May 19, 2008

Implicit Confidence in God: Part 2

On consistency regarding faith, works and miracles
Brigham Young
August 17, 1856

In seeking to inspire implicit confidence in God, Brigham Young emphasized works alongside faith. The attitude seems to be that faith the size of a seed can move a mountain, but one might best exercise that faith with shovel in hand, and see what happens. The Utah Territory provided an interesting landscape for faith; the dry desert was to "blossom as the rose," but Brigham focused on the need to do one's part in the cause. Practical Brigham wasn't advocating a foolhardy faith. Here his remarks shift to a temporal subject (wheat) while teaching spiritual principles:

A portion of our community have so much confidence in God, even men and women in this city, that if you put in their possession five bushels of wheat, they will dispose of it and trust in God for their food for a year to come. To me this is inconsistent; I know nothing about the consistency of such a confidence in God.

But to me it is consistent for the poor man, or woman, that has been gleaning wheat, and has saved five or ten bushels, to lay it up for a time of need; though I understand that some of them are trying to sell it. Poor men and women who have had to beg for the last six months, and who have had nothing but what they obtained through charity, but who have now obtained a few bushels of wheat, are ready to sell it for something of no intrinsic worth, trusting in God to provide for them. This is inconsistent to me.
With all the talk of inconsistency, Brigham now turns to what he views as consistent. He combines the two examples, heath and sustenance, and emphasizes both faith and works:

How shall I present consistent faith and religion, so that you may comprehend the subject? I will do my best, and leave the event with God.

I believe, according to my understanding of the principles of eternal truth, that I should have implicit faith in our God; and when we are where we have no help for ourselves in the case of diseases, that we have the right to ask the Father, in the name of Jesus, to administer by His power and heal the sick, and I am sure it will be done to those who have implicit confidence in Him.

Again, in regard to food, implicit faith and confidence in God is for you and I to do everything we can to sustain and preserve ourselves; and the community that works together, heart and hand, to accomplish this, their efforts will be like the efforts of one man.
The past year was a hard one for us with regard to provisions, but I never had one faltering feeling in reference to this community's suffering, provided all had understood their religion and lived it.

Some few understand their religion and live it; others make a profession, without understanding their religion, and do not live it; consequently there has been a lack of union of effort to sustain ourselves, which has made it very hard for the few.
Brigham wanted to establish the Saints somewhere between fool-hardy responsibility-less faith in God and stringent graceless over-dependence on work. The paradox of trusting God and not putting faith in the "arm of flesh," while at the same time trusting oneself to do all one can is a fundamental puzzle of Mormonism. The sacred and secular begin to blend somehow like a chapel fading into a cultural hall; pulpit and benches receding into basketball hoops.[1]

Brigham wasn't advocating a gospel without miracles; he was aware of, and interested in the blessings God could provide:

Suppose that we had done our best and had not raised one bushel of grain this year, I have confidence enough in my God to believe that we could stay here, and not starve to death. If all our cattle had died through the severity of the past winter, if the insects had cut off all our crops, if we still proved faithful to our God and to our religion, I have confidence to believe that the Lord would send manna and flocks of quails to us. But He will not do this, if we murmur and are neglectful and disunited. Not having breadstuff nor manna, if we are cut off from those resources, from our provisions, the Lord can fill these mountains and valleys with antelope, mountain sheep, elk, deer, and other animals; He can cause the buffalo to take a stampede on the east side of the Rocky mountains, and fill these mountains and valleys with beef; I have just that confidence in my God.

I have confidence enough to believe that if we had not raised our own provisions this year, and had proved true and faithful to our God and to our religion, that the Lord would have given us a little bread, even though he should have to put it in the minds of the people in the States to go to California and Oregon, and to load their wagons with sugar, flour, and everything needed, more than they could consume, and cause them to leave their superabundance here, as some did a great quantity of clothing, dried fruit, tools, and various other useful articles, in 1849, the first season that large emigrating companies passed through this valley to California. I could then buy a vest for twenty-five cents, that would now sell here for two or three dollars; and coats could be bought for a dollar each, such as are now selling for fifteen dollars.[2]
The confidence in God that Brigham advocated in this sermon, then, is that things will work out; and as they do, the Saints ought to help things along as best they can:

This is my confidence in my God. I am no more concerned about this people's suffering unto death, than I am concerned about the sun's falling out of its orbit and ceasing to shine on this earth again. I know that we should have that confidence in God; this has been my experience, I have been led into this confidence by the miraculous providences of God. My implicit confidence in God causes me to husband every iota of property He gives me; I will take the best care of my farm, I will prepare my ground as well as I can, and put in the best seed I have got, and trust in God for the result, for it is the Lord that gives the increase.
Though he emphasized works, Brigham insisted God's hand was involved, and that "the Lord wishes to show this people that He is close by, that He walks in our midst daily and we know but little about him; yet He intends to train us until we find out." The relatively successful harvest was evidence:

This year, I think, gives us a positive manifestation of the hand of our God in giving the increase. I do not know that any person can cavil upon that question any more, and say that it is all in accordance with natural philosophy, as the world term it (JD 4:23-26).

But some did "cavil" on that question. Brigham admitted to times in his life when he, too, struggled to see the hand of God manifest. Brigham had his suspicions about what caused a lack of faith. Part 3 contrasts our interests with God's interests, and what it means to "become a god."

*I've been troubled by this particular sermon for weeks because it is both expansive and remarkable; difficult to break into pieces to analyze without corrupting the whole or leaving something important out. (I have been attempting to make my posts smaller, as I feel the average blogger looks for a quick read.) I was half-tempted to just post the whole sermon and leave it be (you can read it here) but there is too much in it for me to not make some comments. So I'm covering the sermon in a series called "Implicit Confidence in God." See Part 1.



Terryl Givens discusses this blending of sacred and secular in People of Paradox: A History of Mormon Culture. While I use the metaphor of the chapel fading into a basketball court in regards to faith and works, a better comparison is that which Givens makes in the third section, "Everlasting Burnings and Cinder Blocks: The Sacred and the Banal."

The gold rush of 1849 led scores of gold seekers through the Utah Territory. In their rush, many were prompted to sell wagons, clothes, and other goods for ridiculous prices in order to dump the ballast and get to California as fast as possible. For more, see
Fred E. Woods, “More Precious than Gold: The Journey to and through Zion in 1849–1850,” Nauvoo Journal 11, no. 1 (spring 1999): 109–24.

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