On Questions and Doubts

This is something Evan and I have been studying, discussing, and pondering for about a month now. I'm not really sure how to put all my thoughts into one blog post and I'm kind of scared to write it. I'm not even sure who I'm writing this to. Myself. My children. Anyway here it is, in its way too long version. Along with my usual disclaimer: I do not in any way speak for or officially represent The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, the following are my personal opinions and conclusions based on my own study of the topics at hand.

I {We} feel like it is a season of questions in our Church right now, a sort of changing culture as our generation comes into its own and starts wondering why about certain things. Starts looking for answers. I think this is great. I think actively asking questions and seeking out answers is a crucial element in learning and growing your faith and your beliefs. But I also think you have to be educated in not only the questions you ask but also the sources you look to for your answers. We have limitless information available at our fingertips, but sifting through what is credible, what is helpful, what is worthwhile can be quite the challenge. Evan has felt as he prepares to teach Doctrine and Covenants and church history this year in seminary that he wants to be prepared to answer any questions that come his way. There are lots of things in the history of our church that cause members to stumble or feel confused, to question and have doubts, but they can feel the same way about things in the doctrine or the culture as well. My goal here isn't to answer any specific questions (although if you have one I can surely guide you in the right direction on where to find the answer). I just wanted to share some principles we have found helpful in how to deal with those questions or doubts you might have, regardless of the source.

1. It's okay to have questions. Ask them. In fact I would even venture as far as to say if you don't have any questions, that's a bigger problem, and frankly you must not have been listening at church for quite some time. We are a religion that believes a man put two of every single species of animal on earth on one boat and floated around with them and then lived to tell the tale. We believe a teenage virgin somehow became pregnant and gave birth to a child, we believe in a man who died and then three days later rose from the grave. We believe in the appearance of angels, in the translation of ancient languages by uneducated laymen from gold plates, and in daily miracles happening right in our own homes. If you've never had a question or a doubt about any of the things you've learned in Sunday school, it's time to start paying attention. Our church was restored by a boy who asked questions. When Joseph Smith came across James 1:5 and read:
"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,"
he took it literally. He knelt down and asked God his question, and he got his answer. It's okay to have questions. Please have questions. But you should do more than just have questions and let them fester. You should ask them and actively seek out answers like he did.

2. Don't be afraid of the truth. Sometimes, you aren't going to like the answers to your questions, but as long as you get the truth, the real truth, then that's okay. I'll illustrate this point with a story. Evan got called on his mission to the South Dakota Rapid City Mission where he spent a significant amount of time on a reservation with several Native American tribes. He started hearing crazy stories about members of our church living in southern Utah in the mid 1800s who massacred emigrants on their way to California and blamed it on a local Indian tribe. Naturally the Native Americans he was living with weren't very pleased about this incident, but honestly how absurd! That could never be true of our church members, so he thought, and he adamantly denied that this had ever happened. We are a church that teaches its members to be Christlike, clearly this couldn't be real. But months and months later he found out it actually was true! The Mountain Meadows Massacre had in fact happened, and you can read about it here. If you get the full story you will see that these members were acting in direct opposition to counsel sent from the prophet and that the church has done everything possible since this horrific event to try to make amends, but that doesn't change the fact that it happened. And that's really not the answer he wanted to hear when he was a missionary trying to get Native Americans to join our church! But it's the truth, and so that's okay. Our God is a God of truth, Ether 3:12 says

 "...Lord, I know that thou speakest the truth, for thou art a God of truth, and canst not lie."

Sometimes truth isn't pretty, but it's still truth which is godly unlike a lie, even if the lie makes you feel better. And our Church isn't hiding this information, its right on the website for anyone who wants to read about it because, like the God that we believe in, we glory in truth. Is it okay that those members killed innocent people? Absolutely not. We couldn't be more regretful or apologetic about the whole situation. But just because a handful of church members at some point in history made some very bad choices, does not mean that the Book of Mormon is false or that revelation does not exist or that Jesus is not the Christ. It means you found out the truth and the truth is that some members of our church made some very sad mistakes. Now accept the truth and learn from it appropriately {and that goes for any answer to any question, not just this one}.

