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The Crucible of Doubt: Reflections on the Quest for Faith, by Terryl and Fiona Givens. Salt Lake City, Utah. Deseret Book, 2014. 168 pages.

The authors of this book, faithful Latter-day Saints, have previously written several thoughtful, scholarly books on the LDS faith. Terryl Givens is Professor of Literature and Religion at the University of Richmond and holds the James A. Bostwick Chair of English. Fiona Givens is a retired modern language teacher and is now an independent scholar; she has published in several journals and reviews in the field of Mormon Studies.

This book, one of their best, centers around the experience of doubt. The introductory chapter of the book notes that people often have preconceptions, misunderstandings, and beliefs that cause difficulty for them. History abounds with such mistaken beliefs, e.g., the world is flat, bleeding can cure disease, cholera is caused by bad air, some women were witches who should be drowned, the earth is at the center of our system of sun and planets, God is unknowable, and Eve is to be condemned for bringing sin and evil into the world.

LDS people are no different, although we have our own peculiar set of concerns. Two examples among the LDS might include the question of what peoples inhabited America in 600 B. C. and what is meant by perfection as mentioned in Matthew 5:48. The thesis of the book is that we may explore such problems and find help—if not complete solutions—for them in the context of the gospel of Jesus Christ. (Incidentally, some of its essays and insights are similar to those in the book of collected works of Thomas F. Rogers, which I reviewed in the Fall 2017 issue of SquareTwo.) The various chapters of this book describe several of these problems and discuss possible ways to overcome or at least move beyond them.

Major themes

I. The gospel is true and Jesus Christ is our Savior.

This assertion threads through all other considerations within the volume. The Givens emphasize that the grace offered is costly and outcomes of prayers are uncertain. In His agony in Gethsemane, the Savior pled, “If it be Thy will, remove this cup from me”—which, of course, the Father could not do. But the book notes that He self-corrected in saying, “Thy will be done.” Thus He submitted Himself totally to the Father’s wishes. I have thought that this was His gift to the Father—and us—in the same way that Elder Neal A. Maxwell and other Church leaders have counseled us that the supreme gift we could give the Savior was the unconditional gift of ourselves, our will.

Understanding the nature of God is essential for our worship. Not for us is an immaterial god, or a smooth and comfortable god (to use Elder Holland’s phrase), but one who is like us—with feelings and passions—and who weeps at the sins of His children. This understanding forms the proper foundation from which to handle doubt, as we shall see.

II. Faith, love, and empathy.

Faith and love are essential parts of the gospel. Faith in Jesus Christ is the first principle, as noted by the prophet Joseph, and we are commanded to love God and our fellow beings; the Father and the Son love us unconditionally. Jesus told his disciples, “…love one another, as I have loved you.” We only dimly understand the extent of the love that the Father and Son have for us. The authors quote the Jewish scholar Abraham Heschel in his rendering of Exodus 3:7: “I have sympathy for, I am affected by, their sufferings.”

The Givens note: “An attitude of preoccupation with ourselves, with our own desires and interests, precludes our access to the true meaning of the other… In the most emphatic and urgent meaning of the word, love reveals truth…love is the only position or emotional disposition from which we become fully aware of the already present reality of the other person as more than a mere object among other objects in a crowded universe.” (Emphasis in the original.) In this passage, we see that love and empathy are, in some way, two sides of the same coin. Or perhaps it might be better said that empathy is an essential part of love. To put it in more familiar terms, we are to “…bear one another’s burdens…mourn with those who mourn…comfort those who stand in need of comfort…”, visit the sick, clothe the naked, feed the hungry.

The Mormon scholar Philip Barlow writes of the need for gratitude and observes that it helps him be “less preoccupied with self.” His attention is focused elsewhere and his wonder is awakened by almost everything. “To the extent that I become a habitually grateful person, I engage a different and richer reality than the ‘me’ who is less grateful.” (Quoted in the text, from Philip Barlow, “Ten Commandments for Balancing the Life of the Mind and Spirit on Campus,” in A Twenty-Something’s Guide to Spirituality, comp. Jacob Werrett and David Read (Salt Lake City, Deseret Book, 2007), 154-55.)

In learning empathy for others, we first need to explore who we ourselves are. This is part of the meaning of the second great commandment: “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” When I was a child, I used to wonder, “How come I am me? Do other people have this same question about themselves?” Understanding others is difficult if we have no insight into our own lives. The authors note that asking a fish what it is like to be wet is meaningless, since the response would be, “What is wet?” My wife is a twin; when people would ask her, “What is it like to be a twin?”, she would respond, “What is it like not being a twin?”

