Elder Dale G. Renlund: We are grateful to be with you. We are grateful for what you do as you teach and support seminaries and institutes throughout the world. As you do so, remember always how pleased the Lord is with your service. He is part of your audience; He is with you, He has gone “before your face,” He “will be on your right hand and on your left,” and His “Spirit shall be in your hearts,” and His “angels round about you, to bear you up.”1
I thank you on behalf of the Lord and His Church for your faith and faithfulness. Thank you for accepting your responsibilities. Thank you for helping Heavenly Father’s children return to Him. Thank you for inviting His children to come unto Christ.
Sister Ruth L. Renlund: Thanks to this marvelous chorus that has contributed to the Spirit of the meeting. I am sure we have all been uplifted by the beautiful remarks by Brother Chad H Webb and Elder Kim B. Clark. We thank them for their examples of discipleship as well. We are happy to have the opportunity to visit with you today about faith and doubt, a topic you frequently address.
Elder Renlund: Imagine having capsized in a boat while sailing in the middle of the ocean. You are 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 have become extremely dehydrated, so that every time you start swimming, you become light-headed. By your best estimates, the shore is 30 kilometers, or 18 miles, away. You fear for your life. 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 fishing boat approaching.
Sister Renlund: “Oh, thank heavens,” you think, the captain sees you! 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. The water and soda crackers provide the necessary 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—Evian or Perrier. The nourishment you really wanted was some delicatessen meat followed by a chocolate croissant. You also notice that the kindly fisherman is old, wears worn boots and blue jeans. The sweatband on his hat is stained, and he seems to be hard of hearing.
Elder Renlund: You also 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, worn, and peeling. You also notice 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 old 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 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 now still more than 20 kilometers, or 12 miles, away from shore, you can’t stand the idea of being in the boat. With a little sadness, the fisherman helps you back into the ocean.
Sister Renlund: In this parable, the boat represents the Church and the fisherman represents those who serve in the Church.2 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 Heavenly Father’s children.3 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 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 it 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.
Every member of the Church needs his or her own witness of the truthfulness of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Without that conversion, including a mighty change of heart, people may begin to focus on the metaphorical soda crackers and chipped paint.
Elder Renlund: The beginning of my testimony occurred when I lived in Göteborg, Sweden. I was 11 years old. The mission president had issued an invitation to all the young people to read the Book of Mormon. My older brother, whom I have always admired and respected, had accepted that challenge. I wanted to be like him, so I started to read the Book of Mormon too. Somewhere along the way, probably when I was in the book of Alma, one of the mission president’s counselors told us that we should pray about what we were reading. I remember the evening I acted on that invitation very well. I remember the apartment we lived in and the room my brother and I slept in. After my brother had fallen asleep, I got out of bed and 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 began looking up to individuals who magnified their callings and who worked hard to build up the kingdom of God. It was there that I began to admire the faithful Saints of God wherever they live. Göteborg and the building we met in on Viktoriagatan became special places for me.
Concerning Alma’s early converts, we read: “And now it came to pass that all this was done in Mormon, yea, by the waters of Mormon, in the forest that was near the waters of Mormon; yea, the place of Mormon, the waters of Mormon, the forest of Mormon, how beautiful are they to the eyes of them who there came to the knowledge of their Redeemer; yea, and how blessed are they, for they shall sing to his praise forever.”4
It was in Göteborg that I came to a knowledge of my Redeemer. Göteborg and Viktoriagatan became my “Waters of Mormon.”
Sister Renlund: Where did you come to a knowledge of your Redeemer? How did you feel? If you have forgotten, we urge you to remember and to urge those you teach to remember how it felt. 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. It is also a principle of action. Perhaps it could be said that faith is a sort of spiritual memory of our premortal existence.
“Faith must be centered in Jesus Christ in order for it to lead a person to salvation. … Faith is kindled by hearing the gospel taught by authorized administrators [like you] sent by God. 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.”5 Faith does not come from demanding signs from God but by obeying and following His commandments.
Elder Renlund: God wants us to have faith. He wants us to have faith so that He can bless us. Alma told this to the humble Zoramites: “And now, behold, I say unto you, and I would that ye should remember, that God is merciful unto all who believe on his name; therefore he desireth, in the first place, that ye should believe, yea, even on his word.”6
Faith is the key that unlocks God’s mercy. Then Alma taught that a person needs to decide that he or she wants to have faith and then act in faith before faith can grow. Alma continues: “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. One must desire to have faith. One must act in faith.
