When I was just a small boy, my mother was elected to be the treasurer of Rich County. She had no babysitter, so I often spent time in her office. The office had a huge walk-in vault that had been out of use for many years. One day while playing in the office, I learned how to open the vault. I mentioned to my mother that I had operated the vault. She didn’t give my achievement much thought.
Years later, my younger brother and his friend accompanied mother to the office as I had years before. In the course of the day, the two little boys locked themselves in the vault. My mother discovered the accident but could not open the vault. Soon, men with cutting torches, drills, and the other equipment were trying to open the vault in which the two little boys were entrapped. It was airtight, with only enough oxygen to last the two boys for a couple of hours. The vault stood up for its designed purpose to resist any kind of forced entry. It was impenetrable. In desperation, mom went into another room to kneel in prayer. During her prayer the brief incident of years ago when I mentioned I knew how to open the vault came into her mind. She quickly ran out of the building and up to my school to find me.
We both ran back to the county building, making our way through the many observers and uniformed rescuers to the vault. We prayed to remember the combination, which came back to me to allow me to open the door. All the workers clapped their hands when the huge vault door finally came open.
I know that my mother’s ability to remember that brief incident which happened many years previously, came from God. I know that He helped me remember the combination to the locked safe.
But how can one say, “I know?” How can anyone be categorically certain of anything? Heavenly Father has told us that we can know that He lives and that His Son is the Christ, born in Bethlehem. We can know that as surely as we know anything. I know these things with absolute certainty, and so can you.
One time in Minnesota, where I served as mission president, we had a missionary fireside where at the end I used the words “I know” as I bore my testimony. An investigator came up to speak with me after the meeting was over. He said, “Unless I can touch, smell, hear, see, or taste, I do not believe.” He, of course, had listed the five physical senses, which are an integral part of our mortal and temporal beings. I asked him if he believed in radio signals or gravity or even Hong Kong.
There are many physical elements that exist but we cannot detect them without some additional processes being involved. My cell phone, radio, and other devices convince me that these extra sensory concepts also exist. I cannot see them, I cannot taste them, I cannot feel, hear, or smell them, but I know that they are there.
Let us first examine the sense of hearing. For example, I picked up the phone one day to hear a voice say, “Would you hold the phone a moment? President Kimball would like to speak to you.” After extending a call to serve as a mission president, he asked that I keep the call confidential until it appeared in the Church News. I anxiously waited for the news. Three or four weeks passed without any confirmation of the telephone conversation. I honestly began to wonder if I had actually heard the prophet’s voice. Without some verification, I learned, I did not completely trust my hearing.
What about seeing? Just observe a basketball game and see how the referee and the players see so very differently. It continues to amaze me how two people can observe an event and yet see it in a very different fashion. How many times have I thought I saw something only to have others see it differently. You can’t trust your sight.
I have come to believe that our physical senses, while very powerful, are very inadequate and really not trustworthy. The Lord confirmed this idea of unreliable senses when He explained why He used parables:
“Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand.
“And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias, which saith, By hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive” (Matthew 13:13–14).
By now it should be clear that the accumulation of information from our five physical senses is very unlikely, by themselves, to produce the ability to say “I know!” But there are what I will call “spiritual” senses. These are senses that we can take with us when we leave this mortal existence. The development and use of the several categories of spiritual sense are also called “principles of intelligence” (see D&C 130:18–19).
In explaining His use of parables, Jesus identifies two spiritual senses: understanding and perception. Perception is part of understanding, but reinforces the nature of the sense of understanding. We can see but see not, hear but hear not because of the absence of understanding and perception.
The words perception and discernment are very similar. Discernment is the ability to comprehend that which might be hidden or obscure. It is a spiritual sense that is a very important element in the whole concept of agency. The development of our spiritual senses is an important part of our ability to function as a human being.
I first became aware of this sense when I was on my first mission some 43 years ago. I recall being interviewed by my mission president. I had the distinct impression that he could look right into my soul. Seventeen years later, while I was serving as a mission president, I came to know that he could. I often had the experience of knowing more about a missionary than he or she ever thought I did.
Another spiritual sense closely related to understanding is that of wisdom. Wisdom is the accumulation of understanding, learning, and experience that occurs over a lifetime. We can pray for understanding and wisdom, and the prayer would please the Lord (see 1 Kings 3:9–12).
Emotion is also a spiritual sense. Emotion in all of its expressions is an important and pervasive part of our spiritual being.
One of my outstanding missionaries once suggested that he didn’t think he had a testimony, because he never cried or felt tears as others did while expressing their testimony. He had great feelings but could never cry. I asked him what time he got up.
“6:00 a.m.,” he replied.
Did he study as outlined?
“Yes,” he explained.
Was he out the door doing his missionary work?
I explained that I deeply believed in his testimony because of his actions. He was developing the qualities of understanding and experience by the manner in which he was conducting his life.
There are other spiritual manifestations, besides tears, that affect the mortal person, such as a “burning” heart.
The men on the road to Damascus “said one to another, Did not our heart burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the scriptures?” (Luke 24:32).
Oliver Cowdery was taught, “You must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right” (D&C 9:8).
To feel that something is right brings peace—a confirmation from the Holy Ghost that something is true. So, we return to our basic question, “How do I know?”
Knowledge is gained in a multitude of ways. Apparently, the plan of mortality is such that some experience with a physical body is required. We learn from pain, sickness, time, and age. These lessons are only available through experience with the physical senses. After that, the Lord asks two questions: “Did I not speak peace to your mind concerning the matter? What greater witness can you have than from God?” (D&C 6:23).
The Christ confirmed the final spiritual gift as He declared: “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (John 14:27).
No more certain knowledge can come to you than that bestowed by God through the witness of the Holy Ghost.
Finally, the peace that knowledge of the things of God brings begets love for Him and for His children.
I love my wife. How do I know that I love her? I just know. I love many people, but with a different type of love. I love God. I love His Son. I love His Church. I know that I love them. I have felt the burning in my bosom. I have heard the “still small voice,” and I have a collection of physical and spiritual senses that all point to a complete and comprehensive conclusion: I know what I know!