Faith: Quantity vs. Quality

In my opinion, people tend to use the term “Faith” loosely without too much thought. You often hear people say, “have more faith” or “you need to increase your faith.” The words “more” and “increase” seem to imply that Faith has a quantitative value.

So is that saying that while I may only have 40-Faith points, someone else might have 70-Faith points? Where I only have 40, I don’t have enough Faith to heal someone. But my neighbor who has 70-Faith points, he has faith sufficient, and so he can do it? Or what about in the example of Moses with the Red Sea? Personally, I’ve always pictured Moses to have a lot more faith than I do. In order to part the Red Sea, maybe he had 300-Faith points whereas I still only have my measly little 40-points? For some reason, I don’t think that faith works this way. And if it were to work this way, how are we to gauge it anyway? I think faith has more to do with quality rather than quantity.

Faith has a large definition, but I’ll splice together the pieces that I particularly like. In the Bible Dictionary, Faith is defined as, “Having confidence in something or someone. Miracles do not produce faith, but strong faith is developed by obedience to the gospel of Jesus Christ; Faith is a principle of action and of power, and by it, one can command the elements and/or heal the sick.”

Let’s turn to an example of this in Matthew 17:14-21.

A man came to Jesus, asking him to heal his son. He told Jesus that he had first gone to His apostles so that they could heal his son, but they weren’t able to do so. In verses 14-16, we read:

14 And when they were come to the multitude, there came to him a certain man, kneeling down to him, and saying.
15 Lord, have mercy on my son: for he is a lunatic, and sore vexed: for ofttimes he falleth into the fire, and oft into the water.
16 And I brought him to thy disciples, and they could not cure him.

Christ then looks at his apostles and rebukes them, saying:

17 O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I suffer you? Bring him hither to me.

Then, Christ takes the child, and is able to cast out the devil within him:

18 And Jesus rebuked the devil; and he departed out of him: and the child was cured from that very hour.

Now, if I were one of the apostles, I’m sure I would be feeling very disappointed in myself. Many times before, even away from Christ’s presence, were they able to cast out Spirits. And yet this time, they couldn’t do it. Obviously confused, they asked the Savior:

Why could not we cast him out?

And then here we see Jesus’ answer:

20 Because of your unbelief: for verily I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you.

I think James E. Talmage says it better than I ever could. “The comparison between effective faith and a grain of mustard seed is one of quality rather than of quantity; it connotes living, virile faith, like unto the seed, however small, from which a great plant may spring, in contrast with a lifeless, artificial imitation, however prominent or demonstrative (Jesus the Christ, p.354).”

So, the question is: Does faith really grow? Alma compares personal faith to the growth of a tree. Christ compares faith to a mustard seed. I would venture to say so, but still not in a numerical sense. I especially like the last part of that definition: Faith is a principle of action. Faith grows with action. After all, faith really is more of action than belief. Belief benefits us nothing, unless we’re willing to utilize it by moving forward.

Let’s take, once again, the example of the mustard seed. Why did Christ use this particular seed out of all? In Matthew 13:32, we read:

32 Which indeed is the least of all seeds; but when it is grown, it is the greatest among herbs, and becometh a tree, so that the birds of the air come and lodge in the branches thereof.

It was the “least of all seeds”. Why did Christ use this seed so often when talking about faith? I can think of quite a few seeds which are bigger than a mustard seed. Have you ever seen the core of an avocado? Now THAT is a big seed. However, Christ uses this analogy as an overall relative growth. Plant an avocado pit, and in maturity, it’s a rather small plant. Mustard, however, grows into a large bush. The overall growth from seed to maturity is what Christ was comparing faith to. While our faith lies dormant for a time, our action slowly increases. While at this time, I barely have enough faith to get out of bed on Sunday morning and go to Church, there are many who have this step of faith down. But at the same time, while I might have the faith to go to Church weekly, I definitely don’t have the faith to “say unto this water, be thou earth,… and it would be done” (1 Nephi 17:50).

