I recently read a blog post where a fellow member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints tried to give help and encouragement to those who are struggling with the confusion of having received a prompting, inspiration, or revelation that directly conflicts with what the leaders of our church are teaching. I appreciated the article’s honest attempt to help others through an incredibly difficult point in their lives. However, the article seemed to be a little bit shallow. I couldn’t tell if it was because the author had never truly struggled with a crisis of faith before, or if the author just needed to take more time to flesh out ideas.
As I got to the bottom of the article, I began reading through some of the comments. Many aligned solidly with the doctrines taught by the church, some were a bit acerbic, and others fell in between on the spectrum. I felt for those who fell to the acerbic side, because I can only imagine how I would have felt during the times that my faith has worn thin if I felt that the people around me were basically saying that I just needed to get with the program! A crisis of faith just isn’t that simple!
The problem is that, no matter whether we decide that the messages we are receiving are true or false, they feel totally real. We are left in the same place that Joseph Smith was as he was being moved into place for the Restoration to begin. Like him, we find ourselves questioning “which of all these teachings could be right, and how could I know?” Maybe taking a look at how the prophet solved his question will help, as well as tying in a few things that have been said during recent general conferences.
- Recognize that, as long as you are caught between two opinions or ideas, the matter is not settled for you. I do not believe that it is my place to judge your choice – if you choose to side with the prophets and apostles, or if you choose to side with the impressions you have received. You can still remain a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints even if your beliefs don’t completely align with the doctrine that is being taught. (The fine print is that publishing and encouraging others to follow you is considered apostasy and will probably cost you your membership. Preaching and teaching is different from belief.) I am posing a possible solution for those who are actually struggling and wrestling because they are still caught between church doctrine and personal revelation.
- Joseph wanted to know God. Desire is the first place we have to start. In his great speech, Alma tells us that if we have no more than a desire to believe, we should plant that seed of faith. It’s at this point that I recommend taking a bit of time to do some soul-searching to see if I really want to know the truth, or if I want to hold on to my own thoughts and ideas more. Personal bias interferes with recognizing truth. Spiritual progress requires real intent, which means we really want to know, and we are willing to accept the answers.
- Joseph blocked out all of the competing voices and went back to sources he knew and trusted. In at least one of the written accounts of his history, Joseph talks about how there were all sorts of different interpretations of what the Bible teaches. Rather than getting “second hand opinions” from the religious leaders of his day, he went straight back to the Bible, which he knew to be the word of God. The pattern, then, seems to be to examine your heart and your testimony and see what sources you still trust. Do you still believe the Bible to be the word of God? Then study it! What about the Book of Mormon? We have prophetic promises that we can get closed to God by carefully reading its pages than any other book on earth. Spend your time and your effort in the places that you know you will definitely feel the Holy Spirit and not one of Satan’s counterfeit influences.
- Consider changing your focus. Joseph Smith wasn’t looking to become an international figure or to become a great religious leader. He simply wanted to follow God and know which church had divine approval. During a crisis of faith, it becomes easy to focus inward on how uncertain and shaken that we feel. If we allow our focus to continue myopically inward, we can shut ourselves off from the influence of the Holy Ghost. One of my friends refers to this as throwing a personal pity party. On the other hand, we have the option of choosing to keep our “eye single to the glory of God.” If we truly want to know what Heavenly Father thinks and feels, keeping our focus on getting to know him and serving him is the best way. This actually brings us back to the ideas that have been taught in recent general conferences: Hang on to what you know, continue to be obedient, and patiently pray and seek the answers. They will come in the Lord’s time.
- Look for the “traces of God.” The prophet, as he experienced the first vision, became suddenly and fully aware of what it felt like to be under the influence of Satan and what it felt like to be in the presence of Heavenly Father. Our training is more prolonged and subtle, but we are given guidance in the scriptures. Oliver Cowdery was admonished to think back to the night that the Spirit spoke peace to his soul. Lehi and Nephi were shown a tree that bore fruit that was more desirable and delicious than any other fruit they had ever encountered. We are told in scripture that the presence of the Holy Ghost enlightens our minds and increases our understanding, as well as bearing the fruits of love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, and meekness.
So, then, how do we know when have received the correct answer? When we have peace while remaining humbly teachable (meek). The fruits of the spirit are love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, and meekness. When we are filled with the fruits of the Spirit, I would be willing to accept that we are on the right track.
To anyone who is experiencing a crisis of faith, I extend to you my love and my support.