Grappling with Unanswered Gospel Questions
Changing my perspective while reading the scriptures helped me find my way.
Have you ever had a heart-wrenching question for God? Maybe a time when the gospel answers other people offered weren’t enough, or when usual sources of spiritual clarity—like scriptures and conference talks—were more confusing than helpful? I’ve experienced that before. Here’s what I learned from grappling with one long-held gospel question. I hope something in this story helps you in your quest for truth.
The root of my question had to do with God’s blessings. Matthew 7:7–8 says:
“Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you:
“For every one that asketh receiveth, and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.”
Here was my problem: It seems to me that God does not give us everything we ask for! Sometimes we put a lot of effort into something—almost as if we’re “knocking” as hard as we can—and rather than being met with an open door, we’re met with disappointment. How do we reconcile those mortal experiences with these prophetic words?
This question tasted especially bitter during the tougher seasons of life. Like when I experienced medical problems and hospital visits instead of the good health I prayed for. Or when I struggled with feelings of loneliness while watching friends and siblings find companionship. Even though I had plenty to be grateful for, questions about absent blessings remained heavy in my heart. Where was the simple “ask and receive” relationship the scriptures promised? During one period of time in particular, I felt especially betrayed by God. I found myself questioning if the scriptures were true, and if it was worth it to keep going to church and remain temple worthy.
I realized that I had a decision to make.
I would be lying if I said that I just decided to be faithful and that “gospel grit” alone got me through. The truth is that I was fortunate to have supportive friends and family members who encouraged my faith, even when they weren’t aware that I was struggling. I was lucky that my employment was a faith-tolerant atmosphere instead of a toxic one. And I was blessed with callings that helped me remain involved in my ward without being overwhelming. My heart aches for people who don’t have a similar combination of positive circumstances to help them get through periods of doubt. With all this help and a desire in my heart to understand the truth about God, I decided to remain active in the Church, even though it was painful at times.
Over time, I learned an important lesson: God had created me with two hands, each capable of holding something at the same time. Spiritually speaking, just because I had “picked up” a doubt or question in one hand didn’t mean that I had to let go of all the gospel truths I held in my other hand. It often felt like I was metaphorically holding on to the iron rod and pressing forward while dragging these questions behind me. But I didn’t really see an alternative. I didn’t want to ignore the questions I had, and I also couldn’t deny the spiritual truths I already knew. So, although it was exhausting, I found ways to honor both parts of my feelings.
For example, when Sunday Church meetings seemed incredibly draining, I decided to stay only long enough to take the sacrament, committing that I would always show up at least for that ordinance. When scripture study became a source of frustration, I decided to just read Psalms or other verses that were comforting to my soul. And please don’t get me wrong—I’m not suggesting that we adopt these as longtime habits or look for reasons to excuse ourselves from what prophets and apostles have recommended. But this allowed me, during that particular season, to remain close to God while exploring my questions with an open heart. The whole time, I pleaded in prayer for increased understanding.
Time passed. I got better at gripping the iron rod more tightly while holding my doubts more loosely. Church, scripture study, and prayer became easier to participate in once more. And eventually, a couple of specific life events helped lead me to the answer I was searching for.
The first event was an intense health challenge, including long periods where I struggled to digest meals, and food seemed like an enemy I was forced to live with each day. It was an extremely frustrating situation. Little did I know that this trial would help me recognize a precious truth. The second event that helped me discover my long-awaited answer was hearing a Church leader invite us to study the scriptures topically. As I thought about which topic to study, I felt impressed to study food in the scriptures.
As I used the Topical Guide to read every verse about food that I could find, I was led to Matthew 7—one of the chapters with the “ask and receive” promise that had always seemed so confusing. But this time, I was reading these verses with food and nutrition in mind. Verses 9–11 say:
“Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone?
“Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent?
“If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?”
I thought about how those verses describe God as a giver of nourishment. And then it dawned on me. All my life, I had read the “ask and receive” promise with a modern mindset. As I read about the child asking for a fish, I pictured my friend’s daughter begging for a pet puppy. But these verses aren’t talking about childish wants. They’re talking about essential nourishment—bread and fish, sources of food. These verses aren’t telling us that God will give us whatever we want and ask Him for. They are teaching us that God will give us whatever we need and ask Him for. He will always nourish His children, strengthening them enough to face the challenges that come their way.
After I made that connection, Matthew 7 finally fit in perfectly with my understanding of God and His plan of happiness. I have come to see that when the scriptures invite us to knock and promise that a door will be opened, the doorway they are talking about is not a magical portal to an easier life. Instead, it’s more like a doorway to a roadside soup kitchen, which will appear wherever we are along our mortal journey. If we enter that doorway, we will find the Bread of Life and Living Water, He who provided fish for His disciples and promises us an eventual land of milk and honey.
The Journey Continues
Years ago, Matthew 7 was a source of pain and confusion. But today, those same verses are a source of joy. Not only do they remind me of what I’ve learned about the nourishment that God and Jesus offer, they also remind me of what I’ve learned about grappling with gospel questions.
I still have unanswered gospel questions. And you know what? I bet I will throughout the rest of my life. But as I carry those questions, I will never give up holding on to what I know is true. I trust now more than ever that God will reveal His answers when we are prepared to receive them—either collectively as a Church or individually as His children. And most of all, I hope we can be compassionate to those around us who are struggling.
If you are struggling, don’t give up hope. Answers will come. One day, we will see all promises fulfilled. I look forward to the time described in Revelations 21:4, which says, “God shall wipe away all tears from [our] eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.”