Flexible Faith Part 1: The Beginnings of Faith

In Lectures on Faith, we are taught that faith in God is only powerful and effective if based on an accurate understanding and belief of God’s attributes, character, and I also infer His plan.  I take this to mean that the more accurate our understanding and belief of how God will act, his character, and his purpose for us the more confidence we can have in our actions, as they relate to Him, and what the results of those actions will be.  The idea of faith and the importance of furthering our understandings to make it more reliable is something that applies to almost all human behavior.

We live our entire lives based on faith, from the time we are born into this world until the time we die, I believe every action is based on faith.  A very simple example is walking, we move our feet because we believe that movement will produce a step, and each step will become the act of walking.  When we are young these actions are not to be taken lightly because when we make wrong movements we fall, or if we step in the wrong places we can get hurt.  So we learn not only how to step, but where to step and build confidence (Faith) we will move to the place we want to go.  Hebrews 11:1 explains this process, “Now faith is the [assurance] of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”  We act with a hope that our actions will produce the result, even without seeing, but rather hoping the result will occur.  When it does occur then we have received our assurance and evidence and our faith grows.  It is a process scripture not a definition scripture in my mind.

A more complex example is employment.  It begins when we are young and we are taught language skills, arithmetic, science, and other disciplines for years until eventually we are able to choose which skills we want to learn in order to prepare us to work and participate in society.  We have spent a good portion of our life learning things so that we can gain employment, and in turn make money, which will allow us to do the things we desire while we are alive.  Each day we wake up and we go to work believing that our skills and actions will earn money and that our employers will pay that money to us.  The analogy isn’t perfect, but we do these things (School, college, job interviews, going to work, etc.) because we believe and understand what the results will be.

What happens though when what you believe and what you understood turn out to be wrong?  What happens when something you didn’t know before turns out to be more accurate than what you knew, or other factors in your environment change what you can be confident in?

Or in other words what happens when you move your foot wrong and fall, or you step in the wrong place and get hurt?  What happens when the company you work for goes out of business suddenly, what if you continued to work and they never paid you anymore for no reason, or your effort and skills are no longer valuable and you are fired, or you dislike your boss or co-workers and feel differently about your employment?

The initial reactions in these instances are the same.  Pain, frustration, and embarrassment.  These emotions and reactions are normal for nearly every circumstance in which you trusted something to happen, acted on that belief, and the results were not what you anticipated.  I sat and thought about this for a long time and I could not think of any instance in my life where I wouldn’t feel those feelings.  I can think of other emotions I might feel that are similar like anger, sadness, betrayal, and even jealousy in certain situations where this experience occurs.  It is sufficient to say that the feelings are not pleasant and can be fairly emotional.  These feelings also cause us to be skeptical, cynical, and hardened.

However, after those initial emotions a very important reaction occurs for us, easier when we are younger and our foundation of beliefs are flexible and new, and harder as we get older and our expectations become hardened and sure.  That reaction is we learn.  Or in other words we make adjustments and add the experience to our knowledge and understanding.  When we move our foot wrong, we move it differently the next time.  When we step in the wrong place we don’t step there the next time.  This is the basic nature of human beings we learn from our experiences and adjust our actions.  In addition to learning from our experiences, we can be taught from others’ experiences how to avoid those wrong steps along the way.  We go to school, we can have parents and loved ones tell us their experiences, we can watch friends and associates make wrong steps, we can read books, or watch movies and all of these things and many more things are absorbed into our minds and teach us and help us adjust our actions as we go.  This Behavioral Therapy is something that is unique to the human condition and it occurs all along our path of life.

I mentioned learning is easier when younger and harder when older.  I have found it common in my experience and from my observations that the longer an action produces the desired result before it fails or doesn’t produce that result anymore, the more exaggerated the emotions of pain, frustration, embarrassment, anger, etc.  These frustrations are practically universal.  My entire life I have loved to golf and after years of practice and success I received a college scholarship to play golf.  However, it was a shock to me when my coach informed me that if i wanted to get better and succeed more I would need to change and re-learn my golf swing that I had relied on for my success to that point.  My reaction was one of frustration, defiance, embarrassment, and anger.  I had a very hard time accepting his ideas and felt as though he was attacking my entire golf game.  A few months into school I was in a car accident that really hurt my back, I was unable to golf again that year, and following my mission I found that I could no longer golf the way I had before.  I remembered my coaches advice and I spent a lot of time re-learning my golf swing and adding it to my putting and chipping that I kept the way it had been.  Now I have found my abilities to far exceed my abilities from before.  I would have been a lot more willing to listen to my coaches advice when I was a teenager, and if I had not already been very successful with my own way.  It took something out of my control to help me get past my negative emotions and learn..

