Faith begins with a question. We hope. We want to believe. But we are not sure. As Alma states, faith is not knowledge (Alma 32:26). It is a desire to believe. So, we make room in our hearts for the seed, and in so doing we trust that if it is indeed a “good seed,” it will sprout and grow and our hearts and minds will expand with “light.”
Because faith is always about what we don’t know yet, we can never be sure what we will learn next. As the seed matures, we cannot always know how the branches will bend or where the roots will twist. We learn line upon line, and every question answered leads to a greater question, just as the Restoration itself began when a simple young man asked a simple, earnest question.
Questions are the basis of healthy faith. The disciples were—and are—full of them. Questions can build faith and lead to enlightenment, but they can also lead to spiritual decline. It depends on how strong our roots are, how resilient our spiritual immune system is. A healthy spirit, like a healthy body, encounters any number of threatening intrusions from the outside world. Questions that unsettle our faith can be disruptive if our spiritual immune system is weak.
For example, early convert Ezra Booth left the Church in part because he found Joseph’s “proneness to jesting and joking” incompatible with prophetic behavior. His colleague Simonds Ryder left because Joseph’s misspelling of Ryder’s name seemed inconsistent with prophetic inspiration. Sometimes the charges are more serious, but the problem of expectations is the same. President Uchtdorf recently lamented those who begin to doubt when they learn that modern prophets have “said things inconsistent with our values.”
In this article, I have identified four pathogens that can attack our spiritual immune system by distorting faithful questions. Instead of creating light and growth, they can send us in the other direction. If left unchecked, such questions can lead to frustration, misdirection, and spiritual decline.
Pathogen #1: The Nature of God
Joseph Smith once said that “in order to exercise faith unto salvation,” we needed to know that God exists and know His correct character and attributes. The Prophet Joseph revealed that many plain and precious things had been removed from the Bible. The Old Testament, for example, has had many plain and precious doctrines replaced by things that are harmful to spiritual growth. The Old Testament frequently displays a God who is judgmental, wrathful, and condemning. If that is the only way we think of God, how can we seek Him earnestly?