Elder Dale G. Renlund: Thank you for joining us today. We know that you all had other things to do. We pray that God will bless you for your sacrifice. I thank you on behalf of the Lord and His Church for your faith and faithfulness.
Sister Ruth L. Renlund: It’s great to be here. The choir was marvelous and contributed to the Spirit of the meeting. We are grateful for others who are seated on the podium and recognize their role in your lives and in ours. We admire their example of discipleship.
We feel prompted to discuss a topic that has been on our minds for many months: faith and doubt. Last year, in June, we shared a parable in the annual training broadcast for instructors in Seminaries and Institutes of Religion. As we begin today, we want to share this same parable with you.
Elder Dale G. Renlund: Imagine having capsized in a boat while sailing in the ocean. You’re wearing a life preserver and have been swimming for hours toward what you believe is the nearest shore, but you can’t be sure. You’ve become extremely dehydrated, so that every time you start swimming, you become light-headed and fatigued. By your best estimates the shore is 30 kilometers, or 18 miles, away. You fear for your life because you can’t swim that far. In the distance you hear a small engine. The sound seems to be coming toward you; your hope of rescue soars. As you look, you see a small fishing boat approaching.
Sister Ruth L. Renlund: “Oh, thank heavens,” you think, “the captain sees me!” The boat stops and a kindly, weather-beaten fisherman helps you on board. Gratefully you crawl to a seat in the boat, breathing a sigh of relief. The fisherman gives you a canteen of water and some soda crackers. You consume them greedily. The water and soda crackers provide enough nourishment for you to recover. You are so relieved and so happy. You are on your way home.
As you begin to revive and start feeling better, you start paying attention to some things you hadn’t really noticed before. The water from the canteen is a bit stale and not what you would have preferred, like Evian or Perrier. The crackers tasted good, but what you really wanted was some delicatessen meat followed by a chocolate croissant. You also notice that the kindly fisherman wears worn boots and blue jeans. The sweatband on his hat is stained, and he seems to be hard of hearing.
Elder Dale G. Renlund: You note that the boat is well-used and that there are dents in the right side of the bow. Some of the paint is chipped and peeling. You see that when the fisherman relaxes his grip on the rudder, the boat pulls to the right. You begin to worry that this boat and this captain cannot provide the rescue you need. You ask the fisherman about the dents and the rudder. He says he hasn’t worried much about those things because he has steered the boat to and from the fishing grounds, over the same route, day in and day out, for decades. The boat has always gotten him safely and reliably where he wanted to go.
You are stunned! How could he not worry about the dents and the steering? And why could the nourishment have not been more to your liking? The more you focus on the boat and the fisherman, the more concerned you become. You question your decision to get on board in the first place. Your anxiety begins to grow. Finally, you demand that the fisherman stop the boat and let you back into the water. Even though you are still more than 20 kilometers, or 12 miles, away from shore, you can’t stand the idea of being in the boat. With sadness, the fisherman stops the boat and helps you back into the ocean. You are on your own again.
Sister Ruth L. Renlund: Consider this story as a parable in which the boat represents the Church and the fisherman represents those who serve in the Church.1 The sole purpose of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is to help Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ in Their work to bring to pass the eternal life of God’s children.2 It provides the covenant path, the way to return to our Heavenly Father. Those who serve in the Church, though not perfect, are essential to help and encourage us along the covenant path.
What do the boat and the fisherman teach us about the Church? Do dents and peeling paint on the Church change its ability to provide the authorized saving and exalting ordinances to help us become like our Father in Heaven? If the fisherman must hold on to the rudder with both hands to keep the boat on course, does that negate his and the boat’s ability to get us safely and reliably where we want to go? You do not have to be an ordained seer, like my husband, to know that slipping back into the water instead of staying in the boat is risky. Yet when we lose sight of the big picture, the small dents and peeling paint can loom large in our minds.
Every member needs his or her own witness of the truthfulness of the restored Church. Without a true conversion, including a mighty change of heart, you may begin to focus on the metaphorical soda crackers and chipped paint.
President Russell M. Nelson in April 2018 general conference said: “You don’t have to wonder about what is true [see Moroni 10:5]. You do not have to wonder whom you can safely trust. Through personal revelation, you can receive your own witness that the Book of Mormon is the word of God, that Joseph Smith is a prophet, and that this is the Lord’s Church. Regardless of what others may say or do, no one can ever take away a witness borne to your heart and mind about what is true.”3 This witness is more crucial now than it has ever been.