The poet William Wordsworth had similar questions. In his poem entitled “Ode: Intimations of Immortality,” he wrestles with the problem of how he came to be and how he came to be a poet. These questions are the foundation of empathy for others. For example, sometimes we treat other persons as “things,” as when we are on a crowded highway and other cars get in the way. But it is sobering to realize that to them, I am just a thing also. In such situations, and in war, we dehumanize others. But self-understanding can lead to a heart capable of empathy. That is, once we get past these concerns with our own existence and develop spiritual self-reliance, a confidence with ourselves, then we can forget ourselves and concentrate on loving others. The Savior achieved this. He knew who He was; He stated it many times to others. Having this confidence in His own ability to carry through with the Atonement, He could subject Himself to the Father’s will and do it. He was meek, yet supremely strong.

There is an interesting relationship between loving others and faith. For example, a young woman felt marginalized by the expressions of certainty by ward members in testimony meeting. So finally she bore her own testimony, noting that she had never given her bishop a opportunity to know her. She kept herself safe from interactions with others, and so her capacity for empathy was decreased. At the same time, as a child she feared that there was no God; it was difficult for her to have faith. She tried to dismiss such thoughts, and continued to do that on her mission and in her marriage. Finally she began to review all the questions she had in her mind, studying them from all sides. It took her ten years, but in the end she came to a simple truth: we choose what we do, what we believe, and what we live by. Then she could honestly say that she knew that if she followed Christ’s teachings, served and loved others—such as reading scriptures every morning with her daughter—that she would be happy. She did not yet know that the Church is true, or that God lives, but she hoped that He does. Opening to others opens the door to faith, as well.

In this, one is reminded of the well-known poem, “Abou Ben Adhem,” by Leigh Hunt. Abou tells a visiting angel that he does not love God, but he loves his fellow men. When the angel returns the next night with his list of those whom love of God had blest, “Lo! Ben Adhem’s name led all the rest.” A great truth is spoken in this poem. Loving others, being open to others, having empathy for others can lead us to faith. Elder Holland counseled those with only partial faith to hold on to what they have as they progress, and one of the gifts of the Spirit (D. & C. 46:14) is the ability to accept the testimony of others if one does not have a testimony of one’s own. Indeed, I took great comfort in that for many years, until I finally felt confident enough to say that I knew that the Church is true and that the Book of Mormon is the word of God. Our connections to others, including the willingness to accept the testimony of others, can be a bridge to faith.

III. Asking the right questions

We are allowed, even encouraged to ask questions. Of course, this entails a risk. Sometimes we ask the wrong questions and then are confused with the answers we receive. The authors quote Daniel Dennett: “Philosophy…is what you have to do until you figure out what questions you should have been asking in the first place.” They note that Julian of Norwich, who spent many years trying to understand sin, and B. H. Roberts, who did not understand that people likely already lived in America when Lehi and his family arrived, asked the wrong questions. We should not be surprised to find that we do that too. Knowing the risks involved, we must ask questions, be prepared to receive answers we did not expect, and persevere until we get things right.

For example, why do we need to go through the formality of temple ordinances to be eternally united with family? Can’t God just unite us without all that trouble? But to do so is, according to the Givens, to “misconstrue the nature of heaven…Heaven is not a location to which good people are assigned, and salvation is not a simple condition of perfect righteousness. The goal of human striving…is the acquisition of eternal life…the kind of life that God Himself leads and enjoys…heaven is a complete immersion—a full engagement and participation in a web of eternal, familial bonds of love and affection…the seeming arbitrariness of gospel ordinances becomes the very ground on which the particularism of a specific, personal relationship with the Divine becomes enacted…Through baptism we formally and publicly accept Christ’s invitation to be our spiritual Father.” Once we have a better understanding, we realize that the original question about the need for temple ordinances is not, actually, a useful one. With spiritual striving comes the ability to ask better questions and receive better, more satisfying answers.

IV. Incompleteness, uncertainty, and doubt.

In an uncertain world, people look to religion for comfort and certainty. However, religion does not always provide those. In scripture after scripture Jesus’ words are unsettling. “I came not to bring peace but a sword.” “Sell all that thou hast and come follow me.” “I am come to set a man in variance with his father.” “He that does not eat of my flesh and drink of my blood cannot be my disciple.” “Take up your cross and follow me.” These are not words of comfort and ease. The gospel is a gospel of incitement and provocation, not equilibrium. After all, as C. S. Lewis notes in a famous passage, God is not making us into a house, but into a castle—and that may be painful, even exquisitely so. Our reward is “peace in this life”—not necessarily health, or wealth, or fame—“and eternal life in the world to come.” That is all; but what a glorious all!

Christ, of course, bore the most pain, the most tribulation, the most loneliness of all. Note the pathos in His terrible lament, “Will ye also go away?” The authors point out that the disciples are just as shaken by His words as those who went away. “They affirm their faith in Jesus in spite of, not because of, the hardness of the way, the disequilibrium His indecipherable teachings have stirred in their souls.” (Emphasis in the original.) Peace comes amidst the maelstrom of wind, not as escape from it, as Flannery O’Conner said: “Religion costs. They think faith is a big electric blanket, when of course it’s not.”

