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.