October 27, 2008

Is Doubt a Sin?

A few thoughts about doubt
Part 2 of 2 1

I believe a proper answer to this question depends on the definition of "sin," as well as what the implications of "belief" are considered to be. If sin can be explained as something that is alienates one from God or others (something that separates; "enmity"), actions ranging from laziness, inadvertent mistakes, and counter-productive interpersonal actions to deliberate maliciousness or destructive evil can be related to the concept of "sin." If sin has no other associations and is merely sin because God (or a person) calls it sin, it is nothing but an arbitrary label.

With a more complex view of sin one might argue there is a condition of unbelief that can be "sinful," but doubt and disbelief in and of themselves do not automatically equal "sin." The desires of the heart behind the condition of doubt play a part in addition to other factors inherent to a mortal probation of opposition.

There are examples in LDS scripture that may feed the tendency to suspect doubters. In the Book of Mormon, figures like Korihor seem to echo modern secularist's declarations of the folly of faith and virtue of doubt:

Ye say that this people is a free people. Behold, I say they are in bondage. Ye say that those ancient prophecies are true. Behold, I say that ye do not know that they are true...And ye also say that Christ shall come. But behold, I say that ye do not know that there shall be a Christ...And thus ye lead away this people after the foolish traditions of your fathers, and according to your own desires; and ye keep them down, even as it were in bondage...that they durst not look up with boldness, and that they durst not enjoy their rights and privileges...lest they should offend their priests, who do yoke them according to their desires, and have brought them to believe, by their traditions and their dreams and their whims and their visions and their pretended mysteries, that they should, if they did not do according to their words, offend some unknown being, who they say is God—a being who never has been seen or known, who never was nor ever will be (Alma 30:22-28).
Elsewhere scripture affirms a place for faithful doubt, as in the man who petitioned Christ to heal his child.
And one of the multitude answered and said, Master, I have brought unto thee my son, which hath a dumb spirit; And wheresoever he taketh him, he teareth him: and he foameth, and gnasheth with his teeth, and pineth away: and I spake to thy disciples that they should cast him out; and they could not. He answereth him, and saith, O faithless generation, how long shall I be with you? how long shall I suffer you? bring him unto me...Jesus said unto him, If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth. And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief (Mark 9:17-24).
In short, I believe doubt (or "unbelief") is not a sin though it can be a sin. It can also be a virtue when it prods one on to further light and knowledge. As Terryl Givens went as far as to associate faith and doubt with agency, or freedom:
The call to faith is a summons to engage the heart, to attune it to resonate in sympathy with principles and values and ideals that we devoutly hope are true, and to have reasonable but not certain grounds for believing them to be true. I am convinced that there must be grounds for doubt as well as belief in order to render the choice more truly a choice—and, therefore, the more deliberate and laden with personal vulnerability and investment. The option to believe must appear on our personal horizon like the fruit of paradise, perched precariously between sets of demands held in dynamic tension. One is, it would seem, always provided with sufficient materials out of which to fashion a life of credible conviction or dismissive denial. We are acted upon, in other words, by appeals to our personal values, our yearnings, our fears, our appetites, and our egos. What we choose to embrace, to be responsive to, is the purest reflection of who we are and what we love. That is why faith, the choice to believe, is, in the final analysis, an action that is positively laden with moral significance.2
Finally, I believe it is counter-productive to label people as doubters in a pejorative sense, or to criticize those who may feel but not vocalize the plea, "help thou mine unbelief," as Elder M. Russel Ballard warned Saints against labeling:
As members of the Church we are sometimes inclined to place labels on others. The world needs to be a place of order, and I guess things seem more orderly when people are placed in categories and stamped with labels. Some of these labels might be “inactive,” “nonmember,” “active,” “single,” “divorced,”...“drinker,” ["doubter,"] and so on. May I suggest that there is a very real danger in applying these labels to people?
It is altogether too easy to forget that each man, woman, boy, and girl on the face of the earth is a child of our Father in Heaven and entitled to the same blessings as we are. If we study the life of the Savior, we find that he was very hesitant to label his brothers and sisters as publicans, sinners, or adulterers. There can be no doubt that, as a perfect man, he was all too well aware of the sin in this world. Yet he was able to condemn the sin while at the same time loving and caring for the sinner. It is interesting to me to note that the one label that he did apply was that of “hypocrite.” Are there any of us who are so free from sin that we can afford to categorize others? Let us be careful to view our brothers and sisters as sons and daughters of God with great potential and to care for them accordingly.3

See part 1 of 2 here.

Terryl L. Givens, "'Lightning Out of Heaven': Joseph Smith and the Forging of Community", BYU Speeches of the Year, 29 November 2005.


Elder M. Russell Ballard, "Taking Time to Care," New Era, Oct 1986, 4.


Jared said...

Doubt can be important tool as the author and others have pointed out. However, there comes a point when doubt can be a "sin". If the Lord gives us sufficient reason to doubt not and we persist in doubting then we're rejecting His gift (see 3 Nephi 8:4).

The goal of faith is to eliminate doubt (see Mormon 9:25, D&C 6:36).

I've learned that studying the gospel is essential to increase faith, but ultimately insufficient. Followers of Christ need to come to a point where they experience the gospel.

Experiencing the gospel is accomplished when we fulfill our baptismal covenant and receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. In addition to study there needs to be sincere, continual repentance and mighty prayer until we, like Enos, receive a remission of our sins which is the baptism of the Spirit by fire and the Holy Ghost.

Baptism by water is half a baptism--we need to be baptized by the Spirit as well.

BHodges said...

Thanks for the thoughts, jared.

Jeremy said...

It is human nature to doubt things that we cannot sense with our 5 human senses. However, as you succinctly stated:

"The desires of the heart behind the condition of doubt play a part in addition to other factors inherent to a mortal probation of opposition."

I think doubt plays and important role in the the overall testimony-building process. When we doubt for the right reasons (not simply because we can), that will inevitably push us to seek for assurance from HF.

BHodges said...

Agreed. There is a tendency toward a sort of doubting masochism, the unblinking "I can take it" mentality among some. Skepticism at this juncture becomes a hallmark of the wise one, rather than other qualities which are just as important, if not more so.

Sione said...

With sincerity and and integrity we should seek the truth. I often wonder, question, and yes- sometimes doubt.

From Brother Brigham:

: "I am more afraid that this people have so much confidence in their leaders that they will not inquire for themselves of God whether they are led by Him. I am fearful that they settle down in a state of blind self security, trusting their eternal destiny in the hands of their leaders with a reckless confidence that in itself would thwart the purposes of God in their salvation, and weaken that influence they could give to their leaders, did they know for themselves, by the revelation of Jesus, that they are led in the right way. Let every man and woman know, by the whisperings of the Spirit of God to themselves, whether their leaders are walking in the path the Lord dictates, or not." [Ibid.; also in Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, 26 vols. (London: Latter-day Saints’ Book Depot, 1860), 9:150.]

It is our right to enquire and to questions; especially when local leaders ask that which is contrary to the standard works or what the legal community regards as stare decicis.

Again, concerning doubt:

"We consider God, and him alone, infallible; therefore his revealed word to us cannot be doubted, though we may be in doubt some times about the knowledge which we obtain from human sources, and occasionally be obliged to admit that something which we had considered to be a fact, was really only a theory." Lu Dalton, Woman's Exponent (Salt Lake City: 15 July 1882), p. 31.

That's all

Big UP!

PS text me cuz I lost my phone and all my numbers

BHodges said...

Brilliant; thanks for the quotes.

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