Finding Faith in the Midst of Doubt

An article recently appeared in the New York Times regarding Mormons doubting their faith. One of the hallmarks of any legitimate religious faith is a space for doubt, and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is no exception.  If there were no doubt, there would be no faith, for “faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things” (Alma 32:21).  Terryl Givens discussed the issue of doubt in his recent essay, “Letter to a Doubter,” in Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture.

I know I am grateful for a propensity to doubt because it gives me the capacity to freely believe … The call to faith is a summons to engage the heart, to attune it to resonate in sympathy with principles and values and ideals that we devoutly hope are true and which we have reasonable but not certain grounds for believing to be true. There must be grounds for doubt as well as belief in order to render the choice more truly a choice, and therefore more deliberate and laden with more personal vulnerability and investment. An overwhelming preponderance of evidence on either side would make our choice as meaningless as would a loaded gun pointed at our heads. The option to believe must appear on one’s personal horizon like the fruit of paradise, perched precariously between sets of demands held in dynamic tension. Fortunately, in this world, one is always provided with sufficient materials out of which to fashion a life of credible conviction or dismissive denial. We are acted upon, in other words, by appeals to our personal values, our yearnings, our fears, our appetites, and our egos. What we choose to embrace, to be responsive to, is the purest reflection of who we are and what we love. That is why faith, the choice to believe, is, in the final analysis, an action that is positively laden with moral significance.1

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland echoed these sentiments in his address at the most recent April General Conference, adding that

When those moments come and issues surface, the resolution of which is not immediately forthcoming, hold fast to what you already know and stand strong until additional knowledge comes. 2

Latter-day Saints are taught to continually seek additional knowledge “by study and also by faith” (D&C 88:118). We encourage all to examine thoroughly and prayerfully the wealth of resources increasingly available about Church history and doctrine. Such examination is not merely compatible with faith but, in fact, is mandated by it. The many who find faith in the midst of doubt are encouraged in these words: “The glory of God is intelligence, or, in other words, light and truth” (D&C 93:36).

Below are links to resources about the issues raised in the New York Times article.

Seer Stones

Blacks and the Priesthood

Book of Abraham and Egyptian Papyri

Joseph Smith’s Polygamy

Book of Mormon DNA

Book of Mormon Steel Swords

History of the Church and Censorship

  1. Terryl Givens, “Letter to a Doubter,” Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 4:2013, 144-145 

  2. Jeffrey R. Holland, “Lord, I Believe,” April 2013 General Conference. Emphasis in original. 

21 thoughts on “Finding Faith in the Midst of Doubt

  1. Thank you for this insightful article and the references. In this world of myth and science it is especially important to remember the Lord has given us the gift of faith in lieu of absolute knowledge that we might have choice and knowledge without proof.

      • Nora, I can’t answer for anyone else, but I can tell you that I personally see a combination of knowledge and faith as essential. There are many things that we can know, and we rely upon them daily. I am sure that those who send astronauts rocketing into space have a knowledge of the principles they use to calculate all of the many variables needed for success. I also suspect that the astronauts themselves do not master that same knowledge. They, however, have a form of faith in the knowledge of others. Faith operates with knowledge all of the time in daily life, and it is not a principle unique to religion. If it is essential in a life that is heavily based on knowledge, then it is easy to assume that it is important in realms where the tools we typically use to create knowledge do not operate as well as they do in other arenas.

  2. I appreciate what Elder Givens had to say. He is exactly right. Whenever I have doubts I realize I am probably doing something wrong. It doesn’t take much. We have as much pulling us one direction as those on the other side are encouraging us on the other. I have had many spiritual experiences I cannot deny. Many doubters write that off as just one’s imagination. But, its impossible to imagine things you are not expecting to happen. In other words, my most spiritual experiences have happened when I least expected them, not drumming up some imaginary event. I also know the General Authorities know much that is sacred that they do not share with us. But they tell us what we need to know. The early church after Christ was resurrected had a lot of growing pains. Peter, Paul, James (etc.) wrote epistles because of issues they faced by believers and the doubters. Its nothing new. The most elect will be deceived. The wheat and the tares will continue to be separated until the second coming.

  3. Thomas S Monson has taught:

    “Do not yield to Satan’s enticements; rather, stand firm for truth. The unsatisfied yearnings of the soul will not be met by a never-ending quest for joy amidst the thrills of sensation and vice. Vice never leads to virtue. Hate never promotes love. Cowardice never gives courage. Doubt never inspires faith.”.

