When aspects of Church history raise doubts, study and faith can help us navigate historical facts and lead us to answers.
Sometimes learning about Church history can build testimonies, but other times, it can shake them. In his Ensign and Liahona article “Understanding Church History by Study and Faith,” Keith A. Erekson, director of the Church History Library, provides new perspectives that can bring peace amid uncertainty.
- There is more to discover. Erekson notes that although we have collected a lot of information about the past, “important pieces of the Church’s history have not yet been discovered.” For example, although we have records of black men not being able to hold the priesthood for some of our history, we have no authoritative documentation explaining why this took place. When questions arise about history, we can remember there are answers out there although we may not discover them within our lifetime.
- The purpose behind the story matters. Sometimes our faith is challenged because stories contradict each other. When this happens, we can try to recognize the perspectives of the storytellers. Erekson suggests that we “consider who is telling the stories, how they are telling them, and why they are telling them.” For example, there are several different accounts of the First Vision, and sometimes the variations can be concerning. However, if we remember that Joseph Smith had different audiences with different purposes, we can begin to understand why he highlighted some aspects over others. When contradiction appears, consider the who, what, and why behind the story.
- Consider cultural differences. It can be hard to remember that people who lived long ago saw the world differently than we do. For example, seer stones like the Urim and Thummim seem oddly mystical to us, but in Joseph Smith’s time, many people trusted in objects that received divine messages. Erekson invites us to not “assume that people in the past were just like us or that they would appreciate our culture or beliefs.”
As we study things out in our minds and press forward with faith, we will eventually find answers. The scriptures promise, “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find” (Matthew 7:7). As we trust in the Lord, he will provide answers to even our most difficult questions.
Read more perspectives on the past in Keith A. Erekson’s full article “Understanding Church History by Study and Faith” in the Ensign and Liahona.
—Olivia Snow, Mormon Insights
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Find more insights
Discover answers to Church history questions in the Gospel Topics Essays on lds.org/topics.
Access the Church’s portal to Church history to discover stories about our past.
Read or watch what President Dieter F. Uchtdorf has to say about doubts in his talk “Come, Join with Us.”