Gordon Monson: You know the LDS Church is true? No, you really don’t, and that’s OK.

The best most mortals can do is believe, hope, have faith and build trust in their religion.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Angel Moroni statue tops the Layton Temple. Tribune columnist Gordon Monson says Latter-day Saints certainly can believe their church is true, but they can't really "know" it.

The core of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — and many other religions — relies on four basic words: hope, belief, faith and trust.

No matter what some may say about “knowing” a church is true, unless they’ve had a Moses-like supernatural God-to-mortal experience, they are stretching (to reach) that truth. They don’t really know it; they believe it. They may believe with all their heart that they know it, but believing isn’t knowing. They have faith that it’s true. They hope that it’s true. They trust that it’s true. In the church’s vernacular, the spirit persuades them to believe that it’s true. (More on that in a minute.)

And that’s OK. That’s a part of the LDS Church’s explanation for why humans exist here on this planet, left to live without the ability to see and walk directly with God, to have empirical evidence straight in front of them. Developing faith is, as the doctrine goes, the reason for this “probationary” state, to gain that hope, that belief, that faith, that trust in what they cannot see or touch firsthand.

Beats me exactly why it was set up that way, why that is so important, why those elements must be relied upon to prove one’s love for and acquiescence to the Almighty.

Growing that belief, relying on that hope, leaping at that faith, conjuring that trust are, so the story goes, paramount.

Why, then, do so many Latter-day Saints say they know things that they don’t know?

I don’t know, but they do. They say they do. If I had five bucks for every time I’ve heard during a Latter-day Saint meeting that Brother Williams or Sister Thompson knows the church is God’s church, they know “beyond a shadow of a doubt” that it’s the only fully restored faith, that the gospel it teaches is, wait for it, true, I’d have to pay a million dollars in tithing for all my gain.

I’ve heard it from octogenarians, from Primary tots, from new converts, from grizzled church veterans, from intelligent folks, from people who aren’t the brightest of God’s creatures. They know, they know, they know.

Jesus asked followers to believe

(The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) "These Twelve Jesus Sent Forth," by Walter Rane. Christ asked his followers to believe in him, Tribune columnist Gordon Monson states, and have faith in him.

A good friend of mine who has long since left this mortal existence, a man who was a church general authority, an individual for whom I had great respect, used to say, “I know that God lives. I know that God lives. I know that God lives. And I know that I know it, too.”

He said it from the pulpit over and over, deliberately and decisively, to the point of it being somewhat awkward. I never got around to asking him for details on how he knew that he knew.

I couldn’t and can’t relate to that.

I can relate to believing what I believe, believing what some others believe, when it comes to matters of faith. I’ve had experiences that have increased that faith, have increased trust in a kind of unseen heavenly process and connection. I don’t have to have firsthand knowledge. I can buy into what Jesus asked his followers to do — to believe, have hope in him, to trust in him, to have faith in him.

So, that’s what I do.

Knowing? That’s a reach too far. Frankly, people who say they know such things can be a bit frightening in their fervent fanaticism. They’re 100% sure about things that, to my sensibilities, they can’t truly be sure about.

They’ve left hope, belief and trust some 50 miles back in the dust, dropped it all off somewhere along the covenant path, absolutely convinced now their faith has turned to rock-solid recognition, concrete comprehension.

The more they say it like that, the more I doubt it, because they can’t know, again, unless the hand of God has tangibly touched them, unless they’ve come face-to-face and conversed with deity. Otherwise, knowledge is off the table. Indeed, some smart guy once said, “The enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge.”

In a complicated, messy, obfuscated world, finding those first four things in both spiritual and temporal matters is tough enough. There are so many falsehoods taught, so many fabrications pushed, so many outright lies told.

The words “trust me” in pop and political culture have become something of a joke. The moment those words are spoken, suspicion arrives like a swinging hammer. Maybe it’s always been that way. It was the ancient Greek tragedian Sophocles who said, “Trust dies, but mistrust blossoms.”

The search for truth

Don’t know about you, but faith doesn’t come easily here. I’m a natural skeptic. Sorting through the fog to find the truth is a cliff to climb. It requires study, research and empirical evidence. In the spiritual realm, the empirical is even more difficult to come by.

But I’m fine with that. We all find our way, this way or that. Some believe in a higher power, some don’t believe, some will one day believe, some will never believe. Some think believers are fools. Some think believers are being duped and used.

Latter-day Saints often rely on the experiences of others to bolster their own faith. That’s one of the reasons the church holds monthly testimony meetings, Sunday services in which individuals in the congregation bear witness to the veracity of their spiritual leanings. Often this is the setting where those believers proclaim to their fellow parishioners that they believe the church is true, that they have faith that the church is true, or that they know it.

I’ll take the faith, thanks. I’ll stick with the believers.

The faithful rely on a feeling, on what the church refers to as the spirit, an invisible force that nudges them toward the truth. That’s good for who it’s for. But most religions rely on something similar, and there are a thousand of them, a thousand different so-called truths, followers of each trusting that they have the real truth.

It’s tricky business, discovering not just the truth, but what God — if you believe in God — wants you to do and to be. It may be life’s ultimate challenge to develop hope, belief, faith and trust.

As for those who say they know, well, I don’t know, maybe, despite what that smart guy said, there’s no real harm in them believing that they do.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Tribune columnist Gordon Monson.