We remember that God planted both the tree of life and the tree of knowledge of good and evil. No wonder that Eve weeps—and so does Adam—at the choice they made to eat of the forbidden fruit; they are horrified at Lucifer’s all too real threats. God Himself weeps at the wickedness of His children.

The Givens rightly state, “…true religion is inseparable from suffering.” The price we pay “is not the final definitive resolution of the arena or the operating room. It is the fretsome anxiety of the waiting room.” Joseph Smith said, “There is no pain so awful as the pain of suspense.” Again, the Givens point us to a relationship we might not have considered before: the relationship between this suffering of suspense and agency. They note that freedom to choose can only exist in the context of the experience of uncertainty: “To be an agent unto oneself may well require that we operate in the valley of incertitude…The indeterminacy of it all can be frightening—and disconcerting to those hoping for clear answers and neat solutions.” A quote from Dennis Rasmussen: “Into man’s spiritual shell God places His question like a grain of sand. And man’s work, daily renewed, is to make of it a pearl of great price.” Brigham Young said that this plan makes people “reveal their thoughts and intents and brings out every trait of disposition lurking in their [beings].”

Referring to the poem by Wordsworth mentioned above, the Givens suggest: the “tension itself, the irresolution, the ambiguity and perplexity of our lives…are our rescue from the complacency and stasis of an eternal Eden.” They comment, “staying the course takes great effort of will,” but “abandoning our faith because it doesn’t answer all the questions would be like closing the shutter because we can’t see the entire mountain. We know in part, Paul said, looking for the flickering flame to give us a glimpse of the way ahead in the gloom.”

After all, the Plan God gave us—about which we shouted for joy—is a Plan of Happiness. In finding our way through the gloom we have guides—the Holy Spirit, the scriptures, statements from our Church leaders, the love of family and friends, a beautiful world to admire. Eternal life awaits. We just have to persevere.

One important source of spiritual uncertainty is man-made: uncertainty in reading scripture. A familiar example is King Henry VIII’s use, or misuse, of scripture to justify his divorce of Catherine of Aragon and his marriage to Anne Boleyn. We wrest the scriptures to support our own political views. Due to imperfect translations, there are also self-contradictory passages in the Bible, which the Joseph Smith Translation helps us to understand.

Since scripture comes from revelation through human conduits, we recognize that not always are the words perfect. We must understand the context and milieu in which they were given, always seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit in using them, not use them as a weapon for bludgeoning others, and be patient in waiting for answers. Also note that the Church is an evolving institution; words spoken at one time in the Church—though we may still accept them—may not have the same importance at other times. It is instructive to read the Joseph Smith Papers and see the multiple changes in the writing that were made by others and by Joseph himself.

A historical example of uncertainty is found in the practice of polygamy. In the 1880s, persecution was severe, Church leaders were in hiding, and the Church was threatened with confiscation of property and dissolution. I once read a paper by an LDS historian, James B. Allen, called “The Good Guys versus the Good Guys.” Some good guys were those who felt that polygamy must be continued at all costs; others were those who believed that it must be abandoned for the sake of preserving the Church. One senses this conflict in reading President Woodruff’s remark on the Manifesto that it was the Lord’s will. My great-grandfather, Samuel Bateman, who had two wives, went to the conference where the Manifesto was presented determined to vote against it; but he wrote in his journal, “Some power not my own moved me to raise my arm, and I voted to sustain President Woodruff in this matter. As soon as I had done it a sense of peace and contentment came over me.” While clarity was lacking, faith prevailed.

V. The problem of evil and despair.

One primary source of doubt is found in the presence of evil in a world made by God. The authors cite William Blake’s two starkly contrasting poems The Lamb and The Tyger, with the dreadful question to the tiger, “Did he who made the lamb make thee?” Colossal human pain can be expected as a result of unfettered moral agency. When God organized the world and its peoples, He well knew the horrors that would happen and went ahead with it anyway. We must grapple with a world of evil, yet wherein one may also find good. The Givens cite Norman Mailer on the conundrum: “If God is good, then He is not all powerful. If God is all powerful, then He is not all good. I am a disbeliever in the omnipotence of God because of the Holocaust. But for thirty-five years or so, I have been believing that He is doing the best He can.”

Latter-day Saints believe something like the first of these statements, in that God did not create intelligence. He is powerful, indeed; but He allows His children to do what they will, and the Son then took the consequences of our agency upon Himself.

Besides the evil that humans inflict upon each other, there are also the effects of natural disasters, such as the 1755 Lisbon earthquake, which caused Voltaire and Rousseau to wonder whether God was responsible for it or why He did not intervene.

