By Darla Isackson
December . Christmas time … the season for contemplating the birth and mission of Christ. And for me this year, the perfect time to explore the subject of faith in Christ. It has now been over two months since my son’s death, and I have become perfectly aware that faith is my lifeline, my one true hope.
When Faith is Tried
In the movie Charly, when Sam is about to lose his young wife Charly to cancer, he says, “I’d always taken solace in the idea that God was in control, that God would make things right. But now that things were so terribly wrong, did I know Him well enough to trust Him now? Trust Him with her?”
In dialogue with his father Sam says, “I keep thinking it’s me. Maybe if I just had more faith, or maybe it’s a test; maybe if we had more time …”
“And maybe not. Maybe you’ve got to face the fact that your faith may not fix this.”
“Then what’s it good for? What? Why have faith if it’s only good for Bible stories and fairy tales and talks in Sacrament meeting. Then when it really counts – “
His father interrupts him and sums up the substance of faith, “When it really counts it won’t abandon you. The pain may block everything for awhile … But if you keep your faith in all those answers you’ve been carrying around for a lifetime, then the pain won’t give way to emptiness – and neither will you.”
My pain is not giving away to emptiness, although I’ve wondered with Sam if my faith was insufficient. For years I prayed with all the faith I could muster for my son’s protection and return to the fold, yet he never returned to activity in the Church – and now he’s gone. He did come back to the “family fold” the last seven years of his life, but he never returned to the safety of faith in Christ. Many of my friends, faced with similar challenges, prayed as I did, and their children have returned to full activity, and are now making wonderful progress in their lives. Does that mean their faith was greater than mine? That their prayers were more effective?
Surely the early Saints sometimes wondered “what their faith was good for” when they prayed repeatedly, with great faith for protection from the mobs, yet time and again were molested and driven from their homes. I’ve been listening to the audio version of The Work and the Glory by Gerald N. Lund. During the horrendous persecutions in Missouri, Benjamin Steed asks Joseph Smith, “Why are all these things happening to us?”
The messages I got from Joseph’s reply are these:
- The Lord said He would have a pure people and that the Church must be sanctified.
- Church membership is not for those looking just for the benefits, or for an easy way of life.
- Trials of faith are a weeding out process; the Kingdom of God on earth must be comprised only of the pure in heart who have sufficient faith to sacrifice all without losing heart.
Joseph said that the Saints would need an “iron faith” to make it through all that was coming (and the persecutions in Far West were only a type of what was to come). I believe we are in that same weeding out process, that we too will need an iron faith to make it through the Last Days’ tribulations. Trials of our faith, when we turn to the Lord, help us dig our roots deep in gospel soil, clear down to the Rock of our Redeemer.
Faith Is an Inside Job
I’ve concluded that faith cannot depend on outside circumstances at all; it is instead an inner choice based on belief in eternal promises and trust in God’s plan. Faith must be based on His truth. It is a myth that if I follow Christ and keep my covenants then all will work out as I plan or wish – that I can receive some guarantee through good behavior that my will is sure to be done. Instead, true faith knows that the goal is to make His will my will and to trust God whatever comes in the meantime. Dante, in the Divine Comedy, wrote: “In His will is our peace.”
Hoping for the Right Things
Moroni 7:40-41 says, “How is it that ye can attain unto faith, save ye shall have hope? And what is it that ye shall hope for? Behold I say unto you that ye shall have hope through the atonement of Christ and the power of his resurrection, to be raised unto life eternal, and this because of your faith in him according to the promise.” Hoping for the wrong things can dash my faith–hoping that years of prayers will pre-empt someone else’s agency, for example. No amount of faith can overturn God’s law of agency, and no amount of faith can change the truth. Truth is “things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come” (D&C 93:24) – not as I may wish they were. My faith must be grounded in Christ. My hope must be reserved for eternal unchangeable truths that never fail.
The Saving Power of Faith
Keeping faith no matter what happens … Isn’t that what the tests of life are all about? While I can see clearly in my current situation that faith is my lifeline, in reality it always has been: Either the gospel of Jesus Christ and all the scriptural promises are true, or all is lost. Either the Atonement is real, or I have nothing to hope for. Either the Resurrection is literal, or I have nothing to look forward to. Either God and Jesus are loving, merciful and able to cleanse and heal, or nothing makes sense.
