I understand that some doubts have arisen in your mind. I don't know for sure what they are, but I imagine they are ones I have heard before. Probably some of them I have entertained in my own mind. And perhaps some of them I still harbor myself. I am not going to respond to them in the ways that you may have anticipated. Oh, I will say a few things about why many doubts felt by the previously faithful and faith-filled are ill-founded and misplaced. The result of poor teaching, naïve assumptions, cultural pressures and outright false doctrines. But my main purpose in writing this letter is not to resolve the uncertainties and perplexities in your mind. I want rather to endow them with the dignity and seriousness they deserve. And even to celebrate them. That may sound perverse, but I hope to show you it is not.
So what are some of the assumptions we might be making that create intellectual tension and spiritual turmoil? I will mention five: the prophetic mantle, the nature of restoration, Mormon exclusivity, the efficacy of institutional religion, and the satisfactions of the gospel—including personal revelation. I can only say a few words about each, enough I hope to provoke you to consider if these—or kindred misplaced foundations—apply to you.
I know I am grateful for a propensity to doubt, because it gives me the capacity to freely believe. I hope you can find your way to feel the same. 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 which we have reasonable but not certain grounds for believing to be true. 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. An overwhelming preponderance of evidence on either side would make our choice as meaningless as would a loaded gun pointed at our heads. The option to believe must appear on one's personal horizon like the fruit of paradise, perched precariously between sets of demands held in dynamic tension. Fortunately, in this world, one is 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.
The call to faith, in this light, is not some test of a coy god, waiting to see if we "get it right." It is the only summons, issued under the only conditions, which can allow us fully to reveal who we are, what we most love, and what we most devoutly desire. Without constraint, without any form of mental compulsion, the act of belief becomes the freest possible projection of what resides in our hearts. Like the poet's image of a church bell that only reveals its latent music when struck, or a dragonfly that only flames forth its beauty in flight, so does the content of a human heart lie buried until action calls it forth. The greatest act of self-revelation occurs when we choose what we will believe, in that space of freedom that exists between knowing that a thing is, and knowing that a thing is not.
This is the realm where faith operates, and when faith is a freely chosen gesture, it expresses something essential about the self.
Modern revelation, speaking of spiritual gifts, notes that while to some it is given to know the core truth of Christ and His mission, to others is given the means to persevere in the absence of certainty. The New Testament makes the point that those mortals who operate in the grey area between conviction and incredulity are in a position to choose most meaningfully, and with most meaningful consequences.
Peter's tentative steps across the water capture the rhythm familiar to most seekers. He walks in faith, he stumbles, he sinks, but is embraced by the Christ before the waves swallow him. Many of us will live out our lives in doubt, like the unnamed father in the gospel of Mark. Coming to Jesus, distraught over the pain of his afflicted son, he said simply, "I believe, help my unbelief." Though he walked through mists of doubt, caught between belief and unbelief, he made a choice, and the consequence was the healing of his child. "The highest of all is not to understand the highest but to act upon it," wrote Kierkegaard.9 Miracles do not depend on flawless faith. They come to those who question as well as to those who know. There is profit to be found, and advantage to be gained, even—perhaps especially—in the absence of certainty.