These words so impressed Moroni that he stopped telling the story of Ether in order to make his own comments about Ether's message. Moroni wrote, "I would show unto the world that faith is [defined as] things which are hoped for and not seen, wherefore, dispute not because ye see not… For it was by faith that Christ showed himself unto our fathers, after he had risen from the dead… Wherefore, ye may also have [the same] hope [that our fathers had] and [also] be partakers of the gift [with them] if ye will [but only] have faith" (Ether 12:6-9).
To illustrate his point Moroni gave several examples. He explained that it was by faith that those who lived anciently were called to receive the priesthood after the holy order of God. It was by faith that Nephi and his brother Lehi had caused a change to come upon the Lamanites to the point where they were able to receive the Holy Ghost. It was because of the faith of Alma and Amulek that the walls of the prison they were in tumbled to the earth. It was by faith that Ammon and his brothers were able to bring about a great miracle among the Lamanites and it was by faith that every miracle has happened, both before the time of Christ and after His returned to heaven. In fact, Moroni went so far to say, "And neither at any time hath any [miracles] been wrought until after their faith" (verses 10-18).
As we read these words, they could easily be interpreted to read that miracles happened because people had faith that they could happen. For example, Nephi and his brother Lehi preached to the Lamanites with faith that they would be successful in their labors. After Alma and Amulek were cast into prison they had faith that they could cause the walls to tumble but without such faith they would have remained in prison. In the same way, people anciently were given the priesthood because they had faith in the priesthood. In other words, if they didn't believe that the priesthood was necessary, it would not have been given to them.
This interpretation seems to be supported by the words of Jesus when he said "For verily I say unto you, if ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder, and it shall remove, and nothing shall be impossible unto you" (Matthew 17:20).
However, that was not the message Moroni tried to convey. In verse 18 he says, "And neither at any time hath any[one] wrought miracles until after their faith, wherefore they first believed in the Son of God." In other words, it was people's faith in Christ that allowed them to perform miracles. It was because of Nephi and Lehi's faith in Christ that they were able to cause a mighty change to come upon the Lamanites. It was because of their faith in Christ that Alma and Amulek saw their prison walls tumble to the ground. It was because of their faith in Christ, that people anciently were called to the priesthood.
Almost four hundred years earlier, Moroni's people had actually seen Christ when He appeared to them after His resurrection. But prior to that time no one had seen Christ, therefore the only reason they believed in Him was because of their faith. And the same is true of those who have lived after Christ had showed Himself the Jews in Jerusalem and to Nephites at the temple in the land Bountiful. Moroni had not seen Christ but he nonetheless believed in Him. Thus, our hope for a better future world comes because of our faith in someone we have not seen and who we cannot see.
As used here, the words "faith" and "believe" express the same meaning. Thus, to have faith in Jesus Christ is the same as believing in Jesus Christ. If that is true, then it is important to understand exactly what it means to "believe" in Christ.
The apostle James wrote to the saints of his day, "Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe and tremble" (James 2:19). The devils believe that Christ is the Savior as much as Christians do. In fact, they believe in His Messiahship so much that they tremble at the mere mention of His name but that belief doesn't do them any good and neither does it cause them to perform miracles. Therefore, it is obvious that there must be something more to believing in Christ than just believing in Him.
If that is true, then what does Moroni mean when he talks about our hope comes from believing or having faith in the Son of God?
Millions of people believe that Mount Everest is the tallest mountain on earth yet the vast majority of them have never measured it themselves to know if that is true. Millions of people believe that the earth is the third planet from the sun although we can't tell that just by peering up at the sky. Millions of people believe that the Roman Empire was once a great and mighty nation, although none of us today ever lived during that time to know if it was.
What this illustrates is that there are two kinds of beliefs. One is passive and the other is active. Passive faith is simply believing that something is true. It is merely believing in facts, even if those facts are not known with absolute certainty. However, just believing in facts does nothing for us. Even the devils believe the fact that Jesus is the Savior of the world but that knowledge doesn't cause them to accept Him as their Savior or to glorify Him.
The other kind of belief is active faith which means that we believe in something so much that we act upon it, and it isn't until our belief is turned into action that it has any real meaning to us or does anything for us. For example, believing that Mount Everest is the tallest mountain in the world, or that earth is the third planet from the sun, or that there once was a mighty nation called Rome doesn't change our life in the least. Just like knowledge without action is useless, so also belief without action is equally as useless. Therefore, an active belief is one that motivates us to alter our behavior. On the other hand, a passive belief is merely having faith in useless information.
To illustrate this point, most people believe in the concept that if they work hard they can be successful in life yet, despite this knowledge, there are people who don't try to be successful at their job. Instead, they are content to put forth a minimal effort and may even envy those who advance in the company, but they are not willing to do what they know it takes to improve their standing in the company. But those who truly believe that success is achieved by those who work hard for it are motivated to work hard.
Perhaps we can illustrate this principle by using a different example. Let's say that someone wanted to raise their own food. To do that they would need to plant a garden, but to do that they would need certain, specific items. Let's say that a person went out and bought good quality tools, such as a shovel, a rake, a hoe, and other garden tools necessary to dig up the ground, plant and water the seeds, and to get rid of the weeds. Next they bought the best fertilizer for their soil and for the kinds of plants they want to grow. After that they bought the best seeds of each variety of food they wanted to plant.
