Today I’d like to talk about faith and knowledge. Many people think of faith as a substitute for knowledge, what you have to fall back on in the absence of knowledge. I would like to share how I’ve come to see faith not as a substitute for knowledge, but as a means of knowing. Living by faith is not living blindly, but living in such a way to experience and know what is real. The knowledge gained by exercising faith is not abstract and impersonal, but experiential and lived knowledge.
In the Fall in 1986 I was a first-year student at a private liberal arts college in the Boston area. Every Sunday I took a University shuttle bus to Cambridge where I went to Church at the single student ward. After only a few weeks at school it was the beginning of October and time for General Conference. At that point not all meetinghouses had satellite receivers and we were told that General Conference would be broadcast at the Stake Center in Weston, Massachusetts. I was not from this area and didn’t know the geography well, but someone told me that it was near my campus. I remember going to a payphone in the dorm and looking up the Weston Chapel in the phone book, I didn’t have a phone in my room and no one had a cell phone back then, and I made a call to the Stake Center to get directions.
That Sunday morning I remember walking those four miles or so along the road to the Stake Center, admiring the beautiful changing colors of the New England Fall and enjoying the very pleasant weather. It might have even been what is called an Indian Summer, unseasonably mild weather in Fall. I don’t remember it being cold at all, but just having a wonderful peaceful feeling all the way through that walk. After I arrived I remember sitting close to the front of the chapel, surrounded by strangers and watching the Conference broadcast on the screen.
When I look back now, I am amazed that I was even there, that I had the faith to make that call and take that walk. When you’re out on your own it can be easy to take a Sunday off when no one is looking for you or expecting you. Likewise, being in an elite academic environment can potentially diminish interest in a life of faith and things of the Spirit. I have to give credit to my parents for raising me in a home in which attending Church and General Conference was something not only expected, but desirable. I also give credit for faithful youth leaders and Seminary teachers who had inspired me to read the scriptures daily, building my own faith in the importance hearing the voice of God’s servants.
I don’t remember all the talks that were given that Autumn Sunday, but there was one statement that was planted in my heart that day that has continued to grow and bear fruit until this day. Elder A. Theodore Tuttle of the Seventy spoke on “Developing Faith.” In that talk he also referred to his home that had nurtured faith in him. “I am a product of a household of faith. I learned faith in my home. I was taught it. It was drilled into me. I need that faith now as much as I ever did. I think we all do.”1
Then he said these words that brought about a dramatic shift in my way of thinking. He said “We’re not going to survive in this world, temporally or spiritually, without increased faith in the Lord—and I don’t mean a positive mental attitude—I mean downright solid faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. That is the one thing that gives vitality and power to otherwise rather weak individuals.” I had grown up in an era where it was not uncommon to have many lessons and Sacrament meeting talks that focused on believing in yourself, setting goals, and having a positive mental attitude. In contrast, Elder Tuttle’s witness that only faith in the Lord Jesus Christ would be enough to save us sank deep into my heart. In academic circles we talk about having a paradigm shift or shifting to a new mental model. In scriptural terms I can say I was beginning to repent in the sense of the Greek word metanoeo, to take on a new way of thinking and feeling. I was starting to get a glimpse of the reality that only the Redemption of Christ has to power to save me. I was starting to know that Christ was the Being in whom I needed to put my faith and my confidence in order to get the help I needed to live life successfully.
The next year I had transferred to BYU-Provo and that seed of faith in Christ’s redeeming power was still in my heart, but also somewhat dormant. I was going through the motions, but some of the hunger and thirst for righteousness that had led me to walk four miles for General Conference was no longer there. I was immersed in exciting and absorbing academic pursuits and I didn’t spend much time focusing on relying on the Lord. I was not really exercising my faith. In fact, I am sad to say that my dorm room in Provo was directly across the street from the Marriot Center where devotionals were held, but I can clearly remember occasions where I lacked the faith to cross the street.
