Both study and experience are essential in the school of discipleship. The goal of our earthly life is to progress through the often uncomfortable paths this provides. We are to learn and ponder the doctrines of the gospel through our daily rituals of scripture study and prayer. We learn them through following the Come Follow Me program, ministering messages and attending the temple. All of these actions imprint the doctrine of the gospel into our minds and souls. But it is in the application of these learned doctrines during experiences where our knowledge is truly applied to our hearts. How will God know if we are honest, if we are not placed in a situation where honesty will be required? How will we know if we believe in following the prophet, if we are not stretched by his counsel?
When my husband went through medical school there are different methods of teaching. The first part he was in the classroom, learning from big text books and classroom discussion. But then after the base level of knowledge is learning and tested, they go into the hospitals, under supervision, to see the text book lessons applied in person. Then the next stage is less supervision with more real in person experience. More and more hands on application is applied, all the while learning from the textbooks and classrooms, testing and testing as they get further into their schooling career.
Our lives in discipleship have a similar route – first cognitive learning and then experiential learning. We are first to learn the basics of the doctrine and then we are to live it. Through this process of learning and then living, our deep understanding of who God is and how we can be like Him grows and we are changed.
“The concept of being filled with light and truth became particularly important to me because of an experience I had many years ago. I attended a meeting where members of the Young Women general board taught about creating spiritually strong families and homes. To visually demonstrate this, a Young Women leader held up two soda cans. In one hand she held a can that was empty and in the other hand a can that was unopened and full of soda. First, she squeezed the empty can; it began to bend and then collapsed under the pressure. Next, with her other hand, she squeezed the unopened can. It held firm. It didn’t bend or collapse like the empty can—because it was filled.
“We likened this demonstration to our individual lives and to our homes and families. When filled with the Spirit and with gospel truth, we have the power to withstand the outside forces of the world that surround and push against us. However, if we are not filled spiritually, we don’t have the inner strength to resist the outside pressures and can collapse when forces push against us.”- Cheryl A. Esplin, Second Counselor, Primary General Presidency, “Filling Our Homes with Light and Truth,” April 2015 General Conference
As we understand and know more, we are held to a higher level of accountability. But understanding of gospel principles is not like a light switch that just flips on. Instead it is like the sun rising in the morning, slowly dawning to us where more and more is illuminated.
I believe this spiritual illumination happens over a lifetime. As we experience more and more things our minds are illuminated in bigger and better ways. The illumination comes from both study or cognitive and experience. Both are essential in the tutoring that God has for us. This is the path of discipleship. That is the purpose of mortal life.