Belief is a Choice
Belief is harder for some people than for others. I have heard people say, “I just cannot believe that.” This is an interesting comment to make, since belief is a choice. What they really mean is, “I refuse to believe that.” It is up to us whether or not we believe something. Have you ever known someone who refused to believe something you felt was obvious? Have you ever been amazed that someone could believe something that to you is so obviously false? Belief is a choice, not just something that comes from evidence.
Belief in God
One area in life where the subject of belief touches tender nerves is the subject of God. People can become very defensive when it comes to their personal beliefs about God, and even religion in general. In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints we talk a lot about the need to believe. Belief is the basic requirement for faith. We cannot exercise faith in anything in life without believing first.
Our ability to accept spiritual truths depends heavily on our attitude about belief. If we are humble, and really desire to learn the truth, if we are willing to choose to believe at least long enough to practice the principles we are being taught, then the Holy Ghost can give us a witness that what we have chosen to believe is the truth. The key to receiving the confirmation of our belief is to live the principle until we have proven to ourselves that it is either a truth or a falsehood.
Here is an example. Alma, in the Book of Mormon taught the people that our first step in receiving knowledge from God is to believe. Even wanting to believe counts, but there must be action with the belief. Here are his words to the multitude in Alma 30:28.
28 Now, we will compare the word unto a seed. Now, if ye give place, 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.
First of all we must choose to believe or at least have a desire to believe. That means that we have to be willing to accept the idea that there is a chance that what we have been presented with could be the truth. He says that if we do not fight the Lord’s spirit with doubt and unbelief (resist), we will begin to see for ourselves that what we are choosing to believe and act upon is making a positive difference in our life. This is a good thing, because the scriptures tell us that all good things come from God. Alma refers to these evidences of truth as “swelling motions.” These are the evidences that help us come to understand that what we have chosen to believe (the seed) is right and correct, because it has changed our life for good.
The Natural Man
The scriptures teach us that the natural man is an enemy to God (Mosiah 3:19). An enemy to God? That sounds serious. So what does it means to be a natural man? Robert D. Hales of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles gave a talk in 2009 that defines the natural man. He begins this quote by making reference to the influence of the Holy Ghost.
However, we must be careful not to constrain His influence. When we do not do what is right or when our outlook is dominated by skepticism, cynicism, criticism, and irreverence toward others and their beliefs, the Spirit cannot be with us. We then act in a way that the prophets describe as the natural man.
“The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” 1 Corinthians 2:14
If we are presented with an opportunity to believe truth, but we are skeptical, cynical, irreverent, or critical then we offend the Spirit of God and he will not stay with us. This means we are left to ourselves, without any help from God or His Spirit. In this state of emptiness we are at our most susceptible to the influence of Satan. This is the natural man, the person vacant or void of the Spirit of God, and hence God’s influence in their life. Can you see why God refers to the natural man as His enemy? These people are without understanding of spiritual things because they have rejected, through unbelief, the things God wants to teach his children. The quote begins by cautioning us not to constrain or hold back the Spirit through being a skeptic, a cynic, a critic, or by being irreverent towards spiritual things. These behaviors or attitudes are offensive to God.
It is important to remember that all spiritual things are learned only by being revealed to us through God’s way of teaching. If we do not do what is necessary to learn our lessons then he leaves us in the dark, where we remain by our own choice. Only through obedience and belief will He reveal truth about spiritual things. As the verse from 1 Corinthians states, to an unbeliever the things of God are foolishness. An unbeliever cannot ever come to know spiritual things because they refuse to accept that they might actually be true, or are unwilling to test them to see if they are true.
The Natural Man Vs. the Believer
Note the difference in attitude and behavior between the natural man and the believer:
This “natural man is an enemy to God, … and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, … and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, [and] full of love.” Mosiah 3:19
The natural man is unbelieving, irreverent, skeptical, cynical. The believer is worked upon by the Holy Spirit of God and over time becomes humble, like a child, submissive to the will of God, meek, patient, and full of love. This is not a mystery. This is the natural order of things. Believing is a choice we make all the time. It is important that we learn when to believe and when to choose to be unbelieving. Satan will try to fool us into believing things we should not, both about God and about ourselves and others. Only by constantly going back to our Father in Heaven and asking if it is right will we learn to discern truth from error. Only by being believing is is possible to put off the natural man and become a Saint, worthy of all the Lord’s choicest blessings.
We truly are the masters of our fate, and definers of our own destinies. It all begins with a choice to choose to believe or choose not to believe. Everything else flows from those two choices. Here are the words from the talk by Elder Hales.
Brothers and sisters, you may already know, deep in your soul, that God lives. You may not know all about Him yet and do not understand all His ways, but the light of belief is within you, waiting to be awakened and intensified by the Spirit of God and the Light of Christ, which you are born with.
So come. Believe the testimonies of the prophets. Learn of God and Christ. The pattern to do so is clearly taught by prophets of old and prophets today.
Cultivate a diligent desire to know that God lives.
This desire leads us to ponder on the things of heaven—to let the evidence of God all around us touch our hearts.
With softened hearts we are prepared to heed the Savior’s call to “search the scriptures” and to humbly learn from them.
As you read this article did you think of other places and circumstances where simply choosing to believe would have brought the blessings of heaven into your life?
ROBERT D. HALES
Of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles