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[Languages of the Spirit] Doubt

My husband frequently says of our team dynamic that he is the historian and I am the theologian, and that before I talk about anything I lay a theological framework for it. This is clearly interesting and endearing of me. The last couple of posts have been me laying the theological framework for this series, and now we get to get into actual examples of spiritual divergence. Just one last thing, though. A few comments in a previous post pointed out that I have not clarified what exactly I mean by spirit. This is a really good point because, frankly, the concept of spirit isn’t always clear. There is the Holy Ghost (which is talked about as a power by which our mind is connected with God[1] but is also described as a person). There is the Light of Christ which sometimes is the conscience with which everyone is born and is secondary to the holy spirit which is the source of greater truth[2], but other times is the source of all light and truth and makes the role of the Holy Ghost a little more ambiguous[3]. There is the spirit that is inside our bodies and the spiritual creation inside everything and the spirit of different powers and principles. So what does “the spirit” mean? Firstly, I think this is a really important question and I am grateful for the comments that brought it to my attention. Secondly, I am not going to try to answer because I don’t know. Are there differences? Maybe we just have different terms for what is actually the same thing. Or maybe it is all fundamentally different somehow and we haven’t even begun to scratch the surface. This deserves more attention, but for the purpose of this series I am talking about the spirit as the connection between us and God.


A number of years ago I started out on what now gets referred to as a faith crisis. It was pretty early on in what has become a more widespread phenomenon (I like to be cutting edge). There was really no community for it, and there was a lot of discomfort in how people responded. To have doubt was a sign of loss of the spirit and it needed to be lovingly—or not—shamed out of you. Though I didn’t accept the idea that I was just being faithless, I did believe that I wasn’t feeling the spirit. I felt deep sorrow and emptiness and according to what I had been taught that could only have meant one thing: absence of spirit. I didn’t exactly want to go back to life before doubt because I thought my questions mattered, but I missed feeling the spirit (or at least feeling it in the way I had been used to). I had no idea how to reconcile those things, and I didn’t know anyone who could help me.

There’s a lot of discussion about how God can speak to us in spite of doubt, loves us in spite of doubt, that the spirit can save us from doubt. Even still, after all the years of more openly speaking of doubt, many people’s response to doubters is to try to help them make the doubt go away, either by just “having faith”, or by leaving the church. In these cases doubt is something that needs to be put to rest. That is not what I am talking about. I am not going to tell you how to make doubt go away so that you can feel the spirit again. I am saying that there are circumstances where doubt is the spirit, and it may be that actual loss of the spirit would not come from listening to doubt, but from refusing to.

God taught me this one day a few years ago. I had been wrestling for decades and I couldn’t take it anymore. As I sat under this unbearable burden I finally thought, “Fine! God, I will stay, but I am done with mental gymnastics and putting things on shelves. If there is something that I think is wrong or that doesn’t make sense I’m not going to pretend it must be right or that it doesn’t matter. I won’t lie to look like I fit into someone else’s idea of faith.” God immediately responded and asked, “What made you think I wanted you to do that in the first place?”

I was shocked. Frankly I suppose I assumed God would, if anything, respond to me like I was a child throwing a tantrum. Isn’t that how we tend to imagine that God thinks of us? It took me a while to absorb this question, and that God was taking me and asking it seriously. Why did I think that I had to be unquestioningly agreeable in order to be right (or look right) with God? Why did I think that was a sign of the spirit? I won’t go into the reasons here; some of them would be glaringly obvious to anyone who has spent any time in any faith community, others are more personal. What is important for this discussion is that is not what God wanted from me. My Heavenly Parents wanted me to wrestle and ask questions! They actually liked that about me!

After this I started noticing a lot more how many times in scripture that a revelation comes because of a person pushing back and asking questions; that God doesn’t actually answer questions we don’t ask. I was deeply moved by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks’ posit that the reason Abraham was chosen to be the father of the covenant was because he was the first person who walked with God and was willing to question something that God said that he didn’t agree with (the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah). Before that there were others who walked with God, but who were unwilling to wrestle with him. When they had problems they snuck behind his back, took it out on a sibling, lied, or just did exactly what they were told without thought or question. Abraham was the first person who struggled with something God said and talked to God about it. And, according to Rabbi Sacks, that was exactly what God wanted. God didn’t want obedience that came at the cost of thoughtlessness or sneakiness or resentment. Abraham’s faith didn’t come because he mindlessly obeyed, but because he was willing to question God to his face. Because God doesn’t want slaves.

Doubt is the realization that there is something that is unknown that not only can but should be known. That what satisfied us as infants may no longer be enough to satisfy us as adults, because God doesn’t want us to stay in a perpetual infancy. What we call doubt may actually be the spirit prodding us, prompting us to ask God questions because our Heavenly Parents are eager to teach us what they know. This is one of the things that is so amazing about the gospel—our Heavenly Parents, the God of the universe, want us to understand them! Stop and really let that sink in for a moment. Let it dig deep and develop roots. God wants us to understand. Do we really think this is going to be a comfortable, easily walkable road where everything always makes perfect sense and if it doesn’t it’s “not pertinent to our eternal salvation”? How can we possibly expect that learning the mysteries of Godliness will never be hard and confusing and require us to deeply and seriously rethink what we think we know? How can we be so arrogant as to assume that because something doesn’t make sense to us it must not matter or is even bad? To think that truth only needs to be pursued as long as it doesn’t cause us to loose any sleep over it?

Doubt can come from all kinds of things. Being disoriented by some of our own history, trusting another member and being betrayed by them, seeing the light of someone you love slowly fade away because they don’t fit into the church mold, experiences or learning that contradict what you have always been taught. These are life events when the old trite phrases that used to be so comforting no longer cut it. (You know, “everything happens for a reason”, “it’s policy or culture not doctrine”, “it will all make sense someday”, “just have faith”. All those pat answers that are meant to comfort but do so by silencing difficult questions.) But what if those difficult questions are themselves revelations? What if there is more God wants to teach us now but, like so many things, it requires a certain level of discomfort to be able to learn?

It may lack the reassurance we have been trained to look for; there is no question but that it can be unpleasant and lonely. But it can also be the opening of what was once a locked door. Doubt can be a powerful language of the spirit, acting as the impetus to push  us right into the heart and mind of God.

[1] Lectures on Faith 5

[2] Moroni 7

[3]D&C 88

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