Alma 30-35: “Faith is Not to Have a Perfect Knowledge of Things”

For anyone who has attended a Fast and Testimony meeting of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints you will have heard, sometimes in extreme fashion, someone declare their testimony by saying they “know” something is true. Testimony is something that is emphasized and taught and encouraged for Latter-day Saints from a very young age, and I agree that personal revelation and confirmation that Jesus Christ is our Savior, and that the gospel and the church are inspired are important aims.

However, many of us could benefit from understanding that knowing something is not faith. Knowing is not the virtue that Jesus and all His apostles and prophets have emphasized. Knowing can even be an illusion that creates a false sense of security and a halt to the actions that build faith. In this week’s chapters, Alma teaches us a famous sermon about faith as he compares it to a seed. Alma’s formula for how faith works is a marvelous example of how faith must lead to action and actions lead to increased faith. He also makes a declaration that I found very important, that faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things. According to Alma, the only thing we can have a perfect knowledge of is whether our faith is good or bad. Not facts, explanations, mysteries of the universe, history, or any other doctrinal points of view.

Alma claims that the knowledge that our faith is good is the knowledge that is most beneficial in our journey to feel and partake of the love of God and eternal life. Unfortunately, faith and the actions that make faith grow (humility, repentance, service, etc.) are not as appealing and prestigious as knowledge, certainty, sophistication, and eloquence. So, for many of us, particularly those who designate themselves “truth seekers,” knowledge can become the focus (as Jesus called it “our treasure”) not a growing and good faith.

I have witnessed some of the most knowledgeable people I know, in terms of religion, fall away because their faith became weak and fragile from a lack of nourishment. Yet, some of the most faithful, loving, and happy people I know would not be considered knowledgeable by most people.

Seeking knowledge is not wrong, in fact, it is encouraged and important to our growth. I consider myself a seeker of truth and have spent more than a decade studying and searching for answers to many complicated questions. One of the reasons that I lost myself in the past, however, was because I was trying to use knowledge as a means of removing doubt and ignoring the things that grew my faith. To some people, the endeavor to remove all doubt through knowledge, reason, or historical discovery of facts completely overwhelms their efforts and the growth of faith is completely ignored. Unbeknownst to them, more knowledge only increases questions and conflict and their journey to a perfect knowledge of anything ends up a fool’s errand.

The absence of doubt or conflict is not only impossible, it is not the purpose of our life’s endeavors when it comes to God. Faith is acting in the face of doubt and conflict. Discovering that the seed of faith is good through repentance, humility, love and service even when bombarded with conflict in our relationships, in our minds, and in our hearts is what brings joy, the love of God, and spiritual discovery. When mixed with seeking truth, a growing faith can diminish some of our doubts, but it will not extinguish them all, for those doubts are what create the proving ground for our faith to grow.

Moroni, later in the Book of Mormon says something I have found to be true.

“I would show unto the world that faith is things which are hoped for and not seen; wherefore, dispute not because ye see not, for ye receive no witness until after the trial of your faith.”

Ether 12:6

The trial of our faith is taking the small and nourishing actions in the face of opposition, doubt, discouragement, and fear. In return we will receive a witness that our faith is good, and the love of God will grow in our hearts and minds. So as you go about seeking truth, please spend as much or more time nourishing your faith.

I hope as you study Chapter 21 in particular you can see the connection that Alma makes with humility and faith. I also hope you can find and be inspired to know things you can do to nourish your faith more and come closer to the Jesus Christ and feeling His love. Only through the process of nourishing our faith can our knowledge grow that our faith is good until it grows large enough that we can truly see and know the Lord Jesus Christ.

CHAPTERS FOR STUDY WEEK 27-28 – Alma 30-35

– Humility can come by choice or by circumstances outside of our control, but it is necessary for faith.

– Faith requires work and like a seed requires nourishment.

– Those who feel betrayed are at most risk of leaving and feeling anger toward the church and church members. Doing what we can to help alleviate that feeling is imperative.

History and Context:
– Korihor as a type for the Anti-Christ – Alma spends time arguing with a man named Korihor.  Korihor is described as an Anti-Christ and so I think it is important to lay out the foundations of his arguments so we can be alerted to ideas that may influence us in our day.

