Guest Post: The Eye of Faith

eye
If faith is like an eye (Alma 32:40), then it’s a way of seeing, not a way of getting by without seeing at all.

By Jeffrey Thayne

We often talk about faith as the absence of sight. For example, we are taught that “if ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen,” and “faith is things which are hoped for and not seen.” We often visualize faith as taking a step into the unknown, or trusting that which we cannot see. This conception of faith is partly true. However, for a moment, I would like to explore faith as a way of seeing, not just the absence of sight. It is sight enlivened by the power of the atonement of Jesus Christ.

My First Conversation with My Mission President

One of the first conversations I had with my mission president after I arrived in the South Dakota Rapid City Mission had a profound impact on me. I went something like this:

President Osguthorpe: “You may have heard, before you came out here (and we know this because most of our new missionaries have been told this), that this is an extremely difficult mission. You may have heard that the people in North Dakota and South Dakota are hard-hearted, have already made up their minds, and that few, if any, are willing to consider joining The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. You may have heard that some missionaries go home without baptizing anyone, and that you’ll tract all day, every day, with little to no success.”

Me: “Sure, I’ve heard something like that. Is it true?”

President Osguthorpe: “Absolutely not. The field is white and already to harvest, and you’ll be baptizing many people while here, rest assured. The rumors only exist because our mission used to think that was the way things were. We don’t think that anymore, because we have proven it false. Every missionary in this mission is going to baptize at least one person every month.”

Because of this conversation, I began my mission with the expectation that the people in South Dakota were ready and willing to hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and my expectations were met in surprising ways.

The Spyglass

The Spyglass
A children’s picture book with a helpful message.

During a zone conference early in my mission, Sister Osguthorpe read us a story. It was a book titled “The Spyglass,” by Richard Paul Evans. It told the story of a decrepit, decaying kingdom inhabited by a sad, discouraged people. Their buildings were in disrepair, their fields were not providing adequate food, and many “would oftentimes go to bed hungry.” There was no music, play, or cheer in the entire kingdom. The economy had all but collapsed, and everyone, including the king, lived in poverty. The king saw himself as a poor king of a poor kingdom, and “was greatly ashamed” of his country.

One day, the king’s castle received a surprise visit from an old traveler who asked for lodging. As the traveler approached the king, he said, “You do not look like a king.”

The king replied, “I am the king of a poor kingdom. Our farms do not grow, our buildings are falling down, and my people weary me day and night with their complaints. We were once a great kingdom, but all that has changed.”

The traveler asked astutely, “Why do you not change back?”

This question surprised the king. It felt as if the traveler was placing responsibility for the kingdom’s persistent state of decay on the shoulders of him and his people. I imagine he may have thought, “It isn’t our fault the economy has failed. It isn’t our fault our crops won’t grow,” etc. The king told the traveler that although they had tried to change, they had always failed, due to circumstances seemingly beyond their control. “We lack all knowledge of what once made this kingdom great,” the kind said.

The traveler kindly replied, “You lack but one thing,” and kindly offered to show the king what that one thing was. The man pulled a spyglass from his pocket and invited the king to look through it. As the king looked through the spyglass, he saw “great farms and gardens, magnificent castles and cathedrals,” and “fields of grain stretching stretching as far as the eye could see.” The traveler informed the king, “It is your own kingdom you see. Change requires work. But one must first see before doing. You have seen what might be. Now go and make it so.”

The king set out across his kingdom and began to share his newfound vision with his discouraged people. He invited person after person to look at his or her surroundings through the magic lens of the mysterious spyglass. As each person looked through the spyglass, each saw his or her surroundings transformed in a remarkable way. A farmer saw through his spyglass fields of grain ready to be harvested. A friar saw his cathedral repaired, and even more beautiful than it had been originally. “By the grace of God,” he said, “I have seen a vision.” Citizens saw their gardens weeded and full of food, and their children playing gleefully in the grass. Each time, the king would say, “You have seen what might be. Now make it so.”

Over the next year, the kingdom was transformed. It became one of the richest, happiest kingdoms in all the land. It was full of magnificent gardens, great cathedrals, laughing children. The people were well fed and prone to write music. When the traveler returned for the spyglass, the king wanted to keep it.

“You no longer need the spyglass,” the traveler said. “You can see without it. The spyglass only showed you what could be if you believed, for it was only faith that you and your people lacked. Faith is the beginning of all journeys. It is by faith that the seed is planted. It is by faith that the foundation is dug. It is by faith that each book is penned and each song written. Only by faith can we see that which is not, but can be.”

The Mission Transformed

This was, essentially, the story of the South Dakota Rapid City Mission. When President and Sister Osguthorpe arrived in the mission, it was in a dismal state. Missionaries were discouraged, few were baptizing, and the members were generally antagonistic to missionary work. However, President and Sister Osguthorpe had faith. They traveled the mission and shared with the missionaries and the members their vision of what could be. They told stories of missionaries baptizing every month, of members fellowshipping converts, of missionaries too busy teaching member-referred investigators to tract. They shared a vision of the South Dakota Rapid City Mission filled with missionaries who were exactly obedient and who followed the instructions in Preach My Gospel to the letter. They shared a vision of North and South Dakota experiencing the same thing that the Nephites did in the forty-ninth year of the reign of the judges:

In this same year there was exceedingly great prosperity in the church, insomuch that there were thousands who did ajoin themselves unto the church and were baptized unto repentance. And so great was the prosperity of the church, and so many the blessings which were poured out upon the people, that even the high priests and the teachers were themselves astonished beyond measure. And … the work of the Lord did prosper unto the baptizing and uniting to the church of God, many souls, yea, even tens of thousands.

