The Believing Heart


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Bruce Hafen

We live in sophisticated times. We are naturally inclined to regard what might be a genuine spiritual experience as a coincidence, unless there is conclusive evidence that spiritual forces were indeed involved. However, we are sometimes required to make decisions that require action before compelling proof is available.

The scriptures teach that God deliberately, and for wise purposes, uses restraint in manifesting himself to us. Yet, paradoxically, he remains deeply interested and involved in our lives. Because of his restraint in the midst of such interest, we must learn to perceive the hand of the Lord in situations where his presence may be still and small. Our willingness to "be believing" helps make such perception possible.

The act of believing originates in the heart of the beholder through his or her voluntary action. (p. 3-4)

It is not always easy to know at first which influences are of divine origin. (p. 4)

It just might be that the Lord planned it that way—so we are not forced by the circumstances to believe. There are so many things he could do to rend the veil. But "we walk by faith, not by sight." (2 Corin. 5:7)

Scholars in the philosophy of knowledge tell us that people tend to see what they want to see, especially when the evidence is ambiguous. God has chosen to leave us free, amid circumstances that do not compel our belief. Here we may determine for ourselves, as an act of will, whether to grasp the iron rod in the midst of the mortal darkness. All four of Lehi's sons were born of those same "goodly parents." The difference between the believers (Nephi and Sam) and the unbelievers (Laman and Lemuel) was not so much in what happened to them, but in their attitude toward what happened. That attitude originated within their own hearts, with each making his own free choice about being willing to be believing.

Certainly Christ might have been born under circumstances so overwhelming and miraculous that all who lived at the time of his birth could not have questioned his supernatural origin.

It was all part of a plan carefully and deliberately designed not to compel belief. Further indications of the deliberateness of that plan appear throughout the accounts of the Savior's life. Frequently he told those who were blessed by a miracle that they "should tell no man what was done." (Luke 8:56, Matt. 8:4).

Hugh Nibley has described this guiding principle as the "policy of reticence," which the Lord has always followed to "to protect sacred things from common misunderstandings and to protect the unworthy from damaging themselves with them."

The Lord has also made it plain that it is not good to seek signs. (Matt. 12:39; Mark 8:12). Moreover, miracles are not proof of divine authority. Satan can also work wonders so marvelous "that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect." (Matt. 24:24).

A key reason for the Lord's unwillingness to compel our belief is suggested by those scriptural phrases about doing the will of the Father and "receiving him." Something happens to people who receive him— who do his will. They learn. They develop Christlike capacities and skills beyond the reach of other people. Following his will changes them. These changes do not occur within the lives of those who merely see the sign or hear the word. Such changes in character and spirit also do not happen without our active, voluntary participation. Thus, by being believing, by receiving the Lord, and by following him, the process of becoming like him is set into motion. That is a point he does not want us to miss.

Knowing these reasons for the Lord's restraint should make us less inclined to wait for irrefutable evidence before we will act like believers. The Lord is not likely to make the case miraculously irresistible. That would be contrary to the purpose of mortality, because it would inhibit the growth and development that a free environment is designed to permit.

The Lord has used the highly visible forms of his power very sparingly—enough to leave us with clear witnesses, but not enough to compel us to believe.

Once the conduct of a person's life has shown that he is indeed a believer, the signs of divine influence will follow him, in part as a further witness, but primarily to bless others.

What a careful balance has been struck between too much and not enough in the manifestations of divine power! How essential, then, to be willing to recognize the quiet evidences for what they are. (p. 6-8)

President Harold B. Lee used to say, "Our Lord is not an absentee father. He is closer to the leaders of this church than you have any idea." (p. 10)

Moreover, a believing attitude affects not only how we think, but also what we do in response to our religious commitments. The genuine expectation that God will keep his promises makes the believing heart also a faithful heart. In this way belief leads to action.

The real confirmation that he actually fulfills his promises in our own lives, often comes later—the harvest of those early decisions to be believing. "On the good ground are they, which in an honest and good heart, having heard the word, keep it, and bring forth fruit with patience." (Luke 8:15). After a few seasons of such harvesting, and of doing what believers do, the faithful, believing heart becomes more and more a knowing heart.

Significantly, those experiences also bring with them increased capacities of character and spirit, and thus is brought to partial fruition the greatest miracle of all—our own divine potential to become Christlike. That is a miracle nature's laws simply do not, perhaps cannot, produce without the trial of our faith. And the beginning of it all is to doubt not, but be believing. That first step and the conduct that follows it are under our exclusive, personal control. (p. 14-15).

Someone once said you can't visually tell the difference between a strand of cobweb and a strand of powerful cable—until stress is put on the strand. Our testimonies are that way, and for most of us, the days of stress for our testimonies have already begun. It may not be the death of a loved one. We might not yet have been asked to give up something that is really precious to us, though the time for such a test may well come to us by and by. Our current stress is more likely to come in the form of overpowering temptations, which show us that a shallow acceptance of the gospel does not have the power to cope with the full fury of the powers of darkness. Perhaps there is a mission call to a place of illness and disappointment, when we had planned on a mission to a place of unbounded opportunity. Or perhaps there are too many questions to which our limited knowledge simply has no answer.

When those times come, our testimonies must be more than the cobweb strands of a fair-weather faith. They need to be like strands of cable, powerful enough to resist the shafts of him who would destroy us.

Having a testimony is setting an example for a friend who mocks the Church, and after beginning to wonder if you're the one who is on the wrong track, one day hearing her say to you, "Thank you for being the way you are, for being good to me when I didn't deserve it. I know this sounds strange coming from me, but I want to live a better life. Will you help me?"

Excerpts from the book The Believing Heart, by Bruce Hafen, 1986

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)