I’ve mentioned in a few posts that I had to speak at church today. I was asked to speak on faith, hope, and charity and since those are pretty broad topics, I wasn’t initially sure how to organize my talk. I’d like to share what I wrote here because I think these are principles that anyone can apply in their lives, whether they’re religious or not. I thought about only sharing portions or specific lines from my talk to water it down, take the religion out of it. But as I started cutting away words and ideas, the whole thing became less authentic. And sincerity is king with me. So know that I believe every single word written here. I believe in Jesus Christ, I believe in God, and I believe there is a larger plan.
So, here goes.
I’ve been asked to speak on faith, hope, and charity. So naturally, I’m going to focus on doubt, despair, and unkindness. I’ve decided to come at this topic from the opposing side, the natural man side, because I know that I’ve allowed faith, hope, and charity to become intimidating. They can be hard to define and it’s almost like they’ve become one word, this all consuming principle that’s become unreachable. A mark of perfection. So maybe a new way to try to gain these qualities is to instead focus on dispelling the emotions and tendencies that are in their way. Namely, doubt, despair, and unkindness.
So faith and doubt. If faith is confidence and trust in jesus christ that leads to obedience, then doubt must be a lack of confidence and trust in jesus christ that leads to disobedience. If faith comes by righteousness, doubt must come by iniquity. If faith is kindled by hearing the gospel taught by God’s chosen messengers, it must be extinguished by hearing false teachings taught by those without authority from our Heavenly Father.
The loss of faith seems to be a cyclical process. Disobedience leads to doubt which leads to more disobedience. For me personally, so many of the times I’ve sort of suffered from doubts, have been from believing things about the church or the gospel that either aren’t true or are coming from sources who would have me doubt. There are difficult truths in the gospel, I don’t deny that. It can be hard to believe. But the same way doubt is cyclical, faith is cyclical. Faith leads to repentance, obedience, and dedicated service, all of which lead to more faith. If you don’t feel in control of your faith, you can certainly control whether or not you’re on your knees in prayer, repenting. You can keep the commandments even when your heart isn’t fully in them yet. You can dedicate yourself to your callings, to serving your family and friends. These actions lead to more faith. They lead to a changed, more divine heart where doubt cannot secure a foundation.
I want to stress that faith isn’t some mystical thing that we feel or we don’t. It is a very real result of obedience to the commandments and trust in our Savior. Doubt is the same way. It isn’t this supernatural power that can take over our testimonies and we’re powerless to stop it. It, too, is a very real result of our own actions. And I think that’s one of the things that’s confusing about faith, hope, and charity. They’re actions. We get confused because we think we’re supposed to just feel them naturally and when we don’t it means there’s something wrong with us or that the church is wrong for us. When actually, their opposites are traits of our natural selves, the natural man. Doubt is a natural reaction when something can’t be proven. Despair is the natural reaction to trials. Unkindness is the natural reaction to living in an unkind world. We can do better than natural, be better. Faith, hope, and charity are attributes of the divine, of Jesus Christ and our Heavenly Father. So as far as faith and doubt are concerned, I would encourage each of us to follow Nephi’s example to “go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded.” Follow Joseph’s Smith’s revelation in D&C 27, “taking the shield of faith wherewith ye shall be able to quench the fiery darts of the wicked.” Believe our Savior’s assurance that “if ye have faith…nothing shall be impossible unto you.”
Hope is another one of those gospel principles that has seemed hard to define and honestly, hard to differentiate from faith. But I think that’s just because it is borne out of our faith. Faith is the belief in things which aren’t seen but are true and hope is the anticipation and belief that those unseen things will one day become seen and finding comfort in that. So if hope is confident expectation, despair must be fear and uncertainty. If hope is the longing for promised blessings, despair must be not believing those promises. How awful is that feeling? How well do we know that feeling? Perhaps you know that Heavenly Father is real, perhaps doubt isn’t what plagues you. Maybe you have read about the promised blessings but you don’t believe they apply to you. Maybe you know God can bless His children; maybe you just don’t think He will bless you. I’ve been there and it is a terrible feeling, to think that you’re the exception. So what is the remedy? How do we dispel despair? Ezra Taft Benson gave a great talk where he said, “As the showdown between good and evil approaches with its accompanying trials and tribulations, Satan is increasingly striving to overcome the Saints with despair, discouragement, despondency, and depression…To help us from being overcome by the devil’s designs, the Lord has provided at least a dozen ways which, if followed, will lift our spirits and send us on our way rejoicing.”
