Many have found themselves in this situation: Religion is brought up, and we share that we are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Questions follow that we don’t know how to answer.
While sometimes embarrassing and disheartening, it’s not the end of the world. A search of the scriptures or the teachings of latter-day prophets is usually sufficient in filling our gaps of knowledge, and we can later return to the inquirer and deliver the answer.
But what happens when we can’t find the answers, not for a lack of looking but because we have not been given certain knowledge in this life or our mortal minds can’t understand specific principles?
This is one of my biggest fears when talking to non-members about religion—having to tell people that we don’t yet have answers to their questions. In a world where so many are of the opinion that an idea is false until it’s proven unequivocally true, not knowing something feels like a cop-out.
In a 2013 general conference address, Elder Uchtdorf said:
“Some struggle with unanswered questions about things that have been done or said in the past. We openly acknowledge that in nearly 200 years of Church history—along with an uninterrupted line of inspired, honorable, and divine events—there have been some things said and done that could cause people to question.
“Sometimes questions arise because we simply don’t have all the information and we just need a bit more patience. When the entire truth is eventually known, things that didn’t make sense to us before will be resolved to our satisfaction.
“Sometimes there is a difference of opinion as to what the ‘facts’ really mean. A question that creates doubt in some can, after careful investigation, build faith in others.”
An example of this came in the 1800s when President Lorenzo Snow said: “As man now is, God once was: As God now is, man may be.”
While giving us insight into our divine potential as sons and daughters of God, this statement also leads to existential questions that are difficult to comprehend in this mortal existence.
“If God was as man is, does that mean there was a God before Him?”
“Then where did life start?
“Who was the first God? How did He become a God?”
The list goes on and on.
No matter how much I want to, I cannot answer those questions right now.
How many similarly unanswerable questions can be derived from other gospel topics?
Doubtless, many of us have encountered these questions and have remained faithful to the gospel. In the same conference address, Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf famously advised members to first doubt their doubts before they doubt their faith.
However, doubts that arise due to a lack of answers can be disconcerting to even those with the strongest of testimonies; how, then, might people who are unfamiliar with the gospel perceive our lack of knowledge?
Why does God withhold truths from His children, especially when a lack of answers leads so many away from the gospel and keeps others from finding it?
This is a complex question with no simple answers. Could it be some answers require years of study and prayer to fully understand? Could some be so sacred we cannot understand them in their entirety, but instead only receive glimpses of divine truth in sacred spaces? Can some be understood only after we experience birth, death, heartache, or other significant experiences in our lives? Are some questions designed to build our trust in God and the Savior? Are some trials in this mortality designed to teach us humility and trust?
In his book The Millennial Messiah: The Second Coming of the Son of Man Elder Bruce R. McConkie wrote:
“We have the fulness of the everlasting gospel, meaning that we have all that is needed to gain the fulness of salvation. We have every truth, doctrine, and principle, every rite, power, and ordinance—all that is needed—to gain exaltation in the highest heaven of the celestial world. But we do not know all things. …
“All things are to be revealed in the millennial day. The sealed part of the Book of Mormon will come forth; the brass plates will be translated; the writings of Adam and Enoch and Noah and Abraham and prophets without number will be revealed. We shall learn a thousand times more about the earthly ministry of the Lord Jesus than we now know. We shall learn great mysteries of the kingdom that were not even known to those of old who walked and talked with the Eternal One. We shall learn the details of the creation and the origin of man. … Nothing in or on or over the earth will be withheld from human [knowledge], for eventually man, if he is to be as his Maker, must know all things” (The Millennial Messiah: The Second Coming of the Son of Man , 675–77).
These are exciting promises, the fulfillment of which we should look forward to with great anticipation. However, that does not mean that we can afford to become passive in our pursuit of truth.
2 Nephi 28:30 states:
“For behold, thus saith the Lord God: I will give unto the children of men line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little; and blessed are those who hearken unto my precepts, and lend an ear unto my counsel, for they shall learn wisdom; for unto him that receiveth I will give more; and from them that shall say, We have enough, from them shall be taken away even that which they have.”
We will not pass the test of life by sitting around until the answers are given to us. That would not be much of a test. Rather, this probationary state is a time for us to learn and grow by relying on the Lord and His goodness.
