During his earthly ministry Jesus sometimes compared the love found in human families with the Fatherhood of God. Who could forget the prototype of the loving father who rejoiced in the return of his prodigal son and welcomed him with open arms? Jesus taught us so much about our Father in that story! The more we learn of Heavenly Father and experience His infinite love, the easier it is to trust Him, obey Him, submit our lives and will to Him.
How Trust is Built
My three-year-old grandson Thayne is a tender child; kneeling on my lap recently, looking up at me, he patted me, looked deep into my eyes, then caressed both sides of my face with his little hands. Such evidence of his child-like trust and love touch my heart like nothing else!
Born prematurely, Thayne has suffered from recurring pneumonia, yet is one of the most vibrantly alive human beings I’ve ever encountered. Thayne repeatedly amazes me when he harnesses all that energy and shows his trust by sitting still while I cut his hair with sharp scissors. I suspect he trusts me because when he turns to me he finds comfort, hugs, concern. He knows I love him and care about his well-being.
Thayne trusts his father just as much as he trusts me – perhaps more. He has spent more time with his father, and has so many times asked and received what he needed from him. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus asks,
Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him? (Matthew 7:9-11)
My son, though fallible, would never give little Thayne a stone or a serpent. How much more can we trust that an infallible Father will respond, when we ask, with what we truly need. Just as Thayne’s trust has been built day by day, our trust in our Heavenly Father is established as we turn to Him, ask of Him, receive of Him, and feel His love.
Trust is Built on Knowing the Attributes of Our Loving Father
It is possible in our busy world to substitute constant activity for the direct Father-child relationship that God really wants us to have with Him. Might we, instead, choose to put ourselves into our loving Father’s hands to do with as He pleases and wholeheartedly say, “I’ll go where you want me to go, say what you want me to say, do what you want me to do, be who you want me to be?” To do so would seem a terrible risk if we did not know something of the attributes of our Heavenly Father.
The Lectures on Faith establishes the fact that faith in God depends on knowing his attributes. What are the attributes of God the Father? Read that little book for the perspective of one who knew Him well – Joseph Smith.
In the Bible’s Topical Guide His attributes are listed as: Eternal Nature, Foreknowledge, Glory, Indignation, Intelligence, Justice, Love, Mercy, Omniscience, Perfection and Power. We know our Father is a God of love who wants to add joy to our life, who cares supremely for us and our welfare. He wants for us exactly what every mature and loving parent wants for his or her children – growth, joy, fulfillment. His concern is for our eternal welfare more than for our current comfort. “For behold, this is my work and my glory – to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39).
We can learn much about the attributes of God the Father by observing His Son. Author Catherine Marshall said, “In watching Jesus, what did His disciples learn about God? .[His] divine love delighted in dispelling pain, in restoring sanity, in straightening crooked limbs and opening blind eyes, even in banishing premature death. are not these the things that ordinary human father-love or mother-love would delight in doing, if it could? .By every word and action by all the force of His personality, Christ sought to tell us that the Father is always nearer, mightier, freer to help us than we can imagine.” (Beyond Ourselves, p. 33)
Personal experience with the attributes of God our Father and Jesus in his Fathering role comes after we decide to be obedient and to submit our lives and our will to Them. The order can never be reversed. It is the great experiment. We decide to act on our faith that God is kind and merciful and all loving, then we experience the unfolding knowledge of the character of God as we allow Him to guide and protect and lead us. For example, it was after Nephi made his choice to move forward in faith and trust (“I will go and do the things which the Lord commandeth”) that he experienced God’s protecting and guiding hand as Laban and the Brass Plates were miraculously delivered into his hands. The decision to act in faith as Nephi did need not be emotional; it is just as real when it is a firm, quiet assent without any emotion at all. Faith, is after all, more a decision, a choice, than a feeling.
Blessings from the Faith-Building Prayer Process
In John 16:24 we read, “Hitherto have ye asked nothing in my name; ask and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full.”
Elder Vaughan Featherstone tells of his ten-year-old son’s experience with prayer. The boy wrote the following note to his mother, who was in the hospital after having a baby: “To my favorite and most loved mother. Congratulations! After you left to go to the hospital, I went in Dad’s den and knelt down to have prayer to ask Heavenly Father to bless you that you would be all right. Well, my prayer was answered. After Dad came home he told me that just before the baby was born you gritted your teeth and tears flowed down your cheeks but you wouldn’t cry out. I kind of got this unstuckable lump in my throat. Love, Lawrence.”
