“Now Abideth These Three,” Ensign, Sept. 1977, 7
One of the facets of the Lord’s way of teaching that has continued to fascinate me is his ability to interlace simplicity and profundity. His gospel offers a mental challenge to the most profound scholar and yet has attraction even to a small child. Its doctrines range as wide as the entire human experience, yet all truth can be circumscribed within the bounds of a few simple, central principles. One of these central focal points of the gospel message, the triad of faith, hope, and charity, is usually associated with the writings of the apostle Paul. (See 1 Cor. 13.) They appear again and again, however, throughout the Book of Mormon. I suggest that they provide a meaningful framework for our reading of the second half of the Book of Mormon this year.
Our course of study this year begins with a confrontation between the prophet Alma and the anti-Christ Korihor and leads us immediately into reflections centering in the principle of faith. (See Alma 30.) Korihor accuses Alma of basing his life on a faith that he cannot substantiate. In doing so, Korihor implies that his own life is grounded on a more certain foundation. That confrontation introduces, it seems to me, an important point that needs to be established in any discussion of faith.
I have wondered if faith ever exists in isolation, any more than love does. It seems meaningless to talk of being in love without an object for that love; it also seems purposeless to speak of a person having faith without any object for that faith. Usually faith is directed outward, toward someone or something, and everyone seems to possess it in one aspect or another. A person may or may not have faith in Christ or God, which is what the prophets imply when they discuss the principle, but he would still have faith in himself, if not in others. All of us trust someone or something even if that thing is as ethereal as an idea.
For a beginning—though I believe it has other dimensions—let us equate faith with trust. Whenever the prophets use the term faith, it seems proper to insert the words “in Christ” to capture the full meaning of their statements. As the Prophet Joseph Smith stated, directing our faith toward the Master—“faith in the Lord Jesus Christ” is the first principle of the life of the Saint. (See A of F 1:4.) Christ becomes our model as we strive to know and understand him: he charts the way; he embodies all truth; he provides the light in which the Christian works; he is the one in whom we place our full trust and confidence.
Our insights are enriched if we keep this in mind while reading the account of the confrontation between Alma and Korihor. The irony of Korihor’s arguments fairly sparkles when we recognize that every argument he put to Alma was an argument against his own stance. Both men had built a value system based on faith. Alma’s had been directed toward Christ. Korihor had placed his faith in himself. “Every man,” according to Korihor, “prospered according to his genius, and … every man conquered according to his strength.” (Alma 30:17.)
As Nephi suggested, it is always profitable to liken the scriptures to our own situation. (1 Ne. 19:23.) While reading through such accounts, it might be beneficial to examine our own lives. Where have we placed our faith, really? In whom or in what have we come to rely? Do we seek our happiness through participation in the work of the Master? or do we seek it in our employment? or do we seek it in our possessions? Does our life-style resemble Alma’s, or does it lean toward that of Korihor’s—not necessarily that we fight against Christ, but that we place too much faith in ourselves and our abilities independent of Christ?
In illustrating the meaning of faith, Alma has much to say. For example, while working among the apostate Zoramites (see Alma 32) he seems to imply that none of us will reach a point where we can set faith aside, entirely. It appears to be an eternal principle, one that we carl carry with us throughout eternity. As we pass from this life and stand in Christ’s presence, knowing of his existence with a perfect knowledge, our relationship to him will still be determined partially by our faith in him. For knowledge of Christ is not enough, as James indicates when he speaks of devils who know Jesus but do not follow him. (James 2:19.)
But if we will follow, we will discover how knowledge and faith work together.
Even so, he implies, one’s knowledge of all facets of existence will not be complete for some time. “After ye have tasted this light is your knowledge perfect? Behold I say unto you, Nay; neither must ye lay aside your faith.” (Alma 32:35–36.)
This teaching helps us to better understand the apostle Paul’s comment concerning the eternal nature of this triad: “And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three.” (1 Cor. 13:13.) The eternity that the term abideth refers to is reflected in a modern translation that reads, “In a word, there are three things that last for ever: faith, hope, and love.” (The New English Bible.) None among us, not even the most educated it would appear, reaches a condition where he can operate on the basis of knowledge alone, independent of faith.
Alma’s discussion of faith and its development is one of the most illuminating found in scripture. In fact, this entire segment of the Book of Mormon is doctrinally among the richest in all the standard works. As Alma—and his companion, Amulek—share their prophetic insights, we are presented one of the finest sermons on prayer (Alma 34:17–29), one of the most oft-quoted discussions concerning the avoidance of procrastinating our repentance (Alma 34:32–41), some of the most illuminating information we have on the “state of the soul between death and the resurrection” (Alma 40), and one of the most penetrating analyses to be found on the relationship of justice and mercy in the workings of the atonement. (Alma 42.)
