Faith is Proof

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The word faith is often used colloquially as a synonym for trust or belief: “You just have to have faith.” That is the “official” definition of faith as found in the Oxford English Dictionary: “Belief, trust, confidence”. Other uses and definitions of the word faith exist but faith as belief, trust, or confidence are the predominant uses of the word. Uses such as those, however, do not do justice to the real meaning of faith.

Let’s turn to the writings of the apostle Paul. “Now faith is the substance [assurance] of things hoped for, the evidence [proof] of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1).

We’ll accept the premise that there are things that are not seen but that exist. There are truths that are self-evident and self-existent that are not and cannot be observed. There are things that exist that we hope for but cannot see or hear or experience until some point in the future. As Alma stated: “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.” (Alma 32:21).

A part of faith is hope or belief but faith is much more than that. Thomas Hobbes explained faith in his work Leviathan: “But what (may some object) if a King, or a Senate, or other Soveraign Person forbid us to beleeve in Christ? To this I answer, that such forbidding is of no effect, because Beleef, and Unbeleef never follow mens Commands. Faith is a gift of God, which Man can neither give, nor take away by promise of rewards, or menaces of torture.” (Hobbes, Leviathan, iii. xlii. 271; spelling and punctuation not modernized). “Faith is a gift of God.” Wait, isn’t faith a gift we give to God? We believe in Him even though we don’t see Him? That’s belief and hope and trust. Faith transcends belief. Faith is a gift from God.

As Paul wrote, faith is an assurance of things hoped for and evidence of things not seen. Faith is thus given as proof for our belief. Faith isn’t the antecedent, faith is the consequent. Belief and good works are the antecedent.

Alma further taught: “But behold, if ye will awake and arouse your faculties, even to an experiment upon my words, and exercise a particle of faith, yea, even if ye can no more than desire to believe, let this desire work in you, even until ye believe in a manner that ye can give place for a portion of my words. Now, we will compare the word unto a seed. Now, if ye give place, that a seed may be planted in your heart, behold, if it be a true seed, or a good seed, if ye do not cast it out by your unbelief, that ye will resist the Spirit of the Lord, behold, it will begin to swell within your breasts; and when you feel these swelling motions, ye will begin to say within yourselves—It must needs be that this is a good seed, or that the word is good, for it beginneth to enlarge my soul; yea, it beginneth to enlighten my understanding, yea, it beginneth to be delicious to me.” (Alma 32:27-28).

We have desires to believe. Do we plant that desire of belief in our hearts? Not really. What we plant is the seed of faith (really, the word but I’ll incorporate faith into the word for now). We do not create this seed, it is a gift from God. That seed is planted and not cast out by our unbelief. We have to belief and trust and follow the Lord’s commands to nurture the seed of faith. As we do so, we are blessed with further evidence (faith) as we see the seed grow and sprout and produce good fruit.

Why it is important to recognize that faith is evidence (proof) is that many times we feel like we are acting “just with faith” until we receive proof – some big spiritual manifestation that will remove the need for faith (e.g., “Yea, your knowledge is perfect in that thing, and your faith is dormant; and this because you know, for ye know that the word hath swelled your souls.” Alma 32:34). However, faith is exactly the proof we are looking for. How many times do we believe and trust and hope and experiment upon the word but miss the results of that experiment (faith)? So often we seek for signs without realizing that faith is the sign we’ve been seeking. Faith is a gift from God. As Moroni wrote on spiritual gifts: “And to [some is given] exceedingly great faith” (Moroni 10:11). Faith comes of and by the Spirit of the Lord.

Faith is part of a positive feedback loop. This means that with increased faith comes increased hope and belief and trust. Those in turn can increase faith. However, at its core, faith is a manifestation of God’s spirit and power. It is a gift from Him given to us to bless our lives and help us know of His love for us.

To read more that is related to this topic, read this previous post of mine: Philosophical Arguments and the Existence of God. We need to realize that our assumptions of what constitutes as evidence do not necessarily equate with the evidence given to us by God.

A Move and Heavenly Father’s Plans

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My family and I just moved from Florida to North Carolina for school-related training. During the chaos of a move and the uprooting of a family, there is something that provides great stability – the Church. I don’t know how many outside the Church understand how amazing the organization of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is. It is organized in such a way that all around the country or world, even with cultural and individual differences, congregations are the same – different people, same organization. You know exactly what to expect when going to church. There is unity in the Church.

As I drove in for the first time to the city in which I now live, I had the distinct feeling that this was where I wanted and needed to be. I had a series of interviews with different supervisors and faculty, which interviews strengthened my desire to be where I am now. After visiting a few other sites around the country, even though there was much to commend the other sites for, none of them had the same feeling of “rightness” for me as did where I am now. After all my interviews were done I submitted rankings of where I wanted to be and then waited to see where I matched (interviewees ranked sites and sites ranked interviewees and a computer algorithm figured out the best fit for everyone). I was extremely grateful but not overly surprised when I matched at my top site here in North Carolina. I was not surprised because I knew that this is where I needed to be.