The Osguthorpes shared a vision of all of this done with love and faith. This was more than just a “positive mental attitude.” It was faith grounded in their experience and knowledge of the atonement of Jesus Christ—and how Christ can transform even the hardest of hearts and redeem even the most entrenched of communities. They then said, “You have seen what might be. Now go and make it so.”

Through the transforming power of Jesus Christ, the mission transformed. Disobedience, after a while, was all but unheard of. Preach My Gospel and the scriptures became our guide. And baptisms far more than doubled. And the promise my mission president made to me as I entered the mission was fulfilled: the people in North Dakota and South Dakota were prepared to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ. All we needed was the faith to share it—faith in Jesus Christ and His grace.

Some Examples

Everywhere we look, we can see things that are in perpetual disrepair, both in the church or in the world. I believe, however, that most of what we lack is the faith to see what could be. Let’s look at three examples.

1. In Sunday School, we most often see teachers struggling to present a hastily prepared lesson to an ill-prepared class. Members rarely attend Sunday School having studied the scriptural passages that will be discussed. They often attend, sit quietly, zone out, and then leave without ever having contributed to or learned something from the lesson. A few years ago, Elder Holland participated in a worldwide church training meeting directed towards teachers. He talked about deer who were fed straw and then died of malnutrition because although their stomachs were full, they weren’t nourished. I see this happening quite frequently in Sunday School. We’ve all seen it, and although there are many exceptions, I suspect that most would call this an average experience in Sunday School.

Let’s take a hypothetical look through the magic spyglass. What do we see? Let me tell you what I see. I see the majority of members spending at least a portion of their daily scripture study reading through the chapters that will be discussed in Sunday School that week. I see them writing down questions, thoughts, and comments about the readings. I see them coming to Sunday School knowing the material inside and out and asking questions that they’ve thought about throughout the week. I see the teachers no longer having to give one-hour talks in the front of the room, but being more like discussion facilitators. I can see each and every member attending with an excitement and energy for what will be learned and discussed, fueled by their own study and questions. I see each member leaving Sunday School thoroughly edified, refreshed, and spiritually fed. Is this not within our power? Let’s go and make it so. Nearly each and every one of us attend Sunday School each week. We can start with ourselves, and others will either see and follow our example or respond to our loving invitation to do the same.

2. We see home teaching, when done, done in a perfunctory way. Priesthood holders will often visit, share a brief message (which is often just reading a few quotes from an Ensign article), and then leave—without giving thought to the family at all between visits. Sadly, I’ve been that kind of home teacher before. Also, families that are less-active are rarely home taught (perhaps because priesthood holders don’t feel quite as welcome—visibly active families are often much more inviting).

Let’s take a hypothetical look through the magic spyglass. What do we see? Let me tell you what I see. I see home teachers who take their responsibility to the families they home teach seriously. Rather than giving the same lesson to each family, I see them considering each family separately and praying that they will prepare a lesson tailored to each family’s needs. I see them extending commitments to the families they home teach and following up on those commitments throughout the month. I see them becoming close friends with the families they home teach. I see less active families receiving the same care and attention as the most active members. Is this not within our power? Each priesthood holder is a home teacher. Let’s go and make it so. I not only see this as a possibility, but I see it as an actuality. My home teacher texted me this morning to follow up on a commitment he extended to me two weeks ago. I felt loved and cared about.

3. In school, we see students striving to get good grades and to graduate, but often without giving thought to how much they are actually learning. We see students asking, “Is this going to be on the test?” They ask this because they only wish to remember and study that which is required for them to pass the class with a good grade. If a professor cancels a class, students cheer. Rather than looking for the professor that invites students to learn the most, students look for professors that will require the least from their students.

Let’s take a hypothetical look through the magic spyglass. What do we see? Let me tell you what I see. I see students who want to learn and who see grades as an burden incidental to their learning. Rather than asking, “Is this going to be on the test?” I see them asking, “Where can I learn more about this?” I see students who value their time at the university as an opportunity to feast upon knowledge, rather than a chore to complete before receiving a diploma. I see professors excited to come to class, because they know that their students are excited to hear what they have to say. I see professors knowing that students have read the material beforehand and knowing that they can therefore teach new and original material that adds to what the students have read, rather than simply rehearsing what the students have read. Is this not within our power? Let’s go and make it so.

