"Character is the one thing we make in this world and take with us into the next."
- - Ezra Taft Benson
January 17, 2014
Dealing with Doubt
by Jeff Lindsay

For our physical health, our immune system is one of the most wonderful tools, a real miracle of divine engineering. Have you ever contemplated what a miraculous gift this is, this power to automatically deal with external invasions and for our body to learn, adapt, and strengthen its defense with such remarkable flexibility?

Once an outside threat invades our system and our body copes with it, we often have nearly permanent antibodies to help us more effectively cope with that threat in the future. How many devices and machines made by humans are able to recognize and respond to new problems and then heal themselves?

The immune system is a grand miracle and one that we should recognize and be grateful for, no matter how often highly degreed fools tells us that chance mutations explain everything about life.

Coping with the invasion of germs can actually make us stronger and more disease-resistant -- if we survive, that is. Dealing with these problems one at a time, scattered over many years, is the way to build a robust immune system.

But sometimes the invasions overwhelm our defenses. This can happen when a large dose of invaders enter our system, or when many different infections strike at once. This can be especially likely when our basic immune system has been compromised or weakened in some way. In such cases, the infection is not likely to make us stronger, but to kill us.

I'd like to make an analogy between physical infections and the doubts that threaten our spiritual health. Many of us experience doubts and crisis of faith. Many of us have found that as these are overcome, our testimonies are stronger, like the immune system.

But too often, we see people respond to their doubts by opening themselves up to an army of outside invaders all at once, completely overwhelming their defenses and resulting in a spiritual fatality.

This army of doubts often comes from the Internet as people, shaken with one wave of doubt, don't deal patiently with it but invite dozens of other doubts to enter their system all at once. This can put them into a profound spiritual shock.

Recently a BYU student had a crisis of faith. What began as confusion over one area was soon followed up by Internet posts in which she explained how deep her doubts were, and the regurgitated standard anti-Mormon attacks at length. Suddenly doubt on one issue was confounded with doubts from dozens of topics, and the hope for recovery looked grim.

The adversary and his helpers here know this game well. They love to work by overwhelming nave believers with a boatload of attacks all at once. Suddenly, the immune system is simply wiped out.

When faithful members of the Church try to rescue those in spiritual shock, the conversations can seem rather fruitless. For example, the shaken member may say something like, "I'm leaving the Church because DNA evidence proves there is no link between the ancient Middle East and native Americans. The Book of Mormon is false."

An informed member of the Church will recognize that the issue of DNA and the Book of Mormon is a complex one that takes some careful study and analysis, but, hoping to give the shaken member a little nugget to stimulate further study, an informed member might say something like this:

Really? Did you notice the headline in the news at NationalGeographic.com from November 20, 2013? It was so cool I memorized it: "'Great Surprise'--Native Americans Have West Eurasian Origins."

There was a post about it over on that Mormanity blog--here, I found it. Here's the opening paragraph from the National Geographic website, discussing an important new DNA study: "Nearly one-third of Native American genes come from west Eurasian people linked to the Middle East and Europe, rather than entirely from East Asians as previously thought, according to a newly sequenced genome."

Doesn't that sound interesting? Now if you'd like to understand this DNA issue, let's take a look at some great resources over at the MaxwellInstitute.com, and this webpage that -- "

"Never mind! I don't care about that. "What about polygamy? And what about that Mall they built in Salt Lake? And what about blacks and the priesthood?"

Yes, there are dozens, even hundreds of topics that can be used to criticize our imperfect Church and imperfect faith. I say imperfect faith because our knowledge of Gospel truth is embryonic. We are children, looking into a glass darkly as Paul put it, and only see a small part of the picture.

There are things we don't understand correctly, assumptions and biases that may need correction, things we were taught in Sunday School that just aren't true doctrine, and many mistakes from the mortals who are in this Church.

It is an imperfect Church and our knowledge and beliefs are always incomplete and in need of ongoing instruction and more learning and revelation. And all these weaknesses are fair game for internal doubt and opportunities for outside attacks.