So he actually lists 12 ways but I’ll just list a few here: there’s prayer, service, reading the scriptures, fasting, setting goals, and the hardest answer that we all hate, enduring to the end. On that he says, “There are times when you simply have to righteously hang on and outlast the devil until his depressive spirit leaves you…Even our master Jesus the Christ, while facing that supreme test of being temporarily left alone by our Father during the crucifixion, continued performing his labors for the children of men, and then shortly thereafter he was glorified and received a fullness of joy. While you are going through your trial, you can recall your past victories and count the blessings that you do have with a sure hope of greater ones to follow if you are faithful. And you can have that certain knowledge that in due time God will wipe away all tears and that “eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.”
Hope is essential to our endurance. When you’re confident, optimistic, enthusiastic, and patiently persevering, how hard can enduring really be? Hope is all light and optimism and looking forward, it gives us a backbone when dealing with trials because when you know hardships won’t last forever, when you know what the Lord has promised you and you believe he will deliver, you know you can righteously hang on. Hope makes our pains easier to bear. It’s keeps us firmly planted in the light of Christ so that we’re not tossed to and fro, carried about with every wind.
Hope is knowing that this is not it, that Heavenly Father has so much better in store for us. Hope is specifically important to me because of these three principles, it’s probably the hardest for me. I’ve never been able to choose my reaction well. But I’m trying to learn that though I allow circumstances to drag me back and forth, that I’m not always grounded and settled in my faith, that I am prone to wander, hope keeps you safe and still in the face of any storm. It “maketh an anchor to the souls of men.”
Finally, I would like to talk about unkindness. Though, if I’m being honest, the extreme opposite of charity is actually hatred. At the extreme, it’s the tragedies we’re seeing too often–the attacks in Paris and Beirut and Kenya and now Mali, it’s the violence and contention we see here, it’s the tragic deaths of Trayvon Martin and Eric Garner and so many others like them. It’s the tragedies that are becoming more and more common in this seemingly faithless, hopeless, uncharitable world. There are so many hard and complicated issues we’re facing that won’t be easily solved. But I just have to wonder what could one ounce of the perfect love of Christ have done to soften them? What could it do now to treat them? What can charity do in our everyday lives? Well, I’ll tell you what the lack of charity looks like in our everyday lives. It’s unkindness. It’s refusing to forgive, it’s gossiping, it’s not giving the benefit of the doubt, it’s being and even worse staying offended, it’s reacting before understanding, it’s looking down on others. It’s selfishness, it’s an unwillingness to serve, it is unkindness. Now, that’s a lot. I know I’ve been guilty of some if not all of those things. Fortunately for all of us, there is one weapon to fight all of these enemies. It’s the obvious answer; it’s the answer to these questions found in one of my favorite hymns: Who can understand? Where is my solace? Where is the quiet hand to calm my anguish? Where can I run? Where can I turn for peace? And the answer, the weapon we have to fight off every evil is simply our lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We dispel the natural man, we stamp down unkindness, we become charitable through emulating him. In his service and love and selflessness. It’s through applying the Atonement in our lives by repenting and relying on his grace. It’s through coming closer to him in everything we do, everything we say, and everything we feel.
And that is intimidating. Faith, hope and charity are intimidating. And while they are these perfect principles, they are attributes we can develop right here, right now, starting today. Does despair sound intimidating? Does doubt? Does unkindness? No. They’re everywhere. You can fall into them so easily. Doubt plagues our testimonies, unkindness plagues social media and our world, and despair plagues our hearts and our spirits. They seem to be a part of everyday life. Faith, hope, and charity can be as well. They can be instead. They can replace the natural tendencies we have to doubt what we can’t see, despair in our trials and treat those around us like they’re our enemies and not our brothers and sisters. We don’t have to live with doubt, despair, and unkindness. We can thrive in their opposites.
These are things I struggle with. I have no right to preach this because I am down in the trenches trying to figure this out. Because in the short term, doubt is so much easier than faith. Living in despair sometimes seems like it takes less effort than trying to hope. Unkindness is certainly easier than the compassion and service involved in becoming charitable. But one of my favorite song lyrics puts it perfectly: sometimes the hardest thing and the right thing are the same. I would contend that almost always the hardest thing and the right thing are the same. But I have a desire to believe and to do what’s right and to be able to do the hard thing. And sometimes, that’s all I have. I have to learn to hold on to that desire and let it carry me through the worst of my doubts, my despair, and my lack of charity. I encourage all of you to hold on to whatever it is keeping you here. Whatever brought you to church today, whatever will take you into the second hour and the third. Hold on to that personal iron rod. Because it is only here, it is only through Jesus Christ and his gospel that we can have strong faith, a sure hope, and perfect charity. And I guess that’s my testimony. To just hold on. And maybe that’s not the most comforting but I promise you that doubt will never feel as good as faith. Despair is a poison to endurance and hope is the healing balm. Unkindness will always hurt where charity will always heal. It’s easier said than done but I believe that if we keep saying it, we will find a way to do it.
Happy Sunday, everybody.