So, two years after I heard Elder Tuttle testify that only faith in the Lord Jesus Christ would allow us to survive mortality, I was increasingly weak and overwhelmed by life and the demands of school. Again, I am grateful for the faith that I did have to keep the Sabbath day holy and to fast on Fast Sunday, as well as to keep reading the scriptures daily. It was on a Sunday afternoon where I exercised my faith enough to offer a prayer for help. I told the Lord that I was overwhelmed and didn’t know what to do. And then, being a Sunday afternoon, I lay down for a nap. When I woke up a clear impression came to mind. It was a statement made by President Benson in April Conference of that year, “when you put the Lord first, everything else will fall into place or fall out of your life.”2 At that point in my life I was used to trusting in my own strength and wisdom. I really didn’t know what “putting the Lord first” would mean, but I had the faith to experiment on the word. I had the faith to start to know a reality beyond my present experience.
One thing that I immediately saw was that living by faith meant that I had to start doing the things the Lord was telling me to do. For instance, I knew that my patriarchal blessing told me to pray morning and night and that I was only praying at night before falling asleep. I also knew that President Benson was telling us that we should read the Book of Mormon every day.3 While I was reading the scriptures every day, I wasn’t reading the Book of Mormon every day. And thus the process began. I knew that I was weak and needed help. I trusted in the promise of the Lord’s prophet that things would fall into place or fall out of my life if I would put the Lord first. I acted in faith and started to nourish the seed.
Through my choice to live by faith I came to experience and know a fuller spiritual reality. As I began reading the Book of Mormon I started to learn about how people could be led by the promptings of the Holy Ghost and I started to feel those in my life. Additional ideas started to come about things I could change to put the Lord first. As I began reading the Book of Mormon daily I began to understand that the Atonement wasn’t just for those other “bad people” who weren’t keeping the commandments that I was obeying. I began to understand that I needed to repent and that I needed the Atonement. I began to understand that because of the covenants that I had made the Redemption of Christ had power to change my nature. I began to have confidence that I could do all things that the Lord required through faith on his name and his power, rather than trusting in myself.
For much of my life growing up I had a conviction of the truthfulness of the gospel and the restored Church, but a feeling of inadequacy to stand as an exemplar of the very high ideals that I sensed were required. I had a testimony, but I didn’t have faith that Christ could help me live up to what he was asking of me. Because of this I was even shy about letting people know that I was a member of the Church because I was worried that I might not be a good enough representative. Through the influence and teaching of the Spirit through the Book of Mormon I came to realize that my ability was not really the issue at all. Elder Robert D. Hales has recently clearly expressed the paradigm-shifting perspective that I learned from the Book of Mormon.
He says, “For many, the call to be a Christian can seem demanding, even overwhelming. But we need not be afraid or feel inadequate. The Savior has promised that He will make us equal to His work. ‘Follow me,’ He said, ‘and I will make you fishers of men.’ As we follow Him, He blesses us with gifts, talents, and the strength to do His will, allowing us to go beyond our comfort zones and do things we’ve never before thought possible. This may mean sharing the gospel with neighbors, rescuing those who are spiritually lost, serving a full-time mission, working in the temple, raising a child with special needs, loving the prodigal, serving an ailing companion, enduring misunderstandings, or suffering affliction. It means preparing ourselves to answer His call by saying, ‘I’ll go where you want me to go; I’ll say what you want me to say; I’ll do what you want me to do; I’ll be what you want me to be.’”4
In that transformative Fall Semester, by choosing to exercise faith in the promise of a prophet I gained experiential knowledge of the power of Christ’s redemption. I began to experience and know the reality of doctrines that I have continued to study and tried to live for the last almost twenty-five years of my life. Since then I have received a bachelor’s degree in history with a minor in philosophy, a master’s degree in Ancient Near Eastern Studies, and a Ph.D. in Religion with an emphasis in History of Christianity. At every stage I have spent a great deal of time and energy seeking to deepen my understanding of the scriptural language and doctrinal implications of the Atonement.
I have also come to appreciate the deep philosophical questions about what is real, what is human nature and potential, and how can we know what is real. These are the big questions that undergird the sciences, humanities, and social sciences. I have come to appreciate how difficult it might be to believe in Christ, or even in God, without the Restoration. I have come to see that for many the universe can be a random, directionless place. Many believe that knowledge of meaning and purpose is not possible, that we are left with either believing in a beautiful dream or facing the absurdity and emptiness of existence.