In an article titled “I Have a Question and That’s Okay,” Maryssa Dennis wrote about her journey with finding answers to spiritual questions:
“As a woman, I’m always trying to better understand my place in God’s kingdom. For most of my life, I didn’t think about it much. But as I got older, I began to wonder about the differing roles of men and women in the Church. The more I thought about it, the more concerned I became about the imbalance I perceived. I knew that God is perfectly just and fair. But I couldn’t find a way to reconcile the differences I saw with my existing knowledge of His plan. It was like a puzzle piece that didn’t seem to fit.
“So I began to search for answers. . . .
“And answers come. In bits and fragments—but they come. I gain glimmers of understanding as I search the scriptures, as I ‘seek … out of the best books words of wisdom’ (D&C 88:118), as I talk with people I trust, as I attend the temple, as I study the words of prophets and apostles, as I ponder and pray. Sometimes I still get discouraged. I still have bad days when I get overwhelmed by everything I don’t know. But when those doubts arise, I take a deep breath and a step back and remember what I do know. And that makes all the difference. Even the Savior ‘received not of the fulness at the first, but received grace for grace.’ So, like Him, I will ‘continu[e] from grace to grace, until [I] receiv[e] a fulness’ (D&C 93:12–13).
“Maybe some of my questions won’t be answered for a long time. But Heavenly Father has promised that someday ‘the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea’ (Isaiah 11:9). Someday ‘all things shall be revealed unto the children of men’ (2 Nephi 27:11) and ‘nothing shall be withheld’ (D&C 121:28). Someday I will have all the pieces to the puzzle, and it will all make sense.
“Until then, I choose to trust in God, no matter how big or how numerous my questions are. I choose to say, ‘There is goodness here, and I will not abandon it. I will stand by the truth I have, because truth is worth protecting.’
“Sometimes the answer is simple. But sometimes, finding answers takes a journey. I won’t give up on my quest to learn and follow God’s truth. I have a long way to go, but I know that Heavenly Father is with me every step of the way.”
Like Dennis, it's easy to feel that God has forgotten us when we don't receive what we believe to be timely revelation, especially when people are looking to us for spiritual guidance and especially when Matthew 7:7-8 states:
“For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.”
But we also know that all things are done in the Lord’s timing, and we must remember that our timeline is finite whereas Heavenly Father’s is infinite.
Being truly converted to the Lord does not require that we have a perfect knowledge of his gospel. In fact, it is the other way around: Heavenly Father intentionally gives us an incomplete understanding so that we can increase in our knowledge through faith in Him and His son Jesus Christ.
We can, however, get to the point of perfect faith and testimony in this life, and if we do, the time will come when that faith is rewarded with complete knowledge.
In his powerful final testimony, Elder McConkie revealed that faith has no limits in this life:
"I testify that he is the Son of the Living God and was crucified for the sins of the world. He is our Lord, our God, and our King. This I know of myself independent of any other person.
"I am one of his witnesses, and in a coming day I shall feel the nail marks in his hands and in his feet and shall wet his feet with my tears.
"But I shall not know any better then than I know now that he is God’s Almighty Son, that he is our Savior and Redeemer, and that salvation comes in and through his atoning blood and in no other way."
Indeed, the gospel's most vital and important principles are the simple ones that Primary children can understand, and ones on which we have been given plentiful doctrine.
Continuing her story, Dennis said:
“I came across 1 Nephi 11:17: “I know that [God] loveth his children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things.”
“It was such a simple verse, but it struck a chord in me. In my time of confusion, it was extremely validating to hear Nephi, one of my Book of Mormon heroes, admit that he didn’t know everything. I finally felt that it was OK if I didn’t understand everything about the gospel.
“Nephi’s first declaration hit me even harder: ‘I know that [God] loveth his children.’ To me, Nephi was saying, ‘I don’t know everything. But here’s what I do know: God loves us. And that’s enough for me.’ I was reminded of what I knew all along: God loves all His children—His sons and His daughters alike. And the truth of His love is absolute. It’s the truth upon which everything else is founded. The truth that holds the universe together.
“For the first time in a while, I felt peace. My questions still hadn’t been answered, but I didn’t feel lost anymore. I realized that God is in control. He doesn’t expect me to put my questions on the shelf and forget about them. But He does expect me to trust Him. In all of my truth-seeking, I have to remember who the source of all truth is. And I have to recognize that while I’m deliberating over a single piece of the puzzle, He holds the pieces I can’t see. He sees the big picture—the biggest picture. And someday I’ll see it too.”