Now let's suppose that after getting everything this person needed in order to have a great producing garden the person sat back and did nothing, thinking that just because they had the best tools, fertilizer, and seeds that they didn't need to do anything more in order to have an abundant crop of food. We would all clearly understand how foolish this person was.
Believing in facts is like the tools needed to plant a garden. They are necessary and important, but without using those facts to take constructive action, or using those facts to produce the results we want would be just as foolish. It isn't enough to merely believe in Christ, we have to believe enough on what Christ says to do what He tells us to do. If Christ tells us to love our neighbor as ourselves and we don't do that, then our faith in Him is meaningless. If Christ tells us to be honest in all of our dealings yet we continue to think that it's all right to cheat our neighbor now and then, or tell a lie when it's to our advantage, or take something that doesn't belong to us because we want it, we may still be able to technically say that we believe in Christ but we really don't believe Him enough to do what He asks of us.
Nephi and his brother Lehi didn't just believe the fact that Jesus was the Son of God, they believed in Him enough to do whatever He commanded them. Seeing how hard the hearts of his people were Nephi "began to testify boldly, repentance and remission of sins through faith on the Lord Jesus Christ." And even when the people became angry with him, so great was his faith that he was able to "cast out devils and unclean spirits, and even his brother [Lehi] did he raise from the dead after he had been stoned and suffered death by the people" (3 Nephi 7:16-19).
Notice that it wasn't because Nephi had the faith that he could do miracles that enabled him to do them but rather it was because of his "faith on the Lord Jesus Christ," and that faith was demonstrated by his commitment to do whatever Jesus asked of him. No matter what the people said about him or did to him, Nephi continued "to testify boldly." And it was because of his great faith in following Christ that enabled him to perform mighty miracles.
Alma and Amulek were cast into prison because they would not stop preaching the word of God and even those who had believed on their words were gathered together and burned. Yet, despite all of this, Alma exclaimed, "Behold, perhaps they will burn us also. Be it according to the will of the Lord" (Alma 14:12.13). Alma's faith in Christ was such that if it was the will of God that he and Amulek should perish, then he was ready to accept that fate. But because of their willingness to stand firm in their beliefs, God had mercy on them and caused the ground to tremble so much that the walls of the prison fell, killing all those who had tormented, abused, and mocked them (Alma 14:27).
However, going back to our illustration of planting a garden, even when we take the tools we have and apply them to the ground, there is still no guarantee that we will have a bounteous crop of food. Despite the best seeds and the best fertilizer, and our best efforts, there are many other things that can destroy our plants. There are animals who see a garden as a place that nature has provided food for them to eat. There are worms, insects, and diseases that can attack and destroy our plants. There are storms and drought and other acts of nature that can cause our plant's growth to either cease or be stunted. But, even knowing all of this, we still put forth our best efforts in hopes of having a good harvest at the end of the growing season.
To believe in God is to have faith in someone we cannot see and it is our faith that then moves us to action with the hope of receiving that which God has promised us, just like when we plant a garden in hopes of gathering food that has not yet appeared. This is what Ether meant when he said that if people would believe in God they could come to have a sure hope for a better world, where they would have a place at the right hand of God.
However, when we plant a garden there is no "sure hope" that we will get the results we want, yet Ether assures us that those who believe in God can indeed have that kind of hope. However, just like there are forces in nature that can prevent our garden from yielding a bountiful harvest, there are also spiritual forces at work that can prevent us from receiving our full divine reward.
There are going to be times when we will face adversity in our life and our faith in God will be tested. Sometimes those tests will be small and at other times our faith will be sorely tried, sometimes to the point where it seems there is no hope or that God has forsaken us. When Alma and Amulek were taken as prisoners and made to watch people burned to death for believing in God, they could have wondered if they had done the right thing in preaching the gospel of Christ. When they were cast into prison, their faith might have wavered as they wondered if they too might suffer a horribly painful death by fire.
Yet Alma's faith didn't waver. Instead he declared, "Be it according to the will of the Lord." It didn't matter to Alma if he lived or died. What mattered to him was his relationship with God because that was more important to him than life itself. And that was just as true for Nephi. When people became angry with him, he didn't forsake his faith in God. Even when they stoned his brother to death, Nephi's faith never wavered.
The prophet Ether himself expressed the same attitude at the end of his record which was written nearly five hundred years before Alma made his statement. Like Alma, Ether had boldly proclaimed repentance to his people and made many great and marvelous prophecies even when his people "esteemed him as a thing of naught and cast him out" Apparently his life was in danger because eventually he had to hide "himself in the cavity of a rock by day, and by night he went forth… viewing the destruction which came upon his people," making a record of the things he saw (Ether 13:13-14).
After witnessing the entire destruction of his people, Ether was the lone survivor of that holocaust. Not sure what fate awaited him, Ether's final recorded words were "Whether the Lord will that I be translated or that I suffer the will of the Lord in the flesh, it mattereth not, if it so be that I am saved in the kingdom of God" (Ether 15:34). This was the kind of active faith that Ether had in the Lord.
But there is no reason for someone to place that much faith in God if there is no hope of receiving something of worth in return. God promises that if we will endure to the end in following Him, no matter what happens, we will sit at His right hand and share in His glory. That is what we hope to receive as a reward for our steadfast faith and unwavering belief on the Son of God.
Because God can always be trusted to keep His word we know that as long as we keep our faith in Him and exercise an active belief in His words, we can always have a sure hope of a better world.