Making the Crucial Decision—Now
Many years ago Elder John A. Widtsoe pointed out that each of us will have questions so long as we are thinking, reflective human beings. Questions are a part of life, a vital part of growing in truth and understanding. But doubt should be only a temporary condition, a state that is resolved either through the serious pursuit and investigation of the matter under consideration—resulting in acquisition of new knowledge by study or by faith—or in a settled determination to place the question “on the shelf” for the time being, at least until new insights or perspectives are forthcoming.1 That forward pursuit in which we do not allow the unknown to distract or beset us, is called faith. Faith is in fact the antidote to doubt, the answer to skepticism, the solution to cynicism. It is, as Alma explained, “the hope for things which are not seen, which are true” (Alma 32:21). Out of such faith flows hope, an “anchor to the souls of men which [makes] them sure and steadfast, always abounding in good works, being led to glorify God” (Ether 12:4).
Decisions, when made in earnest, when made with one’s whole heart, are extremely influential in our lives. Thirty years ago a colleague and I were asked to read through, analyze, and look for patterns in a massive amount of anti-Mormon propaganda. It was drudgery. It was laborious. It carried a bitter and draining spirit, and consequently I had to just push my way through it to complete the assignment. After a period of addressing certain questions, my partner shook his head and indicated that the constant barrage of issue after issue was simply wearing him down, and that he wasn’t sure he could stick with it. I suggested that we were almost done, that a few more hours of work would enable us to make our report. He stared at me for a moment and asked: “This isn’t damaging to you, is it? I mean, you don’t seem to be very upset by what we are reading.” I assured my friend that there were obviously other things I would rather be doing, and that the hateful and contentious spirit did in fact weigh on me, but no, I wasn’t particularly bothered by it. “Why?” he followed up. “I can’t say for sure,” I responded. “It’s ugly but doesn’t really affect my faith.”
I sat with my wife in our living room as we watched the April 2007 general conference. During the Sunday morning session, Elder Neil L. Andersen stated: “Faith is not only a feeling; it is a decision. With prayer, study, obedience, and covenants, we build and fortify our faith. Our conviction of the Savior and His latter-day work becomes the powerful lens through which we judge all else. Then, as we find ourselves in the crucible of life, . . . we have the strength to take the right course.”2
That was it. That was the answer. Faith is a DECISION. Decades ago I made a decision: I knew that God is my Heavenly Father, that Jesus Christ is my Lord and Redeemer, that Joseph Smith is a prophet of God, through whose instrumentality many plain and precious truths, the keys and covenants and ordinances of the priesthood, and the organization of the Church, have been restored. I made a decision. I decided that I would be loyal to the constituted authorities of the Church, that I was in this race for the long haul, that I would stick with the Good Ship Zion, and that I would die in the faith in good standing. No man or woman would ever chase me out of the Church. No unresolved issue or perplexing doctrinal or historical matter would shake my faith.
Now I suppose some would respond that I am either living in denial or am simply naïve. I assure you that I am neither. I have been a religious educator for thirty-five years, am very much aware of seeming incongruities that surface here and there. I spend a goodly portion of my time with people who are of different faiths, and some of them are ever so eager to bring to my attention questions intended to embarrass me or the Church. There are just too many things about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that bring stimulation to my mind and satisfaction to my heart, as well as a cementing and sanctifying influence into my family and interpersonal relationships, for me to choose to throw it all away because I am uncertain or unsettled about this or that pebble in the road. To put this another way, the whole is far, far greater than the sum of its parts.
Following the Bread of Life Sermon, many chose not to follow the Master further. Then said Jesus unto the twelve, Will ye also go away?” What a poignant moment: our Lord seems to display a sense of disappointment, a somber sadness for those in the darkness who cannot comprehend the Light. Will he be left alone? Is the price too great to pay? Is the cost of discipleship so expensive that perhaps even those closest to him will leave the apostolic fellowship? “Then Simon Peter answered him, Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life. And we believe and are sure that thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God” (John 6:66-69, emphasis added). Once one has enjoyed sweet fellowship with the Christ, how does he or she turn away? Where do you go? What possible message, way of life, social interactions, or eternal promise can even compare with what Jesus offers?
Some have wandered away because they did not exercise that faith that required a decision. Consequently when something went wrong or something else didn’t seem to make sense, they chose to absent themselves from church meetings and eventually from the Church. And so if you have allowed unanswered questions in your life to develop into destructive doubts, I plead with you to think through the long-term implications of a decision to distance yourself from the Church. Ponder on what you are giving up. Think carefully on what you will be missing. Reflect soberly on what you are allowing to slip from your grasp. If you are one who finds herself struggling with a doctrinal question or a historical incident, seek help. Seek it from the right persons, including your Heavenly Father or your priesthood leaders. Be patient. Be wise. Assume the best rather than the worst. If you are an otherwise active member of the Church who finds himself overly troubled by something that should never have happened or something that can be remedied in your heart by simply recognizing that all of us are human and that forgiveness is powerful spiritual medicine, leave it alone. Let it go.3 Keep the big picture and refuse to get bogged down in exceptions to the rule. Focus on fundamentals. Simplify your life and open yourself to that pure intelligence from the Spirit that brings calmness and serenity.
Have you made a decision? Have you made the decision? Have you sought for and obtained a witness from God that the work in which we are engaged is heaven-sent and thus true? Such a quest is foundational to your future happiness and peace. Pursue it consistently and energetically. If you have received such a testimony, cherish it, cultivate it, and ask the Father in the name of the Son to broaden and deepen it. Then make the decision. Such a decision is a sacred commitment to remain true to the faith, even though you, like Nephi, “do not know the meaning of all things” (1 Nephi 11:17). In a modern revelation we are counseled to “search diligently, pray always, and be believing.” As we do so, “all things shall work together for [our] good” (D&C 90:24, emphasis added).
1 Widtsoe, Evidences and Reconciliations (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1960), 31-33.
2 Conference Report, April 2007, 72-73, emphasis added.
3 See Boyd K. Packer, Conference Report, October 1977, 89-92; October 1987, 17-21.
Robert L. Millet is Abraham O. Smoot University Professor of Religious Education and Director of Publications for the Religious Studies Center at Brigham Young University.
Professor Millet is a native of Baton Rouge, Louisiana. He received B.S. and M.S. degrees in psychology from BYU and a Ph.D. from Florida State University in religious studies. After working with LDS Social Services and with LDS Seminaries and Institutes, he joined the BYU Religious Education faculty in 1983. He has served as chairman of the Department of Ancient Scripture and as dean of Religious Education, and has held the Richard L. Evans Chair of Religious Understanding. His areas of expertise include the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible, doctrinal content in the Book of Mormon, outreach to other Christian faiths, and Christian history and theology.
He and his wife, the former Shauna Sizemore, are the parents of six children.
See, additionally, Professor Millet’s chapter in Expressions of Faith: Testimonies of Latter-day Saint Scholars.
Posted June 2010