Summary: One trait that nearly everyone has in common is that whatever it is they believe, they assume it is correct, and therefore is the truth. Of course, the problem is that, since no two people believe exactly the same thing, then obviously at the least only one of them can be right, and it’s quite possible that both of them could be wrong. This then raises the question of what is truth? But here again we find that different people have different definitions for this word. This article seeks to not only answer that question but how to find truth.
Jacob, the son of Lehi, who was ordained a priest and a teacher by his brother, Nephi, spoke to his people, telling them, “O that cunning plan of the evil one! O the vainness, and the frailties, and the foolishness of men! When they are learned they think they are wise, and they hearken not unto the counsel of God, for they set it aside, supposing they know of themselves, wherefore, their wisdom is foolishness and it profiteth them not. And they shall perish. But to be learned is good if they hearken unto the counsels of God. (2 Nephi 9:28-29).
There are three ways we learn: either by listening to what others say, reading what others have written, or from the things we’ve experienced. And it’s from doing these three things that we form what it is we believe. In addition to this, all of us have our own personal preferences and personalities that tend to influence what we choose to believe. Since not everyone listens to the same people, nor reads the same information, nor has the same experiences, nor has the same preferences, or personalities, it’s no wonder that no two people believe exactly the same thing.
However, one thing nearly everyone has in common is that whatever it is they believe, they assume it is correct, and therefore is the truth. The problem is that, since no two people believe exactly the same thing, then obviously at the least only one of them can be right, and it’s quite possible that both of them could be wrong.
To illustrate this point, in 1831, a young man named Charles Darwin set off on a five-year voyage to study nature, and during that time he began to see a lot of similarities among all animals and wondered why. Over the next twenty-eight years he did extensive research seeking to answer this question and in 1859 he published his findings in a book called “On the Origin of Species,” which explained how all plant and animal life evolved over time from a common ancestor. Since then, many people have read his book and have applied his idea to their own experimentation and observations. As a result, they’ve come to agree with what Darwin believed.
At the same time, there are many others who strongly disagree with his findings and believe that God is the creator of all things. They use as their source, what is written in the Bible, and by taking what they have read there and experimenting on the word of God by applying it to their own lives, have come to believe that God is the creator of all life.
About the same time that Darwin was working on his theory, somewhere, around 1840, a man named Karl Marx became interested in philosophy, especially concerning the issue of social questions. He saw a wide difference between the rich and the poor and spent decades studying the reasons for this disparity and how to overcome it. He was also strongly influenced by the liberal-thinking element of his society and came to believe that the problem was that the rich were hoarding the money they made from their business ventures and refused to give the poor what was properly due them.
This led him to conclude that capitalism, or the free market system, was the cause of this disparity, and through his research he came to believe that the solution to this problem was to have a classless society, where everyone had everything in common. In 1848 he put his theory in writing called, The Communist Manifesto, which described the political and social system he thought would usher in a utopian world. He called his new system, Communism.
Since then, there have been many people who have read his writings and have become convinced that his ideas are correct. However, since Marx published his findings, many different people, in many different societies have tried to put his system into practice but not one of them has produced the results Marx said would happen. In fact, by following his system it has had just the opposite effect. Productivity decreased, the number of poor increased, while the ruling class increased in wealth, and it has resulted in the death of hundreds of millions of people.
Yet, despite this rate of failure, there are those who are still firmly convinced that Communism is the answer to the ills of the world. They argue that past attempts have either not been properly followed, or that the system of Communism only needs to be slightly modified to make it work.
Like nearly all of us, Darwin and Marx fully believed that what they had discovered through a diligent effort of research and study was the truth, yet not everyone agrees with them. Through a diligent effort of research and study, others have come to a different conclusion of what they say is true. Therefore, it becomes obvious that truth cannot be discovered simply by intellectual effort alone.
This then raises the question of what is truth? But here again we find that different people have different definitions for this word.
There is a common belief that truth is relative, meaning that what is true for one person may not be true for someone else. For some people, truth is whatever they want it to be. In this way, each person gets to decide for themselves what is true and what isn’t.
However, many of the examples people use to justify this position are examples of opinions. Although it is true that anyone can have whatever opinion they want, truth is not based on opinion. “Truth is knowledge of things as they [really] are, and as they [really] were, and as they are to come” (D&C 93:24). Opinions can change, rules can change, circumstances can change, but truth cannot change. For something to be true, it has to remain constant.
For example, anciently people believed the sun was a fiery chariot that a mythical god rode across the sky each day. To them, this was the truth, but no matter how many people believed this, it didn’t make it true. The truth is that our sun is one of trillions of stars in the universe that is located approximately 93 million miles from our earth, and it is the rotation of the earth that makes it appear to mover across the sky.
When it comes to politics, everyone has an opinion of what they think is the best way for people to be governed. However, the word “best” means there is one way that is better than all the others, and that way has to be based on truth, not opinion. If something is “the best” then, by definition, nothing could be better than it, which then makes that a true statement. If that isn’t the case, then calling something “the best,” would not be true.
Because man is an imperfect being, there cannot be a perfect way to govern everyone. That is a truth, no matter how many people believe otherwise. But there is one way to govern imperfect people that is better than all other ways, and that too is a truth.
This same principle applies to religion, or a belief in God. There are those who once worshiped the sun as a god, and who invented a multitude of other gods to worship. There are those who worship nature, or who worship a man such as Buddha or Jesus, but among them they are different beliefs about what these men taught.