These discourses of Alma, together with those of Moroni (Ether 12) and Mormon (Moro. 7), provide profound insights into the principle of faith. However, to me, the most compelling insights are those contained in the silent sermons suggested in the lives of such men of God as Moroni, the captain of the Nephite armed forces during more than a decade of war; Nephi, son of Helaman, who was given power over the elements because of the intensity of his faith in Christ; Samuel, the Lamanite prophet who willingly faced death among his people’s enemies in an effort to help them return to God; Nephi, the son of Nephi, who stood defiantly against the threats of death issued by the enemies of the church should Samuel’s prophecies not be fulfilled; the brother of Jared, who still remains a great exemplar of faith, a prophet who drew back the curtain of eternity to stand in the presence of the Lord, a man who moved mountains with the energy of his faith in Christ. Few stories of father and son are more moving than that of Mormon and Moroni, military men and prophets of God, bound not only by common bonds of blood, but also by a common faith, standing in almost total isolation among their enemies, determined to stand as witnesses of their faith in God until death.
Theories and sermons do much to explain faith; lives do more. This latter segment of the Book of Mormon, like that of the first, is rich with such men and women. If we, who are called to be modern Saints, think deeply on the significance of these lives, and strive to build our own faith more solidly in the Lord and his ways, it is doubtful that we can come away from a study of these scriptures this year without our own lives being deeply touched by the spirit of the Master.
The second thrust of the triad—hope—is demonstrated in the lives of the Book of Mormon saints as an element coexistent with faith. Where faith in Christ is demonstrated, comfort and the peace that surpasses all understanding are evident. Despair is absent and hope reigns in the soul. In many ways we might view hope as a companion element of faith. As Mormon notes: “How is it that ye can attain unto faith, save ye shall have hope?” (Moro. 7:40.) As we develop faith in Christ, hope is increased, a hope Moroni describes in the following manner:
“Wherefore, whoso believeth in God might with surely hope for a better world, yea, even a place at the right hand of God, which hope cometh of faith, maketh an anchor to the souls of men, which would make them sure and steadfast, always abounding in good works, being led to glorify God.” (Ether 12:4.)
Moroni’s insight is vital to an understanding of the principle of hope. It is the assurance of God that comes from placing one’s faith in him. It is born of faith. Its effect is that of providing an anchor to the souls of men that they can become steadfast in their service to others. Its strength is perhaps seen best in its opposite, despair. Our day, perhaps as much as or more than others, has witnessed the paralyzing effects of despair. Uncertain of which direction to turn for help, many in our generation have given up, either withdrawing from society or clutching at every new self-acclaimed messiah that comes along. Such faith is misplaced and soon reaps the further frustration of more disillusionment. Many of us know these cases intimately; they live around us and we see their faces nightly on television.
Having lost faith in others or in their circumstance, they soon lose faith in themselves. It seems that hope in some ways is related to faith in one’s self. Without hope, one loses the will to try. Our mental institutions are full of such people. Without a hope in God people tend to lose their anchors in life, their sense of worth, and, becoming consumed with their own plight, they are rendered helpless to aid others, or in some cases, even to care about the problems of others. They become socially impotent. They suffer a type of living death long before their bodily functions cease. Some turn to drink or drugs in an attempt to escape from what they see they have become. If the case is severe enough, it may terminate in self-destruction.
What a contrast this presents to one who approaches life with a hope in Christ, who is willing to take upon himself, with the help of the Lord, the burdens of those around him, who faces life with optimism and sees joy as man’s ultimate destiny. Perhaps this is never seen better than in the case of Alma the Younger. As he recounts his early life of rebellion, he paints in bold outline the anxiety that he experienced—the sudden jolt of being rendered physically immobile, his own anguish upon the rack of eternal torment, his panic-stricken craving for extinction, and his existential thud, as it were, against the bottom of the pit of despair. Defeated, terrified, alienated, and alone, he recalled the words of his father concerning Christ. Even the thought of the Deliverer brought a sense of peace as he became calm within:
“And now, behold, when I thought this, I could remember my pains no more; yea, I was harrowed up by the memory of my sins no more.
“And oh, what joy, and what marvelous light I did behold; yea, my soul was filled with joy as exceeding as was my pain!
“Yea, I say unto you, my son, that there could be nothing so exquisite and so bitter as were my pains. Yea, and again I say unto you, my son, that on the other hand, there can be nothing so exquisite and sweet as was my joy.” (Alma 36:19–21.)
