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mustard plant F A I T H
WHAT IT IS
HOW TO GET IT
HOW TO SHARE IT

and why would you want it anyway?

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Summary:

Faith is hope coupled with evidence.

Faith is thus the healthiest form of belief.

You get it by hearing the gospel, hoping it is true, and finding evidence.

You share it by sharing messages of hope, and then sharing evidence for them.

(After you have faith, it is time to USE that faith - turn it into knowledge - or action!.)

This page represents my personal understanding. I believe it is in harmony with church teachings, but it is not an official statement of church doctrine.

Introduction:

I have a friend who joined the Church while still an atheist. How? She did not have faith, but missionaries had suggested that she "experiment on the word" (see Alma 32). They suggested that if she was baptized, she might be rewarded by a spiritual experience. So she was baptized. But nothing happened.

This did not help her suspicion that "faith" means "blind faith." But this got me thinking. And studying. And praying. Something just did not feel right about the whole episode. Finally, at a study meeting with the missionaries, it all became clear. My basic understanding of faith - the first principle of the gospel - was wrong!

I went back to the scriptures, and the words of the prophets. I tried to forget everything else I had heard about faith. Everything began to be a lot clearer - and a lot more exciting! It seems that far too more people struggle with faith, when they really do not need to struggle. Faith is simple to understand, and simple to obtain.


Common myths about faith

1. Faith means belief?

No. It is a form of belief, but unlike some forms of belief, faith is:

It is true that, in the New Testament, Jesus often encouraged people to just believe. But those people had seen Jesus' miracles with their own eyes, and heard his life-changing teachings. So their belief was always based on evidence. It was never "blind faith."

2. Faith is a reward for enduring trials?

Sometimes we think that if we lack faith, but obey God in some difficult way, he will reward us with a spiritual experience that will lead to faith. But, by definition, this probably will not work. Because if we seek a trial without first having faith, it means we are seeking it without hope, and there is little evidence that the trial will lead to anything positive. So this will probably lead to disappointment.

3. Faith is an end in itself?

Sometimes we talk as if faith is our goal, rather than our starting point. As if we should grit our teeth, close our eyes, and strain to force ourselves to see something that isn't there. This kind of thing gives religion a bad name, and encourages unhealthy extremes. In contrast, the prophets teach that we should use faith as a starting point for other things - knowledge, action, happiness.


What is faith?

What is faith?

Faith is the principle on which all action occurs, whether religious or not.

The classic definition is in Hebrews 11:1

"Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen."

This is sometimes taken as meaning that faith is a replacement for hope and evidence. But that is not what the scripture says. Faith is simply a name for hope and evidence.

Faith is a word to describe the thing you hope for, whatever it might be. Faith is also a word to describe the evidence for that thing, whatever it is. (Then how can faith exist in the mind? How can objects exist in the mind? Simple. One man's evidence is another man's irrelevant information. Information only becomes evidence in the mind.)

The apostle Orson Pratt gave a good example (JD, vol.16, p.213):

"When the Book of Mormon was printed, early in the year 1830, with these witnesses' names attached to it and presented to the human family, they had the testimony, not only of these three witnesses, also the testimony of Joseph Smith, the translator, to the ministration of angels, and concerning the existence of these plates. Here then was the mouth of four witnesses, at least, that God gave to this generation. Besides these four, we have it recorded here that eight other men, men with whom I am, or was, well acquainted, some of them are now dead. Eight other persons besides these four, knew of the existence of the metallic plates, from which the Book of Mormon was translated. Their testimony is also prefixed to this work, their names given. They testify that they saw these plates, that they handled them with their own hands, that they saw the engravings upon the plates; that they took them in their hands, and that they knew of a surety of the existence of those plates. They did not bear testimony that they had seen an angel, but they bore testimony to that which they did know, namely, the existence of those plates, that Joseph Smith, the translator, was the person who exhibited the plates to them, and that the characters or letters contained upon the plates had the appearance of ancient work and of curious workmanship, and they bear their testimony in the most positive manner to this thing, declaring in the closing sentence that they bear testimony of these things, and "we lie not, God bearing witness of it." Here then is the testimony of twelve witnesses, four of whom saw an angel of God. Is not this sufficient to justify the children of men in having faith in the Book of Mormon? Faith is not a knowledge, but faith is the evidence of things not seen. Now, I may not have seen the plates, you may not have seen the plates, but we have the evidence or testimony of things not seen, by a great number of witnesses who did see them."