    This article directly contradicts what a prophet has said.

    • I think you are applying President Monson’s comment to a very different context. The very next sentence after the one that appears contradictory explains his context: “Some find it difficult to withstand the mockings and unsavory remarks of foolish ones who ridicule chastity, honesty, and obedience to God’s commands. But the world has ever belittled adherence to principle.”

      If we know the principles, we stand firm for them. That doesn’t meant that there is never a process in learning. None of us comes to the gospel fully formed. All of us learn line upon line, and doubt as a part of learning is an essential element of progress from one understanding to the next.

  4. You rocked it!

    “Former GA has doubts after surfing the internet”. Still trying to figure out what makes this so unusual, fascinating, and newsworthy in the first place.

  5. When I read the original article, I found it incredible that anyone who has been a member of the LDS Church for years could claim to not know that Joseph Smith practiced plural marriage. After all, the basis for the practice was the revelation received by Joseph that is recorded at Doctrine & Covenants Section 132. He practiced the principle, and taught it to the apostles and other senior leaders during his lifetime, which Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball and others affirmed. The tensions between Joseph and his wife Emma over the doctrine are addressed in many narratives of the Nauvoo period. Additionally, the most famous plural wife of Joseph was Eliza R. Snow, the second president of the Relief Society, and author of the hymn “O My Father”, who was married to Brigham Young after Joseph’s death. These basic facts are recounted in sources like the manual used to teach college level courses in LDS Church History, “Church History in the Fulness of Time”, which can be read online at If you are taking Seminary and Institute classes, reading the D&C, and reading even basic books on Church history, how could you not know this basic fact?

    The second thing about the article I find surprising is that, when any faithful member is asked about questions like this, that are often raised at various sites on the internet, the member does not first go to find answers on the web pages that represent the Church and the knowledge of faithful Latter-day Saints, including,,,,,, etc. You can’t expect the Church to take the responsibility to educate you in every aspect of the Church, its doctrines, and its history. You need to take some initiative, “work out your own salvation”, and “do many things of your own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness.”

    Frankly, when I see stories like this, about people who were formerly actively engaged members becoming confused and losing their faith because of confronting criticism of the Church, its teachings and its leaders, I am not impressed by the people who report being overwhelmed. I have never seen them report (at least in such news stories or in other venues) that they responded to the critics by doing real sustained research about the position of the Church and the scholarly products of faithful historians and scholars in other disciplines such as archeology and DNA. They never seem to have done even the barest level of investigation of what is freely available online that supports the LDS position, and they never address how they weighed the criticisms against the defenses, and how they drew their conclusions. Instead, many of the statements by those who have sided with the critics comes out as ad hominem attacks on Church leaders and faithful scholars, rather than any assertion defensible as a matter of evidence and reason. I am led by these stories to doubt the doubters and the sincerity of their claims to be honest seekers after the whole truth.

    After all, the consensus of most of the modern world is that God and angels and miracles and life after death are hopes and dreams with no relation to the hard reality of our personal experience and common sense. The assertions of Mormonism, that God is actively communicating with prophets, and with us, is especially offensive to people who don’t want to believe in that kind of a universe. Even many of those who believe in God want to keep him at arm’s length. They feel actively threatened by a God who inhabits the real material universe of quarks and leptons and electromagnetism.

    But those of us who find a grand vision of reality in the Mormon understanding of our intimate parental relationship with the “God who weeps” WANT this vision to be true, and are willing to search and assemble and ponder the evidence, of all kinds, to affirm that this is reality, light and truth. I have never been disappointed when I go looking, and I think any sincere Mormon who really WANTS this vision to be real can find plenty of intellectual support of the most rigorous kind for that proposition.

      • Yes, it is usually possible to find evidences to backup anything that you really want to believe and filter out the information that don’t confirm ones cherished beliefs. In fact that is the natural human response to new information.

        • e – I hope that somehow you missed typing your name. It would be helpful if we could post with our own names.
          Nevertheless, I am interested in your comment. You seem to suggest that you have some wonderful mode of measurement that allows you to rise above what you suggest is a natural human response to new information. Surely you are not suggesting that those who find solid answers to questions about faith are necessarily wrong? Surely you would not be one who has fallen prey to your own suggestion that one finds justification for one’s own beliefs in spite of evidence?

