The Glory of God is Intelligence

This blog post is adapted from a talk I gave in another ward in my stake in late August. I never write my talks out word for word, preferring to speak extemporaneously from an outline, so I’m using my outline to create the post.

One story in the New Testament that stands out to me is the story of Mary [1] anointing Jesus while He sat at dinner. Jesus was dining, and Mary came and poured expensive oil on Jesus’s head (or feet, in other accounts). The disciples criticized her, saying that it was wasteful and that the oil could have been sold instead. Jesus defended Mary, said she had done a good thing, and then said “Verily I say unto you, Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached in the whole world, there shall also this, that this woman hath done, be told for a memorial of her.” [2]

What was so important about what Mary did that Jesus said her story should be shared wherever the gospel is preached? There are many things, but one thing that stands out is that Mary glorified God with her actions. We likewise are to glorify God, though we can’t do that by pouring oil on Jesus’s head at dinner.

Mary holding a container of oil. Image credit Jan van Scorel. Public Domain

There are many ways to glorify God, but one of them is by seeking light and truth. We’re taught in the Doctrine and Covenants that “[t]he glory of God is intelligence, or, in other words, light and truth. Light and truth forsake that evil one.” [3]

I attended a Jesuit university, and their motto was inscribed on every building. Ad majorem, Dei gloriam. To the greater glory of God. What struck me was that it wasn’t just the chapel or the theology building that was dedicated to God’s glory. The biology lab, the economics building, the engineering halls all said it, too. God was glorified just as much in learning about physics as in learning about prayer.

God is all-knowing, and if we want to become like God, we need to learn as well. While formal education is one way to learn truth, it is not the only way.

I. What is truth?

This question has occupied philosophers and theologians for millennia, and it won’t be answered in a single blog post. However, the scriptures provide a working definition sufficient for today’s purposes. “And truth is knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come.” [4] Further, we’re told that we should learn “things both in heaven and in the earth, and under the earth; things which have been, things which are, things which must shortly come to pass; things which are at home, things which are abroad; the wars and the perplexities of the nations, and the judgments which are on the land; and a knowledge also of countries and of kingdoms.” [5] This is a broad mandate, and it is the work of a lifetime.

There are three important characteristics of truth: (A) Truth exists, but we need to be open to the possibility that our understanding is limited; (B) Some truths comfort, and some truths make us uncomfortable; (C) God is not threatened by a search for truth.

A. Truth exists, but we need to be open to the possibility that our understanding is limited

For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away. When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.

1 Corinthians 13:9-12

When I was in kindergarten, one week at school I learned that humans are a kind of animal. The next week, I learned about owls and their habits. The teacher said that owls hunt their prey by swooping down out of the sky and carrying off small animals to eat. I was the smallest child in my class. I reasoned that since I was human, I was an animal. I further reasoned that since I was small, I was a small animal. I became afraid of owls, assuming that as a small animal, I was in danger of being carried away to become dinner.

My reasoning was impeccable, but I lacked the knowledge that the term “small animal” referred to things like mice and squirrels, not human children. As I learned more, I revised my understanding and came closer to the truth. Every time we draw closer to the truth, we further glorify God.

B. Some truths comfort, and some truths make us uncomfortable

Some truths can be incredibly comforting – the knowledge that God loves us and takes a personal interest in our lives, the knowledge that we will be reunited with our departed loved ones, the knowledge that through the atonement our suffering can be healed and we can be made whole. And some truths can disquiet us. Often in the church, we have a tendency to shy away from anything that makes us uncomfortable, attributing the discomfort to a lack of the Spirit and therefore to falsity. However, there are times when truth should make us uncomfortable because that discomfort moves us to action.

When we are confronted with our own sins, that’s an unpleasant feeling. Nobody likes to be told that they’re doing something wrong, but without facing that uncomfortable truth, we won’t be moved to change. Also, when we hear about suffering in the world, we should feel discomfort about it. Feeling uncomfortable about bad things happening in the world is the first step toward taking action to relieve the suffering of others. This discomfort comes from the Holy Spirit to motivate us toward change.

C. God is not threatened by a search for truth.

Some people attribute questions to a lack of faith. Questions are indicative of great faith, however. They show that we’re taking things seriously enough to think deeply about them and seek greater understanding. We’re taught in the scriptures to become as a little child. One thing that children do is constantly ask “Why?” and when they get an answer, they question that answer with “Why?” on and on and on. It’s how they learn. It’s how we learn, too. God’s truths are strong enough to withstand a series of questions.

II. How do we seek truth?

And set in order the churches, and study and learn, and become acquainted with all good books, and with languages, tongues, and people.

Doctrine and Covenants 90:15

We have a whole world of knowledge at our fingertips to study. If I want to learn any skill that I don’t know, someone has written a book or made a YouTube video about it. We also learn truth from experience, both ours and others’. And lastly, we learn truth by revelation. The Holy Spirit can speak truth to our minds and our hearts.

Sometimes these methods work together. When I was in college, I was taking an astronomy class. We were learning about the age of the universe and the age of the earth. I had read the textbook (study) and participated in the laboratory (experience). While I was sitting in the lecture one day, we were going over the material. The professor reiterated what the textbook said – that the universe and the earth were billions of years old. In the middle of the lecture, the Holy Spirit witnessed to me the truth of that statement. (revelation)

The search for truth will take a lifetime and even extend into eternity, but as we undertake this search anew each day, we bring glory to God, just like Mary did when she anointed the head of our Savior with precious oil.

————–

[1] Which Mary isn’t specified in the text, though since the account in John states that it happened in Bethany, in Lazarus’s house while Martha was serving dinner, I think it’s likely that the Mary in question is Mary of Bethany, Martha’s and Lazarus’s sister, though many people instead believe the person in question is Mary Magdalene.
[2] Matthew 26:13
[3] Doctrine and Covenants 93:36-37
[4] Doctrine and Covenants 93:24
[5] Doctrine and Covenants 88:79

Trudy

Trudy is a lawyer living in the southwestern US. She has two cats who allow her to live in their house in exchange for a steady supply of food and treats.

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2 Responses

  1. Katie Rich says:

    This is beautiful. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Tony says:

    An essay of the highest excellence.
    Thank you.

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