For some time I believed that spiritual knowing lacked the certainty that we attribute to empirical knowing. I mean, most people would agree that seeing something is more certain than spiritually ‘feeling’ something. After re-evaluating this position and the evidence, I think it is false.
I have come to the conclusion that there is just as much certainty in spiritual experience as there is in empirical experience. Consider times when the spirit bears powerful testimony of the Book of Mormon, when the Lord directly answers heartfelt prayers, and when the power of God is felt through priesthood blessings. We can know that those experiences are real. For many they are just as real as reading this post on a computer screen. I have experienced this sort of thing myself. I have had spiritual experiences where I know something supernatural happened.
Alma commented on the certainty of spiritual experiences in his address to the Amalekites. Regarding the experiment of planting a seed of faith (Alma 32), he wrote that when we plant a seed of faith, it will swell, sprout, and begin to grow. This swelling, sprouting, and growing refer to the spirit working in our lives. Planting a seed of faith causes us to feel the spirit more strongly, to see that it is good.
Can we be certain that something good is happening to us? Alma’s answer is “Yea.” He wrote that “ye must needs know that the seed is good.” Herein lies the certainty. “Your knowledge is perfect in that thing . . . for ye know that the word hath swelled your souls, and ye also know that it hath sprouted up, that your understanding doth begin to be enlightened, and your mind doth begin to expand.” In other words, we know that the spiritual experiences are real. We know that something good and supernatural has happened to us.
But wait a minute; I thought faith was not having a perfect knowledge. Where does the uncertainty come into play? Alma explains it this way: “and now behold, after ye have tasted this light is your knowledge perfect? Nay.” He is saying that while we are certain of having had spiritual experiences, we still lack perfect knowledge of God and the power of the priesthood and prayer. There is so much more for us to learn. The more we exercise faith in the Lord, the more knowledge we will receive. We can continue to acquire knowledge through faith until we reach the point where, like the Brother of Jared, we receive a perfect knowledge of the Lord.
Our certain spiritual experiences are what allow us to rationally declare “I know God lives”, “I know the priesthood power is real”, and “I know the Book of Mormon is true.” Although we lack a perfect knowledge of these things, the experiences which led to our testimony of these things are as real as the chair you are sitting on. As Alma pointed out, these experiences are clearly “discernible.”