03859_000_012The encouraging and uplifting principles of faith, hope, and charity appear again and again in the Book of Mormon.The three eternal principles of faith, hope, and charity, are usually associated with the teachings of Paul in the New Testament. (See 1 Cor. 13.) However, they also appear again and again in the Book of Mormon.
The confrontation between the prophet Alma and the anti-Christ Korihor leads us into the principle of faith. (See Alma 30.) Korihor accuses Alma of basing his life on a faith that he cannot prove. In doing so, Korihor implies that his own life is based on a more solid foundation. That confrontation introduces an important idea that needs to be established in any discussion of faith.
I have wondered if faith can ever exist by itself, any more than love can. It seems meaningless to talk of being in love without having someone or something to love; it also seems meaningless to speak of a person having faith without any object for that faith. Usually faith is directed toward someone or something, and everyone seems to possess it in some form or another. A person may or may not have faith in Christ or God, which is what the prophets refer to when they discuss the principle, but he would still have faith—in himself, if not in others. All of us trust someone or something—even if that thing is a vague idea we may have.
For a beginning, let us compare faith with trust. Whenever the prophets use the term faith, it seems proper to insert the words “in Christ” to gain the full meaning of their statements. As the Prophet Joseph Smith stated, directing our faith toward the Master—“faith in the Lord Jesus Christ”—is the first principle of the life of the Saint. (See A of F 1:4.) Christ is our example as we strive to know and understand him: he shows us the way; he embodies all truth; he provides the light in which the Christian works; he is the one in whom we place our full trust and confidence.
A Value System Based on Faith
Our understanding is increased if we keep this in mind while reading the account of the confrontation between Alma and Korihor. Interestingly, every argument Korihor gave was an argument against his own position. Both men had faith. Alma’s had been directed toward Christ. Korihor had placed his faith in himself. “Every man,” according to Korihor, “prospered according to his genius, and … every man conquered according to his strength.” (Alma 30:17.)
As Nephi suggested, it is always profitable to compare the scriptures to our own lives. (1 Ne. 19:23.) While reading through such accounts, it might help if we examine our own lives. Where have we placed our faith, really? In whom or on what do we rely? Do we seek our happiness through participation in the work of the Master? or do we seek it in our employment? or do we seek it in our possessions? Do we live like Alma or do we place too much faith in ourselves and our abilities independent of Christ?
Alma has much to say about the meaning of faith. For example, while working among the apostate Zoramites (see Alma 32) he seems to imply that none of us will reach a point where we can live entirely without faith. It seems to be an eternal principle, one that will be with us throughout eternity. As we pass from this life and stand in Christ’s presence, knowing of his existence with a perfect knowledge, our relationship to him will still be determined partially by our faith in him. For knowledge of Christ is not enough, as James indicates when he speaks of devils who know Jesus but do not follow him. (James 2:19.)
But if we will follow, we will discover how knowledge and faith work together.
Even so, one’s knowledge of all facets of existence will not be complete for some time. “After ye have tasted this light is your knowledge perfect? Behold I say unto you, Nay; neither must ye lay aside your faith.” (Alma 32:35–36.)
None of us, not even the most educated, reaches a condition where he can act on the basis of knowledge alone, independent of faith.
The discourses of Alma, together with those of Moroni (Ether 12) and Mormon (Moro. 7), give us great understanding about the principle of faith. But the lives of some men of God provide perhaps even greater understanding. For example, there was Moroni, the captain of the Nephite armed forces during more than a decade of war. Nephi, son of Helaman, was given power over the elements because of the intensity of his faith in Christ. Samuel, the Lamanite prophet willingly faced death among his people’s enemies in an effort to help them return to God. Nephi the son of Nephi stood defiantly against the threats of death issued by the enemies of the church should Samuel’s prophecies not be fulfilled. And the brother of Jared is still a great example of faith, a prophet who stood in the presence of the Lord and who moved mountains with the energy of his faith in Christ.
Theories and sermons do much to explain faith, but lives do more. The Book of Mormon is filled with accounts of the lives of faithful men and women. If we, who are called to be modern Saints, think deeply on the significance of these lives, and strive to base our own faith more solidly on the Lord and his ways, it is doubtful that we can come away from a study of these scriptures without our own lives being deeply touched by the spirit of the Master.
The second of the three principles—hope—is demonstrated in the lives of the Book of Mormon saints as a companion to faith. Where there is faith in Christ, there will also be comfort and the peace that surpasses all understanding. There is no despair, and hope fills the soul. As Mormon notes: “How is it that ye can attain unto faith, save ye shall have hope?” (Moro. 7:40.) As we develop faith in Christ, hope is increased, a hope Moroni describes in the following manner:
“Wherefore, whoso believeth in God might with surety hope for a better world, yea, even a place at the right hand of God, which hope cometh of faith, maketh an anchor to the souls of men, which would make them sure and steadfast, always abounding in good works, being led to glorify God.” (Ether 12:4.)
Moroni’s words help us understand the principle of hope, which is an assurance from God. It comes from placing one’s faith in him. It provides a source of security to the souls of men so that they can become steadfast in their service to others. Its strength is perhaps seen best in its opposite, despair. We see people in despair all around us today. Uncertain of which way to turn for help, many in our generation have given up, either withdrawing from society or following every new self-proclaimed messiah that comes along. Such faith soon leads to more frustration and disappointment. Many of us know such people; they live around us and we see their faces often.
A Type of Living Death
Those who have lost faith in others or in their circumstance soon lose faith in themselves. It seems that hope in some ways is related to faith in one’s self. Without hope, one loses the will to try. Mental institutions are full of such people. Without a hope in God people tend to lose their source of security, their sense of worth. They think only of their own problems. They become unable to help others. In some cases they do not even care about the problems of others. They suffer a type of living death long before their bodily functions cease. Some turn to drink or drugs in an attempt to escape from what they see they have become.
How different this is from one who lives with a hope in Christ. He is willing to take upon himself, with the help of the Lord, the burdens of those around him. He faces life with optimism and sees joy as man’s ultimate destiny. Perhaps this is never seen better than in the case of Alma the Younger. After his early life of rebellion, he was suddenly unable to move. He suffered the anguish of eternal torment and fell into great despair. Then, while he was defeated, terrified, and alone, he recalled the words of his father concerning Christ. Even the thought of the Deliverer brought a sense of peace and he became calm within:
“And now; behold, when I thought this, I could remember my pains no more; yea, I was harrowed up by the memory of my sins no more.
“And oh, what joy, and what marvelous light I did behold; yea, my soul was filled with joy as exceeding as was my pain!
“Yea, I say unto you, my son, that there could be nothing so exquisite and so bitter as were my pains. Yea, and again I say unto you, my son, that on the other hand, there can be nothing so exquisite and sweet as was my joy.” (Alma 36:19–21.)
How many more people in the world are in need of a similar experience? How many might we help simply through sharing the information we have concerning the Master and his explanation of the purpose of life? It is significant to me that Alma should use the term joy so often. It is a key word in the Book of Mormon; it is a central theme through all of the gospels in the New Testament, especially Luke. It is an important part of the principle of hope, I believe. It seems related to other concepts, such as peace—that peace that surpasses all understanding, that comes as a gift from the Prince of Peace. It likely is related to the comfort promised by the Master when he promised his disciples in Jerusalem that he would not leave them comfortless. I think of all these things as I contemplate the word hope, used in a gospel context.
The Book of Mormon is filled with accounts of people who placed their faith in useless and meaningless gods. Again and again they were overcome by despair while the Saints were secure in their sense of well-being. Almost every form of human disaster is recorded in the book. Family strife and genocide abound in the Jaredite record, along with neighborhood strife, racial prejudice, religious persecution, war, governmental corruption, natural disasters, and practically every other problem known to man.
To Latter-day Saints throughout the world today, these accounts should have special significance. Many could match experiences from the Book of Mormon with experiences from their own lives. Many Saints throughout the world have known personally the destruction and terror of war. Some have suffered from racial and religious strife. Still others have been frightened and made homeless by disasters such as earthquakes and floods.
Good Will Triumph Eventually
For those who have experienced these trials, the accounts in the Book of Mormon are more than words on a page. They bring with them hope, inner peace, and optimism. This feeling of well-being enables the Saints of God to face adversity, knowing that good will triumph eventually and that they are watched over by a compassionate Father. Despair and pessimism may cause others to give up. But the Saints realize that all suffering can ultimately have purpose and that it will not last forever. So they continue to labor, even at times against seemingly impossible odds.
Hope is the spirit that today sustains parents through trials with wayward children. It is the spirit that sustains bishops and stake presidents in their moments of discouragement. It is the force that enables Latter-day Saints throughout the world to view life in a positive manner and to look forward with excitement to a future with the Lord. The report of the Nephite experience with the Lord causes us to anticipate the joy that will accompany his second coming. We can look with hope toward that time when Christ will reign personally upon the earth and life can be at its finest.
