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Teachings of Howard W. Hunter Lesson 21: "Faith and Testimony"

The gospel of Christ is learned on at least two levels. First, there is the intellectual learning. This includes what we learn from books and from conversations with others. Most of us live for years on this level. Second, there is the spiritual awakening. When we begin to yearn for better understanding, and we begin to apply the principles of faith, this is when the Spirit enters the picture, and we begin to see things in a whole new light.

In this lesson, we talk about President Hunter’s journey into the spiritual realm of life and how faith and testimony work together to reveal to us the greatness of the plan of salvation.

In the introduction, we read about the Sunday School class President Hunter attended, where an inspired teacher, Brother Peter A. Clayton, was able to awaken within him a desire to know more than just what he was reading in the books. Brother Clayton was able to instill in President Hunter a thirst for understanding—not just the mechanics of the plan of salvation, but the why behind the commandments.

Through Faith

“The supreme achievement of life is to find God and to know that He lives.” Here are some questions to consider as you think your way through this lesson: Why is finding God and knowing that He lives the supreme achievement? There are many great things we can accomplish in this life, so to say that knowing God lives is the highest (supreme) achievement says a lot. Why would this knowledge be more important than knowing the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon or that Joseph Smith is the prophet of the Restoration? Is there anything about knowing the reality and existence of God that acts as a foundation for everything else we do? If so, how?

President Hunter went on to say, “Like any other worthy accomplishment, this can only be obtained by those who will believe and have faith in that which at first may not be apparent.” Does faith always have to start out with believing in something we cannot see? What makes something we exercise faith in become apparent later on? What happens to enable us to “see” things now that we could not see before?

An important point here is that things of the Spirit—things of eternity—are not discernable by the natural man. The natural man is not concerned with the things of God, so he doesn’t seek to know about Him. When we begin to put off the natural man by conforming to the commandments of God, the Lord begins to reveal to us our birthright, the knowledge of eternity, and how to become godly.

It is the exercise of faith—believing in that which we cannot yet see—that begins the transformation. Faith is a principle of power, and it is this active power of believing in and acting on what we have not yet seen proof of that allows the Lord to change us. Because we are willing to put our trust in His word and His promises before we have had them proven to us, He sends the Spirit to reveal their truth to us. We have obeyed the commandment that brings a specific set of blessings, so even though we had no visual proof of its truthfulness, our obedience has earned us the blessings of that commandment. See Doctrine and Covenants 130:20–21. Part of the blessings we receive when we obey a commandment is the revelation of the truthfulness of that commandment.

Obtain Knowledge

President Hunter talks about the path we need to follow in order for us to learn about the reality of God. The path of which he speaks is not just an intellectual path where we learn from reading, seeing, or hearing about God. This path requires that we become something different than what we have been.

The process of coming to know God is a personal development that happens as we exercise faith in the teachings and word of God. As He reveals the truths of eternity to us, our hearts are changed little by little. As our desires change, our disposition to act in certain ways also changes. We begin to understand God and His ways because we are slowly becoming like Him.

This is why the pathway to perfection is so difficult. It takes practice and effort on a constant basis to implement the changes we need to make. It requires repentance and sincerity, patience and perseverance.

In James 1:5, we are taught that prayer is a key to learning more about God. We are promised that if we will go and pray, nothing doubting, then the Lord will reveal wisdom to us that we cannot gain in any other way. Prayer is our window into the eternities. By faith, through prayer, we are able to get glimpses of that which we cannot otherwise see.

Believe In Order to See

Satan, of necessity, must downplay and prevent belief. Belief is the beginning of faith, which leads to conversion. He therefore demands proof before belief. He knows this is contrary to the path back to God, but, oh, how simple and logical it seems: “Show me first, then I will believe.”

Revelation is based on faith first. Believe and act on that belief. Then, and only then, the Lord will reveal his knowledge to us. This is why Satan requires the opposite: proof first. Proof first does not provide any personal growth. It is the lazy way out, because it requires no effort. Because it requires no effort, it can easily be discarded and ignored. This way ignorance of spiritual things remains unchallenged, and Satan has the power he needs to destroy the redemption of mankind.

One of the great lessons Thomas the apostle missed is that once we have embarked on the road of faith, we need to use our past experiences to help fuel our faith in current circumstances. Only in this way can we build our faith. The more we use our faith, the more difficult our challenges will become. Only if we remember what the Lord has proven to us in the past will we be able to muster greater trust for the new challenges we face.

How many times had Thomas seen miracles happen? How many times have we seen evidences of the Lord’s tender mercies on a regular basis? When the going becomes difficult, we need to remember all those times that we had evidences of His intervention and blessings, and rely on those memories to get us through our current trials with greater faith.

When times are difficult, it can be hard to remember that the Lord sees the end from the beginning. There are no surprises with the Lord. If we are commanded to do something, then we can have perfect confidence that it is the right thing to do. The Lord would not give us a commandment to go and do something if there wasn’t a blessing in the outcome of what we were told to do.

Acting on Our Faith

Too often we fall under the impression in the Church that if we question something, then we are faithless and apostate. Nothing could be further from the truth. When it comes to gaining a testimony of something, we must first question, consider, and possibly even doubt. We need to struggle; that is part of the process of learning and growing.

When we have spent the time and energy needed to weigh and consider what we know with what we are being told to believe, we use our agency to choose what we feel is best and right. This increases our strength and resolve in what we have chosen to follow.

President Hunter says in the lesson, “I have sympathy for young men and young women when honest doubts enter their minds and they engage in the great conflict of resolving doubts. These doubts can be resolved, if they have an honest desire to know the truth, by exercising moral, spiritual, and mental effort. They will emerge from the conflict into a firmer, stronger, larger faith because of the struggle. They have gone from a simple, trusting faith, through doubt and conflict, into a solid substantial faith which ripens into testimony.”

The principle behind faith is the need to go and do something. Faith cannot exist without change happening. Faith causes the change. When we put our belief in a commandment of God, we have to go and live that commandment. This is how we demonstrate that we have faith: we do something about what we profess to believe.

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