The Congregationalist minister Edward Beecher believed, as we believe, in the war in heaven, recognizing, as we do, that the freedom we have been granted is the freedom to err. The authors comment that Latter-day Saints tend to oversimplify that war, and remark, “Depriving the human family of agency and accountability could only have been tempting to the sons and daughters of God if the alternative were unthinkably terrible.” Those who came to earth—as delighted as they were with the divine plan—must have soberly considered the inevitable outcome of agency—warfare, genocide, infant mortality, sin, personal bereavement, all the terrible things unleased upon the earth by Lucifer as he took full advantage of our freedom and our weakness. In Romans 12:21 Paul says, “Be not overcome with evil.” The authors point out that this, while referring to individual sin, can also be applied to the weight of evil—our perception of the world’s wrongs and our compassion over them, to the extent that we may fall into despair. My wife used to say that discouragement, allied to despair, is Satan’s greatest weapon.

In The Brothers Karamasov by Dostoevsky is a passage in which the nihilist brother Ivan cruelly presents his righteous brother Alyosha with detailed scenes, taken from contemporary Russian life, of examples of horrible child abuse. Then Ivan challenges his brother with an unanswerable question: If you could make all men happy, but at the cost of the life of a single child, tortured to death, what would you do? And Alyosha, in anguish, says that he could not do it and joins Ivan in disbelief in or rage against God. We are faced with similar challenges—the loss of a child to illness or murder, school shootings, helplessly witnessing atrocities performed on loved ones. How could God allow agency, knowing the cost?

A fascinating story is told in the book. Reb Dovid Din, in Jerusalem, was sought out by a man who was suffering a crisis of belief, who ranted and raved for hours. The rabbi finally asked, “Why are you so angry with God?”, took him to a private part of the wailing wall, and told him to it was time to express his anger. For more than an hour the man struck the wall with his hands and screamed his heart out. Exhausted, he began to cry, could not stop, and eventually turned his sobs into prayers. “And that is how Reb Dovid Din taught him how to pray.”

We find that many contemporary LDS talks—in general conference or in our home wards—deal with adversity. It is said that a person may react to adversity in two ways: by becoming hardened and turning away from God or by becoming humble and turning to God. God is not so lacking in empathy that He would allow us to suffer alone: “Our pain is already His.” A theologian, apparently not LDS, who lost his own son, is quoted: “Through our tears, we see the tears of God…It is said of God that no one can behold His face and live. I always thought that this meant that no one could behold His splendor and live…[But] perhaps it meant that no one could see His sorrow and live.”

After noting that Brigham Young felt the pain and lack of joy among many of the Saints, the text says, “To live without God in the world, without hopes or expectations, without spiritual balm or religious faith, is trying. To live a life of discipleship and then feel hopes dashed and expectations unfulfilled, the balm ineffective and the faith devoid of fruit, is to compound the pain with devastating disappointment and heartache.” In such circumstances, the authors counsel patience, like the agony of the waiting room. Two striking examples from scripture are Simeon and Anna, who each waited a lifetime to see the Christ child before they died.

Finally, the authors observe, “Remembering can be the highest form of devotion.” What they mean by this is that remembering provides an anchor for our faith; while the heavens may close from time to time so that we can grow, we can remember when the heavens were open. When the sky is cloudy, we can remember the sunshine we have known. For example, the Kirtland temple dedication was attended by wonderful heavenly manifestations; at the dedication of the Nauvoo temple, no such thing is recorded. (I wonder whether the atmosphere in Nauvoo at the time was so filled with threats and fear that no such thing was possible.) C. S. Lewis said, “sooner or later [God] withdraws…all those supports and incentives. He leaves the creature to stand up on its own legs.” I am reminded of the story told by President Henry B. Eyring about his father, who was suffering from cancer. After a night of prayer on his knees beseeching God to relieve his pain and asking why He did not, the simple answer came: “God needs strong sons.” With answers like that, given to a faithful Saint, one looks forward to the future with some trepidation—what will happen to me before I die?

The chapter closes with examples of faithful people who were left in darkness for long periods of time. Mother Teresa lived for decades in spiritual wilderness, a sense of loss, and darkness; Julian of Norwich spoke of being barren and dry; and Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote in his poems about darkness and black hours.

The following chapter speaks of darknesses in our own history, as at the time in 1833—after the 1831 dedication of the site for the Independence Temple—when thousands of the Saints were gathered to discuss plans for the New Jerusalem. Twenty-four temples were planned. But a mob struck, destroyed the print shop, tarred and feathered Bishop Edward Partridge, and afterward things got worse. The prophet, far away in Kirtland, beseeched the heavens for answers and help; none was given. When Joseph and others were in Liberty Jail, unable to help their people, who were subject to the depredations of the mob, Joseph cried out in anguish to the Father. The answer came—but it was an answer to wait in patience.

