In a recent general conference session, President Uchtdorf when addressing those who have struggled with doubt or a lack of faith gave this counsel:
Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters—my dear friends—please, first doubt your doubts before you doubt your faith.8 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.
We’ve often seen doubt vilified, for example, the “doubting” Thomas of the New Testament, who refused to believe that Jesus had indeed risen again until he could see for himself. Here is Jesus’ response:
John 20:29 Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.
Not that Thomas wasn’t blessed for having this remarkable experience, but the implication is clear. Those who can believe without having to see are even more blessed.
Another example is with Peter who in the midst of a storm walked on water toward Jesus, but as he did so, he feared and began to sink. As Jesus lifted him up, he gently rebuked:
31 And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him, and said unto him, O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?
Faith is the first principle of the gospel and doubt, it seems here, is the opposite of faith. But what does it mean to have faith? What does it mean to doubt?
I think doubt is a natural part of the experience here on earth. I believe if we don’t experience doubt we’re not really trying enough in our lives. The question isn’t whether or not we will doubt, it’s what we will do with our doubts and our questions.
Gina Colvin hosts a really great podcast and she came up with this great idea called “Got a Sermon” where various people record and submit their own sermons for her to publish on her podcast. Recently, Jay Griffith gave this really touching sermon on revelation. Toward the end of it he says this:
I’ve always loved to question, to learn and to explore, to try new things. This has only increased with age. This year has been particularly rich in learning and relationships. I’ve been invigorated by digging even deeper into the history of our church as we’ve been counseled to do. Not being afraid to doubt, but doubting my doubts first.
I like that last line, not being afraid to doubt, but doubting those doubts first. But I want to parse that phrase a bit because it just seems important. What does it mean to not be afraid to doubt especially when it seems doubt is something we should strive not to do.
I’m wondering how many of us avoid the difficult parts of our lives because we’re afraid we’re not up to it. And sometimes we’re not and it’s better to just leave it alone until we’re ready. I think as members of a church, we shield ourselves from critics and skeptics because we’re afraid for our faith. Or perhaps worse, we’re afraid to dig into new knowledge because we’re afraid it may lay waste to the foundation of our most cherished beliefs. Perhaps as a Mormon, we’re afraid to dig into the messiness of church history or we just can’t stomach reading someone questioning the Book of Mormon’s historicity. But perhaps we shouldn’t be afraid for our faith, but rather use our faith as a light to make our way through new ideas.
Going back to the counsel of President Uchtdorf, the most important faith is faith in Jesus Christ. There are so many ways one can experience and feel the love of God and feel the sanctification that is possible through the atonement of Christ. One may not even equate these experiences directly with Christ, but as a Christian who feels God is in all things and that the atonement is big enough and wide enough to encompass the whole earth, let’s just say for the sake of discussion, that faith in Christ is the same as having faith in goodness and beauty and truth and in our own connection to all of that.
And so, these experiences of goodness, these feelings that we all can experience, that we are loved, that we belong, that as children of God, we can do the hard things we feel called to do, this enables our faith in our selves, in God, in others, in institutions. But as we push into new areas, as we stumble, as we encounter complexity, difficulty, contradiction, paradox, our faith falters. As we run into the consequences of our own mistakes or the mistakes of others. As we feel the abuse of an institution run by flawed individuals, we may shrink and let these experiences destroy our faith. We may encounter feelings of sadness, anxiety, self-doubt, darkness. But perhaps, going back to Jay Griffith’s quote, we shouldn’t be afraid of our doubts, but we should always doubt our doubts. Perhaps this means that the faith we do have should act as the foundation as we work our way into the darkness to gather more light, more understanding.
In a very real sense, we’re all just children, stumbling through life. There’s much, much more that we don’t know than what we do know. But it’s our duty, while we are still breathing, to learn a little bit more, to grow a little more more. And I think doubt is a natural consequence of this.