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.’”
Because truth is discovered one piece at a time, Marsh encouraged audience members to examine, study and research issues, always being open to the possibility that new information may come along at a later time. While searching for reliable sources, individuals should keep in mind historical context, the motivations of the author and any half-truths.
Doubt can lead to testimony growth
Marsh encouraged those struggling with doubts to be patient and remember that questioning can be the beginning of a journey that will strengthen their testimonies.
Marsh referenced a 2009 CES address given by President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, of the First Presidency. In the talk, President Uchtdorf encouraged people to ask questions and seek answers to discover truth.
“Inquiry is the birthplace of testimony. Some might feel embarrassed or unworthy because they have searching questions regarding the gospel,” President Uchtdorf said. “But they needn’t feel that way. Asking questions isn’t a sign of weakness. It’s a precursor of growth.”
Marsh said the key to facing doubts is not allowing them to consume faith.
“Hold on to what you know to be true. When people are dealing with a doubt, sometimes they feel like they have to throw everything out. You don’t need to do that,” Marsh said. “Doubts are evidences of belief. You can’t doubt something if you don’t believe something.”
Marsh returned to Elder Holland’s comments from general conference that encouraged members to lead with their faith and not their doubts. Elder Holland reminded members that even if they have doubts and questions, they don’t need to abandon the faith they have, even if it is small.
“I am not asking you to pretend to faith you do not have,” Elder Holland said. “I am asking you to be true to the faith you do have.”
Tips for dealing with doubt
Throughout his three classes, Marsh shared 10 principles that can help those dealing with doubt find faith:
- It's OK to experience doubts, but don’t let them linger.
- Fortify your faith in Jesus Christ.
- Seek to resolve doubts through sincere prayer.
- Increase your knowledge of truth.
- Remember that truth is learned a little at a time.
- Doubt your doubts before you doubt your beliefs.
- Consult reliable and authoritative sources.
- Consider the motives of the source.
- Detect half-truths and lack of context.
- Neither science nor religion can answer all questions.
Katie Harmer is a journalism graduate of Brigham Young University and writes for Mormon Times. Email: [email protected] Twitter: harmerk