How Can Faith Be Built, Survive Challenges, and Endure to the End?
By Daniel Packard
How can Faith begin and grow?
Considering how important Faith is, it is important that we choose to believe. Now, when we say that we choose to believe, we are not saying that we just tell ourselves that we believe until we do. Choosing to believe is not a mental exercise where we pretend that we do not have doubts when, in fact, we do. Choosing to believe is much more noble than that-it is choosing to feed our faith rather than our doubts. It is choosing to put ourselves in a position where we can have the spiritual experiences that will keep us close to the Lord and build our testimony. In many ways, building your relationship with God is like building a relationship with a spouse. Love is as much a choice as it is a feeling. Now, when I say that loving your spouse is a choice, I am not saying that you try to force yourself into feeling affection for your partner. Instead, you choose to have the experiences that will keep you close to each other. In every , marriage, there are things you choose to do or not do – to play together, do the dishes together, change the diapers together, spend your money together and build a life together. You choose to forgive each other, keep the romance alive and serve each other. You can choose whether you will focus on your partner’s faults (which every partner has) or you can focus on the things that brought you together in the first place and try to enhance the good in your partner. And if you do all these things, at the end of the day, you will not find yourself saying: “Well, the only reason I love my spouse is because I chose to love him-I mean how fun is that?” Rather, you end up saying: “I love this person because we have had all these great experiences together and we are now welded so closely that we truly are one.” Now, the fact that you deliberately chose to do the things that will strengthen the relationship does not alter the depth of your affection, nor does it lessen how meaningful and satisfying the relationship is. And the same is true of your relationship with God. You can choose to save the time and space in your life for your relationship with God. You can choose to come to church, to study the scriptures, to cry out to God in your quiet times, to go to the temple, to pay your tithing, to fast and do all the other things that will make it more likely that you will have spiritual experiences. But, if you allow your other studies, work or activities to crowd out activities in which God would be your companion, your relationship with Him will crumble. After all, Jesus said, “How knoweth a man the master that he has not served?” We are assured that by including God in our thoughts, goals and actions, we will both understand and believe in the Lord and his doctrine. Jesus said, “If any man will do his will, he will know of the doctrine, whether it be of God or whether I speak of myself.” And at the end of the day, you will not be saying, “Well, the only reason I believe is because I chose to have faith-I mean how fun is that?” Rather, you will find yourself saying, “I have faith because I have had a lifetime of spiritual experiences-of all different varieties.” And the fact that I deliberately choose to have the developmental and continuing experiences that will keep me close to the Lord does not alter the depth of my faith, nor does it alter how fulfilling my relationship with the Lord has become. I want you to know that I have faith, which is the result of a lifetime of experiences, some very simple and some more profound. These experiences are the basis of my testimony. I pray that all of us will plant the seed of faith, and then nourish it with great care. As we do so, our faith will grow until it bears fruit so that we hunger not, neither shall we thirst.
How does my testimony survive a modern education? Won’t I learn things that cause me to question?
Now, as we go throughout life, go to college and continue to study and learn, you will occasionally come across things that do not fit very will with the way you have always understood the gospel. Perhaps you will learn something in your science class that will cause you to ask questions that you had not asked before. Maybe you will learn something about Church history that will raise your eyebrows a little. Perhaps you will get excited about a philosophy class that causes you to deconstruct the way you have always made sense out of the world. Fortunately for you, you are a Latter-Day Saint. You belong to a church where all truth is part of the Gospel-regardless of whether it is found at Church or in the laboratory. The point is that if you are a thinking person, you are going to have to confront the ideas and arguments that have persuaded many to abandon their faith. Once again, the strength of your testimony will depend almost entirely on you and the way you approach spiritual matters and not depend on the information itself that you learn. The scriptures make a few suggestions about how we work through the issues.
First, understand and accept that spiritual knowledge is not gained in the same way as earthly or secular knowledge.
