How does one deal with doubt and difficult questions in a gospel setting?
Answer by President Dallin H. Oaks, First Counselor in the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
President Oaks spoke to a group of young married and single church members in Chicago in February of 2019. He acknowledged that some Latter-Saint couples face conflicts over important values and priorities. Matters of Church history and doctrinal issues have led some spouses to inactivity. Some spouses wonder how to best go about researching and responding to such issues. “I suggest that research is not the answer,” President Oaks said. The Church does offer answers to many familiar questions through its Gospel Topics Essays found at lds.org. “But the best answer to any question that threatens faith is to work to increase faith in the Lord Jesus Christ,” he said. “Conversion to the Lord precedes conversion to the Church. And conversion to the Lord comes through prayer and study and service, furthered by loving patience on the part of spouse and other concerned family members. When you are asked a difficult question, such as a puzzler about Church history, be honest and, if necessary, say you don’t know. But then be sure to say what you do know: ‘I know that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God’.”
Answer by Robert L. Millett, professor emeritus of religion at Brigham Young University
As long as we are able to think, we will probably have questions, whether about climate change or about the restored gospel. But what about doubts? To doubt is to waver or fluctuate, to fear, to be apprehensive of, to distrust. Doubt is clearly a more serious form of questioning, a potentially more harmful one. In recent years, it has become quite popular for people to celebrate doubt, encourage it, even suggest that we must pass through doubt before we can come to faith. This point of view is foreign to the teachings of the prophets. In scripture, doubt is something to be dealt with, to resolve, to overcome, even avoid (see Matthew 14:31; 21:21; Luke 12:29; Alma 57:26; Helaman 5:49; Mormon 9:21; D&C 6:36; 58:29). If I have doubts about some Church historical or doctrinal matter, what should I do? First, the Latter-day Saints have been charged to “search diligently, pray always, and be believing” (D&C 90:24). – to do our homework, to take the matter to our Heavenly Father in prayer and to view our problem through the eyes of faith rather than the eyes of doubt. The “Gospel Topics” essays at lds.org might be especially helpful. Second, never hesitate to consult faithful member of the Church who have expertise in doctrine or history. Ask them your questions. Never assume that because you don’t understand, no one does. Finally, let memory be your friend: reflect on those moments that mattered , on meaningful spiritual experiences that have, through the years, grounded and shaped you If the restored gospel was true then,, it is true today. Hold on, exercise “patience and faith” (D&C 21:5), and in time the voice of the spirit will reaffirm “This is the way, walk ye in it” (Isaiah 30:21)
Answer by Jon Schmidt, musician, composer, and member of The Piano Guys
My wife and I have experienced so many miracles, and when you go through trials that makes you doubt, or when you encounter things that really challenge you and bring doubts to the surface, its been really important for us to focus on the evidences and the miracles in our family and the answered prayers. In times when you feel like your prayers aren’t being answered or heard, it’s really good to remember times when you felt like they were. I’ve had several experiences that are just undeniable, where I knew the Lord reached out to me. Whenever you have a miracle, or whenever you feel like you received a special answer to a prayer, it is important to write it down and record it.
Answer by Julie Heaps, Church News staff writer
The Apostle Paul said, “…but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before…” (Philippians 3:13). I, too, do not comprehend all things, but when doubt looms, I lean upon my anchors – those simple moments when the Spirit has borne witness of a truth or of God’s all-encompassing love. These moments steady me. And sometimes the “only thing I do” is to just keep leaning forward.
Answer by Elder Lance B. Wickman
“We mortals quite naturally want to know the ‘why’. Yet, in pressing too earnestly for the answer, we may forget that mortality was designed.. as the season of unanswered questions. Mortality has a narrowly defined purpose: it is a proving ground, a probationary state, a time to walk by faith, a time to prepare to meet God. It is in nurturing humility and submissiveness that we may comprehend a fullness of the intended mortal experience and put ourselves in a frame of mind and heart to receive the promptings of the Spirit. Reduced to their essence, humility and submissiveness are an expression of complete willingness to let the ‘why’ questions go unanswered for now, or perhaps even to ask, ‘Why not?’ It is in enduring to the end that we achieve this life’s purposes. I believe that mortality’s supreme test is to face the ‘why’ and then let it go, trusting humbly in the Lord’s promise that ‘all things must come to pass in their time’ (D&C 64:32).
Answer by President Harold B. Lee
“It is not the function of religion to answer all questions about God’s moral government of the universe, but to give courage, through faith, to go on in the face of questions we never find answers to in our present status. Therefore, take heed of yourselves, and as a wise thinker once said, ‘If the time comes when you no longer think you can hold to your faith, then hold to it anyway. You cannot go on into tomorrow’s uncertainty and danger without faith.’ When President Lee was sustained as the President of the Church, a reporter asked what he planned to do about the blacks and the priesthood. His reply was, “To those who understand the principle of modern-day revelation, there is no controversy or difficulty. To those who do not understand the principle of modern-day revelation, there is no solution or fairness.”
Answer by Truman Madsen
Truman Madsen suggests the following three “rules” when we interact with other churches:
- Learn about a church only from that church. You don’t go to Voltaire to seek understanding about the Roman Catholic Church.
- Compare the best of a church against the best of another church, not the best against the worst.
- Leave room for “holy envy”. Always have the attitude that there is much to be learned from others points of views.
Answer by Tad R. Callister
Elder Callister differentiates between unanswered questions and doctrinal certainties:
“Certainly, many more questions on cross-examination could be asked. There are certain questions, however, that trump and transcend all others—in essence, they form the crux of an issue. Suffice it to say, some questions are simply more important than others in discovering the truth. If you come to know that Joseph Smith restored the biblical teachings and ordinances discussed tonight, if you come to know that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has the same fruits as Christ’s original Church, or if you come to know that the Book of Mormon is of divine origin, then you know that Joseph Smith is a prophet. And if Joseph Smith is a prophet, then this is the only true and living Church upon the face of the whole earth. At that point, all other questions pale in comparison. It is like the Supreme Court ruling on an issue. All decisions of lower courts to the contrary become immaterial. Likewise, all questions of the critics, however probing or puzzling or entertaining they may be, become immaterial in the equation of truth. Why? Because you have already answered the key questions—the critical questions, the transcending questions—that are the foundational pillars for knowing the truth. Suffice it to say, I can live with some human imperfections, even among prophets of God—that is to be expected in mortal beings. I can live with some alleged scientific findings contrary to the Book of Mormon; time will correct those. And I can live with some seeming historical anomalies; they are minor in the total landscape of truth. But I cannot live without the doctrinal truths and ordinances restored by Joseph Smith, I cannot live without the priesthood of God to bless my family, and I cannot live without knowing my wife and children are sealed to me for eternity. That is the choice we face—a few unanswered questions on one hand versus a host of doctrinal certainties and the power of God on the other. And for me, and I hope for you, the choice is an easy one and a rational one.” – Elder Tad Callister, Church Education System devotional, January 2014, on the campus of Brigham Young University.