Room For Doubt Respects Agency

Sep 15, 2014
3 min read

I recently started the Book of Mormon over again in audio form while I’m at work. Chapter 6 of 1 Nephi caught my attention and led to some significant thoughts about agency.

And it mattereth not to me that I am particular to give a full account of all the things of my father, for they cannot be written upon these plates, for I desire the room that I may write of the things of God.

For the fulness of mine intent is that I may persuade men to come unto the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, and be saved.

Wherefore, the things which are pleasing unto the world I do not write, but the things which are pleasing unto God and unto those who are not of the world.

Wherefore, I shall give commandment unto my seed, that they shall not occupy these plates with things which are not of worth unto the children of men. (1 Nephi 6:3-6)

The limited resources Nephi had forced him to focus on what was most important. He desired to record “the things of God” over things that were pleasing unto the world; think about that. What types of things would be pleasing to the world? What did Nephi deliberately leave out of his record? How is what he did record pleasing to God and “those who are not of the world?”

If he gave that commandment, I wonder how strictly his instructions were followed, particularly by Mormon and Moroni. If they saw our day and the skepticism of people who would not take their record seriously, perhaps they could have put in some deliberate evidences that would please the natural man and leave no room for doubt?

Perhaps God wanted to leave room for doubt because he seems to have intentionally selected weak people to put the Book of Mormon together, weak people who doubted even themselves.

“And I [Moroni] said unto him: Lord, the Gentiles will mock at these things, because of our weakness in writing; for Lord thou hast made us mighty in word by faith, but thou hast not made us mighty in writing; for thou hast made all this people that they could speak much, because of the Holy Ghost which thou hast given them;

And thou hast made us that we could write but little, because of the awkwardness of our hands. Behold, thou hast not made us mighty in writing like unto the brother of Jared, for thou madest him that the things which he wrote were mighty even as thou art, unto the overpowering of man to read them.

Thou hast also made our words powerful and great, even that we cannot write them; wherefore, when we write we behold our weakness, and stumble because of the placing of our words; and I fear lest the Gentiles shall mock at our words. (Moroni 8:23-25)

God seems to be fine with leaving room for doubt as well as providing reasons for faith, but why? LDS authors Terryl and Fiona Givens had an interesting take on this:

“There must be grounds for doubt as well as belief, in order to render the choice more truly a choice and there fore the more deliberate, and laden with personal vulnerability and investment. An overwhelming preponderance of evidence on either side would make our choice as meaningless as would a loaded gun pointed at our heads…

For most of us, at least, there is neither a choir or heavenly heralds proving God exists, nor a laboratory of science equipment proving He doesn’t. Rather, we find a persuasive body of evidence on both sides of life’s competing propositions. Only in the case of use mortals, there is something to tip the scale. There is something to predispose us to a life of faith or a life of disbelief. There is a heart that, in these conditions of equilibrium and balance, equally ‘enticed by one or he other,’ is truly free to choose belief or skepticism, faith or faithlessness.

The call to faith, in this light, is not some test of a coy god, waiting to see if we ‘get it right.’ it is the only summons, issued under the only conditions, which can allow us fully to reveal who we are, what we most love, and what we most devoutly desire. Without constraint, without any form of mental compulsion, the act of belief becomes the freest possible projection of what resides in our hearts.” (The God Who Weeps, pgs. 4-5)

What do you think?

  • What role does doubt play in your life, currently?
  • What types of doubts trouble you the most?
  • What doubts have been replaced with knowledge and surety?
  • What was the turning point where doubt was replaced by surety?


  1. mahlerscholar

    It’s not easy, but I try to thank the Lord every day for doubt. It creates a “holding place” for us to receive truth when we qualify for it. Without doubt there could be no faith, and without faith we would never earn Eternal Life. Similarly without despair, we could not know hope. Without justice there could be no opportunity for mercy and charity. It really all goes back to 2 Nephi 2.

    All of us will have challenges in our lives that are meant to try and test us – “For behold, this life is the time for men to prepare to meet God, (Alma 34:32). Sometimes, we may feel like our trials go beyond our capacity to endure. If we feel like that, we would do well to remember this quote by Jeffrey R. Holland, “If for a while the harder you try, the harder it gets, take heart. So it has been with the best people who ever lived.”

    Doubt is healthy. Doubt is good. It is what we do with it that might lead in a direction opposite of our Heavenly Father’s will. Eve knew of this precious truth.

    • I’ve never thought of being thankful for doubt, myself. It’s kind of like good and evil, once you define something as good, then the opposite is evil. All things that exist have opposites. In that respect, I am grateful for opposition, but not for evil. In the same manner, I’m grateful for choice but not doubt. Anyway, that’s my take on it.

      I’m glad you brought up the point of things being hard. I cringe whenever I hear people say to new members, “It’s just so much easier to live the gospel!” While I get their point, it is very short-sighted. Many people don’t find “the sacrifice of all things” an easy task, or how about “enduring to the end.” In the trenches is where we find out who we are and also where we see the miracles, so yeah, easy has nothing to do with it.

