August 26, 2009

Alma 32 and the Relationship of Doubt and Faith

"Consecrate Your Brain," part 3
Continuing series with Greg Smith.
See also the Introduction, and parts 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, and 7.

LifeOnGoldPlates: Continuing from part 2, it has been said that where there is faith there cannot be doubt. Others argue that there cannot be faith without doubt. What are your views on the interaction of doubt and faith?

Greg Smith: I think Alma 32 is the best description of the dynamic. In that chapter Alma talks about planting the seed, and clearly, that is an act of faith (or trust—I've been inclined to use "trust" as a near-synonym for "faith" because I think it captures an essential aspect, and avoids the difficulties of thinking "faith" just means "belief"—it's belief coupled to action, based on trust on a relationship with God/Christ). It's also clearly got some doubt or uncertainty with it, since Alma argues that you can start with only "desiring" to believe (v. 27).

So, the seed begins to swell and grow, and this increases faith, but is not "a perfect knowledge," according to Alma, so it seems to me there are still some grounds for doubt or uncertainty at this point (v. 29).

Then, says Alma:
And now, behold, because ye have tried the experiment, and planted the seed, and it swelleth and sprouteth, and beginneth to grow, ye must needs know that the seed is good. And now, behold, is your knowledge perfect? Yea, your knowledge is perfect in that thing, and your faith is dormant; and this because you know, for ye know that the word hath swelled your souls, and ye also know that it hath sprouted up, that your understanding doth begin to be enlightened, and your mind doth begin to expand (v. 33-34, emphasis added).
So, when you're having the experience of revelation—the fruit of your faith—doubt is really not on the table. Faith is "dormant"—an interesting choice of words, since it implies the faith is not (at that moment) active, yet it will be required again. Indeed, Alma says:
...after ye have tasted this light is your knowledge perfect? Behold I say unto you, Nay; neither must ye lay aside your faith, for ye have only exercised your faith to plant the seed that ye might try the experiment to know if the seed was good (v. 35-36).
After revelation, one can go back to doubt. You could doubt the experience. You could decide not to trust. So, you can't lay faith aside (in other words, cease trusting, cease acting upon what you knew). So doubt again becomes a viable option—during revelation one cannot doubt. Afterward—well, you have a choice. And, you have to persist in that—as Alma says, you look forward to the fruit of the tree "looking forward with an eye of faith" (v. 40), this requires "great diligence" (v. 41), "patience" (v. 42), and "long-suffering" (v. 43).

And, think Alma is perceptive in that we often get the boost to our faith fairly early in the process—and then, we are left to see what we will do with it.

As an aside, this seems to be a scriptural pattern—Moses gets his great theophany, and then "was left unto himself" (Moses 1:9), only to have Satan show up and offer doubt. And, Moses then makes the active choice to trust in what he had before experienced, and rely upon it, even though at the moment he is having no such experience—indeed the experience with Satan becomes terrifying and horrible, yet Moses continues to trust. 

Image adapted from Jean-Galbert Salvage (anatomist; artist, 1770-1813), "Anatomie du gladiateur combattant, applicable aux beaux arts," Paris, 1812. Two-layer copperplate engraving, color. National Library of Medicine.


WebGyver said...

Thank you for taking the time to publish your thoughts and insights. Good stuff. I love it when someone else shares their views, as it helps me understand other points of view AND appreciate commonalities of thought.

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.

Michael A. Cleverly said...

I love the idea of trust as a synonym for faith. Great insight!

Jeremy said...

So, will our faith ever be permanently dormant? For example, if we live in Christ's presence, is there any need for faith with a perfect knowledge of his existence and goodness?

Joseph Smith defined faith in 2 prongs: 1) a principle of action, and 2) a principle of power. In my opinion, our faith as a principle of action may remain dormant in the eternities as things will be generally known as fact. However, we will still need to use our faith as a principle of power, for we know that it was by faith that the worlds were created (Heb 11:1).

I'd like to read anyone's thoughts on this.

BHodges said...

Thanks, WebGyver and Michael.

Jeremy: So, will our faith ever be permanently dormant? For example, if we live in Christ's presence, is there any need for faith with a perfect knowledge of his existence and goodness?

Thanks for the comment, Jeremy. I can't speak for Greg, but here are a few random unformulated thoughts:

Maybe I dissect things a little differently than some folks in terms of the condition of "dormant faith." If I consider faith in terms of trust, agreement, hope, and action all sort of working together, so faith is a feeling and an activity of sorts. In that way, faith becoming "dormant" would signal that faith is becoming inactive and its power will drain away.