It is not uncommon for the academic study of Religion to erode faith in God, precisely because it is an academic study, based on the things that can be known through the senses and reason, the only resources available to the academic world. Just as I marvel that I walked four miles by myself to watch General Conference at the age of 17, I marvel and give thanks to God that my experience in graduate school not only did not erode my testimony, but instead deepened my knowledge of the gospel. Rather than seeing the gospel and the Church through the eyes of my discipline and academic categories, I was able to see my studies and the issues they raised in terms of the Restoration witness of the reality of Christ’s redemption.
In large part I give credit for that continued access to spiritual knowledge to the faith I exercised when I was turning 20 to start read the Book of Mormon every day. President Benson specifically spoke of the impact it could have, saying “Every Latter-day Saint should make the study of this book a lifetime pursuit. Otherwise he is placing his soul in jeopardy and neglecting that which could give spiritual and intellectual unity to his whole life. There is a difference between a convert who is built on the rock of Christ through the Book of Mormon and stays hold of that iron rod, and one who is not.”5 The spiritual and intellectual unity which President Benson promised is the greatest gift I could have received. Through faith in a prophet’s promise in my daily study of the Book of Mormon I have been able to keep the knowledge which is most precious.
Knowing that God lives and knowing that we can know are tremendous gifts. The knowledge that I have that there is a loving God and that he has manifest his nature to us through Christ and restored his power through the Prophet Joseph Smith comes through personal revelation, but also through the knowledge of experience. I can stand as a witness of the redemption of Christ because I know that I am different because of his power. I know that the Book of Mormon is true because it has brought me to know and experience that life-changing power.
I know that the only way to be saved is by applying the atoning blood of Jesus Christ. I know that through his redeeming power I can seek to be forgiven and receive help to forgive. I know that through his redeeming blood there is the potential to be cleansed from all sins and all sinfulness. President Packer has powerfully clarified the scope of the potential of Christ’s Redemption, saying: “I repeat, save for the exception of the very few who defect to perdition, there is no habit, no addiction, no rebellion, no transgression, no apostasy, no crime exempted from the promise of complete forgiveness. That is the promise of the Atonement of Christ.”6
Faith in the redemption of Christ allows us to experience and know reality. It does not lead to us to feel self-satisfied or self-righteous. It does not lead us to be prideful about our weakness or despondent that we can never change. It produces a peaceful humility. We can recognize our weakness without being overwhelmed by it. We know that because of the price he paid our sinfulness or our weakness need not be our permanent reality.
Satan, on the other hand, wants us to believe something completely different about reality. He wants us to believe that we either don’t need to change or that we can’t change. The redemption of Christ is a witness to us of what is real -- that we need redeeming, that we are in bondage to our sins and sinfulness. Christ came to save us because we need saving. He paid the price to redeem us because we were in bondage. But his redemption is also a witness of the ultimate reality that through his power we can become what we are not right now—that we can become like him. Faith in Christ allows us to know and live in the way things truly are. Faith in the redemption is faith to be obedient. Faith in the redemption is faith to be diligent. Faith in the redemption is faith to walk in the light and endure to the end.
If we choose to stay in the darkness it is not because the light is not real, but because we do not have faith, or, in other words, because we do not trust in the Lord’s power to redeem. Abinandi warns us to “remember that he that persists in his own carnal nature, and goes on in the ways of sin and rebellion against God, remaineth in his fallen state and the devil hath all power over him. Therefore he is as though there was no redemption made, being an enemy to God; and also is the devil an enemy to God” (Mosiah 16:5). Satan lives in a condition of opposition to God and he wants to persuade us to also rebel against God. He wants us to live “as though there were no redemption made.”
