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Steve Densley, Jr.
Wednesday, October 16 2013

Putting Doubt in Perspective

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“Where doubt is, there faith has no power.” Lectures on Faith

An unavoidable part of life is that we routinely experience doubt, confusion and uncertainty. These feelings are always troubling, but they can be especially disconcerting when they relate to our feelings about God. During those times, I like to think about two different episodes in the scriptures.


The first event involved Christ and a great number of his followers. In the sixth chapter of the Gospel of John, Christ gave what has become known as “The Bread of Life Sermon” in which he stated that He is the Bread of Life and that unless we eat of his flesh and drink his blood, we cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Most of those who were listening were so upset by the notion that we must eat the flesh and blood of Christ to go to Heaven that they stopped listening then and there and left the savior.


Only his most loyal disciples, the twelve, remained. Christ did not run after those who left to apologize for offending them, or to try and explain that it was merely a metaphor. He merely turned to the twelve and asked, “Will ye also go away?” (John 6:67.) It was Peter who replied. He did not say, “Of course we’re going to stay. We understand that you are only speaking metaphorically.” Instead, he said “to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life.” (John 6: 68.) Peter and the twelve may have experienced the same kinds of doubts, confusion and uncertainty that were felt by those who left, but the twelve set those feelings aside and stood by the Savior. Rather than act upon whatever doubts they may have had, they acted upon their faith. And because of this decision to act with faith, and continue following the savior, their faith was eventually transformed into knowledge.


The second story involves a great miracle and a man of imperfect faith. The anguished man had sought a blessing from the disciples of Christ for his son, who had been afflicted with convulsions since he was a child. When the disciples were unable to heal the son, the scribes, perhaps seeing an opportunity to embarrass the disciples of Christ, started arguing with the disciples. At this point, Christ entered the scene and asked what the argument was about. The man stepped forward and explained how he had brought his son to the disciples to be healed, but they had failed. Christ told the man that “all things are possible to him that believeth.” (Mark 9:23.) Of course, the man had just witnessed how Christ’s disciples had fallen short and were now being challenged by critics of the Church. The conclusion the man might have drawn was that not even the disciples had sufficient faith. Under these circumstances, it would be understandable if the man gave up and surrendered to doubt. Instead, the man gathered all the faith he could, and said “Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.” (Mark 9:24.) In other words, he was not certain that Christ could heal his son. But he would set aside what uncertainty he had and ask for a miracle. In doing so, his faith turned to knowledge once Christ healed the son.


Clearly, we can be blessed and even witness miracles even though we experience confusion and doubt. Nevertheless, we may become discouraged when we find that our leaders are imperfect. We may become upset at some difficult doctrine or find some Church historical events impossible to fathom. President Uchtdorf recently acknowledged that leaders of the Church have made mistakes and that with respect to the history of the Church, “there have been some things said and done that could cause people to question.”[i] His counsel was to be patient while we gather more information, consider looking at things from a different perspective, and to “first doubt your doubts before you doubt your faith. We must never allow doubt to hold us prisoner and keep us from the divine love, peace, and gifts that come through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.”[ii]


Yet, one does not need to spend much time on the internet today to find people who speak of doubt as if it is something to be proud of. It seems that for some, a person is not truly thoughtful if that person does not regularly experience doubt about the Church and its leaders. For such people, doubt is a badge of honor and a symbol of intellectual maturity rather than a burden and trial to be overcome. As Elder Holland has observed, “Sometimes we act as if an honest declaration of doubt is a higher manifestation of moral courage than is an honest declaration of faith. It is not!”[iii]


Of course, as people speak of “doubt,” it is sometimes difficult to know what they mean. The word “doubt” may be used when all that is meant is mere confusion, uncertainty or a reservation of judgment. Other times the word “doubt” may be used to describe bitterness, cynicism and distrust. One can temporarily “doubt” certain things in the first sense, and still generally see with an “eye of faith.” (Alma 32:40.) However, “doubt” of the second kind erodes and undermines faith. And even when doubt begins as mere questioning or uncertainty, if left unresolved, it can eventually devolve into cynicism and bitterness.


Usually, when we speak of doubt in a religious context, it denotes a condition that is antithetical to faith. For example, when the scriptures or general authorities speak of doubt, it is almost always of the more negative variety.


5 Comments

  1. I don't really see a moral difference between wearing doubt as a badge of honor and ascribing false or insincere motives to one who doubts. Terryl Givens, whose brilliance, insight, and compassion are exemplary, downright Christ like, has been very much taken out of context in this article, imo. "If you are tempted to give up: Stay a little longer. There is room for you here. I plead with all who hear or read these words: Come, join with us. Come heed the call of the gentle Christ. Take up your cross and follow Him. Come, join with us! For here you will find what is precious beyond price." -President Dieter F Uchtdorf
  2. Rachel: I have the greatest respect and admiration for Terryl Givens. In fact, I read his "Letter to a Doubter" as the first in a series of podcasts I produced called "Keeping the Faith." I think you might enjoy listening to this series. The first in this episode can be found here: http://www.fairblog.org/2012/10/31/keeping-the-faith-1-letter-to-a-doubter/
  3. Using our doubts as a sign of "intellectual maturity" is just another way Satan tempts us to be prideful. I have learned through experience that I do not have to understand every detail of the "whys" in order to be obedient and, thereby, grow in faith. Even our great father, Adam, said, "I know not save the Lord commanded me." He THEN received the greater knowledge, AFTER his choice to exercise his faith to be obedient. This is the key to being taught by the spirit and overcoming our doubts.
  4. How easily some of us forget what led Joseph to seek answers in the grove that day.
  5. Chino Blanco: Thanks for the reference to Joseph Smith. As you probably know, reading James 1:6 inspired him to pray. I think it is interesting to note that while the KSV tells us to "ask in faith, nothing wavering," other versions are more clear on what this means. For example, the NIV reads: "But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind."

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