Blind Faith, but Big Faith

President Henry J. Eyring
BYU-Idaho President
January 14, 2020

I am grateful to be with you at the beginning of this new year. I appreciate Sister Eyring’s wonderful insights into faith. Her courage strengthens me. Particularly as we served a mission in Japan, Sister Eyring bolstered my faith that we could succeed in our challenging calling.

 

The Temptation to Doubt

 

I must confess that there were days when I doubted. In fact, doubt seems to be a prominent weapon in the war against the righteous, especially members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. From the moment Joseph Smith publicly disclosed his First Vision to a theretofore friendly minister, his declaration was dismissed and derided. Today, notwithstanding the Church’s size and increasingly global presence, it is similarly dismissed by many people. Even faithful Church members may be tempted to doubt, as some of the early Saints did.

 

Sometimes a particular concern becomes persistent. It might stem from a question of Church history or a seemingly outdated policy. Even more testimony-shaking can be perceived hard treatment received from a Church leader or a fellow member. With personal rumination and perhaps discussion with other people, the matter may cause a Church member or investigator to accept the concern as evidence that the Church is not on the proper course, even that it is untrue.

 

That outcome seemed to be common in the early years of the Church. Notwithstanding divine manifestations which included the ministering of heavenly beings—as Oliver Cowdery, Martin Harris, and David Whitmer experienced—more than a few such witnesses fell away from the Church. Some even became enemies of Joseph and the Saints. The adversary planted doubts and ill feelings in the hearts of many who had once believed firmly in—and sacrificed greatly for—the restored gospel and the leaders of the Church. 

 

Exercising “Big Faith”

 

This form of temptation remains a spiritual weapon against Latter-day Saints in our time. In fact, many of us have been beset by questions for which we have no clear intellectual answer. Likewise, we are sometimes tempted to pass judgment on the Church’s doctrines, policies, and even its leaders.

 

The best response to such concerns and doubts is not what some people call “blind faith.” A better response is “Big Faith.” Let me explain that phrase. The gospel of Jesus Christ, authored by Him and our Heavenly Father, is perfect. But it is not perfectly intuitive to those of us in mortality. Some gospel laws and Church policies, for example, may seem unduly strict and out-of-step with the times. And many shortcomings can be ascribed to the members of the Church, who are all human.

 

It is dangerous to doubt the truthfulness of the Church based on human behavior. Nor is there intellectual satisfaction or spiritual safety in challenging doctrines or policies that seem outdated. There is a better, surer way to renew and strengthen our faith. If doubts are persistent, we are well served by looking first to the biggest and boldest of the Church’s declarations. Among them are these three:

 

During His mortal ministry, the Savior miraculously suffered for the sins and sorrows of all people;

 

Joseph Smith saw Heavenly Father and the Savior, along with other heavenly messengers, who instructed him in establishing The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints;

Thanks to priesthood power, each of us can qualify daily for repentance and peace of mind.

Every human being can test these big, hard-to-comprehend truths. In fact, each of us needs a firm testimony of them. Thus, Heavenly Father has provided the way to receive such a testimony. Through faith, prayer, obedience, and repentance, we can receive a personal spiritual confirmation. It may take various forms, such as a burning in the bosom, feelings of peace, or clarity of thought. Such a confirmation, having come through priesthood ordinances, is a miracle which validates the Church and its representatives, as well as its doctrines and policies.

 

The Miracle of Forgiveness and Spiritual Healing

 

The first of these miracles, the miracle of forgiveness and spiritual healing, is a gift for which all of Heavenly Father’s children on earth can qualify. We chose to follow the Savior in our premortal existence. We shouted for joy upon learning that we could receive bodies, an essential step in becoming like our Heavenly Father. [1] Even then, we knew that mortality, with its bodily passions and earthly trials, would require a spiritual intermediary to bring us back to the presence of Heavenly Father. We surely felt deep appreciation for the Savior, who offered to play that essential role.

