By Study and Also By Faith

An LDS (Mormon) blog representing a search for knowledge, understanding, and wisdom.

Saturday, March 31, 2007

General Conference Weekend

Hurray! General Conference weekend is here at last! Today's talks were, as usual, wonderfully instructive and uplifting. The afternoon session from the Tabernacle, which included the re-dedication of the Tabernacle building, was spiritual and had some wonderful tidbits of history and personal remembrances by the speakers.

Guy Murray has and is putting up some great conference notes and photos on his website, Messenger and Advocate. I recommend it highly and thank him for all the work he goes to for such great posts. He also links some other open conference threads from there, so I won't link anything else here.

I hope all of you get a chance to listen to/watch some or all of conference. It's inspiring to hear the music and the talks and the prayers.

Labels: , ,

Saturday, March 24, 2007

When We Seek Knowledge and Understanding

Seeking knowledge and understanding is something we all do. We read and study voraciously in an effort to learn more about a given subject. The subject varies as our interest waxes and wanes. Sometimes we are frustrated because we cannot find answers.

I believe that there are some things that we will not find the answers to in this life. These are things that, contrary to our own opinions, we simply are not ready for. Other times, the answers could come to us in this life, but only after we are living up to the knowledge we already have. Our seeking seems to outrun what we are ready to receive.

Human beings are odd creatures. A part of us feels horribly insecure while another part of us fancies that we are able to know it all and handle it well. We are hardly objective observers of our own abilities. Our Heavenly Father knows us well and, while He loves us greatly, He also knows objectively and truly what knowledge we can effectively use and what will only confuse us more, or burden us beyond what we are ready to handle.

Asking questions to gain understanding is a good thing. As we grow in knowledge and then understanding, we can put what we know into action, thereby gaining wisdom. However, it seems to me that some questioning is more or less a waste of time. Perhaps it is our motive for asking that makes the difference. If we are asking questions in an effort to understand something better, something we already know, then we are making an appropriate effort. If we are asking in order to find fault or to argue against something, something that is true, then we are wasting time.

We have to be humble enough to understand that we are not ready for all knowledge at this time. We have to understand that our human view of things is not the be all and end all and that God knows what He is doing. In other words, we have to exercise faith, even when we don't understand all the whys and wherefores.

Sometimes we argue against putting some of our questions on a shelf in our minds. We say, "Well, I am a person who has to know--who cannot shelve questions. That's the way I am." My answer to that is that there are times when we have to change ourselves (and, yes, this can be done). We cannot always have what we want, when we want it. We have to exercise patience. We need to remember that we are eternal beings and therefore have all eternity to learn and understand. It will not hurt us to wait for some things. In fact, it is greatly to our benefit to have to exercise faith and patience. Again, we have to be humble.

I know that becoming truly humble, with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, is not easy for us. We are arrogant, albeit sometimes insecure, human beings. We think our finite minds can grasp the answers to the universe. It is true that humans have learned a lot of complicated information over the ages. That doesn't mean it is complete information or that we are therefore able to handle all information. It means that God has blessed mankind with much knowledge that can help us in this life, but that to know all that needs to be known for eternity is not yet part of His plan for us. And so we need to be humble and to trust our Heavenly Father. We need to grow to prefer His will to our own. Not easy, but doable.

Perhaps we feel that submitting our will to the will of our Father will erase our individual selves. We have to find it in ourselves to trust that God's ways are better for us than our ways and that we will not only still be our individual selves, but we will be much better selves than if we went willfully down our own path. Heavenly Father's work is to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man (see Moses 1:39). He does this by doing always what is best for us in the eternal scheme of things.

I know it is hard to be humble and to be trusting, but it is eternally important that we learn to be so.

Labels: , , , , ,

Seeking After Truth

In the April 1981 Ensign Edwin Brown Firmage writes an article called "Recovering and Discovering Truth." I thought this was an interesting article and I believe you will enjoy reading it.

Brother Firmage talks about seeking and finding truth--the methods we can use to go about it and where truth comes from.

