Knowing, believing, and wanting to believe.

1 For it came to pass after I had desired to know the things that my father had seen, and believing that the Lord was able to make them known unto me, as I sat pondering in mine heart I was caught away in the Spirit of the Lord, yea, into an exceedingly high mountain, which I never had before seen, and upon which I never had before set my foot.

2 And the Spirit said unto me: Behold, what desirest thou?

3 And I said: I desire to behold the things which my father saw.

4 And the Spirit said unto me: Believest thou that thy father saw the tree of which he hath spoken?

5 And I said: Yea, thou knowest that I believe all the words of my father.

6 And when I had spoken these words, the Spirit cried with a loud voice, saying: Hosanna to the Lord, the most high God; for he is God over all the earth, yea, even above all. And blessed art thou, Nephi, because thou believest in the Son of the most high God; wherefore, thou shalt behold the things which thou hast desired.

1 Nephi 11:1-6

As I read these scripture today during my daily scripture study I thought about how I would respond to the question asked of Nephi, “Believest thou…?”

My first inclination was to think that my response would have been “I want to believe,” rather than “Yea, thou knowest that I believe…” But then it occurred to me that I was mistaking belief for knowledge. The word “belief” implies the lack of absolute knowledge. ¬†Nephi was not asked whether he knew if his father had seen a tree in a dream, he was asked whether he believed what his father had said about seeing a tree in a dream.

Belief, since it is not knowledge, by definition cannot be based solely on empirical evidence. It may be partially based on empirical evidence or knowledge, but as soon as it becomes entirely based on knowledge then it is knowledge and no longer belief. Because belief is not knowledge, it must come from somewhere else, and that other place from which belief comes is desire. Or in other words, we believe what we want to believe. Therefore to say “I want to believe” seems repetitive. If you want to believe, then you do believe. Believe or do not believe, there is no trying to believe, there is no wanting to believe, is there?

This can be both comforting and discomforting, depending on your state of mind. For the earnest believer who doubts his belief, such as the man whose son was possessed of a demon in chapter 9 of the book of Mark, it can be a strength to know that merely wanting to believe is belief.

23 Jesus said unto him, If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth.

24 And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.

The father wanted to believe, but appears to have doubted whether his desire to believe met the standard put forth by the Savior. Perhaps you have felt this way. I feel this way all the time. I have doubts. I wonder if my belief is good enough. But if wanting to believe is the same thing as believing, then what comfort this is to know that one’s desire for something to be true is enough to qualify one for God’s blessings.

But if wanting to believe is believing, then the converse is also true, that believing is wanting to believe, and this is where things can get uncomfortable. There are those who would like to believe their actions are based on knowledge rather than desire, or belief. I have heard many times people say “I wanted to believe the [LDS] Church is true, but I found out it’s not.” Whether or not they ever believed the LDS Church to be true isn’t the point. The point is they say their decision to leave is based on knowledge. But it cannot be, because there is no proof the LDS Church is false. Yes, yes, I know, there is also no proof the FSM is false. But I don’t go around saying I don’t believe in the FSM because I know the FSM doesn’t exist, it’s because I have no desire to believe in the FSM. I don’t want to believe in the FSM. Likewise, opponents of the LDS Church (or any other religion, for that matter), if they are honest, will admit that their opposition is not based entirely on knowledge, but to a large extent on desire. In other words, the honest answer for why someone leaves the LDS Church or does not belong to it (assuming he has a minimal knowledge of it) is “I don’t want it to be true.”

Now, a person may have entirely understandable reasons for not wanting the Church to be true. If I were abused by a father who was an “active” member of the Church, ostracized and made fun of by kids at church, and neglected by leaders at church, would I want the Church to be true? If that was most of what I knew about the Church, I would hardly want it to be the one and only true Church. That would be depressing. It would be a simple thing to look at my experiences and say “There is no way this can be the true Church of God.” These thoughts could easily take on the guise of knowledge. And yet the knowledge upon which I would be basing my conclusion would be limited and subjective.

In all cases the key is to gain more knowledge. For those of us who believe, we can use our belief to progress to knowledge. For those who do not believe, it is up to those of us who do to share the knowledge and beliefs we have through our words, actions, and example. If others reject the greater truth based on limited and twisted view of it (however justifiable and understandable that might be) then it is our obligation to attempt to rectify that problem by providing more knowledge to them. I believe that virtually people will accept the truth when they understand it, and since Mormonism is nothing more than searching out all truth, I see no reason anyone should reject Mormonism other than that they do not understand it. Yes, there are those who will reject the truth regardless, but I think they are few and far between.

Your thoughts?


  1. That is a very well written article, and only serves to reinforce things that I have “believed” to be true all my life.

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