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Every time I read the Christmas story, Zacharias’s reply to the angel gives me pause. Zacharias was a faithful believer, a loving husband, a priest in the temple fulfilling his duties with exactness. A glorious angel sent from God appeared to him and announced that he and Elisabeth would be granted the greatest desire of their hearts— to be parents of a godly son. This was a blessing they had long desired, but given up on. The angel, standing before him in glory, told Zacharias of the great mission his son would fulfill to make ready the people for the Lord. Yet Zacharias doubts, and retorts, “Whereby shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife well stricken in years” (Luke 1:18).
The Zacharias response typifies the common tendency to pit logic and reason (and maybe “scientific proof”) against the promises and power of God. I am initially impressed with the audacity of this man to doubt an angel. Zacharias knew he was conversing with an angel sent from the presence of God delivering a message directly from Him. Yet he questioned his words. Why?
Zacharias doubted God’s promise because of his knowledge and experience. He was old. His wife was old—way beyond child-bearing years. He knew that old people don’t become new parents; he had never seen one single exception to that rule. He tripped over his “arm of flesh” reasoning. The angel struck him dumb for putting more stock in what he “knew” than in what God was promising him.
The Epidemic of Doubt
This ancient malady, which I am labeling the Zacharias Response, is epidemic in our world today and Lucifer is behind it. Even as believers, whenever we read the promises of God in the scriptures, the adversary is busy at work tempting us to doubt the words of the Lord or His messengers. I think of times I have read the very words of Christ, such as those in 3 Nephi 9:14, “Behold, mine arm of mercy is extended towards you, and whosoever will come, him will I receive; and blessed are those who come unto me,” and the Deceiver has immediately put into my mind a Zacharias response, “How can I know that promise can apply even to me? Many times I’ve made sincere efforts to come unto Christ and haven’t felt any different: I haven’t felt received.”
Just as Zacharias knew his promise was being delivered by an angel from God I know scriptural promises delivered by Christ himself or by his appointed messengers. Yet when I read “Therefore, let your hearts be comforted; for all things shall work together for good to them that walk uprightly,”(D&C 100:15) I sometimes pull myself away and say, Zacharias-like, “But how can I know if I walk uprightly enough to qualify? What about this or that or the other thing that might disqualify me from the promise? How can I know that these words will really be brought to pass for me personally?”
Stephen E. Robinson, in his landmark book Believing Christ did an astounding job of explaining this whole dilemma. In chapter two, he told of experiences as a bishop with people who insisted that forgiveness and exaltation were for other, more faithful saints, but certainly not possible for them. He quoted one man who said, “Look bishop, I’m just not celestial material.” Brother Robison responded, “So what’s your point? Of course you’re not celestial material. Neither am I, neither is any of us. That’s why we need the atonement of Christ, which can make us celestial. John, why don’t you just admit your real problem—that you don’t have any faith in Christ?”
The man angrily insisted he had always believed in Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God. “Yes,” Brother Robinson replied, “you believe in Christ, you just don’t believe Christ. He says he can make you celestial material, and you have the audacity to sit there and say, ‘No, he can’t.’ You believe, all right—you believe Christ makes promises he can’t keep.”1
Believing Christ, even when the fulfillment of His promises seems impossible in our present circumstances, is what faith is all about. Only when we believe that His words apply to us personally is it possible to fully accept His gifts to us. And that is the challenge . . . believing things we cannot see, touch, or prove. That kind of faith flies in the face of the scientific method.
Scientist and scholar Hugh W. Nibley said, “The words of the prophets cannot be held to the tentative and defective tests that men have devised for them. Science, philosophy, and common sense all have a right to their day in court. But the last word does not lie with them. Every time men in their wisdom have come forth with the last word, other words have promptly followed. The last word is a testimony of the gospel that comes only by direct revelation. Our Father in heaven speaks it, and if it were in perfect agreement with the science of today, it would surely be out of line with the science of tomorrow. Let us not, therefore, seek to hold God to the learned opinions of the moment when he speaks the language of eternity.”2
Let’s Become More Like Mary or Enos
The sweet assurance and witness communicated by the Holy Ghost far surpasses the gathering of scientific data. I think of my recent experience of renewal when the Spirit whispered to me a “sweet calm assurance that He cares.” There is simply nothing so real as the witness of the Holy Spirit. And faith is the sweet nectar that makes it possible for us to drink in and be refreshed by such spiritual experiences.
