Friday, January 25, 2013

On Faith

    Faith is the not only one of the first principles and ordinances of the gospel, but it also appears in the trio that never faileth, that of faith, hope and charity as well. Such is its importance that the word faith appears over 600 times in the scriptures, over a third of which appears in the Book of Mormon alone.

    Yet despite all this we tend to choose the easy way out. Instead of seeking to understand what faith is on a personal level we opt to simply recite what faith is as defined in various scriptures, with nary a thought as to what those words even mean. How can one be said to understand what faith is, if all one does is quote scriptures devoid of context? Obviously having a true and comprehensive understanding of faith goes far beyond reciting a line from the Bible.

    So what is faith? First we must understand that there are two sides to the word faith: the object of our faith and the practitioners of such faith. True faith only exists when both the object and practitioner of faith meet certain criteria.

    In order to more easily understand those conditions, let us take a look at a concrete example of faith that exists in our daily lives before we apply it to the more difficult to understand realm of the eternal. In fact this example is so powerful that it is used by the Lord himself to help us understand the relationship between us and Him, for in 1 Corinthians we read “But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God.

    So let us imagine a married couple where the husband (the Lord) is faithful to his wife (Israel). In this context what is his faithfulness? Would the husband ever deceive, betray, or leave his wife? Of course not, “for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.

    Thus, for our faith to be true it must be exercised in that which is faithful to us. Unlike our modern usage of the word wherein there exists negative connotations associated with certain uses of the word such as in “blind faith”, in the scriptures we find that “faith” is always used positively. A wife can only have faith in her husband if he is faithful to her, otherwise it is not faith but delusion.

    Therefore the first condition that the object of our faith must fulfill is that of being reliable and true. Of course then the Lord who is “unchangeable from all eternity to all eternity” is the most reliable and true of all. The word translated to faithful in Hebrew is emunah, which incidentally means firmness, steadfastness, and fidelity, which are the very traits that necessary.

    Interestingly enough the word faith itself hardly ever appears in the Old Testament. For a greater understanding of the conditions that need to be cleared we need to look to the New Testament. Fortunately for us the English word faith has many parallels to the Greek “pistis” as well as the Latin “fides”, which reveal much about what faith really is.

    The word pistis in Greek comes from peitho which means persuade. In other words pistis is “to be persuaded”. From this we see that faith does not exist in a vacuum. It is not belief without cause, but rather our being persuaded to believe because of the evidences that we experience.

    Then what does Alma mean where he states “And now as I said concerning faith—faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things; therefore if ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true.

    Not seeing is not the same as experiencing nothing and having no basis for belief. Rather faith is “being persuaded” through our past experiences, hoping for the future, despite not seeing how it will all work out.

    As it says in Hebrews 11 “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” This faith in the future is born of the the evidences that have been provided in the past. Whether the past experiences are thing we physically see, rationally deduce, sense in our gut, or simply feel with our heart is is immaterial. These are all means by which we are “persuaded” to have faith.

    If we continue to read in Alma (rather than quote one verse), we read that after having planted the seed and beginning to taste of its goodness, “Now behold, would not this increase your faith? I say unto you, Yea; nevertheless it hath not grown up to a perfect knowledge.

    Here we clearly see that our faith is increased by those evidences that we receive, by the stirring of our souls. We do not know or see the result yet, but we can trust and hope for those results due to our receiving evidence that the seed is good.

    Now, faith itself is beyond mere persuasion. If we look further in the context which the word pistis is used we see that in ancient times it was used to mean a guarantee or warranty. Again this points back to the fact that the object of our faith must be reliable.

    It is the very fact that all of the Lord's promises are guaranteed that allows us to have faith in Him; for hath the Lord not said “What I the Lord have spoken, I have spoken, and I excuse not myself; and though the heavens and the earth pass away, my word shall not pass away, but shall all be fulfilled...

    Which bring me to the next point, which is that He “persuades us” or rather grants unto us that we might have faith, we do not generate it on our own! While the Lord persuades us through various means, ultimately it hits our souls through the Holy Spirit. He grants us the experiences necessary to build that faith, and through His Spirit we are given the opportunity to accept that faith.

    Whether we accept these evidences or not is of our own free will and choice. Thus it is that we have been granted the agency to choose to be persuaded by Him or to be deceived by Babylon. Nothing of Him ever compels or forces us. Who we listen to and what we decide to look at for our evidence is in the end our own choice.

