This will be a follow up post to “Obstacles to Receiving Greater Truth,” continuing the thread of self-deception and obtaining truth.
There’s no such thing as being objective. For the last few hundred years, our modern culture has perpetuated the belief that we can think about and observe truth as though we’re just outside spectators. This is a Gentile idea, and is false.
We need to challenge that assumption. No matter who you are, where you go, or what you’re thinking, you are always an active participant in this world. Unlike the Greeks, who believed truth was a thought to be had, the Hebrews believed it was a life to be lived (e.g. compare Socrates with Isaiah). In other words, we do not just think about truth; we do truth.
This might seem like a foreign idea (and by definition, it is), however, grafting ourselves back into the house of Israel requires we shift our worldview from our native Gentile paradigm to that of God’s people. Making this shift will act as a guard-rail against deception in our quest for truth.
You Go Where You Look
As clinical psychologist Jordan Peterson has put it, people are “aiming creatures.” In one sense, this is what our eyes are designed to do; we focus on things so that we can get them. Not too long ago, we hunted for food. I suppose in a humorous way, we still do the same thing at the grocery store, in sports, and other activities. Generally speaking, we have aims and goals in our lives. We’re always aiming at something—whether it’s to graduate, be a better person, get that pay raise, or just make it through the day. Even the lowest or poorest of goals still represent an aim, a direction, and a course of action. Everything we do is motivated by our deeper desires—whatever they might be.
A common tip given to student motorcyclists is to “look where you want to go.” This is because where you look is where you’ll go; it’s inevitable. If you see an upcoming accident, you’re instructed to look to the clear spaces around it and not at the accident itself (otherwise you’ll end up hitting it dead on). The direction you look affects the direction you’re facing, which affects your trajectory, and ultimately your destination.
This is a true principle generally. The direction you look—the things you desire and focus on—will determine your destination.
Part of the reason for this actually isn’t too mysterious. The world presents itself to us according to the things we focus on. For example, have you ever noticed when you’re driving a new car that it suddenly seems like everyone else is driving the same car? Before, it was white noise; now it catches your attention every time.
I remember when I was 5 or 6 hearing the word “awkward” for the first time (the funny thing is, “awkward” wasn’t even the word that was being said; it was “Upward,” the Christian basketball league). I swore that nobody had ever used the word before, but suddenly I was hearing “awkward” left and right.
This holds for more complex ideas too. You’ve probably found when you’re learning something new, or are thinking about a question, that suddenly it’s relevant to all of the conversations you’re having, or things you’re reading. You encounter it everywhere.
Your world presents itself as the product of your conscious attention.
We are encountering an overload of information all the time. It’s too much to make sense of all at once, so we choose to focus on what we think is most important, or relevant. This is like wading out into the world holding a piece of Velcro, which is designed to catch things of a similar nature. If I’m thinking about the word “awkward,” I’ll start to notice every time somebody says it.
So how does this apply spiritually?
Well, like the piece of Velcro, “like attracts like.” In other words, we will gravitate towards whatever is in our own heart. It will affect the things we give attention to, the way we think, the questions we ask, and ultimately the conclusions we draw. It all begins in our heart, with our desires.
The Orientation of Our Heart
This brings us back to the idea covered in the previous post about “the thoughts of the heart.” Just like anger or depression can distort the way you think about something in a moment, so too can pride, fear, complacency, etc., affect the way you think about things generally. The state of one’s heart will reflect its feelings back to itself. If you’re a fearful person, you’re going to see reasons to be fearful. “We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.”
The best way to think about the state of your heart is as being “oriented” in a certain direction. Which way are you facing? What are you aiming at? Because like a motorcyclist, you’ll go where you look. You are going to find exactly what you’re looking for—even if it’s not what you think you’re looking for: “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matt. 6:21).
We treat confirmation bias like it’s this thing we have to watch out for, but can escape if we’re actively trying to be objective. We cannot. We don’t get the luxury of just making observations about things like we’re outside spectators. We are inescapably participants, subject to the state of our own hearts.
If you were truly objective, you wouldn’t have any interest or curiosity in learning anything in the first place. Interest, curiosity, and questions denote that we are orienting our attention towards something. The kinds of questions we ask reflect our attention and desire–the direction our hearts are pointed.
