Actually, we will begin with verse 28, but I don’t want to copy and paste everything…so I assume you all have scriptures (or can follow along with the link I provided). But I want to directly quote a few scriptures.
32 Therefore, if a seed groweth it is good, but if it groweth not, behold it is not good, therefore it is cast away.33 And now, behold, because ye have tried the experiment, and planted the seed, and it swelleth and sprouteth, and beginneth to grow, ye must needs know that the seed is good.…36 Behold I say unto you, Nay; neither must ye lay aside your faith, for ye have only exercised your faith to plant the seed that ye might try the experiment to know if the seed was good.37 And behold, as the tree beginneth to grow, ye will say: Let us nourish it with great care, that it may get root, that it may grow up, and bring forth fruit unto us. And now behold, if ye nourish it with much care it will get root, and grow up, and bring forth fruit.38 But if ye aneglect the tree, and take no thought for its nourishment, behold it will not get any root; and when the heat of the sun cometh and scorcheth it, because it hath no root it withers away, and ye pluck it up and cast it out.40 And thus, if ye will not nourish the word, looking forward with an eye of faith to the fruit thereof, ye can never pluck of the fruit of the atree of life.…
So there. Let it be known that it’s untrue that we never use scriptures on Mormon Matters.
That being said, I might appear to be too critical for some, so that’s my disclaimer.
Alma 32 is a curious set of scriptures for the church. In verse 27 we have the famous (at least, famous to me) admonition that if one can only desire to believe, then they should go for it. And 28 begins a rather popular analogy of faith (BIG EDIT: the word…it even clearly says it…so I don’t know why people [and even I] turn this to faith) to a seed that can be nourished and grown.
And this set of scriptures is also clever. Clever enough that it chaps my hide. I mean, obviously, I’m biased, but have you ever thought about it?
Alma 32:32 seems most reasonable. It seems a lot about what kinds of things we hear about in church. Test the spirits to know if they are true. If you have a good idea, you’ll get a burning in your bosom. If you have a not so good idea, you’ll get a stupor of thought. So, you can develop a rule of thumb for discerning ideas. And the role of faith seems clear — to begin the process. Surely, the seed (the word) might look like a dud to you, and common sense might suggest it’ll never work out, but common sense isn’t too common or sensical, so faith is the ability to take the first step and plant the seed anyway.
But 32:32 has a reasonable out: what doesn’t grow is discarded. When you get a stupor of thought, you don’t continue. You go back to the drawing board.
So far, so good.
I’ll compare with real world paradigms. In the real world, I might undertake something that I might think is unlikely. I might make a hypothesis and hope it’s true, but not know. This is faith for the real world. So far, so good. But in the real world, things that are true will manifest themselves as true regardless of anything else. I might be incredulous that flipping a light switch will turn on a light, but regardless of if I believe or not, the light will turn on with the switch (as long as the circuitry isn’t broken). The only faith is in getting over my possible initial incredulity to flipping the switch.
Yet what if something else happens?
What if your seed never sprouts? The word doesn’t “do it” for you. What if it never grows? In the real world, you try something else. Yet in the church we have so often a different cultural idea backed by certain other scriptures: such as D+C 14:7: “And, if you akeep my commandments and bendure to the end you shall have ceternal life, which gift is the greatest of all the gifts of God.” This doesn’t imply any necessity of results, so what commonly is asserted is that people just need to be more patient, continue following the commandments, continue hoping, etc.,
OK, OK, so that’s fair enough. One could make an extended argument for faith with that vein. Looking at verses 16 – 19 from the Alma 32 gets us similar things.
But here’s the question…here’s the thought experiment. What if we applied this same concept to everything in life? What if, in particular, we applied this concept to other churches? Alma 32 works reasonably if we are freely able to determine when the seed is dead and bad…but if we presuppose that a seed is good (obviously, the Book of Mormon and the church presuppose the word is true), even despite the results, and just say, “Just endure…just desire to believe…just wait…just have patience,” then how are we to discern anything? We might say that the reason we are Mormon instead of Catholic or Baptist is because Mormon tenets appealed to us more, but couldn’t it be that we needed to just desire to believe in Catholicism, exercise a particle of faith and (if we still did not having any confirming experiences), endure to the end in faith, yet we negligently failed to do so?
This is why I believe instead that some part of our belief or disbelief is not chosen (and Jeff or someone else here will probably offer a rebuttal either here or in another article, so stay tuned, folks!) We don’t just in a gungho way say, “I’m going to be Catholic, have faith, and endure to the end.” Because when we set that criteria, we strip away our ability to discern between anything — why not do that with Islam? With Buddhism? With anything else?
Rather, we are already inclined in certain directions…some people are already inclined to Catholicism…and others to Mormonism…and others to other things. When people move with their inclination, then they will find that those personal and subjective seeds will grow. But this is not forced. You don’t make a Catholic seed grow if you are not inclined to believe in Catholicism. Rather, the doctrines and theology will seem disagreeable, and you’ll regret forcing it upon yourself. But the same is true for Mormonism or anything else.