Before he died, Larry Barkdull had written a substantial part of an unfinished manuscript about the extraordinary power of faith, particularly as a power that causes things to happen. This is faith on a higher level than we usually practice and understand it. With the permission of his wife, Buffie, Meridian will be running an excerpt from this new book periodically. See earlier articles in this series HERE and HERE and HERE

Faith is founded on Truth

According to Alma, we plug into the intelligent force of faith by desire and hope,[1] which must be founded on truth—things as they were, are or will be: “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.”[2] A belief based on a false premise is not faith. A man can strongly believe that a button is a seed and expect a garden to grow from it, but his false belief will yield nothing. In Alma’s words, the true or good seed of faith will swell, sprout and grow in the soul, but a false or bad seed will not.[3]

An example of a good intention that lacked faith was Mormon’s earnest prayer for the deliverance of his people. He might as well have tried to grow a garden by planting a button because, he admitted, his prayer was “without faith, because of the hardness of their hearts.”[4] This fascinating incident begs the question, Why was the prayer of a man of great faith without faith? One reason might have been that Mormon’s knowledge of abysmal state of his people ran counter to knowledge of things as they really were; that is, Mormon was acting on a wish rather than on truth. His people were beyond reclamation.

Describing to Moroni the depraved, degenerate and lawless nature of the Nephites, Mormon wrote, “I fear lest the Spirit of the Lord hath ceased striving with them. For so exceedingly do they anger that it seemeth me that they have no fear of death; and they have lost their love, one towards another; and they thirst after blood and revenge continually…. Behold, my heart cries: Wo unto this people. Come out in judgment, O God, and hide their sins, and wickedness, and abominations from before thy face!… Behold, my son, I cannot recommend them unto God lest he should smite me.”[5] Clearly, Mormon’s knowledge of his people’s true state ran counter to his desire to save them; thus, when he prayed for them, his prayer was without faith.

Another reason that Mormon could not summon faith for the deliverance of his people was because the divine law of deliverance demands sincere repentance, humility, mighty prayer and trusting the Lord—“thus doth the Lord work with his power in all cases among the children of men.”[6] Mormon’s people were unwilling to comply with the law of deliverance, thus Mormon, although personally powerful in faith, was unable to exercise faith in behalf of his faithless people. Brigham Young said, “No living, intelligent being, whether serving God or not, acts without [true] belief. He might as well undertake to live without breathing as to live without the principle of belief. But he must believe the truth, obey the truth, and practice the truth, to obtain the power of God called faith.”[7]

Elder Bruce R. McConkie definitively stated that we cannot engage the intelligent force of faith without first having some true evidence or knowledge.

Faith is based on truth and is preceded by knowledge. Until a person gains a knowledge of the truth he can have no faith.… Thus faith is a hope in that which is not seen which is true, and accordingly it can enter the heart of man only after he has received the truth….

Faith and truth cannot be separated; if there is to be faith, saving faith, faith unto life and salvation, faith that leads to the celestial world there must first be truth. Not only is a true knowledge of God a condition precedent to the acquirement of this faith, but faith can be exercised only by those who conform to the principles of truth which come from the true God who actually exists.[8]

Imagine a man who insists he can fell a tree with a teaspoon. Despite his determination, his desire is not based on truth and therefore it is without faith. But when the man becomes acquainted with an axe and is presented with evidence that the axe can do the job, he discards the teaspoon and centers his hope and belief on the axe. Now that he is functioning in truth, he can take the appropriate action, engage the power of faith and accomplish his goal. When the bishop, who was trying to save his house from fire, searched his mind for the will of God and laid hold on true principles associated with the power of the priesthood, he took the appropriate action and thus tapped into the power of faith with authoritative words and protected his property. Elder Orson Pratt explained, “A true faith is founded on true evidence; a false faith on false evidence…. The greater the evidence, the greater will be the faith resulting from that evidence.”[9]

Alma taught that faith, by its nature, when founded on even a particle of truth or knowledge, will always attract more knowledge until that knowledge is finally perfect: “And now, behold, is your knowledge perfect? Yea, your knowledge is perfect in that thing, and your faith is dormant.”[10] The man who took up his axe and began to chop down the tree with partial knowledge, eventually felled the tree with full knowledge. But how do you know that your actions are aligned with truth? How do you know that what you are holding is an axe rather than a teaspoon? Alma had the answer: true faith is discernable; true faith is associated with light: “O then, is not [faith and its fruits] real? I say unto you, Yea, because it is light; and whatsoever is light, is good, because it is discernible.”[11]

