Being as it’s Sunday, and I don’t know what else to do with myself, I’m going to muse on the subject of faith.
Many times I’ve wondered why faith is so integral to this life. Wouldn’t it be better if we were equipped with a divine text book? Why would the same being who said that “The Glory of God is intelligence” (D&C 93:36) purposely hide himself and leave us with nothing more credible than the words of self-proclaimed prophets by which to make sense of the universe?
And yet, what if we had started out with a complete instruction manual on life, the universe, and everything? From a scientific point of view, there would have been no need for a Galileo, Newton, or Einstein. Like pampered nobility born into privilege, our imagination, innovation, and realization would have been severely stunted. And then comes this wonderful quote from Thomas S. Monson:
“God left us the world unfinished for man to work his skill upon. He left the electricity in the cloud, the oil in the earth. He left the rivers unbridged and the forests unfelled and the cities unbuilt. God gives to man the challenge of raw materials, not the ease of unfinished things. He leaves the pictures unpainted and the music unsung and the problems unsolved, that man might know the joys and glories of creation.”
So while the full nature of faith as the means by which one can obtain the full blessings of God still remains something of a mystery to me, I see enough wisdom in the principle that, for now, I’m more than willing to … take it on faith.
And in pondering this still mysterious principle of faith in the divine, namely Jesus Christ, I’ve felt a need for a better definition of what, exactly, this concept means. Fist I’ll tell you what I think it’s not: I don’t think it’s a state of mind, nor do I think it’s pretending to believe in something one truly doesn’t. I think it’s more like the following analogy:
Say you have a brilliant epiphany on the subject of astrophysics. You realize that you’ve pieced together the complete theory of everything, and you’re dying to tell others about. But the problem is, hardly anyone will have any clue what you’re talking about, because not only have they not qualified themselves to understand, they’re probably not even interested. Tragedy. In the same way, I feel that Jesus Christ has obtained the true doctrine of everything, and he’s dying to tell us about it. But once again, most of us are either unqualified or uninterested. We simply wouldn’t know what to do with such pearls of great price.
I think his “elect” are those who exert themselves enough to both wrap their minds around the knowledge he’s given and follow the path he’s set. That is, faith is “getting it.” Because when we get it, we do it. Faith is not getting everything, because perfect knowledge would no longer be faith. It’s just getting enough. The crucial knowledge is there, and boy is it ever. The limiting factor is not the information itself but our willingness to internalize it and act upon it. Again, I think faith is an applied combination of knowledge and action.
And here’s where the miracles factor in: for those few who put themselves on the path of faith, God is going to help them, because he’s dying to have someone else experience what he has and know what he does. He has a vested interest their success. And yet, as much as this may torment him, he can’t just give us this knowledge in a text book, because it would inevitably go to waste. It appears that this world of mystery, where each of us must figure out for ourselves who we are and why we’re here, is the only way that a proper inquisitiveness — a kind that leads to godliness — could be instilled within us. But as mysteries are unfolded, we begin to perceive the true universe. Higher laws act upon lower laws, and “miracles” occur.
In the Book of Mormon, it’s Laman and Lemuel who most needed faith, though they never understood why. They didn’t get it, because they didn’t want to get it. Such would require too much effort. Their youngest brother, Nephi, however, did get it. He saw that faith wasn’t just for malignant sinners or the down and out. Far from a silly belief system for blubbering ladies in fast-and-testimony meetings, faith is power for the righteous, those who don’t fall back on religion as a crutch but hold onto it as a ladder to perfection. It is the light, knowledge, and hope of the redeeming gospel that empowered Nephi to complete dangerous missions, obtain profound visions, prophesy of the future, engineer brilliant things, cross uncrossable seas, sculpt beautiful edifices, lead nations, and leave legacies for his posterity. Could a foundation of doubt have led to such amzing accomplishments? What interests me about faith is not just the power that helps the lost get found but the power that helps those who have already found themselves become gods.