In Alma's words, the faith should lead to knowledge, and I see that as being more operative than just a bare fact possessed by a mind. It is sustained in a relationship, and like a relationship, requires at least two people working and learning and growing together and so forth.

Also, keep in mind the lectures on faith weren't just Joseph's (maybe even weren't largely Joseph's) but had a lot of Sidney Rigdon in them as well.

Greg said...

Jeremy said:

So, will our faith ever be permanently dormant? For example, if we live in Christ's presence, is there any need for faith with a perfect knowledge of his existence and goodness?

I think it depends in what sense you mean. Certainly in the way that Alma is using the expression, I don't think in the premortal presence of God we were able to develop that kind of faith to that extent--the faith of trusting even during times when we have no immediate grounds for that trust: we have only history and promises made. (Hence the veil--if we cannot remember aeons of past history, we must go on only that which we experience here.)

But, history means little unless you trust the other person to be consistent, and you maintain a memory of what the past was really like. (Many people manage to 'explain away' their past spiritual experiences. They 'rewrite' the past--whereas, in the moment of those experiences, to do so would have seemed absurd.)

And, promises also mean little unless we trust the other party.

My father used to say, "Faith is 90% courage--the courage to do what you said you would or know you should, even when you have no good reason for doing so in the moment."

And why would you have such courage? (1) honor and integrity: are you a man/woman of your word?; and (2) trust.

This is, I think, why we make covenants. Few, on their wedding day, would feel the need to promise fidelity, kindness, and efforts to please the spouse. We all mean and intend those things sincerely. And we intend them forever--few people get married expecting the "magic to die."

But, we are fickle. Situations change. We need the covenant for the days when we are not inclined to so act, and when we may even risk forgetting what we did have--or start to lose hope in what we promised to have.

We cannot control our thoughts or inclinations. I think, in many cases, we should quit worrying and obsessing about them so much. They are what they are. So I'm attracted to someone else--so what? So he's annoying me with little habits--so what? You didn't promise never to be attracted to someone, never to be angry, never to be irritated. But, you did promise to DO certain things. So, get doing them, even (and especially) when you don't feel like it.

We can control our actions--and we've covenanted to do so. So, keep the covenant, and the rest will follow. Break the covenant, and you'll never get back what you had.

As for marriage, so for the gospel. And, small wonder that the relationship to Christ is a marriage in some scripture. Its the same type of thing and dynamic.


Jeremy said...

Thanks, BHodges.

I am well aware of the varied authorship of the Lectures on Faith. However, the dual nature of faith as action and power is also defined that way in the Bible Dictionary of the LDS edition of the scriptures. That was my hook in being able to teach that principle to my Priest Quorum.

Jeremy said...

Good insights, Greg.

After the brother of Jared saw the finger of the Lord, and then willed that the veil be parted to reveal the Lord Himself, Mormon wrote the following:

"And because of the knowledge of this man he could not be kept from beholding within the veil; and he saw the finger of Jesus, which, when he saw, he fell with fear; for he knew that it was the finger of the Lord; and he had faith no longer, for he knew, nothing doubting" (Ether 3:19)

Thus, this was the culmination of his faith, that he could see with his natural eyes what he had been seeing with spiritual eyes up until this point. His faith was "no longer" for now "he knew, nothing doubting."

But, did he exercise faith again at a later point, when Christ was not present? Or would this perfect knowledge elminate that need? Does the perfect knowledge eventually fade?

Going back to my first thought in a previous comment, I believe we will always need to have faith for power purposes, but maybe not necessarily so for action.

BHodges said...

Yeah, I am a fan of the faith= belief+action thing, a principle of power. I just nitpick when referring to LoF. I say something like "the LoF say..." rather than "JS said..." etc. It's a nitpick, I know.

Javelin said...

If we are showing faith in something, then it seems to me that we cannot "see" physically the evidence of that something. In other words, when we reach the point of actually "seeing" something physically, there is no more need to have faith in it.

I would say that doubt has to play a part in our faith. Our own testimony is built up on some doubt since we recognize that we don't have a perfect understanding in all things.

The neat thing about having a prompting from the holy ghost is that we know the experience was real, and we know it wasn't some chemical reaction in our brain.

BHodges said...

Javelin, thanks for stopping in. It's sort of off-topic, but I believe God can make use of our physical bodies in order to communicate with us; that is, our bodies are something of instruments through which we can receive revelation. I know there is talk of communication directly from spirit to spirit, and that is well and good, but I think our physical bodies play a part in it as well.

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