Furthermore, the kinds of questions we ask determine the kind of answers we can get. Questions function like a flashlight: they focus you on certain things at the exclusion of others. Every question has certain baked-in assumptions about what can be an answer. If I asked you, “what time is it?,” and you told me “strawberry-shortcake,” I couldn’t register that—even as a wrong answer. It’s completely outside of what that question assumes it can discover. That’s not inherently bad, but it highlights the nature of attention. Certain questions can only get you certain answers.
As another example of this: if you asked me, “Is college good?”, it would be improper to just give a yes or no answer. There are certainly beneficial aspects to college, but it may not be for everyone in every case; the culture and ideology tend to be corrupt; there may be more efficient ways to get a good job in your field, etc. Either response (yes or no) may lead you to conclusions I didn’t intend to convey.
The issue then, very frequently, becomes: are we asking the right question? Think about how many times Christ answered a question with another question, or reframed the question being asked. He was changing the orientation of the asker because their question wasn’t going to get them anywhere.
Whether you’re asking a friend a question, conducting a scientific study, or seeking revelation from God, the right questions will get you the right answers.
It all starts with the desires of our hearts. Everything else flows out from there. Our hearts reflect our desires, our desires determine our focus, our focus determines our direction, and our direction determines our destination.
Confirmation bias itself is actually neutral—it just represents our state of being, or the direction we’re headed. It is the frequency on which we resonate. The real question is: what are biased to, and why?
As intelligent beings, we are always trying to organize facts into a narrative, or story. This is how we understand and make sense of things.
That being said, there are an infinite number of ways to make sense of the world. Because the state of our heart impacts our conclusions, the way we see the world is directly tied to the state of our heart. In other words, the belief system that each person has indicates something about their heart.
Those who have similar hearts come to similar conclusions. This is why we see social trends (correlations) in political parties, music interests (concerts), restaurants, stores, clothing styles, churches, religions, etc. Like attracts like. You will gravitate towards whatever is in your heart. If you are “vibrating” at a certain frequency, you’re going to surround yourself with people and things that are the same. Again, that’s not inherently bad . It’s just important to recognize. The external things orbiting in someone’s life represent the internal condition of their hearts. In a sense, it’s the fruit they bear.
The Path We Walk
Each orientation of the heart will have an associated path (or belief system) built around it. At the end of every path is a god, or ideal, which represents our concept of “perfect” or good. As it’s been said that we’re aiming creatures, the thing you’re aiming at (or are oriented towards) is your god.
Everybody has a god, though not everybody knows it. Even if you’re an atheist, you have a god—and even if you’re Christian, the god you worship may not be the God of Israel. It may be a false image of Him, or something else entirely. Your god may be your possessions, career, business, reputation, spouse, parents, or friends; it may be sports, music, entertainment, comfort, sex, government, academics, medicine, or some form of the “arm of flesh.” It may be the need to be “right” all the time, to be praised, or seen by others. It may be a distorted image of God, such as humility, inclusion, and acceptance at the expense of discernment, truth, and the sacred (or vice versa). In all reality, it will likely be more complicated than a single “thing,” but hopefully these examples illustrate the idea.
Your “god” is the thing your heart is set upon; the thing you’re willing to sacrifice for. Anciently, people would make sacrifices and pay homage to the gods they worshiped. While those specific rituals are not practiced today (at large), our hearts work the same. The god (or image of God) your heart looks to is the god you worship.
Because you go where you look, you will move down a path towards whatever “god” you are looking at. As you persist down that path, you will come to know that god. Like a seed growing into a mature tree, the orientation of your heart will eventually blossom into a comprehensive ideology, worldview, and belief system.
And because truth is not just something we think about, but something we are and do, coming to know your god also means you will be conformed into its image (the Hebrew word for “know” implies experience, the way Adam “knew” Eve, and they became one flesh). Along the way, you may change religions, attitudes, habits, friends, priorities, and more. “Seek and ye shall find” (Matt. 7:7) is first a foremost a statement of fact; you’re going to find whatever is in your heart.
For example, if your heart is filled with fear about not being loved or approved by others, you may first imagine God as a parent with impossibly high and strict standards, and zero tolerance for your flaws. You sense judgment and disapproval from others (whether real or imagined) as your imperfections and errors are on display. Fear prompts you to become a critic of yourself so that nobody else will. You demand flawlessness in every aspect of your life, but find it harder and harder to maintain. The fear of making a mistake even starts to paralyze you. Then you perhaps grow intolerant of the imperfections and mistakes of others, and before you know it, you have been conformed into the image of God you have been trying to appease all your life.
