Thursday, November 29, 2012

gaining knowledge, gaining faith, & living truth

My thoughts today began with pondering the following:
Moving through what Dickenson called “the fair schoolrooms of the sky,” we will grow in our knowledge pertaining to successively higher forms of law – without distinction between the laws of physics and the laws of holiness (Terryl Givens The God Who Weeps Loc 1919).
The first thing that came to mind was something I've posted about before, from Henry Eyring, where he builds from his experience a list of points that argue for belief in the spiritual as well as the scientific. He emphasizes that:

Most important, the foregoing nine points don't answer ALL the questions. If I take everything I know from the scriptures and the prophets, and everything I know from science, and reconcile them, I still have as many unanswered question as I have ones with answers. No intellectual approach nails down everything. In this life there will always be unanswered questions. In fact, each answer seems to raise more questions. That's the way it is in science too, and I don't apostatize from science for that reason. Actually, that's what makes science, and religion, fun. Faith is feeling good about myself, feeling good about God, and muddling along after truth as best I can ( Reflections of a Scientist).
We find contradictions and unanswered questions between OUR UNDERSTANDING OF "the laws of physics" and the laws of holiness" yet we are still commanded to search out both, as a way to GAIN faith:
 And as all have not faith, seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith (D&C 88:124).
So why? Why and how does searching out that which leads to questions lead to faith? John Welch's comment on this verse is that "Spirit and intellect, study and faith, science and religion, testimony and academics—often we see these as opposites, but ultimately they are not. If our eye is single to God and his glory, if in our learning we are always willing to hearken unto the counsels of the Lord, if we are equally rigorous about what we think and how we reason, we shall see how all truth may be circumscribed in one great whole and, that all things shall work together for our good" (Source).

This is a rather intriguing principle we often repeat but fail to deeply comprehend; that “all truth can be circumscribed into one great whole” and along with it "That which is of God is light; and he that receiveth light, and continueth in God, receiveth more light; and that light groweth brighter and brighter until the perfect day." (D&C 50:24)

The idea that all truth belongs to a greater body of truth, and that we are working to understand it, is more complex than I think most realize. President Howard W. Hunter observed "With God our Heavenly Father, all truth, wherever found or however apprehended, is circumscribed into one great whole. Ultimately, there are no contradictions, no quarrels, no inscrutable paradoxes, no mysteries." (President’s Formal Charge of Responsibility , LDS Church News, 1994.) So the collective sum of those truths is a perfect whole -- there is nothing that is truth that does not fit into this greater whole.

We often perceive this as meaning that all individual "truths" ("laws of physics" OR "laws of holiness") are perfect or absolute in an of themselves, a fallacy which becomes a problem when we try to different reconcile types of "truth" -- this is what leads us to questions and contradictions. However, what better environment for the growth of faith than a situation of conflict? 
Chiam Potok suggested that there are four possible responses to conflict between sacred and secular thought systems. 1. First, the lockout approach: one can simply dodge the conflict by erecting impenetrable barriers between the sacred and the secular and then remaining in just one system. We see this in religious enclaves and communes, hidden away from "the world," but just as much in a closed-minded secular society which admits no transcendent experience. 2. The second response is compartmentalization: one creates separate categories of thought that coexist in a "tenuous peace." Most of the mainstream Mormons I know have responded in this way. 3. Third, ambiguity: take down most if not all walls and accept a multitude of questions without intending to resolve them.... In practice, however, a multitude of questions abound, and not much resolution takes place. 4. Potok's fourth response is to take down all walls and allow complete fusion in which the sacred and secular cultures freely feed each other, perhaps leading to a "radically new seminal culture." I'm not sure, but I think what he advocates here is a removal, or at least a recognition, of paradigm; political correctness, an acceptance of everyone's perception.

What we are taught in the Temple provides a fifth possibility--the circumscribing of truth into one great whole. This view gives us faith that indeed there does exist an absolute truth. Here we accept objective and subjective reality from both the sacred and the secular thought systems in the pursuit of the construction of an eternal "whole." In order to distinguish this state from Potok's fourth approach, there would have to be identification of "truth" and some type of blocking or rejection of evil or falsehood. Complete acceptance of everything would cause confusion and conflict. The problem lies in our inability to recognize pure Truth. Misuse of this approach brings us right back to Potok's first response (Source).
Because we have faith that there is a greater whole that everything CAN fit into, we can find meaning in the struggle of seeking to understand it, though it entails an arduous process forever encountering the contradictions of the objective and subjective reality of the world we live in -- that we must work to reconcile and in it find our faith. It is the process, not the destination, that is important -- though knowing that there is a destination validates our work -- because it is the process that changes us and makes us into the kind of beings that begin to not just understand doctrine, but be devoted to it.
For behold, thus saith the Lord God: I will give unto the children of men line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little; and blessed are those who hearken unto my precepts, and lend an ear unto my counsel, for they shall learn wisdom; for unto him that receiveth I will give  more; and from them that shall say, We have enough, from them shall be taken away even that which they have (2 Ne. 28:30).
It is those who apply truth that receive more truth. The more we learn the more we must change. We seek to understand truth -- and to live it.

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