So faith is evidence. But where does the hope come in? Simple. Anybody who understands what is at stake will hope that the Book of Mormon is true. It is so wonderful, and the implications are so vast. Of course I will hope it is true! And the substance of that hope is the testimony of the witnesses (as well as the truth of its contents, the feelings that come from reading it, the testimonies of others, the archeological discoveries, and so on). When the testimonies become hard evidence, that is faith.

FAITH = HOPE + EVIDENCE

Hope exists in the mind. Evidence exists in the mind. Together, they form the assurance or confidence called faith.

The Book of Mormon makes this even clearer:

Alma 32:21: "if ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true".

Ether 12:6: "faith is things which are hoped for and not seen"

More insights from the Book of Mormon

Alma 32:17-19 indicates that faith is always based on some kind of evidence (even when it is just the fact that words make sense):

Yea, there are many who do say: If thou wilt show unto us a sign from heaven, then we shall know of a surety; then we shall believe. Now I ask, is this faith? Behold, I say unto you, Nay; for if a man knoweth a thing he hath no cause to believe, for he knoweth it. And now, how much more cursed is he that knoweth the will of God and doeth it not, than he that only believeth, or only hath cause to believe, and falleth into transgression?

Note that faith is synonym for "having cause to believe".

Why do people believe in the Bible?

Sometimes we may look back on past generations, when most people believed in the Bible, and envy their blind faith. But why? Their faith was never blind. They believed the Bible for very good, sound reasons: the Bible is not just a book of ethics. It contains eye witness accounts of angels from heaven, and the miracles and resurrection of Christ. Those eye witness accounts are evidence! Our Bible believing ancestors simply listened to the evidence, whereas most people today do not.

Moroni chapter 7 explains that these testimonies - this evidence - is the root source of faith.

"Wherefore, by the ministering of angels, and by every word which proceeded forth out of the mouth of God, men began to exercise faith in Christ; and thus by faith, they did lay hold upon every good thing; and thus it was until the coming of Christ. . . . And the office of their ministry is to call men unto repentance, and to fulfill and to do the work of the covenants of the Father, which he hath made unto the children of men, to prepare the way among the children of men, by declaring the word of Christ unto the chosen vessels of the Lord, that they may bear testimony of him. And by so doing, the Lord God prepareth the way that the residue of men may have faith in Christ, that the Holy Ghost may have place in their hearts, according to the power thereof; and after this manner bringeth to pass the Father, the covenants which he hath made unto the children of men."

 


What have modern prophets said about faith?

Faith is stronger than mere belief (because faith combines hope and evidence), so by one definition it is the same as confidence. Heber C. Kimball saw it this way (JD, vol.4, p.248-249):

"Some say that they have not faith, that they cannot believe. What is faith? It is confidence. What is confidence? It is faith. Some people are striving and striving to get faith, when saving faith is simply confidence in God, flowing from walking in obedience to His commandments. When you have confidence in yourself, in any man, woman, or child, you have faith; and when you have not confidence, you have not faith. I believe they are co-partners, and the principle of faith and confidence is synonymous to me."

Belief and Faith compared

Faith is more inspiring than mere belief. You don't always hope for something you believe in. Faith is more reliable than mere belief. Faith involves evidence, but some beliefs do not. Brigham Young contrasted faith and belief (JD, vol.8, p.17):

"Is there a person who can possess faith without belief? No. Can men possess belief without faith? Yes, every son and daughter of Adam. Belief is an inherent principle in the organism of man to lay the foundation for faith." ...

"I will sum it up again: Faith is an eternal principle--one of the attributes of the Deity by which the worlds are and were created. Belief is the admission of either truth or falsehood."

Everyone has faith in something, every moment of the day

From Bruce R. McConkie, A New Witness for the Articles of Faith, chapter 19:

"What, then, is faith? In the broad, generic, and universal sense of the word, having no particular reference to religion and salvation, the Prophet tells us that faith 'is the moving cause of all action in all intelligent beings.' All accountable and intelligent beings have faith in this sense."

