Just a quick note here to celebrate a little epiphany I had through the simple wonders of the dictionary!
In our lesson on faith a couple of weeks ago, we included “hope” as one of five things inextricably linked with faith. But, as I admitted to the class, I didn’t really understand that very well because I frequently associate “hope” with things whose outcomes I question and fear. I hope, for example, that I won’t get sick following a couple of nights of inadequate sleep—but I fear that I will. Or I hope that my Mariners won’t give up the tying run in the 8th inning while I type this—but I fear that they will.
How can hope, with all its inherent risks and worries of failure be a component of faith, when faith includes confidence? Well. Turns out I don’t even know what the word hope means.
I Googled “definition: hope.” Up came three definitions (in maybe seven nanoseconds—eight max):
1. A feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen.
2. A feeling of trust.
3. Want something to happen or be the case.
There’s nothing in there about doubt and fear of failure! Then I thought, “I wonder what the word ‘hope’ meant during Joseph Smith’s time.” Of course, Google puts Webster’s 1828 dictionary at our fingertips at the speed of thought. Webster gives two definitions, the first of which includes this helpful explanation as if it were written just for me:
“Hope differs from wish and desire in this, that it implies some expectation of obtaining the good desired, or the possibility of possessing it. Hope therefore always gives pleasure or joy; whereas wish and desire may produce or be accompanied with pain and anxiety.”
His second definition says hope is, “confidence in a future event; the highest degree of well-founded expectation of good; as a hope founded on God’s gracious promises; a scriptural sense.”
So there you go. Or at least, there I go. Hope involves expectation, confidence, wanting something to happen and joy. It is not accompanied by pain and anxiety, two constant conditions of Mariners fans—and two conditions which should not be constants for believing, faithful members of the Church.
Hope and faith are perfectly compatible.
It was said by the writer of Hebrews (which, if I understand correctly, may or may not have been Paul), that “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” I’ve been hearing that phrase for decades and wondering what, exactly, it means. With the help of this Thursday’s YSA seminar, I think I’m getting closer.
Our LDS Bible Dictionary (which I am guilty of underutilizing) associates at least five things with faith:
- hope (of things unseen)
- confidence (or “assurance of the fulfillment of the things hoped for”)
- action (“true faith always moves its possessor to some kind of physical and mental action”—the “and” in that sentence is noteworthy)
- power (“when occasion warrants”), and
- belief (probably the most obvious—but not the only!—element of faith)
Further, the Bible Dictionary clarifies that “true faith must be based upon correct knowledge” and that if it is to “produce salvation,” faith “must be centered in Jesus Christ.”
So if I fail to hope and believe with confidence or if I fail to act on what I believe, my faith is (partially or entirely) absent or it is a type of false faith. Further, if my faith is based on something that isn’t true, it may still be faith, but it is not true faith—and if it is not centered on Christ, it will neither bring about a remission of my sins nor my salvation.
It is interesting to distinguish between “correct knowledge” and “perfect knowledge.” Alma taught that “faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things.” (Alma 32:21) The thing I believe in and act upon must be correct—and I must have a reason to believe it is correct, otherwise it could not be considered knowledge. (And heaven knows we do not believe in blind faith.) Yet my knowledge must be in some way imperfect, lest it be “perfect knowledge” and faith no longer present.
This confirms the idea that faith and agency are—as are testimony and agency—connected. Neither faith nor testimony involves perfect faith, so there is a strong element of choice involved with both. In fact, we come to earth to use our agency to choose faith—faith in redemption and even exaltation through Jesus Christ. In short, we must have reasons for what we believe and exercise faith in, yet those reasons will not be perfected to the point (in this life, at least) at which they squeeze out uncertainty and, hence, choice.
What is a bit baffling to me is why Evangelical Christians are so good at declaring their salvation with firm (to say the least) confidence whereas if you ask a Mormon “Have you been saved?” the answer is often a look of shock, confusion, uneasiness, or embarrassment. Why do we lack the willingness to answer that question positively? Is our faith in Christ partially or entirely absent?
Well, an easy answer is because none of us—Evangelical, LDS, or otherwise—is yet literally and permanently standing in God’s presence, so we cannot factually say that it has happened already. But Mormons struggle with that question even if it is placed in a future context: “How confident do you feel that, if your life ended today, you would end up exalted in the Celestial Kingdom after the Judgment?” Would it be inappropriate for me to look you in the eye in response to that question and answer firmly, “Completely confident”? I don’t think so. In fact, I think we usually ought to and that true faith even demands it (provided I’m not in violation of my covenants—which does not mean that I’m perfect).
So where does confident, assured faith come from? Well, the Bible Dictionary says it comes from learning (“hearing the testimony of those who have faith”) and doing (“obedience to the gospel”). It stands to reason that we must learn about something before we can believe in it and that the more we learn about it and understand it, the greater our reasons may become for believing in it. But learning must also be accompanied by action. Faith is not faith without action; faith without works is very much dead; and without action our learning becomes seriously obstructed.
So as my friend Newell recently taught me, it is a cycle: if I am willing to experiment and exercise faith in something I’ve learned by acting on it, through that action I will learn more, which learning will prompt me to act more, which will in turn teach me more, and so on and so on and so on. There is a “virtuous cycle” of learning and acting and being obedient to what we learn. But when I cease either learning or acting correctly on that learning, I cease spiraling upward and commence sliding backward into a spiral descent.
Jesus taught clearly and succinctly the relationship between faith and action and learning and doing: “If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine….”
Learn. Do. Exercise agency through hope and belief. Exercise confidence and a sense of assurance in that hope and belief. And power will follow—if, when, and as needed by our Father in Heaven—but in any event to the producing of our salvation if our faith is centered on Christ.
Such faith is liberating. The alternative of “faith in nothing” leads to hopelessness. And the alternative of “faith in myself” leads to high stress, a lack of assurance, and ultimately failure. Faith in Christ, however, including acting on it as best we can, results in confident assurance.
So with respect for my Evangelical friends who don’t believe me and for my Mormon friends who think such statements are inappropriate… I, for one, am not yet saved. But I’m going to be. And you can bank on it.