Dealing with these issues takes time. As with an infection, rest and good nourishment are needed, with care to prevent further infection until we've dealt with the current problem.

If you respond to a flu infection by running out onto the street and licking up all the additional germs you can find, you may not recover. Even a simple cold can become fatal if we respond by adding more microbes and stopping all rest and nourishment. If we respond to a spiritual fever by swallowing all the additional spiritual germs we can find, we are likely to be overwhelmed.

Dealing with doubts requires patience, faith, and ongoing nourishment. The opposite of patience and faith is to take on many doubts all at once and demand Big Answers Now, as that BYU student seemed to be doing, and as people I've known have done.

Few of them made their way back to the Church, though in many cases there were good answers, sometimes even easy answers, to the objections that initially shook their faith.

Other times there are difficult issues for which we have no clear, easy answers, for which a lifetime of faith and patience may be needed, but it is not a blind faith, but one that does offer many answers and many intellectually and spiritually satisfying responses to the challenges and doubts we encounter.

Patience Rewarded

Some challenges in life require enduring to the end, meaning that we don't have everything resolved and tidied up until after the Resurrection when everything is revealed and we can get all the answers with intricate details directly from highly qualified heavenly sources and probably even watch replays of every historical event we care to understand.

All of our challenges require some degree of patience and faith, but in many cases that patience will be rewarded and at least somewhat satisfied in this life. Here are a few examples where doubts found at least partial satisfaction after a brief period of patience.

In my case, in the early 1990s while serving as a bishop, I ran into an issue that shook my testimony. Another member had been shaken by some anti-Mormon claims regarding the Book of Abraham. I wanted to know what the problem was and so I read the anti-Mormon case as presented by Gerald and Sandra Tanner, professional anti-Mormons in Utah who ply their craft well.

Their crafty presentation of facts was powerfully convincing. The argument went like this: Joseph claimed to have translated some Egyptian papyrus documents, giving us the Book of Abraham. In that day, no one could read Egyptian and so nobody could check his translation skills.

The papyri were lost for many years, but they were rediscovered in a New York museum in 1967. Now Egyptologists can read the papyri, and we can see that they have nothing to do with Abraham, but are ordinary funerary documents from the Egyptian Book of the Dead. Joseph got away with this fraud in his lifetime, but now has been exposed. End of story.

I was shaken by this. I went to the Lord in prayer and explained the problem, which I saw as a problem. I had come to know that the Book of Mormon was true, and had a testimony about that. So what happened with the Book of Abraham? Did Joseph just overreach and blunder terribly? A momentary fall as a prophet? Human error and arrogance?

After that prayer, I simply felt that I should be patient and keep learning. So I found a book on the history of the Book of Abraham by H. Donl Peterson. Turns out we already had it in my library of books, but I hadn't read it yet.

I began reading, and soon found one important piece of information: The Tanner's claim that we had found the scrolls Joseph had translated leaves out a very big piece of information. The scrolls that Joseph used were part of a large set that Emma and her second husband sold to a Mr. Abel Combs, who sent some scrolls and the mummies to a museum in Missouri, the St. Louis Museum, which closed in July 1863.

Its collection was moved to the Chicago Museum, which was sold to Joseph H. Wood in 1864. The renamed Wood's Museum was destroyed in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, so to the best of our knowledge, important documents from the collections of papyrus scrolls Joseph had were destroyed in the Chicago fire.

The papyrus fragments that were found in 1967, had fallen into the possession of Mr. Comb's housekeeper. They were definitely part of the collection Joseph had, but the Tanners had conveniently let the reader assume that this was the entire collection, not mentioning that a major portion of the scrolls went to Missouri and then Chicago.

There is also evidence from several sources that the document Joseph called the Book of Abraham was lengthy, unlike the few fragments that were found in 1967. So it is unfair to state that we are looking at the same text that Joseph called the Book of Abraham.

