At some point in our lives we may find ourselves grappling with doubts in the church. It is helpful to see from the scriptures where doubts occur and what is said about doubt and what can be done about it.
When Jesus rescued Peter from sinking after he had walked on the water a little way, He asked him “O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?” (Matt. 14:31)
After Jesus was resurrected, He told His disciples to meet him at a certain mountain and He appeared to them and the scriptures say “And when they saw him, they worshipped him: but some doubted.” (Matt. 28:17)
Nephi was shocked that his brothers were still worried about how they would get the plates from Laban even after having seen an angel: “ye also know that an angel hath spoken unto you; wherefore can ye doubt?” (1 Nephi 4:3)
Among the Nephites who were watching for the signs of Christ’s death, it says “And there began to be great doubtings and disputations among the people, notwithstanding so many signs had been given.” (3 Nephi 8:4)
Of the Lamanite army who were converted miraculously in the prison when they were prevented from killing Nephi and Lehi by such amazing events it says this: And there were about three hundred souls who saw and heard these things; and they were bidden to go forth and marvel not, neither should they doubt.” (Helaman 5:49)
Based upon these scriptures, it seemed to me that doubt is a condition of having reservations about things pertaining to the gospel even after having had great experiences with the power of God in the past. If this is the case, then doubts are a tool Satan uses to try to harden us against the truth after we have experienced the power and goodness of God.
What kind of counsel is given in the scriptures to help us if we have doubts?
Look unto me in every thought; doubt not, fear not. (D&C 6:36)O then despise not, and wonder not, but hearken unto the words of the Lord, and ask the Father in the name of Jesus for what things soever ye shall stand in need. Doubt not, but be believing, and begin as in times of old, and come unto the Lord with all your heart, and work out your own salvation with fear and trembling before him. (Mormon 9:27)
The counsel given is pretty much this: Stop doubting and believe instead. Even if you fear and tremble, work out your salvation anyway.
The difficulty is that when you have doubts, this is the very thing that seems hardest to do. The doubts seem so compelling; they slide in and mess up your view of the gospel. They can even become a habit of thought. To obey the counsel to “doubt not, but be believing,” you have to do mental pushback and argue with those thoughts and make a choice to not dwell on them, and choose to cling to the Lord instead because after all, you do know of His goodness because you’ve experienced it in the past. Don’t allow those thoughts to convince you that you don’t know.
And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief. (Mark 9:24)
If you notice that you are having troubles with doubts, you can pray for help and describe in your prayer how you want to believe. Pray with full purpose of heart and don’t let your mind hang back or waver back and forth. “Pray always, that you may come off conqueror; yea, that you may conquer Satan” (D&C 10:5)
It helps to try to remember the experiences that you have had in the past that have confirmed your belief, to try to remember the feelings and the circumstances, to remember the gratitude that you felt on those occasions. You can remind yourself that the Lord helped you then, so the Lord will help you now. If you notice yourself sophisticating yourself into despising your memories, stop it, and instead allow yourself to embrace those memories. If you find yourself lamenting a change for the worse since those experiences, put that thought away and remind yourself that blessings can be regained and there are still miracles and tender mercies in store for you. Faith will just need to become more of a conscious choice than it was.
If you are troubled by some historical issue, put it on the shelf and focus on gospel principles that you can practice right now. Remember two basic principles of the gospel – faith in Jesus Christ and repentance.
In his April 2009 conference talk “Faith in the Lord JesusChrist,” Elder Kevin W. Pearson talked about the six destructive Ds—doubt, discouragement, distraction, lack of diligence, disobedience, and disbelief.
Elder Packer talked about what we allow on the stage of our minds in an October 1973 conference talk:
Have you noticed that shady little thoughts may creep in from the wings and attract your attention in the middle of almost any performance on that stage and without any real intent on your part? These delinquent thoughts will try to upstage everybody. If you permit them to go on, all thoughts of any virtue will leave the stage. You will be left, because you consented to it, to the influence of unrighteous thoughts. If you yield to them, they will enact for you on the stage of your mind anything to the limits of your toleration….When they have the stage, if you let them, they will devise the most clever persuasions to hold your attention. They can make it interesting all right, even convince you that they are innocent, for they are but thoughts. What do you do at a time like that, when the stage of your mind is commandeered by the imps….? If you can fill your mind with clean and constructive thoughts, then there will be no room for these persistent imps, and they will leave.
We live in a world in which critical thinking and healthy skepticism are helpful tools that may prevent us from being taken in by cunning and craftiness. We have to have faith without being gullible and be inquiring and rational without becoming skeptically unbelieving. While many would say that uniting the spiritual with the rational is paradoxical, I really believe that gospel principles allow us to do that. I believe that studying and asking questions and searching for satisfying answers is necessary to build our faith. I’ve also found that extended service to others is a great way to firm up faith. On days when I felt like my doubts were crippling me, being able to give long hours of service and forget myself was a Godsend. Words weren’t needed so much as opportunities to act with love.