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