Or perhaps you begin to recognize the bad fruit that serving this “god” bears in your life. You begin to shift your heart’s orientation. You yearn for an end to the mindless rat race, and become attentive to the criticism that you are trying to “work your way to heaven.” As you notice this stress absent in the lives of other Christians, you come to see your past ideals as tyrannical and unhealthy. You question whether a loving God would really make it so hard to return Him. Self-evidently, it seems unreasonable that a parent who really loved their child would keep them out of heaven for their mistakes or flaws. You find it easy to conclude that if God loves us, He will take us no matter how we are—we just need to accept His love. You begin to resent any form of “religious authority” that has the audacity to tell people they need to meet certain standards before God will take them back. You recognize and admire how Christ contradicted the religious authorities of his day, and begin to see Him as irreverent, casual, funny, and opposed to organized religion. In time, you become conformed to this image as well.
These are just a couple of examples that illustrate the idea. Like I mentioned above: this process is actually much more complex and multi-faceted, but the principles are the same. The state of our heart will determine our beliefs, image of God, and who we become.
Because walking down a path is inevitable, it’s important we are intentional about where we look, what we desire, and what we worship. If we seek truth, but our hearts are not right with the Lord, then we will walk a path that takes us away from God.
God is truth (Deuteronomy 32:4), thus if we are interested in obtaining truth, we must gain “a correct idea of [God’s] character, perfections and attributes,” as well as “an actual knowledge that the course of life which [we are] pursuing, is according to his will” (Lectures on Faith 3:4-5). If we’re not actively seeking that, with a willingness to submit to whatever He is, then our hearts will take us a down a path that leads to something else.
So what is the solution? How do we ensure we’re looking and heading in the right direction?
The Straight and Narrow Path
Our goal, above all else, must be to know the only true God. In the intercessory prayer, Christ noted this is the essence of eternal life: “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent” (John 17:3; emphasis added).
As was mentioned earlier, at the end of every path is a god. If we pursue the path to its end, we will know (or experience and become one with) that god. Thus, in pursuing He who is truth (John 14:6), we can know and become one with truth—which is eternal life.
Christ taught, “Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it” (Matt. 7:13-14).
There is a path that leads to eternal life. If there is a path, there is a direction. If there is a direction, obtaining eternal life requires we properly align our hearts to walk in that direction (1 Kings 8:58,61). As a matter of fact, the word “repent” means to turn and face, or also to have a change of mind (to think differently afterwards). Because the “gate” represents the entrance to this path, it should be no surprise that we read “the gate by which ye should enter is repentance…” (2 Nephi 31:17).
Now some of the pieces start coming together: Our heart represents the direction we’re facing. We go where we look. Therefore, we are all heading in some direction. If we want the truth of God, we must fundamentally change the direction we’re facing—the things we desire (and consequently the way we think). By reorienting our hearts, we enter in at the straight gate and begin walking the path that leads to eternal life—which Christ observed “few” do.
In order to be in a state where you can receive truth, you must enter in at the strait gate. This raises the question: how? How do we reorient our hearts to God? How do we know which direction to face? What do we set our hearts upon so that we can know God?
Observe how “eternal life,” or “knowing God,” gets defined in scripture:
The apostle John wrote: “And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected: hereby know we that we are in him” (1 John 2:3-5).
John connects the idea of knowing God to keeping His commandments, and being perfected in the love of God. Jesus also connected eternal life with keeping the commandments: “And, behold, one came and said unto him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life? And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments” (Matt. 19:16-17; Matt. 18:8-9).
On one level, we come to know God by keeping His commandments. Therefore, the first thing we ought to seek for (in our hearts) is to keep the commandments of God, both written in scripture and as He speaks to us personally through the voice of our conscience. Our highest desire and priority should be to obey Him, leaving behind all other idols and worldly cares:
“Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it” (Matt. 16:24-25; emphasis added).
“Wherefore if thy hand or thy foot offend thee, cut them off, and cast them from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life halt or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet to be cast into everlasting fire. And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire” (Matt. 18:8-9).