 

This premortal moment of joy and gratitude is veiled from our minds. Yet those who have made and kept the covenant of baptism can re-experience that joy and gratitude daily. The only requirement is to bring a broken heart to a personal communion with Heavenly Father. The Nephite prophet Enos did so one day as he was hunting, alone in the wilderness. He later reported this experience:

 

And my soul hungered; and I kneeled down before my Maker, and I cried unto him in mighty prayer and supplication for mine own soul; and all the day long did I cry unto him; yea, and when the night came I did still raise my voice high that it reached the heavens.

 

And there came a voice unto me, saying: Enos, thy sins are forgiven thee, and thou shalt be blessed. And I, Enos, knew that God could not lie; wherefore, my guilt was swept away.

 

And I said: Lord, how is it done?

 

And he said unto me: Because of thy faith in Christ, whom thou hast never before heard nor seen. And many years pass away before he shall manifest himself in the flesh; wherefore, go to, thy faith hath made thee whole. [2]

 

Each of us can pray for and receive the miracle of forgiveness and spiritual healing. But success depends upon our motives. We must want more than just relief from our burden of sin. We need to be ready to change our hearts and actions.

 

We must also be entirely selfless in our request for forgiveness and healing. The Apostle James taught us that. He warned the early Saints against praying for the fulfillment of selfish desires. James declared, “Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts.” [3]

 

I was guilty of offering such a selfish prayer toward the end of my time at the Provo MTC. I decided that it would be powerful to have a personal story of forgiveness to share with investigators of the Church. In a kneeling prayer, I asked Heavenly Father to give me an Enos-like experience. I wanted to testify authoritatively, based upon something more than the good feelings I enjoyed when reading the scriptures or saying personal prayers.

 

Of course, nothing came of that prayer, which was inherently selfish and vain. Nothing came because I needed nothing more—except greater humility and increased appreciation for the plan of salvation. I already had a testimony of the Church, conveyed to me first by my parents, as well as Primary and Sunday School teachers. As I recognized many years later, my sharing an Enos-like experience with investigators would have unintentionally made them feel that their more modest spiritual manifestations were inadequate.

 

That spiritual realization in the MTC led me to re-examine the source of my testimony. As a young boy, I trusted my mother’s declarations of faith. As I grew, the Holy Ghost touched me in similar moments of spiritual confirmation, such as bearing my testimony. I could feel the confirming burning of the bosom described in section 9 of the Doctrine and Covenants, a revelation given to Oliver Cowdery through Joseph Smith as they translated the Book of Mormon. [4] Even more convincing for me was the feeling of receiving forgiveness of my sins. Those moments of spiritual healing, which I still enjoy often, help me feel closer to the Savior and Heavenly Father. They bolster my testimony.

 

The Miracle of the Restoration

 

The second great miracle of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is its establishment through the Prophet Joseph Smith. With the exception of the Savior, no other person has played a more important role in mortality than Joseph did. President Nelson has said this:

 

Though Joseph was young and inexperienced, he had been foreordained from before the foundation of the world to be God’s prophet at this particular time. . . . [He was] tutored, trained, and prepared by heavenly beings. [5]

 

Soon after the martyrdom of Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum, John Taylor, who had been with those men when they were killed by a mob, said this of the Prophet:

 

Joseph Smith, the Prophet and Seer of the Lord, has done more, save Jesus only, for the salvation of men in this world, than any other man that ever lived in it. . . . He lived great, and he died great in the eyes of God and his people; and like most of the Lord’s anointed in ancient times, has sealed his mission and his works with his own blood. [6]

 

Though few people have received more scrutiny than the Prophet Joseph Smith, there is much about his life that is not fully understood or known with certainty. Joseph freely admitted his imperfections. [7] He was human, and he did his difficult work under tumultuous circumstances. Yet Hyrum Smith, John Taylor, and Willard Richards, colleagues who knew him best and saw him when things were at their worst, in Carthage Jail, remained faithful to him throughout their lives.

 

My grandfather Henry Eyring was similarly faithful to the Prophet Joseph, though they never met in this life. Grandpa Eyring was a scientist, a research chemist. He worked in a realm that requires the testing of hypotheses with mathematical rigor and experimental reproducibility, as well as peer review of findings.