Seeing each of these three things actually happen would be a miracle. However, as the Prophet Mormon said, “Have miracles ceased? Behold I say unto you, Nay” (Moroni 7:29). Mormon continues, “And Christ hath said: If ye will have faith in me ye shall have power to do whatsoever thing is expedient in me. … for it is by faith that miracles are wrought; … wherefore, if these things have ceased wo be unto the children of men, for it is because of unbelief” (Moroni 7:33, 37). According to Moroni, “It was the faith of Alma and Amulek that caused the prison to tumble to the earth. Behold, it was the faith of Nephi and Lehi that wrought the change upon the Lamanites, that they were baptized with fire and with the Holy Ghost. Behold, it was the faith of Ammon and his brethren which wrought so great a miracle among the Lamanites” (Ether 12:13-15). If Jesus Christ can transform hearts and redeem entire nations, then if we have faith in His redemptive power, He can perform miracles in our own lives and within our own sphere of influence.

Conclusion

I would like to invite each person who reads this to consider, “What could things be like if I/we but had faith?” Then go and make it happen. I suspect that if we do this, we’ll see miracles in our own lives and within our own sphere of influence. Things we never thought could happen will happen. Perhaps it will be that one will begin to have daily meals with his family, as he envisions with an eye of faith. Perhaps it will be that one will begin to be organized and disciplined, as she envisions with an eye of faith. Perhaps one will purge an excess of idleness and entertainment from his life, as he envisions with and eye of faith. Faith in Jesus Christ invites HIm to change our hearts in a fundamental way.

Moroni tells us that “there were many whose faith was so exceedingly strong, [they] truly saw with their eyes the things which they had beheld with an eye of faith, and they were glad.” We too can see with our own two eyes the things which we only now see with an eye of faith. This is further evidence that faith is not just the absence of sight, it is a way of seeing. With it, we can make miracles happen.

About Jeffrey Thayne
Jeffrey Thayne is a graduate student at Brigham Young University, and is studying psychology. He is writing his masters thesis on the relationship between moral agency and ethical obligation. He is also fascinated by philosophy, science, the history of law, and educational psychology. He has a lifelong ambition to be a teacher, and hopes to start his own school someday. He has a strong testimony of the transformative power of Jesus Christ. He considers himself a classical liberal, and currently lives in Elk Ridge, Utah.

Jeffrey blogs at ldsphilosopher.com

34 thoughts on “Guest Post: The Eye of Faith

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention » Guest Post: The Eye of Faith The Millennial Star -- Topsy.com

  2. This is a wonderful post. I believe it is the truth, so please don’t take the rest of my comment as a challenge to what you say.

    The problem comes when you see, and you do all that you can do to “make it so” and it doesn’t.

    In Alma’s parable of faith, that means it wasn’t a good seed. But when you know it is a good seed, because you see it working in others’ lives, the problem must be in the ground you planted it in . . . in other words in you. What then? What do you do when you have spent all you have on that seed only to fail?

  3. SilverRain: someone in such a situation may justly wonder whether the “spyglass” was faulty, or whether some extra necessary effort was left undone. It gets back to the line of Daniel’s chums: “But if not….” These are inspiring words, but also more than a little haunting.

    Jeffrey: nice post. I’m curious about your response to SilverRain’s question.

  4. SilverRain,

    I believe that “…but if not” can be approached from a position of faith or despair.

    When I attend Sunday School, I try to read the assigned readings, come prepared with questions, participate in the discussion, and do everything I can to bring about the reality I see with an aye of faith (a Sunday School that is enlivening and invigorating for all), and I try to invite others to do the same. Suppose after six months, I’m still the only person doing that, and my vision has not yet been achieved.

    If I have despair, I might no longer hope, pray, and expect the thing which I seek with an eye of faith. I might make excuses for why I didn’t see the desired results. For example, if I might conclude that people are just too lazy and used to mediocre Sunday School lessons. I might conclude that habits are too entrenched to change. I might conclude that my example just doesn’t have the influence I hoped it would. I might conclude that it won’t ever happen. I might fall back into rank and file and approach and continue my old habits.

    If I have faith, I will continue to do what I can to attain that vision even though it didn’t happen. I won’t set down the spyglass or conclude that it was faulty… I’ll just conclude that more work needs to be done, more patience is needed. I’ll continue to strive for that vision, as Reepicheep never stopped trying to reach the utter east. Like Abraham and other of the ancient patriarchs who “all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them,” we may not see the object of our faith with our own two eyes until after death and the resurrection. But if we with faith seek Zion, we will find it, even if in the Celestial Kingdom, “for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.”

    As the Lord said, “dispute not because ye see not, for ye receive no witness until after the trial of your faith.” That trial might continue the entire duration of our lives. However, I don’t think this should be our first presumption. I think missionaries and members too often assume the “but if not” is the rule, rather than the exception. I think we can and will see many, many more miracles and transformations if we actually believe what the New Testament and Book of Mormon tell us: miracles are wrought by faith. Ether 12 and Moroni 7 list some great exemplars.

    I

  5. Steven,

    That’s exactly my point. =) It wasn’t as bad or impossible as everyone assumed it was. The presumption that it couldn’t be done is what was stopping the work. The eye of faith is what opened it up.

  6. I really enjoyed the post (especially because of its practical emphasis. Miracles are wrought by faith because, well…we pull them off), but the problem I sense here is that I feel it assumes one can choose a lot more than I feel like I can choose. SilverRain’s comment really captures what I’d say. (Except, I’d take a slightly different approach to her comparison with Alma parable of faith. But it’s not ultimately consequential in the end whether the seed is bad or whether the soil is for what I want to say.)

