A friend tells me he became an atheist between ages of 30-40. What makes a person lose faith? He claims it was the writings of men. Can a person have the spirit and lose it? Most who leave the faith lose the Spirit, or did they ever have it?
There are two parables given that answer your question. The first is the parable of the sower we find in the New Testament. In this parable the Lord states,
“And he spake many things unto them in parables, saying, Behold, a sower went forth to sow;
And when he sowed, some seeds fell by the way side, and the fowls came and devoured them up:
Some fell upon stony places, where they had not much earth: and forthwith they sprung up, because they had no deepness of earth:
And when the sun was up, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away.
And some fell among thorns; and the thorns sprung up, and choked them:
But other fell into good ground, and brought forth fruit, some an hundredfold, some sixtyfold, some thirtyfold.
Who hath ears to hear, let him hear.” (Matthew 13:3-9)
This parable explains how a person that doesn’t plant their seed into “good ground” may lose their seed by fowls, the sun, and thorns. The different types of ground mentioned are the way side, stony ground, and ground among thorns. The seed that sprouted among the thorns could easily be individuals who love the praise and honor of the world more than the honors of God (think about the Great and Spacious Building in Lehi’s dream). In correlation with the tree of life, remember the individuals that were mocked by the Great and Spacious building and how they were ashamed after partaking of the fruit. These were people who gained a testimony, they were following the rod of iron, and had finally partaking of the fruit of the tree of life (they had the Spirit), and the mocking was too much.
In the Book of Mormon, Alma likened our faith unto a seed. If we plant the seed and properly noursish the seed this verse explains the result, “Now, we will compare the word unto a seed. Now, if ye give place, that a seed may be planted in your heart, behold, if it be a true seed, or a good seed, if ye do not cast it out by your unbelief, that ye will resist the Spirit of the Lord, behold, it will begin to swell within your breasts; and when you feel these swelling motions, ye will begin to say within yourselves—It must needs be that this is a good seed, or that the word is good, for it beginneth to enlarge my soul; yea, it beginneth to enlighten my understanding, yea, it beginneth to be delicious to me.” Initially for the seed to grow a person must not “resist the Spirit of the Lord” and its promptings. Once it grows, if not properly nourished the seed, the Spirit that was initially accepted, could be lost.
A humbling declaration regarding the adversary is that he is out to deceive the very “elect.” In scripture we are informed that the “elect” are those that are able to hear the voice of the Lord,
“And ye are called to bring to pass the gathering of mine elect; for mine elect hear my voice and harden not their hearts;” (Doctrine and Covenants 29:7)
The adversary desires the elect, because if he can deceive the elect, generations that could have had the gospel will be raised without the gospel, and sadly we see this happening today.
So, did people lose faith, or did they never have it? Faith is a gift from God, and is increased as we yield to the enticings of the Spirit; therefore, if they had faith (at one point in their lives) then they would have had to gradually reject the enticings of the Spirit — meaning, they “lost” faith, not that they never had it to begin with. People lose faith because of many reasons (i.e. death of loved one, trials, tribulations, testing they weren’t prepared for, and most important: loving the world and honors of man more than the honors of God). This is why I love the “tree of life” vision as given by Lehi. If we pay attention to this vision, we will come off victorious because as Nephi we know in whom we trust — Jesus Christ.