Burning Bosom

Theology, History, Culture, Politics & Life from a LDS (Mormon) Perspective

Faith-Promoting Doubts

Posted by Andrew on December 18, 2007

Submitted by: Andrew

“My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46.) These words of the Savior demonstrate that even the most faithful among us will experience times of our lives when we no longer feel God’s sustaining presence in our lives. The word “forsake” is defined as to “abandon or desert”; “to give up something formerly held dear.” How is it that Jesus Christ–the perfect Son of God, who the scriptures repeatedly describe as being “one” with His Father–could feel abandoned, deserted, and given up by God?

Perhaps this scripture ought to cause us to rethink a seemingly prevalent assumption in Mormon culture that someone who is struggling to see or feel God must be experiencing self-inflicted spiritual blindness from sin. Although our sinfulness can certainly obscure our spiritual vision, it does not necessarily follow that sin is the only possible reason why someone is feeling forsaken by God. We may never fully understand the meaning of Christ’s plea to His father, “why hast thou forsaken me?” Perhaps it was necessary for Christ to experience such doubt in order to fully understand us. Referring to Christ, the Apostle Paul explained that “in all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God . . . .” (Heb. 2:17.) Similarly, the Prophet Alma explained that Christ would “take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities.” (Alma 7:12.) Perhaps Christ needed to experience doubt to become like us in “all things,” and thereby learn how to be merciful and supportive when we experience similar moments.

Other Christian traditions seem to recognize that experiencing doubts is a necessary part of developing faith and growing closer to God. The 16th-Century Catholic poet and mystic St. John of the Cross coined the term “Dark Night of the Soul” to refer to a phase in our spiritual development when we experience spiritual loneliness and desolation. Feeling abandoned by God gives us a reason to reach out for Him–perhaps farther than we ever have before. Can this same concept be found in Mormonism as well?

At one of the lowest points in his life, the Prophet Joseph Smith cried out: “O God, where art thou? And where is the pavilion that covereth thy hiding place?” (D&C 121:1.) How is it that Joseph Smith, who had previously seen and talked with God face to face, could later feel as if God was hiding from him? Is it possible that Joseph needed to feel forsaken (abandoned, deserted, given up) by God in order to become like Christ? “The Son of Man hath descended below them all. Art thou greater than he?” (D&C 122:8.) Perhaps this feeling of abandonment by God was a necessary catalyst that caused Joseph to reach deeper and farther into his soul to find Him.

Perhaps the lesson here is that experiencing doubts is not, in itself, a weakness of the soul. Rather, perhaps it is how we respond to our doubts that defines us. Our doubts condemn us only if we use them as a reason to turn our backs on God. When Christ felt forsaken by God, he did not forsake God in return. Those words, “why hast thou forsaken me,” were not his last. Christ did not curse God and die, as Job’s companions suggested. Rather, in that hour of darkness, Christ humbled himself before the God he thought had deserted him and cried out: “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.” (Luke 23:46.)

And when the Prophet Joseph cried out “O God, where art thou?,” a voice came out of the darkness:

“My son, peace be unto thy soul.” (D&C 122:7.)

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