    Nevertheless our choosing to accept those evidences does not make us the source of our own faith. I say this that we might not “take strength unto [ourselves]” and always recognize that “Jesus [is] the author and finisher of our faith”. Though it may be that it is we who choose to open our eyes, it is His light that shines down on us allows us to see.

    This is exactly why we need to pray and ask Him to grant unto us that we may have the faith necessary to receive according to our desires. As we read in 1 Corinthans 12 “But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal. ... To another faith by the same Spirit.

    Furthermore once we have obtained that faith, we must continue to seek unto Him to strengthen our faith, lest we shall become complacent and lose that which we have received. For “wo be unto him that saith: We have received, and we need no more!

    This is why simply being “persuaded” isn't enough. Faith is not passive, it is an active principle of righteousness which allows us to be “agents unto [ourselves]” and “and do many things of [our] own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness”.

    So what is faith that makes it beyond mere persuasion? Well let us return to the analogy of the husband and wife scenario. First let us imagine the wife (again Israel) whoring herself out to many men. Her adultery and unloyalty means she has abandoned her husband. Instead of relying upon him and trusting in him, she has decided to depend upon other men. Can it be said that she has faith in him? Of course not, for she had denied that faith and gone astray, even knowing that he is dependable.

    On the other hand when a wife has faith in her husband she relies upon him and trusts that he will get it done. When she says "I have faith in you" it means that she trusts that he will follow through because of his previous faithfulness. She doesn't depend upon other men to provide for her needs, she depends upon him.

    Now obviously the analogy above is a bit out-dated in this day and age as many women no longer need to depend upon their husbands for their support, but instead can rely upon Babylon and the wealth that has been temporarily flowing from her. However the fact remains that true faith, whether it is in the Lord or in our other relationships is bound to our dependence.

    Dependence and trust, reliance and loyalty are all an integral part of faith. Without it, our “faith” is a lie. This is the condition that all practitioners of faith must fulfill. The word pistis is used in the active sense to mean reliance and trust. Similarly the Latin word fides means to trust in.

    Fidelity (which comes from the Latin Fides) is not only necessary for the object of our faith, but for the practitioner as well. It is beyond mere belief, and is much much more than simply knowing.

    It is a relationship. It is a father child relationship, where the child asks his father for help. It is a husband wife relationship where she relies on him for support. It is a God man relationship, where we rely upon Him for our all.

    Looking at the negative example above, we can see what the counterfeit to faith is. It is “trusting in the arm of flesh”, and “worship[ing] the work of [our] own hands”. It is relying in that which is unreliable, depending on the undependable, trusting in the untrustworthy, and being loyal to that which will betray you. It is fraudulence, delusion, and deception

    If faith is a familial relationship, then these pseudo-faiths are broken and abusive forms of slavery, parasitic relationships which only end in misery and death. Israel's adultery is our idolatry.

    In our modern age we think that we are above this idolatry, however the moment our heart turns to and relies upon man and that which cometh of man, we have already committed idolatry in our hearts. Whether it is science and technology, the economic wizards of wall-street, or even our communities in which we live, if it is the first thing we look to to solve our problems, we are not faithful unto Him.

    This is not to say that we must never rely upon anything other than Him, for that would deny the wholesome and pure child-parent relationship. From the sound of it people may misunderstand thinking that faith is close minded. However this is not the case. Faith in Him is not anti-science or education, nor is it against using our own minds to try to solve our problems.

    Faith in Him does not deny the use of our intelligence and relying upon the intelligence of others. It does mean that first and foremost we go to Him for our answers. The fact is science only works if we do not have an absolute dependence upon it; similarly for the stock market as well as all things man-made, whether it is physical or intellectual.

    The wisdom of crowds, and that of society only functions when we each independently try to seek the truth for ourselves. Faith in Him is what allows this to function in its most powerful form. His faith is not dogmatic, nor is it coercive. It frees us of our fears, knowing we can depend upon Him to fix our mistakes when we mess up.

    When a child asks his father in faith for help to solve a problem, what does the father do? It depends on the problem.

    If the problem is completely beyond the child's ability to solve, he solves it for them (albeit in his own due time). If the problem is somewhat beyond the child's ability, he teaches the child how to solve the problem. If it is only slightly beyond the child's ability, he may only hint. If the child can do it themselves, he give them encouragement. He does what he knows is best for his child.

    In all cases he never just abandons his child, but instead encouraging growth and development. Similarly the Lord does the same with us. In Ether 2 and 3 we see the brother of Jared go to the Lord with a problem. The first problem, relating to an air supply is beyond his ability to solve so the Lord just tells him straight up what to do.

