Continued from part one.
Before one can talk about the faith of God, faith itself must be defined.
Small English Lesson – Faith is a Noun
Modern dictionaries do not give the scriptural definition of faith, as they record modern and ancient usage of terms, which may or may not correspond to the scriptures, however, they are, at least, helpful in determining whether faith is a noun, a verb, an adverb, etc. If you consult a good dictionary, you’ll find that faith is used as a noun most times, unless it is used in its archaic, transitive verb form. The archaic, transitive verb form is not used, to my knowledge, in the scriptures. An example of the archaic use would be the sentence, “I faith all that you say to me.” As a transitive verb, the construction in a sentence would be “to faith [something].” We no longer use this awkward construction in modern speech, and, as I said, in the scriptures it is always used as a noun. So, let’s begin this discussion by considering faith as a noun.
Scriptural Definition of Faith
The definition of faith can be assembled by some of the prophetic teachings found in the scriptures. As faith is a concept revealed from heaven, it is of no concern what we, the dictionary authors or anyone else give as the definition of faith, the important thing is to get the correct, heavenly-given definition, which comes from the scriptures.
Paul taught that “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1). He also taught that faith comes by hearing the word of God preached. (See Rom. 10: 14-17.) Alma taught that “faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things” and also that if we have faith, we “hope for things which are not seen, which are true.” (See Alma 32: 21.) He also explained that exercising the smallest bit of faith (“a particle of faith”) is nothing more than desiring to believe. (See Alma 32: 27.) Moroni, in my opinion, gave the clearest definition of faith when he said, “faith is things which are hoped for, and not seen” (Ether 12: 6).
I’ll come back to these scriptures later…
Faith as hope (noun) or to hope (verb)
I find that when discussing faith with LDS, the general definition given by them is “a hope of things not seen which are true.” I imagine they are extrapolating this definition from Alma 32: 21. They may also be getting it from the LDS Bible Dictionary, which states in the opening sentence on its entry on faith, “faith is to hope for things which are not seen, but which are true.” This grammatically incorrect sentence defines faith (a noun) as a verb (“to hope”). (The only way to cause the opening Bible Dictionary sentence to make grammatical sense is to understand that the author meant to put the words “to have” in front of faith, so that it reads “to have [verb] faith [noun] is to hope [verb] for things [noun]…” The second sentence of the entry does this very thing when it states, “To have [verb] faith [noun] is to have [verb] confidence [noun]…” The second sentence is grammatically correct, everything on one side of the “is” equalling everything else on the other side of the “is.” This could and should have been done with the opening sentence.) Even if we assume that the Bible Dictionary author was referring to the archaic, verb form of faith and not the noun form, the use of the word in the sentence is in the intransitive form, instead of the correct transitive form. So, whether used as a noun or a verb, the sentence is grammatically incorrect and makes no sense whatsoever. To illustrate, put any noun in the place of faith, for example, “Car [noun] is to hope [verb] for things…” It doesn’t make sense. But if you say, “To drive [verb] is to hope [verb] for things…” that makes more sense because you are stating a verb is a verb, not a noun is a verb. Had the author used faith correctly as an archaic, transitive verb, it should have read, “To faith [something] is to hope for things…” Okay, enough with invalidating this messy Bible Dictionary sentence.
(I pick on the Bible Dictionary’s grammar not to make a grammatical statement, which really isn’t all that important, as English is not a static language and its rules of grammar do and will continue to change. I pick on it because the entry’s author contributes to the strange custom that people have of calling faith “an action word.” Action words are verbs, of course, hence the tendency to incorrectly define faith, which is scripturally a noun, as a verb, such as to hope. The Bible Dictionary’s opening sentence contributes to this confusion and also to the modern trend of corruption of the English language. For example, the phrase “I couldn’t care less about that,” which grammatically means “that is the least of all the things I care about” has been corrupted into “I could care less about that,” which grammatically means “that is not the least of all the things I care about.” People still retain the meaning of the original phrase, but now, due to the laziness of speaking the necessary “n’t,” it means the opposite of its grammatical meaning. This is language corruption.)