Perhaps we expect too much in those situations. We wait for a burning in the bosom; but we need to be sensitive to other, perhaps very subtle, promptings that constitute answers to our prayers. The text tells an example. A missionary lamented to his mission president that he had not received a spiritual witness that his sacrifice of time had been accepted by the Lord. The president asked him, “How do you feel about your mission?” He responded, “I feel great…I have loved the people and the work…” The president said, “And you don’t think your feelings are an answer to your prayers?” Another missionary, feeling similar feelings, complained to his mother. She responded, “Enough of this nonsense. This is pure foolishness. Stop this at once. Stop praying with your knees, start praying with your feet.” President Hinckley, you will recall, had a similar experience with his father, who told him to quit complaining and get to work.

VI. Limitations of leaders, ecclesiastical and others.

There is a tendency to regard our leaders as infallible. They are not. We ask, when is a general authority speaking as a prophet? The answer is, of course, that we are to listen with the Spirit in order to determine that for ourselves. J. Golden Kimball, in a talk, reminded members that they must think for themselves, which takes effort. “No man or woman can remain in this Church on borrowed light.” It is my recollection that that statement originally came from his father, Heber C. Kimball. I have heard the same quote from Harold B. Lee, and Hugh B. Brown told BYU students much the same thing in a devotional address.

In 1945 a Church magazine flatly stated, “When our leaders speak, the thinking has been done.” How many of us have heard that? Yet when President George Albert Smith became aware of it, he “immediately and indignantly repudiated the statement. ‘Even to imply that members of the Church are not to do their own thinking is grossly to misrepresent the true ideal of the Church.’” President Uchtdorf reminded us, “Not every statement made by a Church leader, past and present, necessarily constitutes doctrine…leaders in the Church have simply made mistakes.” (General Conference, 5 October 2013,) That statement was so unusual to the New York Times that one of its writers, Laurie Goodstein, devoted two articles to it (5 and 8 October, 2013.) Unfortunately, many in the world still regard us puppets led by a dictator prophet.

A familiar example of our leaders’ fallibility is the story of the Willie and Martin handcart companies. It is well known that some of our leaders counseled going ahead across the plains, despite the lateness of the date and the inadequacy of the handcarts. Many are the stories of miracles that occurred in that experience. The fact remains that it may have been better to winter in Iowa than to come west. But it is also true that, to my knowledge, the survivors never faulted their leaders. There is an account of one of the survivors who, hearing someone criticize the leaders, interrupted and told the speaker that he did not know what he was talking about and that there were angels who helped them along. This is another important lesson: faith can co-exist with fallibility. One can be blessed even in the midst of making honest mistakes.

The scriptures frankly detail shortcomings of leaders. Abraham was less than fully honest about Sarai being his sister, although that was actually true in a sense, and there certainly were extenuating circumstances. Sarai treated Hagar with jealousy and contempt. Jacob deceived his father into giving him a blessing. The Old Testament is full of the misdeeds of persons who should have known better. Saul, David, Solomon, and Gideon initially received the Lord’s blessings and then grievously fell short. James and John squabbled about who should receive highest honors in heaven. Paul had sharp words for Peter and John Mark. Joseph Smith himself was rebuked by from the Lord, as reported in sections 3, 10, and 93. Brigham Young preached a fire and brimstone sermon in the morning at the time of the Utah War, but in the afternoon, after the Lord had spoken to him, he gave the opposite counsel. Joseph Fielding Smith said that man would never walk on the moon. In the ban on black men receiving the priesthood, many people, including myself, have constructed theories as to why that was done, when it simply may have resulted from racial prejudice held by early leaders.

An unfortunate tendency of some leaders is to cover up misdeeds. The most notorious example of that is the Mountain Meadows Massacre, which was hushed up for many years until Juanita Brooks had the courage to publish her book on it. Fortunately, that is now openly discussed by Church leaders, a fine book has been published about it, and attempts at reconciliation with the descendants of the Fancher party have been made. Another example is polygamy. Thousands of stories, true, half-true, and false, have been written on it. Although it was indeed divinely instituted and divinely taken away, there were people who took advantage of it. While many people were happy in polygamy, others were miserable.

Of course, when the Gods devised the Plan of Happiness, they knew that men would be fallible. The Father has no other kind of leaders. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland famously remarked, “That must be terribly frustrating to Him; but He deals with it.” Knowing that leaders will make mistakes, the Lord still honors His delegation of responsibility to them and sanctions their actions. The authors use the example of Pharaoh’s giving his ring to Joseph and trusting him completely. I have often thought of the Lord’s words to Nephi in Helaman 10:5: “…thou shalt not ask that which is contrary to my will.” That can be interpreted as a commandment, or a statement that the Lord knew He could trust Nephi, or simply that the Lord would honor Nephi’s decisions, as in his request in the next chapter for a famine to wake people up.