          Don’t you think that it would be much more constructive if we could deal in actual issues rather than imputing something to someone else that might just as easily show in one’s own mirror in the morning?

          • Brant- Yes, I think I do but then again, I may me mistaken. 🙂 In a nutshell, it’s this, remember that I don’t know much and I have a tendency to vigorously protect what I think I do know. When i go looking for information I have a tendency to only look for and filter information that confirms my beliefs – its called confirmation bias. Being aware of this help me to be more open minded when encountering other peoples opinions and experiences and evidences.

            The thing that irked me in this post and contributed my somewhat hot-headed and snarky reply was this dismissal of others pain and confusion when they encounter faith shaking information. There is a callousness in such responses that rub me the wrong way.

            “Frankly, when I see stories like this, about people who were formerly actively engaged members becoming confused and losing their faith because of confronting criticism of the Church, its teachings and its leaders, I am not impressed by the people who report being overwhelmed.”.

            Where is the compassion in that? In my view, there are elements of our faith that virtually guarantee a faith crisis for people of certain temperaments and such a callous attitude, while very prevalent among members, is not helpful. This needs to change. We need to change.

          • I quite agree that compassion and understanding are required–on all sides. An assumption that the history of the church contains maliciously concealed information is equally uncompassionate and mis-understanding as it is belittling real pain and confusion. The answers are in conversation and understanding.

            I underwent my own faith crisis a number of years ago, so I think I have some sympathy with those who have questions. I struggled with certain aspects of what I had known for perhaps a year, made worse by the excommunication of several people whose work I had read and admired. There are still aspects of that situation that I don’t understand and wish that some of the currently more compassionate approaches had been more widely used at that time. Nevertheless, I found that continuing to learn and understand history had a way of making more sense of history that I had not, perhaps, understood at the time. While I can understand pain and confusion, what is more difficult to understand is those who allow the pain and confusion to prevent them from tolerating solid scholarship. What should our responses be when the reason for the pain and confusion caused by history is a lack of understanding of history?

  6. I don’t know if those in the media have done those things… But certainty the media just uses attacks for church leaders hiding information… I also found it incredible that he did not know about Joseph Smith’s polygamy… Other stuff I could potentially see a generation gap of Internet and some of the specifics of polygamy

  7. Great article! Quick response to Raymond, I agree with much you have to say and I share your frustration that often members who share these doubts aren’t willing to give more scrutiny to their disbelief. But I am someone who lost faith and God and came back. Although my faith was already going down hill, I encountered some of the literature that informed me of things I did not know about church history that were true and then continued on to make claims which are debatable and some that I have come to see as silly. That said, these skeptical sources had a lot of sway with me initially because they were telling me things that conventional sources (seminary, sunday school, my mission, ect.) had not told me. What’s more is I always felt that these topics were unwelcome. So having the inquisitive mind that I have I went to where I perceived all questions were welcome. Granted my perspective on this has changed as well. Many of the podcasts and websites I used to read I realized routinely participated in ad hominem attacks and used scoffing as a response to sincere well developed ideas of believers rather than engaging in point by point discussion. In short what I’m trying to say is 1- the type of scrutiny you want these members to take will take years. At least that is how long it took me. 2- waiting until college for them to maybe get lucky and take a church history class is TOO LATE for too many, and some won’t take the church history class. Although I agree with the sentiment of a need to take responsibility of our gospel knowledge and church history, I also think that many would suffer less if they had a guide take them through sticky issues and I think those guides are you and me and the good folks here at interpreter. I really do hope one day the church develops a curriculum which deals with these issues at a younger age so that people don’t get blind sighted studying for a sunday school lesson.

    Again, I agree with most of what you said, but when I lost my faith it was a painful experience. I desperately WANTED to believe. I prayed day and night, went to the temple and felt as if the heavens were closed to me. Answers did come but they took a while.

