Relief Society Lesson 21: Faith and Testimony
I would begin this lesson by reading this definition of faith given by Howard W. Hunter in the manual:
Whether seeking for knowledge of scientific truths or to discover God, one must have faith. This becomes the starting point. Faith has been defined in many ways, but the most classic definition was given by the author of the letter to the Hebrews in these meaningful words: “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. HWH Manual
Then ask the class, what is faith? (Possible answers: hope for things not seen, growing enlightenment, belief in the unknown). You could write some of the answers on one side of the board and then ask what is the opposite of faith? (Possible answers: doubt, fear, certainty, sure knowledge)
If doubt comes up as one of the answers, you may want to discuss that one further. Is doubt the opposite of faith? Ann Lamott writes:
The opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty. Certainty is missing the point entirely. Faith includes noticing the mess, the emptiness and discomfort, and letting it be there until some light returns. Faith also means reaching deeply within, for the sense one was born with, the sense, for example. to go for a walk.” Ann Lamott, Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith
You could ask the class for their thoughts on that. If doubt is not the opposite of faith, what role does doubt play in the development of faith? In the Life of Pi, by Yann Martel, it says, “Doubt is useful, it keeps faith a living thing. After all, you cannot know the strength of your faith until it is tested.”
Doubt is a natural, normal part of our existence. It helps us to wrestle and struggle, which awakens our faith and keeps it a living thing. Without the struggle, faith becomes dormant. Howard W. Hunter said:
As children we accepted as fact the things which were told to us by our parents or our teachers because of the confidence that we had in them. A little boy will jump from a high place without fear if his father tells him that he will not let him fall. As children grow older, they commence to think for themselves, to question and have doubts about those things which are not subject to tangible proof. I have sympathy for young men and young women when honest doubts enter their minds and they engage in a great conflict of resolving doubts. These doubts can be resolved, if they have an honest desire to know the truth, by exercising moral, spiritual, and mental effort. They will emerge from the conflict into a firmer, stronger, larger faith because of the struggle. They have gone from a simple, trusting faith, through doubt and conflict, into a solid substantial faith which ripens into testimony. HWH Manual
If doubt is an essential element of developing faith, then as Ann Lamott’s quote above suggests, the opposite of faith is certainty. Brene Brown gives us a good definition of faith in her book The Gifts of Imperfection:
Faith is a place of mystery, where we find the courage to believe in what we cannot see and the strength to let go of our fear of uncertainty. Brene Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection, pg. 90.
Alma said, “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.” Alma 32:21
So faith is the opposite of certainty, it is not a sure knowledge, but the letting go of fear of uncertainty.
How do we develop our faith?
The path is one that leads upward; it takes faith and effort, and is not the easy course. HWH Manual
Zina Young described the work involved in developing faith:
Seek for a testimony , as you would my dear sisters, for a diamond concealed. If someone told you by digging long enough in a certain spot you would find a diamond of unmeasured wealth, do you think you would begrudge time or strength or means spent to obtain that treasure? Then I will tell you that if you will dig in the depths of your own hearts you will find with the aid of the Spirit of the Lord, the pearl of great price, the testimony of the truth of this work. Zina Diantha Huntington Young, Relief Society President, Young Woman’s Journal, April 1892, pg. 319
This sentiment is very similar to that of Ann Lamott in that it talks about faith as an internal thing. Faith is something we develop in our own hearts. We can’t simply hear what is said at church and accept it for truth because we are afraid of the work of developing our own faith. Remember, fear and certainty are not part of faith, they are the opposite of faith. We must act on principles and test them out in our own lives.
Merely saying, accepting, believing are not enough. They are incomplete until that which they imply is translated into the dynamic action of daily living. This, then, is the finest source of personal testimony. One knows because he has experienced. He does not have to say, “Brother Jones says it is true, and I believe him.” He can say, “I have lived this principle in my own life, and I know through personal experience that it works. I have felt its influence, tested its practical usefulness, and know that it is good. I can testify of my own knowledge that it is a true principle. HWH Manual
The gospel of Jesus Christ is not just a gospel of belief; it is a plan of action…He did not say “observe” my gospel; he said “live” it! He did not say, “Note its beautiful structure and imagery”; he said, “Go, do, see, feel, give, believe! HWH Manual
Eliza R. Snow talked about this action and work being the source of a faith that is alive:
I always feel happy to meet with my sisters; today I feel a peculiar sweetness and heavenly influence. What we have heard is calculated to inspire us to action. The world has a great deal of teaching and preaching done, but we want to act, for by our acts we will be judged. It has been suggested here that here that we have a great deal to do, and those who are alive to their religion know that there is much to do. Eliza R. Snow, Special Meeting of the Young Ladies Mutual Improvement Association of the First Ward, held in a schoolhouse, Sept. 26th 1877, as reported in the Women’s Exponent)
How do the actions of developing our own faith without leaning on others, as we read in the quotes by Zina Young, Eliza R. Snow, and Howard W. Hunter, make our faith a living growing thing?
Alma gave a beautiful analogy of faith, comparing it to a seed:
- Now, as I said concerning faith—that it was not a perfect knowledge—even so it is with my words. Ye cannot know of their surety at first, unto perfection, any more than faith is a perfect knowledge.
- But behold, if ye will awake and arouse your faculties, even to an experiment upon my words, and exercise a particle of faith, yea, even if ye can no more than desire to believe, let this desire work in you, even until ye believe in a manner that ye can give place for a portion of my words.
- Now, we will compare the word unto a seed. Now, if ye give place, that a seed may be planted in your heart, behold, if it be a true seed, or a good seed, if ye do not cast it out by your unbelief, that ye will resist the Spirit of the Lord, behold, it will begin to swell within your breasts; and when you feel these swelling motions, ye will begin to say within yourselves—It must needs be that this is a good seed, or that the word is good, for it beginneth to enlarge my soul; yea, it beginneth to enlighten my understanding, yea it beginneth to be delicious to me.
- Now behold, would not this increase your faith? I say unto you, Yea; nevertheless it hath not grown up to a perfect knowledge.
- But behold, as the seed swelleth, and sprouteth, and beginneth to grow, then you must needs say that the seed is good; for behold it swelleth, and sprouteth, and beginneth to grow. And now, behold, will not this strengthen your faith? Yea, it will strengthen your faith: for ye will say I know that this is a good seed; for behold it sprouteth and beginneth to grow. Alma 32: 26-30
Alma suggests that developing faith is a continual process of planting seeds and seeing what grows. If we live in certainty and think that we know everything with a surety, we will have no need to plant more seeds and test their goodness. We may become careless and give up nourishing the seeds we have already planted. If we live in fear, then we may not plant certain seeds and we might miss out on the fruit of enlightenment that they could have produced.
- O then, is not this real? I say unto you, Yea, because it is light; and whatsoever is light, is good, because it is discernible, therefore ye must know that it is good; and now behold, 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. Alma 32: 35-36
- But if ye will nourish the word, yea, nourish the tree as it beginneth to grow, by your faith with great diligence, and with patience, looking forward to the fruit thereof, it shall take root; and behold it shall be a tree springing up unto everlasting life.
- And because of your diligence and your faith and your patience with the word in nourishing it, that it may take root in you, behold, by and by ye shall pluck the fruit thereof, which is most precious, which is sweet above all that is sweet, and which is white above all that is white, yea, and pure above all that is pure; and ye shall feast upon this fruit even until ye are filled, that ye hunger not, neither shall ye thirst. Alma 32: 41-42