In one of the most famous verses in the Book of Mormon, Nephi declares, “I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded, for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them…” (1 Nephi 3:7, emphasis added).
Notice how in this verse, knowing drives the doing. Nephi says, “I will go and do…” Why? Because he knows. Sometimes, knowing drives the doing.
But it doesn’t always work this way. When Nephi snuck back to Jerusalem for a third attempt to get the brass plates he said, “I was led by the Spirit, not knowing beforehand the things which I should do. Nevertheless I went forth” (1 Nephi 4:6–7, emphasis added). In this case, Nephi did even though he didn’t know. Because he did, he came to know.
Later in chapter 4, we again see that knowing can lead to doing. When Nephi found Laban unconscious, the Spirit prompted Nephi to kill Laban. Nephi was horrified at the thought, and yet he said, “I knew that the law was engraven upon the plates of brass. And again, I knew that the Lord had delivered Laban into my hands for this cause—that I might obtain the records...Therefore I did obey the voice of the Spirit” (1 Nephi 4:16–18, emphasis added). In this case, the doing drove the knowing.
Sometimes knowing leads to doing, and other times doing leads to knowing.
My Favorite Example of “Do-Know”
My favorite example of the “Do-Know” pattern in 1 Nephi comes from the faith of Sariah. Imagine how she felt. Her sons had been gone, likely for more than a month, and she was deeply concerned about them. When they returned, she said, “Now I know of a surety that the Lord hath commanded my husband to flee into the wilderness” (1 Nephi 5:8).
It’s been several weeks since Sariah left Jerusalem, and only at this point does she say, “Now I know.” In other words, when she left Jerusalem, she did not know. She exercised faith, she acted, and then she knew.
These “know-do” and “do-know” patterns appear throughout scripture, and in my reading of scripture, it’s quite frequent that the doing drives the knowing.
Adam and Eve sacrificed for many days before they knew why it was important. Noah built an ark prior to knowing it would rain and Moses led the children out of Egypt before he knew God would part the Red Sea. Naaman washed in the River Jordan before he became clean, just as ten lepers were cleansed “as they went” (Luke 17:14). Moroni’s famous promise at the end of the Book of Mormon is an invitation to do so that we will know (see Moroni 10:3–5).
Why “Do-Know” Matters as We Read the Book of Mormon
This reciprocal cycle of doing and then knowing is applicable in our lives. All of us will face important moments when we have a big decision to make and don’t know what to do. How can I move forward if I don’t know what the right thing is?
Elder Richard G. Scott explained:
“When [God] withholds an answer, it is to have us grow through faith in Him, obedience to His commandments, and a willingness to act on truth. We are expected to assume accountability by acting on a decision that is consistent with His teachings without prior confirmation...We are to act. Most often what we have chosen to do is right. He will confirm the correctness of our choices His way. That confirmation generally comes through packets of help found along the way. …If, in trust, we begin to do something which is not right, He will let us know before we have gone too far. We sense that help by recognizing troubled or uneasy feelings.”
Sometimes we pray to know what to do. Other times we need to pray for the strength to go and do, and God will give additional revelation while we are on the move. As we do, we will come to better know.
This principle is important for us as we seriously study the Book of Mormon. Consider this question: True or False: Joseph Smith taught that we would get nearer to God by studying the Book of Mormon than by any other book.
A lot of people answer “true,” but this is a trick question. Joseph Smith actually taught that we would get nearer to God by abiding by the precepts of the Book of Mormon than by any other book. It’s not just knowing what the Book of Mormon says, it’s doing what it teaches that makes a difference in our lives.
As we’re studying the Book of Mormon, we can frequently ask ourselves, “What can I do in my life that will help me act on what I’m learning?” As we do our knowledge and testimony will deepen.
Why Do-Know Matters to Parents and Leaders
This do-know principle is also important for us as teachers, leaders, parents, and ministering brothers and sisters. Think about it—a child who grows up in the church will spend thousands of hours listening to lessons; ostensibly the point of these learning opportunities is to increase knowledge, which hopefully will in turn later increase action.
However, in many instances, we need to reframe our focus on teaching and learning, because often it is acting that leads to knowledge and not the other way around. Teachers and parents must find ways to help their students and children act.
“We put way too much importance on what we say. We think that by telling people things that somehow that will connect and get inside. My observation is that the role of a parent [teacher] talking and telling, it extends beyond that to inviting a child [student] to act in accordance with truth. And only when the child [student] acts in accordance with the truth that has been explained or taught can the child [student] come to know for himself or herself the truthfulness of what they have heard and what they are doing…It’s only when in that process of communicating, loving, and working with a child [student] you help them act in accordance with truth that they get it for themselves. It moves from their head to their heart.”
This year, as we study and teach from the Book of Mormon, let us keep front and center the importance of acting on what we learn, and helping others do the same. As we learn in Doctrine and Covenants 84:57, Church members need to “remember … the Book of Mormon … not only to say but to do according to that which I have written.”
As we face challenging circumstances, we can choose to be like Sariah, moving forward with faith in Jesus Christ, even in the midst of uncertainty. As we follow her example, we will one day be able to say with her, “Now I know.”