As an 11-year-old boy living in Göteborg, Sweden, Elder Dale G. Renlund of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles began to grow his testimony by following the counsel of the local mission president at the time. Somewhere in his reading of the Book of Mormon, a young Dale Renlund accepted the invitation to find for himself the truth of the book. He offered a simple prayer to his Father in Heaven, asking to know of its truth.
"I did not hear a voice, but it was as if God told me, 'I have been telling you all along that it is true,'" Elder Renlund said on Sunday, Jan. 13, during a worldwide devotional for young adults. "That experience changed me. It changed my life. It began a process of belief, a process of being on the covenant path and trying to do more and trying to do better."
Elder Renlund and his wife, Sister Ruth L. Renlund, spoke in tandem during the devotional Sunday night which originated from the Brigham Young University–Hawaii campus in Laie, Hawaii, and was broadcast via satellite for young adult members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints around the world.
Addressing issues of faith and doubt, which Sister Renlund said had been on their minds for many months, the Renlunds shared a parable about a stranded swimmer lost at sea and a kind fisherman in an old boat who comes to the rescue of the lone swimmer.
If each of us represents the swimmer, Elder and Sister Renlund said, then the boat — the rescue vehicle — would represent the Church, and the kind fisherman would represent those who serve in the Church. While dented and well-used, the boat is a reliable vessel, sent to help us return to our destination.
"The sole purpose of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is to help Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ in Their work to bring to pass the eternal life of God’s children," Sister Renlund said. "It provides the covenant path, the way to return to our Heavenly Father. Those who serve in the Church, though not perfect, are essential to help and encourage us along the covenant path."
Once comfortably within the protection of the rescuing vessel, it may be easy to begin to doubt its reliability and strength, she explained, noting how in the parable, after noticing dents and paint chips in the boat, the swimmer begins to doubt the ability of the boat and its captain to carry them safely to shore.
She continued, "You do not have to be an ordained seer, like my husband, to know that slipping back into the water instead of staying in the boat is risky. Yet, when we lose sight of the big picture, the small dents and peeling paint can loom large in our minds."
Having a personal witness of truth is more important than ever before, Sister Renlund said.
Questions of faith
Inviting the young adults of the Church to develop an individual testimony of the Savior and the truth of His Church, Elder and Sister Renlund challenged individuals to study the scriptures and words of the living prophets with a spirit of faith rather than doubt.
"Where did you come to a knowledge of your Redeemer? How did you feel?" Sister Renlund queried after Elder Renlund shared his own remembrance of first feeling the Spirit and building his testimony.
"If you have forgotten, we urge you to do something to recapture the feeling. This knowledge and these feelings are the beginnings of faith," Sister Renlund said. "Faith is a choice that each person must make. … Faith is also a principle of action."
Sharing the story of a young man with whom Elder Renlund became acquainted, Elder Renlund related the dangers of allowing doubts to fuel one's personal queries.
Asking questions that are motivated by faith can lead to more faith, but questions that begin with doubt can often lead to more doubts, Sister Renlund said, noting that consistent doubting can become a form of "Church history whack-a-mole."
In this life, no one will know everything they desire a knowledge of, Sister Renlund said, but they can know enough to continue in faith on the path their Father in Heaven has put before them.
"Doubt is not and will never be the precursor of faith any more than light depends on darkness for its creation," Elder Renlund said.
Using Joseph Smith as an example of the importance of asking questions of God, Sister Renlund said, "To have questions about the Church and its doctrines is normal and the root of gospel learning." But to receive the kind of answer Joseph Smith sought — and the kind of answer that the children of God crave in search of truth — she said, seekers need to approach God with a believing heart and mind.
No value in continual doubts
Paraphrasing a statement from Elder John A. Widtsoe, Elder Renlund said, "Doubt, unless changed into inquiry from reliable, trustworthy sources, has no value or worth. The stagnant doubter, one content with himself, unwilling to make the appropriate effort, to pay the price of divine discovery, inevitably reaches unbelief and darkness. His doubts grow like poisonous mushrooms in the dim shadows of his mental and spiritual chambers. At last, blind like the mole in his burrow, he usually substitutes ridicule for reason, indolence for labor, and becomes a lazy scholar. Doubt is not wrong unless it becomes an end in and of itself. That doubt which feeds and grows upon itself, and breeds more doubt, is evil."
Coming to a knowledge of Jesus Christ and His Atonement, a loving Father in Heaven, and the great plan of salvation requires a choice of faith and not of doubt, Elder Renlund said. It also requires one to turn to trustworthy and reliable sources in their pursuit of knowledge and truth.
"The blogosphere cannot replace scripture study and reading the words of living prophets and apostles," Sister Renlund said. "Foster your faith by going to trustworthy sources to find answers to your questions."
Elder Renlund added: "You will miss spiritually important events if you choose persistent doubt, fueled by answers from faithless and unfaithful sources."
Enduring safely to shore
"What we consider dents and peeling paint on the well-used boat may turn out to be divinely sanctioned and divinely directed from an eternal perspective," Elder Renlund said. "The Lord has either had a hand in the dents and the peeling paint or He uses them for His own purposes."
Returning to the parable they shared of the swimmer and the fisherman, Sister Renlund said, "Those who choose to stay on the well-used, dented boat with the chipped paint are those who recognize that the boat saved them from drowning and can get them safely to shore."
In other words, Sister Renlund continued, those on the covenant path who choose to endure to the end are those who will experience the gift of eternal life.
"This is the greatest gift that God can give," Sister Renlund said. "It is through this process that we come to know Jesus Christ, to know of His living reality, and to know of His love and compassion."