Of Belief and Choice

Belief in God is a choice, and with all choices worthy of the name, there are results directly related to that choice. If you choose to believe, you receive the fruits of belief, and with belief strong enough to result in action you receive the fruits of faith. If you choose not to believe in God, you receive the results and consequences of that choice, also.

It is important to understand that belief or disbelief in God does not change the reality of God’s existence or change Him in any way. All it does is change your relationship to God. A major purpose of this life, for each person who lives it, is to develop and test faith in God, so your choice of belief matters a lot to you and how you live and succeed in this very brief and temporary existence we call mortality.

The principles of belief and faith in general are recognized for being so closely tied to action that the maxim is oft repeated that whether you believe that you will fail or that you will succeed in something you are likely to be right, since your belief will govern your effort. There is a similarity—but only a similarity—with regard to belief in God. Whether you believe in God or not in this life, the events of life are likely to seem to confirm you in your belief. Those who believe in God will, if they choose to persist in their belief, increasingly see His hand in everything. Those who choose not to believe in God will find many ways to convince themselves of their choice.

Those with faith in God see evidence of Him in all things and are increasingly able to draw upon the powers of heaven. The ancient American prophet Alma declared, “I have all things as a testimony” of God (Alma 30:41). Jesus Christ, after His resurrection, declared to His disciples that “signs shall follow them that believe” (Mark 16:17). In modern times the Savior declared again that “signs follow those that believe”, but He warned and added that signs come “not by the will of men, nor as they please, but by the will of God.” (Doctrine and Covenants 63:9, 10) God is not a machine, responding to direction and command, but rather a loving parent who bestows His blessings on His children for our benefit as plentifully as we will receive. Our belief enhances our ability to receive.

On the other hand, those who choose not to believe in God in this life can usually conjure up reasons not to believe and even to explain away what believers would consider strong evidences of the reality of God. These words spoken nearly a hundred years before the birth of Christ, by one who chose not to believe, sound very fresh in the twenty-first century:

Behold, these things which ye call prophecies, which ye say are handed down by holy prophets, behold, they are foolish traditions of your fathers.

How do ye know of their surety? Behold, ye cannot know of things which ye do not see; therefore ye cannot know that there shall be a Christ.

Ye look forward and say that ye see a remission of your sins. But behold, it is the effect of a frenzied mind; and this derangement of your minds comes because of the traditions of your fathers, which lead you away into a belief of things which are not so. (Alma 30:14-16)

It has been my observation that God usually leaves for those who choose not to believe plenty of room to apply their choice, to find an explanation that excludes God and His power. He rarely provides knowledge founded on hard, convincing evidence until after a person has made his choice to believe and exercised faith. Then the evidences come and with increasing clarity.

The Lord wants the virtues that are associated with belief—humility, patience, perseverance, trust, courage, obedience, and many others including broadness of mind and soul—to be developed in us, which would be scarcely possible if He provided the evidence of conviction before the development and trial of our faith in Him. As we grow in our faith, we grow in these other virtues.

Not only does the person who chooses not to believe fail to recognize the evidences of God before Him, but God intentionally withholds from him the greater evidences. In effect, the Lord rewards believer and unbeliever with what they choose, confirmation of belief or the withholding of what the unbeliever would consider verification. The unbeliever, as with the believer, has to come to the knowledge of God through faith.

Part of the grace of God, available in this life, is that the choice of unbelief is not final while mortality lasts, and those who believe are commanded by God to employ their faith to help stir belief and faith in others. “So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” (Romans 10:17) Believers are commanded to tell, to share their belief. God is ready to begin to lead to faith and from faith to knowledge those who will begin to hear. “He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.” (Matthew 11:15)

About Wayne Abernathy
I am a disciple of Jesus Christ. I am the husband of one wife, the father of 5 children, and grandfather of 16 (and counting). In my career I have served on the staff of the U.S. Senate for some 20 years, including as staff director of the Senate Banking Committee. For just over 2 years I was the Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Financial Institutions. Just recently, I retired from the American Bankers Association, where for 15 years I was an Executive Vice President, for financial institutions policy and regulatory affairs. I am most comfortable at home, where I like to read and write, and at the Temple, where I rejoice in helping to unite families.

