The topic of this lesson is knowledge and the search for truth, as the name suggests. A helpful parallel source, for those who want to include a woman’s voice, is Chieko Okazaki’s 1994 address “Rowing Your Boat.” I draw a few quotes from her talk to add to this lesson plan, but it could be used more fully as a companion, as she speaks specifically to the needs of women.
Discussions of knowledge can be tricky in some wards, because some members feel defensive when they see themselves as less well-educated, while other members who have had many opportunities for learning feel that their knowledge is attacked as worldly. It may be helpful to begin a discussion of knowledge that encompasses a very broad definition of the term.
President Joseph Fielding Smith said:
“Everyone should learn something new every day. You all have inquiring minds and are seeking truth in many fields. I sincerely hope your greatest search is in the realm of spiritual things, because it is there that we are able to gain salvation and make the progress that leads towards eternal life in our Father’s kingdom.”
President Chieko Okazaki said:
“Because I was willing to study the gospel of Jesus Christ, I became a member of the Church and developed great faith in the Savior. My faith gave me more strength to seek knowledge by study. I cannot separate learning by study and learning by faith. Both of them touch my heart, enlighten my mind, and encourage me in service.”
Invite the class to share their own current intellectual interests, both spiritual and professional/temporal. Encourage them to think broadly about this: has anyone attended a workshop? Had a friend show them a skill? Taken a class? Checked out a new book? Followed an online tutorial? Found a particular Gospel topic to be a compelling topic of study?
Has faith played a role in any of your recent learning? How can faith be relevant when what you’re studying is not a Gospel topic?
The purpose of this is to encourage everyone to see themselves as a current learner and to encourage intellectual and spiritual curiosity.
The Relationship of Study and Faith
Pres. Smith taught:
“Very few us read too much; most of us read too little. The Lord has said ‘and as all have not faith, seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom, seek learning even by study and also by faith.’ We are expected to study and learn all we can by research and analysis. But there are limits to our learning abilities in the realms of reason and study. The things of God can be known only by the Spirit of God. We must gain knowledge by faith.”
Pres. Okazaki taught:
“What happens if you try to paddle a boat using only one oar? You go around and around in circles. If you paddle hard, you go fast. If you paddle slowly, you turn gently. But you still just go around in circles. It’s the same with trying to make study replace faith or trying to exercise faith but without study. We can often find ourselves just going around in circles. I think that the Holy Ghost cannot give us some answers until we are actively seeking knowledge.”
In my own experience, study has brought me closer to God than any other activity. This is true of specifically spiritual study, such as pondering the scriptures, but it has also been true of my academic career. Again and again I have come up against walls, realizing that even doing my very best, and thinking hard, and trying diligently was not going to get me where I needed to be. I needed light and knowledge to help me have clarity of mind, to get ideas for my research and to find the right words to express my insight. I feel very strongly that my degree has been possible only because of frequent desperate pleas for clarity. I have gained a testimony of the enabling power of the Atonement, and of the love of Christ, as I worked on a project that really had nothing to do with the Gospel.
In what ways has your education led you closer to Christ?
What have been some of the best books in your life?
Have you ever felt limited in your abilities? Have you had spiritual experiences in which your own intellectual abilities were improved/strengthened/widened by faith or prayer?
Knowing truth from falsehood
As members of the church, we know that one of our main purposes on Earth is to learn to discern truth from error, and good from bad.
President Smith taught:
“If we will follow the spirit of light, the spirit of truth, the spirit that is set forth in the revelations of the Lord; if we will, through the spirit of prayer and humility, seek for the guidance of the Holy Ghost, the Lord will increase our light and our understanding; so that we shall have the spirit of discernment, we shall understand the truth, we shall know falsehood when we see it, and we shall not be deceived.
The promise has been made to all those who will receive the light of truth and through their research and obedience endeavor to acquaint themselves with the Gospel, that they shall receive line upon line, precept by precept, here a little and there a little, until the fulness of truth shall be their portion; even the hidden mysteries of the kingdom shall be made known unto them.”
I love the phrase “hidden mysteries of the kingdom.” What I like about this quote is the implication that we, as individuals, can receive knowledge and truth about the nature of God, the Plan of Salvation and the Gospel more generally even if the body of the church has not received this information. That doesn’t mean its our job to go and proclaim it as the Gospel, but my own experience has taught me that not everything about church culture is divinely appointed, and through faith and study “we shall know falsehood when we see it, and we shall not be deceived.” This is true of things outside the church, but it can also be true of damaging things that get said within the church. I’m not sure I’d bring that up in a lesson context, but perhaps as the Spirit dictates it could be appropriate.
Perhaps a good direction of discussion would be to ask for personal stories of times in which class members have learned a Gospel principle “here a little and there a little.” When have you acted in faith when you only believed a particular principle a little bit?
In what context have you received a little more?
How can you know if “the fullness of truth is your portion” or if there is still more to be found? (Or can you know…)
My own response to this lesson was mixed. On one hand, I loved the emphasis on learning and knowledge, and the value of personal study. On the other hand, I felt there was a bit of an anti-intellectual overtone as in multiple instances learning was praised then immediately followed by a but… As someone who has made education my life’s project, I have sat in many lessons where intellectual pursuits have been belittled as potentially dangerous or inferior to gospel learning. I suppose I am defensive. That is why my approach would be to talk about how all learning and knowledge are intertwined.
My own testimony is that all truth comes from God. That includes new discoveries about stars as well as a private faith in the importance of service, or tithing, or baptism. All light, all knowledge, and all truth comes through the light of Christ, and as disciples of Christ it is our duty and our delight to seek that truth in every possible forum. That includes University education where possible, private scripture study, regular trips to the public library, reading through reputable sources online, taking classes in the community to learn new skills and any other form of learning. I feel the Spirit when I learn new things, and the more we know in every field, the greater our ability to discern truth from error in every part of our lives.