It's a complicated story with arguments that can be made both ways, but once I recognized that the Tanners had artfully neglected to mention the possibility of other scrolls besides what was found in 1967, I felt that the wool had been pulled over my eyes, and that the anti-Mormon forces had been deliberately deceptive in editing the information they provided.

That was step 1 in helping me to appreciate the Book of Abraham. Since then, there has been some very interesting scholarship helping us to understand that the Book of Abraham fits a large body of ancient documents regarding Abraham, and that there is support for many aspects of the text, including many of the comments that Joseph apparently made about the attached facsimiles.

These can all be dismissed as not an accurate literal translation of the documents, but they can also be defended as very interesting explanations of the higher symbolic meaning that the Egyptian-Jewish editors of this document might have intended as the real meaning.

Just as one example, Joseph stated that the four upside-down creatures identified as figure 7 in Facsimile 2 represent the four quarters of the earth. This is a genuine bullseye. These are the four sons of Horus, which go out as divine emissaries to each of the four quarters of the earth.

I picked up a book on Egyptian mythology and art in my local library a few years ago and found a section on the sons of Horus, and it literally said they represent "the four quarters of the earth."

That is one of many interesting hits in the Book of Abraham, which still has question marks and puzzles requiring faith rather than prideful jubilation over how we can absolutely prove to anyone that Joseph was a prophet. But it's an area where a little faith and patience has already brought rich rewards in this life.

There have been some recent discoveries for me in this area involving evidence possibly supporting some of the seemingly most problematic aspects of the Book of Abraham that I have blogged about recently. Faith and patience are still required, but blind faith is not required. This aspect of the Gospel supports an inquisitive, learning faith.

Here's another example. A couple of decades ago, a relatively powerful attack on the Book of Mormon could be based on the absolute implausibility of Nephi's journey across the Arabian Peninsula. As several critics would argue, we all know the Arabian Peninsula is a vast desert with an abundance of sand and perhaps an abundance of oil.

But there is no abundance of greenery like Nephi's Bountiful. And it is also devoid of rivers, so there could not possibly be a river like the River Laman that flowed continually into the Red Sea. On top of that, the whole idea of surviving during a journey from west to east across the vast Empty Quarter of the Arabian Peninsula was ridiculous. All completely bogus.

And we really had no decent answer to these objections -- not until some faithful Latter-day Saints invested their own money into going over to the Arabian Peninsula and exploring.

Thanks to the pioneering efforts of people like Warren Aston in Brisbane, Australia, whom I got to meet last year, as well as Lynn Hilton, George Porter, and others, we now have an abundance of intellectual riches regarding the plausibility of the Book of Mormon account in First Nephi, especially chapters 16 and 17 (see my Book of Mormon Evidences page for a few details).

We have intricate details confirmed with such plausibility that it challenges any theory claiming First Nephi 16 and 17 were a product of 19th century fabrication or plagiarism.

The most logical explanation that I can think of is that whoever wrote First Nephi 16 and 17 actually traveled in the Arabian Peninsula, and experienced places like the Valley of Lemuel, the River Laman, the place Shazer, the ancient burial place Nahom, and the surprisingly green and abundant place, Bountiful, from which it was possible to launch a ship and sail to the New World.

In fact, the evidences are so interesting, right down to archaeological finds of ancient altars from the 7th century B.C. showing that the tribal name Nihm, associated with the ancient burial place Nehhem/Nahom, was there in Nephi's day, and in precisely the right location required by the Book of Mormon.

These evidences are so interesting that I wondered if the need for faith might be jeopardized. Fortunately, based on the anti-Mormon response to these evidences, I am happy to report that faith is still required to accept the Book of Mormon. This anti-Mormon response has required the import of large amounts of that abundant sand from Arabia to help those who don't want to see to be able to stick their heads deep into that sand to maintain the illusion that there is no evidence of any kind for the plausibility of the Book of Mormon.

No evidence at all -- that continues to be their mantra, chanted over and over with great zeal and perhaps a very blind faith.

