Passive vs. Active Faith in God

Blindsided by bad news? There are miracles of rescue and miracles of endurance. We may be rescued, but we should plan on miracles of endurance. We need to differentiate between faith and knowledge and actively exercising and living by faith.

“Be prepared” was the Boy Scout motto when I was in scouting. We try to be prepared by pre-thinking and practicing things that could happen before they happen. But there are some things that catch you by surprise, and it is at those critical moments when we think no one is watching that we make the decisions and choices that define us.

When people discover the gospel, sometimes they have incredible insights. At other times, those insights, which should have been so obvious, somehow elude their notice and get lost in the moment. In the 1993 film Shadowlands, the story is told of C.S. Lewis (author of numerous books, including The Chronicles of Narnia, and a Christian apologist, author of Mere Christianity). His wife, Joy Gresham, was battling cancer. At one point, her cancer went into remission. [1]

A well-meaning clergyman and family friend told Lewis that “God must be answering his prayers.” His response was both surprising and instructive. “That is not why I pray, I pray because I can’t help myself— the need flows out of me. It doesn’t change God, it changes me.”

I also need to pray. I have a constant and regular dialogue with myself and God. I need to communicate with my Father in Heaven. Prayer for me is not only a way to communicate with God, but also helps to clarify and organize my thoughts, gives me clarity as to what my actions should be. In an odd way it is my version of WWJD— “What would Jesus do?” I want to emulate my Savior and Redeemer.
Through our understanding of the Plan of Salvation, we know that our mortal existence is an opportunity to show God how much we love Him by learning and living his commandments and gospel, and a test of our faith in him and ourselves.

Being prepared is great, but life is often unpredictable, and sometimes we are caught unawares and unprepared. I know there is opposition in all things. Good or bad, these experiences will shape my soul and help me to appreciate the good and cope with the unfortunate.

In all of our lives, there comes a time when tragedy or pain enters our world. In those moments of distress and uncertainty, our faith in God can easily be shaken.

Bad things happen to good people all of the time. For some, it could be a near-death experience, others the loss of a parent or loved one or a terminal diagnosis. Maybe a note from a teenager to the effect “I’ve left, don’t bother to try and find me, just leave me alone.”

It could be a policeman at the door telling us, “…there has been an accident.” Perhaps, a visit from a soldier, “…we regret to inform you that your son/daughter has been killed in action or is missing in action, (KIA, MIA, both, military lingo)” maybe, even a spouse, who after years of marriage notifies us, “I don’t love you anymore, I want a divorce.”

No one likes to be faced even with predictable events or be blindsided by bad news. It is easy when these things happen to others. Perhaps, they make us uncomfortable, but when it happens to us, it is always personal. At that moment, it seems our world is turned upside down. We know there is trouble ahead and the uncertainty frightens us.

Even though, we have always had faith in God, and spiritually we know He is still there, it seems in that moment we cannot communicate with Him, and relief and comfort seems far off.

The nature of faith makes us question whether God was illusion or as some have suggested “a snipe hunt or a fools’ errand.” Perhaps, in those moments we reason, “Organized religion is really just an elaborate sham.” We doubt, and in matters of faith doubt is inevitable, but must be overcome. In scripture, we are told of the story of Peter, a man who was called to be special witness for Christ, an apostle.

In one incident, a little before dawn, the apostles were fishing. Jesus went out to them walking on the sea. When they saw him coming toward them were troubled; “It is a spirit; and they cried out in fear.” Jesus responded, “Be of good cheer, it is I; be not afraid.” Peter answered him, “Lord, if it be thou, bid me to come unto thee on the water.” Christ acknowledged his request and Peter got out of the boat and walked toward Jesus, but in so doing, he saw the wind and his surroundings and began to sink. He cried out “Lord save me!” The Lord reached out his hand and caught him, but in the same breath, chastised him, “Oh thou (very personal) of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt? (See Mathew 14:25-31)

Peter knew Christ personally but probably at that point in Christ’s ministry still did not have a perfect knowledge of his divinity and ministry. That would come later after the resurrection and with the promptings of the Holy Spirit. Nevertheless, Peter was a special witness for Christ and even he needed to further develop his faith. This gives me courage, knowing Peter’s faith was likely much greater than my own. But that day Peter learned an important principle and lesson that can also benefit us. There is a difference between having faith and knowledge and actively exercising and living by faith. It is easy to have faith in God, when things are good, we are happy, and things are going well. In those circumstances, we happily pray and trust God will continue to bless us with more of the same. When the mix changes and the impending storm gathers, threatening us with disaster or tragedy, we look around, as did Peter. He recognized the impossibility of his actions, the roaring winds and waves, and he began to doubt.

When Peter initially began his journey across the water, he had an active faith (the faith of a child) that allowed him to do the impossible and defy the law of physics, at least as understood by man. But as Peter realized the difficulty and improbability of walking on water and the inherent danger of the elements, his faith reverted to a passive faith. His passive faith was insufficient to sustain him as he walked on the water.

In our own lives we develop a passive faith as a first step. Later, through adherence to gospel teaching principles and ordinances, we can eventually convert our passive faith into an living, active faith. We, like Peter, will revert back and forth between the passive and active aspects of our faith throughout or lives. We must seek to actively demonstrate and exercise our faith in God even in tragedy and adversity.

A passive faith is necessary to develop a deeper active faith. Our passive faith offers us opportunity to learn how to develop our active faith and gives us confidence to succeed even in the face of impending peril.

Ultimately, living our faith allows us to develop a faith and trust in God that all things will work for our benefit, even when things do not work out as we would have hoped. Living our faith empowers us. We may not literally walk on water or move mountains, but our faith, if properly nurtured, could do that. Miracles are the product of faith. Those miracles do not have to be as dramatic as sometimes supposed. Gods works his miracles in the subtlety of the moment both great and small. A rescue can be dramatic, but a miracle of endurance may just be surviving with our faith intact, living the gospel and nurturing our faith. I have learned there are two types of miracles. There are miracles of rescue and miracles of endurance. At different times in our mortal and faith journey we may experience a miracle of recue, but we should always plan on a miracle of endurance.

Quite often life is a test of endurance. This is why when I pray, I pray for faith, I pray for strength and ability to live and develop my own faith. I take comfort in knowing God walks beside me as long as I welcome His presence and seek His guidance. I take comfort in knowing that God asks nothing save He provides a way to achieve it. (See Book of Mormon, 1 Nephi, Chapter 3.) Ultimately, I think this is what God requires of us all.

By Mel Borup Chandler

Mel Borup Chandler lives in California. He writes about science-related topics, technological breakthroughs and medicine. He is a former member of the Los Angeles Press Club. Additionally, he has also served an LDS Mission in Argentina during Argentina’s “Dirty War.”  He has written for several Spanish language newspapers in the Los Angeles area including La Opinion and El Universal. His email address is [email protected]

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