52 Life-Changing Questions from the Book of Mormon
Has a question ever changed your life? “A good question … is like an alarm clock,” wrote Elder Tad R. Callister. “It awakens us out of our mental doldrums [and] jump-starts our mental engines.”
A woman was in a church meeting, studying Philippians 4:8: “Whatsoever things are true, … honest, … pure, …lovely, [or] of good report; if there be any virtue, and … any praise, think on these things.” She felt the Holy Spirit say to her, “Is there anything honest, pure, or lovely in your soap opera?”
She had to confess that the program was not lovely or of good report or praiseworthy. Then the Spirit whispered another question: “So what are you going to do about it?”
What this sister heard from the Spirit that day were life-changing questions, and her decision to give up her soap opera made a profound difference in her life.
Where can we find questions that will awaken us out of those mental—and spiritual—doldrums? Popular authors John Hilton III and Brad Wilcox help us recognize and ponder fifty-two powerful questions from the Book of Mormon—one for each week of the year. One short chapter each week has the power to change your life.
- Have miracles ceased?
- Have ye inquired of the Lord?
- Have ye spiritually been born of God?
- Know ye not that ye are in the hands of God?
Joseph Smith promised that we would get nearer to God through the Book of Mormon than through any other book. Pondering its inspired questions can propel us forward to attain that promise.
Wherefore can ye doubt?
1 Nephi 4:3
When Nephi was trying to convince his brothers to try to obtain the brass plates from Laban, he said, “Now behold ye know that [what I say] is true; and ye also know that an angel hath spoken unto you; wherefore can ye doubt?” (1 Nephi 4:3). Laman and Lemuel had seen an angel—yet they still had doubts. Some people today are in a similar situation—they are in a position where they should know, but they remain unsure.
“Could I . . . uh . . .” The dark-haired elder approached his teacher at the Missionary Training Center and shifted his weight awkwardly. “I mean, I was wondering . . . if we could talk.” The teacher had just finished teaching a class, and the group was enjoying a short break.
“No problem,” the teacher assured him. They walked down the hall, away from classrooms and companions for a moment. The teacher had noticed how this elder’s enthusiasm had waned as his time in the MTC had increased.
“It’s about what you said in class,” the missionary began quietly. “You know, about building yourself before you can build others. Well—” He hesitated. “Well, I . . . ” He paused again. His averted eyes did little to disguise the tears that were welling inside them. “I always thought I knew the Church was true till now.” He shrugged his shoulders and sighed. “I came on this mission to tell people what I know.” His voice was husky with suppressed emotion. “But now I’m not sure. I’m just not sure. . . .” His voice trailed off.
“You’re not sure you know?” the teacher asked, filling in the blank in the elder’s sentence. The missionary nodded. Tears glistening on his lashes brimmed over. Suddenly, communication between student and teacher went beyond the foreign language the missionary was studying and the English language they shared. They were at the I-feel-what-you-feel level. The missionary brushed his tears away with the back of his hand. As the teacher watched, he remembered when he, too, wondered if God were there and what on earth he had gotten himself into when he had chosen to serve a mission. He spoke quietly to the missionary, “There was a time in my mission when I felt exactly the same way.”
The missionary looked up. “Really?” he asked. His teacher seemed so confident and sure of himself. He spoke with ease the foreign language the young missionary was struggling to learn. He bore a strong and powerful testimony to the group often and with great sincerity. The missionary could hardly imagine his teacher ever feeling the doubts that were flooding over him.
“I feel like a terrible elder,” the missionary said. “I have so many doubts. You must think I’m wrong and weak.”
The words shocked the teacher, and he responded, “Wrong? Weak? Are doubts wrong? Are questions a sign of weakness? No. Didn’t Joseph Smith himself doubt and question as he learned?” The teacher opened his Pearl of Great Price to Joseph Smith–History and read: “In the midst of this war of words and tumult of opinions I often said to myself: What is to be done? Who of all these parties is right or are they all wrong together? If any one of them be right, which is it, and how shall I know it?” (Joseph Smith–History 1:10).
The teacher looked up from the page and said, “If doubting and questioning are wrong, then the whole missionary system of the Church is wrong, for isn’t it our invitation to the world to escape tradition’s chains and test present beliefs against revealed truth? Don’t we openly invite people to doubt and question?”
