The Apostle John said, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth” (3 Jn. 1:4). In that vein I have gained a deeper appreciation for an experience I had at Brigham Young University many years ago. I was a 24-year-old returned missionary and senior chemistry student sitting in my off-campus apartment when a knock came at the door. I opened the door, and there stood my mother. She came in, and we had a wonderful visit. It was a visit of love, humor, grace, and some subtlety. I realized when she left that she had determined, among other things, what I was eating, whom I was dating, how my grades were, and how I was doing in church. She perhaps had a better idea than I did about what I was going to do the rest of my life. My mother had also inspected the kitchen, bathroom, and bedroom. She had driven two hundred miles, had spent an hour with me, and then had driven two hundred miles back home. Such is a mother’s love and a father’s love.
I have come to appreciate that there were some very important things my mother was concerned about. I distinctly remember during those years my conversations with roommates until two or three o’clock in the morning. Years later, as a bishop of a BYU student ward, I counseled my ward members about similar concerns. And now, more years later, these are the concerns of my children. Fundamentally they have not changed. What should I major in? How should I earn a living? Whom am I going to marry? Where am I going to live? Will I have a family?
It is evident that these questions and the potential consequences of their answers can generate feelings of uncertainty, anxiety, and, as the French say, a certain malaise. You may suppose that once you have successfully settled those matters, it will be smooth sailing. Would that it were so. Unfortunately, the worry associated with those decisions will be replaced by the anxiety and uncertainty of death, disease, false accusations, loss of job, loss of loved ones, and other possible challenges.
So how is one to cope at any age with the inevitable circumstances that can cause the apprehension or anxiety that may sometimes weigh us down? I do not know fully the answers to that question, but I would like to offer three suggestions that I believe can make a difference: increasing faith, reaffirming trust, and rekindling love.
Much has been said about faith because it is the most fundamental of doctrines in the plan of redemption. We speak of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as the first principle of the gospel. The Apostle Paul taught, “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1). One challenge to the ready understanding of this definition of faith is the assertion that faith is “substance” or “evidence.” This runs counter to the general usage of the word faith, which presupposes that something accepted on faith is accepted without proof, evidence, or substance. The footnote to this verse explains that the Prophet Joseph Smith preferred to translate the word substance as “assurance.” Using the word assurance and adding several additional words allows us to formulate an expanded expression that provides significant insight into the issue of faith.
The expanded expression is: Having faith is having or accepting an assurance of things hoped for and accepting evidence of things not seen.
The meaning of that definition is enhanced by understanding the words “hoped for.” Throughout the scriptures the objects of hope are stated as “hope in eternal life,” “hope in a glorious resurrection,” and “hope in Christ.” Moroni provides a superb one-verse summary of the object of our hope in Moroni 7:41 [Moro. 7:41]: “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.” So our definition now reads in part: Having faith is having or accepting an assurance of Christ, his atonement, his resurrection, and eternal life.
The expanded expression fits beautifully with Alma 12 and 13. Alma speaks of the ordination of priests for the purpose of teaching the plan of redemption (see Alma 13:2). He then explains that those priests were “called and prepared … according to the foreknowledge of God, on account of their exceeding faith and good works” (Alma 13:3). One might wonder how it was possible to have faith in the premortal world, where there was presumably no veil and no earthly distractions. Yet we did elect to have faith in the plan. Faith then was the same as faith now—having or accepting an assurance in the plan of redemption. We chose to accept assurance that Christ would do what he said he would—that he would follow the plan and that he would come to earth, be tempted, suffer pain, and triumph over sin and death. Could he really do it? Some of God’s children accepted the assurance offered; others did not.
What is the nature of the assurances? Suppose we partition them into two kinds, divine assurances and personal assurances. What a blessing to know that it is indeed possible to receive divine assurance of things hoped for. Section 46 of the Doctrine and Covenants contains a marvelous discussion of gifts given by the Spirit of God. Verses 13 and 14 state: “To some it is given by the Holy Ghost to know that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and that he was crucified for the sins of the world.
“To others it is given to believe on their words, that they also might have eternal life if they continue faithful.” [D&C 46:13–14]
This scripture speaks of both kinds of assurances—divine, those that come to us through the Holy Ghost; and interpersonal, those that come to us by way of another person. To believe on the words of others is to accept their personal assurances of “things hoped for.” This important point deserves additional comment. We attend each month a special meeting called fast and testimony meeting. Its purpose is to build faith. When we bear our testimonies, we have an opportunity to provide assurances that others might accept. If we wish to increase faith and be in harmony with the purpose of the meeting, those assurances must be of the things hoped for. Warm personalities, charisma, and travel experiences all may have their place, but the basic issue for a testimony meeting is whether or not we can stand and add our witness—our assurance that there is a plan of redemption, a Savior, an atonement, a resurrection, and eternal life.
Let me illustrate. I know a loving bishop who after a testimony meeting approached a youthful member of his ward who had spoken in the meeting. The bishop said in a way that only he could: “That’s an interesting testimony you bore. Would you be willing to take this Book of Mormon home, read it every day, and come back next month and bear your testimony again?”