As I read the experiences of others who were seeking knowledge, I found patterns similar to the ones I had discovered. Even more strikingly, I noticed remarkable similarities between searches for knowledge using the more obviously spiritual processes of prayer and fasting, and those using the rational processes of scientific inquiry. (Ultimately, our spiritual and rational characteristics are surely part of a whole.)
One point he makes is that:

But before we examine the process itself, we must deal with three questions: (1) Why must we rely on God at all? (2) Where do ideas come from? (3) How can prayer help us?
After a discussion of those three questions, Brother Firmage discusses the processes of inquiry. He writes:

Does this revelatory process differ markedly from the scientific method of getting knowledge or ideas or truth? In a lecture at Brigham Young University a number of years ago, Dr. Edmund D. Starbuck declared: “The scientist studies his problem, saturates his mind with it, puzzles over it, dreams about it, but seems to find progress impossible, blocked as it were by a black, impenetrable wall. And then at last and suddenly as if out of the nowhere, there comes a flash of light, the answer to his quest. His mind is now illumined by a great discovery.” (Quoted by Harold B. Lee in “Sweet Are the Uses of Adversity,” Instructor, June 1965, p. 217.)

Albert Einstein said: “When I think and reflect how my discoveries originated and took form, a hundred times you run, as it were, with your head against the wall (meaning a hundred failures) in order to lay your hands upon and define and fit into a system what, from a merely indefinable premonition, you sense in vain. And then suddenly, perhaps like a stroke of lightning, the salient thought will come to you and the indescribably laborious task of building up and expanding the system can begin. The process is not different by which the artist arrives at his conceptions. Real faith, either to a scientist or a businessman or a minister of religion, involves the problem and struggle of searching.” (Instructor, June 1965, p. 217.)

Einstein described this process of gaining knowledge like a “stroke of lightning”; Starbuck described it as a “flash of light.” Plato used almost the same language to describe his intellectual leap from frustration following deep thought to the resolution of a problem or getting an idea. Joseph Smith said, “A person may profit by noticing the first intimation of the spirit of revelation; for instance, when you feel pure intelligence flowing into you, it may give you sudden strokes of ideas.” (History of the Church, 3:381.)

This very process argues against the false idea that prayer, study, and meditation, or deep thought are merely attempts to convince oneself of a particular principle. To the person who is sensitive to divine communication, pure revelation floods the very being in a way that makes it unmistakable. Whether the truth be in science, philosophy, or religion, that knowledge is now his in a way that it was not before. Again, Einstein said of faith: “Real faith, either to a scientist or a businessman or a minister of religion, involves the problem and struggle of searching.” The Lord said to Joseph and Oliver that “you must study it out in your mind.”
His final two paragraphs say this:
This may be at least partially what the Master meant when he admonished us to “search the scriptures” (John 5:39). The injunction was not merely to read the scriptures, but to search them, which implies a process of reading and rereading, studying, pondering, praying, meditating, and exerting all the mental and spiritual power we possess to obtain the deepest level of understanding of that which the Lord has given us. The same effort is implied in Alma’s description of how faith develops into perfect knowledge: “Swelling motions” enlarge the soul, growing until “your understanding doth begin to be enlightened, and your mind doth begin to expand” (Alma 32:28, Alma 34:26–43).

Finally, I have learned that one must use the truth he possesses before asking for more. An ancient Tibetan proverb says, “He who knows and fails to practice the precepts is like a man who lights a lamp in the darkness and then closes his eyes.” We have a loving Heavenly Father who possesses all knowledge. He is willing to share it with us as fast as we are able to obtain it by worthy effort and then truly make it “ours” by living it.
Reading the entire article will give you a better grasp of what Brother Firmage is saying, but I wanted to include a few highlights to give you an idea of what it is about.

I found his last paragraph particularly meaningful--we need to use the truths we know before asking for more, before expecting to obtain more. You might say that truth is something we grow into. We use it and live it and put it into practice so that it becomes a part of us. Then we are ready to obtain more truth.

Labels: , , , ,

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Some Days are Hard

Some days are hard to get through in anything resembling a constructive manner. Today is one of those days for me. For one thing, I can't settle on anything to write about on this blog! What does one do when every little thing is a major chore and nothing comes together right? When I figure that out, I'll let you know.

Generally, I am an optimistic person. I know this feeling of slogging through molasses will pass. It always does. I know that more days are good than bad and that the bad days can still teach us things about patience and hope and faith. Not to mention persistence.

Today is one of those days when even scripture reading isn't capturing my attention like it should. Perhaps it is a very good thing that tomorrow's RS lesson is on scripture! I am aware that I should focus on the scriptures and search them, even for just a short while, and not expect to have my attention captured, but, as I said, some days....

My mind has apparently taken the day off--it feels awfully empty up there today. I look forward to tomorrow when I can go to church. Meanwhile, I still have this evening to get through.