    • Bless you, Brother Bentley. As someone with two brothers who have felt blindsided and have either left or are leaving the Church and a brother-in-law who has also recently left I appreciate seeing this kind of response. It gives me hope. If you do not mind my asking, what helped you ultimately to return? How far out did you go? Did rescind your membership? In the meantime, were you associated with another faith or were you atheistic in your outlook? I realize these questions may be too personal to answer on such a forum. It has been wrenching to me watching these family events as well as those described in the NYT article. This appears to be a season of doubt and discord like the one that occurred at Kirtland. Or perhaps I am still too young and too naive to realize that this has been going on all the time, though it was less well publicized in the past. I believe a rejiggering of Church curriculum would be helpful. It might serve as a high bar to entry into the Church but it is better to make entering the gate tougher and retention easier than the other way around in my opinion. I have struggled with some of these questions myself but have been consoled when I realized that 1) all faiths have their difficult questions, 2) that I had and knew that I had had spiritual experiences and 3) that the doctrines of Mormonism resonate with me in a way none others do and that even if I cannot prove them true, I hope that they are true as they appear to me to promise the most holiness and happiness of all religious doctrines. Others may differ but these have been things that have given me strength when difficult questions have arisen.

      • Oh gosh, sorry for taking so long to respond. I don’t mind answering at all, though I hate to make things too much about myself. So first, my loss of faith seems more in line with Rosalynde Welch at the recent fair conference and never lined up all that well with the Mormon Stories crowd. (I say that to be descriptive, that isn’t a slam.) I lost my faith in God because I always believed that with enough study and looking at the facts the truth would become obvious. When this proved not to be true (not just with God) I went through a crisis and part of that was a result I lost faith in God. (Though to be honest for that year and a half or so I wasn’t too solid on lots of things.) During that time I decided to expand my horizons and study the “truth” since I had a bias that told me that people who believed in the Church could never be completely objective. That said the only book I found truly shocking was Grant Palmer’s and that was because of his claims (originally made by Vogel) that the three witnesses and that the gold plates might not be literal. That might be suprising that that was the only thing that bothered me, but I was a very studious person and part of my scripture study included reading the Oxford Commentary on the Bible, books like a history of God and Church history. (Ironically the only book on the history of the church I’d read by that point was Mormon America, so the polygamy, polyandry and other conundrums had been presented to me in my early twenties so that by this time arguments about the physicality of the gold plates was the only shocking element.) So I continued to read material skeptical of the church’s truth claims but I was never bitter at the institution of the Church because I never found evidence I was lied to. Losing my testimony was painful but I looked at it as discovering that Santa Clause wasn’t real. So I always went to church and only my parents and a few close friends new of my doubts. My path back involved going to a jesuit school, being nutured by the faith of my Catholic brother’s and sisters. Some help from NT Wright and the example of my fellow Church members. Those with testimonies had a fire in their eyes that I wanted. At first I was jealous (why do they KNOW and I don’t?) then skeptical (they couldn’t know. I had also read and prayed.) But eventually I started seeking spiritual nourishment and remembered what gave me my testimony in the first place which was the power and happiness of following the gospel. At this same time I discovered that pro-church sources many times are quite good and those more skeptical can be quite bad many times. I’m always baffled that the internet is able to sew seeds of doubt that a lot of the good folks here at Interpreter “aren’t REAL scholars” and then they hold up the work of Grant Palmer…who is also not a scholar??? And then they criticize John Gee who got a degree from Yale. So yeah, never physically went too far away, and it was the example of my fellow church members, mixed with the help of some catholic friends that brought me back.

        I hope your loved ones come back too. Here would be my advice: Be there friend and seldomly bring up their lack of belief. But let them see how your faith give you light. Pray for them, love them and love others and eventually they will come to you with sincere questions. Listen carefully make sure you understand them and what they need and then begin to feed them line upon line. I really do believe the church is true and with enough nourishment and time testimonies can return. (Though all testimonies might not sound the same. For that reason I really liked the presentation on pastoral apologetics at the FAIR conference.)

  8. In addition to the resources linked to in this blog post, I’d also like to plug this book, “No Weapon Shall Prosper: New Light on Sensitive Issues,” from BYU’s Religious Studies Center, which I have found very helpful in grappling with some of the criticisms leveled against the Church, routinely on the Internet:

    I hope that Brother Mattsson (and others who have or are currently undergoing what is commonly called these days a faith crisis), before he abandons his faith in the Restoration, will continue to carefully study the answers given by some very competent scholars touching on many of the issues that have troubled him. Resources like those given in this blog post, and the book I mentioned above, could, I believe, be greatly beneficial to Brother Mattsson, if he carefully considers their content.

  9. Brant – re. Scholarship and history
    >> What should our responses be when the reason for the pain and confusion caused by history is a lack of understanding of history?

    Our response? Press forward with integrity and continue to do the scholarship and communicate our findings. In the end we will be more enlightened and enriched if we have the will to develop a richer understanding of history.

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