VII. Acceptance of truth wherever we find it.

The Givens also provide some maxims that may be useful in coping with doubt, in addition to contextualizing doubt, as we have discussed. The first is to accept truth wherever we may find it. This has sometimes been a stumbling block for Latter-day Saints. Joseph Smith was told, in his first vision, not to join any church, because they were “abominations” in the Lord’s sight. We can understand this; various preachers railed on each other and the Spirit seemed not to be present in their teachings. Martin Luther called Jews “venomous serpents,” and John Knox called the Catholic Church “a blasphemous beast.” The authors note that the abominations spoken of by Joseph could refer, not to Catholics, but to Protestants. Early Mormons often attacked the Protestant wording of the Anglican Thirty-Nine Articles, which became the Westminster Confession. The creeds based on this state that God is impersonal, without form, inaccessible, unmoved by human suffering. God’s anger at such beliefs is clear in His condemnation of infant baptism in the eighth chapter of Moroni.

Joseph Smith was harshly condemned for his statement that he had seen a vision, and persecution of him and the LDS Church continued until his death and after. Largely as a result of this, together with the “abominations” statement, we grew up with the idea that since we have the true Church of Jesus Christ, other churches were to be shunned.

But should we do so? It is true that there was a general apostasy from the original church that Christ established and that we do have the true and full gospel, but we do not have a monopoly on truth. There were holy men and women who individually were faithful. Consider William Tyndale, who felt it to be his mission to translate the Bible into English. He succeeded at the cost of his life. Much of his translation found its way into the King James Version and into Shakespeare. The Abbey of Cluny, for example, was devoted to pure Christian life. Bernard of Clairvaux and other writers wrote hymns that we use in our hymnal.

I grew up in a time when the Roman Catholic Church was considered an enemy and it was thought that Catholics would never join the LDS Church. But times have changed. The two churches are friends, allied in humanitarian and civic activities, many Catholics have become Mormons, and we are completing a temple in Rome.

The authors quote a useful criterion by the religious scholar Krister Stendahl: “In evaluating religions, it is only fair to characterize a faith group in terms of its best, not its worst, manifestations.” The Lord told Joseph (D&C 49:8) that He had “holy men [and women] that ye know not of.” D&C 10:53-55, given in 1829, indicates that there were persons in God’s church even before the LDS Church was organized. Revelation 12 notes that the (early) church had been driven into the wilderness but not destroyed; D&C 4 then speaks of it as coming forth out of the wilderness.

The authors ask: “How did God nourish his people and keep the fires of truth burning when the gospel ordinances were no longer available in their fullness?” Their answer is insightful as well as moving. “…when God lacked prophets, He spoke through poets and musicians, sages and simple men and women of faith and goodness.” They mention, e.g., Julian of Norwich, Thomas Traherne, George Herbert, Lady Anne Conway, Sarah Edwards, Edward Beecher, Michelangelo in his sculptures, Gerard Manley Hopkins in his poetry, Johann Sebastian Bach in his music, which he dedicated to God. One can add Raphael, John Bunyan, John Milton, Emily Dickinson, C. S. Lewis, G. K. Chesterton, Thomas Aquinas, John Henry Newman, Robert Browning, scientists Isaac Newton, Thomas Wright, and in a modern era, even Albert Einstein, who had some conception of an overwhelming presence, though not the traditional Christian God.

Expanding on the theme that we do not have a monopoly on truth, the authors note also that we do not have a monopoly on salvation. In a world in which Mormons comprise roughly 1/500 of its population, are we really God’s only chosen people and heirs of salvation? No. For those who do not find the gospel in this life, there is the provision for temple work for the dead. In the authors’ words, “…the Church is best understood as a portal for the saved, not the reservoir of the righteous.” Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, John Taylor, and all succeeding prophets have expressed this open-armed welcome to all people. President Hinckley famously said to all people, “…Bring what truth you have and we will add to it.”

In summary, the authors quote G. K. Chesterton: “There is such a thing as a small and cramped eternity. You may see it in many modern religions.” The heaven of Mormonism is no such place.

VIII. The usefulness of and limitations on reason and science.

I have elsewhere cited four ways of truth as given in the BYU texts used for basic Physical Science. They are: authority, intuition (which includes religious truth), reason, and sensation (which includes scientific truth.) All four ways are used in determining truth in both religion and science. All have their pluses; all have their limitations. The limitations of authority were discussed in section VI above. Here we treat the limitations of reason and science, which further contextualize our doubts.

By way of introduction, the authors present a poem by George Santayana, part of which I reproduce here. “Our knowledge is a torch of smoky pine /That lights the pathway but one step ahead /Across a void of mystery and dread. /Bid, then, the tender light of faith to shine /By which alone the mortal heart is led /Unto the thinking of the thought divine.”

There is truth beyond what we find through reason and observation, and this is an important concept in coping with doubt. “Do we not have a sense, in the presence of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, or Michelangelo’s David, or Van Gogh’s Starry Night, that we have arrived at something that is neither instrument nor pastime, but an end perfect in itself? ...Watching a performance of Othello tells us more about…jealousy…than any psychology textbook could…Uncle Tom’s Cabin did more to inflame a society…than any cost-benefit analysis of the Southern economy could...Picasso’s Guernica is a more powerful indictment of the horrors of war than the most carefully compiled tables of statistics.” (One might add here the writings of Wilfred Owen about World War I.) “And Charles Dickens did more to animate Christians against the evils of child exploitation and institutional brutality than any government report by experts.”

