Friday, January 28, 2011

Who knows? Do you?

In 1890, James E. Talmage wrote: "No one realizes more fully than does the mind trained to scientific method how much we do not know." [1]

More recently, Marion G. Romney echoed a similar sentiment: "All man has learned and accomplished, together with all that he will yet learn and accomplish in mortality, is as a drop in the ocean compared to the knowledge and works of God." [2]

Consider the story about six blind men inspecting an elephant. Each one examines a part of the elephant — a leg, the trunk, the tail, a side, or a tusk. And each one comes to a different conclusion: The elephant is like a tree, a hose, a rope, a wall, and so forth. Each of them has partial knowledge of the elephant.

So it is with us. Our understanding of truth is partial because our vision is limited by mortality. There are some things that cannot be fully understood by mortals: "Man doth not comprehend all the things which the Lord can comprehend." [3] But when He comes in His glory, mortality will cease [4] and the Lord will reveal "all things." [5]

Lowell L. Bennion, for many years director of the Salt Lake Institute of Religion, said it this way:

"There is a great difference between a truth and our understanding of that truth.... God is what He is. But what God is and my conception of what God is are two different things. My knowledge of God is partial and limited, and so is yours." [6]

If each of the six blind men insists that the other five are wrong, a more complete understanding of the elephant is beyond reach for all of them, even as a group. However, by discussing their individual experiences in an atmosphere of tolerance and trust, the blind men will be able to gain a more complete and accurate mental picture of the elephant.

Every mortal discovers a measure of truth. Each one of us has discovered some parts of — different parts of — the complete picture. And God, who comprehends the whole picture, has revealed important parts of it to His apostles and prophets.

Occasionally something seems obvious — the tree, the hose, the rope, the wall — yet also appears to contradict a revealed truth. What should we do? Here's a thought.

We are all working on the same cosmic puzzle and nobody has an advance copy of the completed picture. Someday, when all of the pieces are finally on the table, we will see how they all work together. Personally, I'm convinced that the pieces perceived by mortal men will eventually fit even though right now some of them don't seem to agree with revealed truth — but the final picture will be very different from what any of us now expect.

For me, the revealed pieces drawn from scripture and the prophets form the core of the puzzle and my approach is to fit all other pieces together outward from there. Sometimes I become a bit testy about keeping a revealed piece in play. But I am always excited when we can discuss our differing views in an atmosphere of tolerance and trust — as friends.


1. James E. Talmage, The Articles of Faith, (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1977), p.381; emphasis added. These are the closing words of the section about the earth being renewed and receiving its paradisiacal glory. (A of F 1:10.)

2. Marion G. Romney, Friend, Apr. 1976, p.11.

3. Mosiah 4:9; emphasis added.

4. D&C 101:29.

5. D&C 101:32; emphasis added.

6. Joseph Smith Memorial, 12/5/1948, p.51.

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