Alma’s linking faith with light is fascinating in the context of faith being a discernable, intelligent force or spiritual energy. Consider the process of photosynthesis. A plant captures light from the sun, converts it into chemical energy, which fuels the plant’s ability to live, grow and reproduce. Likewise, the light of truth flows from the Son “to fill the immensity of space.”[12] When the light of truth “reflects upon our senses,”[13] it is converted into spiritual energy, which gives us life, enlightens our eyes and quickens our understanding.[14] These are discernable evidences of truth. Now faith engages, and we can confidently take action, empowered by the infusion of the light of truth that is coursing through us.

Because knowledge of truth is essential to faith, Alma offers four evidences or tests to signal that we have indeed encountered truth and that the seed of faith has implanted in our soul.

1) Stirring sensation. We feel awakened; something spiritual begins to stir within us.

2) Motivation to improve. If we react with a believing response to the seed’s stirring motions, those motions will motivate us to want to become better or more capable.

3) Intellectual testimony. As the seed takes root and begins to grow, it acts upon our intellect, sparks new ideas and clarifies things.

4) Emotional testimony. The seed also acts upon our heart, evoking an emotional response. The experience feels so good that we desire to take further action to nourish the seed, and we begin to actively seek for more of faith’s fruits.

Faith is Alive!

Alma added another intriguing insight about faith: It grows! Faith is alive! We recall President J. Reuben Clark’s description of faith as “a living, and I think an intelligent, force.”[15] According to Alma, even a small “seed” of faith planted in the soul by the mere experiment of hoping and taking an action will shoot forth a tiny root and urge almost imperceptible motions of life.

Alma’s lesson on faith is more of a reality than a metaphor. A seed contains a life force that lies latent until the right conditions and external energy are applied to awaken its potential and encourage it to grow. Once the process is set in motion, the power of faith will cause the seed to transform into a creation that is dramatically dissimilar to its original form; in Alma’s words, the seed will become “the tree of life…a tree springing up unto everlasting life.”[16]

We might consider Alma’s metaphor another way: A tender seed of faith embeds in our soul when we are introduced to something that piques our interest. “Faith cometh by hearing.”[17] Soon, we sense subtle vibrations of new life or “swelling motions.”[18] When we feel within us those positive movements, we react favorably; the vision of a bounteous harvest begins to form in the mind’s eye. Alma described this sensation as “delicious.”[19] The vision motivates us to nurture the seed and stay the course with hope; Paul said, we “plow in hope.”[20] As time passes, our vision of future success becomes more vivid and detailed. Although we still “hope for things which are not seen,” we can, in a remarkable way, see them, because increasingly we discover that they are true.[21] “Believing is seeing!”[22] Our journey of faith leads us to realize that faith is not only alive; it is also amazingly expansive. Nourishing the seed with even a “particle of faith” has power to produce abundant fruit. Thus, Alma encourages us to immediately embrace the tiny seed when it attempts to embed in the soul and send down roots: “Yea, even if ye can no more than desire to believe, let this desire work in you.”[23]

This process also describes the law of the harvest: “For whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.”[24] We foresee in hope; we sow and cultivate in faith; “then do we with patience wait for it,”[25] until finally, we harvest in knowledge. Elder Gene R. Cook wrote: “You must hope with all your heart for a good cause, that it will come about, and if you exercise your faith in it, and if it be right, it will come to pass.”[26]

Alma warned that once the planting and nourishing process is fully engaged, the only way that the seed of faith could die is if we succumb to doubt, fear or neglect. Using Elder Packer’s analogy, we unplug from the power of faith and interrupt the flow of energy.[27] Alma said–

But if ye neglect the tree, and take no thought for its nourishment, behold it will not get any root; and when the heat of the sun cometh and scorcheth it, because it hath no root it withers away, and ye pluck it up and cast it out.

Now, this is not because the seed was not good, neither is it because the fruit thereof would not be desirable; but it is because your ground is barren, and ye will not nourish the tree, therefore ye cannot have the fruit thereof.

