How LDS Church members can help themselves and loved ones deal with doubt

Published: Tuesday, Aug. 27 2013 12:00 p.m. MDT

Abbie Gregory from Provo speaks with David B. Marsh on Monday after his presentation at BYU's Education Week. Marsh discussed how members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and their loved ones can deal with doubts.

Katie Harmer

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PROVO — David Marsh opened his BYU Campus Education Week class with a question.

“How many of you know someone struggling with doubt?” he asked the audience.

Nearly everyone reached a hand toward the ceiling.

Many members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are navigating faith in the digital age. Marsh, a curriculum manager in the church's priesthood department, discussed during a series of three classes on Aug. 19 how people can help themselves and loved ones deal with doubts and questions.

Doubts can and will arise

Marsh began the series by characterizing doubt as something most members experience at some point in their lives.

He listed six things, both online and in real life, that can contribute to an individual’s doubts: unfulfilled expectations, encounters with new information, anti-Mormon literature, educational pursuits, differences of opinion between members and unsettling interactions with other members or with leaders of the church.

“It’s almost axiomatic that all of us at one point or another in our lives will have doubts," Marsh said. "The important thing is how we deal with them.”

Marsh referenced similar statements by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, of the LDS Church’s Quorum of the Twelve, made during a recent general conference address. In April, Elder Holland counseled those dealing with doubt to lean on the faith that they do have.

“Please don’t hyperventilate if from time to time issues arise that need to be examined, understood and resolved,” Elder Holland said. “They do and they will. In this church, what we know will always trump what we do not know. And remember, in this world, everyone is to walk by faith.”

Those who struggle with doubts may feel ashamed and embarrassed by their feelings. When loved ones share their doubts, Marsh said, it is important for family and friends to reach out with love and compassion.

“As we see people struggle with these things we must have complete compassion and love for them and immediately stretch out our hand. Don’t wait,” Marsh said. “Help your friend not to feel embarrassed by having doubts. They may start to feel like they’re unworthy or less than the other members that don’t appear to have any doubts. So help them understand that it’s OK, that they don’t need to feel embarrassed.”

Knowledge is always changing

For both those dealing with doubt and those supporting a loved one, Marsh said it's important to realize that neither science nor religion has all the answers.

“Science is moving quickly and changing and our knowledge is changing rapidly and we need to understand that,” Marsh said. “So be careful about that. Be humble about what you think you know right now because it may change tomorrow.”

As an example, Marsh referenced an experience from Elder Russell M. Nelson, of the Quorum of the Twelve.

When Elder Nelson entered medical school, contemporary medical knowledge held that one must never touch the human heart or else it would stop beating. Eventually doctors learned not only that they could touch the human heart, but they could also hold and operate on it.

As Elder Nelson explained in a talk given at BYU, “That background, drawn from my own personal experience, may serve to distinguish ‘relative’ from ‘absolute’ truth. In fact, early in my professional training, one instructor said that everything taught in medical school should have a sign posted on it: ‘This is our present understanding of the truth — until it is later shown to be false.’”

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