I hasten to add that this is not standard operating procedure. We would never want to risk offending anyone in an area as sensitive as that of personal testimony. In this case the person was unoffended and motivated to return the next month to strengthen others with a strong witness of “things hoped for.”
Our definition now reads: Having faith is having or accepting divine and interpersonal assurances of Christ, his atonement, his resurrection and eternal life.
Let us consider the second part of the expanded definition: Having faith is … accepting evidence of things not seen. That this is exactly the meaning that Paul intended is confirmed by examining Hebrews 11:3 [Heb. 11:3]: “Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.” While his wording may seem awkward, Paul is simply affirming that the worlds we see are evidence of the word of God that we do not see.
In the same manner that assurance was divided into divine and interpersonal, let us partition evidence into two parts, macro (the big perspective) and micro (the minute). So what is the macro evidence we can accept? I agree with Paul that the earth, the seas, the mountains, the streams—the glorious world we live in—are rich visual evidence of God’s unseen hand. The scriptures are replete with prophetic utterance on this issue (see, for example, Alma 30:44; Moses 6:63).
As a student I majored in chemistry and minored in mathematics and physics. I read and studied about the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, quantum mechanics, and relativity. I have read and studied geology, the fossil record, and evolution.
I subscribe to Scientific American and read every article. It’s all more or less useful. But all the evidence I ever needed came one night as I camped on the banks of the Snake River and lay on my sleeping bag looking up through the pine trees at the same heavens that Abraham saw. My favorite expression of this macro evidence is in the words of the hymn “How Great Thou Art” (Hymns, 1985, no. 86):
O Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder
Consider all the worlds thy hands have made,
I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder,
Thy pow’r throughout the universe displayed. …
Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to thee,
How great thou art! How great thou art!
I believe the scriptures also serve as extraordinary macro evidence of things unseen. The Book of Mormon especially is hold-in-your-hand, read-and-study, “big” evidence—just the kind that Paul had in mind (see Heb. 11:3).
What about micro evidence? Micro evidence is a convenient label for including all of our personal and individual experiences that serve as evidence of the hand of God. They are private, often sacred, experiences. Some ought not be shared; some can be.
I remember such a personal experience that took place more than twelve years ago. My wife, Margaret, had gone into labor a month early and at about 3:00 A.M. on a beautiful June morning had given birth to twin boys. After learning that she and the twins both seemed well, I was much relieved and went home for a few hours of sleep. At about 7:00 A.M. the phone rang; the call from the hospital explained that the second twin was in serious trouble and requested that I come quickly. I called my counselor in the bishopric, who was also an administrator at the hospital, and asked if he could meet me there immediately. I knelt in prayer and then rushed to the hospital, hoping to arrive in time to give the baby a priesthood blessing and, if necessary, a name.
We found the baby lying in an isolette, a specialized chamber for premature infants. He was blue and gasping for breath. To my dismay, he was so small and hooked up to so many tubes and pieces of apparatus that we could find no way to place our hands on his head to administer a blessing. After some agonizing moments, we were able to get the very tips of four enormous index fingers on one tiny available spot on his chest. We were inspired to bless him that he would receive specialized medical attention, that his life would be spared, and that he and his brother would serve together as missionaries in the year 2000.
That day in our family we received some very personalized micro evidence of the unseen power of God. We have expanded Paul’s definition of faith and can now summarize: Having faith is having or accepting divine assurance and interpersonal assurance of things hoped for, namely, a living Savior, his atonement, his resurrection, and eternal life. It is accepting macro evidence and micro evidence of the unseen but very real power of God the Father and his Son Jesus Christ.
Now I suggest you take an inventory. Where do you stand relative to receiving a heavenly assurance that there is a plan of redemption, including all the “things hoped for”? Count the interpersonal assurances from those who have borne witness and testimony to you. Include among them the powerful assurances coming to you from the General Authorities. Rehearse to your satisfaction the macro evidence shouted from God’s handiwork and spoken plainly from the scriptures. Enumerate your own micro experiences—the undeniable expressions of the power of God, unseen but clearly demonstrated.
Each of us in our personal life can take such an inventory. For most of us, the divine and interpersonal assurances and the macro and micro evidence are so overwhelming that we should be thrust profoundly to the next step. That next step is to place our personal trust firmly in God.
Here we find an interesting paradox. We have examined our faith; the assurances and evidences are compelling. It should be an easy matter to place our trust in someone who is omnipotent and omniscient. But we are reluctant, and we struggle. We struggle because of our pride. We struggle because of our imperfections.
There is no more eloquent statement of that struggle and resulting trust than that expressed by Nephi in Second Nephi, chapter four. He begins by describing in verses 17 through 19 feelings that we have all had:
“Notwithstanding the great goodness of the Lord, in showing me his great and marvelous works, my heart exclaimeth: O wretched man that I am! Yea, my heart sorroweth because of my flesh; my soul grieveth because of mine iniquities. … And when I desire to rejoice, my heart groaneth because of my sins.” [2 Ne. 4:17–19] Then he exclaims, “Nevertheless, I know in whom I have trusted.