The faith the Lord requires is not blind. Faith in Him will always be required, in spite of the great mercies the Lord has given us regarding intellectual evidences to support our growing faith.

But once we have a modicum of faith, he helps us to see and understand more. He encourages our learning and intellectual growth. It is good to know that there are supports the Lord can give us to help our faith grow, or to help us overcome objections to that faith.

Part of the challenge with doubt is recognizing the limitations of our own assumptions. Sometimes we have expectations that are unjustified. We want our leaders to be perfect, with every action and opinion inspired and ideal. When that proves not to be the case, it's because our initial assumptions may have been wrong, not that there are no prophets.

An example of errant expectations comes with previous church policies. The recent statement from the First Presidency on the previous restrictions on the priesthood remind us that there are things we may have understood and even been taught that were imperfect. We must not fall to pieces when the Lord updates our understanding and old cloudy lenses are replaced with much clearer glass.

Some topics may continue to irritate and challenge us throughout our lives. For me, polygamy is something I just don't get, whether in Abraham's day or the early days of the Church, and I'm so grateful to have that period be over. However, there are some perspectives that can help us.

I really like Valerie Hudson's views on this topic. See, for example, her article "Polygamy" at SquareTwo.org. I also appreciate the excellent resources at FAIRLDS.org, which have dealt with some of the thorniest aspects of that difficult issue. But this remains an area where I need patience and faith.

For now, when we face doubts, take them one at a time with patience and faith. Part of the faith should be faith that there is an answer to be found. Then look in sources that aren't designed to add more doubts, but more answers.

Turn to members who have dealt with that issue before. Look at writings at places like LDS.org, the Maxwell Institute, MormonInterpreter.com, FAIRLDS.org, and so forth. Faith and patience.

When members we know struggle, please don't disregard their concerns and dismiss them as matters that a moment of prayer should resolve. There are serious issues, serious spiritual invaders that can jeopardize the health of a testimony. The concerns they face may be real and may affect them in ways that we don't appreciate.

Listen to them. Then help them find people or resources who can help, if they want answers or more guidance. But step one is taking them seriously and not dismissing their crisis of faith as due to sin or silliness or just being easily offended.

We need to mourn with those that mourn, and that means listening to and gently comforting those who mourn as they struggle with a crisis of faith.

Meanwhile, it is good to inoculate our families and let them know there are answers, but of course that there are challenges, too, and that faith and patience, with ongoing nourishment, will always be required.

We don't have all the answers, but for many issues there are answers and helps that can strengthen us in times of doubt. May we grow in our faith and learn to cope with doubts patiently, gradually building a healthy spiritual immune system that can help us stay strong and vibrant in the intellectually and spiritually rewarding Gospel of Jesus Christ.

For more from Jeff Lindsay, see Mormanity at http://mormanity.blogspot.com and his Mormon Answers section at http://jefflindsay.com/LDSFAQ/.

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About Jeff Lindsay

Jeff Lindsay has been defending the Church on the Internet since 1994, when he launched his LDSFAQ website under JeffLindsay.com. He has also long been blogging about LDS matters on the blog Mormanity (mormanity.blogspot.com). Jeff is a longtime resident of Appleton, Wisconsin, who recently moved to Shanghai, China, with his wife, Kendra. He works for an Asian corporation as head of intellectual property. Jeff and Kendra are the parents of 4 boys, 3 married and the the youngest on a mission.

He is a former innovation and IP consultant, a former professor, and former Corporate Patent Strategist and Senior Research Fellow for a multinational corporation.

Jeff Lindsay, Cheryl Perkins and Mukund Karanjikar are authors of the book Conquering Innovation Fatigue (John Wiley & Sons, 2009).

Jeff has a Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering from Brigham Young University and is a registered US patent agent. He has more than 100 granted US patents and is author of numerous publications. Jeff's hobbies include photography, amateur magic, writing, and Mandarin Chinese.

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