Losing ourselves for Christ’s sake includes not just doing as He asks, but wanting to do as He asks—seeking for it, hungering and thirsting after righteousness. It’s not to merely inconvenience ourselves, but to give up all other desires, plans, and priorities for His will, trusting that His way will bless us more than any other option available (more on this in a future post). To repent and enter in at the gate is to fully reconcile our ideas, desires, and actions to the voice of the Spirit. It’s to love Him, and who He is; to love purity, holiness, light, love, and life. It is by this total surrender of heart and mind that we orient our hearts to God, and begin upon the path that leads to life.
When we get our hearts right with the Lord, truly right, our minds and hearts will then begin to be changed. As we persist down that path (or “endure to the end”), we will come to know Him in the fullest sense: We become like Him (2 Peter 1:5-8; cf. John 17:19-21), pure “even as he is pure” (1 John 3:2-3), and will know Him face to face (Genesis 32:30; Exodus 33:11).
John taught, “Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure… Whosoever abideth in him sinneth not: whosoever sinneth hath not seen him, neither known him” (1 John 3:2-3,6; cf. 1 John 4:7-8). Christ also noted, “Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God” (Matt. 5:8; cf. John 6:46).
As was stated above, what we see in the world is a reflection of what’s in our heart. Hence, those who are pure “even as he is pure” will begin to see Him. They’ll begin to see Him in every aspect of their lives, in every detail of the world, and in their own countenance; and eventually they will see and know Him face to face (John 14:21-23; cf. 1 Corinthians 13:12).
Look to Life to Receive Truth
If our goal or desire is anything other than knowing God, our best efforts in discovering truth will take us down one of the many paths leading to death (Matt. 7:13). If we are not actively seeking to learn how God is, and become like He is, our heart will lead us astray (Jeremiah 17:9; contrast with Matt. 5:8). Hence the importance of turning our hearts (Luke 1:16; cf. Psalm 51:10; Jeremiah 24:7; Ezekiel 36:26).
On the other hand, when we orient ourselves to this goal, and are willing to sacrifice any inconvenience or comfort to have it, we allow the Spirit of Truth to flow into our lives and teach us “the truth of all things.” We begin judging ideas and teachings based on their efficacy to bring us closer to God (i.e. accord with His Spirit). We carefully observe whether they bear the fruit of the Spirit in our lives—not just as passing feelings, but as attributes growing within us: “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance” (Galatians 5:23 [19-23]); and whether they have the power to bring us into God’s presence—to know Him in the fullest sense.
With this in mind, we understand more clearly these words from Christ in the Sermon on the Mount:
“Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.
“Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.
“Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity” (Matt. 7:13-23; emphasis added).
Those who live by these words of the Savior will invariably be led to the truth. They will be equipped to discern truth from error, and true messengers from false ones.
John boldly proclaimed: “We are of God: he that knoweth God heareth us; he that is not of God heareth not us. Hereby know we the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error” (1 John 4:6; emphasis added).
Paul similarly stated: “If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 14:37).
Christ also taught: “If any man will do [God’s] will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself” (John 7:17).
In other words, the key to recognizing true messengers of God is to seek to know Him by keeping His commandments and aligning our whole hearts to His will.
As we persist in this state of total surrender, we will begin to acquire His attributes. The greater influence the Spirit has in our lives, the more we become one with Christ and can see things as He sees them—through the mind and will of the Father. As our understanding is thus quickened by the Spirit, we can perceive greater truth. This enables us to see “afar off” (into eternity) both spiritually and physically.
Comparatively, Peter says that “he that lacketh these things [faith, virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, godliness, brotherly kindness, and charity] is blind, and cannot see afar off” (2 Peter 1:9). Paul similarly noted, “But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14). Consequently, those who are “not of God” will reject His servants.
Christ Himself was rejected as an imposter by the religious majority of His day because their hearts were not aligned with God’s: “Jesus said unto them, If God were your Father, ye would love me: for I proceeded forth and came from God… Why do ye not understand my speech? even because ye cannot hear my word. Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it. And because I tell you the truth, ye believe me not... He that is of God heareth God’s words: ye therefore hear them not, because ye are not of God” (John 8:42-47; emphasis added).