Last night I attended the priesthood session of the General Conference for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. For an hour and a half I sat on a hard chair, surrounded by men and boys in white shirts and ties while we listened to old men call us to repentance. Such an image may stir less than exciting feelings into my readers. In fact, it may be the antithesis of what’s deemed as a “cool” activity for a Saturday night. And yet, over the course of this conference, I found the messages so stimulating that I took over 5,000 words of notes. While there are many things I don’t understand, I believe I can say with confidence that I “get” this gospel. The doctrine is wonderful. The advice is good. The examples are phenomenal. And most importantly, the fruit is sweeter than anything else I’ve ever tasted. I don’t have a perfect knowledge and nor will I ever in this life. It seems that that is the point of this life. And yet, when it comes to the fundamentals, I get it. I understand the basic tenets of Jesus Christ’s doctrine of everything, and I want to learn more. I want to experience the course he’s laid out for me, because I know, from experience, that it leads to joy and intelligence.
What struck me last night was how much we’re missing when, like Laman and Lemuel, we choose not to “get it.” In a world where agnosticism is viewed as a trait of the enlightened, we often say, “Unless I can know for certain, I will not act.” But this logical construct we build up in our minds can never be satisfied, for, as it appears, the full truth will not be made known to us in mortality (at least not at this time), which, once again, appears to be the point. We’re forced to choose between moving forward in faith and spinning in circles of doubt. Afraid of falling into the traps of wishful thinking or delusion, we choose not to “get it.” We opt out of experimenting with Jesus Christ’s doctrine of everything by studying scriptures, praying, meditating, fellowshipping, and trying out the works of Jesus Christ for ourselves, because we’re certain that we already know what the results will be. And yet this is not scientific. If we really wanted to know, we would have to try to prove ourselves wrong.
“And now I, Nephi, cannot say more; the Spirit stoppeth mine utterance, and I am left to mourn because of the unbelief, and the wickedness, and the ignorance, and the stiffneckedness of men; for they will not search knowledge, nor understand great knowledge, when it is given unto them in plainness, even as plain as word can be” (2 Nephi 32:7).
It’s been argued that doubt is a better instrument for the pursuit of truth than faith. While this may be true in a laboratory, and while a healthy skepticism can always help cut through deception, doubt alone can easily turn into an roadblock to action where action is required. It may lead to the distorted view that what we don’t know should take precedence over what we do know. It may close the mind, heart, and will from seeking to understand Jesus Christ’s good news, simply because, from a distance, such good news may seem fantastic. But before we doubt our faith, perhaps we should also try doubting our doubts.
Last night the wise speakers pleaded with our generation of men to start looking past our own noses, to truly be there for their wives, children, and neighbors. It was if they said, “You don’t have time to doubt your place in this great work of salvation, because if you can’t even get past helping yourself, how on earth are you going to fulfill your callings to help others? You already know it’s true, so stop falling on your doubts as an excuse to withhold action. In so doing you are damning your potential and destroying your family, your society, and your posterity.”
And that’s what I think it really comes down to: the question of “to act or not to act.” Perhaps forcing us to make this decision is the true purpose behind this great simulation called earth. The great deception is to equate faith with mere belief, a state of mind, wishful thinking, or even delusion, while the great truth is that faith is one and the same with action. I do not believe there is an alternative to this choice between faith and action and doubt and inaction. This is not to imply that no one can live a good and meaningful life while simultaneously rejecting the Gospel of Jesus Christ, but is my belief that there is nothing better out there than Jesus Christ’s doctrine of everything, nothing so empowering, nothing so good for the individual soul and the entire human family.
My personal resolve is, as I’ve suggested, to place my knowledge over my doubts, and to exercise more faith through more action. I can honestly say that the more I’ve exerted my faith, studied my course material, and followed the footsteps of my Savior, the more real, profound, and literally true his doctrine of everything has seemed, and the more enlightened and happy I’ve felt. Inversely, the more lax I’ve become, and the more I’ve distanced myself, the more it all seems like wishful thinking, and the more confused and dark I feel. While it could be argued that such confusion is inevitable while deconstructing a false foundation, I don’t buy it. Real truth warms, enlivens, and inspires like the rising sun. And once you’ve experienced it, you know it. When you’ve comprehended even the smallest portion of Jesus Christ’s doctrine of everything, you see that no other explanation comes close.