Just as our eyes and ears can be saturated in physical sights and sounds, so our souls can be immersed in the pure intelligence of the Spirit. The first, for the most part, teach us of the things of the world; the second, the things of eternity. The confirmation of the Spirit is also far more certain than the testimony of the physical senses. It is surprising—but I have discovered it to be true—that we can know eternal things through the Spirit better than we know mortal things through the physical senses.
It is in this way that I know that we do indeed have a Father in Heaven, that we have a Savior who is Jesus Christ, that the fullness of the gospel was restored through the Prophet Joseph Smith, that the Book of Mormon is true, and that the Lord directs His Church through living prophets.
These are the core truths of the gospel and I know of their reality better, literally, than I know anything else—more certainly, for example, than I know that I am sitting in a chair penning these words on a wintry Sunday morning.
Born of this knowledge is a profound gratitude for the Church established by the Lord. I don’t feel I’m good enough for the Church, its leaders, and its members, but as long as they are willing to have me, I’m in.
A Thought or Two on Scholarship
My scholarly attainments are modest, but I have enough experience to have developed a number of convictions about the relationship between academic and gospel study. Here are four of them:
First, both are pursuits of the truth. At this level of abstraction they are identical.
Second, I believe I should pursue both as a way of honoring God. That seems to me true of every conceivable worthy task, and no less of intellectual study. In my best moments I find myself drenched with the desire to do nothing but please the Lord. My quest is to make all my moments these moments.
Third, as pursuits of the truth, both academic and gospel study impose on me the same requirements. These include (1) critical, sound reasoning, (2) painstaking effort, and (3) a fundamental attitude of humility.
The need for sound reasoning and diligent effort may be obvious, but I believe that no less required is a spirit of humility. Nothing impedes our understanding of the world, or of the gospel, quite as thoroughly as a dogmatic insistence on whatever understanding we think we possess at the moment. On the contrary, in both scientific and gospel scholarship (beyond the core truths of the gospel and the official teachings of the prophets) there is profound reason for a lingering tentativeness about many of the ideas we hold at any one time. Whatever my intellectual convictions, I know they are beholden to a complex, intricate, and hidden web of assumptions, preconceptions, and predispositions that I do not even recognize, much less comprehend, however hard I might try to do so. How can I pretend certainty in my vast array of beliefs in the face of this reality of intellectual life?
For this reason, no matter how much I think I understand, I believe it best to live with the expectation that I will turn out in the end to have been wrong on an endless host of matters. This is inevitable, and it is both futile and unwise to imagine otherwise.
The proper scholarly attitude, as I see it then, can hardly be one of defensiveness or of unbending insistence on some point of view or other. The proper scholarly attitude is to live in welcome anticipation of surprise. It is to pursue the truth, but to embrace the reality of my current ignorance, enthusiastically and with wonder. This attitude, it seems to me, is one that honors God.
Finally, and obviously, to pursue the truth in either academic or gospel inquiry is simply to follow the evidence wherever it leads. This includes refusal to acquiesce to the intellectual consensus of the time just because it is the intellectual consensus of the time. Or, even unwittingly, to adopt a point of view just because it was the view of my graduate professors. Others, too, are beholden to intellectual influences they cannot name and they too are destined to turn out mistaken on an endless number of matters, both large and small. My loyalty, if I am to pursue the truth aright, must be to the most subtle and critical understanding of the evidence that I can muster, certainly not to any intellectual system (in my field of psychology, for example) just because people I admire accept it.
Eventually, though we may fail to appreciate it from our current vantage point, we will see that academic and gospel study are roads that lead to each other. The nearer we approach the truth, the nearer we approach the intersection of gospel and intellectual understanding, where the two meet and become one. It is there that the flame of the Spirit burns most brightly and illuminates both what we study, and what we are.
Reaching that point, I believe we will appreciate more than we do now just Who stands at that intersection, and just Who is the source of that divine flame. And we will also appreciate then, more than we do now, that He genuinely is the way, the truth, and the life. Whether we realize it or not, the search for truth is the search for Him.
He is the Only Begotten Son, the Creator, the Light and Life of the world, the Lamb of God, the Holy One of Israel, the Bread of Life, our Savior and Redeemer.
I don’t know much. But I know that and rejoice in it.
Duane Boyce received his academic training in psychology, philosophy, and the clinical treatment of families. He received a Ph.D. from Brigham Young University and conducted his postdoctoral study in developmental psychology at Harvard University. He was a member of the Moral Studies Group at BYU and served on the faculty there before becoming vice president of a steel company headquartered in St. Louis, Missouri. He is a founding partner and COO of a worldwide management consulting and educational firm headquartered in Salt Lake City, and is the coauthor of four books. In the Church he has twice been a bishop and currently serves as stake president.
Posted February 2010