Friday, October 26, 2007

Tentative Belief, or the Pursuit of Wisdom

One last post before diving into my beliefs. I want to talk for a moment about the idea of tentative beliefs. Beliefs that we hold, but not too tightly. That we openly (at least, to ourselves) acknowledge could be wrong. For me, I would say that most of my beliefs - perhaps all? - are tentative.

Why?

Because it reminds me to be humble - to avoid spiritual arrogancy (a weakness I've experienced, as a loving sister-in-law once pointed out to me).

Because it reminds me to be teachable. If I believe that my beliefs are absolute, or absolutely correct, can I learn from another? No, at best I can be confirmed in my presumed beliefs (if they agree with me), in between I can simply agree to disagree with another, and at worst we can engage in perpetual argument with neither of us being edified.

Because it reminds me that we all, yes, even us Mormons, have a great deal to learn. All of our beliefs, in my all to often unhumble opinion, are 'best estimates'. They are our best attempts to understand things that are very big and very complex. Whether its science (what is the Big Bang, a black hole, DNA, etc., etc.) or religion (what is the nature of God, of man, our relationship, etc., etc.) we all, as Paul said, see through a glass darkly. Perhaps because of our belief in revelation and modern prophets, we Mormons can sometimes believe that we "know" a great deal. But the moment we pass beyond the "standard Sunday school answers", we realize that we don't know very much at all. Indeed, that's why we have the "SSSA", because those are the things we can all generally agree upon. Beyond that, we face the same haze as the rest of the world.

Which is not to say the revelations are not important, only to say that beliefs and knowledge are not the focus. We are given some - vision, if you will - to get us going, motivate us, and teach us the nature of some things. But most of what the prophets do is teach us what we should do, how to develop into a better society and people. After all, if the beliefs and knowledge we are given do not impact on how we live our lives, they really are not of a great deal of use.

Did God create the world in six days, as described in Genesis? Many believed it for thousands of years. I don't, but I don't begrudge those who did. It was sufficent and as good an explanation as any. Now I think we have better information. Yet I still believe God created the world. I just have a different picture of how God may have done so. And my current beliefs are as tentative as I hope the six days belief would have been to me, had I ever held it. My default belief, so to speak, until we had better information. As Hugh B. Brown, counselor to President McKay would put it, we are only bound to believe that which is true.

Or put another way, I hold to my faith in God stronger than I do to any of my beliefs about anything, including God. If I have any belief that is not open to revision, then I am damned in that part.

This is not a lazy belief, or a lack of strength in beliefs. There are many of these tentative beliefs that I believe in quite strongly, profoundly, and in many contexts would not hesitate to say "I know this to be true". But we all know people who have said those words and later stopped not just knowing, but even believing. There is no clear line between what we "believe" and what we "know". And I think many people lose their faith because one aspect of their belief gets destroyed. They hold so tightly to something that when it gets broken they throw the whole baby out with the proverbial bathwater.

Which leads me finally, in this very long-winded post, to the pursuit of Wisdom.

This is one of my favourite metaphors. I like it because I can visualize it, I can feel it. I pursue Wisdom the way that one pursues a lover. Her red lips call to you and you cannot help but seek after their kiss. You cannot sleep at night because the thought of her fills your mind and you cannot rest during the day because your every thought is towards her. And one kiss does not satisfy; it only leads to increased desire, to a desire for a new kiss. And each revelation of her only leads you to want more.

I like the metaphor because I know what it is to be filled with passion for a lover. I have known my wife for fourteen years now and been married to her for ten and a half. And I cannot stop thinking about her either. She is my living, breathing Wisdom.

And so I pursue Wisdom. I seek knowledge and understanding and truth and virtue and Wisdom is my guide. As I strive to distinguish between truth and error, virtue and vice, she calls to me, "choose wisely". She calls to me love - to mix my desire for truth with my love of my fellowman, of my world, of existence. She calls me to step back, to consider the consequences and the implications of my actions and my beliefs. She calls me to step forward, to consider the implications of my beliefs - where do they point? what greater truth do they hint at.

I like the metaphor because it is active. It reminds me that I should not be passive and wait for God to grant me wisdom (or anything else for that matter). I should step forward, boldly. I should purse.

Come, pursue with me.

1 comment:

JLR said...

Wife-I'm glad I'm your lover, but a little embarrassed in the public forum.
Editor-too vs. to, and pursue v. purse.