to know I believe these things..." "Know" is a word we use often in the Church, but as I sat in Fast and Testimony meeting today I pondered what it means, for me, to know something.

As a medical student, I spend the majority of my time learning scientific "konwledge." We know many of the details about evolution, genetic mechanisms, biochemistry, pathology and physiology. Indeed, underlying everything I learn in medical school is the scientific method--a carefully cultivated theory describing the acquisition of knowledge. According to this theory, we gain knowledge in tiny increments. In Gospel-speak, we learn "line upon line, and precept upon precept." Only Gospel-speak is not really appropriate for describing the scientific method because in science we do not really know anything.

The scientific method describes our attempt to arrive at our best approximation of reality. That is not in any way to disparage the scientific method, I am simply recognizing that the very pattern which sets the SM apart is one of attempt, mistake, retry, mistake, retry (and closer this time to the truth), and so on... In the end, then, I do not believe science seeks knowledge.

Religion, however, deals with both knowledge and belief.

"To some, it is given to know..." I believe knowledge comes we know not how. Some general authorities, like President Hinckely, have described a gradual dawning of knowledge. These men cannot pinpoint a moment in which knowledge came, they seem simply to know. As a person does not mature at any one time, so knowledge may grow unnoticed until one day, concerning some specific subject, a person simply knows. Others, like Alma Jr. in his moment of greatest dread, come to know like lightning. In a moment, something unknown a moment before becomes known.

I suspect people in both categories would have a hard time describing the origin or basis of their knowledge. Search both scriptures and journals and you will find various attempts to put into words the process of knowledge, but I do not think any suffices--both because everyone experiences the dawn of knowledge differently and because, try as mortals might, the process of knowledge reception is--like Christ's prayers on behalf of the Nephites--simply beyond words.

I know Joseph Smith is a prophet. I have tried, through the years, in many circumstances and to many people to explain how I know. Most of the explanation is both easy and relatively unimportant. I can relate the circumstances and the consequences. I have the accompanying scriptures memorized and I can even call upon my dad's testimony for corroboration, as he was there.

The story, however, turns on my moment of truth. The instant occurred while I sat on the couch in my living room at 1451 Yuma. I was reading Joseph Smith's story. I can recall and describe perfectly all the events leading up to that moment; but that moment I can only recall--I have never succeeded in describing it. I have tried imagery as varied as waterfalls and flames, but nothing conveys the transofrmation adequately. It is, to use a lame analogy, like describing a sunset to a man born blind. The colors, the hues, the harmony are all meaningless unless you have seen them.

I do not know how I know. I only know I know. I only know in that moment I knew. Minutes before, I believed, but in that moment something changed and I knew. And I still know. That's about as far as words can take me, the rest, I suppose, can only be learned by experience.


Anonymous Preethi said...

Looking back on the time at which I was first reading the Book of Mormon, I did believe even before I knew that I was seeking some sort of confirmation of knowledge. We read in Moroni that we can know the truth of all things, but I don't think it had truly dawned on me that I was seeking a sure knowledge of truth. From my discussions with a friend, I already had somewhat of a belief that what I was reading was Scripture, that it was the word of God.

Yet, similar to your experience of a time in which your belief was changed to knowledge, I remember very cleary the night in which I knew that it was true - that the words written on the page of that blue-bound book came from a loving Heavenly Father. It is that moment of crystalline understanding to which I can "remember, remember" in times of doubt and in times of great faith.

As written in D&C 6:22-23, "Verily, verily, I say unto you, if you desire a further witness, cast your mind upon the night that you cried unto me in your heart, that you might know concerning the truth of these things. Did I not speak peace to your mind concerning the matter? What greater witness can you have than from God?"

In that moment, something did change. I did, and continue to, know.

7:01 PM  
Anonymous Dad said...

The "foreword" and "afterword" to this blog post shed interesting light on the process of "knowing."

The "foreword" occurred in the Sacred Grove, in upstate New York, as part of a family visit there. We spent more time than we had planned. My now medical student son seemed intent on wandering, sometimes with the family and sometimes not. Preoccupied, he left reluctantly and later explained the "knowing" he sought could not be found. A few months after returning home, while preparing a home teaching lesson, the "knowing" came forcefully, poignantly, and undeniably.

The "afterward" happened in the hometeaching setting as the Sacred Grove wanderer taught the Joseph Smith story to a wonderful "only-member-in-her-family" convert sister. The "knowing" moved all three of us powerfully and to a feeling beyond description. We could no more deny the reality of the jointly experienced "knowing" than we could assert a pounding rain storm would leave us dry.

A few observations:

1. Our "knowing" comes at times as we hope, but often later after the exercise of faith.

2. "Knowing" is a process, with milestones.

3. The act of "knowing" may be more important than the possession of "knowledge."

4. "Knowing" is real.

5. Shared "knowing" is, at times, as powerful, possibly more powerful, than individual "knowing."

6. We experience "knowing" for our own benefit, and to strengthen others.

P.S. I, too, know.

10:43 PM  

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