The “needing to see to believe,” exemplified by every Doubting Thomas, is so different from the faith mode so well exemplified by Enos. When the word of the Lord came to Enos telling him his sins were forgiven, he said, “And I, Enos, knew that God could not lie; wherefore my guilt was swept away” (Enos 1:6). Enos had built a faith in the integrity of God that was rock solid. The Lord truly had the last word. He also had such confidence in his relationship with the Lord that he dared give voice to his awe and ask, “Lord, how is it done?” and the Lord said unto him: “Because of thy faith in Christ, whom thou hast never before heard nor seen. And many years pass away before he shall manifest himself in the flesh: wherefore, go to, thy faith hath made thee whole” (Enos 1: 7-8).
Enos had neither seen nor heard Christ, and it would be years before the Savior would make His appearance on this earth. Enos did not have the New Testament record or the countless other testimonies we have of the Savior. Yet Enos not only believed IN Christ, Enos believed Him, believed His words and believed that they applied to him personally.
Scripture, including the words of our living prophets and apostles, is to us like the direct word of the Lord to Enos or of the words of the Angel Gabriel to Mary. In this day and age we are so greatly blessed with plentiful spiritual communication! In 2 Timothy 3: 14-16 Paul said, “But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them; And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All scripture is given by inspiration of God. . .”
Would that our responses to all communication from God could be more like Enos’s, and like Mary’s. When the angel promised Mary that she would bear the Messiah she did not doubt that it would be or could be, only wondered how: “How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?” (Luke 1:34). The angel explained, and revealed to her Elisabeth’s unlikely pregnancy, declaring “For with God nothing shall be impossible” (Luke 1:37). At that point Mary replied, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word” (Luke 1:38).
Doubt Flies When We Trust God More than Man
The Zacharias response is based on the false assumption that what is impossible to man is impossible period. All we need do to transcend this doubt-based thinking is to remember the angel’s words to Mary: “With God nothing shall be impossible.” We can choose to live our lives choosing to believe in spiritual realities no matter how impossible they seem at the moment.
God lives. All the disbelief and doubt in the world doesn’t change that fact. He is love and His love is the ruling force of the universe. He loves us so much He sent His Son to be the Way, the Truth, and the Life. It is a well-documented fact that Jesus lived, died, and was resurrected. Many who lived before He came to earth believed in Him and His mission strictly on faith. Surely we can believe with the advantage of historical fact and the testimony of countless men down through the centuries.
His life and miracles and death and resurrection are historical realities. To disbelieve would be to pit our puny perceptions against the witness of the ages. We are children of God and He loves us. The beauty and order of the earth and planets, the miracle of the still, small voice and consistent tender mercies on our behalf all testify of Him. When we accept His love we feel the miracle of it. When we declare our belief, the Spirit validates the truth and we can feel the power of it. Each moment we make the decision to believe and trust God no matter what we can experience the fruits of that faith.
As Hugh Nibley said, “God has the last word.” It makes sense to believe Him and accept His words.
Let us put behind us the Zacharias response of doubt. Let us become more like Mary and Enos in our responses to the words of the Lord and his messengers. Then the Lord can say to us, as he did to Enos, “Go to, thy faith hath made thee whole.”
Visit Darla at her web site: Darlaisackson.com and learn more about her book, Trust God No Matter What!
1 Stephen E. Robinson, Believing Christ, 1992, Deseret Book Company, Salt Lake City, Utah, 11
2 Hugh W. Nibley, essay, “Prophets and the Open Mind,” Maxwell Institute, http://mi.byu.edu/publications/books/?bookid=54&chapid=500