The Lord encourages all of us to “seek learning, even by study and also by faith” (Doctrine and Covenants 88:118). This encouragement applies especially when we have questions or concerns about Church teachings or practices. Joseph Smith learned early in his life that asking questions in faith leads to revelation and greater knowledge of the truth.1 The Savior taught simply, “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you” (Matthew 7:7).
From time to time, Church leaders provide information to help answer some of our questions. But it is neither practical nor possible for our leaders to answer every question we may have. When we understand how to seek learning by study and by faith, we become more self-reliant, better able to seek divinely inspired answers to our own questions and continue faithful as we resolve concerns. President Boyd K. Packer taught: “Spiritual self-reliance is the sustaining power in the Church. … If we move so quickly to answer all your questions and provide so many ways to solve all of your problems, we may end up weakening you, not strengthening you.”2
While gospel study does not require formal academic training, it does involve reason and mental exertion. The Lord expects us to “seek … diligently.”3 In our search for truth, we read, analyze information, weigh its reliability, and take time for deliberate pondering. We examine others’ assumptions, as well as our own, and seek to place words and facts in their proper context. We are discerning and careful, always remembering that our knowledge is incomplete but growing.
Because our perspective and knowledge are limited, we find spiritual truths only if faith is part of our efforts. Faith requires mental and spiritual exertion and is rooted in positive hope, not negative doubt. We express our faith by the words we speak and by acting on the truth we receive. As we do, our faith grows, and we are given greater knowledge by the Spirit and by our experience. The hope produced by our faith serves as an anchor to our souls, making us sure and steadfast as we continue to learn.4
Along with relying on prayer and the guidance of the Holy Ghost to strengthen our faith, the following principles can help us become more self-reliant in seeking to learn by study and by faith.
Almost everyone has questions or experiences concerns at one time or another. “As we go about living from day to day,” said President Thomas S. Monson, “it is almost inevitable that our faith will be challenged.”5 President Dieter F. Uchtdorf also taught: “Some might feel embarrassed or unworthy because they have searching questions regarding the gospel, but they needn’t feel that way. Asking questions isn’t a sign of weakness; it’s a precursor of growth.”6
Remember, however, that the term question is not synonymous with the term doubt. Faith and doubt are not different sides of a coin. The Lord and His prophets do not encourage doubt—quite the opposite. Doubt is not spoken of in a positive light in the scriptures. President Thomas S. Monson taught, “Doubt never inspires faith.”7 That is why the Lord is so adamant that we “doubt not.”8 He knows that doubting can affect our faith in Him. The Savior taught, “And whosoever shall believe in my name, doubting nothing, unto him will I confirm all my words.”9 Speaking to those who did not believe in Christ, Moroni admonished, “Doubt not, but be believing.”10
While we should not feel embarrassed or unworthy because we have questions or concerns, we should seek to resolve them, remembering that our questions will be answered on the Lord’s timetable and may require our patience. Doubt does not lead to faith, but seeking learning by study and by faith increases both our knowledge and our faith.
When we have questions or concerns about an aspect of Church teachings or practices, we can seek answers without setting aside the testimony we have already gained. Paul wisely counseled Timothy to continue in the things that he had “been assured of.”11 President Dallin H. Oaks taught, “When we are uncertain about some gospel principle or future event, it is usually best to act on what we do know and trust in a loving Heavenly Father to give us further knowledge when we really need it.”12
There is no such thing as doubt-generated faith. By faith, the Apostle Peter walked on water until fear and doubt caused his steps to falter, and he began to sink.13 Leaders and members in the early days of the Restoration were taught, “Where doubt and uncertainty are there faith is not, nor can it be.”14
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland also advocated: “In moments of fear or doubt or troubling times, hold the ground you have already won, even if that ground is limited. … When those moments come and issues surface, the resolution of which is not immediately forthcoming, hold fast to what you already know and stand strong until additional knowledge comes. … The size of your faith or the degree of your knowledge is not the issue—it is the integrity you demonstrate toward the faith you do have and the truth you already know.”15
Speaking to those who are troubled by Church history events or negative encounters with other members, Elder David A. Bednar advised: “My hope, especially for people who are troubled by such occurrences, is that they will ask themselves this question: ‘Am I willing to set aside or lose the entirety of restored truth because of historical events about which we may not know all of the relevant information or because of awkward experiences with other Church members?’ To judge wisely, consider the entirety of the gospel of Jesus Christ—all of the truths revealed in the dispensation of the fulness of times.”16 Elder Neil L. Andersen succinctly stated, “We do not discard something we know to be true because of something we do not yet understand.”17
Through the prophet Isaiah, the Lord said, “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.”18 The Apostle Paul also taught that our faith “should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.”19
Elder Dallin H. Oaks also taught: “Questions like, Where did we come from? Why are we here? and Where are we going? are answered in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Prophets have called it the plan of salvation and ‘the great plan of happiness’ (Alma 42:8). Through inspiration we can understand this road map of eternity and use it to guide our path in mortality.”20
President Boyd K. Packer explained: “Most of the difficult questions we face in the Church right now, and we could list them—abortion and all the rest of them, all of the challenges of who holds the priesthood and who does not—cannot be answered without some knowledge of the plan as a background.”21 When we are faced with questions or concerns, we should seek to resolve them within the context of the plan of salvation. This will help us see things with an eternal perspective.
