How to Deal with Doubt

Doubt

Recently a popular phrase has emerged, coined by President Dieter F. Uchtdorf in his conference address “Come, Join With Us.” He counseled: “Doubt your doubts before you doubt your faith.” It is this topic we will address: how to deal with doubt.

Interestingly, this quote and its profound lesson from President Uchtdorf are widely misunderstood. Many people take this to mean that we should not question the Church or the Restored Gospel. Yet Jesus was a great questioner of the faith and practices during His day, and He used questioning as an important method of helping others to see and learn truth. One of the great paradoxes of this world is that the foolish and ignorant are absolutely certain of their viewpoints, while the wise and intelligent are full of doubt. It is important that we always analyze our beliefs with an open mind and a yielded, sincere heart. The larger our circle of knowledge, the larger our perimeter of ignorance. In other words, the more we know, the more we realize how much we really do not know. We can and should doubt our faith, for doubt is the companion to acquiring truth and even greater faith. Only by doubting, questioning, and thus searching, can we ever begin to discover the truth. Jesus invited, “Ask, and it shall be given you. Seek, and ye shall find.” This quest for truth is life-long.

Inspiring Quotations Regarding Doubt

Throughout the ages, great thinkers have expressed the virtue and significance of doubting as a means whereby we can demonstrate humility and the ability to learn truth with an open mind and an open heart:

“Cherish your doubts, for doubt is the attendant of truth. Doubt is the key to the door of knowledge; it is the servant of discovery.  A belief which may not be questioned binds us to error, for there is incompleteness and imperfection in every belief. Doubt is the touchstone of truth; it is an acid which eats away the false. Let no one fear for the truth, that doubt may consume it; for doubt is a testing of belief. The truth stands boldly and unafraid; it is not shaken by the testing; For truth, if it be truth, arises from each testing stronger, more secure. Those that would silence doubt are filled with fear; their houses are built on shifting sands. But those who fear not doubt, and know its use, are founded on rock. They shall walk in the light of growing knowledge; the work of their hands shall endure. Therefore let us not fear doubt, but let us rejoice in its help: It is to the wise as a staff to the blind; doubt is the attendant of truth.” –Robert Weston

“The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser men so full of doubts.” ―Bertrand Russell

“Modest doubt is called the beacon of the wise.” –William Shakespeare

“Deny nothing, but doubt everything.” –Lord Byron

“Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is absurd.” –Voltaire

“We know accurately when we know little. With knowledge, doubt increases.” –Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

“Doubt is not the opposite of faith; it is one element of faith.” –Paul Tillich

“The measure of intelligence is the ability to change.” –Albert Einstein

“Those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.” –George Bernard Shaw

“A mind is like a parachute. It doesn’t work if it is not open.” –Frank Zappa

“If someone is able to show me that what I think or do is not right, I will happily change, for I seek the truth, by which no one was ever truly harmed. It is the person who continues in his self-deception and ignorance who is harmed.” –Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

“It is a narrow mind which cannot look at a subject from various points of view.” –George Eliot, Middlemarch

“It is never too late to give up your prejudices.” –Henry David Thoreau

“The mind that opens to a new idea never returns to its original size.” –Albert Einstein

“Before it is too late, go out there and find someone who, in your opinion, believes, assumes, or considers certain things very strongly and very differently from you, and just have a basic honest conversation. It will do both of you good.” –Vera Nazarian

“No persons are more frequently wrong, than those who will not admit they are wrong.” ―François de La Rochefoucauld

“I don’t know anything. I never did know anything, but now I know I don’t know anything!” —Ebenezer Scrooge, in a Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens

“For having lived long, I have experienced many instances of being obliged, by better information or fuller consideration, to change opinions, even on important subjects, which I once thought right but found to be otherwise.” –Benjamin Franklin, Constitutional Convention of 1787

It is important to remember that faith is defined as a hope in things that are unseen “that are true.” If they are not true, then this type of erroneous belief cannot rightly be called “faith.”

