As a cloud computing architect, I am continually impressed by the power of the Internet. Data that previously was hard to find is now literally at our fingertips and the explosion of social media gives us a chance to discuss, debate and consider many points of view.
This presents exciting opportunities and challenges for members of the church. We have a chance to meet and interact with new people daily, and to be exposed to many new ideas. We use social media sites to share everything from our decorating plans to our religious views. In this process it is not uncommon for members of the church to encounter ideas for discussion that challenge their beliefs. Some find the questions raised to be disconcerting and wonder whether it is acceptable to have a faith-based question.
However, the exact opposite is true. Not only is it okay to have questions, in fact, questions are supposed to happen.
Some seem to believe there is a taboo in the Church against asking questions about Mormon Church history or doctrine. We may feel misunderstood or brushed off when, after asking a sincere question to someone in authority, we hear “read and pray and everything will be okay.” While this is good advice (in fact, very good advice, but more on that later) if it’s not answering my question that feeling of being brushed off can be very unsatisfying and can increase frustration.
So, how do we obtain knowledge in general, and in specific, how do we resolve concerns that affect our testimonies? It may be helpful from the outset to make a distinction between sincere “questions” and “doubts.” In today’s world the two words are used interchangeably, and some take offense at the distinction, but in the scriptures they are used to mean two very different things.
Is there a scriptural basis for questioning?
Questions, when asked with a sincere desire to increase one’s understanding and faith, are to be encouraged. Indeed, a very substantial proportion of both ancient and modern revelations–many of which are recorded in the scriptures–have come because someone raised a sincere question. By definition, sincere questions are asked with the “real intent” to better understand the doings and more fully obey the will of the Lord. The scriptural injunction to seek and to ask in order to find and have truth “opened unto you” is among the most frequently repeated in all of holy writ. Again, however, the distinction centers on the “real intent” of the questioner, i.e., the commitment to “listen and obey.” The questioner continues to be obedient while searching for answers.
Doubts (Scriptural Definition)
By contrast, the doubter gives up on commandments and covenants while waiting for answers.
There is no suggestion in all of the scriptures or the teachings of the prophets that encourages doubt. In fact, the scriptures are full of teachings to the contrary. Thus, in Doctrine & Covenants 6:36, Mormon 9:27, after we are encouraged to “ask the Father in the name of Jesus for what things soever ye shall stand in need,” we are counseled, “Doubt not, but be believing….” The problem with doubt is the implicit intent to obey only after the uncertainty is resolved to the satisfaction of the doubter. This is the attitude personified by Korihor in Alma 30, who said, “If thou wilt show unto me a sign…then will I be convinced of the truth of thy words”(Alma 30:43), and “Yea, I will deny except ye shall show me a sign”(Alma 30:45).The doubter’s posture is to withhold obedience or limit it pending convincing resolution–in his mind–of his doubts.
The distinction between questions and doubts may seem like semantic word games. It is not. The power of doubts, often raised by those whose motives are themselves in question, to destroy faith, family, and hope, is markedly diminished the minute one says in sincerity, “I will do the things the Lord has commanded whether my questions are resolved quickly or ever because….” The difference between, “I will keep the commandments if…” and “I will keep the commandments because…” is of powerful and eternal import.
If you really want an answer to a spiritual question, and you believe that God exists, then you have to use His rules to get the answers you seek. If, on the other hand, you don’t believe in God or that He can talk to you, then this whole process is irrelevant. This process requires at least a minimal amount of faith and a desire to understand and follow His will.
Am I a hypocrite?
It is perfectly normal to feel concern and uneasiness when confronted with something unfamiliar, especially if it challenges a strongly held personal belief. What matters is not letting that uneasiness turn us from our covenants during our search for answers. You cannot turn your back on God and then expect Him to answer your questions on your terms. It takes faith to continue keeping the commandments before our uncertainty is resolved to our complete satisfaction. We should not take the position of Korihor in Alma 30, who said, “If thou wilt show unto me a sign…then will I be convinced of the truth of thy words” (Alma 30:43), and “Yea, I will deny except ye shall show me a sign” (Alma 30:45). It may be tempting to withhold obedience or limit it pending convincing resolution of concerns, but this is not God’s way.
There are some out there who plant seeds of doubt with the intent to destroy faith, family, and hope. Their influence is markedly diminished the minute one says in sincerity, “I will do the things the Lord has commanded whether my questions are resolved quickly or ever because….” The difference between, “I will keep the commandments if…” and “I will keep the commandments because…” is of powerful and eternal import.
To put a practical spin on this and to receive answers to our questions, we must each first ask ourselves the following: “Am I willing to do what it takes to get an answer from the Lord?”
