1 April 2006
(In the Reform Mormon liturgical calendar, Spring is the Season of Faith. With this lesson, we begin a new series of lessons in which we will explore this principle as understood within Reform Mormonism.)
Frequently when people think of the concept of Faith, they do so in context of reality and existence.
For instance, they know that reality appears to be a certain way by virtue of the information they receive through their physical senses (sight, sound, touch, smell).
Traditionally, many people have tended to think of Faith as the ability to believe in something, the nature of which flies in the face of reality. Many traditional religions present the concept of Faith as the ability to believe in the existence of the supernatural, or in a concept, being or power despite the fact that all of your physical senses and rational faculties are telling you that such a thing is, by its very nature, impossible.
Despite talk of “exercising faith,” in this context, faith is not so much a matter of “exercising“ or taking action as much as it is a failure to act. “Exercising faith” usually means to stop thinking critically, to ignore what your senses and common sense might be telling you; it is a refusal to deal with reality when it contradicts an idea for which there is not the slightest evidence. Many religious traditions praise as a virtue the ability to ignore what is objectively real in favor of belief in the fanciful and the supernaturally miraculous.
Once in a discussion regarding early Mormon claims of the supernatural and miraculous, a friend claimed that he believed these claims as soon as he heard of them. “I’ve always been blessed with the gift of Faith,” he said. Not to be unkind, but after seeing the disastrous outcome of his exercising this type of faith in other areas of his life, I came to the conclusion that what he called a “gift,” was, in fact, nothing more than being gullible.
While belief is a component of the principle of Faith, there is another context in which the principle can be understood---a context which can be more beneficial and of greater practical value.
The context is that of time.
We exist within the context of time, in the present. We can not know with infallible certainty what the future holds, be it a millions years from now or fifteen seconds from now.
Our physical senses and our faculty of reason are the means of sustaining our lives, of dealing with other living things as well as with the forces and elements are work in the natural world. Because of the Free Agency with which humans are endowed, because other life forms (be they plants, animals, viruses) move and respond to their physical environments, because the environment itself (weather conditions, geology, etc.) is in a constant state of movement and change, existence is filled with opposition.
The person who remains passive and refrains from serious thoughtful action, puts his or her own existence within time as risk. To not only survive, but to prosper, to progress and to achieve some degree of happiness and joy, human beings must use their Free Agency. They must in effect eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge so that their eyes are opened to the reality of the opposition that is everywhere in nature. Most important of all, they must think and act upon the knowledge that they have.
As “The Book of Mormon” says:
“…it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things….
…..to bring about his eternal purposes in the end of man….the Lord God gave unto man that he should act for himself. Wherefore, man could not act for himself save it be that he was enticed by the one or the other…[humans] have become free forever, knowing good from evil; to act for themselves and not to be acted upon…Wherefore men are free according to the flesh; and all things are given them which are expedient unto man.” (See “The Book of Mormon,” II Nephi 2:11,15-16, 26-27)
Continually existing within the present moment, we are capable of knowing the present. We also have the ability to learn about the past. The future, however, is another matter. Mormons often speak symbolically of a veil that separates time from eternity. It could be said that this same veil separates the present from the future. We simply are incapable of seeing beyond it.
However as human beings we do possess one particular attribute in common with Deity that allows us to reach beyond this veil.
That attribute is imagination; the ability to envision what the future might hold.
Taking the knowledge we have regarding the past and the present moment, we can, by virtue of reason, discover principles upon which we can chose to act.
By virtue of our imagination, we can envision the possible outcome of those actions based upon our knowledge of these principles. If after careful thought and consideration of these things, we may become reasonably convinced that a certain action taken will lead to a particular result.
In every case, regardless of how well thought out the course of action might be, risk is involved. With opposing forces constantly at work in the natural world, there is always a chance that our actions might be undermined or that the results might not be those that were imagined or desired. In every case, as far as what we are actually capable of actually knowing, failure or disappointment are possibilities.
When our belief that the actions we are contemplating becomes so firm that we are willing to take a chance, to take a risk and take action---we are exercising Faith.
Every human accomplishment is the result of Faith---not faith as the belief in the supernatural, the impossible or the improbable, but Faith as a principle of action within the context of time and nature.
In the School of the Prophets in Kirtland, Ohio, Joseph Smith taught:
“…faith is the assurance which men have of the existence of things which they have not seen, and the principle of action in all intelligent beings.
“If men were duly to consider themselves, and turn their thoughts and reflections to the operations of their own minds, they would readily discover that it is faith, and faith only, which is the moving cause of all action in them; that without it, both mind and body would be in a state of inactivity, and all their exertions would cease, both physical and mental.
“Were this class to go back and reflect upon the history of their lives, from the period of their first recollection, and ask themselves what principle excited them to action, or what gave them energy and activity in all their lawful avocations, callings, and pursuits, what would be the answer? Would it not be that it was the assurance which we had of the existence of things which we had not seen as yet?
“Was it not the hope which you had, in consequence of your belief in the existence of unseen things, which stimulated you to action and exertion, in order to obtain them?
“Are you not dependent on your faith, or belief, for the acquisition of all knowledge, wisdom, and intelligence? Would you exert yourselves to obtain wisdom and intelligence, unless you did believe that you could obtain them?
“Would you have ever sown if you had not believed that you would reap? Would you have ever planted if you had not believed that you would gather? Would you have ever asked unless you had believed that you would receive? Would you have ever sought unless you had believed that you would have found? Or would you have ever knocked unless you had believed that it would have been opened unto you?
“In a word, is there anything that you would have done, either physical or mental, if you had not previously believed? Are not all your exertions of every kind dependent on your faith?
Or may we not ask, what have you, or what do you possess, which you have not obtained by reason of your faith? Your food, your raiment, your lodgings, are they not all by reason of your faith? Reflect, and ask yourselves if these things are not so.
“Turn your thoughts on your own minds, and see if faith is not the moving cause of all action in yourselves; and if the moving cause in you, is it not in all other intelligent beings?”
(Joseph Smith, “The Lectures On Faith,” Section 1:9-11)
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