A Note on the Restoration
When it comes to determining whether or not Joseph Smith was a true or false prophet, we ought to evaluate him by the Savior’s criteria: what is the fruit? Does it bring you closer to God? Does it inspire and empower you to be more like Him? Does it bear greater love, joy, peace, gentleness, meekness, etc., in your character? Does it make you more sensitive to the voice of the Spirit? Does (or can) it bring you through the strait gate, and along the narrow way that leads to life?
Joseph Smith claimed, “If you will obey the Gospel with honest hearts, I promise you, in the name of the Lord, that the gifts as promised by our Savior will follow you, and by this you may prove me to be a true servant of God” (Teachings of the Presidents: Joseph Smith, Ch. 9: Gifts of the Spirit). Therefore, in a very real way, Joseph’s claims can be verified based on their ability to do these things. If obtaining these things is your goal, and your heart is set upon knowing God, then you will be able to determine whether the restoration and its associated scripture, doctrines, ordinances, etc., add any value to your journey.
Joseph is, in essence, claiming to provide a treasure map. If you read and follow the map correctly, you will find the treasure—else he is a false prophet. I will tell you most assuredly that the map is true and faithful. It will guide you into greater light, love, and pure knowledge. When correctly understood, and closely followed, it will do all Joseph claims it does. I am yet to find another system of religion that can do as much for an honest disciple as can the restored gospel.
On the other hand, if you are either unacquainted with or disinterested in knowing God (and all that entails), it does not matter if you are born with the restored gospel or encounter it in another context, it will sooner or later appear foolishness to you. Even the best attempts to reconcile history, scripture, or doctrine will seem forced, convenient, or just a way to “make things fit.” It will not seem like the truth, and trying to believe it is will feel like an increasingly heavy burden.
A living covenant has both blessings and curses attached. You can think of it as a huge stone: if you abide in the covenant, it will become a stepping stone under your feet on your ascent to God; if you do not, it will seem a burden on your shoulders that threatens to crush you. Hence, Christ said, “on whomsoever this stone [the kingdom of God] shall fall, it shall grind him to powder” (see The Parable of the Lion).
All things you don’t understand pertaining to the Restoration can be reconciled, but first you must be reconciled to God through the atonement of Christ, having an eye single to His glory. Then your whole body will be full of light (Matt. 6:22). “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all [your needs] shall be added unto you” (Matt. 6:33).
What do you desire? What are you seeking first?
Christ’s love for us knows no limit, but because He loves us His standards are exacting. He asks for our whole hearts because He knows anything less will take us down a different path: “No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other (Matt. 6:24); “if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire” (Matt. 18:9); “he that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me” (Matt. 10:37); “if any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me” (Matt. 16:24).
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might” (Deuteronomy 6:4-5; emphasis added).
Built Upon a Rock
At the conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount, Christ said: “Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock. And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it” (Matt. 7:24-27).
If we give everything to follow Christ, passing through the strait gate and walking the narrow way, we will have built our lives on a rock-solid foundation. We will withstand the rain, winds, and floods that threaten to deter us from our course. If on the other hand we hold back a portion of our hearts, try to serve two masters, or are more concerned with the things of this world, the storms and floods of life will disorient us, confuse us, and bring us down.
Ultimately, the hearts matter above all else in the search for truth (spiritual or otherwise). In order to see and understand truth, we must live truthfully. There is no other way to do that than the way prescribed by Christ. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. To know Him is to know truth, see truth, and become truth —which is eternal life.
“God has created man with a mind capable of instruction, and a faculty which may be enlarged in proportion to the heed and diligence given to the light communicated from heaven to the intellect; and . . . the nearer man approaches perfection, the clearer are his views, and the greater his enjoyments, till he has overcome the evils of his life and lost every desire for sin; and like the ancients, arrives at that point of faith where he is wrapped in the power and glory of his Maker, and is caught up to dwell with Him”
 The fact that “like attracts like” can apply to either our detriment or our benefit. If our hearts are turned away from God, the things we draw into our life will create greater obstacles in coming to Him. On the other hand, we read: “intelligence cleaveth unto intelligence; wisdom receiveth wisdom; truth embraceth truth; virtue loveth virtue; light cleaveth unto light… Draw near unto me and I will draw near unto you; seek me diligently and ye shall find me; ask, and ye shall receive; knock, and it shall be opened unto you” (D&C 88:40, 63).