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“Your Doubts”

By: Ardis E. Parshall - October 21, 2013

The writers of the 1945 Sunday School lesson manual for older teens recognized that young adults were subject to questioning, doubting, and possible confusion as a normal step in maturation. Rather than simply advising youth to “doubt not,” they offered a lesson that turned that inclination to doubt into a process for finding spiritual truth:

Your Doubts

Problem: How Shall I Meet My Doubts?

Doubts as Growing Pains.

“Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.” (Matthew 5:6.)

“Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: for everyone that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.”(Matthew 7:7-14.)

As the lesson title suggests, you may have your doubts. As the scriptural passages indicate, this is not necessarily a tragic state of mind. However, doubting has both its negative and its positive side. If the thing rejected is not replaced, it is tragic. Probably for this reason the prevalent notion is that to doubt is sin.

On this point, Professor Starbuck, eminent philosopher and educator, says, “We have scarcely outgrown the conception especially in ecclesiastical circles, that to doubt is sin. There are several instances in the records we are studying in which, when honest questionings have occurred during late childhood or youth, they have been hushed by well-meaning parents or teachers. The result is usually a weakling who cannot grapple with the most serious matters of life, or a person in whom the normal currents of life are dammed up only to have them break out more violently at some later time. It should be seen that doubts are part of development which, given certain temperaments, are inevitable, and which are normal and natural if the personality is to attain to its highest possibilities.”

It is not the doubt that constitutes sin, but the way we meet the situation. For example, the divinity of the Book of Mormon has been a stumbling block for a good many Latter-day Saints. Yet if we read Moroni 10:4, we are given a method to test its authenticity: “And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.”

In this connection, it is interesting to note that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints had its origin in the doubts of a fourteen-year-old boy, who had faith enough to put a Scriptural passage to the pragmatic test: “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.” (James 1:5. See Joseph Smith’s account of the incident in the Pearl of Great Price, p. 46 f.)

The Saints May Know the Truth.

Latter-day Saint youth have this same reassurance:

“If ye love me, keep my commandments. And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you forever: Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: But ye know him, for he dwelleth with you and shall be in you.”(John 14:15-17.)

Speaking in similar vein, President Joseph F. Smith said, “To the faithful Latter-day Saint is given the right to know the truth, as God knows it; and no power beneath the celestial kingdom can lead him astray, darken his understanding, becloud his mind, or dim his faith or his knowledge of the principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ. It can’t be done, for the light of God shines brighter than the illumination of a falsehood and error; therefore, those who possess the light of Christ, the spirit of revelation and the knowledge of God, rise above all these vagaries in the world; they know of this doctrine, that it is of God and not of man.”

How the Truth May Be Known.

If we are to accept the suggestions given and take our doubts to the Lord, how are we to get the answers? Let us turn to an actual experience. President Smith tells us, “When I as a boy first started out in the ministry, I would frequently go out and ask the Lord to show me some marvelous thing, in order that I might receive a testimony. But the Lord withheld marvels from me, and showed me the truth, line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little, until he made me to know the truth from the crown of my head to the soles of my feet, and until doubt and fear had been absolutely purged from me. He did not have to send an angel from the heavens to do this, nor did he have to speak with the trump of an archangel. By the whisperings of the still small voice of the Spirit of the living God, he gave to me the testimony I possess. And by this principle and power he will give to all the children of men a knowledge of the truth that will stay with them, and it will make them to know the truth, as God knows it, and to do the will of the Father as Christ does it. And no amount of marvelous manifestations will ever accomplish this. It is obedience, humility, and submission to the requirements of heaven and to the order established in the kingdom of God upon the earth, that will establish men in the truth. Men may receive the visitation of angels; they may speak in tongues; they may heal the sick by the laying on of hands; they may have visions and dreams; but except they are faithful and pure in heart, they become an easy prey to the adversary of their souls, and he will lead them into darkness and unbelief more easily than others.”

Vain Speculation.

