"We are not measured by the trials we meet -- only by those we overcome."
- - Spencer W. Kimball
August 8, 2012
What is Real?
by Marian Stoddard

I am always amazed at the people who insist that nothing is real unless it can be tangibly, physically proven, and that our physical senses are the limit of what can be known. An agnostic says that if it can't be proven, it can't be known; an atheist says that if it can't be physically proven it can't exist at all. Thus, either way, they say, there is no God in the equation of our lives. I feel a little sorry for them, because they have no comprehension of what they are missing in their experience.

One of the modern apostles made an analogy that was so perfect, it has passed into our common lexicon in the Church. He said the experience of feeling the Holy Ghost is like salt. Ask someone what salt tastes like without using "salt" as a reference point, presuming that your person has never tasted salt. There is no effective way to do it. Salt is one of the four hard-wired identifications in the nerves of our tongue: sweet, sour, bitter, salt. 

You can use examples of foods, like bacon, which have salt, but if your subjects have truly never tasted anything salty, you are stumped. Your only real demonstration is to hand them a piece of bacon and say, "This is what I mean; eat this!"

Yet some are so sure that there cannot be any such thing that they spurn the invitation to try the promises of God and His invitation to "taste this." Alma told a group of faltering souls: (Alma 32)

26 Now, as I said concerning faith -- that it was not a perfect knowledge -- even so it is with my words. Ye cannot know of their surety at first, unto perfection, any more than faith is a perfect knowledge.

27 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.

28 Now, we will compare the word unto a seed. Now, if 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.

You have to give the word of God a beginning point, be humble enough to suppose that it might be true, and ask God. Alma is acknowledging that you won't have a perfect understanding or certainty right off the bat, promising that the confirming feelings will begin to touch your awareness and that they will begin to be sweet to you.  

The Lord told Joseph Smith, recorded in section 11, verse 13 of the Doctrine and Covenants,

Verily, verily, I say unto you, I will impart unto you of my Spirit, which shall enlighten your mind, which shall fill your soul with joy.  

It's an internal process; you can't touch it with your fingers or hear it with your ears (though there have been a few dramatic exceptions on that score). That's because it is an individual process. The answer of God comes to your awareness by feelings which grow into certainty. The scriptures say that that light will become visible through our countenances as we grow in it, in being filled by it.

So you still say, "Humph, I don't believe it for a minute -- you still haven't given me any proof." (God doesn't give proof first, he requires that you give him faith first, or at least hope. It can be just a little. But you have to go first, or you'll find a way to discount whatever he gives you.)

Salt doesn't convince you. You won't buy anything you can't see, touch, hear, or smell. I have a question:

Do you think love is real?  

Do you love someone in your life, or do you know that someone loves you? Can you prove it? No, you're talking about feelings now. You claim they don't count. Evidences of behavior, attitude, those are suggestive. (Look around you and consider the evidences of God.) It's fascinating and intriguing to watch scientists experiment with hormones, responses, bonding, and so forth, but those are only mechanisms. 

The reality of love is universally, intrinsically understood. Orphans in a now-famous study died without someone to cuddle and connect with them. Yes, our bodies and brains work on this process. They are given to us to do so. Love is not just some lucky evolutionary adaptation; it is the first law of heaven, and the most basic part of our divine nature. 

If you really, deeply love anyone, you know in your heart of hearts that it means so much more than evolutionary survival. It is truth and eternal reality. We rely on it. Babies need it and respond to it before they can even identify it.

Love is our first need. It all starts with feelings, and without them we can't learn much. They are bound up with all our other senses, and are very real indeed. Put your Father in Heaven to the test and he promises to answer. I can testify to that.

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About Marian Stoddard

Marian J. Stoddard was born in Washington, D.C., and grew up in its Maryland suburbs. Her father grew up in Carson City, Nevada, and her mother in Salt Lake City, so she was always partly a Westerner at heart, and she ended up raising her family in Washington State. Her family took road trips all over the United States and Canada, so there were lots of adventures.

The adventures of music, literature, and art were also valued and pursued. Playing tourist always included the local museums as well as historical sites and places of natural beauty. Discussions at home, around the dinner table or working in the kitchen, could cover politics, philosophy, or poetry, with the perspective of the gospel underlying all. Words and ideas, and testimony and service, were the family currency.

Marian graduated from Winston Churchill High School in Potomac, Maryland, and attended the University of Utah as the recipient of the Ralph Hardy Memorial Scholarship, where she was graduated with honors, receiving a B.A. in English. She also met the love of her life, a law student, three weeks after her arrival; she jokes that she had to marry him because her mother always wanted a tenor in the family. (She sings second soprano.) They were married two years later and have six children and six grandchildren (so far). She treasures her family, her friends, and her opportunities to serve.

Visit Marian at her blog, greaterthansparrows.  You can contact her at bloggermarian@gmail.com. 

Marian and her husband live in Tacoma, Washington. Together they teach those who are preparing to go to the temple for the first time, and she also teaches a Stake Relief Society Institute class.

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