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- 1 Corinthians 9:10; Mark 7:18, 20

Or saith he it altogether for our sakes? For our sakes, no doubt, this is written: that he that ploweth should plow in hope; and that he that thresheth in hope should be partaker of his hope.

And he saith unto them, Are ye so without understanding also? Do ye not perceive, that whatsoever thing from without entereth into the man, it cannot defile him;
And he said, That which cometh out of the man, that defileth the man.

COMMENTARY

He that ploweth should plow in hope; and that he that thresheth in hope should be partaker of his hope
There have been times when I have proselyted the gospel from a sense of duty only. I did it because it was what I was supposed to do, with very little sincerity behind it. I did not expect to make any real impact in the lives of others, which resulted in a passionless effort, which resulted in a self-fulfilling failure.
You can plow all you want on rock, but you’re never going to raise a great crop on it. And you can proselyte in pessimism, but your ministry will never flourish. If you don’t believe in what you are doing, then you might as well not do it. For the work alone is insufficient, what matters is whether the heart lies in it.
If ever we want to reap the fruit of hope, we need to do our work in hope as well. Not begrudgingly and not half-heartedly, but sincerely and with all our hearts.

That which cometh out of the man, that defileth the man
And if we cannot plow in hope and cannot thresh in hope, then the problem lies within us, not the work. If we reach into ourselves and find only pessimistic, half-hearted efforts to offer, then we need to pause and ask ourselves what is wrong with us. Before we can do our duty to our fellow man we’ve got to sort ourselves out first. Only when we’re right inside will there be good things that can come out of us and be shared with others.

Optimism in a Falling World- Moroni 7:40-42

And again, my beloved brethren, I would speak unto you concerning hope. How is it that ye can attain unto faith, save ye shall have hope?
And what is it that ye shall hope for? Behold I say unto you that ye shall have hope through the atonement of Christ and the power of his resurrection, to be raised unto life eternal, and this because of your faith in him according to the promise.
Wherefore, if a man have faith he must needs have hope; for without faith there cannot be any hope.

COMMENTARY

How is it that ye can attain unto faith, save ye shall have hope? If a man have faith he must needs have hope
In my previous post I spoke of the need for faith, and how it is to be exercised before we even see the path to success. Faith is not founded upon knowledge. As these verses suggest, it is founded upon hope. For while we may not know how good will triumph over evil and a lost soul will be saved, to act in faith we must hope that these things can and will happen. God does not unveil to us His master plan, but He often does show us a corner of it, enough so that we can have hope in the rest.

And what is it that ye shall hope for? Ye shall have hope through the atonement of Christ and the power of his resurrection, to be raised unto life eternal
And as with my last post, our hope is not meant to be founded upon anything earthly or mortal. Frankly what makes us believe in the salvation of mankind is not what we see in mankind, only what we see in God.
This verse speaks of having hope in the atonement and the resurrection, in being brought from this fallen state to one of eternal life. And first of all we are meant to have that hope of reclamation for ourselves. Then, when we feel the reality of it, we are meant to have that hope for all our fellow man as well. For if I was once able to be so lost, yet was found, then these others are not beyond hope either.

Optimism in a Falling World- Jonah 3:4-5, 10

And Jonah began to enter into the city a day’s journey, and he cried, and said, Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown.
So the people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them.
And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil, that he had said that he would do unto them; and he did it not.

COMMENTARY

So the people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them.
And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil, that he had said that he would do unto them; and he did it not

The exact sins of Nineveh are not detailed in the account of Jonah, but evidently they were of such significance that God was prepared to destroy the entire city! When we consider the example of other cities that received such a divine retribution, such as Sodom and Gomorrah, then it seems safe to say that the wickedness in Nineveh must have been extremely pronounced!
Yet for as fallen as the people might have been, it turns out that they were not beyond reclamation. After all, why send a prophet to them, even with a message of doom, unless there yet remained some hope that that doom might be averted?
From this story I learn to look at the sort of people I might consider to be a lost cause, and I realize that they are actually far from it! Truly there are places of deep evil today, and I am sure there are individuals who are ripe for destruction, but these are most definitely the minority. By and large, people are still basically good, still within the reach of hope. There are many who are waylaid, but that are the same sort that Jesus vouched for with the words “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). And instead of trying to push these confused souls towards their destruction, we should be inviting them back to the fold.

Optimism in a Falling World- Question

I have always meant for these studies to be based around universal and timeless questions, rather than obsess over whatever the latest social controversy is. But of course I am a member of this world and I cannot help but feel affected by the great, rolling movements that disturb it.

