Optimism in a Falling World- Faith, Hope, and Charity

Over these past few days I have considered the roles of faith, hope, and charity. Specifically I have considered how each of them is integral to being invested in this world, rather than stepping aside and letting it fall to ruin.

These three qualities are definitely linked to one another. We must first have hope in God and His purposes. We must have hope that He is able to reclaim our own soul from ruin, and then we can foster hope in His ability to reclaim the souls of our brothers and sisters as well. With that spark of hope we can then act in faith, investing in our communities and nations, trying to bring some good into them, even when we’re not sure how we will succeed. And integral to all this work is to have genuine charity for those we work with. We need to have an unconditional love, even for those who do not give us a reason to love them.

And it is important to note that none of these qualities can be taken for granted. It might be tempting for us to say “well I’m a Christian, of course I live with charity,” when in reality this is not a given. I called myself a “christian” for many years, and all the while had a hopeless outlook on my own soul. Having no hope, I was incapable of investing faith to care for myself. And as I was unable to give those kindnesses to myself, I certainly didn’t have the capacity for charity for my fellow-man. Having the label of a “baptized christian” meant absolutely nothing about me. It certainly did not mean that I was actually a Christian.

Possessing these qualities does not come cheaply. Perhaps some of us are more naturally inclined to one of them or the other, but I think it is fair to say that all of us have a great deal of work ahead if we mean to achieve all three. None of us are born a full and complete Christian, we have to work our way into it.

I also want to emphasize that if there are any of us who are giddy for the destruction of the wicked, then they we do not possess charity and are not true Christians. And if there are any of us who wish the world was better but are not willing to do the work to help it be so, then we do not possess faith and are not true Christians. And if there are any of us who have just given up on the world, then we do not possess hope and are not true Christians. Faith, hope, and charity are not things a Christian should have, they are things that a Christian must have, or they are not a true Christian.

And I do not mean any condemnation by that. I used to be devoid of these qualities as well. I was not a true Christian, but I was able to become one, and so can anyone else. In fact, even true Christians must continue striving to become ever more so.

Optimism in a Falling World- Ether 12:4, 6, 12

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.
And now, I, Moroni, would speak somewhat concerning these things; I would show unto the world that faith is things which are hoped for and not seen; wherefore, dispute not because ye see not, for ye receive no witness until after the trial of your faith.
For if there be no faith among the children of men God can do no miracle among them; wherefore, he showed not himself until after their faith.

COMMENTARY

Whoso believeth in God might with surety hope for a better world, 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
Today I am considering the role of faith in remaining committed to our fallen world. And the first point I want to make is what we have to found our faith in. It is not a trust in humanity that these verses call “an anchor” to our souls, it is a belief in God. Throughout this study I have been speaking about maintaining our hope and faith in the world, but now I realize that those are secondary things, symptoms that come from first being rooted in our trust for God. See how this verse lays out the order of things as “believe in God” and then have a “surety of hope for a better world.”
Thus if you find it impossible to view the world optimistically, perhaps stop trying to do so. Instead cultivate your trust in God and the rest will follow. We will stop being motivated not by a shaky trust in the triumph of man, but in a sure trust in the triumph of God.

Faith is things which are hoped for and not seen; Ye receive no witness until after the trial of your faith.
If there be no faith God can do no miracle; wherefore, he showed not himself until after their faith.

And if, when we view the world, we see nothing to convince us that it can be saved, so be it. For faith is things that are hoped for and not seen. We would not say that we had faith in the reclamation of mankind if we could already see the path by which it would be accomplished. The whole point of faith is that we can invest ourselves towards the saving of humanity, with our minds unable to fathom how good will come out of it, but with our hearts believing that it will. That is working by faith, and as this verse explains that is the prerequisite to the miracle.

Calloused Hearts- 2 Kings 5:10-11, 13-14

And Elisha sent a messenger unto him, saying, Go and wash in Jordan seven times, and thy flesh shall come again to thee, and thou shalt be clean.
But Naaman was wroth, and went away, and said, Behold, I thought, He will surely come out to me, and stand, and call on the name of the Lord his God, and strike his hand over the place, and recover the leper.
And his servants came near, and spake unto him, and said, My father, if the prophet had bid thee do some great thing, wouldest thou not have done it? how much rather then, when he saith to thee, Wash, and be clean?
Then went he down, and dipped himself seven times in Jordan, according to the saying of the man of God: and his flesh came again like unto the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.