Sister Renlund: Perhaps a demonstration will illustrate this point. We have here a board with a nail in it. We have 12 additional nails as well. So, dear, I have a task for you. Will you balance the 12 other nails on top of the one nailed into the board?
Elder Renlund: Say what?
Sister Renlund: Is it possible? Well, there you’ve got one. You need 11 more. While working out this puzzle, some might try to put one on top and then quit.
Elder Renlund: Do you have any gum?
Sister Renlund: One might think that this next step is improbable. Many people quit, thinking, “This is impossible.”
But if you are willing to say instead, “Is it possible?”, you might be willing to take another approach. Try it this way. Lay one nail in front of you. Now place another nail across the first nail, with the point toward you. Lay the next nail across the first nail with the point away from you. Continue placing all but the last nail across the first nail in this alternating pattern.
As you do so, you see there is a method. You begin to think, “This may be possible.” Your hope increases. Finally, you are almost there.
Elder Renlund: My hope has really increased.
Sister Renlund: Lay the last nail above and parallel to the first nail, across the other nails. Right! Just like that. Now, very carefully, touching only the bottom nail, lift them all and place the bottom nail on the nail in the board.
Sometimes the first try doesn’t work. So, with many experiments, you have to try a second time. Follow the same method. Lay the last nail across the top and very carefully, very carefully—
Elder Renlund: You didn’t say that before.
Sister Renlund: Lift all the nails and balance them. Perfect! Once you know how to do it, the solution seems obvious.
Elder Renlund: Don’t breathe!
Sister Renlund: The same is true in gaining a testimony. Once you know how to get an answer from God, then the outcome seems certain. This is stated in the Book of Mormon promise that my husband followed as an 11-year-old and as we have all followed when we’ve gained our testimonies. “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 faith. If you start with the question, “Could this not be false?”, it leads to doubt. And doubt never leads to faith.
Elder Renlund: On one occasion while visiting 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 was a returned missionary 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 problems with the fact that Joseph Smith wrote or dictated four versions of the First Vision. He thought that this might mean that Joseph Smith made it up.
I put Stephen in contact with a man who worked in the Church History Department 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 else in the Church History Department. After that discussion, I contacted Stephen and asked how he was doing.
He said, “Well, that does not bother me anymore. I understand what happened, and my concerns have been resolved. But now I really am concerned that the priesthood was withheld from those of African descent.”
Sister Renlund: Stephen was like many people. He had chosen to be a perpetual doubter. 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 to express his doubt. What Stephen was doing was an ecclesiastical form of 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.
This was a very different situation for a woman we met in Lubumbashi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Her name is Angelique. She was a faithful returned missionary. She had a strong testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith. She loved the Book of Mormon. She loved everything about the Church.
When we met her, she was reading a book written by one of the Church’s leaders before he became the President of the Church. The book was written before the revelation on the priesthood in 1978 and suggested that, because of some things done in the premortal existence, those of African descent would not be exalted. Angelique asked for some help to understand why this would be the case. She was told by a current member of the Quorum of the Twelve that this former leader of the Church was wrong, plain and simple, and that he had simply stated his opinion, an opinion that was incorrect. Angelique was satisfied with the explanation. She acted in faith by remaining on the covenant path and trusting God.
Elder Renlund: Doubt is not the precursor of faith. Light does not depend 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?”9
In the Lectures on Faith, the differences between faith and doubt are explained: “And where doubt and uncertainty are there faith is not, nor can it be. For doubt and faith do not exist in the same person at the same time; so that 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.”10
This really 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 Renlund: To have a question about the Church and its doctrines is not a problem. Choosing to be a perpetual doubter is the problem. 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.”11
But the passage continues, “But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering.”12
In other words, ask God, not doubting that He can give you an answer. The passage continues, “For he that wavereth [or doubteth] 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.”13
To receive the kind of answer that Joseph Smith sought, to receive the kind of answer we lack, we need to approach God with a believing heart and a mind desiring that the things of God will become known unto us.
Elder Renlund: We love a statement made by Elder John A. Widtsoe, an early Apostle in this dispensation from Norway. I will paraphrase what he so eloquently said: “Doubt, unless transmuted into inquiry [from the correct sources], has no value or worth in the world. … To take pride in being a doubter … the stagnant doubter, one content with himself, unwilling to make the [appropriate] effort, to pay the price of [divine] discovery, inevitably reaches unbelief and miry 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, and indolence for labor. The simplest truth is worth the sum of all such doubts. … Doubt is not wrong unless it becomes an end [in and of itself]. It rises to high dignity when it becomes an active [divine] search for, and practice of, truth. … That doubt which feeds and grows upon itself, and, with stubborn indolence, breeds more doubt, is evil.”14
Elder Widstoe’s words are still true. Stagnant doubt does not lead to knowing the reality of the Savior, Jesus Christ; it does not lead to really knowing that we have a kind, loving Heavenly Father. 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 right sources for our answers. It requires that we recognize that the choice is ours. It is not an external force imposed on us as to whether we accept the Atonement of Jesus Christ and the saving ordinances in our lives. We choose to trust God.