  • There is no need for a redemption because their sin is not a real thing. Removing the reality of sin is the easiest way to remove the value of any redemption Christ provided. It also removes the progressive power of repentance because there is no need to change and improve. 
  • The encouragement of Social Darwinism which advocates for certain groups of people being more beneficial and meant to lead and rule. This is the foundation for white supremacy, nationalism, and racism. This is in opposition to Christ’s mission to redeem all humankind. 
  • Accusations toward leaders of the Lord’s church that they are taking advantage of people for money, power, prestige. The rejection of the need for priesthood on the basis of the individual’s weaknesses. 

– Antionum is the name of the territory that we find the people called the Zoramites. They are a poorer place than Zarahemla and the division between wealthy and poor is extreme. The people hold the name of Zoram, a man who had left Zarahemla – they may have had some lineal descendants of Zoram, but they were likely a boiling pot of lineages. Zoram had rejected the church in Zarahemla and the people had in many ways taken on the native cultures.  They believed in many gods and had perverted the gospel teachings. Korihor must have been a powerful and influential person in Antionum and the story begins with him coming to Zarahemla to contend with the church.  

– This section of Alma’s record, abridged by Mormon, is a mission that Alma, his friends the Sons of Mosiah, and his adult sons – Helaman, Shiblon, and Corianton – went on to preach the gospel in places Alma was unable to visit on his mission.  

– Summation of Alma’s record – Mormon’s most probable source for the chapters we have been studying:

  • Conversion from words of Abinadi
  • Establishment of the Church
  • Order of Nehor as an alternative to the church and dissension of Amilicites and Amalekites
  • Alma and Sons of Mosiah’s missionary journeys and contentions
  • Lamanite invasion and repulsion centered around Lamanite converts in Jershon
  • Conflict with Korihor
  • Zoramite conversion and resulting conflict
  • Alma blesses his three sons
  • The major Lamanite war as a result of Jershon and Zoramite converts 

– Tree of Life is common in Israelite culture, but it is also one of the most common symbols of Mesoamerican religions.

– Zenos and Zenock are extremely important characters in understanding the difference between Nephite and Israelite theology regarding the Son of God.  It is well known that Israelite prophets believed Yahweh was God, not the Son of God.  However, Alma claims that both Zenos and Zenock, prophets on their brass plates, had taught that there would be a Son of God that would come and redeem the people. The foundation for Nephite theology. What is even more interesting is that Zenock’s teachings were rejected by the people and he was stoned to death.  When we add this to the fact that what we know as the Old Testament was compiled and decided by priests of the time, who would have rejected those ideas as heretical, it explains why we do not have the writings of Zenos and Zenock. It also explains how Nephite prophets had information that lead to their revelations that there would be a Son of God. It also explains why so many counter religions that were formed in Nephite society were meant to say there would be no Christ.  The majority of the brass plate teachings, besides potentially Zenos and Zenock, did not teach of Christ explicitly. 

– Timeline: 77-74 BC 

The Plight of the Zoramites
After burying their dead and mourning the loss of people in Jershon, Mormon introduces us to a Zoramite named Korihor coming into Zarahemla to contend with the church regarding their doctrine. He teaches against Christ and is contended against by Alma. After being overcome by Alma’s words and the power of God, Korihor admits he was deceived by Satan and even though he tells the people of his deception he is not saved like Zeezrom. Instead he is killed after returning to Antionum.

Alma and his companions travel to the Zoramites and seek to teach and preach the gospel, but they only find success in the poor who have been rejected and not allowed to worship in the Zoramite Rameumptoms. Alma recognizes the opportunity to teach people who were humbled because of their circumstance.

Discourses on Faith and Atonement
Alma and Amulek then teach the people about humility, faith, and how to nourish and grow faith. They teach of the need for prayer and individual worship, along with the reality of sin and deception. They convince the people that an atonement is necessary and will be wrought by Jesus Christ.

I will discuss chapter 32 in more detail, but 32-34 are great chapters to read selections from. They are heavy on good ideas, doctrine, and things that can motivate us to be better people. I particularly love Amulek’s teachings on the atonement and why the Savior was necessary.