    Jeffrey’s response in 6 really was what struck me as off. So, “But if not…” can be approached from a position of faith or despair. Fair enough (I might have a quibble, but let’s say I don’t).

    Do you choose faith or despair? I don’t feel like I do. Or, if I do, I feel like it’s because of a bunch of other things that I don’t choose. It’s not a free and unbridled choice, if it is a choice.

    For example, in the two options, there are different “conclusions” being made. In despair, one might “conclude” that people are lazy, but in faith, one might “conclude” that more work needs to be done.

    …but how do we come up to these conclusions? It doesn’t seem to me like we come to these conclusions out of whole cloth. We evaluate the situation around us and our interpretations of the situation (not voluntary) point us to a conclusion that seems likely to us.

    It seems to me that one option could be to act against every interpretation or conclusion we feel and think out. To act AGAINST “what seems likely to us.” This seems to be what is described when Jeffrey writes:

    I won’t set down the spyglass or conclude that it was faulty… I’ll just conclude that more work needs to be done, more patience is needed. I’ll continue to strive for that vision

    I don’t think it’s so clear-cut as saying, “BY SHEER WILLPOWER, I will seriously and authentically believe that the spyglass is not faulty. I will seriously and authentically believe that more work needs to be done, more patience is needed.”

    BUT maybe if I can’t say or do that, I can still continue to strive for a vision that I don’t believe.

    I just think that this path has some pretty big negative side effects. The doubts nag. The disconnect is disorienting. In a very real way, faith becomes moving in the blindness after all (even though you tried to escape this) — and the blindness is disorienting, especially when you’re not blind, but instead, you are being taught that your senses are really just deceiving you and that they ought not be trusted as you “endure to the end.”

    It seems to me that if this is the case, then why not apply this to anywhere? Why be biased toward Mormonism over, say, Islam? or Catholicism? I might not “see” Catholicism or Islam any more than I “see” Mormonism, but if things are about enduring to the end and trusting in someone else’s spyglass over my own, then how am I to evaluate between the options? Why should anyone ever convert to Mormonism when instead they could “endure to the end” in their own faith tradition? We are assuming that someone sees something FIRST.

    I guess I could compare to the spyglass analogy. So, in the “But if not…” scenario, it seems to assume that once you saw the grand vision in the spyglass…but now you aren’t certain whether the spyglass is trustworthy or not. But what if instead you can’t see anything from the spyglass? People are saying what you ought to see in the spyglass but you never personally see what they are seeing about it?

    I find this position to be functionally equivalent to the “but if not…” scenario.

  7. Andrew,

    In a very real way, faith becomes moving in the blindness after all (even though you tried to escape this) — and the blindness is disorienting, especially when you’re not blind, but instead, you are being taught that your senses are really just deceiving you and that they ought not be trusted as you “endure to the end.”

    Since, in the metaphor, the spyglass doesn’t show you “things as they currently are,” but “things as they might become,” I don’t see any disconnect at all. We don’t have to convince ourselves that things are different than they currently are; we need only believe that they could, through Christ, be different than they currently are. And anywhere there is sin, this is true—through Christ, things can be different than they currently are.

    But what if instead you can’t see anything from the spyglass? People are saying what you ought to see in the spyglass but you never personally see what they are seeing about it? I find this position to be functionally equivalent to the “but if not…” scenario.

    Because we (and others) don’t always choose to allow Christ to make it that way, we might not see the transformation we seek in this lifetime. However, I believe an inability to see the possibility of change reflect an absence of faith. If one cannot see how, through Christ, things could be better than they currently are, I submit that faith is lacking. Through Christ, things can always be better than they currently are, and I’m pretty sure you can agree with that.

  8. we need only believe that they could, through Christ, be different than they currently are. And anywhere there is sin, this is true—through Christ, things can be different than they currently are.

    And different in what way? They could be different in a lot of ways, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that we see them as different in the ways the church would want them to be different in.

    For example, what if we don’t believe that they could, through Christ, be different than they currently are? (After all, we could believe that they could be different for completely non-Christ reasons). Then this “we need only believe” becomes a very quick bottleneck.

    If one cannot see how, through Christ, things could be better than they currently are, I submit that faith is lacking.

    Continuing what I was just saying (especially hinging on the phrase “through Christ”), so, suppose you submit that faith is lacking. Now what? Faith is lacking. What does someone do about it? If faith is lacking, they can’t just conjure faith from the aether.

    I guess here’s the deal for me. There’s a difference between being able to see the possibility of any change…and the possibility of seeing specific changes (such as a specific change through Christ). I may have the former without seeing the latter. The possibility of changes I see may be quite different than the possibility of changes you see. Now what?

    And, going from there…suppose I say that I can see the possibility that through Christ, things can always be better than they currently are. From where do I go from possibility to probability or whatever? Let’s say I can see the possibility that through Christ, all things can be better, but I can also see the possibility that maybe instead it’s not Christ but (insert other concept here), all things may be better, why should I pursue Christ over the other things? Is it because you reached me first? There are a lot of possibilities, after all…

  9. oh gosh. Can someone please edit my comment and change some blockquote tags? I probably got my quote and blockquote tags confused or something.

