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Commencements

Believing is Seeing

Today I want to talk to you about seeing and believing. We often say that “seeing is believing.” In the spiritual realm, however, the reverse is also true: “believing is seeing.” Believing helps us see things with our spiritual eyes and senses.

The world you are entering will likely test your deepest beliefs. So, as you leave here, let me give you one last word of advice: be believing in order to see “things as they really are” (Jacob 4:13). I’ve called my talk “Believing is Seeing.”

By saying that “believing is seeing” I do not intend to deny or disparage the commonsense notion that “seeing is believing.” I believe you are here because I see you in front of me. You would rightly consider me crazy to doubt this. Yes, there are optical illusions and other ways our senses and reason can be unreliable guides to knowledge, but normally people can safely believe their eyes.

Further, in most matters it is wise to insist on seeing before believing. If a person comes to you peddling a cream to cure your cancer or a scheme to double your money in a week, I hope that you will treat such claims with a large dose of skepticism and say, “Show me the evidence” before you lay down your money or mortgage your home.

As a soon-to-be college graduate, you have developed the ability to gather and analyze empirical data to test truth claims and to reason your way through complex questions. In the process, you may have acquired what is often called “healthy skepticism” when it comes to assessing claims of pitchmen and politicians. These skills and intellectual habits will serve you well.

At the same time, I hope that your university education has not turned you into full-blown skeptics. For, to paraphrase Hamlet to his college-buddy Horatio, “There are more things in heaven and earth . . . Than are dreamt of in our philosophy” ( Hamlet 1.5.167-68).

Some truths are discovered through rigorous and systematic doubt, as Descartes famously demonstrated by trying to doubt everything. Descartes dubito (meaning “I doubt”) led to cogito (meaning “I know”). Doubt can lead to knowing. Cartesian doubt gave rise to powerful philosophic and scientific methodologies for discovering truth..

Some truths, however, disclose themselves more readily to belief than to doubt. In the spiritual realm, “I believe” can lead to “I understand.” I am fond of this Latin saying “ Credo ut intelligam.” Let me parse the Latin: “ credo” (I believe); “ ut” (in order); “ intelligam” (to know). “I believe in order to know.” Credo ut intelligam.

This saying contains an important spiritual truth. In the physical world, seeing comes prior to believing, but in the spiritual world, believing often precedes knowing, just as faith precedes the miracle. Believing can give us eyes to see and ears to hear, enabling us to understand and know.

Jesus taught this lesson to his apostle Thomas, whom we often call doubting Thomas. Thomas insisted that he see the resurrected Christ before he would believe: “Except I see in his hands the prints of the nails . . . I will not believe.” While granting Thomas’s desire to see, Jesus chided him to “be not faithless, but believing,” and pronounced a blessing on those who believe before they see: “because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed art they that have not seen, and yet have believed” (John 20:27, 29).

The Lord promises believers that: “the days will come that you shall see him [Christ]; for he will unveil his face to you” (D&C 88:68). Belief coupled with righteousness leads to seeing and knowing.

Remember the metaphor of the seed in Alma 32. The mere “desire to believe” initiates a process that leads to knowing (Alma 32:27). By contrast, “unbelief” prevents the seed from growing and the person from knowing (Alma 32:28).

Similarly, in a New Testament parable about seeds, the Lord says of the unbelieving and disobedient that “they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not” (Matt. 13:13).

We see this in the Book of Mormon, too. It says in Alma’s day that those in the “rising generation” who chose “not to believe the tradition of their fathers” regarding core doctrines “because of their unbelief . . . could not understand the word of God” (Mosiah 26:1-3). I have written in the margins of my scriptures “believe to understand: credo ut intelligam.

So, I encourage you graduates in the rising generation today—and all of us—to learn how and when and what to believe in order to understand: credo ut intelligam.

As you seek to believe the gospel, you will discover that, paradoxically, believing becomes seeing. Your testimony will open up vistas unavailable to a skeptical world. And this will influence how you see everything else. As C. S. Lewis says, “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the Sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” (C. S. Lewis, “Is Theology Poetry,” in The Weight of Glory and Other Essays.[New York: Touchstone, 1975, p. 106)

So do I! One of my favorite verses from the Psalms is this: “In thy light shall we see light” (Ps. 36:9). For me, the gospel is not a set of sacred Sunday truths jostling with the secular truths that govern the workaday world. In fact, I find little evidence in scripture for the sharp distinction we often draw between so-called sacred and secular truth. God speaks of all truth as belonging to a whole. The gospel puts all truth into proper perspective. It casts light on, well, everything. It helps us see “things as they really are and . . . as they really will be” (Jacob 4:13).

So, in conclusion, how can believing help you and me see things as they really are? Let me close with a few quick examples.

Belief in Creation enables us to look at the sun, moon, and stars and see “God moving in his majesty and power,” rather than viewing the universe as meaningless motion of mere matter, spinning silently in the void (cf. D&C 88:45-47).

Belief the Atonement enables us to see glorious possibilities in our family, neighbors, and ourselves; to catch glimpses of gods and goddesses beyond the weak, petty, stumbling, backsliding creatures we sometimes seem to be; and to face the future with bright hope for redemption.

Belief in the Restoration enables us to read history and the daily news with a sense of where this is all heading despite the horrors in the past or in today’s harrowing headlines. We can be confident that God is working out his designs, and that ultimately good will prevail and “all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well” ( Revelations of Divine Love, Dame Julian of Norwich).

Belief in the Resurrection allows us to “love that well which [we] must lose ere long” (Shakespeare, Sonnet 73), knowing that the same sweet “sociality that exists among us here shall exist among us there,” in eternity, “only coupled with eternal glory” (D&C 130:2).

Belief in God’s Providence opens our eyes to discern the little miracles that Heaven pours out on us daily. It grants us eyes to see the grace that envelops our lives.

So, Brothers and Sisters and especially you dear graduates: remember as you leave here that believing can lead to seeing no less than seeing leads to believing. May you cultivate believing hearts to match the critical minds with which higher education has properly fitted you. For truth can be known through both heart and mind. Reality can be seen through both spiritual and natural eyes. Therefore both these truisms are valid in their own way: “seeing is believing” and “believing is seeing.” May you see to believe and believe to see.

In the name of Jesus Christ.