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BYU Devotional: The gift of uncertainty

Amy Tanner, associate professor and undergraduate coordinator for the mathematics education department, delivered Tuesday’s Devotional address in the de Jong Concert Hall.

Tanner spoke about varying levels of knowledge and how a lack of knowledge can help us to grow closer to our Heavenly Father.

She offered five perspectives on knowledge and how it shapes our time on Earth:

1. There are different ways of knowing

In math, Tanner knows that 2 + 3 = 5; it is easily taught and easily proven. She knows the sky is blue based on her own personal experience, but she doesn't know if everyone else sees the same thing when they look up at the sky.

Tanner acknowledged that some knowledge is harder to prove and quantify, such the phrase ”I know I love my parents.”

Knowing and measuring love is harder than knowing the answer to a logical math equation, but the incompleteness found in different types of knowledge motivates us to grow and search for answers in our uncertainty. When we stretch to find the answers and seek truth, our minds and spirits are strengthened.

2. Sometimes we are wrong about what we know

In an anecdote about her 4-year-old daughter, Tanner asked her daughter to stop playing and let the dog inside. Not wanting to stop, Tanner’s daughter told her mom that she knew that the dog was already inside, and she would not stop playing to go get him.

“When we 'know' something, we are likely to hold onto that knowledge as tightly as we can, even when we are mistaken, and we usually don’t realize we are doing this,” Tanner said.

Just as mathematicians have realized through further research and experiences that what they once knew to be true is inaccurate and must be altered, it's important for us to question the knowledge we have, even when it is inconvenient.

Openness to being wrong can bring new truth and humility.

Amy Tanner

3. The "God of Lost Things" does not answer every question

Tanner taught that not knowing the answer is not just an initial step in the process of gaining knowledge. Answers may not come in the way we would like, or at all, and spiritual guidance does not always arrive in the same way.

“In our hunger and thirsting after answers, we can [incorrectly] come to see the entire purpose of the gospel as providing answers and overlook the mystery of God and the importance of questions,” Tanner said.

A desperate prayer can bring God’s love and peace, even without an answer. These answers can reassure us of God’s presence, which can strengthen us in times of trials when answers are harder to see.

4. God can turn our stones to light

In The Book of Mormon account of the Brother of Jared, the Lord requires the Brother of Jared to answer his own question as to how to provide light to dark ships. The Brother of Jared expected an answer and a solution from God, but was instead met with a question: what do you think will work?

Tanner taught that if we provide our own stones and sincerely attempt to answer our own questions, the Lord will light the way.

Knowledge can sometimes stunt personal growth if we rely too much on our own knowledge, but uncertainty can foster growth as we search for answers.

5. God is bigger than we can know, but God knows us

There are many mysteries of God and our knowledge will never be complete; that is why we must have faith.

“It is a beautiful mystery that I can fail to fully comprehend God, but that nevertheless in my own incomprehension I can feel that I have some understanding of God’s infinite love for me, " Tanner said. "When we are able to make space for uncertainty in our lives, and for the possibility of things that lie beyond our comprehension, we can come closer to God.”

NEXT FORUM: Christine Hurt

Christine Hurt, associate dean and professor of law, will deliver the Forum address on Tuesday, July 16, at 11:05 a.m. in the de Jong Concert Hall.

Her remarks will be broadcast live on BYUtv,, KBYU-TV 11, Classical 89 FM, BYUradio.

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