When Latter-day Saints talk about the principles and doctrines of the gospel, we often use the phrase I know. It makes sense to speak in such terms: ours is a world fixated on knowledge, a world that distrusts something as impossible to measure as belief. So I think that, when we say that we know, we’re attempting to speak to a world that only wants the facts. But there is more to faith than information: there must also be belief. President N. Eldon Tanner, who once served in the First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, declared the importance of belief, saying, “In addition to a belief in the existence of God, we must know something of his character and attributes or our faith will be imperfect and unfruitful.” Thus, to know that God exists is good, but to believe in God—in His fatherly love and incomparable power—can change our lives, suffusing them with hope, purpose, and significance.
The word believe has a history of rich meaning. Beyond the modern sense of “accepting something as true even if it can’t be proven scientifically,” believe has roots in words meaning “to hold dear,” “to care,” or “to love.” To declare belief, then, is not to admit a lack of evidence—no, it is to announce an attitude. Believing in God, then, means loving God, holding Him and His word dear, and allowing His influence to shape the course of one’s life.
How can belief in God change our lives? Elder Jeffrey R. Holland once declared, “I bear personal witness this day of a personal, living God, who knows our names, hears and answers prayers, and cherishes us eternally as children of His spirit. I testify that amidst the wondrously complex tasks inherent in the universe, He seeks our individual happiness and safety above all other godly concerns.” I’ve written before about how, during my first year of teaching, I had prayers answered with ideas for lesson plans that were more effective and successful than I could have anticipated. As a result, I approach teaching with confidence, knowing that, when I’m at a loss, I can appeal to heaven for help and receive what I need. Believing that God is individually and personally invested in my well-being, I can have the assurance that He will help me in things both great and small. When I witness His hand moving through my life for my benefit, my belief is confirmed and strengthened. As John put it in his first epistle: “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us” (I John 4:10).
Belief in God comes from a knowledge of His perfect character. The more we experiment on His word by applying it in our daily actions, the more we’ll experience the fruits of His love and goodness. The more we experience the fruits of His love specifically for us, the more our hearts will be drawn out in gratitude and love for Him. This is not a process reserved for those of us who have spent a lifetime going to church. President Tanner taught “that every human soul can receive this personal testimony,” coming to know of God’s divine reality and to believe in His unfailing love. Anyone can develop a life-transforming belief in God by seeking Him out and acknowledging His marvelous influence their life.
The Prophet Joseph Smith taught that God “is the Great Parent of the universe…[who] looks upon the whole of the human family with a fatherly care and a paternal regard.” True belief in God entails a belief in the fundamental truth of His identity as our Father. I believe in God, which is to say that I believe in His fatherly care and paternal regard for me and for each of us. Because I believe in God, I know that His help is always near, that His counsel and commandments are always for my benefit, and that nothing will ever go permanently wrong if I stay close to Him. My belief is not a baby step towards knowledge, nor is it a sheepish admission of insufficient evidence—rather, my belief is the measure of how I feel about my God and about my faith. Ultimately, my belief is a decision to let God’s reality matter to me, encourage me, and lift me above the troubles of an increasingly troubled world.