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On Finding Truth and God
Summarized and Discussed by Kerry A. Shirts
Eugene England is truly one of the finest LDS scholars to read. I find him with an unusual amount of insights and ideas that stimulate, entertain, and inform. One of his essays struck me as particularly poignant when I read it years ago. It's called "On Finding Truth and God." It is in his very excellent book "Why the Church is as True as the Gospel." I believe England's essays ought to be better known, so in that spirit, I summarize and provide excerpts from this one, and others will follow.
He analyzes Moroni 10:4-5 and notes that the operative word is "may." By the Power of the Holy Ghost ye "may" know the truth of all things. This word is also used by Alma in his great discourse on epistemology, Alma 32. Some have tried everything they can to have a witness of the BofM, yet as Bro, England points out, the Spirit bloweth where it listeth, and we MAY know the truth, but that is no guarantee that we will. As England points out "The process of knowing and the role of our individual agency are so subtle and intertwined, yet so important, that neither pride nor despair befits any of us engaged in this pilgrimage."
The quest, after years of teaching, reading, writing, learning, hoping, praying, succeeding, failing, i.e. living life, begins with hope. England's definition of hope is interesting! "An active desire that this universe we live in is a meaningful and potent one. Such hope includes an energetic yearning for immortality - for meaningful, individual life after death - and also some willingness to accept the responsibilities that such potential life implies, such as eternal marriage and continual repentance and preparation to meet God."
The questing one goes through such as the above undoubtedly brings knowledge, but questions also arise, naturally. And this skepticism is healthy! It has disregarded mcuh false faith and religion as well as bad science. Skepticism is the searching, the questioning approach, of both mind and heart, which inevitably leads back toward the balance of humility and fearlessness that we find only in true faith.
In 2 Nephi chapter 2 England sees this is the proscriptive assertion about what the universe must be like, an opposition in all things. This is even necessary for Gods' very existence itself. Interestingly, England sees an ontological reenforcement to this marvelous chapter in D&C 93:30 wherein we learn that all truth is independent in that sphere in which God has placed it. This scripture bridges ontology and epistemology because it suggests that the very existence of the universe depends on the dynamism of opposition and the perplexing, joy-bringing but also pain-and-sin-bringing, creative play of intelligences, including God.
And of course, Alma 32. The faith spoken of is not that type of knowledge which is available through measurement and thinking things out. In fact, Some realities seem to be mere potentials yet to be developed by those willing to hope and to proceed without perfect knowledge. Truth is to be found in the process of realizing the true realities possible in our universe. God is to be discovered as the being who guides and nurtures that process, but only as we create the beings we may become in that process - new creatures in Christ.
Alma asks the bare minimum for this process to activate, "Awake and arouse your faculties..." This is hope being described, a motivating wish that certain things could be true, because he goes on to ask of us to let the desire work in ourselves. No human endeavor, including science, would be possible without desire, some chance taking, some hope and vision, some assumptions. The true seed will establish itself and grow. Once it is planted and nurtured, provided it is good, it will grow. That is what Alma notes. Interestingly, England also notes that not questioning enough is bad especially if we delude ourselves that the bad seeds are growing. We can invalidate the experiment that way also. Alma 32:34-37 strike England as eminently fair and reasonable, and it is. These verses also suggest how difficult and risky the business of learning is. Though we are provided with claims and counter-claims for what is truth in this world, there is a reasonable and orderly way to go about discovering and understanding as well as finding this stuff.
We need to have the courage to hope - to desire a living and responsive universe no matter how responsible that makes us - We need the integrity to test the seed, and the grit to nurture the plant and see if it will grow, whatever demands that places on us. If we refuse to begin or to continue the process, the judgment lies not on the universe, but on ourselves. Cf. Alma 32: 38-40. Interestingly England says that if we would test our negative conclusions as riguouously and honestly as we test our positive conclusions, we would find God and truth more easily. Very interesting approach! This would help us from accepting inadequate answers and merely wishful hope - but also from accepting inadequate refutations and self-indulgent or cowardly despair.
And if anything, as Pascal taught, the possibility of God's existence, the mere chance that he guarantees human immortality and joyful eternal existence and pusposes, is so stupendous a possibility that we ought to risk all for it, gamble everything, certainly time and intellectual persistence and working out our own salvation with fear and trembling, (Phillipians 2:12; Mormon 9:27). A far more realistic approach than getting lost in some absurdly fair or objective game of letting all the negative evidence overbalance the little, but "sufficient" positive evidence. If I am marooned on a desert island, absolutely dependent on finding another human being to comfort and perhaps to save me, the one little swale where I find a single gresh human footprint is more important, more true, than the other hundreds of square miles where I find nothing.
England notes that the struggle to find truth is only really successful when it is united with the struggle to find God, and that struggle is worth all the pains, setbacks, and enduring necessary to achive the goal. "I believe his grace is sufficient, that He will visit us with confort and assurance and spiritual confirmation from time to time - not as we demand it, but as He knows we need it and can respond to it.
England notes the interesting Sterling McMurrin, the LDS philosopher, and skeptic, how his confession is interesting. He says that "I came to the conclusion at a very early age, that you do not get books from angels and translate them by miracles." England notes that this unquestioning assertion manifests greater faith than anything England can muster! Think about it... McMurrin will not even question basic things, and thus enable himself to contact the most basic divine realities and truths of the universe. And England makes a startling point! It would be even easier to God to manifest himself to a boy who dug for treasures in the earth, a boy who sought after God, believing the possibilities open to him, than it would be to turn to one who is certain that "you don't get books from Angels." Indeed! McMurrin doesn't!
The essential point of this is simple. Do not be like McMurrin, unwilling to understand things, but be one who keeps trying, patiently and humbly, and the best way to do so is within the brotherhood and sisterhood of the covenant community, the church, where we learn to get along, be impatient with, be used by, learn to forgive, understand, have humility with, and forgiveness for, as well as develop faith with, the church. The very authoritative problems and stresses the church places on us, are a good part of its blessing to us to teaching us to love, even our enemies within (!) so that we may be able to find truth and God.