Are Feelings a Good Source for Truth?

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By Bill McKeever

Understanding how Mormons “know what they know” is vital for Christians to comprehend if they hope to have effective dialogue with members of the LDS Church. Those Christians who have spent a considerable amount of time discussing spiritual issues with Mormons soon come to learn that there are many differences in “epistemology,” which means how we come to know and understand things. The Bible encourages the believer to use reason along with faith. For instance, Isaiah 1:18 tell us that the Lord invites us to “reason together” with Him. Mormons oftentimes see reason as a detriment to true faith. I don’t think I can count how many times Mormons have told me that my difficulty in accepting Mormonism was due to the fact that I was using “man’s reasoning.”

Mormons often tell me how they “feel” that Mormonism is right; however, as a Christian I can respond with equal assurance that I “feel” my faith is right. But does that make it right? I recently read the story of a new convert who said, “Until the very second that I made my declaration, I wasn’t entirely convinced that it was what I wanted to do. Would I wake up one day and want to change my mind? Would I feel like I had made a huge mistake? But already I feel as if my life has been transformed. I don’t know how to describe it, but the moment I said those words, my heart filled with joy and love and it took about four days for me to come back down off the ceiling.” Though this sounds very familiar to statements I’ve heard from both Mormons and Christians, it was actually a comment made by a woman who had recently recited the Shahada, a Muslim testimony that simply states, “La ilaha il Allah, Muhammad-ur-Rasool-Allah.” Translated this phrase says, “There is no god but Allah and Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah.” (“Why I took the hijab,” The Guardian, June 20, 2002). What does this prove? Well, when it comes to establishing what is true, it proves absolutely nothing. It is just one opinion among millions.

I would be the first to admit that many of the things I believe involve a great amount of faith. However, I also maintain that my belief is based on objective facts and is therefore not an unreasonable and subjective faith. Letting your “conscience be your guide,” can have its pitfalls because the conscience is really a reaction to the knowledge one already possesses. Consider cannibals whose culture dictates that there is nothing inherently wrong with killing and eating their perceived enemies. Because of their understanding of right and wrong, the cannibals’ conscience would not cause them to have second thoughts about their acts that, according to the Western perspective, would cause us to question that culture’s definition of truth.

We are all products of a fallen nature, and as such it becomes necessary to examine carefully what we perceive as truth. I believe this is why God gave us the written Word, the Bible. We need this divine, outside source to keep us in check. The Bible warns us about the danger in trusting our feelings. The author of the book of Proverbs twice tells us that there are ways that seem right to a man, but in the end it leads to death (14:12; 16:25). Proverbs 28:26 adds that only fools trust in their heart. As the NIV puts it, “He who trusts in himself is a fool, but he who walks in wisdom is kept safe.” If we are wise, we must reasonably evaluate the facts that are found outside of ourselves. But wait, isn’t that my opinion? It absolutely is. However, I’m not asking anybody to seek a similar feeling that I may have. I am merely echoing what I believe God’s Word is saying with a challenge that those who may not share my view of the Bible will objectively evaluate its claims. The LDS Church does accept the Bible as one of its standard works and for that reason Mormons cannot so easily ignore what it says without exposing their duplicity.

Wisdom and James 1:5

Wisdom is the proper application of knowledge. Because of this, I have a problem with how Joseph Smith used James 1:5. He claimed to be searching for wisdom; however, in doing so he disregarded the knowledge found in the same Bible from which he read James 1:5. If he had used wisdom, he would have known that he couldn’t have possibly seen God and lived to tell about it (Exodus 33:20). If he were wise, he would have disregarded the voices in his head telling him about certain doctrines that definitely contradicted biblical truths.

Mormons often want prospective converts to pray about “feeling” truth, which is why I question Mormon epistemology. The 2004 handbook utilized by the Mormon missionaries confirms my conclusions. According to page 39 in Preach the Gospel, “In answer to our prayers, the Holy Ghost will teach us through our feelings and thoughts…Heavenly Father will answer their prayers, typically through feelings of their hearts and thoughts in their minds.”

During one of many visits I’ve made to Temple Square, a young Mormon missionary asked me, “How do you feel when you are on Temple Square?” I paused, and speaking very deliberately, I said to her, “Quite honestly, I feel grieved.” I am sure that was not the answer she was expecting, but considering the context of our discussion I have no doubt she understood the intent of my answer. Now, if “the Holy Ghost will teach us through our feelings and thoughts,” why didn’t she accept my feelings to be just as valid as her own? We were clearly at a “testimony stalemate.” But yet, we both couldn’t be right. This is why it is important to move from the level of the subjective to the level of reason when speaking to our LDS friends.

See Also

“Though the mediaeval paintings which display Jesus being tempted portray him engaging in argument with a visible figure [Satan], usually with hoofs and horns and a tail, anyone who has experienced fierce temptation will know that the voices we hear seem to come from the very deepest depths of our own being.” (N.T. Wright, The Crown and the Fire: Meditations on the Cross and the Life of the Spirit)