This confirms what faith is: evidence plus hope. What other reasons do people have for doing things?

"Faith is power. And where there is power, there is faith; and where there is no power, there is no faith. Thus Joseph Smith continues: 'Faith is not only the principle of action, but of power also, in all intelligent beings, whether in heaven or on earth.' Faith applies in all spheres. All intelligent beings -- be they gods, angels, spirits, or men -- all operate by its power."

Faith is based on knowledge (the existing knowledge is taken as evidence for greater knowledge)

Continuing Elder McConkie's discourse:

"Knowledge Precedes Faith
Queries: Which comes first faith or knowledge? Is faith a vague and uncertain hope in something unseen that, as a sprouting seed, may grow into knowledge? Or is faith based on truth and knowledge? Is faith something that grows out of and comes because of a prior knowledge of the truth?

"Answers: Faith is the child of knowledge. It is reserved for those only who first have knowledge; there neither is nor can be any faith until there is knowledge."

It's not blind faith when it's based on previous evidence (of God's reliability)

The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, p.60
"It was not blind faith when the patriarch Noah built an ark some forty-two centuries ago or when the prophet Nephi built a boat about twenty-five centuries ago.... Here was no blind obedience. Each knew the goodness of God and that he had purpose in his strange commands. And so each with eyes wide open, with absolute freedom of choice, built by faith. Noah's family was saved from physical drowning and spiritual decadence, and Nephi's people were saved likewise."

Neal A. Maxwell, Not My Will, But Thine, p.100
"Spiritual submissiveness is not blind faith but deliberate obedience. It consists of proceeding on the basis of what we already know."

Seeking after signs

When we have the evidence, we should act on it - thus creating new evidence - and not wait for another sign. If we are willing to act, we show that we are sensitive to the good, and desire to be part of it.

How God can judge us fairly

Faith is the issue that separates the sheep and the goats. Some people are sensitive to evidence, willing to appreciate possibilities, enthusiastic, and willing to take risks to pursue what is good and make it happen. Other people are not as sensitive, less willing to appreciate possibilities, not enthusiastic, and not willing to take risks to pursue what is good and make it happen. When presented with hope, some people wait for it to hit them over the head. In short, they seek for a sign. They want powerful forces to force them to act. They want signs and wonders.

"I, the Lord, am not pleased with those among you who have sought after signs and wonders for faith, and not for the good of men unto my glory." (Doctrine & Covenants 63:12)

This is a difficult balance to get - taking a chance on partial knowledge. But if we insist on basing every decision on perfect logic, based on absolute proof, we will certainly fail. This is a good way to be taken in by false teachers offering "perfect," easy answers. It is the road to numerous apostate cults, all offering "proof," as President Kimball once warned against.

Faith moving mountains

Matthew 17 says that if we have enough faith, we could move mountains. This is sometimes read as if faith is some kind of fanatical blind conviction. Critics could rightly comment that such a person would BELIEVE the mountain was moved even if it stood still. Is that what it means? Not according to the definition of faith.

The clearest example we know of a mountain being moved is by the Enoch (Moses 6:34, 7:13). He already had experience of God's power. So, he had the evidence. He did not have knowledge that the mountain would move, but he had reason to hope that God would accept his request and move it. His hope based on evidence was well founded. Moving the mountain had nothing to do with believing that the mountain would move. It had everything to do with having evidence (e.g. past experience) that God could assist, and it was a reasonable thing to hope for in this instance.

This is why a seed is such a good example of faith. A seed comes from a fully grown tree. So it has some kind of memory that it is possible for a seed to grow into a tree. It has evidence. However, it does not have proof in its own case, for perhaps it has been damaged, or perhaps the soil is not good. But it hopes that it can grow, for that is its reason for existing. So, the seed has evidence (but not proof) and it has hope. Therefore, the seed has enough faith to grow into a tree. The apostles, on the other hand, had the priesthood - the authority to act in the name of God. God had created (and continues to create) worlds. So, if the apostles were able to accept the evidence (as the seed does), they would accept that having God's authority means they too could command a mountain to move on God's behalf, if the occasion was right.