COMMENTARY

But Naaman was wroth, and said, Behold, I thought, He will surely come out to me, and stand, and strike his hand over the place, and recover the leper
I mentioned yesterday that when I pray for a fire in my heart, God usually responds with a prompting of something good I should do. As it turns out I have a specific and recent example of this.
I shared recently about my desire to gain a healthier relationship with food and my body.
But when I tried to force that healthier lifestyle on myself things backfired. I became more unhealthy and I felt this calloused heart grow within me. I lost my burning to be my best self. I kept praying for God to wake up my heart, to change me so that I could just do the right things again, to win this fight for me. But I still wasn’t getting anywhere, and that was the whole reason I began this very study.
When I read these verses from 2 Kings I realized that Naaman is a perfect example for my feelings. I had faith, I asked for what I was supposed to ask for, I thought God would come out and give me the cure! So now I felt bitter instead.

My father, if the prophet had bid thee do some great thing, wouldest thou not have done it? how much rather then, when he saith to thee, Wash, and be clean?
I can also relate to Naaman that if there was not an immediate, miraculous healing, then at least I would expect some great sacrifice or test to unlock the blessings I sought. I asked God what He needed from me and then listened for something large and related to my physical health…but He didn’t ask for that.
Then, while listening to a sermon in Church this Sunday, I finally understood. Praying and asking for a vibrant heart was only half the recipe. I needed to meet it with a deliberate, good action. Not some epic sacrifice, though, just one of those small, little things that seem of no consequence, but which we feel in our hearts are just right to do. Ask for help, show my faith by my works, and God could work with that.
I’m only three days into this new approach but it already feels more pure and more effective. I went through all the things that I’ve felt I ought to be doing but could take care of later, and started implementing them now. Things like getting to bed on time, removing distractions from work, and getting the house clean. These have very little to do with changing my relationship to food, but everything to do with repairing my relationship to God. And already the desire to do all other good things is growing within me. I would say that I have dipped in the river Jordan once, but like Naaman this is going to take multiple washings.

Calloused Hearts- James 2:17-18, 26

Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.
Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works.
For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.

COMMENTARY

Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone
For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also
Yesterday I shared how we can only be made alive through Christ, and that means we need to be a part of Christ, and that means we are actively striving to live a Christ-like life every day. There are other factors, of course, such as the all-important role of grace, but our personal striving is a very real piece of the puzzle.
Which James further emphasizes in today’s verses: faith without works is dead.
We can and should pray to God for a fire to be lit in our hearts. We should show our faith by inviting Him to plant an active desire to do good within us. We should trust that He can remake us so that choosing the right becomes an easy and pleasant experience.
But in my life it seems that He often does not often pour that spiritual fire into my heart right away. He usually takes that prayer of faith and responds by giving me a small choice. Perhaps a twinge of conscience for something simple and good to do right then and there. And I’m sorry to say that sometimes I haven’t taken the invitation. The simple good action I am being offered seems disconnected from the greater good I was asking for the strength to do, and so I overlook it. And then my faith is separated from my works and my heart is left feeling dead.

A Surety of Truth- Summary

As I came to the end of my last study I knew that my next topic of research had to be this one. My earlier studies had convinced me of the fact that I was flawed, and prone to all manner of error in opinion and perspective. And while there was an enlightenment in this, it also brought a discomfort to the mind.
For then I felt a vacuum inside of me, and the pull to the other extreme: to be jaded and cynical, disbelieving of all things, rejecting anything that was claimed to be a universal truth. In my heart, this did not feel right either, though. It felt like trading one delusion for another.
But I believed that if I sought I would find, and find the truer perspective in between these two extremes. And in the course of this study I found that to be true. Here are the key principles that I learned.