The Savior himself created this pattern when He said, “If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself” (John 7:17). In Malachi, the Savior gives a commandment and then says, “Prove me now herewith” (Malachi 3:10).
So, the first step in resolving questions is to keep living the commandments, or as The Book of Mormon puts it, stand “steadfast and immovable in keeping the commandments of God.” How do you remain “steadfast and immovable” during a trial of faith? You immerse yourself in the very things that helped build your core of faith: you exercise faith in Christ, you pray, you ponder the scriptures, you repent, you keep the commandments, and you serve others. When faced with a trial of faith, don’t step away from the Church. Distancing yourself from the kingdom of God during a trial of faith is like leaving the safety of a secure storm cellar just as the tornado comes into view.
So, no, you are not a hypocrite for continuing to attend church, study scriptures, and pray while you work through your questions about the Church. You are wise.
If I have a question, does that mean I am guilty of some great sin?
Some incorrectly suppose that sincere concerns about Mormon Church history or doctrine are de facto evidence that one is not living up to the standards of the Church. Having questions does not mean that you are looking for a way to justify sins and should not be interpreted as such. Having questions does not mean you are guilty of some great sin. Questions are a part of life and are necessary for our progression and increased understanding.
That being said, if you turn away from your covenants while you are searching for answers, you go from what the scriptures call “questioning” into what the scriptures call “doubting.” “Doubting” is usually prceeded by unwise choices.
Elder Quentin L. Cook said, “Many who are in a spiritual drought and lack commitment have not been involved in major sins or transgressions, but they have made some unwise choices. Some are casual in their observance of sacred covenants. Others spend most of their time giving first-class devotion to lesser causes. Some allow intense cultural or political views to weaken their allegiance to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Some have immersed themselves in Internet materials that magnify, exaggerate, and, in some cases, invent shortcomings of early Church leaders. Then they draw incorrect conclusions that can affect testimony. Any who have made these choices can repent and be spiritually renewed.”
Unfortunately, it does sometimes happen that a person uses doubts as a means to leave the Church to avoid feeling guilty about sinning. If I choose to sin, I offend the spirit (see D&C 121:37) that is in me. When this happens I feel bad. But instead of taking advantage of the Atonement of Christ and repenting to relieve my guilt, I can choose to listen to one of the most cleverly packaged and successful lies Satan has ever peddled.
There are variations on the theme, but they all go something like this, “I know I feel bad when I do wrong, but I don’t want to change, and what I am doing (or not doing) isn’t that serious, so there must be some other reason I feel bad.” About this time the person hears something about Mormon Church history or doctrine or practices (true or not) and clings to it because, if the Church is not true, then that must be the reason he/she feels bad. He/She is being “oppressed” by the teachings of an “untrue” church. There would be no need to change actions not in keeping with the Church’s teachings. When this happens, meaning someone willingly turns away from the light he/she has received, things start to go downhill fast. The love and hope one used to feel gets replaced with bitterness towards the things of God. It rarely happens all at once. In fact, people usually say things like, “I feel so much better now that all the guilt is gone!” But, bit by bit, the happiness is replaced with criticism, bitterness, and a gradual rejection of covenants, and nothing ever feels quite right again, unless and until true repentance takes place.
Please note, and I repeat: This is only sometimes the case. Having questions does not mean one is trying to make excuses for sinning. It is normal and expected that we will have questions. That is how we learn and grow.
Why does this site exist?
This site exists to help people seeking answers to difficult Mormon Church history or doctrine questions. This help, however, may not come as one would expect. Rather than try to address a host of specific issues, this site provides a scripture-based framework to help people search in the most uplifting and effective way. Specifics are still important, but receiving personal revelation from God is the key. It is easy to get bogged down in searching for historical facts that may be lost to time, but it is always possible to get real and relevant information from the One who understands all.
Sincere questions get answers and revelation. Feelings of uneasiness can be replaced with warmth and peace. First and foremost, you should ask yourself if you really want an answer and are willing to fight for it. If you are feeling dark and confused, go back to the basics. Serve others, give of yourself, pray often, and be quick to forgive. Be especially aware of casualness in observance of sacred covenants. Be patient. Some questions take years to answer, but that doesn’t mean that you have to be miserable in the meantime. Stay true to the covenants you have made, and you will find hope again.
Then, and only then, will you get the answers you seek, and the “doctrine of the priesthood shall distil upon thy soul as the dews from heaven.” (D&C 121:45) It really does work; just hang on and keep doing the good things you are doing. While it may seem counter-intutive at first, consistent obedience leads to increased understanding.