Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Oh Say What Is Truth

I wrote the following letter to my dad 13 years ago. I have edited it very slightly because of changes in my beliefs regarding one detail, but I find it inspiring to see what I believed.

2 July, 2001
Dear Dad,

I found your letter this morning. It must have come on Saturday. It was a good way to start my day. I’ve been thinking about the question of the man from the state penitentiary. How can I love truth when my personal truth is so ugly? I know he asked it in a slightly different way, but I think it is nearly the same question. I have always felt something in me thrill when the scriptures or the hymns or the prophets speak about truth. A couple of years ago I wanted to write a poem about truth. I wanted to write something beautiful and powerful like “Oh Say, What Is Truth?” or Keats’ “Ode on a Grecian Urn.” I didn’t succeed, but I had a few thoughts about truth in the process that I will share.
I am about to give a definition of truth that does not apply every time the word is used. Im going to define it as I think it is often intended scripturally, and as I think it is used ideally in the understanding of science. As Poincaresays, they are not really different. Since at times I will deviate from things we know to things I think, I will italicize truth when I am formulating my definition and I will leave the normal text when I am quoting someone else or presenting another definition.

Although I dont understand all truth, I have decided that truth is not simply the collection of all facts. I think this is made clear in the scriptures:Thou desirest truth in the inward parts(Ps. 51:6).Buy truth and sell it not(Prov. 23:23).but they are not valiant for the truth upon the earth; for they proceed from evil to evil, and they know not me, saith the Lord(Jer. 9:3). These are not just talking about desiring or living by facts. We hear of menever learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth(2 Tim 3:7). Truth must be something different than a list of facts.

More explicitly we have truth tied to Jesus Christ:Grace and truth came by Jesus Christ(John 1:17).He that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God(John 3:21).I am the way, the truth, and the life(John 14:6). We know that charity, the pure love of Christ,rejoiceth in the truth(1 Cor 13:6).

We know that truth and light are related:he that receiveth the word [of truth] by the Spirit of truth receiveth it as it is preached by the Spirit of truth[.] Wherefore, he that preacheth and he that receiveth, understand one another, and both are edified and rejoice together. And that which doth not edify is not of God, and is darkness. That which is of God is light; and he that receiveth light, and continueth in God, receiveth more light; and that light groweth brighter and brighter until the perfect day. And again, verily I say unto you, and I say it that you may know the truth, that you may chase darkness from among you. . .(Doctrine and Covenants 50:21-25). Then we have the direct statement,whatsoever is truth is light(D&C 84:45).

Last of all we know thattruth abideth and hath no end(D&C 88:66).The truth of the Lord endureth forever(Psalms 117:2).Truth abideth forever and ever(D&C 1:39).

Now I come to my thoughts and interpretation, and perhaps it is the wisdom of a man mingled with scripture, but I hope that it is true. If truth is light then works of darkness are not true however real they may be. Secret combinations are real, men conspire to destroy other men, men take facts and then claim they are true. They say that antisocial tendencies are genetic, they say that it is in mans nature to help himself at the expense of others, they say that violence in the media doesnt make everyone act violently, they say that people are cruel to each other, they say that their bodies are their own and no one else has a right to control them in any way. They say this is just how it is and by implication how it should be. Each of these things is a fact, but none of them are true. None of them add light to the world but only increase the darkness of confusion and suspicion.

What about abiding forever? Evil will be done away. Satan and his followers will be sent where they can never again influence men. All secret works will be revealed. Men will no longer be able to abuse their children. They will no longer be able to hurt one another. They will no longer be able to hurt the earth. After this time of testing, the earth will be cleansed and power to do harm will be taken from all who still desire to hurt another being or creation. The earth will be perfect and there will be no more floods, no more earthquakes, no more tornadoes, no more hurricanes, no more fires, no more famine. Our bodies will be immortal, there will be no more disease, no more crippling injuries, no more mental retardation or mis-function, no more pain of any kind. All of the things I have just listed are facts. Evil, cruelty, sin, abuse, natural disasters, sickness, and pain are all very real. But they are not true. They will not abide forever. They will not endure.

