This post considers how deficient we all are in our intellectual efforts, and how we need to rely on Christ to make us whole in this part of our being, as in all parts of our being. It is the 4th post in the series, with the first overview found here, the second part on how the Saviour heals our Hearts here, and the third on how He heals our Might (or emotionalise) here.
“I think therefore I am”. So said Descarte. Of course, we all think differently. My logic is different from someone else’s logic; my rational thought processes come to different conclusions from someone else’s rational thought processes. In truth we are all different – and deficient – intellectually. Here I am not talking about mental illness – that is a topic far too big for this post and one which I will come to hopefully early next year. This post is more about our thought processes; how we act on a day-to-day basis because of what we think.
We are taught by prophets and the scriptures that we should use mental exertion in our service and worship of the Lord; that we should study and ponder and learn. The Lord teaches us in the Doctrine and Covenants, “…behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind…” (D&C 9:8) Elsewhere, the Lord says, “Wherefore, hearken and I will reason with you…” (D&C 45:15). The Lord has given us minds and He expects us to use them with each other and with Him.
One of my favourite quotes in relation to the importance of using our minds is from Elder Glenn L Pace. He speaks of the importance of having balance between the intellectual versus spiritual approach in our decision-making, and says:
“On one side of the spectrum is the person within or without the Church who sees very little need to call upon the Lord because this person is a scholar. He wants to be independent and free in his thinking and not tied to absolute truths that the gospel tells us do exist. He may spend his life chasing down every intellectual loose end. All counsel from general or local authorities is taken with a grain of salt because, after all, their knowledge is so minimal compared to that which the scholar has amassed.
“The other end of the spectrum is just as dangerous and is probably a greater threat to the majority of this audience. A person on this end of the spectrum thinks like this: “I know the Church is true and I have received the gift of the Holy Ghost. I am a worthy member of the Church and, therefore, have access to the Spirit.” When faced with a problem he will pray for an answer, and the first thought that comes to mind is canonized. I would propose that an idea or solution that comes without appropriate reasoning is nothing better than a hunch. There are times of instant inspiration, but they are rare and usually involve an emergency.
“There is a sentence used in Church circles that sends a chill up my spine. It’s a perfectly good sentence that packs a spiritual wallop when used by someone who has been acted upon by the Spirit, but unfortunately is too often used by those who have wandered off-center in the spectrum. I’ve heard it said in my ward, at Church headquarters, and I have said it myself. The sentence that turns me cold is this: “I feel real good about it.” Every time I hear it, I see a red flag go up. It’s a perfectly good way of expressing a feeling of the Spirit, but far too often the literal translation is “I haven’t done my homework.” Some very bad decisions have been made by people who “feel really good” about something they have failed to reason out in their minds.”
(Glenn L Pace, The Elusive Balance, BYU, 25 March 1986)
So just as we need to learn to hear and heed the spirit, we also need to learn to use our minds effectively. And just as we have spiritual weaknesses that we need to rely on the Saviour’s grace for, we also have intellectual weaknesses and blind spots, for which we also need to rely on the Saviour’s grace.
We all think differently from each other, and we all come to issues from different perspectives. Genetics, life experiences, and the society we live in all help to shape the way we think. Having lived on 4 different continents one thing I have noticed, and find fascinating, is that each society can take the same facts on any given issue and come to wildly different conclusions. That’s not a reflection of the intellectual ability of the society, but rather of the impact that societal values, history and experiences play on how our minds reach conclusions.
This difference in perspective is one reason why different people contribute different perspectives in a Church classes on Sunday; it is a reason why we are meant to meet together to discuss the gospel – so that our views can be expanded and we can learn from each other.
And that principle applies to decision making also. Church leaders, although inspired, often may make decisions that differ from each other. Being a leader in the Church isn’t like being a lightning rod – “need revelation? – zap – there’s the answer straight from heaven”. It just doesn’t happen that way. Leaders also need to study things out in their minds, seek counsel from others, and then finally, when the intellectual process is complete, go to the Lord. As Elder Pace says, in an emergency the Lord can and will give instant revelation to those who need it and are worthy to receive it, but that is rare. The Lord usually expects us to study and ponder; to get as much information as possible from as many sources as possible and think about it. That is one reason why leaders who fail to ask for or heed the counsel of others are in danger of making poor decisions.
A quick look on Wikipedia lists 93 different Decision-making and Behavioural biases in our cognitive judgement, and like it or not, we all have a proportion of these. They are easier to spot in others than in ourselves, of course. When I look at the bias “Bias Blind-spot – The tendency to see oneself as less biased than other people, or to be able to identify more cognitive biases in others than in oneself”, I can immediately think of examples of this in other people. I find it more difficult to think that any of the biases actually apply to me though!
When Elder Henry B Eyring was called as a Counsellor in the First Presidency of the LDS Church, his press conference between sessions of General Conference gave an unusual insight into this principle in action at the highest level of Church leadership. I haven’t been able to find the full transcript of that, so I will quote from a talk he gave to BYU in 1996 where he relates the same experience, with added quotes from the Church press release of his press conference.
