Often, when hard doctrinal (or, more often, cultural) questions come up among church members, people rely a good bit on the idea of faith. In difficult conversations with other members, I have often been told by more than one fellow saint that they aren’t sure exactly why things are as they are, but they have faith that it is God’s will. I actually appreciate that approach more than some others, because at least these individuals will admit there is some confusion there; that they don’t have all the answers. It is a step up from a lot of what you hear across the pulpit on a Testimony Sunday. All of this talk about “knowing” and “not doubting” gets really overdone. I’m not sure exactly what having the “fullness of the gospel” means for our day, but I do know that it does NOT mean that we have all the answers. Which I’m okay with. So, like I said, I appreciate those that can look at the gospel and recognize that they there are some holes in what we “know”.
But I don’t think we should use faith as an excuse to stop looking for answers. I don’t like the idea that upon admitting that things can be a bit confusing, I’m supposed to use my faith to mask the ignorance. I find it faulty—or perhaps just lazy, is that too judgmental?—to say that because someone up in the hierarchy of the church said something about it, it means we don’t have to delve deeper, ask questions, or think upon it for another minute at all. I don’t think that asking questions means that you lack faith in God’s will. I don’t ask hard questions about the gospel or the church because I’m a doubter. If I have any doubt (which I do) it is because I haven’t found sufficient answers to those questions. It is the ignorance that is my problem, and it would take very little faith on my part, indeed, if I just stopped seeking knowledge and relied on church leaders to do all the thinking for me. As Terryl Givens has said, “Doubt gives us the opportunity to choose to believe.”
One scripture that a friend used, when explaining that she was okay not having all the answers because she has faith in a loving God, was 1 Nephi 11:17 (“I know that he loveth his children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things”) and she used this scripture to say that it is okay to not know everything and we just need to have faith. However, I feel like that is actually a really horrible example to use as an excuse for not seeking more knowledge. Nephi was a knowledge seeker. In 1 Nephi 11, Nephi is standing on the top of an ethereal mountain having quite the conversation with the Spirit of Lord, all because he had the faith to ask some questions. Verse 17 is but a small moment wherein the Spirit has asked Nephi a question that he doesn’t know the answer to and he admits as much. But, it is not that he is content to continue with the questions unanswered. He was there seeking answers to those questions. And his faith is rewarded with knowledge. Lots of it. Homeboy prophet literally gets a lesson in all of the doings of all of mankind ever in the history of the world. That’s intense, my friends. This is actually quite a good example in Mormon mythology of asking questions and getting some answers.
Another good example in Mormon history of seeking knowledge is, of course, Joseph Smith, who sought God and asked questions and had the faith to get answers. And this because he had the faith to believe what is said in James 1:5, “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.” The Lord, who giveth to all men (and women!) liberally is telling us that if there is something we need to know, we should ask him. And the idea that Joseph Smith had such great faith that when he asked, the Lord appeared to him and gave him answers… that is also built into the mythology of our religion. I don’t get why when I ask questions now, people are so quick to assume I lack faith. If the idea of asking questions makes you nervous, I encourage you to focus on in the “upbraideth not” part of that scripture. Asking questions is not a sin.
I think some other relevant scriptures are D&C 11:5-7 which says, “Therefore, if you will ask of me you shall receive; if you will knock it shall be opened unto you… Seek not for riches but for wisdom; and, behold, the mysteries of God shall be unfolded unto you, and then shall you be made rich…” and D&C 6:11 which says, “And if thou wilt inquire, thou shalt know mysteries which are great and marvelous…” This is one of many invitations the Lord has given us to seek after the mysteries of God. I believe he WANTS us to know as much as possible. Indeed, in D&C 130:19 he also said, “And if a person gains more knowledge and intelligence in this life through his diligence and obedience than another, he will have so much the advantage in the world to come.” Would it be too much to say that perhaps one of the reasons the Lord sent us to earth was to give us the opportunity to gain this knowledge? I would even argue that it is not just the knowledge that matters, but who it makes us as we go through the process of learning. But the knowledge in of itself is so valuable that it can never, in all of the eternities, be taken away from us.
Look, I have faith in God’s will, and I do have faith in his gospel. And I know that with religion comes a whole slew of things we just cannot prove or disprove. Some of this I may never fully understand in this life. It requires a lot of faith to be a believer no matter how you look at it. There are some things that I believe and hope to be true, even though I don’t fully understand and “know” them yet. But my faith is not blind, it is not without a foundation of knowledge, and I can’t just accept a confusing doctrine without questioning it. And I am not less faithful because I ask hard questions. No, I am trying to follow in the footsteps of those who had the abundance of faith required to ask the hard questions. I simply do not believe in a God who would give us a doctrine to follow, and expect us to do so without understanding it. Indeed, that doesn’t make any sense. How can we even follow it if we don’t understand it? That’s irrational.
I prefer my faith to be (dare I say it?) a Rational Faith.
2 Nephi 28:29-30
Wo be unto him that shall say: We have received the word of God, and we need no more of the word of God, for we have enough! For behold, thus saith the Lord God: I will give unto the children of men line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little; and blessed are those who hearken unto my precepts, and lend an ear unto my counsel, for they shall learn wisdom; for unto him that receiveth I will give more; and from them that shall say, We have enough, from them shall be taken away even that which they have.
Article of Faith 9
We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.
I appreciate this post and the thoughtfulness it presents, thank you.
You have laid out admirable reason and doctrinal justification not just for he allowance of questioning but also for its necessity. I strongly agree that not only is the response that “we don’t know, but we have faith” not sufficient, if that is meant to end the discussion and/or search, it is lazy and can be counter-productive.
Great blog post! This, especially, resonated with me: “…I am trying to follow in the footsteps of those who had the abundance of faith required to ask the hard questions. I simply do not believe in a God who would give us a doctrine to follow, and expect us to do so without understanding it.” Thank you!