SALT LAKE CITY — Bruce and Marie Hafen first came face to face with a lot of church history challenges and doctrinal questions in a 1960s Brigham Young University religion class titled "Your Religious Problems" taught by B. West Belnap, the school's Dean of Religion.
Belnap often let his students struggle and reach their own conclusions, although he knew just when and how to guide with an occasional nudge, the Hafens said.
"It was a blessing to explore these questions together in an attitude of mutual trust," the Hafens wrote in their book titled "Faith Is Not Blind" (Deseret Book, 135 pages). "He was teaching us how to be good students of the gospel even as he helped us strengthen our faith in it. That class helped us to see that 'faith is not blind.'"
Little did they know that five decades later, the husband-wife writing team would draw upon that experience in writing "Faith Is Not Blind," which they hope will help people dealing with unsettling information, uncertainty or doubts related to their faith in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Encountering surprises and uncertainties is actually part of faith's natural growth process. Working through such opposition is the only way to develop authentic, well-tested spiritual maturity, said Elder Hafen, who served as a General Authority Seventy before he was given emeritus status in 2010.
"Our purpose is to talk about how can we learn from hard experiences, things that are complicated and difficult in general, with church issues included because they're so important, instead of being disillusioned by them," Elder Hafen told the Deseret News. "All we're saying is, look this is going to happen all the time, get used to it. It's how we learn and grow. It's as old as Adam and Eve. See it as a positive process."
Life experience has uniquely prepared the Hafens to tackle such a topic with young people. In addition to his service as a general authority, Elder Hafen was the president of BYU-Idaho, the dean of BYU Law School and provost at BYU. The Hafens recently served as president and matron of the St. George Utah Temple.
Sister Marie K. Hafen has also had opportunities to interact with young people. She taught at BYU-Idaho, the University of Utah and at the BYU campus in Provo. She also served on the Young Women general board.
The motivation behind "Faith Is Not Blind" began with a BYU-Idaho devotional address Elder Hafen delivered in 1979 titled "On Dealing with Uncertainty."
With the advent of the internet, people discovered and circulated the Elder Hafen's 1979 devotional remarks, grateful for its message.
"It seemed to really strike a nerve with people who had questions about testimony and faith because it presented a way of thinking about it that seemed helpful and fresh," Elder Hafen said. "We've been toying for years with that, letting that grow and wanting to learn more about what's going on here."
The Hafens conducted "a field test" on the topic when they spoke at a BYU-Hawaii devotional in 2017. What they shared became chapters two and three of the book. They also viewed their target audience as millennials and younger or people who influence millennials and younger, Sister Hafen said.
"Writing a book was never what this was about," Elder Hafen said. "We were hearing from people that there's a perspective here that's helpful. If that's true, that's what we were testing. Is this really of any help to anybody? Our desire was to help anybody who could be helped by it."
During the process, the Hafens discovered research documenting millennials and the younger generation struggling with ambiguity and complexity in the work environment. A 2019 article from theconversation.com describes the findings.
"Among younger workers, our findings point to a paradox," the article titled "As work gets more ambiguous, younger generations may be less equipped for it" reads. "Generations Y and Z express just as much desire for novel, challenging work as older workers. But they lack the skills and confidence required to manage uncertainty when it occurs, and are more likely to become anxious."
The article goes on to say technology may have compromised a person's ability to manage uncertainty because it provides all the answers, Elder Hafen said.
"What we found in 1979 now suddenly turns out to be a real problem with the internet culture generally, and particularly with religious questions," Elder Hafen said. "This is one sample of the problem, which gives it a broader platform. What we need is a perspective. How do we think about things that are ambiguous?"
In their book, the Hafens write about a three-stage model that builds on a perspective offered by American judge Oliver Wendell Holmes.
Stage one is called the "simplicity on this side of complexity, innocent and untested."
Stage two is "complexity, the gap between the real and the ideal," where people struggle with conflicts and uncertainty.
Stage three is the "simplicity beyond complexity, settled and informed perspective that has been tested by time and experience."
Stage two complexity can surface in various forms, such as coming across unheard information about church history, seeing a church leader make a serious mistake or suffering a setback in life with seemingly unanswered prayers.
"They run into information or experiences that are new to them, and they wonder what's wrong — why didn't they know those things before?" Marie Hafen said. "If we're meek and open, we can learn from hard experiences rather than being shaken by them."
Despite the dark clouds of doubt and uncertainty, it's important to embrace the pattern, be patient, give the Lord and church the benefit of the doubt and accept the opportunity to grow and learn with a positive outlook, Elder Hafen said.
"If they can't learn how to give the Lord the benefit of the doubt, pretty soon they won't be willing to go down the road of faith and sacrifice at all and they won't discover what you only discover going down that road of keeping covenants and making sacrifices," he said.
"In general, our approach encourages us to accept 'plausible' explanations as we give the Lord the benefit of the doubt and keep following him to greater light. … That process helps us grow spiritually, because people value what they discover more than they value what they are simply told."11 comments on this story
The experience of writing and publishing "Faith Is Not Blind" has increased the Hafens' gratitude for the principle of faith in Jesus Christ and helped them to see faith as a process, not as an event, slogan or a yes or no question, they said.
"If we can be patient, honest and open, that faith process yields rich personal growth — as well as ever-increasing confidence and trust in the Lord and his church," the Hafens said. "All of us will need to deal with the things that are hardest for us. It helps us to know that God planned it this way. So both of us, in the midst of our own complexities, want to say — bring it on. I'll give the Lord a chance to show me that faith is not blind."