Dealing with Doubt Part 2: “I Hope — I Believe — I Know”


By: Brad Masters // This is the second post in a two-part Normons series on faith and doubt. For the first post, click here.

“For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part.”  ~The Apostle Paul

Last week, Jason wrote on his experience navigating faith and doubt, especially when things become more gray than black-and-white. In his post, he explores how faith demands that we engage difficult questions, face unsettling facts, and withstand vexing trials, and how doing so can force us to re-assemble certain of our beliefs in a way that will enrich them, not diminish them.  Read it.

Like Jason, I’ve also traveled through several “dark nights of the soul,” where certain principles I thought were rock solid have slipped into this chasm of uncertainty. But I’ve come to realize that the darkness need not be scary! Instead, those nights now make me so grateful for those rare (and merciful!) beams of bright light that illuminate my soul and my way forward.

dark path

Now, maybe you’ve attended a Mormon church and been shocked at how convinced everyone is of what they believe.  The oft-repeated phrase “I know God lives” may sound incredible to you. “Do they really know?” you might ask. “How could someone actually know something like that?” And you might wonder if you, too, could ever be so convinced.

My hope is that if you have ever been tempted not to return to a Mormon church because you feel a little less certain about things than everyone else, that you’ll reconsider. And also that you’ll friend me on Facebook . . . because you and I have a lot in common.

Many—like myself—are cautious about what we cannot see. We empathize with “Doubting Thomas” and see him as “normal” rather than weak.  To us, faith is not measured by the number of facts we know.  It’s about how we act within that very real space between what we can know and what we cannot— that gray area where belief and disbelief are both plausible conclusions amidst a dearth of evidence.

 THomas

Confession: I’m usually a little skeptical when people express their spiritual convictions with black-and-white certainty. It’s not that I don’t think they are sincere. It’s just that it doesn’t work that way for me. Where some people have an experience or feeling and say, “This definitely means X,” I experience that same feeling and say, “This very well may mean X…but it could also mean Y…or Z…” To be sure, there are pros and cons to this mindset, but I want to say in no uncertain terms: if you’re like me, there’s a place for you in our church!

In fact, recently, I’ve tried to look really hard at my life to figure out what I can really say I “know” is true. Surprisingly, I came up with far fewer things than I expected. There are things I hope, things I believe, but only a few things that I can confidently say I “know.”

For example,

I hope that Joseph Smith saw what he said he saw when he described Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ appearing to him as a 14-year old boy.

I believe that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God like the prophets of old.

I know that devoting myself to the church Joseph Smith founded makes me feel closer to God than anything else I’ve done.

And here’s another:

I hope Jesus Christ’s words in the New Testament were recorded correctly by the authors of the Gospels.

I believe Jesus Christ suffered for my sins and was resurrected so that I can live again with him in heaven.

I know that building my life around Jesus Christ’s life and teachings helps me become the best version of myself.

Make no mistake: I’m modest in my conclusions about what I really know, but I’m bold in my devotion to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. How can this be? Well, frankly, because faith isn’t about the things you know; it’s about your commitment to those things you cannot. At the end of the day, my faith is measured by how I act in the face of uncertainty.

I remember my darkest night of the soul, when I feared that everything I had ever believed and trusted was just a nice but delusional story.  I went to the chapel on a Tuesday afternoon, found a dark room tucked away even though the building was hauntingly still.  There I begged a God I wasn’t even sure was listening for something, anything, that would allow me to hold on to these hopeful tales of eternal families and life after death.  And in that darkness, that uncertainty, I discovered my faith. I haven’t stopped walking that dimly lit path since, and I could not be happier for it.

Take, for example, a scientist.  Daily she might confront evidence that seems incompatible with an intelligent design to the universe.  She will see widely accepted theories completely abandoned because of the latest discovery.  Conviction may be impossible for her.  She may be unable to say more than that she hopes there’s a God.  But I firmly believe that the scientist who yet walks the faithful path — even if feebly—manifests a most powerful kind of faith.

