Thursday, September 23, 2010

On obtaining faith

I have written before about my inability to explain why two people can share similar experiences and emerge with different spiritual results -- why one develops faith and another turns away. My recent study of faith doesn't directly answer that question, but it does give some clues for obtaining faith.

Last week I posted an object lesson on faith, one that I used in my lesson to my high priest's group last Sunday. In the course of that lesson preparation, I also reread the Lectures on Faith. I had first read the lectures in the MTC when I was interested in how faith worked. (My poor MTC companion was worried at my "extracurricular" reading at the time, fearing that I had honed in too closely on one topic, but I wasn't worried, and it turned out to be an illuminating time for me.)

The Lectures on Faith used to be included with the Doctrine and Covenants, appearing before the revelations in editions from 1835-1921. They were removed because they are not revelations to the church, and they have not been canonized. There is evidence that Joseph had assistance from other brethren in their preparation. But the 1835 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants included an introductory letter signed by the First Presidency (Joseph Smith, Jr., Oliver Cowdrey, Sidney Rigdon and F.G. Williams) in which the lectures are described "as delivered before a Theological class in this place [Kirtland, Ohio], and in consequence of their embracing the important doctrine of salvation…." (quoted in Lectures on Faith, Publisher's Preface, 1985).

In the third lecture we read of
three things [which] are necessary in order that any rational and intelligent being may exercise faith in God unto life and salvation. First, the idea that he actually exists. Secondly, a correct idea of his character, perfection, and attributes. Thirdly, an actual knowledge that the course of life which he is pursuing is according to his will. For without an acquaintance with these three important facts, the faith of every rational being must be imperfect and unproductive… (Lecture 3:2-5).

It is interesting to me that the lectures teach that we must have knowledge in order to have faith, namely knowledge that the course we are pursuing is consistent with God's will. The Savior teaches in John that it is by living the gospel that we gain that knowledge (John 7:17). Clearly, some iterative process is required.

The sixth lecture includes the famous quotation: "…a religion that does not require the sacrifice of all things never has power sufficient to produce the faith necessary unto life and salvation…" (v. 7). The verse continues:
…from the first existence of man, the faith necessary unto the enjoyment of life and salvation never could be obtained without the sacrifice of all earthly things. It was through this sacrifice, and this only, that God has ordained that men should enjoy eternal life; and it is through the medium of the sacrifice of all earthly things that men do actually know that they are doing the things that are well pleasing in the sight of God.
Verse 8 continues,
It is in vain for persons to fancy to themselves that they are heirs with those, or can be heirs with them, who have offered their all in sacrifice, and by this means obtained faith in God and favor with him so as to obtain eternal life, unless they, in like manner, offer unto him the same sacrifice, and through that offering obtain the knowledge that they are accepted of him.
It would seem, therefore, that the gift of faith cited in Alma 32 is not a gift cheaply given. It is won at a price of great sacrifice – even of all earthly things.


  1. Speaking as one who has lost my faith (but is sort of hoping to regain it), this argument seems suspicious. Why should I sacrifice everything to someone who may not even exist (or an organization that may mean nothing to me)? Sure, it makes sense if you already believe that this would be the means to find faith, but for those who don't already believe it seems like a manipulative argument.

    Plus, here's the catch -- in my experience, this doesn't even work. I've lived the gospel my whole life -- scripture study, prayer, temple attendance, and everything else included -- and I feel like it's making no change. I have and currently am giving my time, talents, money, and hope to this God and this church and it's getting me nowhere. Why would God give a promise that doesn't seem to work?

    I know you probably weren't looking for this kind of comment. You may certainly treat my questions as rhetorical.

  2. Anonymous,

    Thanks for your comment, and thanks for reading. I don't treat your comment as rhetorical, but as very real. Others of my posts (including the first paragraph of this one) acknowledge that there are those who have different spiritual experiences than I do.

    And I don't know how to answer your question completely. It must ring very hollow to have me (or someone else) suggest that you simply need to "try harder". I am sensitive to that concern, though my experience has been that when I do make more effort to draw near to the Lord, I feel Him closer to me, too.

    I don't know why that does not work for everyone. I have written before that we have different spiritual gifts, and that may be one explanation.

    I do know that for me (and I can only speak for me), it has been helpful in difficult times to hold on to the few things I do feel I know or have faith in. Clinging to those while I continue to work through adversity has been helpful to me. But it has not always helped others who I am close to.

    Close friends and family members have expressed what you have: despite their best efforts they don't "get it"; they don't get the faith and resolution they seek. I don't know, for instance, if the issue is in the "how" they are asking or in the "what" they are expecting or if it is something else altogether. Not a very satisfying response, I'm afraid.

    I do hope you can find some peace on your journey.

  3. I just got a chance to come back and look at this. Thank you for your heartfelt response. I'll certainly give it some thought. Your observation that it can be helpful to cling to what remains is an especially good one, I think. It's what I've been trying to do and the only thing really keeping me going.

    Thanks again.