    However, the issue with darkness, the Lord knows the brother of Jared can come up with something, and thus rather than handing him an answer, encourages him to think for himself. The Lord always has our best interest in mind, and thus he gives unto us according to our abilities.

    So it is, that we must depend upon Him in all that we do. When I go to work, I have Him in my heart, knowing that He is there supporting me. When I invest, I pray that I may invest wisely, and do my best to do so. When I study I pray that I may gain a true understanding, and think critically of the veracity of that which I read.

    If we seek it, the Lord will tell us when and how much to trust in man. He is the first and only one in which we can place our absolute trust. With this trust and reliance comes an ability to trust in everything else, because we know that He has our back. Thus it is that we are able to critically evaluate that which we can and cannot trust, for he grants unto us discernment if we exercise faith in Him.

    This is the balance we need, between the things of this world and the Lord. If the weather forecaster says it's going to be sunny, but you get a distinct impression to take your umbrella, follow it. If the world's economists tells you that Enron stock is the best, but you get the impression that something's off, don't invest.

    They that seek for His light will be guided by Him and frees us from the fear of the world. A wonderful example of this powerful faith was given in the talk “But If Not …” by Elder Dennis E. Simmons. In that talk he mentions the faith of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, who when confronted by King Nebuchadnezzar about their refusal to worship the Idol that he had built said:

    “If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king.

    But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up.

    Those words, “but if not” signify an absolute abiding trust in Him. Even should they die they know that it is for their good. It is the key to a true and abiding faith, where our trust in Him is such that we are able to be grateful to Him even in apparent failure.

    If a child wants a certain toy and asks his father to get it, but the father knows that they toy is a cheap, easily broken and potentially dangerous object that will certainly cause his child grief, he will initially refuse the child's request. He may suggest other toys, or get the child to try to name alternative toys that they want.

    Similarly, The Lord wants nothing but the best for us, and thus if we continue to ask Him with faith, we can be assured that “he granteth unto [us] according to [our] desire”. He always gives us what we want, or something better. Therefore, if we trust in Him, we must be open to that option of something better.

    Too often we are blinded by what we think we want, due to our inability to see not only the future, but even the here and now. Our wants and desires are important to Him, just as a child's wants are important to their parents, no matter how small and foolish it looks in the long run. In the same token, because they are important to Him, He may not give into our immediate wants, but rather try to help us that we may receive according to our true desires.

    This is why true faith also does not constrain the Lord to our schedule. As I mentioned before, asking, seeking and knocking are in the present imperative tense in Greek, meaning that we need to keep on asking, seeking and knocking.

    This world in which we now live is not truly subordinate to the Lord's will. Otherwise there would be no need for Christ to pray “Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.” as it would be a given. There are other more sinister forces at work, which contend with Him. As he has granted unto men their agency, such it is that the will of men and devils interfere with ours.

    Thus it must be our will to continue to seek, that we may prove by our agency that it is our desire. Only through this can the Lord grant it unto us, without impinging upon our agency. This continual seeking asking and knocking is the means whereby we exercise our faith in Him.

    This is why we must not ever place time limits to when the Lord grants unto us what we seek. In the book, “Good to Great” by Jim Collins mentions a story about an Admiral Jim Stockdale who became a POW during the Vietnam war. He was faced with horrifying conditions, suffering inhumane treatment at the hands of his merciless captors, unsure of his future and not knowing if and when he would escape.

    In this situation, how did he survive? “I never lost faith in the end of the story, I never doubted not only that I would get out, but also that I would prevail in the end and turn the experience into the defining event of my life, which, in retrospect, I would not trade.” This is the sort of faith that we need when we rely upon the Lord.

    No matter what happens we need to have the faith that we will prevail, because of Him. Yet this faith is not devoid of reality, as I mentioned above He “persuades” us. Thus an interesting paradox arises.

    When the admiral was asked who didn't make it he responded “Oh, that's easy, the optimists... Oh, they were the ones who said, 'We're going to be out by Christmas.' And Christmas would come, and Christmas would go. Then they'd say, 'We're going to be out by Easter.' And Easter would come, and Easter would go. And then Thanksgiving, and then it would be Christmas again. And they died of a broken heart.

    ...This is a very important lesson. You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end-which you can never afford to lose-with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.

    Faith is not to be confused with Pollyanna syndrome! True faith is relying upon him, not only in spite of, but because of the brutal reality which we now face.

