As I read in 1 Nephi 17 this morning I’m struck by how dumb the children of Israel who were led by Moses through the wilderness appear to be. As Nephi says in verse 30:
And notwithstanding they being led, the Lord their God, their Redeemer, going before them, leading them by day and giving light unto them by night, and doing all things for them which were expedient for man to receive, they hardened their hearts and blinded their minds, and reviled against Moses and against the true and living God.
It would be one thing if Moses were just some guy who said “Hey, let’s go live in the desert!” But there had been the plagues in Egypt, including the death of all firstborn children except those of the Israelites, the Israelites were fed with manna, saw water come from a rock, and witnessed numerous other miracles and yet still rebelled. Despite all sort of evidence they wanted to believe something different. They could have had everything they could ever have dreamed of, but instead they died in the desert and their children were the ones who inherited the promised land.
Are we that different? What promises does God make to us that we reject through our lack of faith? Any why faith, anyway?
From the story of the children of Israel it would seem the lesson is that to make it to the promised land one must have faith and be willing to do God’s will even in the face of apparently conflicting information. It wasn’t that the Israelites didn’t want what God promised, but at some level they didn’t believe him. Maybe some of them weren’t really sure God even existed. Maybe they thought Moses was just a clever guy. Maybe some of them were just going with the flow when they left Egypt, and hey, living in the desert wasn’t great but it was better than being whipped in Egypt, but you want me to go fight in a war and maybe get killed? No thanks, I’ll just hang out here in my tent. Maybe some of them believed in God, but weren’t sure Moses was really talking to God. Who knows? But for one reason or another most of them rejected Moses and therefore rejected God, and lost out on the blessings God had intended for them.
God could have made it easy for the Israelites. He could have wiped out their enemies, made the land beautiful, and said “Here you go!” and let them walk right in. Why didn’t God do this? Logically it must have been because God is omniscient, and could see that this would lead to something worse than doing things the way he ultimately did direct things to be done. Likewise why doesn’t God just make everything work out for us? Why can’t I get a job I love that pays me a ton of money? Why am I not rich? Why don’t all marriages succeed? Why doesn’t God just give me everything I want? Or at least why doesn’t God just tell me what he wants me to do? Why do I have to struggle forward in the dark, not knowing for sure what I’m supposed to be doing, having to make my own choices, and mistakes, and then suffering the consequences? I’m a good person, why do bad things happen to me? I don’t know, all I know is that if that were the best thing for us, that’s what God would do, so it must not be the best thing for us.
We can speculate and easily come up with potential reasons as to why God works by faith, rather than just telling us everything and giving us everything we want. For one, if everything were revealed to us and we had everything we want, what would be the point of life? There would be nothing to be learned, no challenges to overcome, nothing to prove. We would be robots, animals, dogs. True, there would be no Hitlers, no child molesters, no suffering, but there would also be no Gandhis, no Mother Teresas, no MLKs, and no Oscar Schindlers. There would be no noble human spirit, no honor, nothing to admire, nothing to aspire to. The suffering is taken care of through Jesus Christ, so it’s merely temporary. But the heroic actions last forever. This by itself is interesting, but perhaps not enough to justify the need for faith.
Perhaps then it is because we simply aren’t capable of processing all the information needed to lead us back to God, and therefore any other method than faith is simply inefficient. When I drive a car I do not understand completely how it works. I know some of the basics, but it would take me a lifetime or more to understand every detail, the metallurgy involved in making parts, the electrical systems, etc. If everyone felt a need to understand everything about a car before driving in one, nobody would drive. Likewise if everyone felt a need to understand everything about God and his plan prior to following it, nobody would ever get around to following it. I might be interested in and choose to learn about how cars work, and I might choose to learn more about the details about God’s plan, but just as car manufacturers spend time figuring out how to build cars that people who don’t understand cars can drive safely, God has figured out a way for his children to return to him without having to understand all the details. But just as I must exercise faith to get into a car and drive it, that is, faith that it will work as I am used to cars working, I must exercise faith in God’s plan in order for it to do me any good. This brings an element of fairness to things, because if only people who completely understood God’s plan could follow it, there would be precious few people capable of returning to God. But through faith, even a child or the most uneducated among us is capable of taking all the appropriate steps. Is this why we must exercise faith?
If this life is a test, then that is certainly a supporting reason for faith. If part of the purpose of this life is to test us so that we can prove to God and ourselves who we really want to be, then giving us all knowledge would ruin the test. Who wouldn’t do all the right things if they had all knowledge? Ok, as Mormons we know about a 1/3 of God’s children didn’t, but with the remaining 2/3 we know they already made the right choice when they had full knowledge. But of course there are some who might make the right choice with full knowledge, but make the wrong choices if they don’t have full knowledge. Someone who will make the right choices when the have full knowledge, but the wrong choices without full knowledge, may not be the kind of person who really wants to return to live with God or be like him. So by removing our knowledge and sending us here, we are able to show ourselves and God who we really want to be. But since the knowledge is gone, we naturally end up relying on faith to get by. In this sense faith is not so much a means to an end, but rather a natural consequence of the situation.
These reasons all seem like fair reasons for the existence and necessity for faith, but are there other reasons? Is there yet one big Reason for faith? Or am I looking too hard, when I should just take faith on faith?