We can ask ourselves: How does this issue or teaching fit in the plan of salvation? How will it affect my mortal happiness and eternal salvation? What do the scriptures or living prophets teach about it?
Prophets teach us to approach God in prayer with sincerity, not with a cynical or skeptical attitude. Nephi reminded his brothers, who were troubled with questions and doubts, what the Lord had said: “If ye will not harden your hearts, and ask me in faith, believing that ye shall receive, with diligence in keeping my commandments, surely these things shall be made known unto you.”22 While studying is a good way to resolve concerns, that will be ineffectual unless the seeker of truth strives to keep God’s commandments and takes his or her questions to Him in prayer.
The Apostle James explained how to get answers to questions. He counseled those who seek truth to recognize that there can be a trial of faith, to be patient, and to “ask of God.” We seek answers from a divine source “in faith, nothing wavering.”23 In other words, we are to start with a positive expectation, filled with hope, rather than with a negative disposition filled with doubt, cynicism, and skepticism.
President Dieter F. Uchtdorf testified: “I tell you this: God cares about you. He will listen, and He will answer your personal questions. The answers to your prayers will come in His own way and in His own time, and therefore, you need to learn to listen to His voice.”24
It is important to remember also that revelation for the whole Church comes only through the Lord’s chosen leaders, not through individual members. In a revelation to Oliver Cowdery, the Lord said, “No one shall be appointed to receive commandments and revelations in this church excepting my servant Joseph Smith, Jun.”25 Joseph Smith once taught, “It is contrary to the economy of God for any member of the Church, or any one, to receive instructions for those in authority, higher than themselves; therefore you will see the impropriety of giving heed to them.”26
As a father, Helaman reminded his two sons, Nephi and Lehi, to build their lives on the Savior so that when they experienced times of trouble, they would not falter. “It is upon the rock of our Redeemer,” he said, “who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation; that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, yea, his shafts in the whirlwind, yea, when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power over you to drag you down to the gulf of misery and endless wo, because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall.”27
President Howard W. Hunter once pleaded with a group of students to remember one thing: “If our lives and our faith are centered upon Jesus Christ and his restored gospel, nothing can ever go permanently wrong. On the other hand, if our lives are not centered on the Savior and his teachings, no other success can ever be permanently right.”28
Elder Richard G. Scott taught that “we came to mortal life precisely to grow from trials and testing. … And the Atonement of Jesus Christ makes it possible to endure those challenges [see 2 Nephi 2:2]. … As we actively come unto Him, we can endure every temptation, every heartache, every challenge we face.”29
We can center our lives on the Savior by striving to remember Him always, praying daily, studying and pondering the word of God, obeying His commandments, and serving our family and others.
Regular, even daily gospel study will fortify our testimonies at all times—and especially at times when questions, concerns, or doubts may trouble us. Nephi told Laman and Lemuel that “whoso would hearken unto the word of God, and would hold fast unto it, they would never perish; neither could the temptations and the fiery darts of the adversary overpower them unto blindness, to lead them away to destruction.”30
The Savior taught the early Apostles, “Whoso treasureth up my word, shall not be deceived.”31 President Henry B. Eyring explained that “we treasure the word of God not only by reading the words of the scriptures but by studying them. We may be nourished more by pondering a few words, allowing the Holy Ghost to make them treasures to us, than to pass quickly and superficially over whole chapters of scripture.”32
Not only is God’s word “a lamp unto [our] feet, and a light unto [our] path,”33 but it can nourish us when our testimonies are threatened by concerns or disquieting questions. “The word of God,” taught Elder Quentin L. Cook, “inspires commitment and acts as a healing balm for hurt feelings, anger, or disillusionment.”34
President Ezra Taft Benson taught that the word of God is found “in the scriptures, in the words of living prophets, and in personal revelation” and that it “has the power to fortify the Saints and arm them with the Spirit so they can resist evil, hold fast to the good, and find joy in this life.”35
The Savior chose the prophets and apostles who lead His Church today. He trusts them and honors their words: “What I the Lord have spoken, I have spoken, and I excuse not myself; and though the heavens and the earth pass away, my word shall not pass away, but shall all be fulfilled, whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same.”36 On April 6, 1830, the day the Church was officially organized, the Lord told the Saints regarding the Prophet Joseph Smith, “For his word ye shall receive, as if from mine own mouth, in all patience and faith.”37 That principle applies to each succeeding prophet up to the present day.
