08 July 2008

Humble About Our Certainties

NOTE: This post is NOT about gay marriage.

We are a very certain people.  To tweak the old saying, among Mormons you could cut the certainty with a knife.  After all, we are the folks that infamously exalt "I know" over "I believe."  Or, as my friend Brigham would say, Mormons like certainty.

But is all of our certainty healthy or justified?  In Isaiah, we read, "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord."  Naturally, we are so certain that this scripture applies perfectly to others, but never to ourselves.  "That's the way the world thinks, but in the Church we know better." or "Bro. So-and-So believes that the Gospel requires us to do X, but I know that what the Lord really wants is Y."  Any of this sound familiar?  Sadly, these kinds of statements reveal very little about God, but incredible amounts about our own character, as I illustrate below...

I believe that I am a good and rational being, doing the best I can according to the light I have been given (which, I am certain, is more light than anyone else has).  If I did not sincerely believe that, I would change my thoughts and behavior, right?  Believing that God too must be good and rational (like me) and furthermore possessing all light and knowledge, he must act, feel, and think the same way that I do.  In the end though, this logical move constructs God in my own image rather than mandating that I conform to his.  In spite of my own certainty, the belief in our own individual goodness and rationality has lead members of the Church (among all others) to behave and think in different ways and to build gods to our own taste and specifications.  Living as a Mormon in a predominantly Protestant nation and region, as well as observing and participating in discussions in the Bloggernacle, are ample evidence of that proposition.

Another illustration: Joseph Smith said, "Our heavenly Father is more liberal in His views, and boundless in His mercies and blessings, than we are ready to believe or receive; and at the same time more terrible to the workers of iniquity, more awful in the executions of His punishments, and more ready to detect in every false way, than we are apt to suppose Him to be..."  Some folks (like me) grasp quickly onto the first half of this statement, embracing God's "liberality" (ignoring that this word would have lacked its modern political connotation for him) and open-mindedness as models for our own behavior.  Others (like so many of the anonymous commenters who have recently graced this blog with their presence) would likely latch onto the second half of the statement, emphasizing God's justice (always inflicted on others) and impeccable morality (which would of course conform to their own morality).  My point here is not to point fingers at any one group or way of thinking.  Blame for such hypocrisy is to be spread widely here.  Which part of the quote we prefer, as well as the types of scriptures that we prefer (from the title of this blog, my own preference is clear), ultimately tells us who we are and where we stand but does not further illuminate the nature of God.

I suspect that at some future day, when we "know as we are known," we will see that the true God is quite different than the small gods we have built for ourselves.  That goes for all of us.  I suspect that what He will reveal at that time will show us that His thinking and His plans have always been a mystery to us, seen only through a glass darkly.  And I suspect that He will care about quite a few things that we have forgotten, and likewise not give a fig for many of our most cherished certainties.  Should we not then be humble in our contemporary assertions of God's thoughts and our determination that we do know His mind and will?


  1. Thanks for this. It's been bugging me lately how often we claim "we know, we know!" when it doesn't actually take many "why" questions to reach the bounds of our knowledge.

    Also, judging by my reaction to your JS quote, it may be time for me to rediscover God's justice...

  2. Very well done. Thanks for the plug. You hit some of my favorite scriptures and illustrated a good point. It may be that our quickness to claim knowledge stifles our earnestness in searching. While I know that we can grow in our testimonies (and therefore knowledge) when we bear testimony, it doesn't really seem necessary to jump to the end game while what we really need to experience is the journey.

  3. Testimonies ought not be used as trump cards in a one-ups-manship fashion, so your post is very appropriate, thanks.

  4. To obtain certainty, one must include humility and submit to a lifetime of study and research. Some examles: Mother Eve and Ammon.