Earth

“Many years ago when I was an atheist, if anyone asked me, ‘Why do you not believe in God?’ my reply would have been . . . ‘Look at the universe we live in.’” ~ C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain

So if you’re like me, and you find it difficult to say you “know” something that seems unknowable, please don’t think there’s anything wrong with you. In fact, maybe that’s exactly how faith works. Some people believe faith is about suspending reality, but I think it’s about embracing it, and the reality simply is that there are a lot of difficult questions. And within that not-so-black-and-white space, there are things I hope, things I believe, and a few things I just know.

Here’s one more:

I hope that God listens to my daily prayers.

I believe that God exists.

I know that believing in God gives me hope.

32 Comments

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  1. 2
    Julianne

    Brad, this is perfect. You and I are on the exact same page. I’m sure you know the Givens’ work – both “The God Who Weeps,” and their essay for doubters? They give me so much comfort, too. And if you’ve never read T.S. Eliot’s later poems – especially “Ash Wednesday,” do do do. Again, such comfort!

  2. 3
    Sue Groesbeck

    I love your Hope, Believe and Know statements. When you put all these principles to the test, they work!

    That is just what you are doing. Very Cool.

  3. 4
    Taylor Miller

    In what sense are you using hope? I reads like you mean a sort of wishful thinking but I could also see you using it more strongly. Would you mind helping me understand more clearly?

  4. 5
    Edward C

    I understand the couching of the phrases of “I hope”, “I believe”, and “I know”, but in the faith tradition of millions of Christians and now Latter-day Saints, we (or I, in this case), state that we know something based on a conviction of faith, based on confirmation though the Holy Ghost, which comes from God.

    Einstein perceived and “knew” things about physics that he could not prove by math. But he knew them intuitively, after doing his proofs and scientific reasoning that I cannot completely understand.

    Speaking of not completely understanding, that is how I have my personal testimony (knowledge) of God, Jesus, the Plan of Salvation, the Hereafter, Joseph Smith’s calling, the Book of Mormon, etc.

    I know through faith. Similar to how some scientists know some things through their observations and faith in what they investigate.

    I know God is real and He loves me. How? I observe that there are safe-guards and standards for me to live up to and accept, including the blessings that He has given me through my earthly family, my surrounding community, church leaders, friends, scriptures, and formulas of faith that I have followed and reaped results from.

    Like a scientist.

    I know that the Book of Mormon is true. How? Because the Spirit of God has witnessed that to me. Numerous times. For me, it all fits. I don’t simply hope or believe it all fits, I know it.

    Now, I hope that it is not discovered that the Book of Mormon is a pack of lies and a fraudulent, and Joseph Smith, Jr. stole it from a friend down the road. That hope is more like a fear.

    Similar, in many ways, in the knowledge that my wife and children love me. I hope that they do not spurn my affection.

    But I know that I love them, and more than just believing, I know that they love me.

    My mother of 73 years just passed away earlier this month. I touched her body at hospice after her soul had left; her body still had life’s heat but she had departed.

    I know I will see her and touch her again. I know she is saved, as we all will be, by the grace of Jesus.

    I don’t know exactly how all of that works, like I don’t completely understand gravity, energy, dark matter, light, and possibly one million other things.

    But I know this real.

    I have faith, based on belief, and the Spirit of God that speaks to me.

    I hope, and pray, that each person can have that faith and witness and knowledge for themselves.

    Very good post, by the way, and I hope you can understand my conviction about things.

    Perhaps it all comes back to love. How do we know it real?

    Perhaps only through the mysterious will and power of God.

    Yet, I know it is real. He is. Hard to explain in detail, but real for me just the same.

    • 7
      Brad Masters

      Thanks, Edward. I’m glad you have your conviction! Trust me, and this is sort of the sub-point of my post, I have plenty of conviction, too.

      What I want people to understand is that their FAITH isn’t inferior because they can’t say they know with absolute certainty that Ammon cut off the arms of hundreds of Lamanites or that Adam and Eve were the actual first two people ever to walk the earth. Rather, faith is about what they DO based on what they BELIEVE. The scientist who walks feebly but obeys has much more faith than the person who is convinced but isn’t that devoted. Some people feel like because they can’t say they know, other members of the church make value-judgments about their faith. And that’s not cool.