It seems kind of silly to post this, but I have set a goal for myself of posting at least one post on each of my three blogs once a week, and so today I am trying to meet my goals, however poorly I might be doing so. I am hoping that at least maintaining important habits will make today look semi-productive in retrospect.

Happy St. Patrick's Day!


Thursday, March 08, 2007


If you are like me, you may sometimes read a statement on the Bloggernacle that you don't understand, such as that proof-texting is a bad thing. No one explains what they mean by that--perhaps I am the only one who didn't get it. I gathered that proof-texting meant quoting something--usually scripture, but it could be an essay, article, or book--to illustrate or support a point in your own writing. I thought, "What's wrong with that? Are we not to ever quote anyone else about anything? What about those who say no proof-texting, but then criticize someone for not citing support for their position?"

I puzzled over this in the back of my mind for awhile. Today I did a little internet research to see if I could understand the subject. I found an interesting essay by Henry Neufeld titled "
Facing the Proof Text Method" that explained a great deal about the uses and abuses of proof-texting. I recommend reading it to anyone who, like me, didn't know enough about the subject to understand what would be objectionable about quoting a source.

The truth is, there isn't anything objectionable about the quoting per se. It is the uses to which the quoting is put that can cause problems. For example, if you take a single verse of the Bible and use it to prove something, when in fact if the verse were taken in context with the other verses surrounding it, it wouldn't mean what you are saying it means at all, then that is what is usually meant by the shorthand term of proof-texting.

Another problem is that writers can use quotes throughout their essays in an effort to appear learned when they really don't understand the subject they are writing about very well at all.

There are several problems that can be encountered in the use of quotes and citations of sources, and it is well to be come aware of them in order to strengthen your own efforts at communication. I am sure I have committed some of these breaches of writing etiquette without realizing it, or at least have appeared to be doing so.

To give you a bit of the flavor of the essay I have linked to above, here are two paragraphs from early in the piece:

I'm writing this essay in response to various questions I have been asked about Bible study. I suggest that the use of proof-texts is a manifestation of laziness and the desire to get something for nothing. People do not wish to spend the time firmly grounding their understanding in what various Bible writers actually teach. They would much rather have a short list of texts that support precisely what they have decided to believe anyhow. Thus, the use of proof-texts tends toward hypocrisy. To the uninformed, the purveyor of proof-texts can appear to be wonderfully informed and a deep scholar of the Bible. In fact, the result of reliance on proof-texts is a moral certainty and overbearing arrogance that is not supported by one's study or learning.

But first let me define what I mean by proof-texting. By proof-texting I mean the use of individual scripture texts to produce apparent support for a doctrinal position without adequate regard for the contexts of the individual texts which may indicate differences and nuances. I do not include the use of texts for illustration or the use of texts which are properly taken in context and limited appropriately in what one tries to prove from them. In particular, I'm referring to the creation of entire doctrines which one demands that others believe or commands which one then demands that others obey, taken from a tissue of the words of texts but ignoring the meaning of those texts in their original contexts.

This is quite an interesting and enlightening essay. I hope you will read it.

Edited to Add: I just wanted to clarify that I think using quotes is great. One of the types of posts I enjoy writing is to take a talk or article or a group of scriptures and alternate quotes from those sources with comments of my own. I do not believe this is at all misleading and it is merely giving the reader something to think about and perhaps comment on, leading to discussion. I do not want to make anyone self-conscious about quoting, even generously, in order to foster discussion of the talk or article being quoted. I just thought it would be useful to be aware of the possible problems and also to understand what people mean when they say something critical of proof-texting.

Labels: , ,

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Random Thoughts

It's cold and windy here today. Just three days ago it was 84° F. Confusing weather! My sinuses have been bothering me a lot since we've been having so much wind. Poor me!

I alternate between feeling enthusiastic and lethargic. Partly it is due to up and down weather, stress at work, and other outside factors, but partly it is due to my self-improvement efforts--it's sometimes hard to find a balance between steady progression and overwhelming myself by trying to do everything all at once. "Patience!" I keep reminding myself.

The political battles for the presidency in 2008 are starting way too early! Still, I suppose we'll learn a lot about all the candidates--too much, perhaps. If only we could settle down to looking at the issues of the day and put our minds to improving the situations with those.

Thankfully, the gospel and our Heavenly Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, can provide a stable anchor for our lives. If we can hang on to that eternal perspective, it will help us get through.