I know that Jesus Christ lives. I know that He is my Savior and Redeemer, that He suffered for my sins in the Garden, and on the Cross. I know that He was resurrected on the third day. I know that it is because of Him that I can be forgiven of my sins, washed clean, and sanctified; that He is in all things, and that all good things come from Him (see Moroni 7:12-18).
Perhaps the expectation at this point is that, as a philosopher, I should try to give an account of how I know these things. Indeed, I should try to prove these things, through some kind of ontological argument for the existence of God. But I’m not going to engage in that sort of thing here. For, in my experience, faith does not come by argument, or by some kind of proof. You have to get to faith another way. And so, I can state here that I know these things, not because of a particular philosophical argument for the existence of God, but because of the personal spiritual experiences I have had with God, through the Holy Spirit.
And yet, this is not to say that philosophy has been unimportant in the development of my testimony. On the contrary, from the very beginning of my philosophical studies (during a junior year abroad at the London School of Economics), God has blessed me with an intuitive confidence that there is a spiritual purpose to philosophical discussion. And indeed, what studying philosophy has done for me is given me access to certain tools and concepts which have helped to clarify my thinking about God, and about the eternal principles of the gospel, in a way that has enabled me to understand these truths again and again. In that way, the combination of philosophical inquiry and deliberate discipleship has always seemed to me to be a happy one. But I should also probably state that this outlook is grounded in a faith that has much more to do with being raised by Idaho farmers than it does with studying under Cambridge philosophers.
I cannot recount here all the times, and all the unexpected ways, that God has answered my prayers (see Mosiah 2:38) — only to say that, at times, those answers have been so direct, and so pointed, that it has taken my breath away. In everything from a troubled mind, to troubled relationships, to troubling uncertainty, to living in a troubled world, God has ‘walked beside me’ — as our children’s song goes — patiently speaking to me until my heart was soft enough to hear.
But there is more here. When I have felt God walk beside me, I have felt His love — what the scriptures refer to as God’s agape — a sublimely peaceful and joyful feeling that at once comforts me and makes me want to be better. Simply put, feeling God’s love has changed me — profoundly. And the changes I have seen in myself as I have experienced God’s love have led me to think more deeply not only about the nature of God’s love, but also about my own nature in relation to that love. Indeed, the process of ‘walking with God’ seems to be precisely about this relationship. Let me try to explain some of the beautiful truths of the gospel of Jesus Christ I have learned regarding the interaction of our individual, subjective natures with the objective good of God’s love.
Let me pose a question. If God really is walking beside me, then what does it mean to be a ‘walker’, or ‘traveler’ — in Augustinian terms, a viator — in this fallen, distracting, lonely, and brutal world of ours? One thing it must mean is that God is leading me towards something as He walks beside me; that I am on some kind of path, with a God-given destination. We know that our destination is eternal life; and yet, eternal life is a condition, a way of being — that is, it is a telos, more than a topos.
Telos is the Greek word for end, or purpose. In Aristotelian terms, it means completeness, in the sense of a final stage of development in which a thing has become what it was designed by nature to become. In this way, our telos as children of God is truly our final, perfected state, in which we will have reached our divine potential and become what God has designed us to become — like Him, and like our Savior, Jesus Christ. And we know that God is love; that all of His divine characteristics are inextricably connected through His all-encompassing, unconditional and incomprehensible love. God’s agape is translated as ‘charity’ in the scriptures, what we understand to be the pure love of Christ. So if our telos — that is, fulfilling our divine nature to love as Christ loves — is our destination, and God is walking beside us toward our destination, then the process of walking with God must be a kind of internal transformation through Christ. It is a continual process of growth, of deeper conversion, of a deeper turning toward God and His ways.
And yet, this process of walking with God in the world is hard. This is because the world in which we live will always push or pull against the things of God in one way or another. This is important: it means that all around us are modes of thinking and ways of acting that are not going to lead us to where we want to go. The ways of the world seem to tap particularly into what philosophers call our passions — our desires for food and sex, our tendencies toward anger, jealousy, selfishness, self-deception, greediness and so forth. And indeed, we seem to live in a hyper-angry, hyper-sexualized, hyper-politicized, hyper-consumptive world. The world tries to force these ways of being upon us, undermining both our relationship with God and our relationships with each other as children of God. But the process of walking with God is the process of doing things differently from the world. Indeed, I have learned for myself that walking with God means not only that my destination matters, but it also matters what I do to get there. In other words, not only does it matter what I am trying to become, but also matters how I am doing it.
Just as Aristotelian philosophy illuminates the notion of telos, so it also clarifies the relationship between the telos on the one hand, and the way to get to the telos on the other. In Aristotelianism we refer to this as the relationship between ends and means. The idea is that there is an essential interdependency between the end goal one wants to achieve, and the means by which one achieves it. Indeed, we can state this interdependency in an even stronger way: the end goal by its very nature delineates the ways in which it can be achieved. So if we identify a good end, but employ the wrong means as we attempt to attain that end, we will ‘miss the mark’, so to speak, and, ultimately, fail to bring about the good end in question.
Thus, if our telos as children of God is to become like Christ, we cannot get there in any old way, by going down any old path, which we just happen to prefer. Eventually, at some point, if we are serious about becoming like Christ, we will have to use certain kinds of means to get there. And those means have to be integral to the end: so to become like Christ one day, we have to let our faith in Him initiate a change in us now, so that we start to learn how to love as He does, albeit in our very imperfect and incomplete ways. In this sense, Christ is not only the telos, but He is also the way to the telos (see Matt 14:6).