Faith isn’t faith because it’s easy. Faith is faith, because you’re walking blindly into the dark or something that you’re unsure or scared of. In fact, faith is the opposite of fear. They can’t reside at the same place at the same time. If you’re afraid to do something, you don’t have faith.

I think back to an experience I had on my Mission. My companion and I had decided to go “tracting” (or knocking on doors). We had determined the street to tract, and then drove there. As we got out of the car, I heard someone across the street say, “It’s the Mormons. Don’t worry, I’ll get rid of them.” I turned around to see a woman yelling from her driveway, rather rudely, “Don’t bother coming here! We don’t need what you have.” She then climbed into her car, and drove off.

After she was gone, I started walking towards that very house. My companion looked at me and said, “Elder, what are you doing?” I replied, “I’m going to go knock on this door. What do you think?” With a rather confused look he said, “That lady just told us NOT to. And you’re going to do it anyway?” I could tell that his fear was getting in the way of sharing the Gospel. And to be completely honest, I was a little bit nervous to knock the door as well. I simply replied with, “Elder, faith casteth out fear.” We then walked up the driveway, and knocked on the door. Although the man who opened the door wasn’t interested, I felt accomplished in the task that we had been given.

In this example, faith truly did cast out fear. Although it’s a small example, and maybe not even a good example at that, it still proved a point to me that day. Faith and fear can’t reside together at the same time. I think there’s something to be mentioned about being nervous, though. There is a difference between acting in Faith and yet being unsure of the outcome, and not acting because of fear.

C.S. Lewis taught that sometimes our fears get in the way of our learning and gives the example of learning how to swim. He said, “There are things, say in learning to swim… which look dangerous and aren’t. Your instructor tells you it’s safe. You have good reason from past experience to trust him. … But the crucial question is, will you be able to go on believing this when you…actually feel yourself unsupported in the water… It is your senses and your imagination that are going to attack belief.”

So now, I’d finally like to channel down all these scattered thoughts of mine and get down to the point: How do we develop faith?

Since no talk on faith is complete without making reference to Alma 32, let’s turn there really quick.

In this chapter, Alma compares the process of developing faith to a growing tree. Let’s look at verses 28:

28 Now, we will compare the word unto a seed. Now, if ye give space, that a seed may be planted in your heart, behold, if it be a true seed, or a good seed, if ye do not cast it out by your unbelief, that ye will resist the Spirit of the Lord, behold, it will begin to swell within your breasts; and when you feel these swelling motions, ye will begin to say within yourselves—It must needs be that this is a good seed, or that the word is good, for it beginneth to enlarge my soul; yea, it beginneth to enlighten my understanding, yea, it beginneth to be delicious to me.

The first thing I’d like to point out is that we do not plant the seed. The language is very passive—the seed is planted. And it begins to swell and grow without any control or intervention on our part. We simply have to “give place.” And when we do that, God plants the seed.

Now, the scary part. Look where He plants it—“in your heart.” Our heart is the most intimate center of our lives. It’s the place that you want to protect and shield the most. The hard part is that we must step back, and give place for God to start planting. We have to allow him to reach into our lives and do with it what he wants. Scary, huh?

Alma recognizes this natural resistance, and gives us instruction to combat it. He realizes that this will be our first instinct and says, “do not cast it out by your unbelief, that ye will resist the Spirit of the Lord.” And if we heed to this counsel, what do we get? “It will begin to swell.”

And here’s the clincher: “when ye feel these swelling motions, ye will begin to say within yourselves—It must needs be that this is a good seed.” Only after we make this personal confession does our faith begin to grow (verse 29).

To simply let the seed be planted is not enough. As well, it’s more than just stepping back and letting God take control of your life. You have to personally confess that the process is good. We have to admit that our reliance and dependence on God is neither humiliating nor shameful, but one of the greatest gifts that he could have given us. You have to say “that this is…good.”

No matter how difficult to do, these are the ingredients by which we gain faith. We have to open up our lives and confess His goodness. And the ultimate result of that is the seed “shall take root; and behold it shall be a tree springing up into everlasting life” (Alma 32:41).

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