  10. I really like this post.

    I, too, was struck with some of the same questions SilverRain had. My thought on that is that faith isn’t always about getting results, but about where our hearts and spirits are in the midst of whatever is happening. I think faith means turning to God and knowing what HE would have us do, not necessarily what WE would want to see happen.

    I also struggle with the notion of faith as it relates to others’ agency. Again, if we are not careful, we can mistake our desires for outcomes with faith and spend energy where perhaps we shouldn’t.

    I don’t know if I’m explaining my thoughts well enough, but I do think there is a significant tension in this principle of faith. Faith can move mountains, but sometimes the mountains are within our own hearts as we face trials that don’t change.

    But back to the post — I really like the idea of faith as a way of seeing, a way of engaging what is happening, a state of spirit that can turn us from acting upon to acting in ways that strengthen our relationship with God == and then we are more able to know and discern His will.

    p.s. I love the Osguthorpes and find myself feeling just a touch of envy at the experience you must have had serving with them. I would love to be taught more at their feet about this subject, because they have struck me as really faith-filled people.

  11. This reminds me of a quote from a talk given by the Osguthorpes, which to me sums up the foundation of what faith is:

    “One of the mistakes we make over and over again in life is to go directly for the
    things we think are important. But if we aim at self-fulfillment, we shall never be fulfilled. If we aim at education, we shall never become educated. If we aim at salvation, we shall never be saved. These things are indirect, supreme results of doing something else; and the something else is service, it is righteousness, it is trying to do the right thing, the thing that needs to be done at each moment.” (Arm the Children-Faith’s Response to a Violent World, Arthur Henry King, BYU Studies, Brigham Young University, 1998, pg. 265)

  12. re 14:

    Michelle,

    I can really get behind that quote. I just feel that there is so much that is AGAINST that message. Especially the idea that “If we aim at salvation, we shall never be saved.” It seems to me that there is pressure NOT only to “aim at salvation”, but that if you cannot or do not do this, then there is a great problem with you. It’s not enough to serve…one has to serve with some kind of framework that includes salvation in it.

  13. Thank you so much for this discussion. I’m really enjoying it on a level I’ve not done in a long time. And by “enjoy” I don’t mean that it is a comfortable discussion, just a needed one for me right now.

    It seems that when we look through the eyeglass, or to go back to the seed analogy, when we plant the seed, we have a vision of what might be, we are picturing ourselves holding the fruit from that seed and enjoying it. We water it, care for it, do everything we can until we have nothing left to give, and yet it doesn’t grow. There are only three things that can be wrong, from what I see. Either:
    1) The seed is bad.
    2) You didn’t work hard enough.
    3) The ground is bad.

    Let’s say that you know the seed is good. It grew for others, and/or you have been told clearly by revelation that this is good seed.

    That leaves either you or the ground. Assuming you did all you could to prepare the ground, perhaps it just couldn’t be fixed. And now you are left with nothing more to give, no way to try again.

    I suppose this is the part where it gets down to the brass tacks, at least for me. At this point, you have to stop trying so hard and trust that the Master Gardener will give you good ground this time, and that He will somehow give you what it takes to try again when that good ground is presented.

    One thing I think, maybe, is that sometimes it’s okay to be discouraged sometimes, even angry. There aren’t many accounts in scriptures of this kind of discouragement. I can think of only a few off the top of my head (Jonah, Job, Moroni and Nephi). Jonah and Job were even angry with God, yet they were still righteous, still prophets. I think one key is to be willing to take the chastisement and teaching when it comes, to admit that you don’t understand, even in the midst of your frustration and anger.

    Nephi’s psalm in 2 Nephi 4 is a great example of this. He mourns at his own discouragement and anger, and prays that the Lord will help him through it. So I think you’re right, that faith is a way of seeing. But sometimes, I think it is also a way of being willing not to see for a time, because you trust Him to see for you.

  14. Great comment, SilverRain. One minor quibble, though, where in the Bible does it say that Job was mad at God? I know in Job 3 he cursed that he did not die in the womb, but I do not recall him ever being angry with God.

  15. Andrew:

    suppose you submit that faith is lacking. Now what? Faith is lacking. What does someone do about it? If faith is lacking, they can’t just conjure faith from the aether.

    You’re right. One can’t “think” their way into faith. But one can certainly pray for it. The scriptures promise us that Christ can potentially redeem even the most fallen of circumstances/people/nations. Of course, that isn’t always within our control—but we can believe in the possibility, and do our part with an eye of faith that it can and will happen if God wants it to.

    Let’s say I can see the possibility that through Christ, all things can be better, but I can also see the possibility that maybe instead it’s not Christ but (insert other concept here), all things may be better, why should I pursue Christ over the other things?

    I’m not sure where you are going with this. I’m Christian, and I believe Mormon when he said, “all things which are good cometh of God … every thing which inviteth to do good, and to persuade to believe in Christ, is sent forth by the power and gift of Christ.” I invite you to set aside doubts and to be believing—and to pray that God with fill your mind and heart with faith in Jesus Christ.