Righteously asking and receiving is such a confirmation of our Father’s awareness of us; no wonder it brings joy. Because we are His children, we have the right to speak directly to Heavenly Father, tell Him our needs, and make specific requests. Imagine how it would be if we did not have this right, and had to go to the bishop or someone else to relay our messages to our Father in Heaven. But asking isn’t all it takes, and receiving isn’t the truest confirmation of God’s love for us. Our Father loves us not one whit less when our prayers for the safety of our loved ones cannot be answered in the affirmative.
Asking is only a small part of the prayer process. So much more is required. Books galore have been written concerning the principles of prayer, such as preparation, repentance, righteous intent, seeking the will of God, not our own will because of His knowledge of what is truly best for all involved.
The Misunderstanding that can Dim Faith in Heavenly Father
One little boy who had been taught to pray faithfully every day decided to put prayer to the test and see if it really made any difference. So one morning he went to school without having his prayer. When he got home he told his mother that he had a terrible day. A bee stung him, he fell and hurt himself, and he got a low grade on his spelling test for the first time. He said, “I’m never going to be caught dead going to school again without my prayers.”
While this little boy “caught” the importance of praying daily, he still has much to learn. It would be easy to have faith in our Heavenly Father if every time we prayed things went smoothly or we got what we prayed for and every time we didn’t bad things happened. But we all know that isn’t the case. One little boy praying for cowboy boots he didn’t receive said to his mother, “It’s no use. Art’s not listening.” “Who’s Art?” she asked. “Oh you know – Art in Heaven,” he replied.
If receiving what we pray for builds our faith in a loving Father in Heaven, does asking and not receiving dim it? Only if we misunderstand what faith in Father really means. Believing without a doubt that what we pray for will happen isn’t faith. Instead, faith is actively trusting Heavenly Father and Christ – no matter what happens.
Elder Lance B. Wickman of the Seventy said, “Too often we offer our prayer or perform our administration and then wait nervously to see whether our request will be granted, as though approval would provide needed evidence if His existence. That is not faith! Faith is, quite simply, a confidence in the Lord. In Mormon’s words, it is ‘a firm mind in every form of godliness’ (Moroni &;30); emphasis added). The three Hebrew magistrates expressed trust that the Lord would deliver them from the fiery furnace, ‘but if not,‘ they said to the king, ‘we [still] will not serve thy gods’ (Daniel 3:18; emphasis added).” (Ensign, November 2002, p. 31)
Elder Joseph D. Wirthlin said, “What is true faith? Faith is defined as ‘belief and trust in and loyalty to God; …our faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God (1 Corinthians 2:5)” (Ensign, November, 2002, p. 82).
Faith in the Fatherhood of God means moving ahead with the inner assurance that Heavenly Father is in charge, that He has a plan that is working perfectly, that He will prevail, that all prophecies will be fulfilled, that our world is right on course to meet its final destiny of becoming celestial.
Faith in our Heavenly Father is simply trusting Him enough to step out in that trust, and follow President Hinckley’s advice to “kneel in prayer before the Almighty with thanksgiving unto Him for His bounteous blessings… then stand on your feet and go forward as sons and daughters of God to bring to pass His eternal purposes, each in your own way” (Ensign, November 2002, p. 100).
Seeking Father’s Perspective of Law and Agency
Trials and tragedies and suffering seem to be escalating in these winding up scenes of the Last Days. A proper perspective of agency and natural law can protect us when the reality of human suffering threatens to dim our faith in Father in Heaven’s love and care.
At a 1998 Women’s Conference, Francine R. Bennion spoke on “A Latter-day Saint Theology of Suffering.” She said:
I know the love of God. It is one of the very few things I do know with absolute certainty. I think suffering on this earth is an indication of God’s trust, God’s love. I think it is an indication that God does not want us to be simply obedient children playing forever under His hand, but wants us able to become more like himself.
In order to do that, we have to know reality. We have to be real ourselves and not dependent on externals. If we are to be like God… we have to be able, as He is able, to meet what comes of others’ agency, and of living in a lawful universe…
It is within this context that I trust God and His commandments. I do not believe I could do it within the traditional framework where His love and power are supposed to keep us from pain or struggle if we are good. Neither could I find it easy to trust Him if I believed Him to make a habit of manipulating natural law and other persons to give me just what I need to test or teach me – in other words, to make me the center of the world without regard to other persons’ agency or experience, and without regard to consistent, knowable law.
In LDS theology, I believe it is the large context for all humans that gives meaning to suffering. Within the context of LDS theology, I find hope for understanding and changing what I can, but also hope for transcending what I cannot… God has repeatedly urged that we ask His help, with faith that He will do what is good. In every case, his definition of what is good is a matter of truth, and law, not arbitrary whim… God is love, and our becoming [like Him] is what matters…
Let us love each other, mourn with each other, and sacrifice fear for courage. Let us seek reality and truth, forgiving ourselves and each other, learning to help ourselves and each other as we can. Let us become more like our God, who is good (Coping with Hard Realities, p. 71-74).
