Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Distinquishing Questions from Doubts

On June 13, 2015, Elder Dallin H. Oaks, along with Brother Richard Turley, spoke to members in Boise, Idaho. Some excellent points were touched upon in this hour long meeting, but one particular comment by Elder Oaks provides important insight regarding the difference between questions and doubts. This distinction is important and timely considering that these two issues have been so frequently conflated in recent times by former Latter-day Saints as well as by a minority of Latter-day Saints engaged in online polemics.
"Another claim we sometimes hear is that “the leaders won’t answer our doubts.” Here we need to define the difference between doubts and questions. Questions, whenever asked with a sincere desire [to] increase ones understanding and faith are to be encouraged. Such questions, questions we call them, are asked with the real intent of better understanding and more fully obeying the will of the Lord. Questions are very different from doubts."1

Brother Turley then commented on this distinction:
"Asked in faith, questions can lead to revelation....One difference between questions asked in faith and doubts is that questions lead to faith and to revelation, whereas doubts lead to disobedience which, in turn, renders people less able to receive revelation. Or, in other words, doubt is darkness. Questions asked in faith lead to light. The Lord will answer our questions, but not necessarily in the way that we want....He will answer in His own time and His own way."2
President Boyd K. Packer, who is frequently criticized in online rhetoric for being so dogmatic, expressed similar sentiments years ago:
"Tests of faith are growing experiences. We all have unanswered questions. Seeking and questioning, periods of doubt, in an effort to find answers, are part of the process of discovery. The kind of doubt which is spiritually dangerous does not relate to questions so much as to answers."3
These points are important for clarifying that questioning and doubting are not one and the same thing. Or at least, through the additional insight provided by President Packer, the qualification that the "kind of doubt" that does not lead to finding correct answers is spiritually dangerous. The only spiritually safe answers are those that come through the Holy Ghost. It is the light that comes by revelation through the Holy Ghost that allows individuals the ability to reconcile controversial issues to any degree of sufficient personal satisfaction, and it is by faith that those answers come.

D&C 6:
14 Verily, verily, I say unto thee, blessed art thou for what thou hast done; for thou hast inquired of me, and behold, as often as thou hast inquired thou hast received instruction of my Spirit. If it had not been so, thou wouldst not have come to the place where thou art at this time.
15 Behold, thou knowest that thou hast inquired of me and I did enlighten thy mind; and now I tell thee these things that thou mayest know that thou hast been enlightened by the Spirit of truth;
23 ...What greater witness can you have than from God?
As one who has spent the last fifteen years questioning, I can testify that resolution of doubts can be received and reconciled to more than a sufficient degree of personal satisfaction. The answers that come through the Spirit provide understanding and strengthen testimony.

1 Dallin H. Oaks, Transcripts of a Conference in Boise, Idaho with Elder Dallin H. Oaks and Brother Richard Turley, June 13, 2015 [this conference has been dubbed the "Boise Rescue Mission" by critics of the Church; however, Church spokesman Eric Hawkins stated that "Elder Oaks was not scheduled for an assignment that weekend so decided to use his free time to visit an area with a concentration of members, knowing that some members have questions from time to time that trouble them." Daniel Woodruff, KUTV News, June 17, 2015; available online here.]
2 Ibid.
3 Boyd K. Packer, "The Law and the Light," The Book of Mormon: Jacob through Words of Mormon, To Learn with Joy, ed. Monte S. Nyman and Charles D. Tate (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, BYU, 1990), 8


  1. Thanks for posting this.

    I think these thoughts are particularly interesting in light of the Givenses' recent book The Crucible of Doubt. I quite like the Givenses' book, but I was quited bothered by their failure to draw a distinction between questions (and the idea of "seeking" in scriptures) vs. doubts.

    1. Thanks for the comment Robert. I've only read two of Terryl Givens' books, but haven't read that one yet. It is on my list though...