3. Do your homework.  Sometimes when members of our church find out about some event that makes them uncomfortable, or that they've never heard of before, they feel betrayed."What?! How did I never learn about {insert said distressing incident here} at church? How could I have been a member my whole life and never known about this?" And then sometimes they'll even take that betrayal and start telling themselves stories, "Well if the Church never taught me about that, what else are they hiding?" and so the vicious cycle begins. But before you start down that path let me just advise you to hold your horses. Think about it. We have church meetings for three hours once a week to educate the members of this church (that is, assuming every member is attending all three hours every Sunday, which, newsflash, they aren't). We have thousands of pages of Old Testament, New Testament, Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and teachings of modern day prophets to get through. The Church is trying desperately to use that precious time to educate and instill in their members the most important things: Christlike qualities, encouragement and strength for the struggling, and helping the attendees come to know God. Do you really think they have time to devote Sunday school lessons to things like "mistakes members have made in the past"? No! We cannot waste time combing through archives making sure everyone knows about what Joseph Smith did in his free time when we are struggling to even get people to know who Joseph Smith is. This is where your responsibility comes in. Like I said earlier, the church is not hiding any of this information people are "discovering" and feeling uncomfortable about. If you go to the Gospel Topics page on the church website you can read through a list of 250+ topics that have scholarly essays written and published for you to read. That's why its there. To be read! It includes articles on things like polygamy, multiple accounts of the first vision, the translation of the Book of Abraham, race and the priesthood, etc, etc. And then you can read everything listed in the references and works cited on every topic too if you like. But that's what I'm saying, you have to do your homework. You have to be an active member of this church,  and when I say active I don't mean attending sacrament at least once a month. I mean constantly asking questions, seeking information, studying the scriptures and other church materials, and learning of your own free will. You can't just sit in a meetinghouse and expect to be spoon fed everything that has ever happened. {Evan and I personally plan to include lots of these "difficult" topics in our family home evenings and teachings in our homes just to make sure our children don't have that same experience Evan did on his mission of being blindsided by something, but again that is our responsibility, not the Church's.}

4. Remember, all humans are imperfect and have their own moral agency. Including prophets.  I'm just going to let President Uchtdorf explain this one. In his conference address Come, Join with Us given in October 2013 he says:

"And, to be perfectly frank, there have been times when members or leaders in the Church have simply made mistakes. There may have been things said or done that were not in harmony with our values, principles, or doctrine.
I suppose the Church would be perfect only if it were run by perfect beings. God is perfect, and His doctrine is pure. But He works through us—His imperfect children—and imperfect people make mistakes.
In the title page of the Book of Mormon we read, “And now, if there are faults they are the mistakes of men; wherefore, condemn not the things of God, that ye may be found spotless at the judgment-seat of Christ.”
This is the way it has always been and will be until the perfect day when Christ Himself reigns personally upon the earth.
It is unfortunate that some have stumbled because of mistakes made by men. But in spite of this, the eternal truth of the restored gospel found in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is not tarnished, diminished, or destroyed."

I think this principle is so easily forgotten, or perhaps just taken too lightly. We look at our prophets as heroes, as these incredible men we look up to and listen to, and rightly so. We tell ourselves in theory they aren't perfect because we know they aren't God, but if you're like me sometimes you assume their "mistakes" are something more like only pausing at a stop sign for 2 seconds instead of 3 or forgetting to send a birthday card to their great niece three times removed, when really its more than that. Think about Jonah who straight up ran away when God told him to go preach against the wickedness of Ninevah (Jonah 1:1-3) or Lehi who murmured against God when they were in need of food (1 Nephi 16:20). These men were prophets, but they still had the ability to make their own choices, and, like you and I, sometimes they made not so great ones. Unfortunately, theirs are memorialized in scripture for the entire population to read about on a regular basis. In Official Declaration 1 of the Doctrine and Covenants Wilford Woodruff {prophet at the time} writes:

"The Lord will never permit me or any other man who stands as President of this Church to lead you astray. It is not in the programme. It is not in the mind of God. If I were to attempt that, the Lord would remove me out of my place, and so He will any other man who attempts to lead the children of men astray from the oracles of God and from their duty."

You can trust that the prophet and leaders of the church are guiding us in the direction the Lord wants us to go. But remember this principle as you study hard topics, the prophets are still human and they make mistakes. The principles they teach are from God, but perhaps the way they instituted a gospel principle at some point in time wasn't the perfect way to introduce it because they aren't perfect, they were just doing their best. 

5. History is weird. A lot of my thoughts in this post came from a fireside given by Patrick Mason, a professor of Mormon studies at Claremont University on how to deal with questions about hard topics in church history. I wish I could just re post his entire talk instead of writing this all out in my own words, but unfortunately it's not available anywhere so you're getting my interpretations of it. Anyway, he read a quote that I thought was the perfect explanation of things that are hard to understand "The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there." It is impossible to evaluate things people, even prophets, did in the past while looking through our own skewed view. Think about some of the health practices doctors have used in the past, like bleeding patients to get out the "bad blood". Of course this seems crazy to us now but it was what made the most sense at the time with all the information they had. They had different cultural issues, a different economic climate, different lifestyles, it is literally like going in to a foreign country and trying to make sense of their traditions with only an American perspective. It's impossible. You can learn as much as you want about a specific time period, but you are still influenced by your own cultural upbringing and to judge them with that prejudice is simply unfair. You weren't there, there are things you'll never understand.

