Testimony and doubt reconciliation
This page is based on an answer to a question submitted to the FAIR web site, or a frequently asked question.
How can a person reaffirm their testimony when they learn disconcerting facts that may bring their testimony into doubt?
First of all, remember that sometime in the past you received a spiritual witness to some extent about some aspect of church doctrine. Building upon this you can have the desire to reconcile your conflict.
Also, understand that there isn’t a single “disconcerting” fact that eludes the general body of church history and doctrine. There are many church historians and scholars that are considered the world’s most knowledgeable specialist in areas of church history, doctrine and scientific facts. They are fully aware and fully comfortable with their testimonies.
Source of the Problem
The problem at hand usually arises when a person receives a testimony and has an incorrect understanding of the church or gospel. In other words, their gospel paradigm is flawed. The individual’s testimony was a manifestation from God, through the Holy Spirit witnessing to them that the gospel of Jesus Christ is true. They did not receive a witness that their complete understanding of the gospel and how everything in the world relates to it is 100% correct.
Later, a fact is discovered that is in opposition to the paradigm they had when they received their testimony. A logical fallacy (definition) occurs when the person feels that both their paradigm and their testimony are now erroneous. In reality, their paradigm was mistaken, but their testimony (witness in the divinity of the Savior, restoration, priesthood, etc.) was correct.
For example, a youth in seminary gains a testimony and at the same time believes that the entire earth was immersed in water at the time of the flood as part of an earthly baptism. Later on in college he learns from history and geology many facts that make him not believe in a flood that covered the highest peak of the highest mountain on earth. He begins to doubt his testimony in the Bible because he gained it while holding this erroneous personal belief. Rather than casting his testimony aside he should consider that as an imperfect person his paradigm was incorrect and his loving Father in Heaven blessed him with a spiritual manifestation about the truthfulness of the gospel.
We also find an example of this in the scriptures. Near the end of John 6 the followers of Jesus learned some tough doctrine John 6:60-66 and “many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him.” Peter does not falter and his testimony deepens. It is even at one time certified by the Savior Matt 16:17.
During Your Time of Doubt
Keep your faith as you work out your doubt. For example, Peter did not expect the death of the Savior. After the crucifixion, Peter’s testimony is shaken. His personal paradigm did not factor in a death for his Messiah. Instead of leaving everything behind at this critical moment Peter stays in the right place (with the Saints) while in doubt and is therefore able to witness the reappearance of the Savior. Now his paradigm has shifted to a more correct understanding and his testimony has been confirmed again. Later, he is better able to handle another paradigm shift when a doctrine changes, taking the gospel to the gentiles. Furthermore, he is able to take this experience and help others, “think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you.” 1 Peter 4:12
Why do some people struggle with disconcerting information when others do not? Those that do not ever struggle are definitely in the minority. That strength is most likely due to having a personal spiritual gift of faith. Sometimes, members who are not currently struggling with their own testimonies will incorrectly assume that another person’s struggles come from living an unworthy life. Although sin can be a source of doubt, it is not always the case. Rather than condemning, it would be more in line with the example of our Savior to reach out and help those in their time of need.
To reconcile your new paradigm with your previously gained testimony you must not forget the latter. Your testimony is key. Your testimony is a gift that you can fall back on if ever new information is learned that allows you to gain a more perfect understanding. As an imperfect being, one must always be willing to accept that their comprehension of the gospel or church history is flawed and therefore, an adjustment of your paradigm may be required from time to time.