4 Responses to Of Belief and Choice

  1. John Accolade says:

    Atheist here. What we disagree on is the meaning of the word ‘evidence’.

    If there were evidence for God I would be a believer. I mean that quite seriously. But I don’t mean ‘evidence’ as in personal evidence, because that is unreliable. Nor do I mean ‘evidence’ as in the Bible, which is a book of claims (and cannot simultaneously be the evidence for its own claims). What I mean by ‘evidence’ as in the kind of hard, empirical evidence that simply doesn’t exist. The kind of evidence we have for evolution – it’s this kind of evidence that is required.

    • John, thank you for your comment. I agree that you can choose whether to believe and what to believe. But in all intellectual honesty, you can’t choose your evidence. Evidence is evidence. I don’t deny that personal experience can be subject to error and misreading, but that has also been amply demonstrated with regard to the evaluation of more physical evidence. That fact that something can be misinterpreted does not suggest to me that it is not real. I personally have experienced ample personal evidence of the existence of God, throughout my life, as real and as tangible as evidence of anything else that I believe, and more.

    • chococatania says:

      Hi John,
      I am also a reader of this blog. Like Wayne, I’m a believer who spends a lot of time thinking about religion and atheism. Not only am I a believer, but I’m a seeker, and I’m a Mormon. I know that if I wasn’t Mormon, I’d be an Atheist. It sounds strange, but it is for similar reasons that you have mentioned in your comment – evidence.

      I’ve spent hours, days, and years asking questions and pondering. Two things have stood out to me: 1) In order to gain spiritual understanding, we can apply the scientific method. We make a hypothesis then perform appropriate tests. After such experimentation, we will be able to prove or disprove our hypothesis. The most important part of the scientific method is performing an experiment that is honest and has integrity. It has to be appropriate in order to receive good results. If we don’t test, then we won’t be able to honestly make any conclusion.
      2) In order to appropriately test, we have to understand the following:
      “But 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. In this scripture, Paul teaches that spirtual knowledge is discerned spiritually. In other words, you can’t expect to learn calculus if you are studying Spanish. You can study Spanish as hard and diligently as possible, but it will never lead to even a remote understanding of Calculus.

      In order to understand spiritual matters, they must be approached spiritually. The tests and experiments you perform must be performed with an open mind. If you want to experiment and seek something of a Spiritual nature – like the existence of God, then it must be approached spiritually as well.

      Anyways – I don’t mean to convince you of anything. I know that being “preachy” doesn’t really help anyone no matter their position or opinion. I’m just trying to explain my own position, and a position that I believe is shared by other faithful people who are also philosophical:

      We are invited to experiment. We are encouraged by the prophets and the Savior to employ the Scientific Method – to seek, ask, knock. We are enouraged to ask questions. And if we practice good science by performing honest experiments, then we will find our evidence.

  2. chococatania says:

    Great post. I especially agree with your statement: Not only does the person who chooses not to believe fail to recognize the evidences of God before Him, but God intentionally withholds from him the greater evidences. In effect, the Lord rewards believer and unbeliever with what they choose, confirmation of belief or the withholding of what the unbeliever would consider verification. The unbeliever, as with the believer, has to come to the knowledge of God through faith.

    This reminds me of a scripture in Alma 12:And therefore, he that will harden his heart, the same receiveth the lesser portion of the word; and he that will not harden his heart, to him is given the greater portion of the word, until it is given unto him to know the mysteries of God until he know them in full.

    And they that will harden their hearts, to them is given the lesser portion of the word until they know nothing concerning his mysteries; and then they are taken captive by the devil, and led by his will down to destruction. Now this is what is meant by the chains of hell.” – Alma 12:10-11

    I love this scripture and the concept it teaches: in order to gain knowledge, and freedom, we must open our hearts.

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