In some ways, perhaps, charity is the most important principle of the three. (See Moro. 7:44.) Charity is defined by Mormon as “the pure love of Christ.” Further, he indicates, “it endureth forever; and whoso is found possessed of it at the last day, it shall be well with him.” (Moro. 7:47.)
It would seem that the term “love of Christ” might be read two ways: it might suggest love from Christ; and it might also suggest love for Christ. As we become more Christlike through feeling his love for us, we manifest his love through participation in his work of service of our fellowmen.
The Quality of Love
Without charity, Mormon suggests, faith and hope lose their significance. James in the New Testament makes the same observation in his sermon on faith without works. (James 2.)
It would be hard to find people who demonstrate love better than those we read about in the last half of the Book of Mormon. Fathers will sense this love in Alma’s farewell sermons to his sons. (Alma 36–42.) Missionaries will recognize it in Alma’s missionary work and in his prayers. (See especially Alma 31:26–35.) Leaders of youth will recognize it in the letter of Helaman as he recounts his experiences with the 2,000 stripling warriors whom he had come to call his sons. (Alma 56–58.) Church leaders in general will sense the love that causes Nephi, the son of Helaman, to serve his people in spite of discouragement. Clerks and those engaged in genealogical efforts will recognize it in the efforts of Mormon and Moroni, working patiently and carefully over the abridgement of the sacred records.
All of these teach us something about the qualities of love. But perhaps most eloquent of all is the brief description of the Master in his visit to the Nephite people. (See 3 Ne. 11–28.)
He taught with compassion. He prayed to the Father in prayer for the well-being of his people. He cried because of the wickedness of his people. He wept over the afflicted and healed the Nephites of their sorrows. He blessed the children and administered the sacrament to the Nephites. And in these things we can begin to sense the qualities of his love. We sense that life can be much nobler than we have known it to be. We perhaps feel within us a resolve to improve our lives. There, in the Master, we see it all put together—faith, hope, and charity.
The Impact of the Master
Through a careful study of the visit of the Master to the Nephites we can come to understand love as defined by Mormon. (Moro. 7:45.) We can understand a little better what it means to suffer long for the welfare of others. We witness the kindness and lack of envy that should typify the Saint. We observe true humility. The Saint is not easily provoked. He thinks no evil and has no rejoicing in iniquity. He who truly loves rejoices in truth, bears all things, believes and hopes all things, and is willing because of this love to endure all things.
Mormon wrote of the era that followed the Savior’s visit: “And it came to pass that there was no contention in the land, because of the love of God which did dwell in the hearts of the people.
“And there were no envyings, nor strifes, nor tumults, nor whoredoms, nor lyings, nor murders, nor any manner of lasciviousness; and surely there could not be a happier people among all the people who had been created by the hand of God.
“There were no robbers, nor murderers, neither were there Lamanites, nor any manner of -ites; but they were in one, the children of Christ, and heirs to the Kingdom of God.
“And how blessed were they!” (4 Ne. 1:15–18.)
Enrich Our Lives
We should follow their example. It can only be followed by doing as they did, by developing faith, hope, and especially charity. Mormon counsels us as well as his own people:
“Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ; that ye may become the sons of God; that when he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is; that we may have this hope; that we may be purified even as he is pure.” (Moro. 7:48; italics added.)
As we read through the Book of Mormon, we might ask ourselves how we can develop these characteristics. Certainly it is one thing to read about them and to discuss them. It is another thing to include them in our way of life. This is where our challenge starts. Understanding them requires a lifetime at best. Acquiring them is even more difficult for many.
We must first become aware of our need for faith, hope, and charity. We can associate with and learn from those who have these qualities. We can plead with our Father in heaven in meekness to help us possess them more fully. For these qualities are gifts of the Spirit from our Father, given to those who earnestly seek them. We can also look for evidences of them in our lives as we grow and mature as we live the gospel.
As Moroni records his final farewell, he writes: “Wherefore, there must be faith; and if there must be faith there must also be hope; and if there must be hope there must also be charity.
“And except ye have charity ye can in nowise be saved in the Kingdom of God; neither can ye be saved in the kingdom of God if ye have not faith; neither can ye if ye have no hope. …
“Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness … and love God with all your might, mind, and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you.” (Moro. 10:20–21, 32.)
This seems to be the basic Nephite message for our time. It contains the truths of the gospel in the counsel to look to the Master and to follow his example of faith, hope, and charity.