    If you choose to believe otherwise, that’s up to you. =)

    Michelle:

    I also struggle with the notion of faith as it relates to others’ agency. Again, if we are not careful, we can mistake our desires for outcomes with faith and spend energy where perhaps we shouldn’t.

    I see what you are saying here. Here’s my two cents:

    Sometimes, it feels like we set ourselves up for disappointment. Let’s use missionary work as an example. I mean, can you imagine if Ammon and his brethren hadn’t been successful? That would be pretty depressing. So it was a huge risk for them to embark on a mission, expecting to see miracles through Christ. It’s psychologically safe not to expect anything out of our labors—then we aren’t ever disappointed. But I think we overcompensate—I think there is a surplus of “We shouldn’t expect miracles to happen, or we’ll just end up being depressed,” and not enough, “We expect miracles to happen, and we’ll strive to do our part, and let Christ do the rest (in His timing).”

    Consider Abinadi: He had faith. He didn’t see a single convert. He was killed. However, from the other side of the veil he saw entire nations get converted because of his teaching (Alma the Elder, Limhi’s people, the entire Lamanite nation through the teaching of Ammon and his friends, Alma the Younger’s missions and preaching). I submit that if Abinadi had not had faith, his efforts might have died with him. Instead, God consecrated Abinadi’s sacrifice, because of his faith, and blessed entire nations for it (just as the entire world is currently blessed because of Abraham’s faith, even though he’s not around to see it).

    I also think it helps if we exercise faith not that we’ll experience comfort, convenience, longevity, or other things, but more often that redemption and transformation can occur inside us and those around us. That is faith that almost sure to be rewarded, because then even our discomforts, inconveniences, and other trials can work to our advantage.

    SilverRain:

    That leaves either you or the ground. Assuming you did all you could to prepare the ground, perhaps it just couldn’t be fixed. And now you are left with nothing more to give, no way to try again.

    Here’s my two cents:

    Using a metaphor of physical exertion, yes—sometimes we reach the point of exhaustion, at which point we must turn it over to God. As far as patience, dedication, discipline, and persistence go, I’m not sure the metaphor of physical exertion entirely holds true. For example, let’s continue with the example of a boring Sunday School, and I believe that Christ can transform the experience for everyone involved. I can continue praying on a daily basis, I can continue studying the scriptures on a daily basis, I can continue preparing questions to ask and comments to make, indefinitely. I don’t ever have to give up. There doesn’t come a day when I have “no more to give.”

    But even in arenas where physical exertion is a proper metaphor, I don’t think we often get to the point of utter exhaustion. We sometimes like to think that God doesn’t require us to go there—that a loving God wouldn’t require so much. But sometimes I think he does. Missionary work has a tendency to require that.

    However, here’s the deal: I think that if we have faith in Christ, we recognize that the miracles we hope to see will be His doing, not ours. We must simply do everything we can to allow His grace and power to work unhindered. As in the Sunday School example (I use it because it’s a “safe” example), we must not be complicit in the problem. We must simply be doing our part and invite others to do the same. If we are working to the point that we feel, emotionally and spiritually, that we just can’t do it anymore—there’s a possibility that we’ve imagined the results will be our own doing, not Christ’s. Just a possibility. =)

  16. SilverRain,

    One more thing: I don’t believe we should follow Jonah’s example. I think the story of Jonah is a warning against a lack of faith—Jonah didn’t have faith when he should have. =)

  17. Brian—It’s not said outright, but the verse where he says, “Why is light given to a man whose way is hid, and whom God hath hedged in?” indicates some anger, or at least blame. Also, Eliphaz counseled Job to “despise not thou the chastening of the Almighty,” and “despite” is more than simple discouragement. Combined with the general tone of Job’s lament, the final evidence of Job’s anger at God is God’s own reply, “Shall he that contendeth with the Almighty instruct him? he that reproveth God, let him answer it.”

    Jeffrey—I think you’re right, but I hope you can see the contradiction in, “We must simply do everything we can to allow His grace and power to work unhindered,” and “If we are working to the point that we feel, emotionally and spiritually, that we just can’t do it anymore—there’s a possibility that we’ve imagined the results will be our own doing, not Christ’s.”

    What if allowing His grace and power to work unhindered is, in itself, an exhausting practice? Imagine, to use your example of Sunday School, that you have social phobia. It takes immense spiritual and emotional effort just to be there, let alone ask questions and participate. If you are spending all you can to show up to class, what hope do you have to prepare and participate, thus “allowing His grace and power to work”?

    In short, what if you are not someone whose Christ’s power and grace can work through? What if you are someone who is unable to be a vehicle for miracles which you have been promised, however hard you try? It is not that you expect to make the miracle happen yourself, but that you find yourself unable to do what it takes to even allow that miracle to happen, should God grant it.

  18. I’m not saying we should emulate Jonah, but that we should take courage from the fact that God still saw fit to instruct him and call him as a prophet, even after he was disobedient.