The problem rests in the basic way we are taught to find truth when we are at school and in the professional world. At its core, truth in the world of science, mathematics, economics and other disciplines depends on our ability to reproduce the results. If Eienstein tells us that he has learned that the principles of Newtonian physics do not apply when you approach the speed of light, it will not be “true” unless others are able to confirm his ideas in the laboratory. We are all trained that if something is to be considered “true” then you can use the same methodology over and over again and you will get the same results every time. Although the methodology is somewhat different in the soft sciences (history, philosophy etc.) the basic standard for determining and/or finding truth is the same – reliable concepts are reproducible. But in spiritual matters, it is just the opposite. Spiritual experiences are deeply personal and they transcend our ability to describe them, much less duplicate them. Until you become reconciled to the fact that there are methods of spiritual learning that transcend our rational way of thinking, you will never experience this type of learning. In the end, the question of faith will usually depend on how one approaches the acquisition of spiritual knowledge. While the gospel can and will be intellectually stimulating, it is a fact that there will be things about the gospel that cannot be discerned with the rational mind. Sometimes, there will be contradictions, paradoxes and gaps in logic. (Some people feel that the vicarious s suffering and the resurrection of Jesus Christ are two such examples.) This intuitive kind of learning is the essence of spirituality. But, if you are unwilling to accept spiritual truth on those terms, (namely, rejecting that the spirit of the Lord is a conveyor of truth) then you will never build or even sustain your faith. However, if you accept the fact that spiritual and secular knowledge are acquired in different ways, then you will have an opportunity to learn things you never had supposed. You will find truth by observing the joy in your life, the way the Gospel makes you feel, and the way it transforms your life – all of which will tell you that the things in which you have placed your faith are true – usually more true than the things you learned in the library, on the Internet or in the laboratory. You will find that the Gospel is in deed a recipe of personal happiness.
Second, plant doubts in a garden of obedience.
There are things that a disobedient person simply cannot know. King Benjamin asked: “How can a man know the master whom he has not served?” And that is a very good question. You can never know what it is to love someone until you serve them and place them ahead of yourself. You can never know the blessings of missionary work until you share the gospel yourself.
Third, build your life on the things you know and not on the things you don’t know.
If you look inside yourself, you have some core beliefs that you really know. I suspect that most of you know that there is a God and that you have made contact with Him in some special way. I suspect that most of you have felt the Love of God in a real and meaningful way, and you have felt the warmth and power of a priesthood blessing. These are things that you know, and if you build your spiritual life on those truths and then work yourself outward, you will have safety.
Fourth, make sure that you are intellectually humble.
Moses, who the scriptures say was the most meek person on the earth, saw a great vision that is recorded in the Pearl of Great Price, and when he was done, he said that he learned things he never had supposed. Well, I know that the Lord also has great things for us to learn, and some of them will be things that we never had supposed. Elder Maxwell said one time: “Let the intellectually proud pace up and down inside their tight conceptual cells, but the meek find such too confining.” In other words, if we approach our understanding of life like a student hungry for knowledge rather than someone who already has it all figured out, then you will learn new things and it will not bother you-in fact, you will be grateful for the new knowledge.
Fifth, spiritual truth is discerned by its affect on our souls.
Alma teaches us that if we will plant a true seed, and not cast it out by our unbelief or by resisting the Holy Spirit, it will begin to grow within us, especially if we nurture the seed by the good word and by our actions. Alma 32:28 et. seq. The prophet Alma teaches us that we will know that it is true and good because itwill swell within us and enlighten our minds. He says that it will be delicious to us. In other words, the truth will make of us a fuller person; one with a greater capacity to love and one with quicker and deeper insights about the world, about ourselves and about others. In Doctrine and Covenants section 45:56-57, the Lord says that those that have chosen the Holy Spirit for their guide and have not been deceived will survive the day and will not be hewn down. In contrast, Meriam, Moses’ sister, chose to find fault with the Lord’s anointed and to criticize him. She criticized that he had married an Ethiopian woman. Her choice to find fault with the Lord’s prophet almost immediately turned her into a state of the living dead, leprosy. She was cast out of Israel, had to repent and be purified from the inside out. If we turn from the Lord’s prophets, if we choose to look for fault in them, we will immediately canker our souls. Our hearts will harden, our capacity to love will decrease, our patience will shorten, we will sense our mortality and spiritual vulnerability, and our ability to discern will vanish, all because we rejected the Lord’s way of discovering truth in favor of our own prideful judgmental intellect.
I pray that we will choose the Lord’s way of finding and embracing truth, the way that secures and builds our souls, the choice to draw near unto God and to nourish our relationship with Him and His prophets. As we focus on what we do know, as opposed to what we do not know, we will grow in the truth. It is the only safe way. All other ways will crash like the great and spacious building. Only the humble grasp on the iron rod will safely bring us to the tree of life and its magnificent fruit of truth and happiness.