The Gift of Doubt

Note: This is my best approximation at reproducing the remarks I gave in the Provo YSA 101st Ward on the 24th of April 2016. If you were there and have any observations on things I left out or other corrections, let me know. The quotes are all intact and as I read them, but the commentary is probably somewhat different.

Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 13:12, that “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.” I love this verse and feel like it’s an apt summary of my life experience. I am skeptical, a person that asks questions, a doubter, which you may have known or been able to guess by looking at me.

I struggle with the culture of certainty that we seem to have in the Church, since I don’t feel like I know many things—like two, that God lives and that God loves me and all of you. However, I’ve come to believe that my doubting, questioning, skeptical nature is a gift and before you walk out, hold tight while I read what the Lord says in the 46th Section of the Doctrine and Covenants:

“For all have not every gift given unto them; for there are many gifts, and to every man is given a gift by the Spirit of God.

To some is given one, and to some is given another, that all may be profited thereby.

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.” Doctrine and Covenants 46:11-14

Some of you may have the gift of knowing. I don’t. I have the gift of believing on your words on the words of those that know. My doubt is a gift. We all belong here, those with the gift of knowing and those with the gift of believing on the words of those that know—the gift of doubt.

Adam Miller, in God’s Grace is Not a Backup Plan: An Urgent Paraphrase of Paul’s Letter to the Romans states that:

 “It’s true that you belong to the body of Christ and that’s a great thing. But it’s also true that, cut off from it, you’d die. All the parts need all the others. Each part has a different job. Despite our differences, God’s grace binds us together.” (61, paraphrase of Romans 12:4-5)

Not only is there a place for me as one who doubts, I am needed. I need to be here just as much as you do. Only together can we fully be the body of Christ.

These two types of people are illustrated wonderfully in what I would term latter-day scripture: Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens. Fairly early in the film, there’s a scene with Rey, Finn, Han Solo, and Chewbacca all on the Millennium Falcon. They’re talking about Luke Skywalker and Han testifies of him and all the related facts—the Force, jedi, sith, etc. Rey does not know for herself that these things are true. She must believe on Han’s words. She doubts. She believes on the words of them that know. Yet Rey’s lack of knowledge and certainty does not diminish her actions throughout the film. Neither does it stop her from doing what is right, what needs to happen. Rey is instrumental in the success of the light side. She takes leaps of faith throughout the film, much like we must do in our lives. All of us have a part to play in spreading the message of God’s love that is the Gospel.

A quote from Patrick Q. Mason (a scholar of Mormonism and devout Mormon) in Planted: Belief and Belonging in an Age of Doubt recently published by Deseret Book highlights the interaction between faith and doubt:

“We live in an age when doubt is part of our collective spiritual condition more than in times past. But honest questioning and lack of surety are not the same as active unbelief so often warned against in scripture. As a necessary part of living on this side of the veil, doubt itself is neither good not bad necessarily. While it sends some careening, for many others is sparks deeper spiritual yearnings and more mature reflection on the complexities of mortality. Doubt can therefore operate as faith’s partner as much as its enemy, depending on our response to it.” (43)

Faith and doubt are partners. Doubt is not always active unbelief. Doubt can and has sparked deep spiritual yearnings for me and the very restoration of the Gospel that serves as the foundation of Mormonism. Faith is not a sure knowledge it is belief. And because of this it inherently includes the idea of doubt, if we do not know, we believe, we hope, we lack knowledge—that lacking is doubt. They coexist.

This idea is at play throughout Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s masterwork, In Memoriam, a eulogy for his dear friend and a meditation on the interplay between faith and knowledge, doubts, religion and science, etc. Ideas that were at the forefront of Victorians’ minds and have only become more pronounced as history has progressed.

“We have but faith: we cannot know,

For knowledge is of things we see;

And yet we trust it comes from thee,

A beam in darkness: let it grow” (1:21-24)

“Behold, we know not anything;

I can but trust that good shall fall

At last—far off—at last, to all,

And every winter change to spring.” (54: 13-16)

I love the hope that is found in these lines. We don’t know, but we believe that God is good and we believe that we can share in that goodness. We believe that all of us will take part in it. We trust and hope that light and truth will lighten the glass darkly through which we view the world, wandering through this mortal experience.

These words from Ruth to her mother-in-law Naomi, after her husband has died and Naomi plans to embark to return to her people, telling Ruth to stay, serve as my plea, as one who doubts, to everyone else in the Church, where it sometimes seems I’m not welcome:

“Entreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God: Where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried: the Lord do so to me, and more also, if ought but death part thee and me.” Ruth 1:16-17

We are one people. I’ll close with some slightly altered lyrics from Hamilton, the Pulitzer-prize winning musical and wonder that you should all listen to if you haven’t. I’ve substituted the word “Belief” for “Life” and “believing” for “living”:

 “[Belief] doesn’t discriminate

Between the sinners and the saints

It takes and it takes and it takes

And we keep [believing] anyway

We rise and we fall and we break

And we make our mistakes

And if there’s a reason I’m still alive

When so many have died

Then I’m willin’ to wait for it.” (“Wait for It,” Hamilton)

We all make mistakes. We all rise and fall and break. Yet, we keep believing anyway. I’m here because of that belief. I don’t know the answers, but I believe that good comes from Church. I believe that this is where I’m supposed to be. I believe that we can work together to do God’s work. I believe that there is a place for those that know and those that believe on the words of those that know. I believe that doubt is a gift. I believe that we can come together to help each other, to strengthen one another, to welcome those that feel unwelcome. To come unto Christ whether we know, believe, or hope.

In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

 

 

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