  19. re 19,

    Jeffrey,

    You’re right. One can’t “think” their way into faith. But one can certainly pray for it. The scriptures promise us that Christ can potentially redeem even the most fallen of circumstances/people/nations. Of course, that isn’t always within our control—but we can believe in the possibility, and do our part with an eye of faith that it can and will happen if God wants it to.

    So, let’s synthesize some of the things you have said (in this message or others).

    1) One can’t “think” his way into faith.
    2) One can pray for it. Christ can *potentially* redeem even the most fallen of circumstances/people/nations.
    3) …we need only believe that [things] could, through Christ, be different than they currently are.
    4) If one cannot see how, through Christ, things could be better than they currently are, I submit that faith is lacking.
    5) As the Lord said, “dispute not because ye see not, for ye receive no witness until after the trial of your faith.” That trial might continue the entire duration of our lives.

    So, from these things, it seems there is a problem. “We only need believe that things could, through Christ, be different than they currently are.” BUT that could be the only thing we don’t believe. That would be the case where “faith is lacking.” We could be in a trial of faith, and we wouldn’t just be able to “think” our way into faith. We can’t just think, “OK, today, I will believe.” We can’t just think, “OK, I’m going to set out to set aside my doubts and be believing.” We could pray for it, BUT that only gives us the potentiality that Christ would redeem the most fallen of circumstances/people/nations. It might very well be that we won’t see any redemption (or potentiality/possibility of redemption) until AFTER the trail of our faith (or, more so, the trial of our “lack of faith.”) And yet, even during this trial of our faith (or lack of faith), we are supposed to have faith — that we can’t think into, and that our prayers may not lead to until we have endured to the end.

    It seems to me that I could make a box like this for any religion or philosophy or any thing, and then explain its “not working” for someone in a combination of these things. It really is just an amazingly convenient set of explanations.

    And you know, that’s why Silver Rain’s other possibilities *aren’t* that consequential IMO. Because yes, you or I could say, “Well, the seed is good, but the person just isn’t working/praying hard enough.” Or yes, you or I could say, “Well, the seed is good, but the ground is bad.”

    Yet, these don’t seem to really move anyone anywhere.

    …You know, I think I’m just going to “believe in the possibility” of Scientology. Doesn’t matter that I don’t actually believe in scientology, or that I might never get to the point where I see anything good coming from it (and even moreso, I might see a lot of bad coming from it); I’m just going to “have faith” and commit to it. I’ll just “set aside my doubts” and “be believing,” — whether or not I ever actually get there, because hey, it could be that I have to endure the trial of my faith (an entire life of thinking, “Hmm…this doesn’t sound right. This doesn’t feel right. This doesn’t look right) before I have any witness of anything. Maybe I’ll pray to have my heart and mind filled with faith…and maybe if it doesn’t happen, I just have to accept that that is part of my trial and I really am supposed to just move forward without these things. Maybe I’m supposed to serve as an example to people who just skate by with these things and yet who believe that you can just “choose” to have these things or that you just “choose” not to have these things. And then I’m going to choose to change my sexual orientation as well.

  20. What if allowing His grace and power to work unhindered is, in itself, an exhausting practice?

    Fair point. Like I said, it’s just a possibility that we’ve fallen into to the trap of believing we have to do it ourselves. But not a definite possibility.

    In short, what if you are not someone whose Christ’s power and grace can work through? What if you are someone who is unable to be a vehicle for miracles which you have been promised, however hard you try?

    If God has promised us miracles, then it can happen. I don’t think this is a possibility, as Christ’s power and grace can work through all of us. None of us are “unable” to see miracles or experience the blessings of faith.

    This is a scenario that I believe God Himself has said isn’t possible.

  21. It’s not enough to serve…one has to serve with some kind of framework that includes salvation in it.

    Sure, I agree. I think this comment comes with that assumption that we have that framework. But I think the point is that faith in this way is about seeking God’s will every hour of every day. That we exercise faith one step at a time, one day at at time, line upon line. We have an eye of faith toward our ultimate goals, but we accomplish it through faith-filled action little by little.

    However, here’s the deal: I think that if we have faith in Christ, we recognize that the miracles we hope to see will be His doing, not ours. We must simply do everything we can to allow His grace and power to work unhindered.

    I love the second sentence. I think that really gets to the heart of it. I still am a little unsure about the first, though. I think sometimes we need His help to even know what miracles we should hope for, if that makes sense, except perhaps that good fruit will come, eventually, from our continuing faithfully on the path.

    I also think it helps if we exercise faith not that we’ll experience comfort, convenience, longevity, or other things, but more often that redemption and transformation can occur inside us and those around us. That is faith that almost sure to be rewarded, because then even our discomforts, inconveniences, and other trials can work to our advantage.

    Amen to this.

  22. Andrew,

    I’m sorry, but it looks like your picking a fight with faith itself, and not just my description of it. Not a game I have time to play, so I won’t take the bait.

    If these are real doubts you are experiencing, then I invite you to exercise faith in Jesus Christ, and to doubt not, but be believing.

  23. Andrew, your argument is logical. But faith isn’t logical. You are right, you can say that about anything. You can choose to believe in anything. Ultimately, what you believe in is between you and God.

