The Psychology of Faith
How does God want us to feel?
That might seem like a strange question. Maybe you’ve never thought about it before.
Think about it. How do you think God wants you to feel?
For much of my life I experienced a great deal of discouragement and hopelessness. Some of that was due to an anxiety and depressive disorder, but a lot of it was due to my confusion about what I believed God thought about me and what I thought He wanted me to feel.
Let me see if I can explain what I mean by that.
As I went to church and read the scriptures, there were many times I felt very hopeful. So many encouraging thoughts and ideas and doctrines in the gospel of Jesus Christ that we can find when reading His word or talking about His gospel.
But on the other hand, there were also so many times while at church or reading the word that I felt very discouraged and disempowered. When I felt like God was angry at me and that, perhaps, He even hated me.
We could probably write pages of in-depth analysis and give countless scripture references illustrating each of these ideas, but I’d like to keep this as simple as possible. So how about just a couple of examples?
“He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love. In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten son into the world, that we might live through him.” (1 John 4:8-9)
Very hopeful and encouraging. The idea here is that God loves us so much and so unconditionally that He sent His Son to save us, even though we certainly did not deserve it.
But then on the other hand:
“Thou shalt fear the Lord thy God, and serve him, and shalt swear by his name…. (For the Lord thy God is a jealous God among you) lest the anger of the Lord thy God be kindled against thee, and destroy thee from off the face of the earth. (Deuteronomy 6:13,15)
“…Thou hatest all workers of iniquity.” (Psalms 5:5, David speaking to the Lord)
Does this mean that God hates sinners? I am a sinner. Does He hate me? I thought God was love and that He loved me and sent His Son to save me because I needed it because I am a sinner.
Which is it? Does God hate sinners or love them? Is He angry at me when I sin or is He patient and understanding?
Emotion Creates Motion
You see, human beings are emotional beings. We are impacted by what other people say and how they say it. We are impacted by the feelings that others are feeling toward us. Whether we should be or shouldn’t be, we are. That’s human nature.
And here’s the really challenging part.
“All human behavior is the result of the state that we’re in.” – Tony Robbins
How we feel in every moment determines almost entirely how we behave in that moment.
It also determines almost entirely if we succeed or fail.
“In order to succeed we must first believe that we can.” – Milos Kazantzakis
We believe what we feel. We believe we can succeed if we feel we can succeed.
God knows this.
And He wants us to succeed in applying the gospel of Jesus Christ and obtaining salvation.
So with that in mind, how does He want us to feel?
I could go into great detail here about the trouble with words and interpretation between languages, but I will save that for future posts.
A while back I found this scripture in the Book of Mormon that really changed my paradigm on this topic. It’s found in Moroni 7:40
“And again, my beloved brethren, I would speak unto you concerning hope. How is it that ye can attain unto faith, save ye shall have hope?”
The first step in applying the gospel of Jesus Christ in our lives is to believe in Jesus Christ. To have faith in Him.
“He that believeth on Him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” (John 3:18)
The verse in Moroni is teaching us that in order to have faith, we must have hope. In other words, we must feel hope. (See also Hebrews 11:1 and Alma 32:21)
That is how God wants us to feel.
What Is Hope?
So what does it mean to feel hope? What is hope?
“To desire with expectation of obtainment or fulfillment….To expect with confidence.” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary)
To feel hope is to expect confidently. So in the gospel sense, what does it mean to have hope?
This very question is asked and answered back in Moroni 7, verse 41.
“And what is it that ye shall hope for? Behold I say unto you that ye shall have hope through the atonement of Christ and the power of his resurrection, to be raised unto life eternal, and this because of your faith in him according to the promise.”
In order to have faith in Jesus Christ, we must confidently expect to be “raised unto life eternal”. Because of His power. Not because we deserve it. We don’t. But He has earned it for us. And He has offered it to us. We accept it by confidently expecting to receive it from Him, and sincerely repenting of our sins. Being willing to let Him change us.
Fear and Focus
We tend to get really caught up in a fear mindset. Constantly worried about justifying sin and wanting to make sure everyone knows what sin is and how it’s not ever okay.
The problem is that what we focus on creates our feelings and our feelings determine our actions and our success.
If we are constantly focused on how dangerous sin is and how scary it is and constantly trying to scare ourselves and each other away from it, the focus is on sin and failure rather than on Jesus and success through Him. It creates a fear. A lack of hope.
Yes we need to be righteous and keep the commandments of God and we need to not justify sin.
But we forget the only real way to accomplish that.
We can’t make ourselves righteous. Only He can do that.
And He does that when we confidently expect Him to.
When we confidently expect that He has redeemed us. When we understand that we cannot save any portion of ourselves and that our good works can’t earn us anything. But that He will, by His power and grace, not only redeem us completely, but also that He will change our nature and make us into people who naturally do good and keep His commandments.
Grace and the Love of God
The only way to succeed in obtaining salvation is through “relying wholly upon the merits of Him who is mighty to save” (2 Nephi 31:19, emphasis added).
God truly does love us unconditionally. And He proved that by sending His Son to redeem us while we were sinners.
“But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)
A call to repentance is proof that God loves us.
There are those who try to justify sin, and there may be times when we do the same. And we need to understand the truth, which is that no sin is allowed.
But we also need to understand a couple of other truths:
We cannot make ourselves sinless. We cannot repay past sins. And we cannot make ourselves worthy of God’s kingdom by current or future good works.
Only Jesus can do that.
We have hope through Jesus, and only through Jesus.
But in order for us to gain access to His hopeful power, to make us righteous and worthy (past, present, and future), we must confidently expect that we are made righteous and worthy by Him. That He has already paid the price and claimed the rights of mercy in our behalf (Moroni 7:27-28). We must confidently expect that He will, as soon as we believe He will, make of us a new person, regardless of the fact that we don’t deserve it. That He will make us holy, without spot (Moroni 10:33). That He will blot out our transgressions (Psalms 51:1,9).
That is why, to me, feeling worried and stressed about sin and our inability to live perfectly is counterproductive. That is why focusing on thoughts and ideas of our failure and inadequacy is counterproductive.
What is effective is focusing on success through Jesus Christ, truly our only Hope. We can expect to succeed through Him. We can expect it!
It is my feeling that most people in the world don’t struggle nearly as much with repentance as we think. It is my feeling that most people struggle with faith. With confidence. With hope. They feel that they are never good enough and they can never measure up to the expectations they feel are placed upon them.
That is not the way God wants us to feel.
Discouragement and fear will never save us.
“For we are saved by hope…” (Romans 8:24)