Sister Renlund: Sometimes we are faced with determining whether something is true or not. 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. … For behold, my brethren, 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.”15
So, it is pretty 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.
Elder Renlund: It is interesting that how one responds to spiritual promptings is dependent upon whether one chooses to believe or to doubt. You remember in Acts chapter 2 as the Apostles were going to preach. They heard a sound from heaven, as a rushing mighty wind. “And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. … Now when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speak in his own language. And they were all amazed and marvelled, saying one to another, Behold, are not all these which speak Galilæans? And how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born?”16
These amazing events caused many to be converted. But for others, there was a different response. We read, “Others mocking said, These men are full of new wine.”17
The Spirit was the same; this was the Holy Ghost being poured out upon those Galilean Apostles who were preaching of Jesus Christ. On the day of Pentecost, the Spirit was poured out in great abundance, and yet some mocked those who were converted and rationalized the experience. As a result, they missed this eventful outpouring of the Holy Spirit. What made the difference? It was their choice. Those who chose faith and belief instead of doubt had a marvelous spiritual experience that led to conversion.
Sister Renlund: Alma spoke about this 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.”18
Returning to our parable, those who choose to stay on the well-used, maybe-dented boat with the peeling paint are those who do not harden their hearts. 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. This spiritual gift is given to all who qualify.
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.”19
Elder 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. This is part of the “new General Authority hazing program.” 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 very 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.” And that’s the best it ever was regarding compliments from him.
But then I learned that he was a little distracted that afternoon, 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 dependent upon qualifying for that gift by choosing faith, by choosing the covenant path.
Sister Renlund: Brothers and sisters, as you help individuals overcome doubt and exercise faith, you are accomplishing what President Russell M. Nelson has urged that we do as a Church. He said, “Our message to the world is simple and sincere: we invite all of God’s children on both sides of the veil to come unto their Savior, receive the blessings of the holy temple, have enduring joy, and qualify for eternal life.”20 Accepting this invitation is an act of faith.
As you teach, you also help those who have left the covenant path. You teach for them, for their children, grandchildren, and perhaps great-grandchildren. The Savior admonished, “For unto such shall ye continue to minister; for ye know not but what they will return and repent, and come unto me with full purpose of heart, and I shall heal them; and ye shall be the means of bringing salvation unto them.”21
This is a time for great optimism in the Church. Truth that was hidden for centuries has been revealed. Holy temples dot the earth. Missionaries preach a message of great joy in nearly every nation. As a body of Saints and disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ, we are united in ministering in a “holier way,” as President Nelson has encouraged, and the Lord is hastening His “work in its time.”22 The Lord of the vineyard will labor with us.23 The message you teach is a message of great joy and happiness that is a blessing for the faithful.24
Elder 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”25 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 of the new narrative history of the Church, entitled Saints.26 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 never behaved as an imposter who connived to deceive. Joseph Smith clearly believed he had seen what he said he saw, our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ; Moroni; John the Baptist; Peter, James, and John; Moses; Elias; and Elijah. He clearly behaved as one who had possessed the golden plates and translated those ancient texts by the gift and power of God. He clearly behaved as one who received revelation from Jesus Christ Himself. He clearly behaved as one who had received the priesthood and the 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 know Him well. I know Him.
Sister 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 that Atonement, our lives are eternally blessed. I’m grateful that He has restored His Church today with the full blessings ever available to God’s children on earth.
Elder Renlund: The message that we have is “doubt not, but be believing.”27 I am here in my role as an Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ. I am here to bear special witness of the name of Jesus Christ, that He lives and is the Savior of the world. I bear witness of His remarkable compassion, love, and caring concern for all of God’s children. I bear 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 fix things, to help wounds heal, to mend broken hearts. These are among His remarkable attributes.
I certainly pray that God’s richest blessings will be on you, on your families, on your students, that you will help those students develop faith in Jesus Christ that they “doubt not, but be believing,” in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
© 2018 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved. Version: 3/18. Translation of “‘Doubt Not, but Be Believing.’” Language. PD60006246 000