Grandpa Eyring was good at this kind of testing. He knew that human science can only approximate the realities of our physical universe, which is animated by divine power. Though science allows us to split atoms and heal diseases, much of the physical universe—as well as the spiritual universe—is currently beyond scientific certainty. It will be many years and will probably require a move beyond the spiritual veil, before we can fully comprehend how Heavenly Father and the Savior manage our mortal experiences. Even then, it will likely take a very long time for us to understand and appreciate everything that they know.

 

Grandpa Eyring accepted that reality of this life. He was a dogged, patient learner. He loved to master the details of scientific phenomena. He also was a student of the scriptures and Church history. And, on occasion, he debated scientific matters with Church leaders. Yet Grandpa’s faith in the Church and the gospel was always big enough to transcend any uncertainty or doubt; his faith was unassailable. I’m grateful for this declaration in a book he wrote called The Faith of a Scientist:

 

May the Lord bless us to appreciate the life of the Prophet Joseph Smith and the wonderful message that he brought to us with the restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ to the earth. May we live and understand it in a big way and not worry about the small things that we do not understand very well, because they will become clearer as we go on. May we have the faith, as I have, that this gospel has only begun to grow. The things we believe are only a part of the things that are yet to be revealed, and if we do our part, our position is sure. We will indeed be exalted in the Celestial Kingdom and have the blessings which the Lord has promised for the faithful. [8]

 

The Miracle of Continuous Repentance

 

Grandpa Eyring’s testimony of the Church never wavered. But he was the first to admit that his behavior wasn’t always perfect. For example, Grandpa worked on his family’s ranch as a boy. Sometimes, when a four-legged creature wouldn’t behave, he admonished it with a four-legged word.

 

Grandpa, though, believed in continuous repentance, the third big miracle that can bolster our faith in the Church. Through priesthood power, each of us can qualify daily for repentance and the peace it brings. Grandpa’s belief in repentance shown through in one of the last conversations he and my father had, in 1981. President Eyring has recounted the experience this way:

 

As my father lay in his bed near death, I asked him if he didn’t think it was a time to repent and pray for forgiveness for any sins that were not yet resolved with God. He probably heard a little hint in my voice that he might fear death and the Judgment. He just chuckled quietly, smiled up at me, and said, “Oh no, Hal, I’ve been repenting as I went along.” [9]

 

There is no greater gift—and no greater source of gospel testimony—than repentance. Every day, even the most faithful, conscientious Latter-day Saint can find something to repent of. Especially in my interactions with other people, I never earn a perfect grade. Occasionally, I have to reflect thoughtfully on the day to recognize the need for repentance. But, much more often, I can easily identify my mistreatment of someone, my failure to perform a duty, or my overlooking the opportunity to bless someone with service that would have been easy to give.

 

Daily repentance should be the pattern of our lives. That’s true for those of us who, like the tax collector in the Savior’s parable, have reason to humbly pray, “God be merciful to me a sinner.” [10] But it was also true for the Savior’s righteous apostles. When, during the Last Supper, He declared, “One of you shall betray me,” they sorrowfully asked, “Lord, is it I?” [11]

 

We all have cause to repent. But that can be a blessing in disguise. Sincere repentance lifts our spiritual burdens, bringing peace and joy even in difficult or seemingly unfair circumstances. Repentance simultaneously acts as an antidote to pride. It humbles and motivates us to do better in the future. I pray that the feelings of the Spirit, particularly the joy of repentance, will continuously replenish our faith in and testimony of the Lord’s restored Church.

 

Dealing with Doubts

 

Of course, in this life we will always face challenges to our faith. Church members and even leaders will sometimes make mistakes and unintentionally give offense. And, until the Savior returns, the Church will be challenged by external forces as well. That is to be expected, given the reality of an adversary whose avowed purpose is to tempt and spiritually bind all of Heavenly Father’s children who chose to follow the Savior in the preexistence.