The upshot of all of this, I have found, is that believing in Christ — following Him, walking with Him — leads me away from the world at the very same time that it firmly gives me a mission within it. The more I try to walk with God, the more I see that as Christians we not only have different aims from the world, but we must also have different methods from the world. For in the world, one is taught to fight for one’s cause, one’s point of view — indeed, one’s ‘side’ — with a method that demonizes and holds in contempt whoever is not on one’s side. The worldly method justifies the domination and — eventually — the abuse and persecution of one’s perceived enemies, in the name of, say, furthering a particular notion of justice, or maximizing some kind of happiness. It is, in short, a method which perhaps has a sincere interest in a righteous cause, but pursues it in the wrong way, precisely because it values an ideology, or a certain conception of ‘progress’, more than it does individual people. Thus, in the world’s method, we do not understand each other as children of God, whom we must learn to love as Christ loves us, but rather as potential allies or enemies in the pursuit of our aims and designs.
At the risk of stating the obvious, this method is all around us. It dominates our moral and political discourse, particularly our online discourse. It seeps into our perceptions of how and why we speak to each other, and of how and why we befriend or exclude each other. One could argue that at present our society is beholden to the idea that whoever can insult and defame the most –- that is, whoever can heap the most vitriol, whoever can verbally abuse the best –- somehow comes off victorious in an argument. Very sadly, sometimes some members of the Church use this method, even to abuse and persecute other members — or indeed the leaders — of the Church. It is, perhaps, a sign of the times, for we know that in the last days, the love — that is, the agape — of many people will run cold (see Matt 24:11), even among those who profess to follow Christ.
I have found that, like other ways of the world, this method will not lead us to where we want to go. For it is not Christ’s method. ‘Love your enemies’ says it all, really. Christ does not demonize us; rather, He casts out our demons. He does not hold us in contempt; rather, He loves us, unconditionally. And He does not tell us we are unforgivable. On the contrary, He died to redeem us. As I have tried to walk with God in our increasingly contentious and deeply divided world, I have felt Him lead me to a greater understanding of why we simply cannot take on the world’s methods of domination, of never forgiving, of categorizing and then alienating people according to their ‘point of view’, of abuse and persecution. We cannot do these things, no matter how pervasive these methods become, or for what reason we want to use them, or how effective they may seem, because these are antithetical to God’s agape. In that way, when we practice these methods, we are undermining our own, individual end purpose — indeed, our own telos — of becoming Christlike and learning how to love as He loves.
And this is where my experience of ‘walking with God’ becomes so vital, where the reality of my relationship with Him becomes magnified. For I have found that as I have encountered evil treatment, it can be hard to not return evil for evil. I have found that as I have been persecuted, it can be hard not to persecute back. And yet, as I’ve resisted, and tried to follow the way of Christ, I have found tremendous peace, precisely because I have come to understand the deeply personal nature of the gospel of Jesus Christ. There is my personal relationship with God, and there is my personal accountability to Him. These things, I am learning, really have nothing to do with other people. It has nothing to do with their actions towards me, how they treat me, or what they think of me.
This, I think, is one of the essential principles of the gospel: that we are asked to focus on our own agency, and not on the agency of others. Perhaps we could say that there is a sort of freedom in this kind of attitude, and I think that there is. But really, I think the power that comes from our agency is more about forging a relationship with God. Although it seems that the actions of other people toward me matter very much, I find that in my walk with God, He asks me over and over again not to worry about, or even blame, other people. Instead, He asks me to focus on Him and to follow Him. As I do that, I have not only felt God’s love in my life, but also His power: He enables me to retain my understanding of myself, and other people, as children of God, and my ability to love increases.
As I have walked with God in the world, gradually coming to understand more about God’s agape and my own telos as His child, I have found that a vital part of this walk is my membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. There is a power, authority, and spirituality in its teachings regarding the divinity of Jesus Christ that I have not found anywhere else, and which has directly and profoundly impacted my relationship with God. I know that this is Christ’s church, and I rejoice that we have prophets and apostles on the earth today. I have been enveloped by the Holy Spirit in our meetings time and again. I have counseled and deliberated with remarkably humble, Christ-like bishops and Relief Society presidents, and have been amazed at the love and truth behind their words. I marvel continually at the way ordinary men and women in the Church become truly extraordinary through their faith in Christ. These are my people, my fellow travelers on the road to eternal life in Christ. No matter how hard that road gets.
Holly Hamilton-Bleakley is Adjunct Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the University of San Diego. She received her BA in Economics from Wellesley College, and her MPhil and PhD in Intellectual History and Political Thought from the University of Cambridge. She was raised on a ranch in southern Idaho, and was a missionary in the Florida Jacksonville Mission from 1992 to 1993. In 1996 she married Tim Bleakley, an Englishman whom she met during her graduate studies at Cambridge, in the Salt Lake Temple. They raised their family of six children in the United Kingdom until 2013, when they moved to the United States.
Her areas of academic interest center around Christian interpretations and adaptations of Aristotelianism, specifically in the natural law theory of Thomas Aquinas and other medieval scholastics. She is also interested in contemporary uses of Aristotelianism, particularly with regard to natural law ethics, virtue ethics, and political philosophy. She has authored several academic articles and book chapters, which have appeared in publications by Cambridge University Press, Brepols Publishers, Kluwer/Springer, and others. She is currently working on philosophical arguments regarding the notion of ‘good’ speech and its connection to human flourishing, and the contrasting notion of ‘evil speech’, particularly as it is manifest in verbal abuse and religious persecution. She has also started a book project exploring the relationship between Aristotelianism and the restored gospel of Jesus Christ.
In addition to teaching at the University of San Diego, she has also taught philosophy at the University of Reading and the University of St. Andrews, where she was selected by her department to teach Prince William in philosophy when he was a student there.
She is currently serving as ward Relief Society president, a calling she has held twice before.
Posted September 2018