      We show our faith to God by serving and worshipping. Not by our conviction.

      And in fact, conviction usually only come from service and worship. It’s a by-product, an after-taste. Not the sin qua non of the matter.

  5. 8
    Collin Simonsen

    Brad,

    I really appreciate this article and I can tell you’ve put a lot of thought into it. I hope you don’t mind me sharing a few thoughts, that may seem like criticisms, but they really aren’t meant that way.

    First, I am glad that you have taken a very meek approach to faith and you do not want to bash others with it. You’ve probably seen that happen, which is offense to all good willed people. You’ve probably also seen people say “I know” when you wonder if they really do, or they just hope, and are lying.

    But I also wonder if it is showing a lack of faith in God if we are unwilling to say “I know” when we have good warrant to believe something. Let’s look at a non-religious example. What if your boss said, “Will you be in to work by 8:30 am tomorrow?” And you said, “Well, I hope so.” He would probably wonder why you are being wishy washy. Can you, or can’t you? You might say, “I could get sick, or run over by a car, or something might happen…”

    Second, I would ask you, has the Holy Ghost told you that the Book of Mormon is true? If you can’t say unequivocally “yes’ than I encourage you to do whatever it takes to be able to honestly say yes to that question. The Book of Mormon is worth whatever sacrifice it takes. Go to the temple, pray, fast, read, ponder, pray again. This is something you need to know.

    • 9
      Brad Masters

      Thanks Collin. I’m glad you read and thought hard about my post!

      I think a fundamental problem is that we are approaching how we “know” things quite differently. You’d say a spiritual experience related to gospel matters is good grounds for knowing a principle is true. “The Spirit told you so,” you’d say. I don’t want to take anything away from you on that, but I’d just say that those promptings and powerful moments are often difficult to interpret. If I’m reading the Book of Mormon and am powerfully overcome by the Spirit, what should I conclude? That the Book of Mormon is good? That it is the Word of God? That it is a historical record of the ancient inhabitants of America? It is possible to draw any of these conclusions, but often difficult to tell which one. That’s why I choose to inhabit “belief” rather than “knowledge.”

      Also, your paragraph in which you relate the word “hope” to telling your boss you “hope” you’ll be there on time misses the point. I think the analogy is inapposite. Whether I come into work tomorrow on time is something that is entirely in my control. I can tell my boss, “Yes” and then force myself to get there on time. But saying I “hope” that Christ’s words were recorded just as he said them is different – its not something that is in my control. Rather, it is something that I really do wish for, but there is some very strong evidence to suggest that, in fact, these were inspired recollections. I dont think there’s much lost by hoping they are His words, and treating them as though they are. Which is precisely my point – I’m trying to be honest about what I have learned/believe, and I’ve learned that there is a way to both have intellectual integrity AND faithful devotion.

      And to answer your question, I have had deeply spiritual experiences with the Book of Mormon. That’s why I believe it’s true.

      Thanks for your reading!

      • 10
        Collin

        Brad,

        I apologize if it seemed like I was questioning your faith. I didn’t mean for you to feel like you had to tell me that you have a testimony or a “good enough” testimony.

  6. 11
    Kent

    I think that “I know” has a strong cultural element to it. Our children start using this phrase long before they are old enough to really understand it because many are repeating things they’ve heard their parents or other church members say.

    Quite frankly, I think “I know” is overused during testimony meeting. I would feel a lot more comfortable if “I believe” were used more often. Some may suggest that using “I believe” in place of “I know” is evidence a lesser testimony or a follower of lessor commitment. I disagree; Joseph Smith authored the Articles of Faith. Twelve of the 13 of which begin with “We believe”.

    • 12
      Brad Masters

      Thanks Kent. The point you made about some suggesting “belief” statements demonstrate lesser commitment is right on. That is a major sub-point of this post. Thanks for stopping by!

