Trying to find a way with Scriptural understanding to reconcile the honest search for Truth and the spiritual destructiveness of unbelief, I found that doubt is not a positive attribute. As described by prophets and the Lord Jesus Christ, doubt is the enemy of faith. Unbelief is slightly worse because of a more concrete condition of the mind and heart, but they are both related to each other. Doubt doesn’t lead to faith. It destroys it by leading to questioning everything; even miracles that we participate in by the Grace of God.
The one instance when doubt brought greater understanding was Acts 10:17 after Peter received his vision of the unclean animals. Religiously speaking, it was a weak doubt because he had complete confidence the vision was real. He simply wondered, “what this vision which he had seen should mean,” and pondered for an answer. His faith in the vision was rewarded with a missionary opportunity to baptise a gentile. He then realized in Acts 10:28 that, “it is an unlawful thing for a man that is a Jew to keep company, or come unto one of another nation; but God hath shewed me that I should not call any man common or unclean.” The use of the word “doubt” in this instance might be the wrong choice of words, when “wondered” might be more appropriate.
Despite modern definitions and meanings, to doubt is not the same as questioning. It is natural and even required by Scripture that we should question. No one can discover truth without inquiring with mind and spirit where it can be found. How we are to question is important to properly growing in faith. There is a form of action involved that goes beyond the intellectual curiosity. It reads in 1 Thes. 5:21 that believers should, “Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.” As always, Jesus Christ explained how this is to be done while teaching at the Temple. His teachings became a source of astonishment to the people attending because he had no formal intellectual training. They asked him how he could know so much without the proper school education and he responded in John 7:16-17 that, “My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me,” and “If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.” He is teaching that the way to discern spiritual things is to follow what God has already taught. This idea is emphasized in verse 19 when he asks, “Did not Moses give you the law, and yet none of you keepeth the law? Why go ye about to kill me?” Those who do not follow the basic teachings of God cannot comprehend deeper truths and will be stuck with their questions.
Critics often point out that Joseph Smith asked questions as evidence that doubting is acceptable. This, I am afraid, is a misreading of his own history. The process of “questioning” can be read in his own handwriting in the first attempt in 1832 to write his history. Although it is true he questioned the preachers of his day, it wasn’t their teachings that bothered him. He saw how they acted, most likely because of bickering as recorded later, compared to what he learned from the Bible and concluded something was wrong. This brought him to pondering the wicked condition of all people in the world, and therefore the sins of his own heart. Humbled by the thought of damnation because of the things he did (later to describe them as youthful indiscretions) against what he knew should have been done, he sought repentance. He didn’t multiply questions and dwell on them until there became a crushing doubt of all his beliefs. No, he remained a steadfast believer in the Bible as a source of truth.
As is well known he continued to read the Bible, until as stated in the official Joseph Smith History, “one day reading the Epistle of James, first chapter and fifth verse, which reads: 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.” To those who believe in Mormonism, this inspired him to pray in the woods near his home after a day of work chopping down trees. He saw glorious visions that culminated in the visit of Jesus Christ and Heavenly Father. He proved to himself the existence of God and was granted forgiveness out of an act of faith and not one of doubt. In fact, John 1:6-8 declares:
6 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.
7 For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord.
8 A double minded man is unstable in all his ways.
Those who ask without having faith in the answer will not get an answer. They will be “tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive” (Eph. 4:14. An interesting chapter considering the topic of following the Apostles and Prophets for our spiritual protection).
An example of how doubt gets in the way of faith even in the middle of experiencing miracles is Peter walking on water with Jesus. He witnessed the calming of the seas by the words of Jesus before, and was offered a chance to replicate what Jesus had done at another time. The apostles, as recorded in Matt. 14:25-33, were in a boat during hard weather and looked to see a figure crossing the water. In fear they thought it was an evil spirit, but quickly perceived it was Jesus. Excited to see him, Peter called out and asked if he could join him on the water. Jesus replied in the affirmative and Peter stepped out of the boat, taking substantial steps. During the miracle Peter looked around and started to doubt, “when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me.” In response Jesus grabbed his hand and said, “O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?” Faith turned to doubt. Doubt turned to fear. Without the merciful hand of Jesus, surely Peter would have drowned in heavy seas.