Religious Parallels

President Uchtdorf said, “Those who join this Church love the Savior Jesus Christ and they wish to follow Him. They rejoice in the knowledge that God speaks to mankind again.” The phrase “God speaks to mankind again” stands out to us, perhaps because of the book God Speaks Again by Ken Bowers, a current member of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United States. Central to both Mormon and Bahá’í theology is the belief that God’s revelation has not ended—that He has spoken once again to mankind through his prophets and that mankind’s response to God’s new revelation will culminate in the establishment of God’s long-promised Kingdom on earth.

Similarly, our Catholic friends “know” that Mother Mary helps them in their daily lives.

Our Baptist friends “know” that Jesus has entered their heart and that they are saved.

Our Muslim friends rely on those same feelings to confirm to them that Mohammed did indeed see an angel of light and that the Koran is the word of God.

Sadly, the terrorists who caused devastating pain and destruction on 9-11 also “knew” that God had called them to an important work, for which they would be rewarded with exaltation and plural wives in the next life.

And consider the parallels between what the different LDS sects “know” with certainty:

  • LDS member: “I know that Joseph Smith was a true prophet. I know the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the true Church. I know the Book of Mormon is true. I know that Thomas S. Monson is the Lord’s true prophet today.”
  • FLDS member: “I know that Joseph Smith was a true prophet. I know the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is the true Church. I know the Book of Mormon is true. I know that Warren Jeffs is the Lord’s true prophet today.”
  • RLDS member in 1975: “I know that Joseph Smith was a true prophet. I know the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is the true Church. I know the Book of Mormon is true. I know that W. Wallace Smith is the Lord’s true prophet today.”

And an interesting video series demonstrates vividly how the Jehovah’s Witnesses “know” in their hearts they are the one true church.

All of these groups and denominations are sincere in their beliefs that they “know” with certainty to be true. How important it is, therefore, that we take a more meek and humble approach to what we “know”!

Possible Rephrasings of the Meme

Mark Twain observed, “It’s not what you don’t know that will get you into trouble, it’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”

Some might mistakenly reword the phrase “Doubt your doubts before you doubt your faith” to what they feel is a similar meaning:

  • “Doubt the truth before you doubt the current accepted wisdom.”
  • “Doubt logic and reason before you doubt your emotions.”
  • “Doubt your objectivity before you doubt your subjectivity.”
  • “Doubt your integrity before you doubt your traditions.”
  • “Don’t think and don’t question [i.e., doubt your doubts]. Just keep the faith.”

These rephrasings, of course, seem wrong. The phrase could possibly stated differently, perhaps as something more correct such as:

  • “Doubt your traditions before you doubt the truth.”
  • “Doubt is a companion to faith. Use doubt as a catalyst for learning truth.”

“He who has ears, let him hear.”

Comments from Conference Listeners

As I studied this topic, I came across several interesting comments online that helped me understand how to deal well with doubt:

“I believe doubt should affect our faith, as it has for so many I respect. To me, faith born of doubt is the only faith worth having. Indeed, doubt is one of the essential ingredients of faith. To the honest seeker, I honor your journey wherever it takes you and trust that you will find your own answers. Regardless of where you end up, I hope you will not let a good faith crisis go to waste.” (Derek Lee)

“I always doubted my doubts every time they came up and in the end it was the wrong thing to do. I should have had the courage to be wrong and move on with my life, develop new beliefs, and worry less about the Church.” (Abraham)

Many of our doubts are valid and merit sincere attention, that they might lead us to a knowledge of the real truth.

Doubt Your Doubts, Name Them One By One

In conclusion, when we doubt, we humble ourselves and allow ourselves to search, learn, and ultimately, grow as a result of our sincere and authentic desire to learn the truth. Christ’s example never failed to distinguish between doubt and unbelief. Doubt searches for truth. Unbelief is willfully ignorant. Doubt is honest. Unbelief is obstinate and refuses to admit its own unawareness. Doubt looks for light. Unbelief is content with darkness and unenlightenment. Doubt is always natural within faith. It comes because of our humanness but leads to our transcendence. Unbelief is a deliberate decision to reject reality. But doubt is something quite different. Doubt arises within the context of faith and brings us the ultimate freedom that comes from knowing the Truth.

the doubt of your faith is not God testing you, it is truth trying to emerge and free you

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2 thoughts on “How to Deal with Doubt

  1. beautiful and inspiring. this helped me understand how important it is to study and learn whenever I have doubts, so that I can know the truth! Thank you for sharing.

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