  7. 13
    False Name

    Ex-Mormon here. This was shared by a friend on my Facebook page. I don’t know you, but I have a ton of Mormon family members who get irritated when I talk about stuff like this – so I use the fake name for my own sanity and to not hurt their feelings.

    Brad – I really like your approach to faith. There are millions of things in the universe that don’t make sense that require we rely on faith. We have to make choices based on that faith every day – and I respect your faith.

    Commentators here questioning Brad’s faith – I don’t know any of you, but it’s people like you who turn people like Brad into people like me. Think about that for a minute. Lookin’ at you, Colin.

    • 14
      Brad Masters

      Thanks for reading, False Name. (haha).

      Also, thanks for respecting my faith — you’re right that there are a lot of things in the universe that don’t make sense and require faith. Even Dawkins’ approach relies on faith. For me, human consciousness and existence are phenomena that have no good explanation — in them, I see God. But I can understand why others do not. I respect them as well.

    • 15
      Collin Simonsen

      I don’t think that’s fair. I wasn’t questioning Brad’s faith. I was suggesting that if he has good warrant for knowing something then it’s not wrong for him to say “I know.” I also acknowledged that he was taking a humble, honest approach and that I respected that.

      Perhaps here is a better example: I can safely say that I know that Jupiter has 67 moons. Where do I get that knowledge? Wikipedia! Can I trust it? Probably. Wikipedia isn’t always correct. But it wouldn’t be wrong, in my view, to say, “I know that Jupiter has 67 moons” based solely on Wikipedia. I don’t have to say, “I believe” to reflect the fact that Wikipedia is sometimes wrong.

      So I’m merely talking about when it’s okay to use the word “know” not whether or not Brad’s faith is sufficient.

      • 16
        Aaron

        Technically, Collin, you *would* have to admit that you only believe Jupiter has 67 moons. You’ve never been out to Jupiter to count them all, so you cannot claim that your assertion that there are 67 moons of Jupiter is based on your own sensory perception. That is the basis of knowledge: what each of us individually feels, senses, perceives. If your sensory information is limited to something that you read on Wikipedia, then that is the extent of your knowledge. Does this mean that the assertion “Jupiter has 67 moons” is not true? Of course not. But it does mean you have no personal knowledge or information on the subject.

        All that said, isn’t your example a little beside the point? Do you ever find yourself in situations where you are actually saying something like “I know that Jupiter has 67 moons?” My guess is probably not. Rather, you’ll simply make the factual assertion, and if someone wants to ask you for the basis for that assertion, they will. Certainly no one will assume that you’ve actually gone and counted all 67 of them.

        Brad is a step ahead of you and has become sensitized to the fine line between what one can honestly claim to “know” based on so-called spiritual experiences, as opposed to mere belief. If you have a peaceful feeling while reading the book of mormon, for example, what do you actually know? You simply know that you are having a peaceful feeling while engaging in the activity of reading that book. Any inference beyond that one requires a reflective, interpretive process that necessarily results in belief, not knowledge. Therefore, if you want to interpret the significance of that feeling as godly confirmation of the historicity of the book of mormon, then that assertion should be expressed as a statement of belief, not knowledge. That is, if you’re concerned about remaining intellectually honest.

        This is why it is so bewildering for people on the outside of religion to hear bald assertions of knowledge as Mormons are wont to make. If you’re going to claim to “know” that the book of mormon is “true” (whatever that means), people will want to know the basis and mechanism by which you gained that knowledge. When it is discovered that the basis is comprised entirely of “good feelings” (to one extent or another), the claim to knowledge becomes much less convincing.

        If Mormons were going to be truly intellectually honest with each other, they would admit that their testimonies are pure statements of belief, not knowledge. Unfortunately, “I believe” sounds much less powerful than “I know,” so the latter is what you hear at testimony meetings. At that point, it is merely a matter of rhetoric.

  8. 17
    Lamonte

    Very nice Brad. Your comments hit home with many of us who have been in the church for a lifetime. I have been in your position and remain there over certain issues. But after 6 decades on earth and countless opportunities of service and sacrifice, I feel there are certain things that I can say that I know. I know these things because I have received a spiritual witness that they are true. Knowing truth is, for me, the definition of joy. And I can say without question that I have experienced joy in my life.

