Saturday, September 8, 2007

Lacunae, Part 1a - Faith & Knowledge

There are two kinds of people in this world: those who do not question their faith and those who live by questioning. These two groups are most commonly referred to as the “sheep” and the “apostates.”

Between these two extremes, I have observed several points in LDS doctrine where something seems to be missing. Almost every personal struggle with the Gospel I have heard or felt manifests within these doctrinal lacunae. I have thought and prayed, seeking the Spirit to teach me about these things, some of which never bothered me until I realized I could not explain them to one who is bothered by them. Others have concerned me to the point of near obsession. This is the first installment of a series of entries I plan to write as I begin to try to reconcile these seeming gaps. They are not intended to trump or belittle any struggles someone may have, they are meant to illustrate and document my own search for understanding.

The first concern that I see lying under so many of the concerns of the questioning mind is that of faith. In theological disagreements, labels of “unfaithful” and “blindly obedient” are often applied. I would like to examine, briefly, the definition of faith. Whenever faith is presented as a topic, the speaker generally brings up Alma 32:21, “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.” Mostly, the focus is given on “not seen” and “true.” This scripture seemingly dichotomizes faith and knowledge, placing them at two ends of the spectrum, other than their shared property of truth. It is important to note, however, that it is a perfect knowledge that exists in the absence of faith. As is clear when one reads the rest of the chapter, it is possible to possess both faith and knowledge. Lectures on Faith 1:7 gives a clearer definition of faith as a “moving cause of action.” Faith is actually the driving force behind the search for knowledge. If you did not believe knowledge was attainable, you would not seek it. Similarly, if you believed you had already attained all knowledge, your faith would be dead. A possession of faith is necessary to gain knowledge. This concept indicates that it is possible to be without true faith on both “sides” of the theological spectrum, and also indicates that it is possible to be faithful on both “sides” of the theological spectrum.

With that in mind, I'm going to tender a possibility that some will consider quite offensive, but is an attempt to help bridge the lacuna between the “unfaithful” and the “blindly obedient.” It is often true that those who are the most obedient to the precepts of the Gospel possess the least faith. An easy way to judge this in yourself is to ask yourself the question, “Do I believe I understand the fullness of the Gospel?” If your answer is “yes,” your faith is absent, or “dormant” as Alma taught his listeners. Those deemed the “unfaithful” by other members of the Church must ask themselves a very similar question. An easy way to measure faith on this side is to ask yourself the question “Am I seeking answers, believing God will answer me?” Note that both of these two questions should be asked of yourself, on whichever “side” you believe you are.

Since this has already become quite wordy, and since I've not posted in some time, I would like to leave the examination of the knowledge side of this gap for my next post.


  1. This is a very interesting way of looking at faith. After asking myself the question, “Do I believe I understand the fullness of the Gospel?” I guess my "faith" has grown into "knowledge" regarding quite a few principles of the Gospel; but I rely on a fairly large amount of faith to enable me to be very comfortable with the things I don't understand. What I feel I do “know” gives me the courage and determination to trust God on the points I don't yet "know."

    Regarding the second question, “Am I seeking answers, believing God will answer me?” I have to say that there are particular points of doctrine or present-day practice in the Church which are disturbing to some, but about which I don't even bother to ask God, because they don't bother me.

    I guess it is faith that enables me to trust that someday all will be revealed (in this life or the next); and if definitive answers have been withheld from the general membership regarding many things, there is probably a good reason for letting us bumble along for now.

    Maybe one of the reasons is that we are, after all, being tested to let us see what our most basic inclinations are. Hence the veil we experience in mortality. Too much "knowledge" bestowed indiscriminately can inhibit our agency to choose what we really want, as opposed to what may seem expedient.

    However, I am very curious about many things (even if I don't agonize over them), and anxious to learn from the insight of others.

    I eagerly look forward to your forthcoming posts. :)

  2. Thank you for reminding me of the definition of faith. I definitely have a HOPE that God lives and loves me, but I have no such knowledge. I am back to the point of not understanding even part of the fullness of the gospel, and am seeking answers, but only HOPING that God will answer me, not so much believing he will.

    It's a long way down from feeling like you understand most of the gospel to understanding none of it, but at least there's the hope.

  3. I guess it is faith that enables me to trust that someday all will be revealed (in this life or the next); and . . . there is probably a good reason for letting us bumble along for now.
    This, Roann, summarizes my position on knowledge quite nicely. In researching these topics in the scriptures, however, an idea that this position is insufficient has been confirmed to me. That is what I will address in my next post on Knowledge.

    Woundedhart - thank you for your comment. You touch on a point of faith that I haven't yet discussed, but I hope to discuss more when I talk about knowledge. A hope that something is real is faith. There is nothing wrong with that faith if it leads you to seek knowledge. The typically-quoted Alma scripture I mentioned goes into great detail about this sort of faith. He compares it to a seed.

  4. I think I will let this sink in before I read part two. I know to my family who are nonmembers, they may think that I have been a blind follower as they do not know of my own journey and thoughts that I seldom share with them as well as answers to my prayers.

  5. Hm. So how does faith fit into the whole action thing?

    I guess I'm thinking of the fact that "the world was created by faith" (The Discourses of Wilford Woodruff, p.62). I think there is more to faith than just as relates to knowledge.


  6. M&M - Oh, there is definitely more to faith than as relates to knowledge. Faith is all the things I've mentioned and more. It is the hope, it is the evidence, it is also the driving motivation. More than these, it is a power.

    I believe that faith has levels we haven't even touched. It is a very real power which we tend to deny because we don't understand it. Though in these posts, I'm focusing on how faith relates to knowledge in an attempt to reconcile the seeming dichotomy, I'll talk a little more about the ultimate nature of faith in my last post on this subject. I'm just trying to figure out how to be concise about it.

  7. OK, sorry for derailing you in my comments.

    Along this line, then, have you read this by Terryl Givens?

  8. M&M - Don't worry about derailing. You raised very good points. I have often felt that there is a power of faith that I have access to, but am afraid to use. I believe in order to stop being afraid, I have to perfect my love for God and His children. In other words, to reach the truest level of faith, one must attain true charity.

    Thank you for posting that link. It has framed feelings that I have had for a very long time in simple and compelling prose. I particularly like the very last paragraph.

    "But his message also flamed forth because millions of men and women have freely chosen to believe. They assayed the opinions of doubters, and they gave a hearing to the critics. Like Brigham Young, they knew Joseph was human and subject to err, but they sampled his words and agreed they tasted like honey. They weighed the beauty of a god and of human origins and a human future unlike anything before imagined. They found reason to doubt, and they found reason to believe. They chose to believe."

    Perhaps this is the key so many miss. Faith is not about understanding. It is about agency.

  9. That paragraph was my favorite, too.


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