Doctrine: Intelligence is the actual action taken and application made based on truths we know. God is God because He has learned to acquire truth, knowledge, and skills and to act on them perfectly—forever. Free will/agency is dependent on our ability to act on truth despite how we feel. Faith is acting on the truth we know even when we don’t feel like it. There is no weakness, or stupidity, that can’t be overcome—through grace—by intelligent action.
I know a lot of good people. In fact, most of the people I know or am acquainted with are good people. I also find that people in general are good (if we take each person or communities as a whole). And yet, it seems that each of us is still prone to short, frequent, or long-term bouts of a total “lack of intelligence” (i.e. stupidity). I use these terms not in the sarcastic or demeaning sense, but in their literal denotation.
Intelligence: the ability to acquire and apply knowledge and skills.
Knowledge: facts, information, and skills acquired by a person through experience or education; theoretical or practical understanding; awareness or familiarity with a fact, or information.
Stupidity: lack of intelligence; behavior that shows lack of good judgment.
David A. Bednar (2011) says in his book, Increase in Learning: “Intelligence is the righteous application of knowledge and understanding in action and judgment” (p. 70).
Note, intelligence isn’t knowledge. Intelligence isn’t skills. Intelligence is the ability to acquire and apply knowledge and skills. The key difference between knowledge and intelligence is that knowledge is the acquired information and skills, but intelligence is the willingness or capability to act on and apply such knowledge/skills.
So, when I say that all people suffer from bouts of stupidity, what I mean is:
- They have certain knowledge and skills to act on truth but they do not act on them
- They have the ability to acquire knowledge and skills but they do not use that ability to get such knowledge or skills…keeping them from acting on things they know to be true.
- They have the knowledge and skills to act on truth but are unwilling to sacrifice what they want (or think they want) now in order to act on what they believe, suspect, or know to be ultimately true.
Now, as we discuss intelligence, we’re talking about more than common sense.
In Abraham 3:19 we read:
And the Lord said unto me (Abraham): These two facts do exist, that there are two spirits, one being more intelligent than the other; there shall be another more intelligent than they; I am the Lord thy God, I am more intelligent than they all.
This statement is not a statement of superiority. What God is saying to Abraham here is basically this: “I have more knowledge and skills than any other spirit being in the universe, and I perfectly apply that knowledge and those skills eternally.”
God is God because He has learned to acquire truth, knowledge, and skills and to act on them perfectly—forever.
So, I know that losing my temper doesn’t ever solve the struggles I have. But, knowing that is not the same as applying it. It is difficult to not lose one’s temper, especially in certain situations.
In fact, each and every day, each of us submits to frequent, temporary bouts of stupidity (i.e. lack of intelligence). Or, we continue to nurture long-term stupidity. Stupidity happens every time we know a truth and do not act on it or apply it. How recently we’ve acquired the truth determines if it is a short-term or long-term spell of stupidity.
For most of us the most common type of stupidity is long-term. We may know a truth but we are unwilling to work to acquire the skills needed to act on or apply the truth; or we are unwilling to sacrifice immediate, selfish wants for the unknown but believed future promised by a truth. Acquiring these skills, or sacrificing current wants, takes extra work and so we are lazy with the knowledge of truth we have. Anytime we know better and yet still choose to act against what we know to be true, we are exhibiting a clear lack of intelligence. The smarter we are and the more capable we are of gaining knowledge of truth, the more stark and inexcusable our stupidity becomes.
Now, the premier argument against stupidity is that emotional, spiritual, and psychological factors get in the way. Environmental factors can also make good justifications. And, I would agree. However, we have been counseled by prophets, motivational speakers of all kinds, psychologists, and wise associates (including family, friends, and random people posting quotes all over social media) that we have the power to 1) use our agency to make changes to our environments, and to 2) use our agency to act in a certain way despite what we feel.
So, yes, mortal factors make acting intelligently difficult. Sometimes it even requires heroic efforts. But, the reality is that we have been created by God with the capability to act and not be acted upon (2 Nephi 2:14, 25-26). Therefore, it’s possible to act intelligently even if it seems impossible. That changes everything.
My mother, a very wise woman, once said to me: “Faith is doing what’s right even when you don’t feel like it.” That phrase has had eternal impact upon me. It is exactly what this blog is about. If we have faith in God and in the truths (and promised blessings) He has established, then we act upon those truths even when we don’t feel like it.
We love our enemies (whom we obviously are not naturally inclined to love and serve) even if we don’t feel loved by them in return. We turn the other cheek even though our natural inclination is to retaliate or be vengeful. We forgive seventy-times-seven as long as someone continues to repent and try, though our natural inclination is to hold a grudge and maintain a sense of anger. We break up an unhealthy or ultimately unfruitful relationship if it isn’t leading us to honor the truths we know and the blessings we desire. We pay our tithes and offerings even though we don’t feel like we can afford it or that our tiny sum will make a difference.
Now, before anyone tries to convict me of saying that in order to act intelligently we aren’t allowed to feel at all, then I remind you of what I have said up to this point. I have said nothing about not being allowed to feel a certain way. I have only presented the fact that we are capable of acting differently than how we feel.
Feelings are always valid and necessary. They are evidence that everything we say and do matters, good or bad (which is necessary to the existence of free will/agency). If something hurts or angers us, then it hurts and angers us. If someone is nice to us and it makes us feel good, then we naturally feel good. However, whether our perception of a situation is what brings upon us certain feelings, or the actual intent of another person is to hurt or anger us, or make us feel nice, doesn’t matter. We are meant to feel, we are allowed to feel, and our feelings are understandable and expected. Yet, our feelings, no matter how real, never justify not acting on the truth we know. Wrongs don’t change into rights just because we “feel” one way or the other. This is something a lot of people have trouble understanding.