We Cannot Be Sure of Ourselves)

The first principle was an affirmation of what I was feeling at the end of my last study. I am a human, I am mortal, and I am sure to see the world through an imperfect lens. It is like looking at reality reflected in a fun-house mirror. Some things will be stretched or warped, difficult to make sense of, and prone to faulty conclusions.
There is no great shame in this, because this is the common lot of us all. Each of us has our own, personal wrong way of looking at the world. And because of this, each of our opinions is suspect. Even when we do find universal truths, we are likely to be uncertain of them. We think that they are right, but in and of ourselves we cannot know. Added to that doubt will be the fact that no matter how right they feel to us, they will always be disagreed with by some of our peers.
Now this is not the end of the story, but before moving forward we need to be able to accept this chapter of it. For by embracing this hard truth we are finally able to appreciate the beauty of another: that divine intervention has come to save us from that uncertainty.
Matthew 7:4- Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye?
John 5:31- If I bear witness of myself, my witness is not true

God Can Be Sure)

We are limited because our state is one of being inherently flawed. If we were not flawed, if we were perfect in mind, body and spirit, then when we found a truth we would be sure of it, and would never doubt it. Indeed, part of the tranquility that I believe permeates through heaven is simply the comfort of finally being sure.
We are not such a flawless being, but we do have glimpses of one while here on earth. We feel the love and see the shadow of one who is perfect in mind, body and spirit. Indeed, one of the greatest gifts from God is that just by making His presence known to us we are able to hope for a greater world than our fallen one. Even while we are prone to uncertainty and shifting opinions, we can still believe that there is one out there who does know totally. And even if we do not hold that total knowledge ourselves, it is still a comfort just to know that there is someone out there who does.
And then, when we hear of the the truths that have been revealed by this perfect being, we can cleave to them in faith. Because we’re still flawed we’ll be shaky in our belief at first, just taking His word for it, and not entirely convinced of these precepts ourselves. But still we can trust, and hope, and believe.
Numbers 23:19- God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent: hath he said, and shall he not do it? or hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good?
Matthew 7:24- Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock:

A Personal Witness)

I specifically used the phrase “when we hear of the truths that have been revealed by this perfect being,” because this is how most of us first become acquainted with God’s doctrine: second hand. We hear of them from a parent, a teacher, a friend, a church leader. We are told that this is what God has said, and we can believe it, but…the person that told us this thing could also be wrong. There still remains that layer of doubt.
And frankly, this was my state for all of my childhood and early adult years. And I thought that this was all there was to it. You just trusted, but doubted, but hoped, but were unsure. And in that tug-of-war you just tried to spend more time on the believing side than the doubting. And perhaps this is the pattern for much of life, but there does also exist something more.
For as I have seen, though personal experience, there really are moments of surety. And they do not come when I “hear of the truths that have been revealed” through some second-hand source. They only come when I feel God speak directly to me. In that moment, He not only shares facts with me, He shares His mind and spirit. For a moment I feel I have His perspective, His confidence, and His certainty. In that moment I would say that I know.
For now I’m still learning what the balance is between those brief moments of knowing and all the rest of just believing. Are they bright spots that only occur sporadically, a refresher to strengthen me for the next leg of faith? Do they become more common as I continue in discipleship, until eventually they are the norm? I’m at peace with either, because I’m sure at the end of it all there is an afterlife where I will be always be sure. “Then shall I know even as also I am known” (1 Corinthians 13:12).
John 5:32-34- There is another that beareth witness of me; and I know that the witness which he witnesseth of me is true.
But I receive not testimony from man: but these things I say, that ye might be saved.
And the Father himself, which hath sent me, hath borne witness of me.

Matthew 16:17- And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.

A Surety of Truth- 1 Corinthians 13:13, Luke 22:32

For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.

But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen they brethren.

COMMENTARY

When thou art converted
Yesterday I shared an example from the life of Peter where he was commended for having a testimony of Jesus’s status as the Christ. And yet, while he had this knowledge directly from God, he would later deny the Savior three times in a moment of fear. Though he had a testimony, Jesus still stressed Peter’s need to be more fully converted.
And so it is with each of us. Even after we obtain our first witness from God we still need to become more fully converted.

For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face
Now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known
And perhaps we don’t attain a perfect knowledge for every matter of the gospel in this life. Perhaps some testimonies must wait until we see God face-to-face on the other side of the veil.
And perhaps we only attain moments of pure knowledge, brief experiences where we know the reality of God and His love for us, but then, like holding water in our hands, the experience fades and we have to ask Him to remind us again.
Perfect knowledge is an ever-evasive goal, yet still we strive for it, because just by making the effort we better ourselves every day.