Faith is reasonable

Brigham Young is a great example of this. He once commented that, if a wagon was rolling down hill he wouldn't pray. He would start running after it! In a similar way he said this (JD, vol.12, p.219):

"Years ago, Brother Kimball counseled the people to lay up two year's provisions, and then enough for four, for six and for seven years. I have it now, and I am dealing it out. Some people have so much faith that although the grasshoppers are around in such vast numbers, they are confident of an abundant harvest, because of the movements made to gather the poor this season. They say the Lord would not inspire His servants to bring the poor from the nations that they might starve. And so believing, they will go and sell the last bushel of wheat for comparatively nothing, trusting in God to provide for their wants. My faith is not of this kind; it is reasonable. If the Lord gives good crops this season, and tells us to lay up from that abundance, I do not think He will increase His blessings upon us if we foolishly squander those He has already given us. I believe He will bless the earth for His people's sake; and I will till it and try to get a crop from it; but if I neglect to take advantage of the goodness of the Lord, or misuse or treat lightly His mercies, I need not expect that they will be continued upon me to the same extent. I have a reasonable faith, a sustaining faith, one that I can build my hopes upon; and I think I will not be disappointed. I labor and toil, but I do not waste my labor."


How to get it, and how to share it

How to get faith (in general)

Since faith means hope plus evidence, getting faith is simple:

  1. Learn enough about the subject to hope that it is true. (If you don't yet hope the gospel is true, then you don't understand it!)
  2. Look at the evidence. (What evidence? Well, whatever evidence is meaningful to you as an individual. Good feelings? Changes in peoples' lives? Logic and reason? Scholarship? Whatever...) But be patient. Some evidence is subtle. God said that smoking was wrong in 1833, but it took scientists nearly a hundred and fifty years to accept the physical evidence.

There. You now have faith. Q. E. D.

How to get faith in God (from the Holy Ghost)

That was the general principle. Here we have the most important example.

  1. Hope of the spirit: What motivates people to want to believe? In my experience there are two areas:
    1. We like to be on the winning team. We don't want to study it, we just want to be part of it.
    2. We love the doctrines. (We may not even enjoy the social side of the church, but that is not why we believe.)

  1. Evidence of the spirit: direct revelation to you from God.
    1. We feel a warm, belonging feeling.
    2. We feel excited by the ideas.

How to share faith (in general)

  1. Share information that makes people hope it is true.
  2. Share the evidence.

When someone feels the hope and (however tentatively) accepts the evidence, then "voila," they have faith.

How to share faith (from the Holy Ghost)
  1. Provide the hope:
    1. From the winning team: well designed church programs, activities, and other group events
    2. From doctrine: truths that mean something to the individual.
      • This is not easy. One person's inspiring truth is another person's "so what?" This requires you to know the person's unique outlook, AND know the gospel well enough to help them, AND be able to communicate that clearly and believably. This is where it helps if YOU have inspiration, in order to say the right things in the right way.
  2. Identify what the person is feeling:
    1. warmth
    2. excitement

This is how the prophets have always done it

Think back to how the prophets and apostles always teach: Hope and evidence.

That's all there is to it.

"Faith comes by hearing the word of God"

One last comment: We know that faith can come from the scriptures. I remember being taught this when I was a missionary. But I (and I suspect many others) went away with the idea that the scriptures were somehow magical. Like a book of spells, you simply had to read them and then magic would happen. This led to some successes - but also some disappointments. I have since learned that the gospel does not involve magic. Gifts, yes. Inspiration, yes. But not magic.

What is faith? Hope and evidence.

What is the word of God? The good news (hope!). And stories of how that hope has been fulfilled (evidence!).

Scripture is not just the written form. Whatever someone says when guided by the Holy Ghost is, by definition, the word of God.

So faith comes by hearing the word of God - sharing stories of hope, and evidence that this hope is justified, whether in Bible times or in our own lives, as guided by the spirit (so we say those things that will have most impact on the listeners).

There is no magic in the gospel, just reasonable, sweet, beautiful, powerful, eternal, startling, life changing, truth!

 

the bottom line

Faith is hope, and evidence.

 

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