For the first time, probably ever, it gave me pause: “Wait a second. I know? Do I actually know?” On what do I base this claim, and how would I defend my claimed knowledge if someone were to challenge it?
I started to wonder if what I had always thought of as knowledge was actually only properly termed belief. “After all,” I considered, “I’ve never seen my Heavenly Father or Jesus Christ; nor have I seen angels or witnessed any other heavenly manifestation.” Although I didn’t think belief was a strong enough expression of what I felt, I decided to play it safe and began to speak of my testimony in such terms: I believe that my Savior lives; I believe that He restored His church in these latter days; I believe that the scriptures are true.
Eventually I became bothered by this new self-imposed limitation on my testimony, and I started to think more deeply about the idea of knowledge, and what that word means. In my search and contemplation, I found a definition stating that knowledge is to “be aware of through observation, inquiry, or information.” Then it occurred to me that we gain all of our knowledge by observation through one or more of our senses. I know, for example, that the sun rises in the east, because I’ve seen it with my eyes. Similarly, I know that same sun radiates heat, because I’ve felt its warmth on my skin after stepping out from the shade. And I can even claim knowledge that the sun is about 90 million miles from the earth, not because I’ve measured the distance myself, but because I can see or hear the “testimonies” of those who have.
Granted, such examples are uncontroversial because the information is backed by the scientific method. But, it occurred to me that with regard to the means of obtaining knowledge, religion and science are not oil and water. Indeed, we can come to know God and His truth using the familiar processes of observation, measurement, and experiment. With these thoughts in mind, I was hit with an epiphany: the Lord has even invited us to use this method to gain knowledge of His truth. I remembered the words of the prophet Alma and realized the Lord has literally told us to perform an experiment!
But behold, if ye will awake and arouse your faculties, even to an experiment upon my words, and exercise a particle of faith, yea, even if ye can no more than desire to believe, let this desire work in you, even until ye believe in a manner that ye can give place for a portion of my words. (emphasis added)
Likening this experiment to the planting of a seed, Alma promised
[I]f ye give place, that a seed may be planted in your heart, behold, if it be a true seed, or a good seed, if ye do not cast it out by your unbelief, that ye will resist the Spirit of the Lord, behold, it will begin to swell within your breasts; and when you feel these swelling motions, ye will begin to say within yourselves—It must needs be that this is a good seed, or that the word is good, for it beginneth to enlarge my soul; yea, it beginneth to enlighten my understanding, yea, it beginneth to be delicious to me.
Alma explains that, having undergone the experiment and made the observations, one will have obtained knowledge:
And now, behold, because ye have tried the experiment, and planted the seed, and it swelleth and sprouteth, and beginneth to grow, ye must needs know that the seed is good.
And now, behold, is your knowledge perfect? Yea, your knowledge is perfect in that thing, and your faith is dormant; and this because you know, for ye know that the word hath swelled your souls, and ye also know that it hath sprouted up, that your understanding doth begin to be enlightened, and your mind doth begin to expand. (emphasis added)
After considering Alma’s lesson, generally regarded as a classic lecture on faith, I thought of all the ways that I’ve experienced the “swelling motions” he described. I thought first of the idea often attributed to Lincoln: when I do good, I feel good; when I do bad, I feel bad. And, oh, how true that has always been for me.
Then, I went on to look for even more data points in this grand experiment. I started to think of ways I had put prophetic promises to the test: daily family scripture study brings more peace in the home? Check! Paying tithing opens the windows of heaven, bringing great blessings? Check! Fasting brings access to special blessings of strength and divine guidance? Double check!
It became very clear to me that if you know a tree by its fruit, then I’d tasted far more than enough of the fruit of the gospel of Jesus Christ to know that it’s not only a good tree, but it's also the way, the truth, and the life, exactly as He claims.
So, can we know that God lives and that He loves us? Can we know that Jesus is the Christ, that He lives, and that He made it possible for us to return to Heaven? Can we know that the scriptures are true and that Lord continues to speak through living prophets and apostles?
You better believe it.