Why Do We Say “I Know the Church Is True”?
As a teenager one day I said to myself “Why do people always say “I know the church is true?” You can’t possibly know that.”
After that day I was always happy to share my testimony but only with the words “I believe” instead of “I know.”
How Do We Know Spiritual Things?
Later on in my life, I had to admit that there’s a LOT I can’t possibly know. For example, I can say “I know my mother loves me.” But examined with the most critical, naturalistic lens possible, I have to admit that I CAN NOT know that she loves me. Yes, I have evidence that she loves me, and yes, I believe she loves me, but do I know it?
This is the beginning of the path down a strict materialist worldview. A view which is so reductionist that it leads us eventually to a sort of nihilism where we find ourselves realizing we can’t really know anything.
But that’s neither helpful, nor true! Instead we need to be asking questions like “How is it that I KNOW my mother loves me, even though I can’t PROVE it?”
Paul Divides the Knowledge of Spirit and World
Paul put it this way:
9 But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.
10 But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God.
Notice how he pointed out the eye and ear? That’s typically how we say we “Know” things, right? We see it, or we hear it, then we say we know it. But Paul is saying there’s only one way to know spiritual things: “by his Spirit.”
Now look at these next verses and see how he further divides the knowledge of spirit and world, and how the secular world hears the “words” that follow a spiritual witness and consider those things to be foolishness:
11 For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God.
12 Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God.
13 Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual.
14 But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.
It’s Okay to Spiritually Know the Church Is True
Paul seems to be saying that It’s okay to spiritually know the church is true, while still not knowing it from a secular perspective.
It requires some training of our brains, for sure. It means accepting spiritual evidences, truths, and witnesses, even though they don’t transfer perfectly to secular settings. That can be difficult for those of us who have been raised for an entire lifetime in a secular education system, or who work only with empirical data, and so on.
For me, recognizing that there is a different lens through which to see the world was an important step. Recognizing that it does not perfectly overlap the secular perspective was another important step.
Faith Means Allowing Ourselves to Say “I Know”
Faith means allowing ourselves to say “yes, this is enough to let me say “I know” and have it be true.” We may not have personally met and shook hands with the savior, but we may have experienced enough to be able to say in total honesty, “I know the savior lives and loves me.”
Charity means allowing others the right to say the same through their own process of knowledge and experience. Some may not have had the same level of spiritual enlightenment as me, but I can still allow them room to say “I know the church is true.” Others have had much more spiritual growth than me, and I can give myself charity enough to recognize that I have had what I need to be able to say “I know.”
We can have charity enough to allow ourselves and others the linguistic luxury of using the phrase “I know it’s true” to be the shorthand for “at this point I am confident that the gospel as I understand it is leading me closer to God.” I think that’s one possible version of what Goethe meant when he said “If we take man as he is we make him worse. But if we take man as he should be we make him capable of becoming what he can be.” We don’t need to get bogged down in linguistics and insist on perfect accuracy in language and definition.
President Uchtdorf breaks it down even more simply. His response to knowing things for ourselves and finding truth is to focus on “the simplicity that is in Christ” and asking ourselves questions not like “do I know it’s true” but rather
“Does my life have meaning?’
“Do I believe in God?’
“Do I believe that God knows and loves me?’
“Do I believe that God hears and answers my prayers?’
“Am I truly happy?’
“Are my efforts leading me to the highest spiritual goals and values in life?’
Note how he used the word “believe” in his criteria for knowing.
Jesus Christ’s Way of Knowing Truth
Jesus Christ said that we can know truth by doing his will. (John 7:17) This idea of knowledge through action becomes more clear as we consider our journey not as a search for knowledge but as a quest for goodness. (note that Alma doesn’t ask if the seed is TRUE, but if it is GOOD)
My Journey From “I Don’t Know” to “I Know”
It used to bother me whenever I heard people say “I know” in church. I wanted to say “no you don’t.” Today I actually feel comfortable in church saying things like “I know.” Just like I feel comfortable saying “I’m fine” when people ask me how I’m doing. It’s not a perfect explanation of my understanding, but it’s the best we have for now, and it fits the context in which it is offered, and I accept that.
I do know the church is true. I know the priesthood is real. I know the church is led by Jesus Christ through his prophets. I know that Christ lives. I know he loves me, and all of us. Can I explain how I know these things? Not in any satisfactory way. But I can offer the promise that through experience any member of the church can know and gain a witness of these things.