Our Father in Heaven’s Care is Infinitely Greater than Human Care
The rewards of trust and submitting our will to the will of our Father are rest, peace, and true joy. So what could possibly hold us back? Early Christian writer Hannah Whitall Smith said:
The truth is that His care is infinitely superior to any human care. He who counts the very hairs of our heads and suffers not a sparrow to fall without Him, takes note of the minutest matters that can affect the lives of His children. He regulates them all according to His own perfect will.”
She gave examples, such as Joseph of Egypt. She said, “Joseph’s brothers undoubtedly sinned, but by the time it had reached Joseph it had become God’s will for him, and was in truth, though he did not see it then, the greatest blessing of his whole life. And thus we see how God can make… all things, even the sins of others, work together for good to those who love God (see Romans 8:28).” (The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life, p. 152)
Elder F. Melvin Hammond tells a story poignant in its illustration of the love of a father for his son and symbolic of the infinitely greater love of our Heavenly Father for us.
Many years ago I took our only son on his first camping, fishing trip. He was just a boy… [that first night] we climbed into our large double sleeping bag, and after a bit of pushing and pulling I felt his little body snuggle and settle tightly against mine for warmth and security against the night. As I looked at my son beside me, suddenly I felt a surge of love pass through my body with such force that it pushed tears to my eyes. And at that precise moment, he put his little arms around me and said, “Dad?”
“Are you awake?”
“Yes, my son, I am awake.”
“Dad, I love you a million, trillion times!” “And immediately he was asleep. But I was awake far into the night, expressing my great thanks for such wonderful blessings clothed with a little boy’s body” (Ensign, November 2002, p. 97).
Elder Hammond went on to give fine counsel to dads on staying awake to the responsibilities of being husbands and fathers. However, the point I would like to make is that we can absolutely trust our Heavenly Father to always be awake and to always love us.
In Psalms we read,
I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help. My help cometh from the Lord which made heaven and earth. He will not suffer thy foot to be moved; he that keepeth thee will not slumber. Behold he that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber not sleep. The Lord is thy keeper (Psalm 121: 1-5).
Our Father is always available, always awake to us. As we express our love for Him, surely he looks on us as tenderly as Elder Hammond looked on his child, and His great heart swells with eternal love. We can trust Him to be involved in our lives in a very detailed, personal way.
Neal Maxwell said,
God, who oversees the interfacings of galaxies, stars, and worlds, asks us to confess His hand in our personal lives, too (see D&C 59:21)… God is in the details! Just as the Lord knows all of His vast creations, He also knows and loves each in any crowd – indeed, He knows and loves each and all of mankind! (see 1 Nephi 11:17). Consider His tender salutations to Moses – “I know thee by name, and thou hast also found grace in my sight” (Exodus 33:12)…
Of course we cannot know the meaning of all things right now. But we can know right now, that God knows us and loves us individually! …How can we know that God is aware of us and loves us? He tells us by the scriptures – likewise, by our honestly counting the blessings and bestowals of His grace in our lives. Most of all, He tells us by the still, small voice of the Spirit! (see Alma 34:38; D&C 78:17-19)
Perplexing things will still happen, but, like Nephi, we can still know that God loves us, a felicitous and fundamental fact which can and will sustain us through so much! (see 1Nephi 11:17)” (Ensign, November 2002, p. 18).
I add my personal witness that Heavenly Father feeds us from His storehouse, warms and comforts us with His love, and if we are willing to repent, submit, listen to and follow his voice, blesses us with understanding and charity. Faith in our Father brings life’s greatest joys. Faith in the Fatherhood of God is one of life’s great anchors. Some of my favorite confirming scriptures are:
- Fear thou not; for I am with thee; be not dismayed; for I am thy God; I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right
- As much as ye shall put your trust in God even so much ye shall be delivered out of your trials, and your troubles, and your afflictions, and ye shall be lifted up at the last day. (Alma 38:5)
- My God hath been my support; he hath led me through mine afflictions… O Lord, wilt thou encircle me around in the robe of thy rigtheousness! …O Lord, I have trusted in thee, and I will trust in thee forever.” (2 Nephi 4:20, 33, 34)
Elder Wirthlin summarizes well, “Our Heavenly Father is a powerful, moving, directing being. While we may, at times, bear burdens of sorrow, pain, and grief; while we may struggle to understand trials of faith we are called to pass through; while life may seem dark and dreary – through faith we have absolute confidence that a loving Heavenly Father is at our side… And one day, we will fully see through the darkness into the light. We will understand his eternal plan, His mercy, and His love” (Ensign, November 2002, p. 85).