Joseph Smith once said "by proving contraries, truth is made manifest." He spoke in the context of addressing spiritual concerns, although I think the concept applies outside the realm of religion, as well. We occasionally come upon pieces of doctrine (or, perhaps, scientific or sociological evidence) that seem to conflict, either with each other or with our own understanding. As we work through the sometimes long and arduous process of resolving those conflicts, we reach insights about the world around us and, more importantly, about ourselves. Eventually, if we stay with the process to completion, we break out into wonderful vistas of truth. The view is spectacular, but there is no shortcut. Without the climb that preceded it, the mountaintop experience would lack power.
When not grappling with issues of eternal import, I often exercise. (Actually, come to think of it, philosophy and exercise complement each other nicely, but that's a topic for another time.) I set goals for myself to decrease my minutes per mile or increase the weight I push. Anyone dedicated to exercise recognizes the necessity of goals. However, the health benefit does not come when we reach our goal. That 6-minute mile or 400-pound bench press (my husband's goal, not mine) is relatively immaterial, except insofar as it motivates us forward. But the process leading up to that milestone yields incredible health benefits.
I stop short of putting eternal or scientific truth in the same category as an exercise goal. Truth in and of itself ennobles us as individuals and as a society. However, the process of arriving at the truth can prove equally life-changing. A genuine desire for truth, combined with a commitment to stick with the process to its completion, no matter what obstacles arise, builds us brick upon brick.
Eighteen years ago, I found myself unexpectedly in love. I was a young widow, blessed not only with a second chance but also with the assurance (rare, I think) that marrying Brad was the right choice for me. Still, as a lifelong follower of a religion that holds eternal marriage as a central belief, I now faced a dilemma both doctrinal and extremely personal. I had married once in the faith already, a marriage decreed eternal. I now prepared to marry for a second time. I had several options, each with its own degree of pain and each carrying the necessity of faith.
I weighed the options, studied them out. I fasted, prayed, knelt at the gates of heaven and pleaded for understanding. I talked with Brad, with my ecclesiastical leaders. Over a period of months, I gained the understanding I needed. I made my choice and felt peace.
God could have given me the answer at the beginning. Ironically, in fact, He did just that, but having not yet wrestled with the question I was not at that point ready to accept the answer. During the ensuing months of studying and pondering I learned much about eternity, about the blessings God rains down upon His children, and about my own relationship with my Heavenly Father. Brad and I grew closer together, strengthened through the struggle.
I will always love the "aha" moments, the view from the mountaintop. But I treasure the lessons of the climb, lessons paid for with sweat and aching muscles and toes stubbed from stumbling along in the dark.