The following is an excerpt from Gerald N. Lund's book Divine Signatures: The Confirming Hand of God.
If we are to endure successfully to the end in these troubled and perilous times, we must strengthen our faith and deepen our testimony. Those two concepts—faith and testimony—are so intertwined with each other that we cannot speak of one without at least implying the other. It is not possible to have a deep and abiding testimony without strong and lasting faith. Therefore, let us begin our quest by talking about faith.
In a series of lectures given in the School of the Prophets in Kirtland, Ohio, Joseph Smith outlined some requirements for developing strong faith.* After addressing what faith is, and the object upon which it rests (viz., God), Joseph then outlined three requirements necessary for individuals to have true faith:
Let us here observe, that three things are necessary in order that any rational and intelligent being may exercise faith in God unto life and salvation.
First, the idea that he actually exists.
Secondly, a correct idea of his character, perfections, and attributes.
Thirdly, an actual knowledge that the course of life which he is pursuing is according to his will. For without an acquaintance with these three important facts, the faith of every rational being must be imperfect and unproductive.1
All three requirements involve some form of knowledge about God, and note the progressive nature of that knowledge. We move from an idea, to a correct idea, then to actual knowledge. Clearly, our faith is dependent on a knowledge of God, especially of His character and attributes. Let me say that again: Our faith is dependent upon our knowledge of God. If that is true, then we can also say: Our testimony also rests on our knowledge of God.
I think it would be safe to say that most members of the Church have already met the first requirement. Even young children have the idea that there is a God.
The Character, Attributes, and Perfections of God
In my younger years, I used to say that I thought the second requirement—having a correct idea of God’s character, perfections, and attributes—was also held by most members of the Church. And in a way, that’s true. They know that God is loving, kind, all-powerful, all-knowing, and so on. But over the years, I have come to realize why the word “correct” was emphasized in that second requirement. I also have come to better understand why Joseph added the word “perfections” alongside God’s attributes and character.
I have come to know that the second requirement can be a major stumbling block, even for those who believe in God as our loving Heavenly Father. It seems oddly contradictory, but there are numerous examples where individuals who believe in God still question the reality of His character and attributes. For example, a person who is deep in sin may believe that God is forgiving and long-suffering, but they can’t believe that this attribute would be extended to them. They feel that they have put themselves beyond the reach of God and that there is no hope for them.
Here is another example. Many years ago, a single sister in her mid-thirties was in my office. From the time she was a little girl all she had dreamed about was being a wife and mother. But she was a woman who was large in structure and quite tall. She thought of herself as “homely.” She was very intelligent and had a pleasing way with people, but men were not attracted to her. She had not had a date in many years. Now at thirty-five, the possibility that she might never marry and have children of her own left her desolate. Through her tears, she suddenly burst out, “Brother Lund, couldn’t God have made me beautiful like other women? And if so, why didn’t He?”
Only later did it occur to me that in her pain, she was questioning two of God’s attributes. Did He have the power to have put her in a beautiful body? And if His love was perfect, why hadn’t He done so?
Here is another example of how trusting in God’s attributes can be a source of strength in difficult times. Many years ago, a good friend of our family learned that she was pregnant. This had not been expected and she had been taking a medication that had serious side effects in unborn children. When she told her doctor that she was with child, he immediately recommended an abortion. “If the baby lives at all,” he said, “it will be severely handicapped and deformed.” She told him that she didn’t want an abortion, that she believed it was wrong. He was quite curt with her and told her that, in this case, it was a medical necessity, leaving her no choice.
Deeply troubled, she and her husband fasted and prayed about it. She felt strongly that she was to keep the child. As she explained this experience to my wife and me, she made this remarkable statement: “I believe that God can give us a miracle and let this baby be born healthy and normal. But, if He chooses not to do that, I am prepared to accept whatever happens, because I know that Heavenly Father will not ask anything of me that is not for my ultimate good and for the good of my child.”
What a remarkable affirmation of her understanding of God’s nature. When she announced her decision to the doctor, he was quite disgusted. But about seven months later, she gave birth to a perfectly healthy, normal, and delightful little baby.
Here was a woman of faith, and that faith had come from her understanding and testimony of God’s character and attributes.
An Actual Knowledge
The third requirement for faith, according to the Prophet, is that a person have “an actual knowledge that the course of life which he [or she] is pursuing is according to his will.” Now that requirement threw me when I first read it. “No,” I thought, “that’s backward. First you develop faith, and then you put your life in harmony with God’s will.” But Joseph says true faith depends on our knowing that our life is pleasing to God.
As I pondered that, I remembered an experience my wife and I had when we were first married. I was at BYU doing undergraduate work, and our first child—a little girl—was nine months old. I had to work full time to support myself in college. I was fortunate enough to be hired as a psychiatric attendant at the Utah Mental Hospital. I worked afternoon or evening shifts on a two-week rotating basis for the entire time I was in school.
At the hospital, I was assigned to the maximum-security ward. This was the ward where anyone with a criminal record or a history of violence was placed. We saw the dregs of society: burglars, armed robbers, gang members, rapists, murderers, a cop killer, and about every other kind of criminal you can name.
