My father once knew a woman in his youth who predicted that man would never reach the moon.Years later, now in his early twenties, he again visited with his neighbor and asked her, “Isn’t it wonderful that man was able to walk on the moon? I guess you were wrong.” She responded, “Michael, don’t you know that those television people can make anything look real? Man will never land on the moon. If God wanted man on the moon, he would have put him there.” He went away sadly, for there was no way to convince her that such a wonderful thing had actually happened.
Aren’t we often the same way--so sure of our understanding that we fail to recognize our own blindness?
In the Tuesday afternoon session of the 1971 LDS General Conference, William H. Bennet of the First Quorum of the Seventy gave a talk entitled, Help Needed in the Shaded Areas. In his talk, he told of a test he was required to take during his service in the army during World War II, named the Ishihara eye test. This test uses different colors, designs and numbers to diagnose color blindness. With certain kinds of color blindness, one is able to distinguish the solid colors, but will have difficulty with the shaded areas between the solid colors. In this test he found an important message that applies to us in general:
“Those who are color blind do not discern correctly; and, no matter how hard they try, they are not able to distinguish the differences in hue that are obvious to the normal eye.”
“…As we journey along through life we, as individuals, come in contact with many shaded areas, twilight zones, and even dark alleys, where we, unless aided by a higher power, are not able to see clearly, to interpret correctly, and to come to sound conclusions. Some of these shaded areas are found in the physical world, some in the intellectual world, and some in the realm of the spiritual. Let us remember, however, that the Lord has said that all things unto him are spiritual.”
As physical beings, we are limited both by our physical boundaries and our knowledge. Some of us may pursue knowledge, education and understanding for the whole of our lives, yet we will still have only a limited portion of the total amount of possible human understanding and learning.
Some may have more physical boundaries than others, but we are all limited to our own sphere of understanding. We cannot see above it or past it, because we cannot comprehend anything outside of our own realm.
An excellent example of this problem is found in the the book Flatland, by Edwin A. Abbott. Originally published in 1884, when Einstein was a child and the idea of space-time lay far in the future, Abbott wrote the story as an autobiography or epistle by a Square in the land of Flatland, which is a land of only two dimensions. He begins his tale with a description of the nature of his two-dimensional world and its inhabitants, which are Lines, Triangles, Squares, Pentagons, Hexagons, Polygonals and Circles. Though these different shapes exist in their universe, their vision is always limited to points and lines, as their world is two-dimensional. There is no such thing as a ‘visible angle.’ All angles and shapes can only be felt or inferred. There is no conception of height, or above and below, unless it is in the same way it would be portrayed on a map.
The Square from Flatland has a dream in which he visits Lineland, where he speaks to the king. All inhabitants of Lineland live in one straight line, moving only forward or backward, never able to see past the point in front of them, or move sideways, which is something that they cannot even conceive of. Their vision is limited to the backside of the line that is in front of them, which is just a point. All measurement, communication and relationships are realized through sound, and never include any kind of physical contact. The Square tries to explain to the king how his vision and the 2nd dimension enables him to see the king’s side, which the king would only call his inside as he cannot conceive of sides. Square even tries to demonstrate his shape and the concept of two dimensions to the king, but the king can only ever see the Square’s sides as a point as they pass in front of him, which mysteriously disappears when the Square moves out of his vision/dimension. Frustrated, the Square leaves in a huff, waking up.
The Square is then visited by a Sphere from a third dimension, called Spaceland, and is suddenly put into the same position as the king of Lineland. No matter how much the Sphere tries to demonstrate the third dimension by moving in and out of the Square’s vision/dimension, or through a description of seeing his insides from above, there is no way to make the Square understand, and he becomes angry and violent at the tricks being played on him, until he is suddenly removed from his two-dimensional world and pulled into the three-dimensional world, where he can actually see an angle! Suddenly, he is able to begin to comprehend and understand what before seemed to him like lies, tricks and traps. Though he still has trouble understanding all that he sees, he now believes, for three dimensions is now visible to him, and he can see what he once called his insides.
Once the Square is back in Flatland, he is sure that he will be able to make others understand what he has seen and convert them to the Gospel of the Three Dimensions. Unfortunately, he meets with the very same problem that the sphere had in trying to explain or demonstrate to him the concept of a third dimension in a two-dimensional world. Just as he could clearly comprehend Lineland but they could not comprehend two dimensions, so it was that those who had experienced the third dimension could comprehend two dimensions, but not vice versa. There was no vocabulary for, no physical proof of, and no good reason to believe in a mystical, incomprehensible third dimension.
How very similar it is for us, who cannot see outside of our own comprehension, to have trouble understanding all the purposes of a God who can see above us--see our “insides,” and the insides of all mankind and the world.
Yet, like the Flatlanders, we are not left wholly in ignorance of any other “dimension.” And we are given a much more powerful vehicle for understanding than just a floundering description of another existence. As Elder Bennet said in his talk:
“The Lord has told us in the Book of Mormon, in Moroni, the tenth chapter and the fifth verse, that by the power of the Holy Ghost we may know the truth of all things. [Moroni 10:5] What a wonderful promise that is; and it can be realized by all of us who are members of the Church, because during our confirmation, following baptism, hands were laid on our heads, and one having authority gave us the gift of the Holy Ghost. If we will just live the way we should and do our part, we can experience what a great strength and blessing the Holy Ghost can be in our lives. It can broaden and extend our horizons and can turn the lights on for us so that we can see more clearly in the shaded areas of life and, in fact, in all areas of our living.”
The Holy Ghost can help us to see more clearly, and comprehend the incomprehensible. But in order to have this happen, we must be willing to see. We must be humble enough to accept that we have a limited mortal understanding of this mortal part of life, and we must exercise faith in God and the teachings and revelations He has given to us as a guide through this life.
“Yea, he that repenteth and exerciseth faith, and bringeth forth good works, and prayeth continually without ceasing—unto such it is given to know the mysteries of God; yea, unto such it shall be given to reveal things which never have been revealed. …” [Alma 26:22]
“Draw near unto me and I will draw near unto you; seek me diligently and ye shall find me; ask, and ye shall receive; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.” [D&C 88:63]
Let us have the eyes to see, the ears to hear, and the hearts willing to accept the words of God, as restored and revealed by modern-day prophets through His spirit. I testify that His words are true, that His prophets are inspired, and that we are able to gain a confirmation of these things for ourselves, through the witness of the Holy Ghost. This is my testimony, in the name of Christ, Amen.
For more posts about the Tuesday afternoon session of the 1971 General Conference, please read these blog posts:
A Really Round and Hairy Look at Honesty by J. Max Wilson
Liminality in Shaded Areas by Silver Rain
Unborrowed Light by Silver Rain
He Lives and There Were Gold Plates by Michael Worley
A People Blessed by Revelation by Ralph Hancock
The Shaded Areas of Our Testimony by Daniel Ortner
The Path Out of Shadows by Nathaniel Givens
Eyes to See by Michelle Linford
A Pattern of Life by G.
You Have Entered the Twilight Zone by Walker Wright