I choose to keep the faith. I choose hope; the alternative of emptiness is unbearable. Besides, I have a lifetime of evidences to look back on. Why should I now doubt the witness of all the prophets whose words I’ve read and listened to, all the other people I’ve heard testimonies from? Why should I doubt all the spiritual experiences I’ve had my whole life through, all the scriptural promises that have always given me hope?
One of the great hopes I have for my son Brian is that there is a record in his heart of everything he saw and heard and experienced here. On that record of Brian’s life there would be many evidences of the Savior and His love and atonement. In the spirit world I believe he will remember all the testimonies he heard borne during his first sixteen years on earth, when he was immersed in gospel teachings. I believe he will remember all the scriptures, all the sacrament songs, all the Book of Mormon story tapes he listened to every night for years. I believe Brian will now grasp hold of those, and cry out to the Lord to have part in the Savior’s sacrifice. I choose faith over despair in regard to my son.
Saying the words, “I choose faith” is not enough, however. I must know what faith is and how a person behaves and thinks and feels differently if he has faith than if he does not.
What Faith IS
Paul says in Hebrews 11:1 “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Ether 12:6 says, “Faith is to hope for things not seen which are true.” Other scriptures liken faith to a shield and a breastplate; I see that the shield of faith is the only protection I have from devastating discouragement. Many scriptures tell us that our faith must be in Christ, who is mighty to save – and this is the faith I cling to.
Faith is listed in two different scriptures as a “gift,” but the Bible Dictionary explains, “Although faith is a gift, it must be cultured and sought after until it grows from a tiny seed to a great tree.” (p. 670) Alma 32 gives a beautiful explanation of this process. Faith is asking, and being willing not only to recognize the gift, but to care for it, nurture it, cultivate it. I find it necessary to do this cultivating moment by moment.
“Faith is a principle of action and of power … True faith always moves its possessor to some kind of physical and mental action.” (Bible Dictionary, p. 670) One of the most important actions faith motivates is repentance. Indeed, faith unto repentance is a common phrase in scripture. “By faith one obtains a remission of sins and eventually can stand in the presence of God.” (Bible Dictionary, p. 670) I have never been more motivated to repentance than I am now.
“Faith is kindled by hearing the testimony of those who have faith (Romans 10:14-17).” (Bible Dictionary, p. 669). That means to me that faith is sharable. In the second Lecture on Faith we learn that we pass faith down through the generations by the word of testimony, written and spoken. I believe that every faith-filled word spoken or written by the power of the Spirit swells the seed of faith in the hearts of all who hear or read them. We are the bearers of faith to each other. Every day I choose to nourish my faith by reading words of faith from others and I choose to document the growth of my faith in my own writing.
Early Christian writer Hannah Whitall Smith said, “Faith is nothing more nor less than just believing God when He says He either has done something for us, or will do it; and then trusting Him to keep His word.” (The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life, p. 71) She talks of how our daily lives are full of trusting our fellow men in this way, then says, “Is it possible that you can trust your fellow men, and cannot trust your God; that you can receive the ‘witness of man,’ and cannot receive the ‘witness of God’; that you can believe man’s records, and cannot believe God’s record; that you can commit your dearest earthly interests to your weak, failing fellow creatures without a fear, and are afraid to commit your spiritual interests to the Saviour who laid down His life for you, and of whom it is declared that He is ‘able to save to the uttermost all who come unto God by him’?” (Ibid, p. 73)
“Let your faith, then ‘throw its arms around all God has told you,’ and in every dark hour remember that … the sun has not ceased shining because the traveler through the tunnel has ceased to see it; and the Sun of righteousness is still shining although you in your dark tunnel do not see Him. Be patient and trustful, and wait. This time of darkness is only permitted that ‘the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honor and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ.'”(Ibid p. 78)
What Faith Is NOT
Faith is not a feeling, but a choice of the soul, a choice to receive the gift offered. No matter how I feel, I can choose from my soul to affirm faith.
Faith is not achieved by a one-time event, but is a moment by moment choice to focus on belief and hope; to reassert my belief in God, in Jesus, in their faithful keeping of their promises.
