Book review of The Crucible of Doubt: Reflections on the Quest for Faith, by Terryl Givens and Fiona Givens (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2014)
The title of this book by husband-and-wife team Terryl and Fiona Givens gave me some . . . doubts. Did I really want to spend time reading a book about doubts, even if was published by Deseret Book? But I read it and enjoyed it tremendously. I’m sure I’ll return to it again and again.
Why? Although not all of us may feel that we harbor any serious doubts about the Savior, the gospel, or the Church, all of us do have our faith tried—sometimes sorely—by illness, death, major disappointments, and our own and others’ weaknesses and sins. Whatever our trials or doubts may be, the Savior invites all of us to diligently pursue—as the subtitle aptly puts it—“the quest for faith.”
The LDS Bible Dictionary, under “Faith,” says: “Although faith is a gift, it must be cultured and sought after until it grows from a tiny seed to a great tree” (emphasis added; see Alma 32: 28–43). The Crucible of Doubt—rooted in Christ, the scriptures, the prophets, and the Givens’ own faith—is a wise, inspirational companion on our lifelong quest to proactively seek and cultivate the gift of faith in Christ and his atonement.
Again and again, the Givens urge us to grow our faith by exercising faith and taking positive action, especially when faced with doubts or trials of faith. Here are just three examples:
MOTHER: “Start praying with your feet.”
SON: “I’m just going to live my life as if the gospel is true.”
The Givens tell the story of a missionary (reminiscent of President Gordon B. Hinckley’s well-known “forget yourself and go to work” story from his mission) who was in spiritual agony because he hadn’t received the confirmation he’d expected to his prayers about the truthfulness of the gospel. He shared his depressed feelings in a letter to his mother, who shot back: “Enough of this nonsense. This is pure foolishness. Stop this at once. Stop praying with your knees, start praying with your feet.” The missionary said this about his mother’s rebuke:
“That was sweet relief for me. It was complete and total liberation. I took her advice and decided ‘I’m going to stop doing this thing. I’m going to stop holding a gun to the Lords’ head and insisting on a sign. I’m just going to live my life as if the gospel is true.’ . . . Knowledge [of the truthfulness of the gospel] for me has not arrived because it was beckoned, or because I said ‘give me a revelation.’ For me it has come in ways that I can barely describe, and never on command . . . But I can tell you . . . that I somehow crossed a threshold into an area that I think we can call something more approaching knowledge. . . . But it’s never come on my terms and never come to me on my timetable” (pp. 128–129).
“Imperfect people are all God has ever had to work with.”
The Givens also address the doubts and trials of faith we might experience when we confront certain difficult issues or less-than-perfect personalities in Church history or today’s Church:
“No simple formula resolves the tensions that do—and should—exist between faith in the principle of inspired leadership and personal responsibility to follow counsel without stifling conscience. Elder Dallin Oaks made a related point: ‘As a General Authority, it is my responsibility to preach general principles. When I do, I don’t try to define all the exceptions. . . . I only teach the general rules. Whether an exception applies to you is your responsibility. You must work that out individually between you and the Lord.’
“At the same time, it only compounds our consternation when we interpret the actions of Mormon leadership in the least, rather than most, generous way possible. . . . ‘Imperfect people are all God has ever had to work with,’ reminds Elder Jeffrey Holland. ‘That must be terribly frustrating to Him, be He deals with it. So should we.’ Generosity with our own inept attempts to serve and minister to each other in a lay church, charity toward those in leadership . . . and faith in Christ’s Atonement that makes up the human deficit—these could be the balm of Gilead for which both wounded disciples and striving leaders seek” (pp. 80, 82).
“Faith is lived, not thought. We believe deeply in faith as a choice. ”
In their beautifully written, moving epilogue, the Givens sum up their faith message:
“Not once, but twice, the Lord prefaced His commandment that we strengthen each other with this explanation: ‘As all have not faith’ [D&C 88:118 ; 109:7]. He thus acknowledged that even among His modern disciples, there would be—and must be—room for those who live in doubt. . . . [I]f we cannot find it in ourselves to proclaim the gospel or embrace its tenets, we can still live its essence. . . . Faith is lived, not thought. . . . As we have written elsewhere, we believe deeply in the value of faith as a choice. . . . [W]hat we choose to embrace, to be responsive to, is the purest reflection of what we love” (p. 144).