One of my favorite quotes comes from the novel Dune by Frank Herbert. The boy Paul who would later become the “prophet” Muad’dib was getting tested by a Bene Gesserit priestess with the box of pain. It is both a rite of passage and a lesson on faith. Those who can endure the pain and not flinch are considered of high spiritual quality. During the rite there is the quoted litany:
“I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing….only I will remain”
There is no complaining. There is no continuous arguing and questions unending. The pain is there and to the mind real, but once it passes with faith and self-control then all that remains is a stronger person. Too many are “Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” (2 Tim. 3:7) because they let doubt rule over them. When Oliver Cowdery was given the opportunity to translate the Book of Mormon, he was told, “Therefore, doubt not, for it is the gift of God; and you shall hold it in your hands, and do marvelous works; and no power shall be able to take it away out of your hands, for it is the work of God” (Doc. & Cov. 8:8), and at first he succeeded. It seems evident he had a spiritual gift similar to Aaron used in the translation, but he ultimately failed. The Lord explained in Doc. & Cov. 9:11 to him, “Behold, it was expedient when you commenced; but you feared, and the time is past, and it is not expedient now.” Once again faith turned to doubt, doubt to fear, and fear into the need for the Lord to show mercy.
I suppose that end part with the Atonement and mercy of Christ as the safety valve is a stumbling block for those with a prideful need to know and do all for ourselves. President Ezra Taft Benson in his famous talk on pride warned:
The proud cannot accept the authority of God giving direction to their lives. (See Hel. 12:6.) They pit their perceptions of truth against God’s great knowledge, their abilities versus God’s priesthood power, their accomplishments against His mighty works.
Our enmity toward God takes on many labels, such as rebellion, hard-heartedness, stiff-neckedness, unrepentant, puffed up, easily offended, and sign seekers. The proud wish God would agree with them. They aren’t interested in changing their opinions to agree with God’s.
Thomas is the “patron saint” of doubters. He wanted to feel the pierced hands of Jesus Christ to prove the resurrection after other disciples told of their experience seeing him. Although Jesus Christ obliged him when next visiting, he did warn “be not faithless, but believing” (John 20:27) in the process. After Thomas became a witness, Jesus added in verse 29, “because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.” What Thomas did was an act of faith and not doubt. His gift of witness to the resurrection had to be done with belief. Jesus had warned before, ” If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead” (Luke 16:31), and so sign seeking to alleviate doubt is no help.
Can all that is left be blind faith? As the world defines knowledge, faith is inherently blind. There is no way around that fact. We must walk with faith in darkness to see the light, or we will forever be blind of spiritual things. Corinthians chapter one is a great sermon on the foolishness of the world against the foolishness of the gospel. To quote any part of that chapter is to take away from the whole. To sum up I will quote verse 21, with the encouragement of reading the rest, “For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.” King Benjamin in Mosiah 4:11 taught, “and again I say unto you as I have said before, that as ye have come to the knowledge of the glory of God, or if ye have known of his goodness and have tasted of his love, and have received a remission of your sins, which causeth such exceedingly great joy in your souls, even so I would that ye should remember, and always retain in remembrance, the greatness of God, and your own nothingness, and his goodness and long-suffering towards you, unworthy creatures, and humble yourselves even in the depths of humility, calling on the name of the Lord daily, and standing steadfastly in the faith of that which is to come, which was spoken by the mouth of the angel.”
How we deal with doubt is the acts of faith that include prayer, Scripture study, church attendance, and following the Commandments. How we don’t deal with doubt is pride of thinking we know better than church leaders, teachings of the scriptures, and God. The current prophet Thomas S. Monson has said about faith and doubt:
In this dispensation, in a revelation given to the Prophet Joseph Smith, the Lord said, “Look unto me in every thought; doubt not, fear not.” . . .
As we offer unto the Lord our family prayers and our personal prayers, let us do so with faith and trust in Him. Let us remember the injunction of Paul to the Hebrews: “For he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” 5 If any of us has been slow to hearken to the counsel to pray always, there is no finer hour to begin than now. William Cowper declared, “Satan trembles, when he sees the weakest Saint upon his knees.” 6 Those who feel that prayer might denote a physical or intellectual weakness should remember that a man never stands taller than when he is upon his knees.
We cannot know what faith is if we have never had it, and we cannot obtain it as long as we deny it. Faith and doubt cannot exist in the same mind at the same time, for one will dispel the other.
Sometimes I wonder if there are too many Mormons who should not be Mormon because of their attitudes. It would be better for them to repent and stop finding fault with the history, theology, and leadership. For those who seem to cling to their doubts as if a virtue, perhaps they should consider (as some already have) that differences are irreconcilable and time to move on. I do mourn for them, but in the way Mormon did his own people, “But behold this my joy was vain, for their sorrowing was not unto repentance, because of the goodness of God; but it was rather the sorrowing of the damned, because the Lord would not always suffer them to take happiness in sin”(Mormon 2:13). For all the years since Ezra Taft Benson that the LDS Church has sought the members to be more earnest in the study of The Book of Mormon, our path seems to be repeating rather than learning from the Nephite’s mistakes. We doubt too much. Its time to show more faith as God intended.