This post is in response to a comment by a strong LDS friend of mine about faith versus doubt. This person mentioned that posing questions in faith was ok, but that posing questions in doubt is wrong. A further comment made by my friend was that doubt presupposes that one's search will end up disproving their faith. I'd like to take up the issue of doubt and frame it a little differently.
It is a natural thing for someone to have doubt. The message I often hear is that doubting is wrong and even evil and may be laden with significant eternal consequences. I've heard often that Doubt is the opposite of faith and can only lead to loss of testimony. It's considered bad to doubt. Those who do feel guilty about it and place their doubts on a mental shelf to be ignored. Unsuprisingly, those with doubts are sometimes afraid to mention them to fellow Latter Day Saints for fear that they will be labeled apostates. Many members are afraid to question EVEN IN FAITH (suggested as acceptable by my friend), because even just asking a simple question may be perceived as doubting. They miss out out the opportunity to learn truth by actively seeking in faith.
President Uchtdorf taught: "Brothers and sisters, as good as our previous experience may be, if we stop asking questions, stop thinking, stop pondering, we can thwart the revelations of the Spirit. Remember, it was the questions young Joseph asked that opened the door for the restoration of all things. We can block the growth and knowledge our Heavenly Father intends for us. How often has the Holy Spirit tried to tell us something we needed to know but couldn’t get past the massive iron gate of what we thought we already knew?"
Others, rather than ask those questions of those who have greater faith and knowledge, of those who could provide guidance backed by experience and the spirit, they take their doubts and questions turning elsewhere for answers because they do not feel welcome in the house of God with their doubts and questions with their fellow ward members. Why do we think that thousands of active Latter Day Saints are turning to online support groups for help with their questions? They do not feel welcome to do so with their LDS friends. They are told that doubting is wrong. They are told to ignore their doubts. They are told that Satan is getting into their hearts. They are warned with dire consequences for daring to doubt.
Doubt is not always a bad thing. It shows concern, it shows interest, and it shows honesty. Doubt leads to more questions which can lead to deep faith and greater spiritual experiences as suggested by Pres. Uchtdorf. Joseph Smith doubted and saw his faith added upon. The courage to ask questions and yes even to doubt indicates that our faith is not fragile and not just based on blind acceptance of what we have been told.
Doubting is a sign of caring. If one did not care, then you could tell people that men lived on the moon and they would just accept it as long as it was the right person that said it. But if one cares passionately, they might ask: "Really? People live on the moon? How do you know? What did they look like? What were they doing on the moon? Any ideas why they are there?” Another way to look at that questioning is “What you are telling me is hard to believe, but I want to believe it….tell me more.” Instead, the message we often send to those who question or doubt is that they are being led by Satan for even daring to ask difficult questions and not accepting what they were told without question.
One of the great virtues of the famous doubting Thomas of the New Testament, is that he absolutely refused to say that he understood what he did not understand, or that he believed what he did not believe. Would we rather people not question and live a life without integrity of thought? Shall we turn our minds off? There was an uncompromising honesty about Thomas the Apostle: he would never still his doubts by pretending they did not exist. His uncompromising honesty is probably one reason why Christ called him to be an Apostle.
How many of us have had doubts and dealt with them by pretending that they do not exist? Why do we do that? Are we afraid of the answers? Are we afraid of being seen as apostates? What exactly are we afraid of? Fear also is in opposition to faith. We should never be afraid of the truth. Truth is discovered by asking questions. How do you find out which is the best college to attend? You gather facts and ask questions. How do you know if a job is right for you? You gather facts and ask questions. How do you know if you should move your family to
Monterrey or stay in ? You gather as much information as you can, you ask questions, and you then submit it to God. Why then do we refuse that formula for the most important area of our life -- our religious beliefs? Even our scriptures tell us to search, to study things out in our minds, to ponder, and to ask (a question!) Creating an environment where one is afraid to ask questions is completely against the plan of God and against what God and his prophets have taught us. Why else would Christ have fought for our free agency in the pre-existence if he were then to turn around and say, "...But don’t ever have any doubts and don't ever question or you won't be worthy of me"? Fort Wayne
By inviting the disciple Thomas to touch him and feel his wounds, Jesus is approving of Thomas’ questions, because he knows they arise from an honest doubt that can and often does lead to faithful commitment. Can you imagine Christ rebuking Thomas for daring to ask? Thomas was not the only one who doubted. When the other disciples first saw Jesus, they were afraid and thought they had seen a ghost. They too doubted he was real and Christ answered their doubts. Do we have any doubt that He will answer ours?
Hellen Keller once said “It need not discourage us if we are full of doubts. Healthy questions keep faith dynamic. Unless we start with doubts we cannot have a deep rooted faith. He who has a faith which is not to be shaken has won it through blood and tears – has worked his way from doubt to truth as one who reaches a clearing through a thicket of brambles and thorns.”
Most people who doubt are not out there in some Machiavellian attempt to sow discord and destroy faith. And while I agree with the basic proposition that doubt is in opposition to faith, doubting can and often does lead to a greater more unshakeable faith. Doubting and questioning are simply an attempt to sift out wrong from truth. It is a search for truth. Truth will withstand scrutiny. We don’t need to protect it from questions and doubts. Truth does not need to shirk from them. Only error and falsehoods are afraid to be explored and found out. Doubt is evidence of someone searching for truth. Are we going to encourage that search for truth, doing our part to help find the truth, or are we going to stifle that honest attempt at a search for truth and condemn it?
~ Bruce Fey