Anyone who’s read the Book of Mormon knows that Nephi was faithful while Laman was faithless. But most people don’t realize that while Nephi and Laman ended up heading in very different spiritual directions, they *both* began the journey into the wilderness with serious questions about whether Lehi was really a prophet and whether his instructions really came from God.

That’s right. Laman wasn’t the only who had doubts. As we will see, Nephi did too. But the way Nephi responded to his uncertainties made all the difference.

Considering the barrage of doubts facing many of our close friends and family members (or ourselves), we urgently need to know how Nephi survived his crisis of faith stronger than ever before, while Laman eventually abandoned his faith altogether.

As we read about Nephi’s crisis of faith, a three-part formula emerges–shedding light on how anyone might successfully navigate doubts as they arise.

But before continuing I want to point out an important reality.

Many critics of the Church argue that there is only one conclusion that can be derived from Church history: that Joseph Smith was never a prophet. From their perspective, anyone who comes to a different conclusion either didn’t do their research or is unwilling to face the facts.

The truth, however, is that there are many brilliant Latter-day Saints who have spent their lives studying Church history and yet see the conclusions of critics as being based on half-truths, unsupported assumptions, and decontextualized allegations. Beyond the scholars, the LDS Church is full of intelligent and open-minded people who have done their own research but simply don’t agree with the conclusions reached by the critics.

The story of Nephi and Laman is no different. These are two individuals who grew up in the same family, were raised with the same religion, had many of the same experiences, asked the same questions, and felt similar doubts. But in the end, they chose very different paths.

Now it’s time to know why.

Nephi explains in 1 Nephi 2:16 that “I did not rebel against [the Prophet] like unto my brothers” because the Lord “did soften my heart that I did believe all the words which had been spoken by my father.”

Hold on a sec…Nephi’s heart had to be softened?! We tend to see Nephi as being so unquestioning, but right here, in the beginning of the Book of Mormon, he admits that he felt hard hearted when first hearing the proclamations of his father, a prophet.

But according to Nephi, the reason he didn’t end up rebelling like his brothers is because the Lord helped him to have a change of heart.

So, why was God able to intervene in Nephi’s life, but not in Laman’s?

The Lord reveals the answer just a couple of verses later:

“Blessed art thou, Nephi, because of thy faith, for thou hast sought me diligently, with lowliness of heart.”

According to the Lord, this is Nephi’s three-part formula:

  1. Faith
  2. Diligently seeking the Lord
  3. Humility

It’s the last part that is the hardest to nail down. It is easy to say that you have exercised faith and diligently sought the Lord, but it isn’t so easy to say that you have done so with the type of humility God requires before he can speak truth to our souls.

That is what Laman and Lemuel were always missing. They complained to Nephi that they no longer bothered to inquire of the Lord because “the Lord maketh no such thing known to us.”

Nephi responds: “Do ye not remember the things which the Lord hath said? If ye will not harden your hearts, and ask me in faith, believing that ye shall receive, with diligence in keeping my commandments, surely these things shall be made known unto you.”

The problem is that too often we learn something about Church history that bothers us and when we go to the Lord for understanding, our hearts have hardened—whether we realize it or not.

God will not speak to a heart poisoned by skepticism. If we’ve already put truth into the confines of some box and begun to make conclusions of our own—He won’t be able to communicate with us. God will only answer our questions if our minds are truly open and humble. He will wait until our hearts are prepared to hear the truth.

I know these things are true from personal experience, from having personally “lost my testimony” as a high school student. I thought I had figured out where an intellectually honest understanding of Mormonism led. But I eventually realized that if I were to be intellectually honest, I needed to give the Restored Gospel one more chance. I needed to fully conduct the experiment of faith that the prophets invite us to try.

That experiment required more than faith and diligently seeking. It required me to humble myself. It required countless hours of study, pondering, and prayer. It required me to recognize how little I really knew. It was only after I truly humbled myself in this process that God spoke to me in ways I will never forget. (More on this process in a future article)

I believe the words of the prophets because the Lord softened my heart—just as He softened Nephi’s heart.

Nephi isn’t the only prophet to have a crisis of faith. The scriptures are filled with such stories. You can read about a modern apostle’s crisis of faith (before becoming an apostle) in his own words, here.

These stories teach us an important truth:

Crises of faith can become crucibles for strengthening your faith.

To those who have felt bewildered, shocked, or devastated by feelings of confusion and doubt: I’ve been there. Countless people have. God respects and appreciates your quest for truth, while being aware of the anguish that is sometimes required as part of that journey.

As you search for truth, don’t forget Nephi’s formula and please don’t foreclose on the possibility that Joseph Smith is the prophet of an ongoing restoration of Christ’s gospel.

It is my testimony that he is.

By Dustin Phelps

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