“My God hath been my support; he hath led me … ; and he hath preserved me. … He hath filled me with his love. … He hath confounded mine enemies. … He hath heard my cry … ; he hath given me knowledge by visions” (2 Ne. 4:20–23). In other words, Nephi is rehearsing the evidence of things both seen and unseen.
And so Nephi observes: “Awake, my soul! … Rejoice, O my heart. … Do not anger again. … Do not slacken my strength. … Rejoice, O my heart, and cry unto the Lord, and say: O Lord, I will praise thee forever; yea, my soul will rejoice in thee, my God, and the rock of my salvation.” Then we read this phrase of beautiful visual imagery: “O Lord, wilt thou encircle me around in the robe of thy righteousness!” Nephi finishes with these final thoughts: “O Lord, I have trusted in thee, and I will trust in thee forever. I will not put my trust in the arm of flesh. … Yea, I know that God will give liberally to him that asketh. Yea, my God will give me, if I ask not amiss; therefore I will lift up my voice unto thee; yea, I will cry unto thee, my God, the rock of my righteousness. Behold, my voice shall forever ascend up unto thee, my rock and mine everlasting God. Amen” (2 Ne. 4:28–30, 33–35).
What an inspiring expression of trust in the Lord. Nephi rehearses his experience with the Lord and reaffirms his trust. We would do well to ponder at length this extraordinary passage. I call to your attention one particular phrase found in verse 34. Nephi says, “I will not put my trust in the arm of flesh.” [2 Ne. 4:34] That same thought is found in section 1, verse 19, of the Doctrine and Covenants [D&C 1:19]. This section constitutes the Lord’s preface to the doctrine, covenants, and commandments given in this dispensation at a time when “every man walketh in his own way, and after the image of his own god, whose image is in the likeness of the world” (D&C 1:16).
The Lord speaks plainly of his grand design, saying, “I, the Lord, knowing the calamity which should come upon the inhabitants of the earth, called upon my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., and spake unto him from heaven” (D&C 1:17). In other words, the Lord did what he has done in all generations past—he called a prophet to speak to the people. The Lord continues in verses 19–21: “… that man should not counsel his fellow man, neither trust in the arm of flesh—
“But that every man might speak in the name of God the Lord, even the Savior of the world;
“That faith also might increase in the earth.” [D&C 1:19–21]
Here is a direct admonition from the Lord that the answers to our problems, the solace we seek, will not be found in the philosophies of men but through increasing faith and reaffirming our trust in him. The words of a favorite hymn are so appropriate:
Be still, my soul: The Lord is on thy side;
With patience bear thy cross of grief or pain.
Leave to thy God to order and provide;
In ev’ry change he faithful will remain.
Be still, my soul: Thy best, thy heav’nly Friend
Thru thorny ways leads to a joyful end.
Be still, my soul: Thy God doth undertake
To guide the future as he has the past.
Thy hope, thy confidence let nothing shake;
All now mysterious shall be bright at last.
Be still, my soul: The waves and winds still know
His voice who ruled them while he dwelt below.
(Hymns, 1985, no. 124)
How we wish we could see into the future to know the outcome of every troublesome decision and to arrive at the destination without having to make the journey. Many of you pay your tithing, read the scriptures, keep yourselves morally clean, and pray with real intent. And yet you may experience periods of disappointment and heartache as you face the challenges of life. This is normal; your faith is not misplaced. Remember the words of the hymn, “Be still, my soul: Thy best, thy heav’nly Friend / Thru thorny ways leads to a joyful end.”
The journey does have a joyful end. That is the message of the plan of redemption. Christ said, “Be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Faith in the plan of redemption and its outcomes leads to keeping the commandments. Faith and trust provide the foundation for a happy and productive life. You will be grateful for a full reservoir of faith and trust to see you through life’s experiences.
So put away your fears, put away your anxieties, put away your sins and your pettiness. Believe in God’s plan; trust in him. Put not your trust in the arm of flesh, lean not on your own understanding, but be believing, desiring that the Lord will encircle you about in the robe of his righteousness. Study to increase your faith, study the Atonement, study the Resurrection, study the plan of redemption, and study the relationship among faith and trust and humility.
With faith and trust firmly in place, a wonderful thing can happen. You can set aside your self-absorption, quiet your anxieties and fears, and fill your souls with love. The Savior’s message is clear: understanding the doctrine should lead to practical application. Practice serving, practice lifting and building, strengthen others, provide assurances, and rehearse the evidence.
What a remarkable transformation takes place when we allow our faith to lead to trust. The most amazing thing will happen. Our faith, combined with trust, kindles love. Love of the Savior, love of our fellowman, love for those near and dear to us. Love that provides sweetness, true joy, the giving of oneself for others.
I witness to you that God’s plan of redemption is a true plan of happiness. I add my assurance that Jesus Christ is our Savior. He is our Redeemer. He fulfilled his role as the Messiah, the Anointed One, who atoned for our sins. The Resurrection is a reality. We can live eternally with a loving Heavenly Father. May we increase our faith, reaffirm our trust, and rekindle our love.