Jacob taught us: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). Who are the righteous that Jacob speaks of? I dont think they are perfect people, or even people who have only committedsmallsins. I dont think these are people who have only lived normal lives with loving families and helpful people around them, with enough food to eat and friends they can trust, who have only hurt people in little ways and have always served in church. I believe the righteous that Jacob speaks of are the people who want to live according to the truth. Loving the truth will not take away the pain of disease. Loving the truth will not save your family from losing its home to an earthquake. Loving the truth will not take away the pain you have caused by lying to your friend. Loving the truth will not make it easier for a man who is genetically an alcoholic or a homosexual or a kleptomaniac or shy or dyslexic to overcome the trials he faces. None of these realities, none of these facts, will disappear just because we love truth. I believe the wicked are those who want to keep the darkness in their lives, and the righteous are those who want to fill their lives with light. The righteous will still experience the pain caused by their dark acts, but they will turn towards the light and not continue forever in the dark.

As a young boy Joseph Smith asked,If any one of them be right, which is it, and how shall I know it?(Joseph Smith History 1:10). Later he revealedThere are many. . . who are only kept from the truth because they know not where to find it(D&C 123:12). As I said before, I dont know all truth, but here is something true I read this morning:

Mosiah 15:8-12
v. 8 And thus God breaketh the bands of death, having gained the victory
over death; giving the Son power to make intercession for the children of
v. 9 Having ascended into heaven, having the bowels of mercy; being filled
with compassion towards the children of men; standing betwixt them and
justice; having broken the bands of death, taken upon himself their iniquity
and their transgressions, having redeemed them, and satisfied the demands of
v. 10 And now I say unto you, who shall declare his generation? Behold, I
say unto you, that when his soul has been made an offering for sin he shall
see his seed. And now what say ye? And who shall be his seed?
v. 11 Behold I say unto you, that whosoever has heard the words of the
prophets, yea, all the holy prophets who have prophesied concerning the
coming of the Lord--I say unto you, that all those who have hearkened unto
their words, and believed that the Lord would redeem his people, and have
looked forward to that day for a remission of their sins, I say unto you,
that these are his seed, or they are heirs of the kingdom of God.
v. 12 For these are they whose sins he has borne; these are they for whom he
has died, to redeem them from their transgressions. And now, are they not
his seed?

All of the facts of our pain in this life, all of the reality of our sins and the suffering we have caused others will be wiped away eventually. They will not abide forever. God will remember our sins no more. We will remember our pains no more. These things are true. These are the truths we must live for and never fear. We know it was said of the sons of Helaman:They were men who were true at all times in whatsoever thing they were entrusted(Alma 53:20). This is what I want to become.

I suspect you have probably thought much of this already, but I think truth is beautiful and I am glad you asked me to share some of my feelings about it with you. I love you. I hope that these thoughts can help.

Love, Jonathan

Oh say, what is truth?Tis the fairest gem
That the riches of worlds can produce,
And priceless the value of truth will be when
The proud monarchs costliest diadem
Is counted but dross and refuse.

Yes, say, what is truth?Tis the brightest prize
To which mortals or Gods can aspire.
Go search in the depths where it glittering lies,
Or ascend in pursuit to the loftiest skies;
Tis an aim for the noblest desire.

The sceptre may fall form the despots grasp
When with winds of stern justice he copes.
But the pillar of truth will endure to the last,
And its firm-rooted bulwarks outstand the rude blast,
And the wreck of the fell tyrants hopes.

Then say, what is truth?Tis the last and the first,
For the limits of time it steps oer.
Tho the heavens depart and the earths fountains burst,
Truth, the sum of existence, will weather the worst,
Eternal, unchanged, evermore.

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