How many more people in the world are in need of a similar experience? How many might we help simply through sharing the information we have concerning the Master and his explanation of the purpose of life? It is significant to me that Alma should use the term joy so often. It is a key word in the Book of Mormon; it is a central theme through all of the gospels in the New Testament, especially Luke. It is a vital ingredient in the principle of hope, I believe. It seems related to other concepts, such as peace—that peace that surpasses all understanding, that comes as a gift from the Prince of Peace. It likely is related to the comfort promised by the Master when he promised his disciples in Jerusalem that he would not leave them comfortless. All of these flood into my mind as I think upon the word hope, used in a gospel context.
The Book of Mormon is filled with accounts of people who placed their faith in impotent gods. Over and over we witness them engulfed in despair while the Saints are secure in their sense of well-being. The last portion of this record is an authentic microcosm of human experience. Almost every form of human disaster is recorded therein. Family strife and genocide abound in the Jaredite record, along with neighborhood strife, racial prejudice, religious persecution, war, governmental corruption, natural disasters, and practically every other problem known to man.
To Latter-day Saints throughout the world today, these accounts should have special significance. Many could match experiences from the Book of Mormon with experiences from their own lives. Many saints throughout the world have known firsthand the devastation and terror of war. Some have found themselves the targets of racial and religious strife. Still others have been uprooted and driven into near panic in the terror of disasters such as earthquake and flood. These Saints will probably be able to read much between the lines in scriptural accounts of the same type disasters.
Famine and drought have gnawed at the stomachs of those who have been their victims. Corruption in governments has produced a disillusioning effect in the minds of many as they think about the corrupting influence of power in high places. Through it all, however, faith in the Master has produced a harvest of hope for the Saints who have learned to call upon him as Alma did.
For those who have experienced these trials, the accounts in the Book of Mormon are more than words on a page. They are bonds that stretch across the centuries and bind us to brothers and sisters of another day and another place. They bring with them the quiet assurance of hope. This sense of inner peace, this spirit of optimism, this feeling of well-being enables the Saints of God in every time and every place to face adversity, present and future, with a higher sense of purpose, knowing that good will triumph eventually, and that their own history and that of the world is unfolding under the watchful eye of a compassionate Father. While despair and pessimism drain others of the will to continue, the Saints, buoyed up by a realization that all suffering can ultimately have purpose and that it will not last forever, continue to labor, even at times against seemingly impossible odds.
Such is the courage born of hope among the Nephite leaders in their trials. It is the spirit of Moroni holding up his “title of liberty.” It is the spirit of the stripling warriors going untrained into battle under Helaman to contend with armies far beyond their years in age and experience. It is the spirit of Pahoran demanding a cleansing of the corruption in Nephite government. It is the spirit that sustains a missionary, as it did the brothers Lehi and Nephi, to continue laboring when opposition seems almost overwhelming.
It is the force that enables individuals like Ether and Moroni, standing in the midst of the destruction of all they cherish, to look not at what was, but at what will be in the distant future. It is the strength that looks not at the suffering of the present, but to the release of the future. Without this insight and outlook, life quickly degenerates into meaninglessness.
It is the spirit that today sustains parents through trials with wayward children. It is the spirit that sustains bishops and stake presidents in their moments of discouragement. It is the force that enables Latter-day Saints throughout the world to view life in a positive manner and to look forward with excitement to a future with the Lord. Buoyed up by the report of the Nephite experience with the Lord, we can anticipate with greater clarity the joy that will accompany his second coming. We can draw solace and strength during times of discouragement to wait upon the Lord’s wisdom as we read the accounts of his healing the sick, blessing the children, and encouraging the Nephite saints in their righteous endeavors. We can look with hope toward that time when Christ will reign personally upon the earth and life can be as it was meant to be at its finest.
In some ways, perhaps, charity is the most important element of the triad. Mormon, at least, seems to indicate such. (Moro. 7:44.) Charity is defined by Mormon as “the pure love of Christ.” Further, he indicates, “It endureth forever; and whoso is found possessed of it at the last day, it shall be well with him.” (Moro. 7:47.)
His comment suggests that love possesses us, as well as our possessing it. It would seem that the term “love of Christ” might be read two ways: it might suggest love from Christ; and it might also suggest love for Christ. Both have application to what we have been saying, and manifest themselves outwardly in the same manner. As we become more Christlike through feeling his love for us, we manifest this love through participation in his work, i.e., helping to enrich the lives of those around us. One becomes concerned in the same way the Savior is concerned (though to a lesser degree) and expresses this concern in the service of his fellowmen.
Without charity, Mormon suggests, faith and hope lose their significance. James in the New Testament makes the same observation in his sermon on faith without works. (James 2.)