6. Lead with your faith and assume the best intentions. If any of this blog post is hitting home to you, please please please read Elder Holland's talk "Lord, I Believe." from the April 2013 Conference. He tells the story of a man who brings his son to Christ to be healed, and when the Savior told him that if he believed then all things were possible, the man said, "Lord I believe. Help thou mine unbelief." Elder Holland then makes the following observation:

"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.” That is like trying to stuff a turkey through the beak! Let me be clear on this point: I am not asking you to pretend to faith you do not have. I am asking you to be true to the faith you do have. Sometimes we act as if an honest declaration of doubt is a higher manifestation of moral courage than is an honest declaration of faith. It is not! So let us all remember the clear message of this scriptural account: Be as candid about your questions as you need to be; life is full of them on one subject or another. But if you and your family want to be healed, don’t let those questions stand in the way of faith working its miracle."

It's okay to have questions, and even doubts (we talked about that earlier) but do not let them rob you of every sacred moment you've felt God in your life, of every truth you have felt, of everything you have studied and learned and worked so hard for. Hold on to that faith, even if you have doubts along with it.

And secondly,  when there are things you have questions about, give people the benefit of the doubt. How many times do we see someone we know drive by and they don't wave, and then all the sudden we are coming up with a list in our head of why they hate us and they are such a jerk. Why not instead assume, they didn't see you? They've got a lot on their mind and weren't paying attention? That it in fact has nothing to do with you at all? Plural marriage is the best example of this for me. Some people hear the principle and instantly assume that the leaders of the church just wanted to justify their own lustful desires,, but if you  take even five minutes to research it you will find quotes from Brigham Young, Joseph Smith, and a host of others about how it was the hardest thing they ever had to do, about how they wished they were dead rather than institute this principle from God. Be kind in your evaluations of hard topics, they were hard for everyone, not just you.

7. Remember what really matters: JESUS CHRIST. If there is only one principle you can apply to your questions and doubts, let it be this one. This is not Joseph Smith's church. It's not President Monson's church. This is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. He is the beginning and the end, the Savior of the world, the only thing that matters.

“The fundamental principles of our religion are the testimony of the Apostles and Prophets, concerning Jesus Christ, that He died, was buried, and rose again the third day, and ascended into heaven; and all other things which pertain to our religion are only appendages to it” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 121).

His gospel is pure and true. Remember the Savior in all your questions and doubts and never lose focus on Him. Elder Bednar taught us last April in his talk Bear Up Their Burdens with Ease that the atonement of our Savior Jesus Christ covers more than just our sins. He can heal your doubts and ease your confusion and frustration over hard questions through his grace if you let him. Elder Bednar says;

"Alma explains why and how the Savior can enable us:
“And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people.
“And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities” (Alma 7:11–12).

Thus, the Savior has suffered not just for our sins and iniquities--but also for our physical pains and anguish, our weaknesses and shortcomings, our fears and frustrations, our disappointments and discouragement, our regrets and remorse, our despair and desperation, the injustices and inequities we experience, and the emotional distresses that beset us.

There is no physical pain, no spiritual wound, no anguish of soul or heartache, no infirmity or weakness you or I ever confront in mortality that the Savior did not experience first. In a moment of weakness we may cry out, “No one knows what it is like. No one understands.” But the Son of God perfectly knows and understands, for He has felt and borne our individual burdens. And because of His infinite and eternal sacrifice (see Alma 34:14), He has perfect empathy and can extend to us His arm of mercy. He can reach out, touch, succor, heal, and strengthen us to be more than we could ever be and help us to do that which we could never do relying only upon our own power. Indeed, His yoke is easy and His burden is light."

If you are daily seeking a personal relationship with the Savior, I know you will feel the power of His atonement in your life and everything else, all your questions and doubts, will be put in perspective. As we continually focus on Jesus Christ as the center of our lives, everything else will fall into place.


  1. Thank you for this post -- love it!

  2. Wonderful. Kent and I have noticed the change lately too...so many people with questions, and unfortunately, so many who make wrong choices when they find wrong answers. This guide could help a lot of people remember that as long as you believe in the Savior, and know that this IS His Church, everything else falls into place or falls away from importance. And that's all that matters in the end.

  3. I imagine this was super hard to post, just for the length alone! But thank you for posting it. I'll tell you I started to cry as I was reading towards the end because I really felt The Savior's love and understanding for everything I'm going through. You must have been inspired.


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