In swimming lessons this week I was teaching a brother and sister, 6 and 7 year olds who seemed to magically pick up everything I presented. I demonstrated the breaststroke kick and the first time they tried it their little legs moved exactly as mine had, propelling them smoothly through the water. No land drills of “up-out-together” were required. All it took for the sidestroke kick was to turn them on their side and tell them the top leg went in front and the bottom leg behind. They were off. In contrast to these two, I teach many children to whom swimming does not come naturally. They work diligently at every skill, but they remain uncoordinated, thrashing ineffectively throughout the lesson.
The scriptures show that it is the same way with faith. For some, this belief, this confidence comes naturally. The woman with an issue of blood who reached out to touch Jesus’ garment found instant relief. “If I may touch but his clothes, I shall be whole,” she knew (Mark 5:25-34). Jesus told her to go in peace; that her faith had healed her.
Other stories introduce people who have some faith, but it is lacking in some way. Peter is an example of this — for a short time he had the faith that walks on water, but soon his fear made him sink and he required the assistance of the Master (Matt 14:22-31). In another case, a blind man was healed by Jesus in two stages. The first time, Jesus spit on his eyes and laid his hands on the man. The blind man looked around and saw “men as trees, walking.” Jesus again put his hands on the man, and this time he could see everything clearly (Mark 8:22-26). Some commentaries explain that such a gradual restoration of physical sight represents the idea that some people only gradually acquire faith in Christ. At first they see in a way that is similar to how the apostles and others saw Jesus: dimly and distorted, not comprehending his true nature. For these, it is only in time that full spiritual “sight” is achieved.
There are also indications in the scriptures that some people have quite a bit of difficulty ever acquiring faith. Ancient Israel was notorious for rejecting prophets, looking beyond the mark, and continually missing what Jehovah was trying to teach them. Though they seemed to put quite a bit of exertion into their religion, their efforts were not mixed with faith.
The parable of the sower (Mark 4:1-29) suggests that human nature has several aspects. Some have hearts like stony ground, which will not accept the seed of faith. Even those who are compared to “good ground” bring forth variably — some thirty fold, some sixty, and some a hundred.
While I was teaching my swimming lesson I began to wonder what causes some people to have natural faith and why it is so hard for others to simply believe. Abraham 3:22-26 makes it apparent that even in the premortal existence some souls were more noble, great, and good than others. Is this one of these endowments out of which if much is given, much will be required? Do you consider yourself naturally talented and spiritually predisposed to have faith? Or are you perhaps a Thomas or Alma the Younger, who requires a great deal of physical evidence if you are to accept the existence of a Divine Being? Finally, should we “just keep swimming” even if there is no confirmation forthcoming?