Knowing, Believing, and Hoping: Going Beyond the Usual Testimony Words

A couple of weeks ago, in our awesome Gospel Principles 2 class, we talked about the first chapter in the manual which focused on the existence of Heavenly Father. Gospel Principles 2 is a class our ward constructed to give people who were at different places in their faith journeys a place to openly and honestly discuss their questions. We are about 15 classes in, and I am loving it.

We went around the class and each discussed where we were on that issue of knowing that there is a God. Being the closest person to the teacher, I kicked off the discussion by mentioning that I had no knowledge there is a God. God has not revealed him/herself to me. God has not spoken to me. Nor have I had the warm feelings of comfort confirming God’s presence to me when I pray.  Did I believe there was a God? I was uncomfortable even saying that, given my lack of experience with confirmation. I did however say that I hoped there was a just God, that I love the idea of being with my family forever and that I desperately hope that there is a just and loving divine presence in the universe.

Other people in the class mostly avoided the “know” word and spoke about their beliefs in God, their experiences of feeling God’s love, though a couple people likewise talked about hope rather than knowledge or belief.

While I was clearly in the minority in my unwillingness to use the “believe” or “know” words, I loved that there was space in this little class for me to be totally honest like that. That’s a rare occurrence for me at church.

As a Relief Society teacher, I walk something of a tight rope. I want to be authentic and honest, but I have to speak very carefully in order to not derail things or upset people. This means that I can’t authentically testify of many things. I can’t say “I know God lives and Jesus loves us.” I can’t say “I’m grateful we have a prophet on earth today who speaks for God.” The list goes on and on.

But what I can do, that I think works reasonably well, is talk about things I find loving or compelling or thoughtful or poignant. When I conclude a lesson I talk a lot about how this scripture verse resonates with my sense of what is just and good. I talk about how I find this quote or this story compelling because of its emphasis on xyz. I talk about how grateful I am for a community with which to discuss these important ideas. By using language of “resonating” “compelling” and “insightful” or “profound” I avoid having to use those testimony words that don’t feel authentic to me.

What testimony words are you comfortable with? Do you have words other than “know,” “believe” and “hope” that you use in order to meaningfully contribute to church discussions?


Caroline is a PhD student in Women's Studies in Religion and mother of three.

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10 Responses

  1. Kris says:

    I think I can honestly say “know.”

  2. Violadiva says:

    I use “know, hope and believe” very discriminately in regard to expressions of faith or testimony. If I’m referring to a scripture story or passage, I feel pretty good about saying “I love the message of this passage” or “I love how the words of Jesus are teaching us this message” If I can get behind the message, then there’s something good I can say about it.

    • Caroline says:

      Yes, I do the same with stories. It’s so much easier for me to talk about the good things I see in scripture stories than to do the testimony thing.

  3. Sally says:

    I have found myself increasingly using words like you describe, and testifying less about Jesus Christ and more about our capacity for good and progression and love, because of our divine nature, and even that feels too strong… I measure stories and ideals against how compassionate they are, do they put love first, yet allow for healthy boundaries in every relationship. Thanks for this post. It has me pondering.

  4. Jan Signore says:

    Caroline, I love the class you describe in this article. Can you tell me how it was set up in your ward? How it was started, meaning did your bishop announce it as an option and how did he describe the class? I would love to see this kind of class in my ward, and every congregation.

    • Caroline says:

      Hi Jan, this post here talks about the inception of the class a bit more.

      The bishop did announce it as an option over the pulpit and mentioned that it was a more of a discussion oriented class but I don’t think he said too much more about it. But then the teacher announced to the RS that it was for people in different places in their faith journeys, and I believe other people may have been privately invited by teachers or class members to come. We spent the first couple of weeks talking about how important it was for this class to be a safe space for people to be honest and truthful about their faith and their concerns, and I think that set a good tone for the class. We have wildly different opinions and experiences in the class, but overall it’s been a respectful environment — due in large part to the skills of our teacher and the careful prep work she did during those first couple weeks.

  5. amber says:

    This article is such a comfort. Thank you for sharing your experience, you have offered support and encouragement to me personally through your words.

  6. danielgarneau says:

    Hello Caroline,

    I find interesting your article about which words one is more comfortable to use when referring to God or people who are referred in the Bible. Until I read the above, I had been aware of the first two terms: knowing and believing, not the third, hoping, nor the ones posted in comments, such as loving a given biblical story or passage.

    My article may be of interest to you and to your readers. I argue that there are several factors that influence what one is willing to accept as truth or not. One factor that is often laid aside in this process is ourself.

    The input I provide is from one who considers that any believing is based on some form of knowing, and our knowing is often built on some form of believing or other by way of whom or what we trust the most.

    I hope you find it complementary to your own article, and useful to your site generally.

  7. Emily U says:

    I think I approach church a lot like you do, Caroline. It’s nice to know there’s someone across the country using a lot of the same language I use. Something I say fairly often is “I like that question…” and then go on to talk about how I don’t know the answer to it.

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