To those who question

To those who doubt, who question things, I say, welcome to the party. I have so many questions. That is part of why I have started addressing so many of them here on the internet. There is so much of negativity, so much derision towards matters of faith, that I wanted to share answers, but not only answers, but the examination of some of the greater theological questions of our time in such a way as to encourage others to know that it is okay to have questions. It is okay to be bothered by the things that don’t make sense. I do this not to encourage apostasy or to weaken faith, but to foster the idea that it is in our doubts and questions that we study, that we reach out more to God. I believe questions are precursors to revelation, in fact, it is my opinion that most of the great revelations of the Restoration are the result of a question. My colleague David Bokovoy put it this way:

David Bokovoy

David Bokovoy

I have often asked myself the question, what is it about our cultural tradition that leaves some Latter-day Saints with the impression that it is not only wrong to express uncertainty about our theology, but that doubts in any form are a result of sin. Under this attitude, it is never right to question such issues as the historicity of scripture, the veracity of the Restoration, or the counsel of our Church leaders. Some of us have bought into the notion that it is immoral to even ask such questions. Yet in reality, nothing could be further from the truth.

In their impressive study, The God Who Weeps: How Mormonism Makes Sense of Life, Terryl and Fiona Givens explain the matter in this way:

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 the more deliberate, and laden with 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. (Terryl Givens and Fiona Givens, The God Who Weeps: How Mormonism Makes Sense of Life, p. 4)

Viewed in this light, doubts and uncertainties that arise from serious investigation can be seen as an essential component in our spiritual growth.

We should not, therefore, treat each other (or even ourselves) as sinners when we doubt. In fact, the acceptance of a questioning attitude is exemplified in the biblical passage that sparked the Restoration: “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not” (James 1:5). Among other things, this famous scriptural line suggests that God will not “upbraid” or “scold” the questioner since questioning is an essential part of spiritual and intellectual maturity.

If the revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants teach us anything, it is the power of a good question. Many of these revelations came as a result of theological concerns Joseph Smith developed while carefully working his way through the Bible. Rather than a sign of sin, a questioning attitude should be recognized for what it truly is, a desire to obtain truth. This concept was understood by one of the greatest questioning minds Mormonism has ever produced, Elder B.H. Roberts. Hoping to inspire Latter-day Saints to think critically on religious matters, Elder Roberts expressed the importance of questioning with these words:

Elder B.H. Roberts 1857-1933

Elder B.H. Roberts 1857-1933

Mental laziness is the vice of men, especially with reference to divine things. Men seem to think that because inspiration and revelation are factors in connection with the things of God, therefore the pain and stress of mental effort are not required; that by some means these elements act somewhat as Elijah’s ravens and feed us without effort on our part. To escape this effort, this mental stress to know the things that are, men raise all too readily the ancient bar—”Thus far shalt thou come, but no farther.” Man cannot hope to understand the things of God, they plead, or penetrate those things which he has left shrouded in mystery. “Be thou content with the simple faith that accepts without question. To believe, and accept the ordinances, and then live the moral law will doubtless bring men unto salvation; why then should man strive and trouble himself to understand? Much study is still a weariness of the flesh.” So men reason; and just now it is much in fashion to laud “the simple faith;” which is content to believe without understanding, or even without much effort to understand. And doubtless many good people regard this course as indicative of reverence—this plea in bar of effort—”thus far and no farther.” This sort of “reverence” is easily simulated, and is of such flattering unction, and so pleasant to follow—”soul take thine ease”—that without question it is very often simulated; and falls into the same category as the simulated humility couched in “I don’t know,” which so often really means “I don’t care, and do not intend to trouble myself to find out.” (B.H. Roberts, The Seventy’s Course of Theology, v.)

True reverence, as Elder Roberts recognized, is not a lack of questioning, but serious study, pondering, and inquiry.

Notes

David Bokovoy, Authoring the Old Testament, Greg Kofford Books, 2014, xx, xi.

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About LDS Scripture Teachings

I write about ways scripture applies in our lives: LDSScriptureTeachings.org
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