“My introduction to the board of trustees came as I left the faculty at Stanford to be the president of Ricks College. I attended my first board meeting soon thereafter. My work at Stanford and elsewhere had exposed me to the ways boards of directors and groups of people in business made decisions. But nothing I had seen prepared me for what I saw in that meeting.
“President Harold B. Lee, also one of the authors of our foundation documents, was serving as chair. I have now forgotten the issue, but the discussion was lively. I had never seen such frankness without rancor before…”
In his press conference in 2007 he used these words to describe the frankness,
“Here you have the prophets of God, and they are disagreeing in a way you never see in business. I thought revelation would come to them all and they would all see things in the same way. It was not like anything I had ever seen in studying small groups in business.”
So here we have prophets and apostles who have wildly different and opposing views on matters and they’re not afraid to share them. They disagreed with each other, and they all thought they were right. And these brethren are all men of sound understanding; they have achieved success in their various fields of study and in their professions – these are men who have learned how to use their minds effectively, and they are all men of profound faith and spiritual awareness. And yet they still disagree strongly with each other.
President Eyring goes on,
“In a few minutes, what had seemed to me widely divergent views began to move—I thought so rapidly as to be miraculous—toward a consensus. Just as I began to think I had seen an example of joint revelation beyond what I thought possible among strong leaders, I was surprised by a statement from the chair, President Lee. He said something like this: “I sense that there is someone here still not settled on this matter. I suggest that we hold it for further thought. We can discuss it again in a later meeting.” President Lee had seen or felt, I don’t know which, that there was not yet complete unity. And so an important matter was held off.
That story is not about one day but represents a pattern. Not only does the board of trustees give consistent direction, based on a deep understanding of universities as they have been and of this one as it is, but it gives direction out of unity far beyond a product of counting votes and far above a process of coalition bargaining.”
It is interesting that even though only one of the entire board was not entirely “settled” on the issue, the President of the Church – the one entitled to the revelation – decided to wait for total unanimity. He could have said, “Well, I’m settled on the issue, and as President of the Church and this Board I have decided…”, but he didn’t. He wanted the unanimity, but probably also realised that the one who was not settled may still have some important insights that were not quite coalesced in his or her mind, and which needed to be shared to help the decision-making process.
An interesting scripture on the importance of using our minds in decision-making is in the Doctrine and Covenants, where the Lord says, “In case of difficulty respecting doctrine or principle, if there is not a sufficiency written to make the case clear to the minds of the council, the president may inquire and obtain the mind of the Lord by revelation.” Whereas previously the Lord had told Oliver Cowdery to work it out in his mind and then ask Him whether he was right, here the Lord here is answering the question – what do we do if having studied it out in our minds we really still don’t know what to do? In that case, the one who holds the keys of decision-making – in this case the President, but the same principle applies to each of us in our lives – can approach the Lord and ask, but I would suggest we ought to have done our homework first as He won’t give us an answer if it is something we should be able to work out for ourselves.
Elsewhere in the Doctrine and Covenants we come to the point about the Saviour being the source of a more perfect mind for us, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, I will impart unto you of my Spirit, which shall enlighten your mind….” (D&C 11:13). The Lord’s spirit is imparted to us by the grace of Christ, which grace comes because of His Atonement, which can perfect, or “enlighten”, our minds. This reminds me of the words of Moroni, “Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ….” (Mor 10:32)
The scriptures talk a lot about wicked minds, corrupt minds, and minds that are darkened. King Benjamin refers to himself as being one who has been, “subject to all manner of infirmities in body and mind…” (Mosiah 2:11) All of these must be cast off, which is only done through the Atonement of Christ. “…for [Ammon] knew that king Lamoni was under the power of God; he knew that the dark veil of unbelief was being cast away from his mind, and the light which did light up his mind, which was the light of the glory of God, which was a marvelous light of his goodness….” How was his mind being changed? King Lamoni answers shortly after, “Blessed be the name of God, and blessed art thou. For as sure as thou livest, behold, I have seen my Redeemer; and he shall come forth, and be born of a woman, and he shall redeem all mankind who believe on his name.” (Alma 19:6, 12-13)
Paul teaches that we are not to think of our own minds and thought processes as being as they should. He says, “And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind…” (Romans 12:2) And in Hebrews he teaches, “For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people….” (Hebrews 8:10).
Alma, when teaching the analogy of faith in Christ as the seed, says that as our faith in the Saviour increases, so “your mind doth begin to expand.” (Alma 32:34). This implies a link between our faith in Christ and the power of His atoning sacrifice, and the degree to which our minds are able to comprehend the things of God. The prophet Joseph Smith taught this quite clearly when he said:
“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.” (History of the Church 2:8)
Like every other part of our being, we are – all of us – imperfect in mind. Left to our own devices, we will make poor decisions, and demonstrate poor judgement. We need the perfect thinking that comes only with the mind of Christ. “For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ.” (1 Cor 2:16)