How often do you smile and converse when you are out in public even though inside you just want to get away and go home? You feel one way, you act another. The changing variable is your concern about other people’s feelings. In this case, it is their feelings that create your ability to act despite what you feel.
Obviously, this is a good thing; to be kind to others even when we don’t feel like it. But, more often we don’t act because we don’t feel anything at all. We don’t love because we don’t feel loved. We don’t serve because our mental, emotional, spiritual, and psychological reserves are low because others haven’t served us. We don’t communicate because others don’t communicate with us. We don’t forgive or apologize because others haven’t forgiven or apologized to us. Holding back our own intelligent action while we wait on the intelligent action of others is…stupid.
I could present a million different examples. The reality is that we don’t have to feel a certain way in order to act on truth. Does it make it easier to feel motivated? Certainly. When I’m feeling humble because of my own failings it makes it much easier for me to give others slack for theirs. When I’m feeling loved it is much easier for me to give love to others—even enemies. But, when I’m not “feeling” a certain way, it is a thousand times more difficult for me to act intelligently.
Why would God send us out of His presence and allow us to be born into mortality with not even a hint of a memory of our life with Him? Well, because those memories and feelings would make it difficult for us—likely impossible—to act with free will, especially not to the extent necessary to choose the path to and to train for godhood. We would be compelled to choose a certain way based on the feelings we had in relation to those memories. Consider, the small amount of God’s love we feel during this short, mortal existence is so powerful it changes us almost instantly. Communication from the Holy Ghost is so potent and powerful that we cannot truly deny it. How then, if we could see God, feel His presence, and remember our spiritual lives with Him, could our agency not be nearly overpowered by such influence? So, yes feelings are very powerful.
However, acting intelligently on our journey to godhood requires that we have the power to act of our own free will. We cannot become like God if we always have to be acted upon (or be made to feel a certain way) to do what’s right. We cannot always feel a certain way before we will do what is right. If God only acted perfect when He felt perfect, or if He only blessed us when we loved Him, where then would we and His plan of salvation be?
If I’m not feeling the same feeling that I felt during a particularly excellent church service, it makes it more difficult to act on the truths the Holy Spirit taught me during that service. The spiritual feeling has passed. The knowledge received remains. But, without the feeling I become stupid. I somehow think I have to feel charitable to act charitable. I somehow think I have to feel repentant to go and repent. I somehow think I have to feel forgiveness before I can begin to forgive.
But, consider this requirement we place upon ourselves to feel before acting in regard to our faith in Christ. Faith is acting on what we believe and know, not on what we feel in the moment. Faith, scripturally, is acting on things we know, or hope, to be true that are currently unseen to us (Alma 32:21).
If we always waited to “feel” a certain way (whether physically healthy, spiritually uplifted, or emotionally inclined) before we acted on the truth attached to those feelings, we would be of all beings the most weak. It is our ability to act despite our feelings that makes us inherently powerful—with the potential for godhood.
Military professionals, medical personnel, parents, etc. There are any number of groups of people who “train themselves” (or in other words, acquire skills and knowledge) so that when times of crises come, they know how to act despite how they feel. Doctors train some of their sensitivities so that they might be immune to medically traumatic scenes or individual physical appearance. Nurses and paramedics train to gain the skills necessary to handle situations that would send most people into psychological and emotional shock. In those moments, they let their training take control—not their feelings, or lack of feelings.
In Ether 12:27 we read:
And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.
Again, I acknowledge the fact that the cliché “easier said than done,” applies here. It takes consistent and often heroic effort to act differently than we feel. And, depending on our differing and unique personal situations, often it seems as though we can justify not acting on what we know based on circumstantial variables. But again, when it comes to our weaknesses, an important truth remains…
The Holy Ghost is the Great Sanctifier. As we act—especially if it is against our feelings and natural man inclination—the Holy Ghost can take that willing action(s) and use it to make deep and permanent changes in us, over time. But, if we do not act, despite our feelings, then He cannot create changes is us against our will. If He could, agency would not exist.
Grace is not free, meaning we cannot be made into a godly creature against our will and daily actions. But, Grace is offered freely IF we act to make use of it. For example: what good is a blacksmith’s fire on a metal rod if he does strike the metal rod with a hammer, or bend it with a bending fork after it has been heated up? So, likewise, is the fire of grace useless to us if we take no action to change or bend under the heat it has given us.
Sometimes we congratulate ourselves that our intelligence is greater than others simply because we hide our stupidity better, or because we have longer durations between bouts. But the reality is that comparing ourselves to others is another act/bout of stupidity. We can always justify our stupidity in comparison to others. But, this will not help us become more intelligent. We have to own our bouts of stupidity. The only comparison we can truthfully make is between ourselves and God; against whom we all fall short. That is the only way to see our stupidity clearly and find the motivation to acquire the knowledge and skills we need to act intelligently—if we desire to be like Him.
Think of one truth, right now, that you know you don’t act on at all, or at least not consistently, frequently, or successfully. Now answer these questions:
- What usually keeps you from acting intelligently? Is it laziness? It is a feeling? Is it a lack of skills?
- If it is a feeling, or lack of feeling, take the time to write down the details of how that feeling (or lack of feeling) impacts your mental logic.
- If it is a skill set, take the time to research and write down the steps necessary to get those skills.
There is no weakness, or stupidity, that can’t be overcome—through grace—by intelligent action. But, it takes humility to own your stupidity. It takes wisdom to not be afraid of your struggles, or the hammering and bending necessary to overcome them. It takes courage to work to get the skills you need to act on the knowledge of truth that you have—to make weaknesses become strengths; to turn knowledge into intelligence.