“Miracles do not produce faith, but strong faith is developed by obedience to the gospel of Jesus Christ; in other words, faith comes by righteousness, although miracles often confirm one’s faith.” (Bible Dictionary, p. 669)
In the last chapter of a fine yet-to-be published manuscript, Cliff Jones said, “Faith isn’t knowing how everything will work out. Faith isn’t always basking in the warmth of a knowledge that eternal riches are ours. Faith is a belief that carries us onward during periods of very bleak uncertainty. Without uncertainty, there can’t be faith. The fact that we’re not confident how things will go doesn’t mean we have no faith. As we continue to hold onto the iron rod in the midst of tempting mists of darkness that obscure the tree of life from our view and almost convince us to let go, we’re exercising tremendous faith (see 1 Nephi 8). Faith is doing the Lord’s will and moving onward, trusting Him to eventually give us the promised blessings … Our faith moves us onward despite the uncertainties that plague us.
Faith in my own ability to exercise my faith and utilize my faith cannot be separated from my faith in Christ. I used to say, “I don’t doubt God, I doubt me; I doubt my own worthiness, my own ability to access the Atonement, to overcome family patterns, to overcome the world.” I’ve had to learn that I cannot harbor self-doubt if my faith in Christ is intact. Self-doubt is saying, “I’m more powerful to mess up than the Savior is to redeem. I’m a special case – too difficult for the Lord.” But nothing is too difficult for the Lord, and the power of the redemption reaches out to every willing soul.
“As a Man Thinketh …”
Daily I am now compelled to conduct the experiment of faith, and I learn again and again that my level of faith is up to me every moment. It is determined by what I choose to focus on, what I choose to think about. In 2 Nephi 4 is a vivid scriptural pattern of changing focus from the trial of the moment to past spiritual experiences. Nephi admitted his discouragement and his own weakness, then said, “Nevertheless, I know in whom I have trusted,” and went on to list many evidence of the Lord’s power in his life. I have learned that the choice of focus is clear cut: I can fill my mind with faith thoughts, or I can stay focused on the problems and leave myself open to doubt, fear, discouragement – which the adversary instantly provides. Hannah Whitall Smith said, “Doubts and discouragement are, I believe, inlets by which evil enters, while faith is an impregnable wall against all evil.” (Ibid, p. 120)
The Savior stands at the door and knocks, waiting for an invitation to enter. However, the adversary is the great intruder. The instant my mind is not fastened on spiritually edifying thoughts, the enemy of my soul bombards it with doubt, fear, negativity, and discouragement. However, I need not claim those thoughts as my own or feel guilty for them unless I invite them in to stay awhile! I can choose to meet them at the door and send them immediately away, replacing them with welcome, invited guests – thoughts of faith in Christ and His promises.
Whenever I am assaulted by doubt or fear or discouragement, I can lift up my shield of faith against it. I can refuse to entertain doubt for a single moment. I can replace the doubt thought, not with arguments, but with assertions of faith. I am convinced that all fearful, discouraging or doubtful thoughts are an attack from the adversary, my enemy. The Holy Ghost never introduces them into my mind. Never. This member of the Godhead is my Comforter, not my accuser, my very help in trouble. He helps me look steadfastly toward the Savior and away from doubt and fear. He helps me hold fast to my faith without wavering because “He is faithful who hath promised.” I will rely on the Lord’s faithfulness, not my own. I will believe actively and persistently.
Faith Saves Our Lives – Physically and Spiritually
I keep thinking of the analogy of faith as a rope. It was easy to say I trusted the strength of my rope of faith when it was coiled on the ground, but suddenly I was dangling by it over a precipice and my only hope of rescue was to hold fast to the rope. I have had to give it my whole weight, trust in its strength, believe I could be pulled up, and up. The past few weeks I have often felt the relief of being heaved onto solid ground after having dangled precariously. My perspective of that rope after I have experienced its power to save me from my greatest peril is forever changed.
In his book The Fire of Faith, Elder John Groberg tells a story that illuminates and summarizes the whole subject of faith for me. He and his wife and children were onboard a ship named Faifekau, returning from a trip to Ha’apai. The seas were extremely rough. Suddenly the engines stopped. The crew tried everything to restart the engines, but to no avail. They were in grave danger, and the Captain told Elder Groberg he would follow any directions he gave. Elder Groberg struggled much of the night for the faith he needed. He knew they would all die if they could not get the engines started. He said, “I came to know that fearful night that faith is a real power, not just a great motivator and revealer and strengthener and guide. It is all of those things, but it is also much more. Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is an eternal, endless power as great as any power in the whole universe. Finally, a calmness came to me that made the whole of that terrible night worth it. I called for the captain.
