A devout Latter-day Saint friend of mine told me of a time when she was at a social function and met a member of her church who was not actively attending church. This immediately became an awkward situation—one woman loved her membership in the church while the other did not. At one point in the conversation, the inactive woman asked my friend about her beliefs. My friend said, “I have a testimony because I was taught to ask questions.” The other woman answered back, “I don’t have a testimony because I was taught not to ask questions.”
“If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not and it shall be given him.” James 1:5
The very foundation of the restored gospel is based on a fourteen-year-old boy who asked a question. Joseph Smith was troubled over the doctrinal discrepancies of his day. He studied the Bible and pondered for many days, if not months, to know which church to join. After reading James 1:5, he made a decision to seek Heavenly Father directly for an answer. He was not afraid to speak directly to God. God’s answer to him set in motion the last dispensation of time when the world was to prepare for the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.
It saddens me greatly to think that anyone, either of my faith or outside of it, is discouraged from seeking the truth about their relationship with Heavenly Father and His son Jesus Christ. When a person is told not to ask, a barrier is built between them and heaven. They are essentially told not to pray. Prayer is a form of seeking answers. Heavenly Father has repeatedly told us to “ask and ye shall receive.” The Book of Mormon teaches specifically about prayer, saying:
“For if ye would harken unto the Spirit which teacheth a man to pray ye would know that ye must pray, for the evil spirit teacheth not a man to pray, but teacheth him that he must not pray.” (2 Nephi 32:8)
Prayer to God allows us to have a relationship with Him. Receiving answers is personal revelation from Him. No force on earth should ever come between a humble person seeking answers and the God that has the ability and the willingness to give the answers they seek. When we teach a person not to seek the truth, we separate them from a relationship with Him. It then does not matter what religion we belong to—we will be estranged from our Father in Heaven by virtue of our inability to seek him out.
The Tough Questions Can Be Difficult to Ask
I can sympathize with the woman taught not to ask questions. I am a convert to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I, too, was taught as a child not to question my faith—but I had questions that burned so deeply in my heart, I had to ask. I was brought up in a different Christian religion, one that taught principles that did not make sense to me. The more I learned about the doctrine of my former church, the more questions I had. But in my former church, we were not encouraged to ask the tough questions—where did I come from, why am I here, and where am I going after this life? I saw discrepancies between Bible passages and doctrines taught in my church. But rather than feeling comfortable to ask, I felt I was the “black sheep” causing trouble.
One of the toughest times in my youth was dealing with the question about people who die without knowledge of Jesus Christ and without gospel ordinances such as baptism. What happens to them? This was a particularly important one for me as my best friend in third grade was Jewish. I was given a wide range of answers from “We don’t know” to “She won’t ever make it to heaven.” None of these answers sat well with me. At a very young age, I decided if that was the God of my religion—if He was that cruel to condemn a girl whose crime was that she was born into the “wrong” family, then that was not the God I wished to follow.
My Search for Religious Truth Began
As I grew, my heart moved away from my former church, but my love of Christ and my desire to know the truth deepened. As I look back now, I see where Heavenly Father placed tender mercies in my path—nuggets of spiritual knowledge that I collected along the way. I was not in a position to talk about religion at home; it was considered blasphemous to question the doctrine of my upbringing. But Heavenly Father knew the desires of my heart and He gave me seeds of spiritual knowledge that burned strong within me long after I moved out of my home. I didn’t understand it at the time, but He was preparing me to receive the answers I was looking for.
Heavenly Father Knew Me Enough to Guide Me
It took me twenty years of searching and a move to Japan to find what I had been looking for. I didn’t know it at the time, but I had been searching for the church that Christ had started when He lived on the earth. I found it in the restored gospel of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. When the missionaries finally taught me, I felt a clarity of mind and peacefulness of heart knowing my lifelong questions could be answered by one true and living church. This was the only church on Earth that had an answer as to what happens to people who die without knowledge of Jesus Christ or baptism into His church. I was overjoyed to learn how the temples provide a pathway to heaven for all of God’s children. Many other answers came to me as I continued to study the doctrine. It all fell into place and my heart was full.