    In John we read “And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” Obviously He encourages us to look around, rather than blind ourselves to the reality of the situation, because we trust that He can and will deal with it.

    Those that need to blind themselves and ignore reality are in fact those that are devoid of faith. They cannot believe unless the close their eyes, which means they do not believe in His power. Even if you can't answer all the questions, knowing the depth of His love, and the power that He wields is enough to bolster an undying confidence in anyone, for has not the Lord said “Fear not: for they that be with us are more than they that be with them.

    If we never give up on Him, He will never give us up, even should our mortal bodies perish. He will answer! The results of us standing by our faith in Him are plain as day, for as we read more fully in the scriptures we behold the great and mighty miracles He has in store for us.

    In Moroni 7 we read “Wherefore, my beloved brethren, have miracles ceased... Or have angels ceased to appear unto the children of men? Or has he withheld the power of the Holy Ghost from them? Or will he, so long as time shall last, or the earth shall stand, or there shall be one man upon the face thereof to be saved?

    Behold I say unto you, Nay; for it is by faith that miracles are wrought; and it is by faith that angels appear and minister unto men; wherefore, if these things have ceased wo be unto the children of men, for it is because of unbelief, and all is vain.

    From this we see that the fruits of true faith are miracles, for Jesus has said “If ye will have faith in me ye shall have power to do whatsoever thing is expedient in me.” Only when we continue forward in our never ending quest of asking, seeking and knocking can we inevitably see his divine hand in our lives, miracles beyond our wildest imaginations.

    This is because faith compels us to move forward, seeking for those miracles as in times of old. Those with faith cannot fathom sitting still for “Wherefore, whoso believeth in God might with surety hope for a better world, yea, even a place at the right hand of God, which hope cometh of faith, maketh an anchor to the souls of men, which would make them sure and steadfast, always abounding in good works, being led to glorify God.

    If we rely upon Him, and continue to seek to Him for answers, do we not do everything in our power to get those answers, as did Joseph Smith, when seeking after which church was true? Indeed have not all the holy prophets, from Adam to Abraham, from Moses to Isaiah, from Lehi to Moroni see and receive that inspiration and calling from on high, due to their exercising their faith?

    Likewise, we must never be complacent for that is the snare of the adversary. In 2 Nephi it is written “And others will he pacify, and lull them away into carnal security, that they will say: All is well in Zion; yea, Zion prospereth, all is well—and thus the devil cheateth their souls, and leadeth them away carefully down to hell.

    As faith is a relationship, the strength of our faith is directly proportional to the depth of our trust and devotion to Him. As a result, the more rely upon Him, the greater miracles we see.

    Likewise, how can we say that we have faith in Him if we do not know Him? Thus as in any relationship, we can either foster and deepen our bonds, come unto Christ and know Him better, or our relationship will atrophy and whither away till the day cometh that we have rejected Him.

    This is why we must follow these words: “choose you this day whom ye will serve” lest the curses written of old fall upon us: “Thus saith the LORD; Cursed be the man that trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his arm, and whose heart departeth from the LORD.

    This curse is the curse of facing the world alone, for we have rejected Him, wherein our weaknesses only serve to drag us down and that which we rely upon ultimately fail us when we need it the most, which we see here in Heleman 4:

    “And they saw that they had become weak, like unto their brethren, the Lamanites, and that the Spirit of the Lord did no more preserve them... and they saw that the Lamanites were exceedingly more numerous than they, and except they should cleave unto the Lord their God they must unavoidably perish. For behold, they saw that the strength of the Lamanites was as great as their strength, even man for man... yea, thus had they become weak, because of their transgression

    On the other hand if we take upon us His name and become His children, He will protect us and guide us, granting us the strength to move forward and overcome all things, which se see in Heleman 5:

    “And now, my sons, remember, remember that it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation; that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, yea, his shafts in the whirlwind, yea, when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power over you to drag you down to the gulf of misery and endless wo, because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall.

    Building upon this foundation is the faith spoken of, and we clearly see that this is the power that serves as an anchor to our souls, allowing us to withstand anything that the adversary throws at us. In this uncertain and unpredictable world of doubt, evil and despair, it is only His rock that serves to protect us from the mists of darkness and the waters of filthiness.

    Can we not behold what a wondrous blessing this is? What more can one hope for than to live with the certain knowledge that it will all work out in the end? I know that if we rely upon Him and are faithful unto Him, that “he [who] is mighty to save” shall be there for us at all times and in all things, and that “all these things shall give [us] experience, and shall be for [our] good”. Of this I testify, Amen.