Gaining Faith: Openness and Action

In Helaman chapter 9 we read the story about the 5 men who were sent to confirm Nephi’s prophecy about the chief judge being murdered. From their experience we can learn a little about how faith works.

In verse 2 they speak to each other as they are running to the judgement seat, saying “we do not believe that he (Nephi) hath [prophesied]; yea, we do not believe that he is a prophet…” So they started out with unbelief. Yet in verse 5, they behold the chief judge, murdered, according to Nephi’s prophecy, and “when they saw, they believed.”

We usually talk about how miracles do not produce faith, but merely confirm it. How, then, do they gain faith from seeing? There is a different principle at work here. Actually, two.

Back in verse 2 we read them talking to themselves about how they don’t believe Nephi, but then they say “nevertheless, if this thing which he has said concerning the chief judge be true, that he be dead, then will we believe that the other words which he has spoken are true.” We see here that they were willing to believe Nephi. They hadn’t already decided to disbelieve him. Sometimes, when we hear something new, we choose immediately what we’re going to think about it, and we’re never open to it. These five men were.

Sometimes it takes us a little while to be open to the idea. This relates to Alma’s teaching about having even a desire to believe and letting that desire “work in you, even until ye believe in a manner that ye can give place for a portion of my words” (Alma 32:27). Sometimes, we have to create room in our hearts in order to believe. We have to be open to that idea.  This opennness is the first principle.

But being open to Nephi’s teachings wasn’t all that these 5 men did.  They acted.  They ran to go and check.  Even as they were on their way they were talking about how they didn’t believe, so obviously believing is not a prerequisite to acting on that belief.  And we can act while we still have doubts.   They were willing to try it out.  John 7:17 says “If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.”  In other words: not sure if something is true?  Try it out!  The proof is in the pudding and the truth is in the doing.  There’s nothing wrong with trying something while being unsure whether or not it will work.  But remember that you’ve got to be willing to believe that it’s true while you check.  Don’t be closed off to the idea completely, going through the motions of trying it out without believing in the possibility of it being true.  You have to be willing to accept the signs that this is true (more about these signs, the fruits of the spirit [see Galatians 5:22] in future post).

Which brings us back to Alma’s analogy of the seed in Alma 32.  We’ve got to be willing to give place for the seed to grow.  Now, the seed isn’t faith, faith is what you’re doing when you decide to plant the seed (the word, the possible truth) while not completely sure if it is true or not.  Sure, you can have your doubts, but you act anyways.  You give place to the seed, and, more than that, you heed Alma’s warning about not casting it out due to unbelief.  Be willing to nurture that seed – it needs help to grow just as your idea of truth needs help to grow.  Read the scriptures, pray about it.  Remember, though that spiritual things are “spiritually discerned” (see 1 Corinthians 2:14), meaning that if we want to know the truth, we need to grow in spiritual truth, not just through a study of facts.  God speaks through His Spirit, giving the fruits of that Spirit to testify of Truth.  These fruits of the Spirit can then bring us great joy and peace throughout our lives as we live by the true principles that we are learning.

What, then, is the fruit of faith?  Well, for one, repentance, for as we believe truth we will change our lives accordingly.  But the 5 men who were open to and acted to check Nephi’s prophecy were blessed with another thing before they repented.  In Helaman 9 verse 18, we read that these 5 men defended Nephi against all of the judges who condemned him.  In fact, “they did contend with them one by one, insomuch that they did confound them.”  Now, these judges must have been some pretty learned men, but these 5 were able to confound them because they were blessed with understanding from the Spirit.  They understood clearly the principles at hand only after they were open and acted to gain faith.  This principle is also found in the story of the children of the people of King Benjamin.  Those too young to understand his speech, or who were born after it was given began to fall away from the faith and “because of their unbelief they could not understand the word of God; and their hearts were hardened” (Mosiah 26:3); Faith precedes understanding.  Fortunately, when we are taught the word, we can remember the example of these 5 runners who were open to believe it, and who acted to try it out.

 

In summary, as we have a Desire to believe, we will be Open to the word, we will Act on that, and then we will Believe and come to Understand.

Desire –> Openness –> Action –> Belief –> Understanding

Every Wind of Doctrine

There has been a lot of discussion lately on Kate Kelly’s Ordain Women movement and her recent excommunication from the LDS church.  Over the past months she has demanded changes from the church, and refused to accept the answers she has received.  I personally don’t understand how she can sustain her church leaders while not accepting the very direct and clear answers that they give her.  Ephesians tells us why we have these leaders, and maybe she missed that in her scripture study:

11 And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some,evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;

14 That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men,and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive;

-Ephesians 4:11,14

These verses state that one of the reasons why we have prophets and apostles today is so that we aren’t “carried about with every wind of doctrine.”  If we distance ourselves and our opinions from the direction we receive from the prophet and apostles, then we are becoming very much at risk of falling “away into forbidden paths” and becoming “lost” (1 Nephi 8:28).

That isn’t to say that we shouldn’t be allowed to question.  As has repeatedly been remarked in recent church statements, the church always encourages people to seek their own answers and to question, but that doesn’t mean that we need abandon our faith.  As we question and learn, we must remember the advice of Elder Uchtdorf who stated so succinctly: “doubt your doubts before you doubt your faith.”  There is room for us in Christ’s church, despite our questions, for “we must never allow doubt to hold us prisoner and keep us from the divine love, peace, and gifts that come through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ” (Come, Join with Us, Oct, 2013)

Why, then, did Kate Kelly get excommunicated for questioning?  Because she was doing more than questioning.  Elder George Q. Cannon spoke about the difference between honestly questioning and seeking (during which we should doubt our doubts and remember to tether ourselves to Christ through his living mouthpiece) and apostasy, which does merit excommunication.  George Q. Cannon said that although he doesn’t consider having a difference of opinion with church leaders as apostasy, he cannot “conceive of a man publishing those differences of opinion, and seeking by arguments, sophistry and special pleading to enforce them upon the people to produce division and strife, and to place the acts and counsels of the authorities of the Church, if possible, in a wrong light, and not be an apostate, for such conduct was apostasy” (see the original Deseret News article from 1869).  Painting the authorities in the church in a wrong light sounds to me like what Kate Kelly has been doing.  It seems to me that she is blinded to what she has been doing, and seeks to put the blame on church authorities for not getting what she wants and what she is so sure is right.

Back in 2010, Elder Christoffersen warned about the slipping standards of today’s world.  Not only is immorality more prevalent, but our very idea of the purpose of life is getting skewed.  Speaking of those who are blinded and confused, Christofferson said that they “have imagined a Jesus who wants people to work for social justice but who makes no demands upon their personal life and behavior” (The Blessing of Scripture, April 2010).  No longer does Jesus want us to humble ourselves and consider our sins to repent of them, now he wants us to fight for whatever idea of social justice seems prevalent and popular.  If we fight for the “rights” others, we can ignore our sins, right?  (See this article to learn more about this alternative idea of Jesus – social defender instead of redeemer from sins).

Discipleship has always been about humbling ourselves and following the master.  Yes, we need to stand up for those in need, and yes we should be kind to everyone no matter their life choices, but let’s not put our social agendas above our spiritual development.  Spiritual things are spiritually discerned.  Study your scriptures with real intent.  Search, ponder and pray.  Faith grows when we decide to act despite our doubts.  We choose to believe while waiting on all the evidence, for we will “receive no witness until after the trail of [our] faith.”

But, as we question and grow in faith, isn’t it nice to know that we have the prophets and apostles to rely on so that we aren’t tossed to and fro, carried by every wind of (socially popular justice seeking) doctrine?