    Keep on telling the truth. Sincere dialogue will help us all find truth, and experience joy.

    • 18
      Brad Masters

      Lamonte, thanks for your kind words. I expect that I, too, will have even stronger convictions after 6 decades. For what its worth, I have plenty of reason to be heartened that the path I’m on is God’s path. Hence my commitment to walk it all my life.

  9. 19
    downtown dave

    “Well, frankly, because faith isn’t about the things you know; it’s about your commitment to those things you cannot.”

    The Scriptures say that faith is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen. Faith is about what you know. The Scriptures (the Bible) clearly tell us about God, what Jesus came to do, and about the Gospel.

    With respect to those who follow him, Joseph Smith, for whatever motivation, muddied the waters (really that’s an understatement). You quoted the Apostle Paul above. How far do you accept his teachings? Can you say he preached his own gospel rather than the Gospel of Christ and then give him credit in another part of the Scriptures? How do you know what to throw out and what to keep? He said the Gospel of Christ is the true Gospel and those who preach a different gospel are eternally condemned. There is a difference between the Gospel of Christ that Paul preached and the gospel that Mormonism preaches.

    I can tell you how I know that I have eternal life…now. It’s because the Scriptures, the Bible, tells me so. The Scriptures tell us that the God who judges looked for someone to stand in the gap and found no one. No one. That includes Joseph Smith. That includes you and me. We have no way to approach God on our own, through our own merits.

    So God sent His Son. The sinless Son of God. He purposefully went to the cross and carried your sins there and paid the penalty in full for them. He then rose from the dead by the Spirit of Holiness. Since He is without sin, death had no hold on Him.

    Now He offers to fill your account with His righteousness and performance. This requires nothing from you. A filling of your account only with His righteousness. Then He becomes the righteousness of God in you that a holy and just God demands. You are no longer seperated from God by your sin. You are no longer without hope and without God in the world. Now you are adopted as God’s child and sealed by the Holy Spirit until God comes for you.

    And God will be the One who has done it. You (and I) will have nothing to boast about except the cross of Christ. All of the glory will belong to Him. We will just be thankful that by His grace our names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.

    https://downtownministries.blogspot.com/

    • 22
      Like Air

      Joseph Smith did not muddy the waters. He drew our attention to a whole other dimension of the gospel. When Peter, James and John saw Christ transfigured and witnessed the appearance of Moses and Elijah , did they have faith or did they have first hand knowledge ? When the resurrected Christ appeared to the Apostles and they handled his pierced hands and feet, did they just have faith or did they know first hand that Jesus was the Christ. Faith is belief and trust in the testimony of those who know. There are those who go beyond faith and have first hand knowledge. They can no longer say ‘I believe’. They know.

  10. 23
    Jamie

    Brad,

    Just wanted to pipe in as a n0n-religious reader (like, non-religious in a Charles Darwin is my savior type of way, haha) and say that I found your article truly thought provoking. Your hope, belief, and know statements may or may not have given me chills…

    Keep up the amazing work.

    I come to this site often for a different point of view and to challenge my own line of thinking, and I’m never disappointed.

    Jamie

    • 24
      Brad Masters

      Jamie! Thanks for stopping by, and thanks for the comment. Though I may not believe Darwin is my savior, I certainly envy his beard-growing skills 🙂 I hope you’ll keep reading in the future! The world needs more people brave enough to challenge their own suppositions. Thanks!

  11. 25
    Aaron

    Your realization that “spiritual experiences” do not necessarily convey ‘knowledge’ of the truth of some unrelated proposition is a good step. Next should come the realization that such experiences do not even form the proper basis for “belief.”

    • 26
      Brad

      I tend to disagree – “spiritual experiences” can form the basis of belief much more readily than they can form the basis of knowledge. This does not mean that “spiritual experiences” should not be scrutinized repeatedly throughout one’s life. I have had several profound experiences with the divine, but I reflect and re-reflect on them quite frequently and ask what, if anything, the experience truly communicates to me about divinity. At the end of the day, I can’t shake the fact that something happened to me, and that forms the basis of a belief in God. But i’m also not willing to take that spiritual experience so far as to say that it confirms everything I’ve ever been taught about God.