Elder Dale G. Renlund: The beginning of my testimony occurred when I lived in Göteborg, Sweden. I was 11 years old. The mission president issued an invitation to all the young people to read the Book of Mormon. I accepted that challenge and started to read it. Somewhere in my reading, one of the mission president’s counselors told us that we should pray about what we read. I remember very well the evening that I acted on that invitation. I knelt at the bedside, and I began a very simple prayer to know whether the Book of Mormon is true.
I did not hear a voice, but it was as if God told me, “I have been telling you all along that it is true.” That experience changed me; it changed my life. It began a process of belief, a process of being on the covenant path and trying to do more and trying to do better. It was in Göteborg that I learned how to repent. It was in Göteborg that I came to a knowledge of my Redeemer. It was in Göteborg that I began looking up to individuals who magnified their callings and who worked hard to build up the kingdom of God. Göteborg became my “waters of Mormon.”4
Sister Ruth L. Renlund: Where did you come to a knowledge of your Redeemer? How did you feel? If you have forgotten, we urge you to do something to recapture the feeling. This knowledge and these feelings are the beginnings of faith.
Faith is a choice that each person must make. Faith is not just whimsically wanting something to be true and fancifully convincing yourself it is. Faith is the assurance of the existence of things that we have not seen in the flesh. Faith is also a principle of action.
“Faith must be centered in Jesus Christ [for] it to lead a person to salvation. … Faith is kindled by hearing the gospel taught by authorized [teachers] sent by God [see Romans 10:14–17]. Miracles do not produce faith, but strong faith is developed by obedience to the gospel of Jesus Christ. In other words, faith comes by righteousness [see Alma 32:40–43].”5 Faith does not come from demanding signs from God but by obeying and following His commandments.
Elder Dale G. Renlund: God wants us to have faith so that He can bless us.6 Faith is the key that unlocks God’s mercy. A person needs to decide that he or she wants to have faith and then act in faith before faith can grow. Alma taught: “But behold, if ye will awake and arouse your faculties, even to an experiment upon my words, and exercise a particle of faith, yea, even if ye can no more than desire to believe, let this desire work in you, even until ye believe in a manner that ye can give place for a portion of my words.”7 For faith to grow, one must choose to have faith and then act on it.
Sister Ruth L. Renlund: One’s desire for faith must result in action. In many ways, we express our faith with our feet.
This principle is stated in the Book of Mormon promise that my husband followed as an 11-year-old. “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.”8
When you start with the question, “Could these things not be true?” it leads to a beginning of faith that if nurtured grows. “Could these things not be true?” is a question that presumes that it is true. For instance, if I say, “Aren’t we going to drive from Honolulu to the north shore?” it presumes that we are going to drive. The question urged by Moroni that we ask concerning the Book of Mormon is one motivated by faith and therefore leads to more faith.
If we instead start with the question, “Could these things not be false?” it leads to doubt. And doubt never leads to faith.
Elder Dale G. Renlund: On one occasion while attending a stake conference, a stake president asked me to visit with a man whom I will call Stephen. Stephen had been a faithful member of the Church. He had served a mission and had married in the temple. He had served faithfully for many years but began to have doubts about the Church. As I visited with Stephen, he said that he had concerns with the fact that Joseph Smith related four versions of the First Vision. He thought that this might mean that Joseph Smith made up his experience.
I put Stephen in contact with a man who had researched these four versions decades earlier. Stephen visited with the researcher. The next time I spoke with Stephen I said, “So, how do you feel about the First Vision?”
He said, “Well, I feel okay about that because my questions have been answered. That no longer bothers me. But now I’m really concerned about the polygamy that was practiced in Nauvoo and after the Manifesto in 1890. That is really troubling me.”
I asked Stephen to visit with someone who had researched these topics in reliable primary sources. After that discussion, I contacted Stephen and asked how he was doing.
He said, “Well, that doesn’t bother me anymore. I understand what happened, and my concerns have been resolved. But now I really am concerned that the priesthood was withheld for a time from those of African descent.”
Sister Ruth L. Renlund: Sadly, Stephen had chosen to be a perpetual doubter. For him, doubting pleased him more than knowing9 and he was digging up in doubt what he had planted in faith.10 As time went on, as one concern was resolved, another one was found. No matter how much anyone tried to respond and answer these questions, he found another topic on which he was anxious. He focused on the dents in the boat instead of on the capability of the boat to lead him to the blessings of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. What Stephen was doing is a form of “Church history whack-a-mole.” You know, the children’s game where a mole pops up from a board and as soon as you hit it, another mole pops up in another place.
While further intellectual information may temporarily resolve an intellectual concern, further information is not the complete solution because, as Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.”11 Faith in Jesus Christ and a witness borne of the Spirit are also needed.
Many who have had questions, who have had doubt enter their minds, and have had difficulty finding their spiritual footing have nonetheless stayed faithful and have remained on the covenant path. Often, as they have prayed, they have received the answer Elder Neil L. Andersen received decades ago when he wondered whether he was adequately prepared to enter the mission field. As he prayed, the feeling came: “You don’t know everything, but you know enough!”12 At times—in fact often—the Lord’s answer will be, “You know enough to stay on the covenant path and keep My commandments.”
When Nephi was asked if he knew what the condescension of God was, he said, “I know that [God] loveth his children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things.”13 He knew enough. In this life, we will never know the meaning of all things, but we know enough. Our destinies depend on exercising embryonic faith that will grow as we act in faith.
Elder Dale G. Renlund: Doubt is not and will never be the precursor of faith any more than light depends on darkness for its creation. Peter was not told, as he was slipping into the water after having tried to walk on it, “Oh Peter, if only you had more doubt.” No, he was told, “O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?”14
In the Lectures on Faith, the differences between faith and doubt are explained: “Where doubt and uncertainty are … faith is not, nor can it be. For doubt and faith do not exist in the same person at the same time; … persons whose minds are under doubts and fears cannot have unshaken confidence; and where unshaken confidence is not, there faith is weak; and where faith is weak the persons will not be able to contend against all the opposition, tribulations, and afflictions which they will have to encounter in order to be heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ Jesus; and they will grow weary in their minds, and the adversary will have power over them and destroy them.”15
This is what happened to Stephen. He let doubt and uncertainty occupy his mind. As time went on, he did not have the strength to confront the challenges that one faces as a member of the Church. He grew weary in his mind, and his faith disappeared.
Sister Ruth L. Renlund: To have questions about the Church and its doctrines is normal and the root of gospel learning. Joseph Smith understood that when he read, “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.”16
But the passage continues, “But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering.”17
In other words, ask God, not doubting that He can give you an answer. The passage continues, “For he that wavereth [or doubts] is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed. For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord. A double minded man is unstable in all his ways.”18
To receive the kind of answer that Joseph Smith sought, to receive the kind of answer we crave, we need to approach God with a believing heart and a mind desiring that the things of God will become known to us.
Elder Dale G. Renlund: We love a statement made by Elder John A. Widtsoe, an Apostle earlier in this dispensation. I will paraphrase what he said. Doubt, unless changed into inquiry from reliable, trustworthy sources, has no value or worth. The stagnant doubter, one content with himself, unwilling to make the appropriate effort, to pay the price of divine discovery, inevitably reaches unbelief and darkness. His doubts grow like poisonous mushrooms in the dim shadows of his mental and spiritual chambers. At last, blind like the mole in his burrow, he usually substitutes ridicule for reason, indolence for labor, and becomes a lazy scholar. Doubt is not wrong unless it becomes an end in and of itself. That doubt which feeds and grows upon itself, and breeds more doubt, is evil.19
Elder Widtsoe’s words are still true. Stagnant doubt does not lead to knowing the reality of the Savior, Jesus Christ and His Atonement; it does not lead to really knowing that we have a kind, loving Heavenly Father who instituted the great plan of salvation. We can come to know the truthfulness of this latter-day work, but it requires that we choose faith, not doubt, and that we go to the reliable, trustworthy sources for our answers.
Sister Ruth L. Renlund: Alma spoke about this principle as well. He said, “And therefore, he that will harden his heart, the same receiveth the lesser portion of the word; and he that will not harden his heart, to him is given the greater portion of the word, until it is given unto him to know the mysteries of God until he know them in full. And they that will harden their hearts, to them is given the lesser portion of the word until they know nothing concerning his mysteries; and then they are taken captive by the devil, and led by his will down to destruction.”20
Would you seek financial advice from someone who is broke and in debt?
Elder Dale G. Renlund: Would you ask for medical advice from a charlatan snake oil salesman?
Sister Ruth L. Renlund: Who would you take advice from on how to improve your forehand in tennis—a weekend hack or Roger Federer?
Elder Dale G. Renlund: So why would you entrust your eternal welfare to those who are spiritually bankrupt because they have ripped up in doubt what they once planted in faith21 or who, as Jeremiah said, “have forsaken [Christ] the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water?”22 These individuals have walked away from that fountain of living waters and want you to trust in something that doesn’t hold water.
Sister Ruth L. Renlund: Brothers and sisters, you can know that there is a Living Christ.23 The blogosphere cannot replace scripture study and reading the words of living prophets and apostles. Foster your faith by going to trustworthy sources to find answers to your questions.
Elder Dale G. Renlund: When we try to determine whether something is true or not, the prophet Mormon gives us a pattern to follow:
“Wherefore, all things which are good cometh of God; and that which is evil cometh of the devil; …
“But behold, that which is of God inviteth and enticeth to do good continually; wherefore, every thing which inviteth and enticeth to do good, and to love God, and to serve him, is inspired of God.
“… It is given unto you to judge, that ye may know good from evil; and the way to judge is as plain, that ye may know with a perfect knowledge, as the daylight is from the dark night.
“For behold, the Spirit of Christ is given to every man, that he may know good from evil; wherefore, I show unto you the way to judge; for every thing which inviteth to do good, and to persuade to believe in Christ, is sent forth by the power and gift of Christ; wherefore ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of God.
“But whatsoever thing persuadeth men to do evil, and believe not in Christ, and deny him, and serve not God, then ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of the devil.”24
So, it is simple. If a choice leads you to do good and believe in Christ, it is from God. If the choice entices you to do evil and deny Christ, it is of the devil. As you get on the covenant path, you can know that those things that distract you from that path, that persuade you to not believe in Christ, are wrong. Those things that persuade you to believe in God, to love Him, and to keep His commandments are from God. You will miss spiritually important events if you choose persistent doubt, fueled by answers from faithless and unfaithful sources.25
Sister Ruth L. Renlund: Returning to our parable, those who choose to stay on the well-used, dented boat with the chipped paint are those who recognize that the boat saved them from drowning and can get them safely to shore. In other words, they get on the covenant path and stay on the covenant path. Then, as they endure to the end, the promise of eternal life is extended. This is the greatest gift that God can give. It is through this process that we come to know Jesus Christ, to know of His living reality, and to know of His love and compassion.
The Doctrine and Covenants says, “To some it is given by the Holy Ghost to know that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and that he was crucified for the sins of the world. To others it is given to believe on their words, that they also might have eternal life if they continue faithful.”26 Notice that the reward is the same whether you know or believe—eternal life to the faithful.
Elder Dale G. Renlund: In April 2009 I was sustained as a General Authority in the Church. In October 2009 I was asked to speak at general conference. I was anxious that my father would be able to listen to conference. He had worked hard as a carpenter and builder his whole life and, at age 92, had severe issues with his back. He was unable to come to the Conference Center. So one of my sisters made sure that he could watch the session on TV at his home in Salt Lake City.
After the conference I went to his home to see what he thought of my talk. He was a man of very few words and not liberal with compliments.
I said, “Dad, did you see the conference?”
He said, “Ja.”
I said, “Dad, did you hear my talk?”
He said, “Ja.”
I said, “Well, Dad, what did you think?”
He said, “Oh, it was all right. I was almost proud.”
But then I learned that he was a little distracted that evening because he desperately wanted to share with me a dream he had had the night before. He was not a dreamer. He never had fanciful thoughts. I never knew him to tell a lie. He had always been brutally and tactlessly honest. He said, “I dreamed that I died and saw the Savior, Jesus Christ. He took me in His arms and said that my sins were forgiven. And Dale, it felt so good.” That was all he said, and I was constrained from making further inquiry. He died two months later while Ruth and I were in Madagascar.
My dad, after joining the Church in Larsmo, Finland, at age 24, lived his life in accordance with the light and knowledge he had received. He did all that he was ever asked to do. He became one who qualified for that gift of the Spirit to know that Jesus is the Christ and was crucified for the sins of the world, and for his sins. Qualifying for this gift is not gender-dependent, and it is not priesthood office–dependent. It is the promised reward for choosing faith and choosing the covenant path.27
Sister Ruth L. Renlund: So, how can we develop faith and keep it strong? It takes some work. Have you ever been in math class—let’s say calculus—and watched the professor work a problem? Does his or her knowledge automatically transfer to you because you watched the professor find the answer? Sadly, no. To acquire the knowledge—the same knowledge the professor has—you need to work a calculus problem on your own; you need to study and work the practice problems until you are comfortable with the process, the equations, and the symbols.
In a similar way, finding faith and strengthening faith takes work. We may be inspired by someone who has great faith, but another’s faith is not transferred to us in the process. We must do our own studying from the scriptures and the words of living prophets. We must pray, really work at communicating with Heavenly Father, in the name of Jesus Christ. Essential is worthily partaking of the sacrament each week and remembering how merciful God has been to us to give His Son to atone for our sins. These personal, private acts of devotion build and maintain faith.