We would go far to find a collection of individuals who personify love better than those in the last half of the Book of Mormon: fathers will sense this love in Alma’s farewell sermons to his sons (Alma 36–42); missionaries will recognize its manifestations in Alma’s missionary work and in his prayers (see especially his prayer before working with the Zoramites in Alma 31:26–35); leaders of youth will recognize it in the letter of Helaman as he recounts his experiences with the 2,000 stripling warriors whom he had come to call his sons (Alma 56–58); Church leaders in general will sense the love that drives Nephi, the son of Helaman, through the midst of discouragement to serve his people with unwearyingness; clerks and those engaged in genealogical efforts will recognize it in the work of Mormon and Moroni, laboring patiently and meticulously over the abridgement of the sacred records—this in addition to their other burdening responsibilities—to preserve for a people yet unborn a record of the Savior’s love for them.
All of these teach us something about the qualities of love—but none, perhaps, quite so elegantly as the brief description of the Master in his visit to the Nephite people. (See 3 Ne. 11–28.)
As we listen to the compassionate note of his teachings; as we witness his struggles with the Father in prayer for the well-being of his people; as we witness his being moved to tears, groaning within himself for the wickedness of his people; as we observe his weeping over the afflicted and his healing the Nephites of their sorrows; as we read of the special blessing given to the children; as we witness his administering the sacrament to the Nephites; as we notice his study of the Nephite scriptures, we begin to sense the qualities of his love. We sense that life can be much nobler than we have known it to be. We perhaps feel within us a resolve to lift the level of our lives. There, in the person of the Master, we see it all put together—faith, hope, and charity.
We can, through a careful study of the visit of the Master to the Nephites, come to understand especially the dimensions of love as defined by Mormon. (Moro. 7:45.) We come to understand a little better what it means to suffer long for the welfare of others. We witness the quality of kindness and lack of envy that should typify the Saint. We observe true humility, without any ostentation or self-seeking. In his life-style we can view more clearly one who is not easily provoked, one who thinks no evil and has no rejoicing in iniquity. He who truly loves rejoices in truth, bears all things, believes and hopes all things, and is willing because of this love to endure all things. The impact of the Master upon those who were privileged to be there at his coming was lasting.
Of the era that followed this visit, Mormon wrote: “And it came to pass that there was no contention in the land, because of the love of God which did dwell in the hearts of the people.
“And there were no envyings, nor strifes, nor tumults, nor whoredoms, nor lyings, nor murders, nor any manner of lasciviousness; and surely there could not be a happier people among all the people who had been created by the hand of God.
“There were no robbers, nor murderers, neither were there Lamanites, nor any manner of -ites; but they were in one, the children of Christ, and heirs to the kingdom of God.
“And how blessed were they!” (4 Ne. 1:15–18.)
The model they held up was one that we could do well to emulate. It can only be followed, it would seem, by pursuing the path they pursued, by developing the attributes of faith, hope, and especially charity. Mormon counsels us as well as his own people:
“Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ; that ye may become the sons of God; that when he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is; that we may have this hope; that we may be purified even as he is pure.” (Moro. 7:48; italics added.)
As we read through the latter half of the Book of Mormon this year, we might beneficially ask ourselves how one develops these characteristics. Certainly it is one thing to read about them and to discuss them as abstractions. It is another thing to absorb them into our way of life. This, perhaps, is where the difficulty begins, where our challenge starts. Understanding them requires a lifetime at best. Faith, hope, and charity seem to have dimensions we have only hinted at. Acquiring them is even more difficult for many.
We can, however, become conscious of them and our need for them. As this consciousness intensifies, perhaps our “energy of heart” will also intensify as we plead with our Father in heaven in meekness for the experience of possessing them more fully. Exposure to those who possess these attributes will also enrich our lives and our desire for these qualities, which are in the final analysis gifts from our Father, gifts of the Spirit, given to those who earnestly seek them. We can also look for evidences of them in our lives as we grow and mature in the light of the gospel.
As Moroni records his final farewell, having been alone for nearly thirty-five years—and the significance of that experience alone is meat for much contemplation on our part—and having had much time to think through the Nephite experiences and to distill the meaning of it all, he writes in concluding his record:
“Wherefore, there must be faith; and if there must be faith there must also be hope; and if there must be hope there must also be charity.
“And except ye have charity ye can in nowise be saved in the kingdom of God; neither can ye be saved in the kingdom of God if ye have not faith; neither can ye if ye have no hope. …
“Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness … and love God with all your might, mind, and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you.” (Moro. 10:20–21, 32.)
This seems to be a summation of the Nephite message for our time, all of the truths of the gospel circumscribed in one beautiful whole, the counsel to look to the Master, the embodiment of all truth, and to follow his example. His example shows us faith, hope, and charity, a triad that runs all through the Nephite record, from Nephi to Moroni. Perhaps all of us can become a little more sensitive to the implications of this simple, yet profound, message in this generation.