Many of our doubts have their origin in vain speculations about the mysteries of religion. It is difficult for some persons to realize that we live in a world circumscribed by our own senses (including the so-called sixth sense, referred to above). Beyond the realm of our own experiences, no conclusions are valid. President Smith is right when he said, “When men and women realize they are getting into deep water where their footing is insecure, they should retreat; for they may be sure that the course they are taking will lead them more and more away from their bearings which are not always easy to regain. The religion of the heart, the unaffected and simple communion which we should hold with God, is the highest safeguard of the Latter-day Saints. It is no discredit to our intelligence or to our integrity to say frankly in the face of a hundred speculative questions, ‘I do not know.’

“One thing is certain, and that is, God has revealed enough to our understandings for our exaltation and for our happiness. Let the Saints, then, utilize what they already have; so simple and unaffected in their religion both in thought and word, and they will not easily lose their bearings and be subjected to the vain philosophies of men.”

Where to Expect False Doctrine.

President Joseph F. Smith said, “Among the Latter-day Saints, the preachings of false doctrines disguised as truths of the Gospel, may be expected from people of two classes, and practically from these only; they are:

“First – the hopelessly ignorant, whose lack of intelligence is due to their indolence and sloth, who make but feeble effort, if indeed any at all, to better themselves by reading and study; those who are afflicted with a dread disease that may develop into an incurable disease–laziness.

“Second – the proud and self-vaunting ones, who read by the lamp of their own conceit; who interpret rules of their own contriving; who have become a law unto themselves, and so pose as the sole judges of their own doings. More dangerously ignorant than the first.

“Beware of the lazy and the proud.”

Personal Questions.

1. Do I challenge the teachings of the Church?

2. Do I take problems to the Lord?

3. Am I inclined to vain speculations?

4. Do I seek counsel from the proper sources?

5. Am I aware of my own limitations?



8 Comments »

  1. Quite a good lesson. Much shorter than the manuals today, and it shows that doubt is something the church has always tried to address.

    Comment by seth — October 21, 2013 @ 8:37 pm

  2. This is fascinating, that even back then there were concerns about the doubts of young people, and this was being addressed head-on.

    I find the year interesting, since it was a time when so many LDS young men had been out “in the world” serving in the military, and being exposed to things that they might not otherwise have been

    The last section on “where” is one that might not be well accepted nowadays, nor does it ring true to me, but overall, very applicable to challenges today.

    Comment by Naismith — October 22, 2013 @ 5:55 am

  3. I’m glad you enjoyed this look at the past, seth and Naismith. I suppose it’s a stereotypical justification for the study of history, but it’s true, IMO: if we were more familiar with the record of the past, the present would have less power to disturb us. Sometimes the past really was different, but in other cases — like this one — issues we think are problems of the present have already been faced and successfully coped with in the past. There may be novelties in the ways doubts reach us today, or differences in specific questions, but the past could be mined for understanding, too.

    Thanks for your comments.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — October 22, 2013 @ 7:26 am

  4. “read by the lamp of their own conceit” is a good line. Is he quoting someone there? It seems a little familiar.

    Comment by Carol — October 22, 2013 @ 7:36 am

  5. Joseph F. Smith used that phrase and a lot of later speakers use it quoting him. Googling turns up an almost exclusive Mormon use of the phrase, so I guess JFS wasn’t quoting an earlier poet or statesman. I don’t know that for sure, though.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — October 22, 2013 @ 8:13 am

  6. I most liked the simple and straightforward way the lesson acknowledes the “problem” right at the start: “How Shall I Meet My Doubts?” There’s no hemming or hawing about whether one might have doubts, or whether the mere existence of doubt is a sign of faithlessness. It’s presented as a matter-of-fact thesis: Doubt exists as part of the human problem, so, what to make of it?

    Love it. Thanks for this.

    Comment by David Y. — October 22, 2013 @ 9:16 am

  7. Classic Joseph F. Smith in that last section. Very interesting overall.

    Comment by kevinf — October 22, 2013 @ 12:41 pm

  8. Where did you find this lesson? Is this the lesson in its entirety?
    I would be very interested in the exact source. Thank you!

    Comment by Jen — October 22, 2013 @ 2:18 pm

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