Elder Dale G. Renlund: The first responsibility I had as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve was to go and tell the Church History Department that I would be replacing Elder Jeffrey R. Holland as an advisor to their department. As you can imagine, there was “weeping, and wailing, and gnashing of teeth”28 as they learned that their beloved advisor would be replaced. An acute Kleenex shortage developed.
As part of my assignment as an advisor to the Church History Department, I have read all the volumes of The Joseph Smith Papers. I have also read the first volume and first portion of the second volume of the new narrative history of the Church, entitled Saints.29 Reading everything Joseph Smith ever wrote or was reported to have said has simply strengthened my testimony of his role as a prophet chosen of God to restore His work on earth.
Joseph Smith was always true to his testimony. He was consistent. He always behaved as one who had actually seen our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ; Moroni; John the Baptist; Peter, James, and John; Moses; Elias; and Elijah. He acted as one who had possessed the golden plates and translated those ancient texts by the gift and power of God. He acted as one who received revelation from Jesus Christ Himself. He acted as one who had received priesthood authority and keys of the holy Apostleship.
I know in ways more powerful and reliable than what my five senses can detect and express that Joseph Smith saw what he said he saw, translated the Book of Mormon by the gift and power of God, and received the priesthood with its attendant keys for the salvation of mankind. I know this to be true. I know that those keys are on earth today and that President Nelson is Joseph Smith’s rightful successor on earth.
What we consider dents and peeling paint on the well-used boat may turn out to be divinely sanctioned and divinely directed from an eternal perspective. The Lord has either had a hand in the dents and the peeling paint or He uses them for His own purposes. I know of myself that the Lord, Jesus Christ, directs His work on the earth today. His servants today know Him well.
Sister Ruth L. Renlund: I’m grateful to add my testimony that I know Jesus Christ is our Savior. When we exercise faith, not doubt, in His atoning sacrifice and the fruits of His Atonement, our lives are eternally blessed. I’m grateful that He has restored His Church today with all the blessings available to God’s children on earth.
Elder Dale G. Renlund: Jesus Christ lives and is the Savior of the world. I testify of His compassion, love, and caring concern for all of God’s children. I witness of His incomparable atoning sacrifice for you and for me. As I have come to know the Savior, I have learned of His great desire to help wounds heal and to mend broken hearts.
I pray that God’s richest blessings will be yours. I pray that you will develop faith in Jesus Christ, that you “doubt not, but be believing.”30 I invite you to increase your faith in Christ by studying the scriptures and the words of living prophets, praying and communicating with Heavenly Father, and conscientiously preparing for and worthily partaking of the sacrament each week. God will bless you as you engage in these personal, private acts of devotion and serve and minister to others. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
© 2019 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved. Version: 10/18. Translation of “‘Doubt Not, but Be Believing.’” Language. PD60007608 000
1. See M. Russell Ballard, “Stay in the Boat and Hold On!” Ensign or Liahona, November 2014, 89–92; and Gérald Caussé, “It Is All about People,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2018, 111–13. He states, “President Russell M. Nelson once likened the Church to a nice automobile. We all love it when our vehicle is clean and shiny. But the car’s purpose is not to stand out as an attractive machine; it is to move the people in the car.”
2. See Moses 1:39.
3. Russell M. Nelson. “Revelation for the Church, Revelation for Our Lives,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2018, 95.
4. Mosiah 18:30.
5. Guide to the Scriptures, “Faith,” scriptures.lds.org.
6. See Alma 32:22.
7. Alma 32:27.
8. Moroni 10:4.
9. Paraphrase of Michel de Montaigne, “On the Education of Children,” quoting Dante’s Inferno: “For doubting pleases me more than knowing.”
10. Paraphrased quote attributed to Elisabeth Elliot (1926–2015), a Belgian-born American Christian author and speaker.
11. 1 Corinthians 2:14.
12. Neil L. Andersen. “You Know Enough,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2008, 13.
13. 1 Nephi 11:17.
14. Matthew 14:31.
15. Lectures on Faith , 71.
16. James 1:5.
17. James 1:6.
18. James 1:6–8.
19. See John A. Widtsoe, Evidences and Reconciliations , 31–33.
20. Alma 12:10–11.
21. Paraphrased quote attributed to Elisabeth Elliot.
22. Jeremiah 2:13.
23. See Alma 30:13–16.
25. See Neil L. Andersen, “Faith Is Not by Chance, but by Choice,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2015, 65–68.
27. See Doctrine and Covenants 88:67–68.
28. Alma 40:13.
29. See Steven E. Snow, “Saints: The Story of the Church of Jesus Christ in the Latter Days,” Ensign, Feb. 2018, 58–59.
30. Mormon 9:27.