34 And now, behold, is your knowledge perfect? Yea, your knowledge is perfect in that thing, and your faith is dormant; and this because you know, for ye know that the word hath swelled your souls, and ye also know that it hath sprouted up, that your understanding doth begin to be enlightened, and your mind doth begin to expand.
35 O then, is not this real? I say unto you, Yea, because it is light; and whatsoever is light, is good, because it is discernible, therefore ye must know that it is good; and now behold, after ye have tasted this light is your knowledge perfect?
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.
Alma teaches us some important truths about the relationship between faith, belief, and knowledge in this chapter.
- Faith is not knowledge (v. 21), but it can grow into a perfect knowledge (v. 29).
- If you are unwilling to believe until you know for sure, then you are not exercising faith (v. 17-18).
- To have faith is to hope for things or to believe in things which you can’t see, but which are true (v. 21-22).
- Even if you can’t yet believe, you can begin to exercise faith by merely desiring to believe (v. 27).
After teaching these principles, Alma illustrates them by comparing the word of God to a seed. It’s not a tree when you first receive it. It’s just a seed. You don’t know if it’s good or if it will even grow. The only way to find out is to plant it. That’s faith. If you aren’t willing to try, if you aren’t willing to act in the face of uncertainty, you’ll never know.
So suppose you do try. You begin to believe in the word of God and to act upon that belief, and you begin to feel “swelling motions” in your heart. You notice that it enlarges your soul, enlightens your understanding, and is delicious to you (verse 28). It’s not a tree yet, and there’s no fruit, but you begin to see evidence that it is good.
When that happens, Alma asks the following question: “Is your knowledge perfect?”
It turns out that the answer is: yes and no.
Verse 34: “Yea, your knowledge is perfect in that thing, and your faith is dormant.” You know that the seed has begun to sprout and that its effect is positive. You have experienced it. You no longer need to exercise faith in that particular question, because you know the answer by direct experience.
Verse 36: No, your knowledge isn’t perfect. There are many things you still don’t know. You have only exercised faith in one thing: to plant the seed to find out if it’s good. So now you know it’s good, but there are countless other things you don’t know. To tell the truth, you don’t even know what will happen next. Will the seed continue to grow? Will it bear fruit? What will that fruit be like? What effect will it have on you? So you need to keep exercising faith because you will continue to face unanswered questions.
I’m grateful for Alma’s teachings. There are certainly things that I have learned for myself. Perhaps I no longer need to exercise faith in those things, because I know for sure that they’re true. But is my knowledge perfect? There are so many things that I don’t yet know, so many things that I can only learn by following the pattern Alma has outlined in this chapter: I need to believe, and I need to act on that belief. I need to continue to exercise faith.