On a recent road trip with a dear, darling friend, I was asked what I thought the difference between doubt and fear was. I have known these emotions well over the course of my life, but I had never contemplated their difference. After thinking about it, I recalled in my head the last chapter in the Book of Mormon, and I had my answer.
20 Wherefore, there must be faith; and if there must be faith there must also be hope; and if there must be hope there must also be charity.
21 And except ye have charity ye can in nowise be saved in the kingdom of God; neither can ye be saved in the kingdom of God if ye have not faith; neither can ye if ye have no hope.
22 And if ye have no hope ye must needs be in despair; and despair cometh because of iniquity.
For me-meaning my reasoning may not be for everyone-the absence of hope is doubt, but fear is the presence of hope and the absence of faith.
When I have been beset by fear in this world I’ve still had hope. Although the fear wounds my faith, the hope allows me to eventually build up the strength to propel my faith beyond my fears. My thoughts of “I can’t” or “I don’t” are often replaced by more confidence as my faith roots out my fears.
But when I have been beset by doubt in this world, I turn negative, angry, and hopeless. My thoughts are often plagued by “why even bother” or “is this even worth it?” and I find myself stuck in this rut of self-centered-ness until I am forced out of it by having to lean one way or the other on the decision I have been doubting. These decisions are often agonizing and counter-productive to my spiritual health as I can’t rely on my faith to see me through.
When I have fear, I have to work on my faith, but when I have doubt, I have to work on my hope; because “…and if there be faith there must also be hope.” I believe hope to be a precursor to faith. “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1) In order to have faith, one must first have hope. And if one is doubting, faith often isn’t present.
I don’t think that faith and fear are mutually exclusive concepts. I think that the more fear we have, the less faith, but still they are compatible with each other because we are imperfect beings, and our faith isn’t always as strong as we should like it to be. But doubt is what gets me hung up. Nothing brings me closer to a depression-like state than doubt. Whether its doubting myself, the people around me, my purpose, or blessings yet to come, whether my efforts and sacrifices will truly be worth it. Because of the absence of hope caused by doubting, my faith cannot propel me beyond the feeling until I address my doubts and change my thoughts. Once my thoughts are changed, hope can set in, and the doubt can turn to a fear which my faith can then fight against. But doubt is much harder to combat than fear.
I believe it was profound council when President Uchtdorf pleaded for us to “doubt your doubts before you doubt your faith.” When we have a fear for our testimonies in this gospel, we still have a hope. We have a hope that we’ll be right, it’s just hard to try to find the answers. But when we doubt, those tender feelings brought about by fear often harden, and with our feelings our hearts as well. With hardened hearts and feelings our tender hope evaporates into feelings of bitterness, betrayal, entitlement, and self-righteousness. God cannot touch our hearts when they are hardened against Him, and in my experience nothing hardens a heart more than doubt. This then becomes a bitter cycle, as we harden our hearts in doubt, we cannot feel the presence of God, and the more we are without God’s presence, the more conviction we gain of His nonexistence; choosing to overlook those subtle signs of His constant presence in this world and in our lives because doubting is easier than faith. Faith is hard to grow and doubt is hard to turn away from.
Because of the adversaries eternal fight against God’s children, once he has us doubting, and our hearts hardened, its easy for him to propel us quickly and effectively away from those things and people who would reintroduce us to the small but powerful influence of the spirit. The more he can get us to turn away from that atmosphere of faith, the more confidence he can have that we will never leave our doubts to pursue our faith again.
I liken doubt and fear to two scriptural individuals; namely: Peter and Judas. Peter, who was Jesus’ chosen apostle, became so afraid of the world, we was willing to allow his fear to over-run his faith, and deny his faith in order to appease his fear when the situation was set upon him. And yet, his faith still persisted, and eventually his faith rooted out his fear so much so that he was willing to be murdered for the cause of Christ. Judas, chosen and selected, and yet doubting. His doubts propelled him to such ugly emotions as anger, greed, entitlement, and deception. It wasn’t until the spirit left him, and he realized what his doubts were preventing him from seeing, that in his agony he took his own life. Judas’ desire for more money, less effort, and more acceptance caused him to doubt Jesus’ power and purpose here on earth. He left the things of the spirit, in order to pursue the things of the world; and after his heart was hardened, not even the presence of the savior could sway him from his course.
Our doubts are dangerous things, doubts destroy our faith by creating an atmosphere void of hope. Fear, though often not talked about in the church, is a healthier option than doubt; because fear still allows for a presence of hope. When we have a fear, it needs to be addressed. Ignored, it creates an atmosphere of bitterness, and anger; which Satan uses to fuel doubt and harden our hearts.
Our faith isn’t going to be perfect, but God will reward our efforts. If our efforts match our desires, He will see your faith in Him perfected. If our fears prevent our efforts, we will slip, and fall, and the climb back up is so much harder than the attempts it would have taken to stay on the ledge.
Doubt your doubts before you doubt your faith, fuel your faith so it’ll be strong enough to overcome your fear; and seek for hope, to know your faith will be worth the efforts.