Feeling a witness of Christ’s love and experiencing the reality of his redemption allows us to know and testify of what is ultimately real. We know it because we have experienced it for ourselves. One of the most important witnesses of the transformative power of redeeming love is found in the experience of Alma the Younger. Immediately after he exercised faith in the redemption of Christ and experienced a change of heart he shared this:
“For, said he, I have repented of my sins, and have been redeemed of the Lord; behold I am born of the Spirit. And the Lord said unto me: Marvel not that all mankind, yea, men and women, all nations, kindreds, tongues and people, must be born again; yea, born of God, changed from their carnal and fallen state, to a state of righteousness, being redeemed of God, becoming his sons and daughters; And thus they become new creatures; and unless they do this, they can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God” (Mosiah 27:24-26).
Each of us has had experiences where we have felt the power and reality of Christ’s redemption. We have felt light and peace. We have had our burdens lifted and our souls healed. The question for us today, maybe years after those experiences, is the one that Alma asks the people of Zarahemla, “If ye have experienced a change of heart, and if ye have felt to sing the song of redeeming love, I would ask, can ye feel so now?” (Alma 5:26).
At the moment of our experience with Christ’s redemption our knowledge is so vivid and alive that it fills our hearts with song. But time goes on from those intense spiritual experiences and it can be easy to have it become just a happy memory. Note that Alma does not ask merely if we remember what it was like to want to sing the song of redeeming love, he asks if we can feel so now. Recognizing the challenge to continue to feel redeeming love, Alma has also given us a powerful analogy for the role of faith in keeping our knowledge of spiritual things alive. He compares this knowledge of the redemption to a living seed that can grow within us. The seed we are to plant is the message of “the Son of God, that he will come to redeem his people, and that he shall suffer and die to atone for their sins; and that he shall rise again from the dead, which shall bring to pass the resurrection, that all men shall stand before him, to be judged at the last and judgment day, according to their works.”7 He explains that this message of Christ’s redemption can grow within us and change us.
The experiences we have with the love of the Lord and the influence of the Holy Ghost are experiences with the reality of redemption. It is the knowledge of Christ we gain through these experiences that Alma compares to a plant growing up inside of us. Alma promises that when we exercise faith in the redemption of Christ “it will begin to swell within your breasts; and when you feel these swelling motions, ye will begin to say within yourselves—It must needs be that this is a good seed, or that the word is good, for it beginneth to enlarge my soul; yea, it beginneth to enlighten my understanding, yea, it beginneth to be delicious to me.”8
The danger, of course, is forgetting to do the things that helped us to get the knowledge of the reality of the redemption in the first place—faith, diligence, patience, and long-suffering. Alma warns, “if ye neglect the tree, and take no thought for its nourishment, behold it will not get any root; and when the heat of the sun cometh and scorcheth it, because it hath no root it withers away, and ye pluck it up and cast it out. Now, this is not because the seed was not good, neither is it because the fruit thereof would not be desirable; but it is because your ground is barren, and ye will not nourish the tree, therefore ye cannot have the fruit thereof.”9
Like my vivid, mind-altering experience with spiritual reality during my undergraduate years, the experiences we have with the redemption are not merely faith—they are knowledge. Alma is trying to teach us that this knowledge is alive within us. The experience and relationship of being connected to Christ is dynamic and alive and we must try to keep it alive.
Elder David A. Bednar has recently given some intriguing insights on what it means to have this tree “springing up in [us] unto everlasting life.” He comments, “I suspect that many Church members are much more familiar with the nature of the redeeming and cleansing power of the Atonement than they are with the strengthening and enabling power. It is one thing to know that Jesus Christ came to earth to die for us—that is fundamental and foundational to the doctrine of Christ. But we also need to appreciate that the Lord desires, through His Atonement and by the power of the Holy Ghost, to live in us—not only to direct us but also to empower us.”10
Experiencing this connection with Christ’s redemption, having him “live in us,” seems to be what Alma is encouraging us to cultivate. We start the process and we can feel that it is real and light and good. At that point we have a partial knowledge, but we need to keep having experiences with the reality of his redeeming grace to continue to know him more fully. Our knowledge of Christ will become sickly and finally die if it is neglected, if we do not exercise our faith to nourish it with faith and diligence, by putting the Lord first and doing his will. It’s not just about forgetting spiritual witnesses and losing our testimony, although that can happen as well. Alma is inviting us to be gradually, but eternally changed by allowing the redemption to continue to work in us. “And behold, it will become a tree, springing up in you unto everlasting life.”11 Here we don’t just reach the tree at the end of the journey, we become the tree or, rather, the life and love that is in the tree is also in us.
