Today’s post is by new perma and longtime commenter, Hedgehog.  On 10 January, President Dieter F. Uchtdorf addressed young single adults at the firstCES devotional of the year.  The title of his address is ‘What is truth?’.  This has also been addressed by David Taymon who was rather quick off the mark.

Truth, as a topic, is one of my favourites, and I usually enjoy the talks given by President Uchtdorf  (this was no exception), so I was surprised when I read online comments made by some that expressed their disappointment.

President Uchtdorf, presented what seemed to me to be a very carefully crafted talk, beginning with the impossibility of our ever seeing the whole picture on earth, using the well-known tale of the blind men examining an elephant to illustrate his point.  He posed three questions:

  • What is truth?
  • Is it really possible to know the truth?
  • How should we react to things which contradict truths we have learned previously?

He talks about the vast array of information to which we, in this day, have ready access, and the consequent importance of our being able to discern truth.  Like David, this talk seemed to me, to be very much a continuation of Uchtdorf’s view expressed in a meeting given at a worldwide training session in February 2012 (the difference being, that whilst that address was to current leaders, this address is to those he hopes will become the future leaders):

“Brothers and sisters, as good as our previous experience may be, if we stop asking questions, stop thinking, stop pondering, we can thwart the revelations of the Spirit. Remember, it was the questions young Joseph asked that opened the door for the restoration of all things. We can block the growth and knowledge our Heavenly Father intends for us. How often has the Holy Spirit tried to tell us something we needed to know but couldn’t get past the massive iron gate of what we thought we already knew?”

He gives examples of things many believed they already knew in the past: the earth is flat; stars revolve around the earth; tomatoes are poisonous.

He warns of our tendency to be susceptible to stereotypes, giving as examples the stereotyped view the Nephites had of the Lamanites, and vice versa.  He warns of the tendency to confuse belief for truth, and said:

“When the opinions of the truth of others contradict our own, instead of considering the possibility that there could be information that might be helpful and augment or compliment what we know, we often jump to conclusions or make assumptions that the other person is misinformed, mentally challenged, or even knowingly trying to deceive”. (punctuation mine)

He describes the failure of the medical profession to accept the results of Ignaz Semmelweiss which demonstrated the importance of hand-washing. This failure resulted in unnecessary deaths for many, many more years.

It is at this point that President Uchtdorf begins to address absolute truth, and how we can can go about finding it.  He said:

“I believe that our Father in Heaven is pleased with his children when they use their talents and mental faculties to earnestly discover truth.”

He warns us about Satan’s strategies: truth is relative; all ‘truths’ are equally valid; that there is an absolute truth, but that is impossible to find; to sow seeds of doubt.

Then we reach the section that appears to have caused much of the upset:

“For example, he has caused many members of the church to stumble when they discover information about the church that seems to contradict what they had learned previously… remember in this age of information there are many who create doubt about anything and everything at any time and every place.  You will find those who still claim that they have evidence that the earth is flat, that the moon is a hologram (it looks like it a little bit, right?), and that certain movie stars are really aliens from another planet.  And it is always good to keep in mind that just because something is printed on paper, appears on the internet, is frequently repeated, or has a powerful group of followers, doesn’t make it true.  Sometimes untrue claims or information are presented in such a way that they appear quite credible.  However, when you are confronted with information which is in conflict with the revealed word of God, remember that the blind men in the parable of the elephant would never be able to accurately describe the full truth.  We simply don’t know all things.  We can’t see everything.  What may seem contradictory now may seem perfectly understandable as we search for and receive more trustworthy information.” (punctuation mine)

And I suppose it is easy to get into a blame game of whose fault it is that this information wasn’t taught in church, arguments about whether or not we have been intentionally deceived or misdirected, and to feel aggrieved that this wasn’t acknowledged. We do have access to more information, and are able to see the messiness of early church history that we perhaps hadn’t considered before. President Uchtdorf isn’t telling us not to look, or search.  He is asking that we simply bear in mind that we still do not have the full picture. I like the way Galdralag phrased it, when thinking on early church history:

“The sources, though plentiful, are all so incredibly biased – whether toward apologetics or toward nasty and vengeful indictments of early leaders – that recovering any sort of coherent narrative of early LDS history, let alone attempting an accurate one, is phenomenally difficult. And I say this with the added acknowledgement that “accuracy” in history is a very thorny idea indeed.”

President Uchtdorf points us to the source of truth:

“…there is one source of truth that is complete, correct and incorruptible.  That source is our infinitely wise and all knowing Heavenly Father.  He knows truth as it was, as it is, and as it yet will be.” (punctuation mine)

He tells us we can find this truth in the gospel of Jesus Christ who is “the way, the truth and the life”.  He also talks of the necessity of our knowing this truth for ourselves:

“The invitation to trust the Lord does not relieve us of responsibility to know for ourselves.  This is not an opportunity, it is an obligation… Latterday Saints are not asked to politely accept everything they hear.  We are encouraged to think, and discover truth for ourselves.  We are expected to ponder, search and evaluate, and thereby come to a personal knowledge of the truth.” (punctuation mine)

he quotes Brigham Young:

“I’m afraid that this people have so much confidence in their leaders that they will not enquire of themselves of God, whether they are led by him.  I am fearful they settle down in a state of blind self-security.  Let every man and woman know by the whispering of the Spirit of God to themselves whether their leaders are walking in the path the Lord dictates.” (punctuation mine)

President Uchtdorf says:

“We seek for truth wherever we may find it.”

and that:

“Yes, we do have the fullness of the everlasting gospel, but that does not mean that we know everything.  One principle of our restored gospel is our belief that God will yet reveal many great and important things.” (punctuation mine)

Of all the lessons I have ever had to teach, the one I most enjoyed was the lesson about truth in ToPotC John Taylor. Some of my favourite quotes from that lesson are as follows:

“If any person in the religious world, or the political world, or the scientific world, will present to me a principle that is true, I am prepared to receive it, no matter where it comes from.”
“A man in search of truth has no peculiar system to sustain, no peculiar dogma to defend or theory to uphold. He embraces all truth, and that truth, like the sun in the firmament, shines forth and spreads its effulgent rays over all creation. If men will divest themselves of bias and prejudice, and prayerfully and conscientiously search after truth, they will find it wherever they turn their attention.”
“If there is any truth in heaven, earth, or hell, I want to embrace it; I care not what shape it comes in to me, who brings it, or who believes in it; whether it is popular or unpopular, truth, eternal truth, I wish to float in and enjoy.”

President Uchtdorf speaks of searching for truth from wholesome sources, which may perhaps be rather more cautious than John Taylor appeared to be.  John Taylor was not faced with the internet age however.

In the closing part of his talk, President Uchtdorf talks about the role of the Holy Ghost in assisting us as we “navigate the often troubling waters of confusion and contradiction.” He asks us to be sincere in our search for truth, reminding us that “contention is completely inconsistent with the Spirit on whom we depend in our search for truth.”

I found much to celebrate in this address: that we need to be seeking truth “earnestly and unceasingly”; that we shouldn’t simply be accepting what our leaders tell us; the acknowledgement that we don’t yet have all truth; and finally the perhaps implicit acknowledgement, in the use of the examples of the flat earth and Ignaz Semmelweiss, that sometimes institutions are themselves slow to accept truth.

  • How would you answer President Uchtdorf’s three questions?
  • What are some of the things that help you in your search for truth?