    You sound like you are asking for someone to define faith for you to the point where it can only apply to the LDS faith. But that’s not what faith is. Faith is a relationship between you and that which you have faith in. It can’t be defined or narrowed down any more than any relationship can be.

  24. “I don’t think this is a possibility, as Christ’s power and grace can work through all of us. None of us are “unable” to see miracles or experience the blessings of faith.”

    In general, yes, it is easy to agree. But in specifics it gets much harder. To the point where in my heart I’m not sure it is true . . . in specific.

  25. SilverRain,

    ugh, dragging me back in. ;) (although FWIW, I recognize I could choose to just walk away from my impulse never to let a comment stand unaddressed a lot more than I can choose to feel that impulse in the first place.)

    Even supposing that faith isn’t logical and “I’m right, I can say that about anything,” the problem is I can’t choose to believe in anything. I can’t choose to feel anything. I can’t choose to experience anything I want. THAT is my point. When I make a statement about being a scientologist or changing my sexuality, I’m trying to raise that this should seem an incredibly unlikely state of affairs. That it just doesn’t work that way.

    I’m not asking for someone to define faith to the point where it can apply only to the LDS faith. (Because I could probably ask the same thing of any religion/philosophy/whatever…it just wouldn’t be conclusive because anyone can come up with a just-so story.) I’m trying to see the appeal, or to have others admit that the reason they do this is because there is an appeal to them. They don’t do this because they are neutral. They do this because they are somehow disposed to do this to and with the LDS church and not to some other church. They still choose to act on these dispositions, but the dispositions themselves aren’t chosen. And some other believer may be otherwise disposed. And more importantly, they didn’t choose to be disposed either.

    So even though the church places emphasis on choice and will and things like that, that just doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. At least a Calvinistic idea makes a lot more sense. It makes sense to me that God might reach out to me — or he might not. And that if God reaches out to me, then I can reach back to him. But if God doesn’t reach out to me, then I can’t in any way reach out to God because everything about God is foreign and repulsive to me. It makes sense to me that I might be reprobate and THAT’S why I don’t get it. (This is kinda your, “What if the ground itself is bad?” analogy.) It makes sense to me that I might have some (non-logical, non-rational) experience where it makes sense to me — where grace becomes irresistible (although I can still choose my ACTIONS, but then I’d be in a bit of a different position dispositionally.)

    So, suppose that faith is as you say a relationship between me and what I have faith in. Well, relationships aren’t one way. I don’t have a relationship with some theoretical guy in Myanmar who could exist, but which I’m functionally just inventing for this comment. There is a disposition to have a relationship that may or may not exist (and I’d suppose that it probably isn’t going to exist if I’m not even sure the person on the other side exists.)

    I might LONG for someone I’m not sure exists, in which case I have a disposition. But then again, I don’t choose who I long for and if I don’t long for someone or something, then I don’t choose that or choose to start. So, all of these relationships will be different — and they will all have an unchosen impact that I just don’t think saying, “Just be believing and doubt not” really captures.

  26. Real relationships aren’t one way, yes. But you can have imaginary relationships. People do this all the time.

    I suspect my marriage was one such relationship. ;)

    But I think the premise of this post (which Jeffrey can correct me if I’m wrong) is that there has already been a relationship with God established. I think he is talking about one level of faith, not the only level of faith. The type of faith he is outlining is not the faith that leads you to plant the seed, but the faith that leads you to water it and continue to take care of it. It operates on the premise that you have already felt and acted on the “inclinations” as you say, to follow a particular path.

    Most people would claim that God is always reaching out. But His reaching does not always mean we can feel Him. In the end, you are the only one who can answer for yourself what you have felt and what you have done about it. And in the end, you and God are the only ones who can determine whether or not you have acted towards Him or away from Him. (I’m beginning to believe that only God can, in the end, that even our judgments are faulty.) I do believe that we are all accountable to Him, and Him alone, not to each other nor to the Church. The Church is simply a vehicle by which He presents each person who hears it with an opportunity.

    And though there are some things we can’t help or choose (such as inclinations), we can always choose what to do with them, if we have the knowledge necessary to recognize the choice.

  27. Andrew,

    SilverRain is correct—the premise of my article is that someone (1) already believes in Jesus Christ and His transformative power, and (2) already acknowledges God’s promises of blessings for our faith. My purpose in writing this was to reassure those who have already accepted this premise that miracles are, indeed, possible.

    The question of whether or not Jesus Christ ought to be the focus of my faith, or whether or not we can trust God’s promises, is a different one. That requires a personal interaction with God through prayer. And that’s entirely up to you. I feel, though, these questions do not de-legitimize the point of the article, since the article is premised on the fact that the answer to these questions is “yes.” I assume most Latter-day Saints agree with the premise, and I therefore felt no need to justify it.

    Matters of conversion to Jesus Christ in the first place are, in fact, important—but I’m swamped today. All I can do is invite someone with those questions to kneel and ask God to reveal Himself.

  28. Thanks for that awesome post Jeffrey! I subscribed over at your blog and look forward to more awesomeness.

    It’s interesting how patience plays into all of this. I’m glad that I’m seemingly always ignorant of just how much patience it’ll take to achieve my goals; otherwise I’d probably just never try.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>