In many ways faith in God is no different than these other forms of faith, at least in the beginnings of faith.  Initially we must learn that God even exists.  Sometimes this happens as a child and sometimes it happens when we are an adult, and other times it might happen after we die.  “So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” Romans 10:17  Nonetheless, when we learn the idea of God might exist, there are two things that need to begin happening in order for us to develop faith in him.  1. We must learn about His attributes, how He will act, and what purpose He has for us.  2. We must act in order to see the results and therefore builds our confidence (faith).  It is literally impossible to develop meaningful and effective faith in God without both of these things happening.  James’ treatise on faith describes this in James 2:14-24 in addition the process is described in Alma 32:21-43.  When we begin to believe we then act and the results are what bring us confidence.  In order for us to enjoy the “fruits” of faith, have our faith “perfected, justified, or profit us” it is clear we must continue the process of faith throughout our lives.

Fortunately, and unfortunately there are literally millions of different accounts and versions of God, his attributes, how he will act, and what his purposes are.  I say unfortunately, because it is inevitable that our understandings will probably be wrong as we go along and so we will undoubtedly experience pain, frustration, and embarrassment along our path to meaningful and powerful faith in God. I say fortunately because there are infinite ways for us to find our confidence in God through our experiences and understandings if we are willing to learn and adjust along the way.  The foundation of Faith in Jesus Christ can remain constant while our understandings and faith can be evolving as we test out our faith by acting and learning.  Each principle and each idea must be tested of its own validity and learned through our life.  I kept my putting stroke, but changed my golf swing to make myself a better golfer.

The beginnings of faith are wanting to believe and understand.  When we follow up by acting, and by learning (adjusting), this process builds confidence in God.  This process must continue over our lives, it cannot stop.  Just like walking, and employment there are resources and places to learn about God: Scriptures (other people’s experiences with God); Friends, Family, and Teachers (First hand accounts of experiences with God); our own Journals (Our experiences with God) and God Himself (Prayer, Meditation, Revelation, etc.).  It is also very important as we search these sources that we cannot expect that everything we have read or hear about God and/or our interpretation of what we read and hear is exactly right, but just like every other aspect of life we must test out the things we learn by acting and learning again.  We learn principle by principle and building our foundation of faith needs to be seen as though we are starting anew on each principle.  As time goes along we will see the results that we can rely on and learn and adjust on the things that we cannot.  Faith must be flexible to increase our confidence in God.  When you view faith as a process of learning (acting and adjusting) then you can feel God pulling you along the way, teaching your heart and mind and confirming the beauty that comes from knowing you can count on God to help you along the way.

“For this God is our God for ever and ever: he will be our guide even unto death.” Psalms 48:14

When our faith is inflexible and not centered on learning and adjusting we can be taken by the overwhelming sense of pain, frustration, and embarrassment that comes when we assume for so long one thing is the only way to get desired results and then those results don’t happen or are wrong.  That kind of inflexible faith when shattered is so painful it is hard to recover from and often causes us to harden against everything we have based our faith on when in reality it may only be one thing.  “Throwing the baby out with the bath water” per se.  Alma warns us of this: “And they that harden their hearts, to them is given the lesser portion of the word until they know nothing concerning his mysteries…” Alma 12:11  Alma earlier explains: “..and he that will not harden his heart, to him is given the greater portion of the word, until it is given unto him to know the mysteries of God until he know them in full.” Alma 12:10  Just because I needed to change my golf swing didn’t mean I didn’t know how to play golf, or needed to throw out my putting stroke as well.

A flexible faith is one that creates an atmosphere of confidence that not only God is there and loves us, but a confidence that no matter what happens you can learn and adjust quickly and find results that bring happiness and peace.  It is patterned after our child-like selves and when an action doesn’t produce the desired result or things we thought were true have changed or are different we only feel that pain momentarily which allows us to learn from God as we make our adjustments.

“And now as I said concerning faith—faith is NOT to have a prefect knowledge of things; therefore if you have faith ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true.” Alma 32:21  (emphasis added)

“..Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the Kingdom of God.” Matt 18:3

“For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.” Mosiah 3:19 (emphasis added)

My hope with this post is to start a series of posts on what I view as “flexible faith”. If we believe the scriptures, and the observation of human actions it is clear that the most effective faith is a flexible one, and the faith God wants us to have is the faith of a child, one that can adjust and can grow.  This does not mean there are not foundations that we should build our faith on, but rather we need to seek those diligently and test them out knowing that our assumptions and interpretations can be wrong.  Jesus Christ is our sure foundation, but getting to know Him, His attributes, and His plan is a process that takes a lifetime.  I hope to dig deeper into this foundation of faith in the next post.