The Book of Mormon provides a striking study in the precept of “dwindling in unbelief.” From the Book of Mormon it is clear that “unbelief” leads to “dwindling” away from the things of God. Any astute reader is able to see the many cycles of belief and associated righteousness and spiritual prosperity in the Book of Mormon. With very few exceptions, each case of belief and righteousness among people cited in the Book of Mormon, eventually resulted in "unbelief" and dwindling away from principles of truth. I have heard these cycles of righteousness then falling away in the Book of Mormon narrative referred to as “pride cycles.” And, it is true that pride is a primary symptom of people who have begun to dwindle. The source of the disease of “dwindling,” however, is always, without exception, “unbelief.” Unbelief leads to pride, selfishness, sin, and evil in all of its varieties. It all begins with “unbelief.”
“Belief,” and “unbelief,” both have much narrower definitions as they are contextually used and applied in the Book of Mormon than may appear at first thought. There are as many things to believe in, as there are people to believe in them. However, there is an eternal principle called “belief” that pleases God and leads to salvation and His presence. In order to understand the nature of spiritually destructive “unbelief,” what it means specifically, how it may be resolved and fixed, an understanding of the eternal principle called “belief” is first required.
“Belief,” that is acceptable to God, that principle which leads to righteousness, spiritual safety, and progression toward God, is centered in, and is absolutely exclusive in its application to only one thing, The Lord Jesus Christ and His redeeming power. Belief in any other thing, person, or concept, that does not have as its exclusive central focus, the Lord Jesus Christ, is called “unbelief.” The Lord has made it as clear as it is possible to make it, that we are to “believe” in Him. Our belief in Him is to be at the exclusion of all other persons or things in order to receive His redeeming blessings. (John 3:15-16, 18, 36, John 5:24, John 6:35, John 11: 26…)
We may believe in a lot of really good things. We may believe in things the Lord Himself has given us such as a church, a leader, a temple, or a family. These are all good things that come to us as blessings from God. We should be grateful for every blessing from Him. But, if the saving, redeeming power of the Lord Jesus Christ is not eminent exclusively in our hearts and minds, belief even in the gifts of God may then become to us “unbelief.” Another way to say this that adds clarity is; the church cannot and will not save you. There is no leader or man that can or will ever have power to save you. The temple, and every priesthood ordinance in and of itself cannot and will not save you. If your belief is centered in any of these things, or any other thing that is not exclusive to the Lord Jesus Christ and His ability and promise to redeem you, your belief is in fact “unbelief.”
The difference between believing in Christ and His redeeming power on the one hand, and believing in all that He has given us on the other hand, is not as subtle as latter day saints want to make it seem. Though because of blindness, a person may not see it, “believing” in the church is not, and in fact cannot be the same thing as believing in Christ. “Believing” in or following any man regardless of calling or position will not, and cannot, ever be the same thing as believing in Christ and His ability and promise to redeem you. Satan masterfully builds up in people’s minds, equivalents to Christ. He teaches that following a “prophet” or "following the brethren" is the same thing as following and believing in Christ. Yet the Lord has revealed that doing so will lead such a follower to a telestial reward. (D&C 76: 98-101) This kind of followership is “unbelief.”
The notion that latter day saints are a “chosen people” has itself become “unbelief.” Believing proudly that they are God’s chosen people and that they are favored of the Lord above all other people is no different than the attitude of the dissident Zoramites in the Book of Mormon who prayed, “and thou hast elected us that we shall be saved, whilst all around us are elected to be cast by thy wrath down to hell; for the which holiness, O God, we thank thee; and we also thank thee that thou hast elected us, that we may not be led away after the foolish traditions of our brethren, which doth bind them down to a belief of Christ, which doth lead their hearts to wander far from thee, our God. And again we thank thee, O God, that we are a chosen and a holy people. Amen.” (Alma 31: 17-18) I have heard words not varying a great deal from these of the Zoramites from latter day saints in church meetings on many occasions. The Zoramites, like the latter day saints, suffered from “unbelief.” Christ and His redeeming power have nothing to do with such a belief. Believing you are one of a chosen people will never save you.
People may direct their attention, focus, and devotion to things of the world. It may be a job, a house, a business, a sport, or a hobby. It may be any one of a hundred addictions that consume. It may be any one of a thousand distractions that lead belief and focus away from Christ and His redeeming power. Any belief or devotion on the part of Gods children to anything whatsoever that does not exclusively focus on the Lord Jesus Christ, His redeeming power and promises, is called “unbelief.”
Understanding now what may constitute “unbelief,” what can we make of the Lord’s condemnation of the latter day saints as set out in D&C 84: 54-57? Remember, that the condemnation of the church by the Lord resulted, “because of unbelief, and because you have treated lightly the things you have received—
Which vanity and unbelief have brought the whole church under condemnation.
And this condemnation resteth upon the children of Zion, even all.” (D&C 84: 54-55) If it was “unbelief “ that caused the people in the record of the Book of Mormon to “dwindle” and lose truth and light repeatedly until they had lost the things of God all together, what warning is evident there that should be taken by latter day saints specifically for them from all of the “dwindling in unbelief” that repeated itself in the Book of Mormon narrative?
Something about the conduct of latter day saints since 1832 has caused the Lord to accuse them of “unbelief.” That unbelief has persisted for 180 years and has to do specifically with the Book of Mormon. (D&C 84: 57) What more can be learned from the Book of Mormon that may help us to correct our “unbelief”? Hopefully, there has not been so much “dwindling” because of our unbelief over 180 years that things cannot yet be turned around. I continue to believe there is still time for us to repent and come unto Him. Our exploration into this most perfect of all books will continue. Remember, Joseph Smith said, (paraphrasing), abiding by its (the Book of Mormon) precepts will bring you nearer to God than by any other book. Belief brings nearer to God. Unbelief causes dwindling.