Faith and Belief
Faith is a result of exposure to the Spirit of the Lord, and is a gift of God. Faith does not naturally reside in man. When we obey some principle of truth, or a commandment of God, or any whispering of the Spirit, the Spirit of the Lord touches our souls with a tiny increase of faith regarding that principle.
One can only have faith in things that are true. (Alma 32:21) We can’t have faith in a falsehood. Only to the extent that a principle contains truth can we exercise faith in it. For this reason, faith is always centered in Christ, because all truth flows from Christ.
Unlike faith, which is always pure, our belief structure includes both pure elements of truth, and impurities of human assumption, tradition, false conclusions, and out-and-out lies. Most of what we believe comes from the experiences of our lifetime, all of which occur in the natural world, and most of which are in some way tainted. Such false beliefs are hostile to our progress unless overridden by revealed truth.
By so noting the difference between faith and belief, we are not assigning belief second-class citizenship. Belief, while very different from faith, is the sum total of what we think, both good and bad, true and false. Belief is extremely powerful, and has a greater pull upon our lives than any other single force, because our belief literally defines our universe. Life is what we believe it to be. People are what we believe them to be. Our perception of our world, our belief structure, imposes so much distortion upon our vision, that it in many ways, it creates the world we view.
Our every act is driven by a belief. Whether that belief is based upon truth, or upon a misconception, determines whether that act is righteous or evil.
Often, our faith can be profound, while our belief about how that faith applies to us can limit, or even eliminate, our enjoyment of the fruits of our faith. Such faith-opposing believing is called “unbelief” in the scriptures. It is not necessarily an absence of faith, and can coexist with faith quite companionably. But, it is nevertheless an effective, and often long-lived, damnation of our faith.
An example of this might be: We may have faith that Heavenly Father loves us, and has the power to heal an illness or disease we may have. But, we may simultaneously believe (or assume because of what others have taught us) that Heavenly Father wants us to learn some lesson through our suffering, or that we must seek a medical solution first, turning only to Him as a last resort. Or, we may conclude that since we haven’t personally seen this magnitude of healing with our own eyes, that He may just not be doing healings of this degree nowadays, and thus, we doubt the will of God to heal us—not His power—but His intention to do so. In other words, we have great faith He can, we just don’t believe He will, and thus uninspired belief (unbelief) smothers our faith.
Another example may be: We read the scriptures and have complete faith that the Brother of Jared (or any other righteous figure) truly experienced the profound blessings, visions, revelations, and angelic visitations they record. And, even though the same prophet records that God is no respecter of persons, and liberally grants the same blessings to all who righteously seek them, we believe that the scriptures are largely for our education, and not a prototype of our personal spiritual potential. We may conclude that such things do not happen in this day, or if they do, they would happen to someone more highly placed, or more obedient. We thereby doubt—not God’s power, which is a byproduct of our faith—but we doubt His will, to grant us a place within His promises. Such doubt is by definition, unbelief.
In other words, we extinguish the fire of faith with the cold rains of unbelief.
The Lord told Moroni:
7 And in that day that they [the latter-day gentiles] shall exercise faith in me, saith the Lord, even as the brother of Jared did, that they may become sanctified in me, then will I manifest unto them the things which the brother of Jared saw, even to the unfolding unto them all my revelations, saith Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Father of the heavens and of the earth, and all things that in them are.
(Ether 4:7, comment added)
This verse contains one of the most incredible pronouncements of promise this dispensation has ever been given. It is saying that when—notice it doesn’t say if, it implies when—we rend the veil of unbelief and develop faith like unto the Brother of Jared’s, God will unfold unto us all of His revelations, which means that we will know all things, which would enable us to part the veil in many places, and to lay hold upon all promised blessings. This promise isn’t being made just to the Quorum of the Twelve. This is a promise that is held out to every person who chooses to seek and obtain it. In other words, we have access to the same gifts in this day, in this priesthood, in this church, as the Brother of Jared used to rend the heavens in his day, which lit up his 16 stones, and his eternity.
So why aren’t we doing so? Mormon’s analysis of this incredible promise, and why we fail to lay hold upon these vast things, is illuminating:
13 Come unto me, O ye Gentiles, and I will show unto you the greater things, the knowledge which is hid up because of unbelief. (Ether 4:13.)
So it is unbelief, not necessarily a lack of faith, but unbelief, which keeps us captive in a state of wickedness. Does it seem harsh to characterize unbelief as wickedness? What is wickedness, if not something that destroys our faith? False beliefs always send us off in pursuit of some path other than one that leads to exaltation. And, pursuing a forbidden path is always the result of failure to heed His voice.
52 And whoso receiveth not my voice is not acquainted with my voice, and is not of me.
53 And by this [that they receive not my voice] you may know the righteous from the wicked, and that the whole world groaneth under sin and darkness even now.
54 And your minds in times past have been darkened because of unbelief, and because you have treated lightly the things you have received—
55 Which vanity and unbelief have brought the whole church under condemnation.
(D&C 84:52-54, comment added)
The Lord here defines not receiving (hearing and obeying) His voice, unbelief and wickedness as the same spiritual malady. Furthermore, He accuses that our minds have been darkened because of unbelief, not sin or a lack of faith, but unbelief! Darkened implies a prior, or even continuing, presence of light that is being ignored or dimmed because of unbelief. Our minds are robbed of the light of our own faith through our inability to believe the truths that surround us. Further, we stand in darkness because we have treated lightly the things we have received.
If our goal is to lay hold upon great things in this gospel, then these scriptural accusations of unbelief are profoundly important. If unbelief truly is the obstacle we face, then we have laid hold upon a great tool to change our spiritual lives because we alone can change what we believe. There are two ways to change what you believe, one is to wait until something glorious and profound happens before your eyes, and then believe what you saw, and the other is to let our faith, that this same event happened exactly as recorded in the scripture, reshape our belief to include ourselves in the heavenly gifts.
The first way places us into a holding pattern we can’t control. It is somewhat faithless, because we are waiting for signs and evidences. It is almost evidence of a lackluster desire to actually participate in these super-mortal blessings.
But we do have the ability to take those things we know by faith, and simply believe them. The scriptures promise us that these same blessings are ours to claim, so believe in your right to claim them. Tell yourself you believe them. Tell God in prayer that you believe them. Remind yourself hourly if necessary, that you believe these promises apply to you personally. Herein lies a key: If you do this something astonishing will happen – you will find that once you believe, nothing doubting, that the heavens do not have the ability to withhold them from your sight.
© March 2011, John M. Pontius, all rights reserved for the contents of this blog and website.