Elder Neil L. Andersen taught, “You may understandably question what you hear on the news, but you need never doubt the testimony of God’s prophets.”38 This is because the prophets will never lead us astray. President Thomas S. Monson confidently declared, “When you follow the prophets, you will be in safe territory.”39 Regarding this principle, Elder M. Russell Ballard promised, “We might well ask, ‘Is there one clear, unpolluted, unbiased voice that we can always count on? Is there a voice that will always give us clear directions to find our way in today’s troubled world?’ The answer is yes. That voice is the voice of the living prophet and apostles. … I make you a promise. It’s a simple one, but it is true. If you will listen to the living prophet and the apostles and heed our counsel, you will not go astray.”40
When we know the promptings of the Holy Ghost and follow them, we will not be deceived by the sophistry that is so prevalent in our culture today. Jesus told His Apostles in New Testament times that when they received “the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost,” that Comforter would teach them “all things” and bring all the Savior’s teachings “to their remembrance.”41 The Savior further taught that the Holy Ghost will guide us “into all truth.”42
President Henry B. Eyring told us why we need the constant influence of the Holy Ghost:
“Just as the Holy Ghost strengthens us against evil, He also gives us the power to discern truth from falsehood. The truth that matters most is verified only by revelation from God. Our human reason and the use of our physical senses will not be enough. We live in a time when even the wisest will be hard-pressed to distinguish truth from clever deception. … Since falsehood and lies may be presented to us at any time, we need a constant influence of the Spirit of Truth to spare us moments of doubt.”43
The Savior clearly explained that His way of teaching us is to give us a little at a time:
“I will give unto the children of men line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little; and blessed are those who hearken unto my precepts, and lend an ear unto my counsel, for they shall learn wisdom; for unto him that receiveth I will give more; and from them that shall say, We have enough, from them shall be taken away even that which they have.”44
Joseph Smith also taught why truth comes a little at a time. “It is not wisdom,” he said, “that we should have all knowledge at once presented before us; but that we should have a little at a time; then we can comprehend it.”45
John the Baptist bore testimony that before the Lord Jesus Christ knew all things, He learned a little at a time:
“And I, John, saw that he received not of the fulness at the first, but received grace for grace;
“And he received not of the fulness at first, but continued from grace to grace, until he received a fulness;
“And thus he was called the Son of God, because he received not of the fulness at the first.”46
Following the example of the Savior, we can learn a little at a time and, for what we still do not know, exercise patience rather than forming premature conclusions that may not be accurate and that may cause unnecessary questions or doubt.
The scriptures teach us to “grow … in the knowledge of the truth.”47 Joseph Smith provided a good perspective for growing in our knowledge of the truth:
“When you climb up a ladder, you must begin at the bottom, and ascend step by step, until you arrive at the top; and so it is with the principles of the gospel—you must begin with the first, and go on until you learn all the principles of exaltation. But it will be a great while after you have passed through the veil before you will have learned them. It is not all to be comprehended in this world; it will be a great work to learn our salvation and exaltation even beyond the grave.”48
Jacob taught that the knowledge of the Lord is deep and that “it is impossible that man should find out all his ways.” He reminded us that what we can know about God’s ways will come through revelation. “Wherefore,” Jacob cautioned, “despise not the revelations of God.”49 Revelation is the key to growing in our knowledge of the truth line upon line.
