This past Sunday my wife and I had the opportunity to speak in our Sacrament Meeting. Following is my address. Of course it is mostly catered to members of the Church. However, those of other faiths will find most of it to be quite applicable.
“Help Thou Mine Unbelief”
Occasionally, there are times when members of the Church are introduced to a question that they have never previously considered. These questions might arise from personal study of the scriptures, stumbling upon material online that comes off as negative towards the Church’s beliefs and organizations, or from conversations with neighbors, friends, or co-workers.
My goal today is to help those who have been, are currently in, or will one day find themselves in a situation like this, understand proper approaches of resolution. I also hope to make suggestions for those of us who are grounded in our testimonies, understand how we can strengthen and uplift those who might find themselves doubting.
The first thing we need to understand is that questions are extremely valuable and good for our spiritual progression. It was a question that took Joseph Smith into a secluded and sacred grove of trees, resulting in his glorious First Vision of the Father and the Son.1 Questions act as our own individual gateways to further light and knowledge.
Next, we need to understand that we are in a constant battle with the “natural man” within each of us. Naturally, our first inclination when presented with the unknown is to doubt. There have been many in the Church who have found themselves so caught up in questions and doubts, that their doubts eventually escort them out the door. This should never be the case. It breaks my heart to hear these stories. The fullness of the gospel of Jesus Christ has been completely restored to the earth. The ordinances of salvation are available for all of God’s children to receive. Every person living on this earth deserves to experience all of the blessings that we enjoy, even those who once enjoyed, but for a time have stepped away.
Where the truth is, there will always be opposition. Elder Neal A. Maxwell once said, “If the church were not true, our enemies would be bored rather than threatened, and acquiescent rather than anxious. Hell is only moved when things more heavenward.” The obstacles that are placed before us that have potential to create feelings of doubt can easily be overcome. We have an unlimited amount of resources available to us that can help us find the answers we are looking for.
This process must first begin with desire. Alma taught, “Even if ye can no more than desire to believe, let this desire work in you, even until ye believe.”2 Alma continues with an eloquent parable of a seed, that when nurtured by faith, diligence, and patience, “it shall take root; and behold it shall be a tree springing up unto everlasting life. And because of your diligence and your faith and your patience with the word in nourishing it…behold, by and by ye shall pluck the fruit thereof, which is most precious, which is sweet above that which is sweet, and which is white above all that is white, yea, and pure above all that is pure; and ye shall feast upon this fruit even until ye are filled, that ye hunger not, neither shall ye thirst. Then, my brethren, ye shall reap the rewards of your faith, and your diligence, and patience, and long-suffering, waiting for the tree to bring forth fruit unto you.”3
When faced with challenging questions, our ultimate desired outcome should be to strengthen our testimonies, instead of misplacing or losing them entirely. In the case of Alma’s parable, this would mean feasting upon the fruit. Or, in the case of Lehi’s vision of the tree of life, staying by the tree. If you’ll recall, there were four individual groups that Lehi, and later Nephi would witness, that made their way to the tree. The first group commenced on the path, however, they wandered off and were lost because of the midst of darkness. The second group made their way to the tree itself, and partook of it’s fruit, but felt ashamed as they were mocked by those who were in the great and spacious building. The third group, the record says, “caught hold of the end of the rod of iron; and they did press their way forward, continually holding fast to the rod of iron, until they had come forth and fell down and partook of the fruit of the tree.” The final of the groups didn’t even make it to the rod of iron. They were seen as “many…wandering in strange roads.”4
We must desire to be a part of the third group. Each of us has partaken of the fruit of the tree to some degree. There will always be opposition to our faith. People will attempt to mock, question, and diminish our faith. We must stand strong, and stay by the tree.
A reliable source we can turn to when seeking answers is the words of the prophets, both ancient and living. We are deeply blessed as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to have access to the teachings of literal prophets of God. To help us in our times of doubt or unbelief, I’ve taken counsel from two of our current Apostles.
In this year’s April General Conference, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland gave an address on this very issue.5 Here are a few excepts that I found to be most applicable:
“In moments of fear or doubt or troubling times, hold the ground you have already won, even if that ground is limited.” He goes on to say, “hold fast to what you already know and stand strong until additional knowledge comes. 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.”
Shortly after the death of his father, Lehi, Nephi found himself in a very low state of being. He lamented, “Why should my heart weep and my soul linger in the valley of sorrow, and my flesh waste away, and my strength slacken…Yea, why should I give way to temptations, that the evil one have place in my heart to destroy my peace and afflict my soul?”6
Nephi could have easily given up in such a situation. But he didn’t. He held fast to what he knew. We can learn much from his example. He later wrote,
“O Lord, I have trusted in thee, and I will trust in thee forever. I will not put my trust in the arm of flesh; for I know that cursed is he that putteth his trust in the arm of flesh. Yea, cursed is he that putteth his trust in man or maketh flesh his arm. Yea, I know that God will give liberally to him that asketh. Yea, my God will give me, if I ask not amiss; therefore I will lift up my voice unto thee; yea, I will cry unto thee, my God, the rock of my righteousness. Behold, my voice shall forever ascend up unto thee, my rock and mine everlasting God.”7
Elder Holland goes on to say, “When doubt or difficulty come, do not be afraid to ask for help. The scriptures phrase such earnest desire as being of “real intent,” pursued “with full purpose of heart, acting no hypocrisy and no deception before God.” I testify that in response to that kind of importuning, God will send help from both sides of the veil to strengthen our belief.”