Six years ago when visiting the university where I attend graduate school, I had a similar experience. As I was driving in to the city where the university is housed, I had a feeling that it was where I both wanted and needed to be. Sure enough, it’s where I ended up. There have been other times – four that are very distinct – when what I really wanted was not what the Lord wanted for me and what He knew was best for me. In those instances I have had to trust the Lord and give up on what I thought was best for what I knew was right. The Lord does not always give us what we ask for, for what we ask for is not always right even if we might feel it is good. In these times, what has been helpful for me is to review Hugh B. Brown’s story of the currant bush. The main message of his story is that sometimes the Lord cuts us down to build us up better than we would have been otherwise.

Now back to North Carolina. When looking for a place to live, we went through many options and took time to figure out where we wanted to live. We had to consider my commute time, whether or not we rented a house or an apartment, schools for the kids, rent cost, and which ward we wanted to live in. I felt drawn to the current area and ward boundaries in which we live. Maybe my draw to the ward was because we had heard that it had a lot of young families and a lot of kids but this was the ward for which I felt the most draw. Then, almost like manna from heaven, we discovered a house to rent where we wanted to be and where we felt that we needed to be.

We moved in and went to church and felt right at home. The people are friendly, the teachings are the same, and we are happy to be where we are. I don’t know why we need to be in this particular ward or even at this particular training site, but I believe the Lord needs us to be here, if only because it is what best helps my family. Are not all these feelings I’ve had just my wishful thinking? Are they not just what I want to further my career? Are these feelings of “needing” to be somewhere fanciful imaginations and, when I end up there, coincidence? No, I do not believe that they are. God has a plan for each of us. Our Father in Heaven loves us and wants us to have the most good that we can while doing the most good for others that we can. God gives us opportunities to help others; sometimes He places us in situations so that we can help others; we need to be sensitive to those situations and serve those around us.

This reminds me of an opportunity I had to help someone else. As an LDS missionary I had the opportunity to become good friends with a fellow missionary. What I did not know is that this missionary was struggling with wanting to stay on the mission – the stress of the mission and other factors (including difficulties with a companion) were becoming overwhelming. After we had become friends, this missionary confided in me that I was one of the major factors in this missionary’s decision to remain a missionary. This person and I were both in situations where we could meet and help one another. I believe the Lord directed me to my particular mission area not just for the people I could teach the gospel to but also for the opportunity to help missionaries around me. I write these not to seek accolades or to pat myself on the back, they are meant to serve as examples of the necessity of being in tune with God’s plan for us and acting to help Him with His work – to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of humankind (see Moses 1:39). We need to be willing soldiers in the army of the Lord, willing to go and do the things that the Lord commands us (see 1 Ne. 3:7).

It is well

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One of my new favorite hymns is “It is well with my soul.” This moving hymn was penned by Horatio Spafford with music by Philip Bliss. You can read all the lyrics on the Wikipedia page I linked to but there’s one part of the hymn that I find powerful:

“My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!”

Christ took our sins upon Himself so that we might not have to bear them. He suffered in Gethsemane, He was nailed to the cross, He rose triumphant from the tomb so that we do not have to bear our own sins. We, as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, do not talk or focus on the cross as much as many other Christian religions do. There are reasons for this, which I won’t go into here but we’re certainly not opposed to the cross. Mainly I think we like to focus on Christ’s resurrection because we believe that we are part of His living church. The cross is important though because not only was the Savior born in the most humble of circumstances but also He was killed in one of the most horrific manners possible. Crucifixion was a fate given to the worst of the worst criminals. Christ was without His own sin but He took all our sins upon Himself. Our sins were nailed to the cross with Him.

The story behind this hymn is sad, which I think makes the hopefulness of the words more significant.

I’ll quote from Wikipedia:

“This hymn was written after several traumatic events in Spafford’s life. The first was the death of his only son in 1871 at the age of four, shortly followed by the great Chicago Fire which ruined him financially (he had been a successful lawyer). Then in 1873, he had planned to travel to Europe with his family on the SS Ville du Havre, but sent the family ahead while he was delayed on business concerning zoning problems following the Great Chicago Fire. While crossing the Atlantic, the ship sank rapidly after a collision with a sailing ship, the Loch Earn, and all four of Spafford’s daughters died. His wife Anna survived and sent him the now famous telegram, “Saved alone.” Shortly afterwards, as Spafford traveled to meet his grieving wife, he was inspired to write these words as his ship passed near where his daughters had died.”

Amid all those trials Spafford wrote:

“When peace like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.”

Is all well with your soul? Do you turn toward or away from God in your trials?

Here is my favorite recording of this hymn: