Flexible Faith Part 2: Faith and Doubt…

“For it must needs be that there is an opposition in all things” 2 Nephi 2:11

It is easy to skim past this principle and not fully evaluate what having an opposite means or the eternal nature of them.  The union of opposites could be seen as an antagonistic relationship (one fights the other), a cause and effect relationship (one causes the other), or a chronological relationship (one before the other as a reaction), or even a multiplier relationship (one increases the magnitude of the other in some way).  I don’t fully understand the full depth or the entire connection of these unions, but I suspect it is far deeper than we imagine, and a fundamental part of our mortal journey.

One such union is faith and doubt.   Faith is an inextricable necessity through our journey toward God and therefore doubt will accompany us as well.  We should get used to doubt and learn to understand it if we want to avoid its potentially destructive results and increase our faith as it works against our doubts until it blossoms into knowledge that is unshakable.  As with other opposing forces there are multiple external and internal influences at work on both sides.  God is trying to influence our faith, and Satan is trying to influence our doubt. The natural man in us is built to be skeptical and cautious in its reasoning; the spiritual man is built to rely on communications of the Spirit and promises from God.  Both facets exist and both are being influenced as a part of our mortal journey.  While we could spend much time explaining and dissecting doubt.  For my purposes I wish to just divide it into two sub-types.  Questioning (realistic admission one does not KNOW or one isn’t sure they believe in something and would like to learn the truth. Or in other words “the jury is still out”) and Doubt (we have decided we do not believe or at a greater extreme we KNOW it is untrue. Therefore, our actions become attacking and destructive in nature).  From the scriptures we can find a few glimpses of the different types:

  • Questioning:

“And in that day ye shall ask me nothing. Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it you.”  John 16:23

“Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you:”  Matt 7:7

“Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not.” James 4:2

If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.  But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed.” James 1:5-6

  • Doubting:

“Neither be ye of doubtful mind…” Luke 12:29

“Behold, I say unto you that whoso believeth in Christ, doubting nothing, whatsoever he shall ask the Father in the name of Christ it shall be granted him; and this promise is unto all, even unto the ends of the earth.” Mormon 9:21

“Jesus answered and said unto them, Verily I say unto you, If ye have faith, and doubt not, ye shall not only do this which is done to the fig tree, but also if ye shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; it shall be done.”  Matt 21:21

The attitude in which we approach a principle, doctrine, idea, or commandment will determine much of our behavior that results.  If we approach with a doubtful mind (clouded with preconceived notions, bias, and disbelieving hearts) our destination is likely already determined.  To approach something with a faithful mind is not to assume it is true as that would be clouded with bias and preconceived notions as well, but a faithful mind is one that possesses a questioning spirit with the baseline of “a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith (confidence) in Christ”. This attitude allows the truth to come.

President Uchtdorf:  “Inquiry is the birthplace of testimony.  Some might feel embarrassed or unworthy because they have searching questions regarding the gospel, but they needn’t feel that way.  Asking questions isn’t a sign of weakness; it’s a precursor of growth…”

Since the difference between Doubt and Questioning are so fine you can see how easily outside influences can move us.  The power that comes from the union of opposites is that when we question we have a CHOICE.  We can choose to be doubtful or we can choose to be faithful in our journey to turn doubt into faith.

President Uchtdorf continues:  “Fear not; ask questions.  Be curious, but DOUBT not! Always hold fast to the faith and the light you have already received.  Because we see imperfectly in mortality, not everything is going to make sense right now.  In fact, I should think that if everything did make sense to us, it would be evidence that it had all been made up by a mortal mind.  Remember that God has said:  “my thoughts are not your thoughts, nearer are your ways my ways…”

One of the basic tenants of LDS belief is that we have the sole priesthood authority to act in the name of God.  That we are the true and living church of Jesus Christ.  Some of the implications of these beliefs result in a tremendous amount of cultural pressure to KNOW that these beliefs are facts.  From the time we are young the pressure to “KNOW” things is intense within our belief system.  For many, testimonies of the Lord and the Gospel are only perceived to be appropriate, meaningful, or powerful when they are KNOWN rather than “merely” believed or taken on faith. In fact, many times they are only expressed as knowledge by even small children who couldn’t possibly know the things they are saying they KNOW.  This pressure can lead many of us to ignore doubts like a disease, vilify others’ doubting, or even withdraw because our doubts overcome us and make us feel unworthy or “not Mormon” despite the many things we do believe.  In addition to this pressure, there is the feeling that, because doubt is the negative force in the union, it is evil and must be avoided at all cost.  This also causes us to behave negatively toward doubt without understanding it.  By acting this way toward doubt, we are ignoring the union between doubt and faith, and therefore, missing much of the peace, joy, and confidence that comes from using our questions to increase our Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.  Most importantly, by ignoring doubt and questions we are eliminating the CHOICE we can make to be faithful and therefore missing the power that comes through faithful action.  By removing this choice we are potentially setting ourselves up for catastrophic ramifications when what we convinced ourselves we KNEW is overcome by the doubt that cannot be suppressed any longer. Our foundation that ignored all questions and was built on sand comes crumbling down.

Since faith and doubt are a battlefield of the mind and the spirit, and also the global war between good and evil, it is important to prepare ourselves for this fight.  I propose some things that can be done to understand, and utilize doubt on the path to increasing our faith.

1.  It is not only OK but it is good for you to not KNOW everything.

For many, embracing the fact that doubt is inseparable from faith is a great relief.  When we are lost on a journey, one of the most critical and relieving experience can be determining where you are.  From there, plotting the course to our desired direction is much easier.  We don’t need to KNOW everything right now. If we pretend we do we are not true to ourselves.  There are things we know from revelation and experience, there are things we have faith are true through assumptions and experience, and there are things we question whether they are true at all.  Since we are always learning new things and hopefully trying to increase our faith, the lists of things in each category will constantly be growing.  Do an inventory.  Determine the things you know, the things you believe, and the things you are not sure of.  Keep a few things in mind as you compile the list.

  • If you are making assumptions that something is true because of something else you know is true, add it to the list of things you believe.
  • Don’t allow guilt to prevent you from having things on your question list
  • Try to discover the correlations between the things on the different lists and why they are in the positions they are.

A few things happened for me as I did this.  I realized how much I actually cherish the things I know.  I realized that I have a lot of things I have faith in, and that my questions are reasonable and fair questions.  The whole process made me feel good about where I am right now.  Hopefully, knowing where you are can give you that relief and prepare you for step 2.

2.  Try to Envision what you want.

The promises of the Gospel are clear: peace and happiness through our trials in this life, fulfilling and eternally lasting relationships, and all that God has in the eternal world to come.  This is a key point.  Without an internal desire for these promises, the battle of your faith has already been won.  Many things can prevent us from believing these promises are real, and many things can even make us believe we are not worthy of them. However, in this exercise all you need to decide is whether you want them.  If you do, then the achieving them will take increasing your faith which is both a process and a battle.

Elder Neal A. Maxwell once said, “If the church were not true, our enemies would be bored rather than threatened, and acquiescent rather than anxious. Hell is only moved when things more heavenward.”

The process of increasing our faith is where God reveals Himself to us to give us knowledge. It is the place from which our strength to overcome questions and doubts is derived.  It is where we recognize we are worth the blessings promised, and it is where we gain confidence that His blessings are real.  How can any of us increase our faith if we KNOW everything???  How can we increase our faith if we don’t know what we want???  The apostles, in the presence of the Lord, even asked, “Lord, Increase our Faith”.

“5. And the apostles said unto the Lord, Increase our faith. 6 And the Lord said, If ye had faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye might say unto this sycamine tree, Be thou plucked up by the root, and be thou planted in the sea; and it should obey you.” Luke 17:5-6

Some feel this response by the Lord is a reproving remark, but I feel so strongly that what he is saying is “Guys, it doesn’t take a lot of faith for it to be powerful.  Just start the process and do it with real intent and you can have faith that will help you overcome all things.”   I feel that as we try to live better, pray with more faith, help more of our brothers and sisters, confront our doubts despite our fears, shake off the traditions that govern our actions mindlessly, and seek to know from God the solutions to our doubt, God will reveal himself to us and His confidence will come.  The list will change.  We will move things from “the questions list” to the “have faith in list” and from the “have faith in list” to the “I KNOW” list.

“When doubt or difficulty come, do not be afraid to ask for help. The scriptures phrase such earnest desire as being of “real intent,” pursued “with full purpose of heart, acting no hypocrisy and no deception before God.” I testify that in response to that kind of importuning, God will send help from both sides of the veil to strengthen our belief.” Jeffery R. Holland

In order to do this we must have a solid starting point, and in the first step we created a lists, and we must have a destination in mind.

“In moments of fear or doubt or troubling times, hold the ground you have already won, even if that ground is limited…hold fast to what you already know and stand strong until additional knowledge comes. When problems come and questions arise, do not start your quest for faith by saying how much you do not have, leading as it were with your unbelief.” Jeffery R. Holland

3. Determine the first steps on your course.

From the beginning of time prophets have taught us to have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and His Gospel.  He is where we must center our focus to guide our steps toward increasing faith.  I have found that centering my faith, and increasing my faith in Jesus Christ and His Gospel has allowed me to acknowledge my questions, and overcome them over time.  I still have questions, but my confidence that these doubts will be overcome increases each time my faith in Jesus Christ increases.  Here are some suggestions on building your faith around Jesus Christ and the Gospel:

  • Study the life and teachings of Jesus Christ through the scriptures and through books.
    • Recommended Readings
      • The Book of John and The Book of Luke (New Testament)
      • The Book of Mormon (Study from the desire to know Christ and his Gospel)
        • 2 Nephi 2, 30-33, Alma 40-42, Mosiah 2-5
      • The Infinite Atonement (Tad R. Callister)
      • Believing Christ (Stephen R. Robinson)
  • Center your life on Jesus Christ and his gospel by “experimenting on the seed to see if it is good” Alma 32:21-43
    • Meditate and Ponder the things you can do for good in this world
    • Seek the guidance of the Lord in your life through prayer and listening.
    • Be grateful through prayer, actions, and words which allows you to remember how great the Lord has been to you.
    • Seek to help those around you find happiness, which is the purpose of the Gospel and this life in the first place.
    • Believe in the mercy of the atonement and the hope that comes by knowing Jesus has already saved us if we just believe.

Having the foundation built on Christ is something I am so blessed to have. Although it didn’t come to me in one day, it is continually growing. I do KNOW now that Jesus Christ is the Savior and that he loves us.  I think the words of Helaman sum up my feelings best:

“And now, my sons, remember, remember that it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation; that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, yea, his shafts in the whirlwind, yea, when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power over you to drag you down to the gulf of misery and endless wo, because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall.”  Helaman 5:12