By Zachary Collier
The Crucible of Doubt: Reflections on the Quest for Faith by Terryl and Fiona Givens is a thoughtful, honest, and provocative book less about exploring the darkness of doubt and more about finding peace of mind in a world of uncertainties. Its most valuable contribution comes from returning to the foundation of Mormon theology: that all truth can be circumscribed into one great whole, and that truth is to be learned “by study and also by faith.”
In the Church, we have developed a very low tolerance for hearing criticism about our organization no matter what source the criticism comes from. This is largely due, I believe, to the persecution we experienced for the first century of our existence as a faith. It is a natural reaction to place yourself in direct opposition to the ones who do you harm. Fleeing persecution, the Latter-day Saints established an isolated community, where children were raised to distrust “gentiles” because of the harm done to their fathers. This culture, while not nearly as severe, still exists among many Mormon communities today. We fear the essays and websites of “anti-Mormons,” we alone are the “one true Church,” those struggling in the faith are “inactive,” and all other Christians are “apostates.” Such narrow-minded views are fragile. When a world-view is based on inaccurate assumptions, it is easily shattered.
Consequently, when facts outside the norm are mentioned in Sunday school or over the pulpit in a testimony meeting, they are met with twiddling thumbs and an uncomfortable silence that drapes itself over the nervous ward members as they squirm in their seats.
Gratefully, the book spends surprisingly little time sensationalizing the controversial. While controversial subjects like female ordination, race and the priesthood, polygamy, prophetic fallibility, and Mountain Meadows are discussed, the Givens do it in a way that is straightforward and balanced. The Givens are not so much concerned with the shadows as they are with the light; not so much concerned with the things that make us squirm as they are with why we squirm instead of boldly facing them.
As one who has wrestled with doubts in the past, I found this book very comforting. The principles taught were ones I had discovered during my own crucible of doubt, and it was incredibly refreshing to read someone with thoughts very similar to my own – albeit worded much better and backed with quotes from philosophers from every age in history.
The Givens dispel the shadows of doubt by casting the light of truth on them. Combating unsafe and impractical ideologies with solutions; comparing and contrasting different paradigms and letting the reader decide which is best for them; and ultimately dealing mercifully with all people, places, and things, in hopes that all may be profited by merciful examination and mutual instruction.
The conclusions we reach in this work are fundamental truths oft quoted in the Church but less frequently understood, and when understood even less frequently applied in a real world context. Some of these truths are:
All have sinned and come short of the glory of God. One who expects a human being past, present, or future to be perfect not only puts impossible expectations on that individual but also puts them in peril of hero-worship.
God is no respecter of persons. His truth is for everyone, regardless of faith, gender, race, age, etc. He cares for all of them, he loves them, he wants them to be happy. We do not have a monopoly on God’s love, nor do we have a monopoly on His truth. Our job is to use what he has given (and continues to give) us to bless others.
We believe that [God] will yet reveal many great and important things. In this life, we only know and see in part. There are many things we simply do not know yet. It is up to us to diligently seek for answers, to learn, to grow, to discover, to innovate. The search for truth is one of the greatest trials of this life, and the discovery of truth is one of the greatest joys we can obtain. We should not turn to feelings of hate and destroy all that we’ve worked for simply because we are impatient and frustrated in the moment.
There are many different ways to learn. We use our minds. We use our hearts. We hope and plan for the future. We succeed. We fail. We learn from the past. We form memories and reinterpret them based on new experiences. We learn from different cultures, we improve upon our own. We learn from speaking. We learn from listening. We learn from silence. We learn from pain, we learn from joy, we learn from our senses, we learn from intuition. Life is complex. Life is beautiful. To only trust feelings in the heat of the moment, or to cut everything out but cold hard reason would be to live a lesser life.
Prophets, priests, pharaohs, peasants – all must doubt, all must learn, all must grow. It is important that we cling to what is beautiful – cling to what is meaningful. No matter how dark things are at present, we must trust that they will make sense when that glorious day of understanding bursts upon us. Until then, we must be patient with ourselves and others as we learn together.
This book is a must read, and will be insightful to the devout and the doubtful alike.