And in all these passing tumults I have often seen a repeated theme of discord. I have an overwhelming sense of sides unwilling to work together, of a world falling apart, and of an impending fallout looming ahead. And as one man in a sea of billions I feel helpless to turn that tide. Even the scriptures foretell of our world falling to ruin before the second coming of Jesus Christ.

When I consider thoughts like these I find it very difficult to invest in what appears to be a losing battle. What would be the point? Shouldn’t I just take care of myself and let the world fall away?

But that doesn’t feel right to my heart either. Despair has never been one of the virtues championed by the gospel! With this study I want to examine how we can remain optimistic in a world falling away. What exactly is our duty to society as it becomes increasingly disinterested with our mission? How did the early disciples remain motivated in the face of apostasy and martyrdom? What can we do to increase our sense of hope, and what is that hope founded in?

In the meantime I’d love to hear about your own experiences dealing with cynicism. Have you ever lost faith in humanity, but then found it restored? Or are you even now struggling to keep your “perfect brightness of hope” alive? What have you asked in prayer and done in your actions to help with this matter?

Influence and Persuasion- Alma 20:20-22, 23; 22:5, 15

And he stretched forth his hand to slay Ammon. But Ammon withstood his blows, and also smote his arm that he could not use it.
Now when the king saw that Ammon could slay him, he began to plead with Ammon that he would spare his life.
Now the king, fearing he should lose his life, said: If thou wilt spare me I will grant unto thee whatsoever thou wilt ask, even to half of the kingdom.

Now the king said unto them: What is this that ye have said concerning the Spirit of the Lord? Behold, this is the thing which doth trouble me.
And it came to pass that after Aaron had expounded these things unto him, the king said: What shall I do that I may have this eternal life of which thou hast spoken? Yea, what shall I do that I may be born of God, having this wicked spirit rooted out of my breast, and receive his Spirit, that I may be filled with joy, that I may not be cast off at the last day? Behold, said he, I will give up all that I possess, yea, I will forsake my kingdom, that I may receive this great joy.

COMMENTARY

Now the king, fearing he should lose his life, said: If thou wilt spare me I will grant unto thee half of the kingdom
My wife pointed out to me how a story in the Book of Mormon applies very well to this topic of study. In it, a king is hostile towards a missionary and tries to kill him. But when the missionary gains the upper hand and the king sees that his own life is in danger, he immediately tries to bargain. As we see in this verse, he is motivated by that fear to give up an entire half of his kingdom, which would make his assailant as powerful as he is. Fear is a powerful way to pressure people into doing things.

And after Aaron had expounded these things the king said: What shall I do that I may have this eternal life? I will give up all that I possess, yea, I will forsake my kingdom, that I may receive this great joy.
Of course the missionary does not kill the king, which catches the king by surprise. Later, when the king meets the brother of that missionary, he requests to be taught. For the first time the king hears the gospel message, and at this point he is filled with hope, not fear. Now he makes another offer, this time for his entire kingdom, which would leave himself powerless, if only he can have the goodness that his heart desires.
This story is a wonderful example of how fear is a powerful motivation, but hope is even greater. People that are inspired by hope will always be able to do more than those who are driven by fear.

The Need for Law- Isaiah 51:4-6, 8

Hearken unto me, my people; and give ear unto me, O my nation: for a law shall proceed from me, and I will make my judgment to rest for a light of the people.
My righteousness is near; my salvation is gone forth, and mine arms shall judge the people; the isles shall wait upon me, and on mine arm shall they trust.
Lift up your eyes to the heavens, and look upon the earth beneath: for the heavens shall vanish away like smoke, and the earth shall wax old like a garment, and they that dwell therein shall die in like manner: but my salvation shall be for ever, and my righteousness shall not be abolished.
For the moth shall eat them up like a garment, and the worm shall eat them like wool: but my righteousness shall be for ever, and my salvation from generation to generation.

COMMENTARY

For the heavens shall vanish away like smoke, and the earth shall wax old like a garment, and they that dwell therein shall die in like manner.
To understand the need for God’s law, we need to appreciate that we are under another law already: that of mortality. And the final fulfillment of that law is spelled out in total clarity: heaven shall vanish away, earth shall wax old, and all of us that dwell therein shall die. These are the commandments of the earth and they are immutable.
We try to medicate ourselves into longer life, we try to cryogenically freeze our cells, we try to create a legacy to outlive us. We do all of these things to defy the doom of earth’s law, but they are, at best, very temporary solutions. If nothing else gets us, the universe is set for total entropy, which will ultimately unmake any edifice that we try to preserve ourselves in. Whether we live for ten years, a hundred, or find a way to live for a thousand, we will still die.

