Faith, Vulnerability, and Why It’s OK to Not Know

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The words “I know” get thrown around in Mormon testimonies quite a bit.

“I know Thomas S. Monson is a prophet.”

“I know families can be together forever.”

“I know this Church is true.”

But here’s the thing: I don’t know any of these things.

Don’t get me wrong — I believe all these things will all my heart. I’ve had witnesses of them throughout my life. I’ll defend all of these statements with everything in me.

But I don’t know them.

“[Faith] represents our considered and chosen response to the universe, our assent to what we find beautiful and worthy and deserving of our risk.”

– Terryl and Fiona Givens, “The Crucible of Doubt”

I’d guess you probably don’t know either — not in the sense that you know grass is green, for example.

I’m not talking about testimonies. Of course, it’s important to gain a testimony of the gospel.

“We can rely on the faith and testimony of others only so long,” President Thomas S. Monson said in a 2006 Liahona article. “Eventually we must have our own strong and deeply placed foundation, or we will be unable to withstand the storms of life, which will come.”

And Alma made it clear that strengthening our testimonies is our own responsibility.

Alma 32:38–39 reads:

“But if ye neglect the tree, and take no thought for its nourishment, behold it will not get any root; and when the heat of the sun cometh and scorcheth it, because it hath no root it withers away, and ye pluck it up and cast it out.

“Now, this is not because the seed was not good, neither is it because the fruit thereof would not be desirable; but it is because your ground is barren, and ye will not nourish the tree, therefore ye cannot have the fruit thereof.”

But knowing is a different story.

We can’t know Heavenly Father exists the same way we know the sun exists. The majority of us haven’t seen Him and probably won’t see Him in mortality.

That doesn’t mean we don’t believe with all our hearts, and that doesn’t make our belief any less valid.

In fact, this uncertainty is key to our mortal experience.

Mortality is a time “to prepare to meet God.” It’s supposed to test and refine us.

If we knew the gospel was true, then choosing to accept, believe in, and follow it wouldn’t be a choice.

In their book “The God Who Weeps,” Terryl and Fiona Givens say, “There must be grounds for doubt as well as belief, in order to render the choice more truly a choice, and therefore the more deliberate, and laden with personal vulnerability and investment.”

The fact that we choose to believe is a far surer sign of our devotion than knowing is.  

Let’s say there’s a mother whose greatest wish is for her daughters to find their inheritance, a treasure she buried. The treasure is immeasurably valuable, but the journey to get there is very dangerous. She provides a map for her daughters so they can find it, but they have to travel there on their own.

One sister has seen the treasure for herself; the other sister has not.

Both sisters will have to make the dangerous journey. But only one has to have faith that the reward will be worth the journey. Only one has to trust in her mother even when the journey gets hard.

Which sister’s journey tells us more about her devotion to her mother?

“No human relationship can carry any guarantees of success, but the vulnerability to which we expose ourselves in love is to a large degree the measure of that love,” the Givenses say in “The Crucible of Doubt.” “So it is also with the measure of faith.”

The sisters may love their mother equally, but the journey says much more about the sister who’s never seen the treasure.

Our journey through mortality, too, means much more in the context of our uncertainty.

“The call to faith…is not some test of a coy god waiting to see if we ‘get it right,'” the Givenses say in “The God Who Weeps.” “It is the only summons, issued under the only conditions, which can allow us to fully reveal who we are, what we most love, and what we most devoutly desire.”

So if you wish you were more certain about the gospel or any one of its elements, please continue to strengthen your testimony. Follow Elder Jeffrey R. Holland’s counsel to “hold the ground you have already won, even if that ground is limited.”

But please also be kind to yourself, and remember that “belief is a precious word, an even more precious act, and [we] need never apologize for ‘only believing.'”

Ashley Lee is a news media student with a minor in editing at Brigham Young University. Her hobbies include reading, stand-up paddleboarding, and reciting seasons 1-5 of The Office word-for-word. She hopes to be a reporter for a national newspaper after graduation.