Five Steps to Overcoming the Imprisonment of Doubt

With each new adjustment made by the church, including the recent announcement of the change in wording of temple ordinances, it seems we see more and more Saints fall away. This pattern is disheartening and a test of the faith of remaining members. How is it that those whom we have loved and who have served as fellow disciples become subject to the ways of the world or distrust spread by the adversary?

In the famous verses quoted by Joseph Smith that initiated his personal search for truth we find a compelling analogy. James 1:5-6 reads:

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.

But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed.

I believe this imagery is fascinating and quite telling of the experience our brothers and sisters who fall away may have. The vision of a wave is seemingly consistent in its behavior of churning, billowing, tossing and washing upon the shore, yet those waves are never actually in control of themselves. Rather their motion and movement is acted upon by various elements – the time of day, the pull of the moon and its orbit, the rise of oceanic storms, gigantic tectonic plates and their own movements….

So it is when we allow ourselves to doubt.

To doubt does not mean we never have questions. Quite the opposite! The scriptures are replete with pleas for us to “prove”, “test” and “experiment upon the word”. Doubting begins when we fail to test the word and rather allow unanswered questions to fester in our minds and hearts to the point when we no longer believe we would receive a confirming witness.

Once we have obtained this state of disbelieving, we become subject to the spiritual elements that rock and eventually demolish our faith. Suddenly our believing is dependent upon testimonies and counter-testimonies, upon changes made or unmade either by the church administration or the world, upon the wiles and whims of the adversary and his followers. We are victims of doubt and are imprisoned by its will.

So how do we ensure that we do not become victims of doubt, but that instead we can “seek” and “find” the answers to our hearts’ questions?

1. We must possess a desire to know of the truth.

I would add to this that our desire to know must be greater than our desire not to know. If we are fearful that the answer may not be what we wish it to be – that the truth will require us to repent or abandon favorite sins – then we cannot ask with real intent and our desire is nullified.

2. Know how you will receive your answer.

Just as counterintuitive as it is to obtain a knowledge of gravity from someone who has never experienced it, we cannot expect to learn spiritual truth from carnal sources. We must seek it instead through personal spiritual encounters and the Holy Ghost. No other source or testimony can come close to approximating the power and endurance of our own individual witness.

3. Acquaint yourself with the nature of God.

God is unchanging. That is not perfectly reflected by the administration of the church because the church’s role is to help exalt us fallen humans. We change and because of that the church will sometimes adjust to reflect humanity’s godly progress. But those changes are always based in eternal truth of which we do not know the whole.

It’s also important to remember that God delights to answer the faithful prayers of his children. Without this hope we could hardly be compelled to pray to him with the expectation that our questions will be addressed and consequently move ourselves towards a state of doubt.

4. Repent.

Repentance is a privilege. What a blessing it is to know that we can be granted the power to improve! These desires are evidences of our own potential for godhood and are reflected even in those not of our faith who aim to be better today than they were yesterday.

As we repent, we enact the power of the Atonement in our lives and draw nearer to our Savior Jesus Christ. It is through him that all good things come, including the answers to the queries of our hearts.

5. Seek diligently.

Diligence is required because the answers we seek are unlikely to come always in our own timeframe. We must faithfully continue in our quest for truths until such a time that our seeking aligns with the Lord’s timing. But we can be assured, as taught by Elder Jeffery R Holland, “some blessings come soon, some come late, and some don’t come until heaven; but for those who embrace the gospel of Jesus Christ, they come” (“An High Priest of Good Things to Come”).

I add my testimony that as we apply these principles individually we will be enabled by the grace of God to overcome the imprisonment of doubt and to receive the witness of the Holy Ghost for the questions that may arise as we practice faithful discipleship.

Advertisement

Two Ways We Ask for and Receive the Atonement

Last night I was up with my newborn daughter. She had awoken at 2:30 for her regular feeding, but she only nursed for a short seven minutes before she unlatched and started showing signs of discomfort. Over the next forty-five minutes she spat up and vomited all the milk she had just consumed.

In my concern I took to Google for answers. I’ve come to the conclusion that her little body has been reacting negatively to the milk proteins I’ve been consuming.

My baby eventually drifted back to sleep but I couldn’t. I continued researching and mentally planning how I would cut dairy from my diet.

I turned to Heavenly Father in prayer. I prayed that my milk would be compatible with her small body, that it wouldn’t be rejected. I prayed that I could accommodate her with my diet, for diligence and selflessness to make this major diet change. I prayed for rest for both of us when it seemed slow-coming.

As I concluded my heart-whispered prayer I recognized the voice of the adversary in my mind.

How audacious to ask these things. How am I worthy of such spectacular displays of Godly power? I am literally asking him to change the composition of my milk and my child’s body. Who am I to do so? Who am I to ask for diligence and discipline when those gifts certainly must be earned?

Not a second later another voice countered these malicious thoughts and filled me with marvel and gratitude.

You are asking for the Atonement.

I was struck. I hadn’t seen it from this perspective before – but I truly was asking for the Atonement.

I was asking for Christ’s enabling power to make more of my milk and my child’s body than they were on their own.

I was asking for Christ’s enabling power to make more of myself than I was on my own, despite my own personal development efforts and desires. I knew I needed him.

And I knew then too that God is anxious to answer our pleas for the Atonement and we will not be denied regardless of the enormity or outlandishness of what we feel we have asked.

But how was it that God could grant me my ask?

How interesting is it that while God is “no respecter of persons” (Acts 10:34) He does respect people’s agency?

God respects our ability to choose so much that He will force neither trial nor blessing upon us without our consent.

We are able to receive our asks of the Atonement by giving our consent to be blessed in two primary ways:

1. We give consent to be blessed through our obedience to commandments and through keeping our covenants.

In Doctrine and Covenants 82:10 we read:

I the Lord am bound when when ye do what I say…

We literally bind the Lord to bless us as we follow his commandments. I have seen ample evidence of this in my life and it makes my heart sing that it is a pleasure to keep the commandments of God.

We also give consent as we make and keep sacred covenants.

The covenants of baptism, priesthood ordination and temple ordinances all come with specific blessings which we become worthy of as we hold to those covenants. This is elaborated in Doctrine and Covenants 130: 18-19:

There is a law, irrevocably decreed in Heaven Before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated –

And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated.

The opposite of this also holds – if we are disobedient or fail to live our covenants we give consent to be tried by consequences. For the Lord has said …”if ye do not what I say, ye have no promise” (Doctrine and Covenants 82:10).

2. We consent to be blessed when we ask for blessings.

The Lord delights to bless us. The “work and [the] glory” (Moses 1:39) of God is centered solely in exalting His children.

When we ask for blessings, we more easily allow God to meet His purposes. He sent his Son for that very reason – and when we ask for blessings we are utilizing that precious sacrifice by them both. It is because of this we are assured:

Ask and ye shall receive, seek and he shall find; knock and it shall be opened unto you.

When the Spirit spoke to me in the night, I was reminded of these truths. I was asking for the Atonement – and Heavenly Father loves when we ask for the Atonement to take effect in our lives, either by our actions or by speaking the desires of our hearts. He will not turn away any who worthily and humbly seek to be blessed through the unrivaled gift of our Savior.