Forces Combine Against the Believers
When all of the poor, and working class people of Antionum decided to convert and move to Jershon with the Lamanite converts it caused a huge problem for the wealthy and elite of the Zoramites. They had no one to do their work for them, they lost their industry, and they were angry. They attempt to force their return by those in Jershon in vain and so their plan is to unite with those of the Lamanites who felt the same about the people of Jershon. They would unite in an invasion on the people of Jershon and anyone who would defend them.

Alma, who can see the eminent war, feels the need to counsel with his sons before the war and gathers them together to discuss the things that are most important to him. We will study those words in the coming weeks.

Key Moment or Scripture: Alma 32:21
21 And now as I said concerning faith—faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things; therefore if ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true. 

Right before Alma begins his discourse on faith as a seed, he makes a few statements to the Zoramite poor. He tells them that it is a blessing when our circumstances bring us to the Lord in humility, but it is even more blessed if a person humbles themselves on their own because of the word of God. In either event, it appears to me that humility and the desire to have God’s help is a requisite for faith to grow in the way Alma is going to teach the people. Humility is a precursor to the fertile soil of our hearts that faith requires. I am uncertain how others truly feel, but I know that I need more humility in my life. It is so easy to just trust ourselves, our plans, our ideas, and go about life doing what we think, especially if we are being successful. Learning to be humble in the face of success is something that I can see would make my faith stronger.

Alma then goes into his discourse on faith as a seed, but he first needs to set the stage by teaching a few things as the foundation:

  • Knowledge is not the same as faith
  • Faith is essential to receiving God’s love and revelation
  • Faith requires conflict
  • Faith requires action for it grow

Alma goes on to explain that nourishing a seed, will prove whether it is good, and then as the seed proves it is good our confidence will increase in the seed until the fruit is able to be tasted and results of the nourishing of the seed are known. This process of nourishing faith cannot be put aside, even when certain things become knowledge to us. The process of nourishing our seed, and later tree, is the key action in our life’s journey.

So the question we need to ask ourselves then is, “What does nourishing mean?” We know it doesn’t mean acquiring knowledge, we know it includes humility. I will list a few things that I feel mean nourishing to me:

  • Repentance – this feels to me the most important. Having the humility to admit when we are wrong, need to act differently, and then being willing to try and change for no sake other than the love of God.
  • Service – in three key moments in scriptures we are told that when serve others we are really serving God. This is the way in which we humble ourselves, give to others instead of focusing on ourselves. This seems to be a really great way to nourish our faith and see the love of God work in others.
  • Prayer and Scripture Study – Connecting with God, expressing our doubts, fears, desires, and admitting our mistakes can be so good for our souls. If couple that with asking for guidance and searching the scriptures for ideas on how we can improve and change for the better is extremely nourishing to our faith because it gives us more things to take action on. If the scriptures and prayer become merely a quest for knowledge and mysteries it is less nourishing to our faith.
  • Loving interactions with other humans – peacemaking, compassion, forgiveness, seeking understanding, sacrificing to lift those with burdens, and ministering to those on the margins and in need are ways we nourish our faith. There is so much suffering around us and finding ways to relieve it couldn’t be more nourishing to our faith.

I want to finish up with a reminder that the outcome of this experiment that Alma describes is not knowledge. It is the fruit of the Tree of Life or the Love of God and Eternal Life. The fruit is joy beyond a joy we can comprehend. The only knowledge we receive along the way is the knowledge that our faith is good as it grows. That knowledge isn’t even the result of seeking knowledge, it is the result of nourishing faith. I pray that each of us can spend more time nourishing our faith and couple that with our intellectual pursuits. The world will be a better place with humble servants of God nourishing their own and other’s faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Final Thoughts:
The next two weeks of study center around the words of Alma to his three sons. One of the things I love about his words are that they are tailored to his son’s specific circumstances and they can be a nice model for how we should minister and love our children.

  • Sources
    • Second Witness: Analytical and Contextual Commentary on the Book of Mormon by Brant Gardner
    • The Book of Mormon as History by Brant Gardner
    • Understanding the Book of Mormon by Grant Hardy
    • The Book of Mormon Made Harder by James Faulconer