However, the truth is that either there is a god or there isn’t, and if there is a god, there can only be one truth of what kind of a being that god is. And if Jesus is that God, then there can only be one truth of what he taught.
Therefore, our goal, or quest in life, is to find what is true, rather than trying to come up with opinions of what we think is true. Opinions can be useful if they serve as the means of searching for truth, but when we believe that our opinions are the same as truth, then we’re no different than those who once believed that the sun was a flaming chariot in the sky.
As we’ve seen, study and learning using only human intelligence doesn’t always discover what is true. Just as Karl Marx spent decades researching to discover the best form of government, so also there are many people who do in depth study of the Constitution of the United States of America but who come to different conclusions.
And the same is just as true in religion, Martin Luther was a Catholic priest who was a professor of theology at the University of Wittenberg, and yet, because of his intense studies of the Bible, he came to a conclusion that none of his church leader agreed with. And the same can be said of all the other Protestant reformers, who came to different religious beliefs based on their intense study of the Bible.
This illustrates what the apostle Paul meant when he wrote about those who are “Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 3:7). Therefore, the question is, how do we find truth?
In the book of Mormon, we read that Laman and Lemuel often rebelled against what their younger brother, Nephi, had to say about their behavior. In response to their criticism, he replied, “Do not say that I have spoken hard things against you; for if ye do, ye will revile against the truth; for I have spoken the words of your Maker. I know that the words of truth are hard against all uncleanness; but the righteous fear them not, for they love the truth and are not shaken” (2 Nephi 9:40).
Sometimes the truth can be inconvenient because it conflicts with what people want to believe or do, in which case people don’t really want to know the truth. In the words of Nephi, such people “will revile against the truth” because “the words of truth are hard against [them].”
Karl Marx came to the conclusion that his form of government was the best based on how he already felt about the evils of his society, and it was that attitude that had a strong influence on his research. In the case of Charles Darwin, his research focused on finding a natural explanation to the question of creation without considering the possible influence of a superior intelligence. Therefore, the first step to finding truth is to truly want to know what it is, rather than having a preconceived idea that you’re trying to prove.
The next step is knowing where to look for it.
When people want to learn something, they go to someone who is already knowledgeable about what they want to know. For example, if someone wants to know how to manage their money, they’ll go to someone who is knowledgeable about that subject. In the same way, if we truly want to know what is true, then the best way is to go to the source of all truth, which is God.
We see this in those who wrote the United States Constitution. Their intention was to create the best system of government they could, and to do this they studied all previous forms of government with a desire to know which one worked best, but they discovered that all of them had flaws. What they then decided to do was to take the best features from several former forms of government and combine them into a form of government that had never been tried before. Yet, despite all their research, and their noble intentions, there was much disagreement among those attending the Constitutional convention.
After very little progress had been made, on June 28, 1787, Benjamin Franklin rose to address the assembled delegates and after a lengthy speech, he concluded by saying, “I therefore beg leave to move — that henceforth prayers imploring the assistance of Heaven, and its blessings on our deliberations, be held in this Assembly every morning before we proceed to business, and that one or more of the clergy of this city be requested to officiate in that service.” The motion was approved and passed.
At the end of the convention, when the final draft was accepted, Benjamin Franklin again addressed the assembled delegates and said, “I must own I have so much Faith in the general Government of the World by Providence, that I can hardly conceive a Transaction of such momentous Importance to the Welfare of Millions now existing, and to exist in the Posterity of a great Nation, should be suffered to pass without being in some degree influenc’d, guided and governed by that omnipotent, omnipresent and beneficent Ruler, in whom all inferior Spirits live and move and have their Being.”
Translating this into modern English, he said, “It is my faith and belief that I can hardly conceive of anything of such importance to the prosperity of our great nation that affects the welfare of millions of people now existing in our country that Providence, that omnipotent, omnipresent, and beneficent Ruler of the Universe would suffer to pass without in some way influencing, guiding, and governing our deliberations.”
Later, as the Constitution was being ratified by the various states, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay wrote a series of essays, known as the Federalist Papers, arguing for the ratification of the new Constitution. In Federalist Paper #37 James Madison wrote, “It is impossible for the man of pious reflection not to perceive in it a finger of that Almighty hand which has been so frequently and signally extended to our relief in the critical stages of the revolution.”
Many of the other delegates from this convention have likewise expressed similar feelings that God’s influence had guided their deliberations. What resulted from that meeting, after daily prayers were offered, was a constitution that has been described as being the most remarkable document in history and has been labeled as being ingenious.
Is the United States Constitution perfect? No, but it is the best system of government man has ever devised that is suited to imperfect people. And it came about after seeking the wisdom, inspiration, and guidance from Providence, the omnipotent Ruler of the universe, and the Almighty, which are words people used back then in referring to God.
In order to find truth, human intellect alone can never discover it. Only God can provide it. But to receive it, we first have to sincerely want it, and then seek for it with real intent, depending on the source of all truth to reveal it to us.
Like fools’ gold, it’s easy to cling to false truth, thinking we’ve found the real thing, but only those who have a sincere desire to obtain truth will keep searching until they come to know with certainty they have found it. Those who are not willing to do this will find that all of their learning and wisdom is foolishness and will profit them nothing.
Related articles can be found at The Nature of Spiritual Growth