“‘Yes?’ he said, with anticipation.
“‘Go through the regular routine again for starting the engines. Things will be all right.’
“With faith, all the crew went through the standard procedure for starting the engine. Soon there were clangs and clanks and muffled shouts. Then some sputtering. Then that joyful sound of a diesel engine coming to life, running smoothly, gradually gaining power. The crisis was over; we were moving again … The seas were as rough as ever, but the boat was moving, guided by a skillful and faithful captain … I spent the rest of the night trying to adequately express my love and appreciation to the Lord and absorb the great lesson I had experienced … We had been saved. I looked at the captain. I was deeply grateful for his skill and courage and for that of the crew also, but I was even more grateful for their faith and obedience.
“If we are willing, God will bless us all with adequate opportunities to expend the effort necessary to increase our faith. We may not always enjoy those circumstances, for they may involve danger, illness, death, disaffection of a loved one, or something similar . Sufficient faith has enough power to allow us to continue our journey home through the night, even though we may have been temporarily stopped for some reason.
“Jesus lives and has all power. As we exercise faith in Him we tap into that infinite power. The motor of our lives may be temporarily down. At times we may be surrounded by raging waves and hissing seas and stinging winds. But if our faith in Him is sufficient He can power us safely to our destination.” (The Fire of Faith, pp 114-115)
Faith in the Fulfillment of God’s Purposes
Elder Groberg said, “I know that there is total and complete justice in eternity. God’s dealings with man have no tinge of partiality, favoritism, capriciousness, or anything less than complete consistency, balance, and perfectness.” (The Fire of Faith, p. 183) Consequently we can have perfect faith in His words, in His power to fulfill them, in the inevitability of the fulfillment of His purposes. Only He knows what my destination should be. I will not let lack of faith keep me from it.
An e-mail from a thoughtful reader said, “Oh yes, there are days when doubt and pain try to rear their ugly heads again, but that sweet, simple, little word faith has to take on the strength, character, and courage to knock down those negative feelings. One truly has to ‘be still and know that I am God’ … I know that you will find peace of heart as your armor of faith girds you up … God has the plan and it has not all been revealed to us. Our job is to trust in Him. It is a journey in learning how to trust and accept that all will be well.”
I can have absolute faith that God is working in my life to bring about His purposes for me. In her novel Tathea, Anne Perry wrote, “‘Did you not say His purpose cannot be thwarted?’ Drusus frowned. ‘That was what you said, wasn’t it? How could he be God if mere human folly could spoil his plan?’… He was right and she could see glimpses of a far greater pattern even as she sat, rain-soaked in the firelight. She could not see the whole, not even the hour ahead, but looking at the past with a greater wisdom, she found a new perception of how what had seemed to be darkness was light, what had seemed loss was a different kind of gain.” (p. 387)
Summing It Up
In summary, faith in Christ is my shield and protection from Satan’s efforts to destroy me with discouragement and depression. Faith is believing that Christ is mightier to redeem than I am to mess up. Faith is reminding myself of previous evidences I’ve received of God’s loving care and intervention in my life when I’m not feeling it. Faith is knowing God is there loving me even when I feel forsaken. Faith is knowing my hope is in Christ, his Atonement and resurrection, not having things “turn out.” Faith is recognizing any indication of the growth of a celestial character as success regardless of all the pain it may have taken to motivate that growth. Faith means believing in myself – in my ability to reach out to the Savior, knowing that I am part of every scriptural promise and that all God’s promises and purposes will be ultimately be fulfilled..
“Trust in the Lord with all thy heart and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge Him and He shall direct thy paths” (Proverbs 3:5) is a scripture that has new meaning for me. Trust, faith, hope, peace … what beautiful words, what beautiful thought choices, what a beautiful anchor for my life! When my faith is based on truth from God, on belief in Christ and his atonement, I can rest in Him.
May faith in Christ fill our Christmas thoughts and feelings and start us on a new year filled with hope.