      • 27
        Aaron

        I should have been more specific. Such experiences do not necessarily constitute a proper basis for “belief” that an unrelated proposition is ‘true.’ It’s more intellectually honest for one to characterize the inferences made based upon “spiritual experiences” as beliefs, but it’s still not necessarily valid.

        Given that people of all religious denominations and walks of life experience similar things, it is difficult, even presumptuous, to intimate that such experiences serve as confirmation of the validity or objective truth of any particular path.

        • 28
          Brad

          Nice, then we’re in agreement (as my last comment basically says the same thing). I can’t encounter God and automatically have belief in tithing or pre-earth life. I can only ascend to belief propositions related to my experience. If the encounter with God had something to do with tithing, then I may be able to get there — but again, only after some scrutinizing of that experience. Modest conclusions are what I’m after – and I think that ultimately leads to stronger foundations of faith.

  12. 29
    Susan

    This was a wonderful article. I often use the phrasing “I know”, but what I assume when most anyone uses this term what they are really saying is: “I know as well as anyone can without a perfect knowledge, hence faith is still required”.

  13. 30
    C

    I’m naturally somewhat of a skeptic, and as such, I can be a bit cynical. That being said, this is a very beautifully written, and well thought-out, article.

    I too have been troubled by people claiming to ‘know’ these things. I know people who ‘know’ that Joseph Smith was a Prophet, I also know people who ‘know’ he was not. I know people who ‘know’ the LDS Church is God’s “one true church”, and others who believe that Islam is the only way.

    I feel like we could all be a bit better off with a little less certitude and without the sense of ‘rightness’.

    The author of this article displays humility and intelligence I hope I can emulate in my search for truth.

  14. 31
    Jacinda

    Wow these posts are so beautifully complimentary. I appreciate that two normans attacked the same topic. As a “I know” person I am glad to hear another perspective. There are things I’ve always known like there is a God. Even when my life was very difficult I knew this was a true belief because I found evidence even in my darkest times and when I was not seeking confirmation of this belief. But there are things I have come to know from my experiences. I am sometimes disappointed when others discount my experiences as simply emotional or what I want to believe. How can we tell someone what they are feeling is not real or is not logical? The person feels them and it is real to them at that moment. For example, God told me in a dream my grandmother was going to die. I didn’t like the message so I questioned him and asked when she was going to die and he told me around New Years. I was in a state of shock and unbelief because I thought my grandmother was going to live forever. She had been my second mother and she was very special to me. But because of God loves for me as an individual he told me so I could be prepared. While I prepared for Christmas I tried to decide whether to return home or just send presents. I was feeling so much I could literally feel my grandmothers suffering, her attempt to keep living though her pain. And so one night I prayed that God would relieve her suffering. She passed on December 28. All an incredible coincidence? My mother was shocked she did not even know her own mother was about to die. But when I heard an old man play “Auld Lang Syne” on his trumpet on New Year’s Eve I knew there was a God and he had answered my prayer. For me, I felt it therefore I know. Now to the doubters I accept you feel different than me and desire to have your own facts and personal experiences. We all hope to know a little bit of something. May God help you know or believe in a way you feel comfortable with.

    I am amazed by your intelligence and eloquence. You already know some much more than I did at your age. The young adults are truly an awesome thing to behold. Keep blogging and sharing your ideas and spreading religious understanding and compassion:)

  15. 32
    Holly

    Your post has generated a lot of comments. After reading your post, I was a little bothered by your expression of doubt. After thinking about it for awhile, I wrote a response here:

    https://cyberspacesolitude.wordpress.com/2014/12/16/faith-and-doubt/

    I think believing comes more easily to some than others. So while I accept your doubts as expressed, I feel like doubt is just a part of faith and doesn’t have to be the part we lead out with. Faith and doubt will unavoidably exist in each of us throughout our lives because our lives are intended to be a test, to see what we really believe in.

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