      I wouldn’t go so far as to say doubt is “healthy” thought. If you read Lectures on Faith you’ll see that doubt and faith cannot exist in the same person at the same time. Without the kind of faith that makes salvation effectual in our lives, we are not saved and we do not have eternal life. Doubt is the temptation, it is not healthy or good in my opinion, it is not a good place to be or stay.

      Eve’s choice was not based on doubt, it was based on faith, she acted on what she believed, even if she was beguiled to a degree by the adversary. When doubt arises, you stop acting, you cease progress until you feel confident in moving forward again. Just like walking across a footbridge and hearing a loud “snap!” your faith is shaken and you doubt the integrity of where you stand.

      But was the bridge actually cracking or was that sound something else entirely that had nothing to do with the strength of the bridge? Perhaps you never find out, but you are still left with the decision whether to cross or not. Doubt will keep you stationary, but faith will move you along, trusting in the integrity of the bridge. You may be afraid, but as long as you are moving, you will eventually prove the integrity of it one way or another. It will either collapse or it will bear your weight. Faith is movement, as long as you are moving, you are entitled to gifts of discernment and guidance. Many times, we must take that leap into the unknown, which is why it is so important to continually nourish a relationship with God so that when those times come, you can act confidently.

      If doubt arises, then it should be clear that something is wrong; a flaw in a paradigm or premise has been revealed. It’s possible for a truth to be misunderstood by both sides at the same time; I’ve seen that quite often.

      • mahlerscholar

        I appreciate your reply. I guess what I was trying to express was my gratitude for the existence of doubt, the fact that it is allowed to exist in the first place.

        Even though it sounds backwards, I’m grateful for the existence of evil itself. Certainly not because I like evil or I want to choose anything which is evil, (I do my best do abhor all that is evil), but if evil could not exist we would never know goodness.

        I guess you are correct in your point that I am certainly not grateful for evil, but grateful for opposition.

        However, I am grateful not just for opposition, but for the actual “opposites” in my life. Just as you say, “If doubt arises, then it should be clear that something is wrong; a flaw in a paradigm or premise has been revealed.” The way I read this is that I’m grateful not just for opposition, but I’m actually grateful for doubt itself. Notice when the clarity is manifested – it is manifested when doubt arises. When we see flaws in paradigms or premises, THEN we are lead by the Holy Ghost to that which is true and good. This is an eternal pattern that we follow.

        I don’t JUST think we are meant to know that there are opposites. We must KNOW opposites. Or in other words, to some extent, we are called upon to experience opposites for ourselves. Now I’m NOT saying we need to CAUSE opposition. I’m NOT saying we need to do evil. There are two kinds of pain – the pain that we are called to go through, and the pain that we create for ourselves by making incorrect choices. I’m in no way, shape or form saying that we need to sin to experience an opposite. In fact we are to abhor sin, for “The Lord cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance” (D&C 1:31).

        We don’t know very much about the pain we’re meant to go through. This is highly individual, and between only us and the Lord. But it is largely through this that we learn the good from the evil. So that is why I am grateful for doubt – it creates a holding place for increased faith. As Elder Neil A. Maxwell put it, “Righteous sorrow and suffering carve cavities in the soul that will become later reservoirs of joy.”

        (Sorry for the all caps! There is no other way that I know of in DISQUS to add emphasis).

        • I know what you are getting at, it’s just that it’s sometimes difficult to express and made more difficult when our life experiences and doctrinal priorities interfere with interpreting one another.

          Perhaps the main point is that when doubt arises, there’s no need to fly to pieces and exclaim, “all is lost!” It’s a humbling reminder that we don’t know all things, and that, more importantly, if we will only be patient, a deeper understanding will inevitably prevail; that has been my experience.

          Understandably, most people don’t like lingering in doubt and want out of it as quickly as possible. We want some kind of foundation, and we’ll take sand even though we desire rock. In haste, we cut short the process the search for truth abandoned for whatever may settle us at the moment.

          We want everything to neatly fit into a little box, so we can label it “true.” Real knowledge comes at a price, that some seem willing to pay. Just like exercise and fitness, everyone wants to find a shortcut to the beach body of their dreams and people become believers of fad diets, pills and gizmos, more intrigued with the idea of becoming fit than actually realizing it. Most apostatize from these fads, still longing for their goal but unwilling to endure the discomfort necessary to achieving it.

          • mahlerscholar

            I agree. You know it’s funny, I’ve been praying about our conversation this week, and especially how it’s difficult to express what I feel in words. I’m like the Nephites in that many times I don’t feel “mighty in writing.” I was thinking about what I said in my posts, like, the fact that I appreciate the existence of evil. And then I got to thinking – do I really believe that? On one hand evil scares the living daylight out of me. And along with that, it pains me from life experience that so many people, (even family and friends), have chosen evil in their lives. This pains me exceedingly. And I’m all like – I don’t mean that at ALL!!!

            I guess in the end I’m just grateful for opposition itself, and that we have chances to learn and grow here.

            You’ve given me a lot to think about – and I think it’s extremely important to have these conversations. It is good to counsel one with another in the doctrines of God. To that end, thanks for “OneClimbs.” It’s a great place to talk about doctrines, principles, and applications.

          • I know how hard it can be to express oneself, especially when something seems to make good sense in your own mind.

            Always appreciate your contributions, it gives me a lot to think about too ;)

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