On the internet, information that was once unavailable to most people is now accessible to almost everyone. President Dieter F. Uchtdorf stated:
“Never in the history of the world have we had easier access to more information—some of it true, some of it false, and much of it partially true. Consequently, never in the history of the world has it been more important to learn how to correctly discern between truth and error.”50
An essential skill for gospel learning is to be able to identify reliable and authoritative sources and to assess the motives of those who prepared the sources. We would be unwise to consider all sources to be equally reliable and trustworthy, particularly those which are on the internet. We should question the motives and intent as well as the knowledge of those who are encouraging doubt. We should also consider the tone of their statements and the outcome they hope to achieve. Is it to build faith or weaken it? Remember, “by their fruits ye shall know them.”51
Elder D. Todd Christofferson explained: “In some faith traditions, theologians claim equal teaching authority with the ecclesiastical hierarchy, and doctrinal matters may become a contest of opinions between them. Some rely on the ecumenical councils of the Middle Ages and their creeds. Others place primary emphasis on the reasoning of post-apostolic theologians or on biblical hermeneutics and exegesis. We value scholarship that enhances understanding, but in the Church today, just as anciently, establishing the doctrine of Christ or correcting doctrinal deviations is a matter of divine revelation to those the Lord endows with apostolic authority.”52
President Harold B. Lee suggested a method for determining reliable sources: “I will tell you what I do as I read these many books that come (and I think the day is here when we have got to be more discriminating in our reading than ever before). Let me suggest a method. As you read these books, no matter who writes them, read carefully down the record, and where their teaching is in complete agreement with the revelations that the Lord has given us and with the teachings of the scriptures, accept it as being fact, but where they go off into imaginative suppositions or speculations that are not fully proved by the scriptures, write out in the margin the name of the author. It is his idea, you see. Distinguish as between the individual’s idea and that which is supported by scriptures.”53
Following are some reliable and trustworthy sources to use for learning by study and by faith:
The circumstances surrounding any historical event are not always recorded with complete accuracy and are usually interpreted by the author. Therefore, it is important to remember that information can be presented with a certain amount of subjectivity and bias. As Elder Neal A. Maxwell once said, “Some insist upon studying the Church only through the eyes of its defectors—like interviewing Judas to understand Jesus.”54
Unfortunately, some people teach things that are not true or present them in a way that seems plausible but that is actually false. Korihor was deceived by the devil and confessed, “I have taught his words; and I taught them because they were pleasing unto the carnal mind; and I taught them, even until I had much success, insomuch that I verily believed that they were true; and for this cause I withstood the truth.”55
President Russell M. Nelson described a time when the truth was not presented in its proper context and thus gave a false impression:
“I am reminded of a personal experience that you may find amusing. I was serving as a consultant to the United States government at its National Center for Disease Control in Atlanta, Georgia. Once while awaiting a taxi to take me to the airport after our meetings were over, I stretched out on the lawn to soak in a few welcome rays of sunshine before returning to the winter weather of Utah’s January. Later I received a photograph in the mail taken by a photographer with a telephoto lens, capturing my moment of relaxation on the lawn. Under it was a caption, ‘Governmental consultant at the National Center.’ The picture was true, the caption was true, but the truth was used to promote a false impression. Yes, truth can even be used to convey a lie.”56
Joseph F. Smith simply said, “It is very unwise to take a fragment of truth and treat it as if it were the whole thing.”57
Your children or friends may come to you for help when they have questions or concerns about Church history, doctrine, or practices. You may want to keep the following principles and guidelines in mind as you help them resolve their concerns.
The Savior showed compassion when Peter was doubting. Matthew recorded that as Peter sank in the sea, “immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him.”58 Like the Savior, you can immediately show compassion and stretch forth your best efforts to help those who have questions or who are doubting. Reassure them of your love and respect. Let them know that having questions or concerns is not a sin. Teach them that their concerns can be resolved through praying sincerely, pondering the scriptures and the teachings of latter-day prophets, and listening to the promptings of the Holy Ghost.
Listen carefully to their concerns and explanations about what is troubling them. Do not dismiss any sincere question or concern as unimportant, trivial, unhealthy, or sinful. Remember that the Restoration of the gospel began with Joseph Smith asking a sincere question in faith. This is an opportunity to lift and strengthen others by the guidance of the Spirit—to “comfort those that stand in need of comfort.”59
The Lord said, “And as all have not faith, seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom.”60
Encourage those with questions or concerns to continue to pray daily for divine inspiration; study the scriptures, especially the Book of Mormon; read talks by the prophets and apostles; attend church; and serve others. Help clarify incorrect information they may have learned so that their faith has a solid foundation from which to grow.
Keith A. Erekson, “Understanding Church History by Study and Faith,” Ensign, February 2017
“How do I make time for Church activities, family home evening, and family and personal scripture study when homework takes so much time?” New Era or Liahona, February 2017
John Heath,“New Resources for Understanding Church History,” Ensign, February 2017
Margaret Willden, “Five Questions to Ask When Prayers Feel Unanswered,” New Era or Liahona, January 2017
“I Have a Question!” Friend, January 2017
“7 Keys to Keeping Your Cool in Conversations,” New Era, November 2016
Angela Peterson Fallentine, “Five Ways to Help Youth Tackle Tough Social Issues,” Ensign, October 2016
Helen Marie Parsons, “Brett’s Quest,” New Era, October 2016
“Is it OK to have doubts about the gospel?” New Era, August 2013