And thus, if ye will not nourish the word, looking forward with an eye of faith to the fruit thereof, ye can never pluck of the fruit of the tree of life.[28]

Properly nourished, the seed of faith will prove its viability by the dual evidences of enlargement of the soul and enlightenment of the understanding; in other words, by our experience with faith, we become more than we have been and know more than we have known. Additionally, the fruits and effects of faith—signs—will follow us: “Signs follow those that believe. Yea, signs come by faith.”[29] Over time, the seed of faith will sprout, grow, blossom, bring forth fruit and mature into “a tree springing up unto everlasting life.”[30]

That Alma compared the potential of the seed of faith to a mature tree suggests that the nourishing process can take a long time. But, following Alma’s logic, the lifespan of a tree can also be long and fruitful. Take, for example, the lifespan of an olive tree, which can exceed 2,000 years. Clearly, faith takes time to develop, but when it takes root and if it is nourished, it endures.

Faith Matures to Charity — A Tree of Life

The metaphor of the faith seedling becoming “a tree springing up unto everlasting life” hearkens to Nephi’s vision in which he learned that the tree and its fruit are representative of the love of God or charity.[31] By nature, faith matures within us so that we become more Godlike. Mormon explained that faith does indeed produce charity: “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.”[32]

Mormon is describing a progression of events that begins with faith and ends with charity: faith, hope and charity. One could argue that the actual sequence is hope, faith, hope and charity. “How is it that ye can attain unto faith, save ye shall have hope?”[33] Here is an example of how we might see the progression of faith at work in us:

  • We hear something that rings true and we form a hope to pursue that thing. A seed of hope has just implanted in our soul, whereupon a vision about the potential of embracing the thing forms in our mind. The vision urges a declaration of intent followed by an emotional response and a desire to pursue the hoped-for thing as a goal.
  • When we thus act on our hope, we tap into the power of faith, causing the seed to take root in the soul. A tiny new life begins to stir within us.
  • That evidence of growth produces more hope in the soul, which hope motives us to apply more action, bring to bear more of the power of faith.
  • At some point, a trial of faith occurs for the purpose of generating enough faith to achieve the goal. We survive the trial by an appeal to God, who intervenes with grace and charity, thus cementing an essential saving relationship between us. Deliverance yields the desire to become like our Deliverer and to do his work.
  • Faith eventually grows into maturity, yielding both the hoped-for goal and Christlike attributes, particularly an increased capacity to exhibit charity. Now we are empowered by faith to bless and rescue others. “Freely ye have received, freely give.”[34]

By staying the course of faith, we become a new person. We exceed our previous best efforts; we know more; we have more power; we have more capability; we are in every way a better person — all of which means that we have not only achieved our goal, but we have become more like God. We now have more ability to love more people and urge them to pursue the gift of faith.

Thus, by design, hope, faith, hope and charity, the progression of faith, leads to reconciliation with and emulation of God, a closer relationship with and the capacity to become like him, and an increased ability to render service to God and his children–charity. Paul said it this way: “And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.”[35] When faith matures to charity, our confidence begins to “wax strong in the presence of God.”[36] This quality of faith is a deciding factor to attain to the perfection of faith: achieving the presence of the Lord and becoming like him. Through faith we become charity: “a tree springing up unto everlasting life.”[37]

[1] Alma 32:21-22.

[2] Alma 32.21, emphasis added.

[3] Alma 32:30-33.

[4] Mormon 3:12.

[5] Moroni 9:4-5, 15, 21.

[6] Mosiah 29:19-20, emphasis added.

[7] Discourses of Brigham Young, 153.

[8] Mormon Doctrine, 262.

[9] Pratt, Orson, The Kingdom of God, 20.

[10] Alma 32:34.

[11] Alma 32:35.

[12] D&C 88:12.

[13] Hymns, 273.

[14] D&C 88:11, 13.

[15] Clark, Behold the Lamb of God, 285-86.

[16] Alma 32:40-41.

[17] Romans 10:17.

[18] Alma 32:28.

[19] Alma 32:28.

[20] 1 Corinthians 9:10.

[21] Alma 32:21.

[22] Boyd K. Packer, “What is Faith?” Faith, 42, emphasis added.

[23] Alma 32:27.

[24] Galatians 6:7.

[25] Romans 8:25.

[26] Cook, Living by the Power of Faith, 74.

[27] Boyd K. Packer, “What is Faith?” Faith, 42.

[28] Alma 32:38-40.

[29] D&C 63:9-10.

[30] Alma 32:28-41.

[31] 1 Nephi 11:25.

[32] Moroni 10:20.

[33] Moroni 7:40.

[34] Matthew 10:8.

[35] 1 Corinthians 13:13.

[36] D&C 121:45.

[37] Alma 32:28-41.