It is an often-discussed state of affairs that Mormons usually emphasize knowledge to the exclusion of faith, at least at a rhetorical level. This move has, of course, distanced us from many passages in the scriptures that emphasize the imperfection of mortal vision and the lack of full knowledge about eternal things that is a characteristic of this life. Most of us walk by faith, even if we bear testimony of knowledge.
Yet a deeper and sadder aspect of our emphasis on knowledge is that we have mostly lost sight of the gift of the spirit that is hope. If faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things, hope is still further removed from knowledge. Hope is a combination of expectation and desire. It is a belief that something may be true, and that it would be a good thing if it were true. Far from condemning a stance of hope with respect to God, Jesus, and the gospel, the scriptures consistently describe hope as a gift from God and as a necessary step toward faith.
Paul is the first great source on hope in our canon. In one of his many passages on hope, Romans 8, Paul describes hope as a powerful force:
For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. (Romans 8: 24-25)
Hope, it seems, can save. Paul is also careful to distinguish here between hope and knowledge. This distinction is reinforced in Alma’s famous discussion of experimenting on the Word as planting a seed:
Now, as I said concerning faith—that it was not a perfect knowledge—even so it is with my words. Ye cannot know of their surety at first, unto perfection, any more than faith is a perfect knowledge. But behold, if ye will awake and arouse your faculties, even to an experiment upon my words, and exercise a particle of faith, yea, even if ye can no more than desire to believe, let this desire work in you, even until ye believe in a manner that ye can give place for a portion of my words. (Alma 32:26-27)
Here, Alma talks about our primary contribution to the experiment of accepting the gospel as desiring to believe. This phrase is, it seems to me, a very close synonym for hope. Alma clearly distinguishes between having a perfect knowledge and having hope, or a desire to believe. Yet in spite of this distinction, Alma in no way condemns those who have hope but not yet faith or knowledge. Indeed, Alma assigns only two tasks to us in his seed experiment: we must have hope enough to plant the seed, and we must choose not to cast the seed out of us when it begins to grow (see verse 28). Everything else happens to us, and is not under our control. Obviously, no moral blame can attach for a failure to do something not under one’s control. So also no moral blame can attach for possession of hope but not yet faith, belief, or knowledge.
So if we have hope that God lives, that God is good, that Jesus is the Christ, that there is life after death… Such hope, even without the faith to say belief or knowledge, is a gift from God and is to be treasured. The scriptures say that, “To some it is given by the Holy Ghost to know that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and that he was crucified for the sins of the world.” (D&C 46:13) This gift of knowledge is evidently not universal. But there is still more; to others it is given to believe those who know, and to some (I think) it is given to persist in hope.