During those first years of our marriage, my assignment at the hospital, together with working full time, going to school full time, and waking up with the baby when I was home, left me pretty jaded. I was physically, emotionally, and spiritually drained.
I had let my spiritual nourishment slide. I couldn’t always make it to Church because of my work schedule. I stopped reading the scriptures entirely, and I prayed only occasionally. I was in a spiritual low.
One night my wife and I had been in bed only a short time when we heard a noise from the other bedroom. Our little girl was crying. When we went in, we found her gasping for breath between her wailing cries. She had a serious case of the croup. She was our first child, and seeing her in such difficulty was terrifying to us. Her whole body would stiffen as she tried to draw in air, and she made a terrible rasping sound I shall never forget.
Lynn immediately called the doctor. The moment she mentioned croup, he stopped her. “Tell your husband to take her into the bathroom,” he said. “Have him draw the shower curtain, then turn on the hot water full blast. Let the steam fill the room. This will help her to breathe more easily.”
I did so. As I sat in the bathroom, looking down into the face of this precious child, agonizing as I watched her struggle for every breath, a thought came to me: “You’re an elder in the Church. Why don’t you give her a blessing?” I dropped my head and looked away. The shame was as thick as the steam, for I knew I wasn’t worthy to bless her at that time. It was not that I was guilty of some serious sin, it was just that I wasn’t doing the things I knew the Lord expected of me.
Now think about that for a moment. Did I question God’s power and ability to heal her, or at least relieve her of her struggle? Not in any way. My problem was not with God. My problem was me. I knew at that moment that my life was not pleasing to Him. That’s what was weakening my faith. Now I understand the third requirement for faith. For a man to have faith he must have an actual knowledge that his life is pleasing to God.
As we begin our search for answers on developing faith and deepening testimony, let us keep this idea in the forefront of our thoughts.
“To Know God Is Life Eternal”
One of the most frequently quoted scriptures in the Church is John 17:3: “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou has sent.”
I can remember reading that one day as a young seminary teacher and thinking, “That’s all? Could it really be that simple? I believe in God and Jesus. I know about them. So have I now earned eternal life?” As comforting as the idea was, I was never quite comfortable with it. Surely there had to be more to it than that.
As the years passed, I thought about that concept many times, and I began to sense that “to know God” meant much more than to know of, or to know about God. Going to the temple expanded my understanding considerably.
President Spencer W. Kimball said this about the ordinance of the endowment:
One of the ordinances performed in the temple is that of the endowment, which comprises a course of instruction relating to the eternal journey of a man and woman from the pre-earthly existence through the earthly experience and on to the exaltation each may attain.2
As we are taught in the Doctrine and Covenants, the culmination of that journey will be when we “shall pass by the angels, and the gods, which are set there, to [our] exaltation and glory in all things” (D&C 132:19) and enter God’s presence. That gives a whole new and deeper meaning to the idea of “knowing God,” doesn’t it?
But there is another level of knowledge of God. We believe that exaltation is not just to live with God, but to become like Him. God has promised the faithful that they shall receive all that the Father has (see D&C 84:38) and become gods. To become like God will be to know Him as we can know Him in no other way. Ultimately then, to know God is indeed life eternal.
To know God on all of these different levels is the key to our happiness and will eventually lead us to a fulness of joy. But, according to Joseph Smith, it begins with faith, and faith depends on three things: The idea that God exists. A correct idea of His character, attributes, and perfections. And the actual knowledge that our life is pleasing to God.
Simply put, we must come to know God if we wish to develop the faith and testimony necessary to anchor us onto the bedrock. Otherwise, our foundation is in danger of collapsing when the storms of life descend. Remember, when we build our house upon the sand, everything is fine until the storms come.
^2. Spencer W. Kimball, The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, edited by Edward L. Kimball (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1982), 535.
^* Joseph Smith was “substantially involved” in both the preparation and publication of “Lectures on Faith” (see Encyclopedia of Mormonism, s.v. “Lectures on Faith”). For simplicity’s sake, I have credited Joseph Smith for them, though he may not have actually written all of them.
Lead image from Mormon Newsroom
Read more in Gerald N. Lund's profound book Divine Signatures: The Confirming Hand of God
As Latter-day Saints, we know God exists, but sometimes we may wonder, “Heavenly Father, are you really there for me?”
When trials seem beyond our ability to bear, some people lose their spiritual bearings, while others are made even stronger. How can we strengthen our faith and deepen our testimony to the point that we can endure whatever life holds in store for us and emerge stronger than before?
In this unique book, Gerald N. Lund shows how having a correct idea of God's character, perfections, and attributes is essential to our ability to strengthen our faith and develop our testimony.
He also reminds us of how much God loves His children and that He “delights” to bless us, especially when we are striving to do His will. As and example, Elder Lund introduces the idea of a divine signature: “Sometimes blessings come in such an unusual manner and with such precise timing that they accomplish something in addition to blessing us. They so clearly confirm the reality of God's existence that they buoy us up in times of trials.”
Throughout the book, Elder Lund relates story after story — some from Church history, some from his own life, and some from acquaintances — that illustrate the inspiring and life-changing insights he shares.
This book is a powerful blend of personal reflection and deep doctrine that will help us identify the tender mercies and “divine signatures” that abound in our own lives and which will lead us closer to God.