 

I am grateful for Church leaders, from Primary teachers to prophets, who have at times solemnly warned me away from paths that would have led to sorrow. I particularly appreciate parents, bishops, and a mission president who occasionally warned and corrected me. My initial reaction to correction is defensiveness. It is tempting to rationalize my behavior by finding fault in the correction or even in the person giving it.

 

Fortunately, I have been humbled and inspired by a metaphor shared by my father in April general conference of 1997, which happened to be a time when I was struggling professionally and spiritually. In a talk titled “Finding Safety in Counsel,” he said this:

 

Sometimes we will receive counsel that we cannot understand or that seems not to apply to us, even after careful prayer and thought. Don’t discard the counsel, but hold it close.  If someone you trusted handed you what appeared to be nothing more than sand with the promise that it contained gold, you might wisely hold it in your hand awhile, shaking it gently. Every time I have done that with counsel from a prophet, after a time the gold flakes have begun to appear and I have been grateful. [12]

 

Spiritual flakes of gold can be gathered not only from prophets but also from other Church leaders and from family members, especially our parents. Together we can nurture the “Big Faith” that will see us and the Church through to the time of the Savior’s return. The Nephite Prophet Jacob has given us hope of achieving “unshakable” faith in this life. [13] I hope to be on that path of spiritual certainty.

 

Still, this mortal existence has its share of disappointments, and I often rediscover that disappointment leads to discouragement. However, I try to be constantly on the lookout for even small bits of evidence that Heavenly Father is at work in my life. Journal-writing, along with thoughtful bedtime prayer, helps me see evidence that Heavenly Father knows and loves me and that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is led by the Savior, notwithstanding the turmoil and opposition inherent to our mortal realm.

 

 I also feel the need to steer clear of situations in which the adversary would put me on the defensive. There is no end to debating accusations of weakness in the Church’s doctrines, history, or members. Regardless of the allegation, the matter is settled for me by the relief and peace that comes as I daily renew my faith in the Savior’s Atonement, the Restoration of the gospel through Joseph Smith, and—above all—the relief and peace that comes from repentance.

 

I find courage and strength in applying the legal principle of stare decisis. That is a Latin term that means “the thing already decided.” Because of my faith in the Savior, in Joseph Smith and the restored gospel, and in daily repentance, I don’t need to go back to re-examine my beliefs or defend them in a kind of biased courtroom every time some new allegation against the Church is made. The choice to believe can be made once and for all.

 

In reality, human shortcomings and spiritual doubts aren’t the greatest threats to the Church and its members. Pride is. I know that from painful personal experience. Fortunately, I have been blessed by the example of faithful, humble Saints, particularly my parents. In their home the gospel was taught and lived naturally. Questions could be raised and doubts explored freely. No one felt constrained. Yet faith was the foundation of every word and deed.

 

May we all live this way, cultivating “Big Faith” that transcends the uncertainties and occasional doubts inherent to this mortal experience. Let us celebrate the Savior’s Atonement, which can save us from our sins, notwithstanding our inability to comprehend that free gift to all. Let us likewise celebrate the mission of the Prophet Joseph Smith and the current mission of President Russell M. Nelson. And let us, through daily repentance, put ourselves on the path to our home in heaven.

 

In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Notes:

 

[1] See Job 38:7.

[2] Enos 1:4–8.

[3] James 4:3.

[4] See Doctrine and Covenants 9:8.

[5] Savannah Hopkinson, “Read the First Presidency’s Testimonies of Joseph Smith, Martyred 174 Years Ago Today,” Church News, June 27, 2018; churchofjesuschrist.org/church/news/read-the-first-presidencys-testimonies-of-joseph-smith-martyred-174-years-ago-today?lang=eng.

[6] Doctrine and Covenants 135:3.

[7] See Joseph Smith—History 1:28.

[8] Cited in Mormon Scientist, 136–137.

[9] Henry B. Eyring, “Spiritual Preparedness: Start Early and Be Steady,” Ensign, Nov. 2005.

[10] Luke 18:13.

[11] Matthew 26:21–22.

[12] Henry B. Eyring, “Finding Safety in Counsel,” Ensign, May 1997.

[13] See Jacob 4:6.

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