A Surety of Truth- Matthew 16:16-17

And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.
And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.

COMMENTARY

And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God
Yesterday we discussed the difference between having faith (believing in something), and having a testimony (knowing of something). Each of us begins with faith first, and it is essential for our growth in discipleship. But each of us also seeks to evolve our faith into a more perfect knowledge.
But what is it that takes us from faith to knowledge? How do we come to really know that something is true, and not merely a personal opinion? How do we gain the sort of conviction that Peter shows in this verse, when he testifies of the divine identity of Jesus?

Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven
The answer is given in Jesus’s response to Peter. Jesus made clear that Peter’s source of truth was not only based on “flesh and blood,” but rather something more.
Now flesh and blood can reveal things to us. Family and friends, even our own minds, might present ideas and teach doctrine, and from their witness we might gain faith and begin following that which we believe to be true. And this is good. But their is a tier above witnesses of flesh and blood, and the surety that comes from it is far greater.
We desire a knowledge that comes neither from us nor any man. A witness directly from God, such as Peter had received.
I have had moments where God spoke a witness to me directly, and in that moment I was more convinced of the truth then than at any other time. I was more convinced by Him than I had been by any family member or friend. Even I was more convinced by Him than I had been by my own self. In that moment I did not believe these things to be true, I knew it.

A Surety of Truth- Alma 32:28-30, 34

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.
Now behold, would not this increase your faith? I say unto you, Yea; nevertheless it hath not grown up to a perfect knowledge.
But behold, as the seed swelleth, and sprouteth, and beginneth to grow, then you must needs say that the seed is good; for behold it swelleth, and sprouteth, and beginneth to grow. And now, behold, will not this strengthen your faith? Yea, it will strengthen your faith: for ye will say I know that this is a good seed; for behold it sprouteth and beginneth to grow.
And now, behold, is your knowledge perfect? 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, and ye also know that it hath sprouted up, that your understanding doth begin to be enlightened, and your mind doth begin to expand.

COMMENTARY

Would not this increase your faith? Nevertheless it hath not grown up to a perfect knowledge
Yesterday I spoke of how we ought to follow our best understanding, even if it might only be partially correct. Even if there are flaws in our beliefs, we should trust that our intuition is generally in the right direction, and therefore worthy of being pursued.
As this verse suggests, it is not unusual for us to have a faith in what we are following…yet not a perfect knowledge. We are able to say “I believe that this is the truth, and so I will follow it. I might have some parts wrong, or a little off the mark, but I believe that I’m doing what is right.” We have faith, but not yet a testimony.

But behold, as the seed swelleth, and sprouteth, and beginneth to grow, then is your knowledge perfect, and your faith is dormant; and this because you know
Faith does eventually give way to something greater, though. Where at first we only believed, and followed with trust, eventually we can become confident and sure. This we call testimony. And when we have a testimony we testify, not of what we believe, but of what we know. Tomorrow we will consider what it is that takes us from the belief of faith to the knowledge of testimony.

For Our Own Good- Summary

There is a natural aversion to rules that we don’t understand. In our fallen world there are countless examples of laws and rules given to suppress and oppress, to maintain power for tyrants, to be followed without question, no matter how they destroyed the very people that obeyed them. Even if a rule doesn’t seem intended to harm, we still want to know the reasons why we should exert effort to follow it.
And I would say that our need to understand the rules that we follow is actually a good thing, even God-given. Yes, there is a need for following by faith alone, but also God intends for us to dig into the gospel and find answers. He gave us a hunger so that we would work to satiate it with understanding.
But even as we seek understanding, there will necessarily be a period of time before we have received it. From my study I believe there are a few principles which can help us through that intermediary time.