Alma 32: 21 does not state that faith is a hope, only that if we have faith, we “hope for things which are not seen, which are true.” The faith-equals-hope definition arrived at by many LDS is an extrapolation from this scripture. Alma does not say, “to have faith is to hope for things which are not seen, which are true,” but instead he says, “if ye have faith, ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true.” The two statements are saying entirely different things. In the first, Alma would be categorically stating that faith is hope, which of course he isn’t saying. In the second, Alma is stating that hope (or hoping) accompanies faith (or the possession of faith). This is a big difference that is lost to many people. It is like saying, “If you have this, you do that.” Or, “if you have chicken pox, you scratch your skin.” Having chicken pox and scratching skin are not the same things, but scratching skin accompanies having chicken pox. They go hand in hand, but are not the same thing. (I wish there were more English language majors among our people, instead of business and law majors, as these mistakes would not be made as often as they are.)Despite the lack of English majors in the church, I still find it strange that the LDS have the widespread tendency to think of faith as hope, given that our scriptures emphasize that there are three grand principles (faith, hope and charity) and the scriptures do not confuse faith as hope or hope as faith.
I suppose before I move on, I ought to define hope. I’ll use the dictionary definition, as it is scripturally accurate in this instance. To hope is “to desire with expectation of obtainment.”
Faith is power to obtain or to create or to do [whatever]
A person can hope all they want and yet never obtain. They can desire lots of things and expect to obtain or receive them all and still their desires may remain unfulfilled. Faith, though, is different. When a person possesses faith, he possesses power to obtain something or to create something or to do something. He has power to obtain whatever it is that he hopes for, or whatever it is that he “desires with expectation of obtainment.” This is why hope always accompanies faith. Once faith is possessed, the individual can now expect to receive according to his desires. This is why Ether taught that “hope cometh of faith” (Ether 12: 4). Another example of this principle is found in Helaman’s words. After he and his soldiers poured out their hearts to God in prayer, the Lord gave them faith (assurances, peace to their souls, great faith) and then they were able to hope:
Helaman said, “Yea, and it came to pass that the Lord our God did visit us with assurances that he would deliver us; yea, insomuch that he did speak peace to our souls, and did grant unto us great faith, and did cause us that we should hope for our deliverance in him. ” (Alma 58: 11)
When faith is dormant
Alma on the dormancy of faith:
Yea, there are many who do say: If thou wilt show unto us a sign from heaven, then we shall know of a surety; then we shall believe. Now I ask, is this faith? Behold, I say unto you, Nay; for if a man knoweth a thing he hath no cause to believe, for he knoweth it. (Alma 32: 17-18 )
And now as I said concerning faith—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. (Alma 32: 21)
Now, as I said concerning faith—that it was not a perfect knowledge—even so it is with my words. Ye cannot know of their surety at first, unto perfection, any more than faith is a perfect knowledge. (Alma 32: 26)
Now behold, would not this increase your faith? I say unto you, Yea; nevertheless it hath not grown up to a perfect knowledge. (Alma 32: 29)
And now, behold, is your knowledge perfect? Yea, your knowledge is perfect in that thing, and your faith is dormant; and this because you know, for ye know that the word hath swelled your souls, and ye also know that it hath sprouted up, that your understanding doth begin to be enlightened, and your mind doth begin to expand. (Alma 32: 34)
Alma explained that faith is not a perfect knowledge, but that faith can grow into a perfect knowledge. He also explained that once faith grows into perfect knowledge, faith becomes dormant. If knowledge is given from the get-go via sight (“show us a sign” Alma 32: 17), there is no cause to believe, or faith cannot be engendered. Therefore, if a thing is seen or if one has perfect knowledge of a thing, faith goes down to a zero value in that thing.
The knowledge and sight of God
This brings up an interesting dichotomy when faith is applied to God. God sees all things, both past, present and future. “But they reside in the presence of God, on a globe like a sea of glass and fire, where all things for their glory are manifest, past, present, and future, and are continually before the Lord” (D&C 130: 7). He also is omniscient, or all-knowing, both of the past, present and future. “But the Lord knoweth all things from the beginning” (2 Nephi 9: 6). “O how great the holiness of our God! For he knoweth all things, and there is not anything save he knows it” (2 Nephi 9: 20).
So, based on these evidences, it would appear that faith cannot apply to God, or that God cannot exercise faith. It would seem that my ex co-worker, the monk, was correct in his assessment that God did not have faith, but accomplished (and accomplishes) all things according to his knowledge (and sight) of all things.
But there may be more than meets the eye here…
Next Faith of God article: The faith of God, part three
Previous Faith of God article: The faith of God, part one