Hearken unto me, my people; and give ear unto me, O my nation: for a law shall proceed from me, and I will make my judgment to rest for a light of the people.
But my righteousness shall be for ever, and my salvation from generation to generation.
And now, under that context of dark gloom, God gives His divine law as a light, to provide us a hope that was impossible by any worldly means. It offers another outcome, a different destination than the silent grave.
Who can deny the worthiness of this? On these facts alone, it is a law that we should all subscribe to. It honestly wouldn’t matter what its principles and commandments were, we would be fools to not adhere to them. Any cost that it asked would be worth the outcome.

What Chance Do I Have?- Moroni 10:20-22, 1 Corinthians 9:10

Wherefore, there must be faith; and if there must be faith there must also be hope; and if there must be hope there must also be charity.
And except ye have charity ye can in nowise be saved in the kingdom of God; neither can ye be saved in the kingdom of God if ye have not faith; neither can ye if ye have no hope.
And if ye have no hope ye must needs be in despair; and despair cometh because of iniquity.

Or saith he it altogether for our sakes? For our sakes, no doubt, this is written: that he that ploweth should plow in hope; and that he that thresheth in hope should be partaker of his hope.

COMMENTARY

Wherefore, there must be faith; and if there must be faith there must also be hope
And if ye have no hope ye must needs be in despair
If we are unable to live in hope of our success, then all our discipleship will crumble in despair. If I have no hope of triumph, how could I act in faith? It would feel like a vain effort, and I would consign myself to inevitable ruin.
Hope is therefore not just some nice virtue to make our lives more pleasant, it is absolutely essential for our spiritual survival. For many, the entire struggle of discipleship is the struggle to simply maintain their hope.

He that ploweth should plow in hope
In which case one must understand that hope is not some vague thing that you either have or don’t have. Hope, like faith, can be exercised, can be cultivated, and can be grown. We must dare to hope, work ourselves up to it, strive for it continually. Even if you have only a little hope, plow and thresh in it, and the promise is given that you will partake of more.

What Chance Do I Have?- Proverbs 13:20, Matthew 5:16

He that walketh with wise men shall be wise: but a companion of fools shall be destroyed.

Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.

COMMENTARY

He that walketh with wise men shall be wise: but a companion of fools shall be destroyed
That in which we prolong our association tends to rub off on us. I began this study with the question of “if so many valiant souls fell from the gospel, then what chance do I have?” This question, though, chooses to restrict its consideration to only the tragedies that are found in the scriptures. If we limit our view in this way, then of course we will start to grow cynical and doubt ourselves. If we become obsessed with observing Judas, we run the risk of forgetting that there was also a Peter.

Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works
I believe this is part of the reason why Jesus commanded his faithful disciples to shine forth. There will always be depressing examples that discourage us, and that pessimism needs to be actively beat back with a light of hope. Yes, there are those that tried and failed, but let us not forget that the scriptures also overflow with positive examples: men and women that came from humble beginnings, became spiritual giants, and held their faith to the end. There is sufficient reason to be an optimist, if we will just allow ourselves to focus on it.
If the paths of doubt and hope can each be well justified, then why not choose the better part?

What Chance Do I Have?- Question

One day I considered the records we have of faithful disciples who eventually fell away from the gospel, and it made me wonder if I might ever do the same. I have no intention of ever abandoning my faith…but then that seems to be true of so many that do. And to be clear, I’m not talking about halfhearted disciples who were never invested in the message of the gospel, and unsurprisingly sifted out over time. I am speaking of spiritual giants, ones who it appears had so much more depth of spirit than I ever have, yet somehow still lost their grasp on it.

Judas walked with the living Savior, Solomon was blessed with the wisdom of God, nine of the ten lepers had their bodies restored by a miracle, Lucifer was a son of heaven. These were the elite, the greatly blessed, the glorified…and still they fell. If even these were subject to gravity, then how can I ever hope to defy it?

In times past I have thought up some answers to these questions, but I would like to take a formal study to see what deeper insights the scriptures can provide. The gospel is one of hope, and so I am convinced that I can find the encouragement I need to address this concern.

In the meantime I would be curious to hear if you have ever had thoughts like these? How do you maintain confidence in self, even in the midst of stumbling? What do you think the key difference between disciples that fall and disciples that hold firm is? How do you keep yourself among the latter?