I think it is safe to say that we all have lots of questions.
There are questions that are less consequential: What will I eat for dinner tonight? What is going to happen in the next episode of my favorite TV show? Will I have time to exercise after work?
And there are those that are more significant: How can I better receive revelation? How can I prioritize scripture study? How can I have more hope?
Maybe your questions are similar, although the topic may be different. Perhaps the eternal things you are pondering are more along the lines of: Does God really exist? Is Joseph Smith a prophet? Can I ever forgive that person? How can a loving God allow so much pain, suffering, disease, and heartbreak in the world?
Sometimes, questions rule our thoughts. They determine our actions, our choices, and what we do next with our lives. Years ago, I attended a lecture on Brigham Young University campus about questions. Marguerite Gong Hancock, vice president of innovation and director of the exponential center at the Computer History Museum in Silicon Valley, spoke at the event.
In her presentation reported on by BYU College of Humanities, she said that we live in an age that is so advanced, Google can even anticipate our question before we ask it. She then urged the audience to consider whether we are using the tools and information available to us to ask beautiful questions—the kind that Google can’t anticipate.
“This inquisitive nature of humans is fundamental to who we are. It sets us apart, this capacity to question,” she said.
I find this statement a fascinating one. As humans, if questions set us apart and enable us in the world of innovation, how might we benefit from asking beautiful questions of a spiritual nature?
Perhaps one of the most prime examples of a questioner in Church history was Joseph Smith. The familiar verse in James 1:5 encourages, “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God.” Joseph certainly had many questions on his mind that he wanted to ask. In Joseph Smith—History 1:10 it says:
I often said to myself: What is to be done? Who of all these parties are right; or, are they all wrong together? If any one of them be right, which is it, and how shall I know it?
Joseph Smith received an answer to his questions. And not just any answer—a glorious, direct response from the Father and the Son who instructed him to not join any church because none of them were correct. It’s the kind of reply some of us may wish we had on occasion: a clear cut yes or no, a direct response about why this did or did not happen. But if we were to look back on when these questions were on Joseph’s mind—if we were to put ourselves in his shoes before he had an answer—what do we find? A boy who was troubled, even at a loss of what was to be done.
There are many other instances in scripture of people who have been troubled and asked God their questions. In Enos 1:7, the Book of Mormon prophet felt his sins were forgiven and asked, “Lord, how is it done?” when he felt his guilt being swept away. Learning that his faith had made him whole, Enos poured out his soul for his brethren with a very specific request in mind—that a record of the Nephites would be preserved if the people should be destroyed and that the record would bring salvation unto the Lamanites. In verse 15, Enos receives this response:
“Whatsoever thing ye shall ask in faith, believing that ye shall receive in the name of Christ, ye shall receive it.”
Similarly, in the Old Testament, Hannah was burdened—so much so that she did not eat— grieving that she could not bear children. In “bitterness of soul” she then wept and prayed to the Lord for a son, promising to give him unto the Lord all the days of his life. When she delivered her baby, she named him Samuel and explained that the reason was “Because I have asked him of the Lord” (1 Samuel 1:20).
The results of these prayers, of course, were all positive: Joseph was given clear direction. Enos knew his desire would be fulfilled based on the covenant he had made. And Hannah was given a son. Not all of us will have our prayers answered in a glorious or miraculous way. In fact, some of our questions might not be answered in this life. But while the answers these individuals received are certainly awe-inspiring, to me, their struggle in the asking before knowing the outcome is what makes them especially profound.
There are times, perhaps, when a question feels like a burden. When you have knelt night after night seeking a response and heaven feels shut to something you yearn to understand. When you are seeking for the Lord to remove a burden but following a prayer the trial is still there. Maybe it seems that contentment in the gospel is not to have questions—or to quickly have them answered so that we can move on with believing. But could it be that questions are actually a gift? That they are a part of what it means to be alive as children of God, and become something more than we are today?
A Gospel of Questions
In 2001, Cecil O. Samuelson, then a member of the Presidency of the Seventy, spoke at a devotional on BYU campus about “The Importance of Asking Questions,” where he shared this insight:
Ours is a gospel of questions, and our lives in all of their spheres require thoughtful and appropriate inquiry if we are going to progress. The question is not whether we should ask questions but rather, What are the questions we should be asking?
This makes me ponder that if this is a gospel of questions, and our questions lead to progression, should we be asking more? Are there doctrines that we could have a better understanding of if we took the time to formulate our thoughts and ask God as those in the scriptures have done before us? Are there eternal truths we haven’t pondered because we haven’t thought to ask?
The former BYU president goes on to say that questions are essential, and the most important ones are those that deal with core truths or issues. When seeking for answers, he advised going to primary sources whenever possible. For instance, one can read commentaries about the Book of Mormon, but one should also spend time in the Book of Mormon itself. The former BYU president then shared this familiar promise from Moroni 10:4–5:
And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.
And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.
While this applies to receiving a witness of the Book of Mormon, it can extend beyond that. In these verses, we learn that if we ask God with “a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ” we will “know the truth of all things.” Not some things. Not most things. All things. It’s an incredible promise that is hard to wrap your mind around: knowing the truth of all things ought to be impossible. But if we go straight to our Heavenly Father with our questions and if we do so with the right intent, He will answer us. Maybe it will take a while. But maybe sitting with our questions isn’t such a bad thing.
During the October 2020 general conference, President Russell M. Nelson posed six questions to listeners. As we ponder our own individual questions in our hearts, perhaps we can also bear these in mind:
- • Are you willing to let God prevail in your life?
- • Will you allow His words, His commandments, and His covenants to influence what you do each day?
- • Are you willing to let whatever He needs you to do take precedence over every other ambition?
- • Will you allow His voice to take priority over any other?
- • Are you willing to let God be the most important influence in your life?
- • Are you willing to have your will swallowed up in His?
As we wrestle with our questions and as the search for answers defines who we are, I hope the unknown can be something that excites us rather than fills us with despair. As we turn to God seeking for direction, I hope the search strengthens us even if the journey feels far too long and the burden much too heavy. And I hope, most of all that we keep asking questions—the beautiful ones—that lead us to a better place than we were before. Isn’t that what God would ask of us?