As I look back at the experiences I had almost twenty five years ago and my life since then I feel an appreciation for Alma’s description of his experience to his son Helaman many decades later. He exemplifies something critical about how to keep that tree alive within us. He says, “Yea, and from that time even until now, I have labored without ceasing, that I might bring souls unto repentance; that I might bring them to taste of the exceeding joy of which I did taste; that they might also be born of God, and be filled with the Holy Ghost” (Alma 36:24). Alma is teaching us that experiencing the life that comes from Christ is nourished by seeking to nourish others.
This is daily evident during missionary service. As missionaries we are fully alive spiritually because we are focused on helping others come to know and experience the power of the redemption. I could go for days being rejected by people while doing street-contacting in France, but still be filled with the love and joy of the Lord’s Spirit and a knowledge of his love for each of his children. In addition to my mission, I have felt that sanctifying, life-giving, experience with the enabling power of the redemption in all the callings in which I have tried to lose myself to help others find life in Christ—to know him. I have felt that life and knowledge as I’ve tried to reach out to less-active sisters I was called to visit teach. I have felt that life and knowledge as I testified of Christ to Primary children through songs and lessons. I have felt that life and knowledge as I diligently kept track of his sheep as a Relief Society secretary. I have felt that life and knowledge as I have greeted sisters, ward members, and visitors weekly at Church and hoped that they would feel the Savior’s love.
I am grateful to have been able to continue to exercise my faith in the redemption through the decades that have passed since I first felt to sing the song of redeeming love. Each effort to serve and obey was an act of faith that kept my knowledge alive and I know that every day I wake up I must keep choosing faith in the redemption of Christ. I must keep nurturing the power of the redemption with my faith, diligence, patience, and long-suffering. It will never be enough to have memories of singing the song of redeeming love and walking in the light of his love. We must choose today to experience and know that love through living lives of faithfulness.
As we begin a new year and a new semester we can choose to exercise faith in Christ’s redemption every time we wake up and then pray and read our scriptures. We can choose to exercise faith in Christ’s redemption in how we dress and groom ourselves every morning. We can choose to exercise faith in the redemption every time we are diligent and faithful in doing our best in our assignments and attending classes, trusting that we are the Lord’s stewards and he has given us these opportunities and will help us succeed. We can choose to exercise faith in the redemption with every prompting to do good that we follow and every temptation that we reject. We can choose to exercise faith in the redemption with our faithful service in our callings and families.
Faith in the redemption is a way of life. It is the path of discipleship. As Elder Tuttle promised, it is the “one thing that gives vitality and power to otherwise rather weak individuals.” Christ is the source of life and light. As we trust him we will follow him and have experiences with the reality of his redeeming power. As we live with faith in Christ we will come to know Christ.
1 A. Theodore Tuttle, “Developing Faith,” Ensign, Nov. 1986.
2 See Ezra Taft Benson, “The Great Commandment—Love the Lord,” Ensign, May 1988.
3 See, for example, Ezra Taft Benson, “The Book of Mormon—Keystone of Our Religion,” Ensign, Nov, 1986, or “Flooding the Earth with the Book of Mormon,” Ensign, Nov. 1988.
4 Robert D. Hales, “Being a More Christian Christian,” Ensign, Nov. 2012, 91.
5 Ezra Taft Benson, “The Book of Mormon is the Word of God," Ensign, May 1975, p. 65; he quoted this again in “The Book of Mormon—Keystone of Our Religion,” Ensign, Nov, 1986.
6 Boyd K. Packer, “The Brilliant Morning of Forgiveness,” Ensign, Nov. 1995, 18.
7 Alma 33:22.
8 Alma 32:28.
9 Alma 32:38-39.
10 David A. Bednar, “The Atonement and the Journey of Mortality,” Ensign, April 2012, 42.
11 Alma 33:23.