Treasuring All Truth

Treasuring All Truth

An expansive vision of truth can bring more depth, clarity and love into our lives

Commentary
                   

“What is truth?”[1]

Pilate’s question to Jesus before His death never loses relevance. Though we do not all agree on what truth is or where to find it, the search for it cannot be avoided.

But today truth seems to have fallen on hard times. We live in what many are calling a post-truth age. Oxford Dictionaries selected this as its 2016 word of the year, defined as circumstances in which “objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.”[2] The endless loops of memes, opinions and aspersions spread mistrust through social media and require more effort to discern fact from fiction. People seek answers that only confirm their existing biases. Partisans in ideological combat pursue victory over truth.

Despite this confusion, the truth of things is not something we’re wired to ignore. Aristotle was right — “All men desire by nature to know.”[3] But if there were no truth there would be nothing to know. Our reasoning faculties would forever spin. There must be a solid foundation.

Of course, our world is full of diverse individuals. Truth claims do and will continue to diverge, but they need not violently clash. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ founder Joseph Smith aspired to a better way: “If I esteem mankind to be in error, shall I bear them down? No. I will lift them up, and in his own way if I cannot persuade him my way is better; and I will ask no man to believe as I do.”[4]

The Mormon view of truth is grounded in the life and teachings of Jesus Christ, but that doesn’t mean truth is limited to the Mormon experience. As Elder D. Todd Christofferson said, “Truth is scattered liberally across the globe.”[5] And it was Joseph Smith who encouraged us to “get all the good in the world”[6] and to “receive truth, let it come from whence it may.”[7] Truth has many aspects — spiritual, physical, philosophical, historical — and in the end they all fit together into one great whole.

                     

President Hugh B. Brown, then a member of the Church’s First Presidency, said in 1969 that even with the Church’s many important and unique truths, “there is an incomprehensibly greater part of truth which we must yet discover. Our revealed truth should leave us stricken with the knowledge of how little we really know. It should never lead to an emotional arrogance based upon a false assumption that we somehow have all the answers — that we in fact have a corner on truth. For we do not.”[8]

Indeed, as one Mormon scripture teaches, God “will yet reveal many great and important things.”[9]

The Mormon approach to truth trusts in the unchanging truths of the gospel while acknowledging the many unknowns. Mormon general authority B. H. Roberts (1857–1933) taught that this Church was established “for the instruction of men,” and God “is not limited to that institution for such purposes, neither in time nor place.”[10]

In that spirit, the First Presidency made the following statement in 1978: “The great religious leaders of the world such as Mohammed, Confucius, and the Reformers, as well as philosophers including Socrates, Plato, and others, received a portion of God's light. Moral truths were given to them by God to enlighten whole nations and to bring a higher level of understanding to individuals.” [11]

So, according to Roberts, “God raises up wise men and prophets here and there among all the children of men, of their own tongue and nationality, speaking to them through means that they can comprehend.” Thus, he continues, “wherever God finds a soul sufficiently enlightened and pure; one with whom his Spirit can communicate, lo! he makes of him a teacher of men.”[12]

                       

Because truth is scattered among all nations and peoples, Mormons believe in learning “out of the best books”[13] of things that “have been, things which are, things which must shortly come to pass; things which are at home, things which are abroad; the wars and perplexities of the nations, … and a knowledge also of countries and of kingdoms.” [14] Such knowledge helps Latter-day Saints be not only better citizens and neighbors but also better Mormons.

An expansive vision of truth can bring more depth, clarity and love into our lives and make us more willing to listen, more able to understand and more inclined to build up rather than tear down.

 

[1] John 18:38.

[3] Aristotle, Metaphysics, Book One, Part One, 1.

[4] Joseph Smith discourse, July 9, 1843, in Nauvoo, Illinois as reported by Willard Richards, in Andrew H. Hedges, Alex D. Smith, and Brent M. Rogers, eds., Journals, Volume 3: 1843–1844, vol. 3 of the Journals series of The Joseph Smith Papers (2015), 56.

[5] D. Todd Christofferson, “Reflections on Watergate: Integrity and Public Service,” mormonnewsroom.org/article/transcript-elder-d-todd-christofferson-university-oxford.

[6] Joseph Smith discourse, July 23, 1843, in Journals, Volume 3: 1843–1844, 66.

[7] Joseph Smith discourse, July 9, 1843, in Journals, Volume 3: 1843–1844, 55.

[8] Hugh B. Brown, An Eternal Quest—Freedom of the Mind, BYU Speeches of the Year (May 13, 1969), 12.

[9] Articles of Faith 1:9.

[10] “Revelation and Inspiration,” Defense of the Faith and the Saints, vol. 1 (1907), 512–13.

[11] First Presidency statement, Feb. 15, 1978.

[12] “Revelation and Inspiration,” Defense of the Faith and the Saints, vol. 1 (1907), 512–13.

[13] Doctrine and Covenants 88:118.

[14] Doctrine and Covenants 88:79.

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