Hugh Nibley wrote that we should “unblushingly try to prove or disprove things. Doubts are not necessarily wrong, and they can definitely be a step toward the right. Questions are not a sign of weakness but a sign of growth. The weak are not discovered by their questions but by when they stop questioning. People are not wrong when they doubt but when they fail to do something about their doubts. American educator Robert L. Ebel wrote, “[We] must earn the right to say, ‘I know’ by our own thoughtful efforts to understand.”
The teacher looked at the missionary and continued, “The scriptures themselves tell us to ‘prove all things,’ but the learning process is not complete until the test is done, experiments are finished, and conclusions are drawn. ‘Prove all things; hold fast that which is good’ [1 Thessalonians 5:21]. Joseph Smith didn’t understand, so he ‘inquired,’ and he ‘received.’”
The teacher wondered how he could express to the discouraged missionary the joy of having a testimony. How could he convince him that, instead of being a source of discouragement, his doubts could motivate him to new learning he had never dreamed of before? How could he express the overwhelming satisfaction of finally finding answers? He opened his mouth, hoping to say something profound, but all that came out was, “Hang in there. It’s worth it. I promise.” Those words certainly didn’t sound all that wonderful or convincing.
But it was enough for the missionary. He looked up and smiled. “Thanks for understanding,” he said. “I’m glad you’re not mad at me.”
“Mad?” asked the teacher. “How could I be mad? I am proud of you for being honest. I am proud of you for reaching out for help. I am proud of you for not giving up. Now, break’s over. We’d better get back to class.”
While all of us may face unanswered questions that may cause us to doubt, we do not need to be afraid because there are things we do not fully understand. President Joseph F. Smith put it this way: “It is no discredit to our intelligence or to our integrity to say frankly in the face of a hundred speculative questions, ‘I do not know.’” In fact, “uncertainty is a necessary precursor to new discoveries and new creation.”
Robert L. Millet explained the way he handles doubts:
“One thing I have learned through the years is not to become preoccupied with unanswered questions, not to obsess over them, not to allow them to make me spiritually dysfunctional. . . . I have learned to place many items on the shelf for the time being to allow time and study and seasoning and maturity either to prepare me for an answer down the road or to prepare me not to receive an answer, perhaps even in this life.”
All of us have doubts—doubts about the future, doubts about decisions we have made or will make, doubts of a thousand kinds. But these doubts do not need to destroy us—answers will come. One woman spent long hours pondering struggles she was having with her testimony. As she weighed the assurances she had previously felt with the doubts she was currently encountering, she felt prompted to turn to the scriptures. As she did so, her scriptures fell open to Doctrine and Covenants 6, and she read these words: “If you desire a further witness, cast your mind upon the night that you cried unto me in your heart, that you might know concerning the truth of these things. Did I not speak peace to your mind concerning the matter? What greater witness can you have than from God?” (D&C 6:22–23). She felt the Spirit wash over her, and her doubts were replaced by faith.
Sometimes our doubts are quickly resolved, and sometimes we have to put them “on the shelf” for a time. But one thing is certain: the Lord has done great things for us and our ancestors and He will continue to do great things in the future. As Nephi said, “Let us go up; the Lord is able to deliver us, even as our fathers” (1 Nephi 4:3). Even though there may be things we do not fully understand, we can move forward as Nephi did, trusting in the God who has always stood by us.
About the Authors
Brad Wilcox is an associate professor in the department of Teacher Education at Brigham Young University, where he also works with programs such as Especially for Youth and Campus Education Week. As a young man, he served his mission in Chile, and he was later called back to that country to preside over the Chile Santiago East Mission from 2003 to 2006. He currently serves as a member of the Sunday School general board.
Brad is the author of the bestselling book The Continuous Atonement and the BYU devotional “His Grace Is Sufficient.” He and his wife, Debi, are the parents of four children and grandparents of three.
John Hilton III was born in San Francisco and grew up in Seattle. He served a mission in Denver, and got a Bachelor’s degree from Brigham Young University. Along the way he met his wife Lani and they have five children. They have lived in Boise, Boston, Mexico and Miami. Currently, they live in Utah. John has a Masters degree from Harvard and a Ph.D from BYU, both in Education, and currently is an Assistant Professor of Ancient Scripture at BYU. He has also written several books with Deseret Book. Besides being with his family, his favorite hobbies are learning Chinese and doing humanitarian work.