We should not allow reason alone, but rather also the truth beyond reason, to guide our lives. The authors go on to speak of the inhumanity of efficiency and cost-benefit analyses, which lead to things like euthanasia and ethnic cleansing. Even Charles Darwin noted the defects of hard reason. David Hume: “Reason is, and ought only to be, the slave of the passions…” In other words, if reason is authoring our doubts, it is time to subject it to something much more important. We should “find our own well from which to drink,” as noted in Proverbs and by Robert Frost.

That well can include a community larger than the institutional church. John Calvin and Jacob Böhme had such a vision. We can learn from people like George MacDonald or the poets and artists mentioned above. Our missionaries commonly help people in need without thought of attempting a conversion, as do Church members worldwide. Sometimes seeing the larger picture helps resolve our doubts about the smaller picture.

Final remarks

I have previously read several books by these authors and have been touched and edified by their insights. This book is no different. I found it to be an excellent book for all who wish to understand their religion more deeply. This applies to those who have questions and doubts and even to members who are mature in their understanding. After all, we are to endure to the end; you must know, as I do, members we thought were unassailable who suddenly lose their testimony or are misled by unscrupulous persons. The book is also good for those who are not LDS but who wish to learn more about the Church.

As is clear, the book has chapters that relate to each other. In writing this review, I have combined material from several chapters for each of my topics. Occasionally I found myself bewildered by the multiplicity of topics. If the book has a flaw, this would be it; but on the other hand, this is a benefit, since one can read and reread the book while finding new insights with each reading. In several places, the authors give poems or quotes from famous authors. (To my delight, they even show a knowledge of astronomy and cosmology.)

The thesis I suggested at the beginning of this review, that the book was written to provide help to all, is amply fulfilled. I recommend this book to any interested person.

Full Citation for this Article: Harrison, B. Kent (2018) "Book Review: The Crucible of Doubt: REflections on the Quest for Faith," SquareTwo, Vol. 11 No. 2 (Summer 2018), http://squaretwo.org/Sq2ArticleHarrisonCrucibleReview.html, accessed <give access date>.

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COMMENTS: 1 Comment

I. Lanny Landrith

I enjoy reading Kent Harrison, and enjoyed his review of this book. I do want to make a few clarifications of a few of his comments about the following 2 paragraphs of his review:

“The scriptures frankly detail shortcomings of leaders. Abraham was less than fully honest about Sarai being his sister, although that was actually true in a sense, and there certainly were extenuating circumstances. Sarai treated Hagar with jealousy and contempt. Jacob deceived his father into giving him a blessing. The Old Testament is full of the misdeeds of persons who should have known better. Saul, David, Solomon, and Gideon initially received the Lord’s blessings and then grievously fell short. James and John squabbled about who should receive highest honors in heaven. Paul had sharp words for Peter and John Mark. Joseph Smith himself was rebuked by from the Lord, as reported in sections 3, 10, and 93. Brigham Young preached a fire and brimstone sermon in the morning at the time of the Utah War, but in the afternoon, after the Lord had spoken to him, he gave the opposite counsel. Joseph Fielding Smith said that man would never walk on the moon. In the ban on black men receiving the priesthood, many people, including myself, have constructed theories as to why that was done, when it simply may have resulted from racial prejudice held by early leaders.

“An unfortunate tendency of some leaders is to cover up misdeeds. The most notorious example of that is the Mountain Meadows Massacre, which was hushed up for many years until Juanita Brooks had the courage to publish her book on it. Fortunately, that is now openly discussed by Church leaders,…”

Much of the above 2 paragraphs is accurate. As was said in the above 2 paragraphs, Kings Saul, David, and Solomon all started off great but fell badly. Joseph Smith was indeed chastised, especially for losing the 116 pages.

A few other statements in the above 2 paragraphs need clarification:

The first statement needing clarification is:

“Abraham was less than fully honest about Sarai being his sister, although that was actually true in a sense, and there certainly were extenuating circumstances.”

Abraham was deceptive in the same sense that Nephi was deceptive when Nephi dressed as Laban to get the plates. Abraham was deceptive in the same sense that some German families lied to Nazis about hiding Jews in their homes. The above paragraph does acknowledge that there were “extenuating circumstances” but does not mention what those circumstances were.

The second statement needing clarification is:

“Sarai treated Hagar with jealousy and contempt.” Actually it was Ishmael – NOT Sarah – who showed contempt:

9 ¶ And Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, which she had born unto Abraham, mocking.
10 Wherefore she said unto Abraham, Cast out this bondwoman and her son: for the son of this bondwoman shall not be heir with my son, even with Isaac.