A Healthy View For Ignorance

One of the hardest things can be to admit that we don’t know something. Each of us has been through that unpleasant experience of being spoken to us as if we already understood, when really we did not. It might be in an education or training setting, or someone disclosing their personal feelings, or during a philosophical discussion. It isn’t that we don’t wish to understand, but that we simply don’t. In fact, many times, we don’t even know what it is that we don’t know, or how to put together the question whose answer would unlock our ability to comprehend.
And while the gospel can speak directly to our soul in such a way that no words are necessary, there are still elements of it that are difficult to fully grasp. We are divided beings, after all, one part spiritual and the other part carnal. And that carnal part just “doesn’t get” certain commandments and principles.
Instead of feeling shame for our lack of knowledge, and instead of pretending to understand more than we do, we need to be able to accept that we are ignorant, that all are ignorant in some way or another, and that this is a perfectly acceptable platform to begin our spiritual journey from. But we also need to know and accept that we can learn. Our lack of understanding is not proof that we cannot understand. Perhaps the words don’t click with us now, but one day the feelings will.
2 Nephi 28:30- For behold, thus saith the Lord God: I will give unto the children of men line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little; and blessed are those who hearken unto my precepts, and lend an ear unto my counsel, for they shall learn wisdom; for unto him that receiveth I will give more; and from them that shall say, We have enough, from them shall be taken away even that which they have.
1 Corinthians 2:14- But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.

An Environment for Learning

As mentioned above, we have both a spiritual and a carnal part to us, and the carnal (or natural, as Paul called it) cannot understand that which is spiritual. As a result, the capacity for one to understand the principles of the gospel will be directly tied to how far one dips into a spiritual lifestyle or a carnal one.
The more we surround ourselves with worldly messages, the more we indulge in carnal pleasures, the more we identify ourselves by the flesh, the harder time we are going to have perceiving and comprehending the spiritual. Our understanding will be more and more limited only to carnal understanding. On the other hand, the more we seek messages of spiritual enlightenment, the more we do the things that satiate our conscience, the more we identify ourselves by the entire soul, the more we will accumulate spiritual understanding instead.
Much of being educated is in just putting oneself in an environment of learning. If you wish to develop your sense of music, you should surround yourself with music and those that live in it. If you wish to grow more analytical, you should surround yourself with algorithms and those that solve problems by them. You find a place where you can breathe in its atmosphere, you find mentors, you look for sources that can answer your questions, and you learn by pure osmosis. It is no different with developing a fluency with the soul.
Galatians 3:24-Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.
Ruth 1:16- And Ruth said, Entreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God.

The Blessing of Learning

Finally, let us make clear that this natural ignorance and this difficulty of acquiring knowledge is not a mistake. The fact that we have to work for this understanding is by design. For while it is important for us to learn things, it is even more important for us to simply learn how to learn.
God did not send us here to know everything right from the start. He did not send us here to be perfect from the outset. Rather He sent us broken, flawed, and confused. The reason being that if we already possessed all, we would never develop the wisdom and quality of character that can only come by walking the journey. We would be stagnant, and would not develop ourselves as individuals.
God gave us the blank slate that we start off with, but also the desire to change that state. We feel in our hearts that it is better to know than to not know, and so we chase and pursue, we study and we discover, we invent and we explore. The greatest things we make and do, we make and do because God made us both flawed and self-aware of that flaw. These two qualities are both the fuel and the spark, the power and the catalyst of our great journey. They drive us into defining and becoming who we are and will be. Where they will take us we get to choose, but it will be far.
Ether 12:27-And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.

For Our Own Good- Question

I can see why the commandments of God are often seen by the world as a burden. They do, many times, put restrictions on the things that we would otherwise do. I think it is fair to say that were it not for our conscience, we would all live a far more hedonistic and sensual life, catering to the carnal tastes that are in us all. Thankfully we do have our conscience, though, and as a result, overcome many passions for our own greater good.

But even with the help of our conscience, we inevitably come to another sticking point. Sooner or later we will encounter a commandment which we do not necessarily feel the importance of. Perhaps we totally get why it is wrong to steal and kill, and will gladly restrict ourselves from such behavior, but keeping the sabbath day holy? Living a chaste life? Paying our tithes? If we list out enough commandments, sooner or later each of us will likely find one that just doesn’t resonate in us as much as the others.

What is one to do in such a circumstance? Do we ignore the laws that we don’t understand? Is it possible to gain full benefit for following them in a state of “just going through motions,” where our hearts are not in it? I would like to consider these questions, as well as contemplate why we even come to this conundrum in the first place. In the meantime, I would be curious to hear how you have dealt with the laws that you did not fully understand the reasons for? Did understanding come eventually? If so, what did you have to do to gain it?