This year marks six years since my joining the Church. I investigated two years previous to my baptism, mostly because I had to wait until after my eighteenth birthday. During those two years I had many questions. Some were basic, but some were products of extremely negative literature finding its way into my life. I was blessed with the Light of Christ, helping me recognize my feelings. I always recognized that I felt different reading the Book of Mormon, than when I read negative material. I felt good. I felt happy. I was also blessed with good friends in the Church. One in particular at the time was a bishop. I went to school and was friends with his kids. We spent many nights sitting at their kitchen table, discussing the answers to my questions. I’ll forever be grateful for those moments as that man taught me the gospel, and honestly answered each of my questions. If we truly desire answers, God will grant them to us if we will simply ask Him. Some of those answers may come to us personally through the Holy Ghost, some may come through others. Be assured that no matter what, as long as you seek earnestly, the answers will come.
Just a couple of weeks ago, we had the special opportunity of listening to Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles give a devotional address on campus.8 I found some of his words to also be applicable to our subject. He taught,
“..I would offer your this advice in your own study: Be patient, don’t be superficial, and don’t ignore the Spirit.” “Don’t suppose, however, that a lack of evidence about something today means that evidence doesn’t exist or that it will not be forthcoming in the future. The absence of evidence is not proof.”
He then gave two examples of waiting for such evidences of truth to present themselves. Following is one of them.
“Matthew Roper in a FairMormon Blog on June 17, 2013, writes about a criticism repeated many times over the years about the mention of steel in the Book of Mormon. In 1884, one critic wrote, “Laban’s sword was steel, when it is a notorious fact that the Israelites knew nothing of steel for hundreds of years afterwards. Who but as ignorant a person as Rigdon would have perpetuated all these blunders.” More recently, Thomas O’Dea in 1957 stated, “Every commentator on the Book of Mormon has pointed out the many cultural and historical anachronisms, such as the steel sword of Laban in 600 B.C.”
We had no answer to these critics at the time, but as often happens in these matters, new discoveries in later years shed new light. Roper reports, “It is increasingly apparent that the practice of hardening iron through deliberate carburization, quenching and tempering was well known to the ancient world from which Nephi came. ‘It seems evident,’ notes one recent authority, ‘that by the beginning of the tenth century B.C. blacksmiths were intentionally steeling iron.’” In 1987, the Ensign reported that archeologists had unearthed a long steel sword near Jericho dating back to the late seventh century B.C., probably to the reign of King Josiah who died shortly before Lehi began to prophesy. This sword is now on display at Jerusalem’s Israel Museum. The museum’s explanatory sign reads in part, “The sword is made of iron hardened into steel, attesting to substantial metallurgical know-how.””
No matter what situations we find ourselves in, no matter what questions we have, there is always somewhere to go, there is always some One to talk to to obtain answers. We should always seek the help of heaven in all of our endeavors, especially when we find ourselves questioning what we once suspected to be true. God lives and hears every prayer, and desires to answer. All we need to do is ask.
I strongly recommend each of these talks in their entirety to anyone who may find themselves struggling with their testimonies, or with certain principles and doctrines of the gospel. It is my testimony that the counsel offered by these divinely inspired men of God will help anyone overcome such challenges, and find strength in the testimonies they already posses, no matter how small or great they may be.
I would like to conclude with a few suggestions for those of us who may be, or will come into contact with those struggling with questions. The Lord has revealed that, “To some, it is given to know that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and that he was crucified for the sins of the world. To others it is given to believe on their words, that they also might have eternal life if they continue faithful.”9 This scripture, in my opinion, is applicable to all other principles of the gospel. President Joseph F. Smith taught,
“…so long as a man believes in God and has a little faith in the Church organization, we nurture and aid that person to continue faithfully as a member of the Church though he may not believe all that is revealed.”
Remember, each person we come in contact with is a child of our Heavenly Father, one of our brothers or sisters. We must see and love them as God does, as we help them find answers to their questions, resolve their doubts, and strengthen their testimonies of the Savior and His restored gospel. The Prophet Joseph Smith taught, “It is not wisdom that we should have all knowledge at once presented before us; but that we should have a little at a time; then we can comprehend it.” Each of us have the special opportunity to make home and visiting teaching visits at least monthly. These opportunities should be used effectively to teach and understand gospel principles, fellowship, and serve one another. We should also never feel afraid or anxious to seek out answers from each other. Speak with your home or visiting teachers about your concerns. As for those who home and visit teach, develop a relationship that allows for such trust, so those you teach can feel comfortable and confident enough to seek out answers to questions that may be seriously troublesome for them. These relationships, when built throughout the ward, and the Church as a whole, cultivate an atmosphere of unity, and bring us closer to Christ.
Truth has been restored, and we are engaged in a great work. The Atonement of Jesus Christ is always available to us. There is a great power that comes from asking questions. Some of life’s greatest events and journeys begin with a single question. It is my testimony that faith is the ultimate power by which we overcome fear and doubt. As long as we have Christ as the sure foundation of our faith, we need not fear or doubt anything.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions. And if there are times where the answer is currently no where to be found, may we be patient until the answer comes, for it will, and in the meantime, may we follow the advice of Elder Holland and “…forever fan the flame of your faith, because all things are possible to them that believe.”
- Joseph Smith-History 1:13-17
- Alma 32:27
- Alma 32:41-43
- 1 Nephi 8:21-33
- “Lord, I Believe” Ensign, May 2013
- 2 Nephi 4:26, 27
- 2 Nephi 4:34-35
- “The Prophet Joseph Smith” BYU-Idaho Devotional, September 24, 2013
- Doctrine and Covenants 46:13-14