Heavenly Father knew the desires of my heart. He also knew I was not in a position to join His church while living under the control of my family who was so heavily rooted in their religion. He knew it took a trip around the world and the ability to ask questions freely for me to find the gospel for myself. There has not been a day since that I’ve regretted my decision to join.
Ask in Humility and Be Prepared for the Answer
“But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering.” (James 1:6)
We should not be afraid to ask the hard questions about our religious beliefs as long as we ask with faith. For me, the hard questions brought me closer to my Savior, and they brought me to the waters of baptism in the one true church. I had been looking for answers only the Latter-day Saint church had. I was genuinely seeking the truth, no matter what it was. When I began to find it, I was in jeopardy of being ostracized by my entire family, and yet I searched on. The truth was that important to me. Many of my immediate family members have since treated me as an outcast for my decision to switch religions. This is the price I’ve paid for learning the truth. It is lonely at times, but I am not alone—I have the Savior with me at all times. I have a worldwide family of like-minded people to commune with. I can worthily attend the temple and take the sacrament. These blessings make it all worth it.
“By their fruits ye shall know them” (3 Nephi 14:20)
For others who are brought up in the LDS church, the hard questions might center on whether or not there is a God, obedience to certain commandments, or even current social issues where the Church does not take the world’s view. These are hard questions. When you humbly seek the truth, Heavenly Father will reveal it. It may not be what you expected. Young Joseph was expecting Heavenly Father to tell him which church to join. He may have thought the answer was “Methodist” or “Catholic”. Instead he was told to join none of them and that he would be the instrument in God’s hand to usher in the restoration of the gospel—not what he expected to hear, I’m sure. But he asked in faith and received in faith. Because of this, he was strengthened beyond his earthly abilities to perform the task he was ordained to do.
Satan would like nothing better than to keep us from discerning the true voice of Heavenly Father. He can imitate many feelings and promptings that feel good, but he cannot imitate our power of discernment—the peaceful stillness and clarity that comes from God. If the answers you seek ring true with the scriptures and if they lead to good works, then they are from God. If not, they are from Satan. We need to have the moral courage to discern the difference between what we may want and what God is telling us. Heavenly Father is willing to give us the strength to handle this.
I was not expecting to switch churches, nor did I expect my family to shun me for my decision. But since I asked in faith and received my answer in conjunction with the still small voice of the Holy Ghost—a voice of clarity, correctness and reason that is undeniable to my soul—I knew it was from God. Over the years, I have had time to research further the doctrine of the Church. I’ve received testimony again and again that the original answers to my prayers had come from my Heavenly Father. They are as true today as they were when I first receive them. Most importantly, I have received strength from my Heavenly Father to live the truth, to stand strong in my conviction, and to receive the blessings of a close relationship with my Father in Heaven—all because I dared to ask.
“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.” (Moroni 10:4-5)
I wish I could talk to that woman who was taught not to question. I wish I could let her know that she has a Heavenly Father who loves her and who has all the answers she is seeking. I wish I could tell her she can ask the hard questions, and if she is humble, she can receive the truthfulness of all things. My solace lies in the fact that the restored gospel is as true for her as it is for me. Just like me, she is cradled in the hollow of God’s hand. Even though she may not feel it, His love for her is no less than it is for me. He will guide her in her own time, and when it’s right, she will feel safe enough to ask the questions that will bring her home.
This post was originally published on July 13, 2014. Minor changes have been made.
Nanette O'Neal loves the gospel and is very happy to share her testimony on LDS Blogs. She is a convert to the church and still feels the spirit burn strong within her heart. She graduated from Mason Gross School of the Arts with a degree in music education and has taught children and adults in the private and public sphere for over twenty years. Nanette continues to study the gospel and the art of writing. She writes weekly inspirational articles on her blog and is currently working on an LDS fantasy novel series, A Doorway Back to Forever. You can find her at NanetteONeal.blogspot.com. Nanette has a wonderful husband, talented son, and three beautiful dogs.