Sarah, being a wise and inspired woman, realized that Ishmael in his mocking, would have caused great contention between the 2 half-brothers Ishmael and Isaac that would end up like Cain and Abel, or a lesser version like the future Esau and Jacob.

Abraham was not aware of what would happen between Ishmael and Isaac but learned from the Lord that Sarah was right as shown by the following:

11 And the thing was very grievous in Abraham’s sight because of his son.
12 ¶ And God said unto Abraham, Let it not be grievous in thy sight because of the lad, and because of thy bondwoman; in all that Sarah hath said unto thee, hearken unto her voice; for in Isaac shall thy seed be called.
13 And also of the son of the bondwoman will I make a nation, because he is thy seed.
14 And Abraham rose up early in the morning, and took bread, and a bottle of water, and gave it unto Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, and the child, and senther away: and she departed, and wandered in the wilderness of Beer-sheba.
15 And the water was spent in the bottle, and she cast the child under one of the shrubs.
16 And she went, and sat her down over against him a good way off, as it were a bowshot: for she said, Let me not see the death of the child. And she sat over against him, and lift up her voice, and wept.
17 And God heard the voice of the lad; and the angel of God called to Hagar out of heaven, and said unto her, What aileth thee, Hagar? fear not; for God hath heard the voice of the lad where he is.
18 Arise, lift up the lad, and hold him in thine hand; for I will make him a great nation.
19 And God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water; and she went, and filled the bottle with water, and gave the lad drink.
20 And God was with the lad; and he grew, and dwelt in the wilderness, and became an archer.

The third statement needing clarification is:

“Jacob deceived his father into giving him a blessing”

Actually it was Isaac’s wife (Jacob’s mother) Rebecca as well as Jacob who did the deceiving. But that’s not the point. Another LDS author criticized Rebecca for her deceit. But the criticism should NOT be directed toward either Rebecca or Jacob but should be directed toward Isaac. Isaac was going to give a blessing to his and Rebecca’s other son Esau, who did NOT deserve the blessing. Esau was unfaithful and had married a non-worshipping woman. Why did Isaac, who eventually would be exalted as D & C 132 tells us, want to give a blessing to his unworthy son? Isaac was like the parent who wants to send an unworthy child to BYU with the hope that the environment at BYU will cause the unworthy child to repent. Isaac hoped that the blessing would cause Esau to repent. Isaac wasn’t worried about Jacob because he knew Jacob was righteous and would obtain other blessings. Isaac was more concerned about Esau than Jacob in the same way that Lehi was more concerned about Laman and Lemuel than he was about his righteous son Nephi. How do we know that Rebecca and Jacob were right, and Isaac was wrong? Isaac, who eventually would be exalted as D & C 132 tells us, listened to the Spirit as he gave Jacob the blessing. If the Lord had not wanted Jacob to receive the blessing, the Spirit would have told Isaac during the blessing NOT to give Jacob the blessing. Also after the blessing Isaac could have renounced the blessing and then could have given it to Esau, but Isaac knew from the Spirit that Jacob deserved the blessing.

The fourth statement needing clarification is:

“Joseph Fielding Smith said that man would never walk on the moon.” The author is right that Joseph Fielding Smith was wrong if you take his statement literally. What if Joseph Fielding Smith really meant that no man would LIVE on the moon?

The fifth statement needing clarification is:

“In the ban on black men receiving the priesthood, many people, including myself, have constructed theories as to why that was done, when it simply may have resulted from racial prejudice held by early leaders.”

We know that “the prophets and the presidents of the Church” did NOT have “racial prejudice” because of the following statement in Official Declaration 2:

“Aware of the promises made by the prophets and presidents of the Church who have preceded us that at some time, in God’s eternal plan, all of our brethren who are worthy may receive the priesthood,”

There is an excellent article that provides quotes of “the promises made by the prophets and presidents of Church”:

Revelation Attitudes:
The Coming Forth of Official Declaration—2 as a Pattern for Receiving Revelation
Mary Jane Woodger
Assistant Professor of Church History and Doctrine
Brigham Young University

The sixth statement needing clarification is:

An unfortunate tendency of some leaders is to cover up misdeeds. The most notorious example of that is the Mountain Meadows Massacre, which was hushed up for many years until Juanita Brooks had the courage to publish her book on it. Fortunately, that is now openly discussed by Church leaders,

There are reasons that misdeeds are “now openly discussed by Church leaders.” Please remember the context of the so-called “cover up” in earlier days of the Church in Utah. The context included the following:

Church members were in Utah to escape the plundering, the beatings, the torturing, the rapes, and the murders. But Church members knew that they were not completely safe even in Utah. Remember that there were people eager to persecute the Church in Utah – e.g. Johnson’s army.

Does anyone really think that the Church in Utah in earlier days should have publicized to others the misdeeds of Church members when such publicity might have led to further plundering, beatings, torturing, rapes, and murders?

I don’t think so