“And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46.) Common LDS interpretations of this scripture and the event it chronicles include: an expression of belief even in the face of great pain (Waiting upon the Lord: Thy Will Be Done, Robert D. Hales, Oct. 2011) a moment where God removed himself in order to let Christ finish the Atonement alone and the great faith Christ showed in that moment of loneliness (He Lives! All Glory to His Name! Richard G. Scott, April 2010) In every discussion of Christ’s death on the cross, he is presented as a perfect example of faith.
But what if this scripture documents a moment of fear instead of a moment of faith? What if, in that moment, Christ doubted his mission, his calling as the Savior, his position as the firstborn son of God? We believe that Christ experienced everything we do; does that include doubt?
I believe there is room to interpret this scripture as an expression of doubt. To say “why hast thou forsaken me?” suggests that the speaker believes he has been abandoned. He did not ask “have you left,” but “why did you leave?” At such a pivotal moment, to feel abandoned could very easily have led to doubt not just of God’s presence but of everything he was dying for.
In my years of involvement with several Mormon feminist groups, I have been told many times that my questions and doubts were a sin. I’ve been told that “obedience is the first law of heaven,” that “when the prophet speaks, the thinking is done” and if I were really following God, I wouldn’t be asking these questions. If you look at the Ordain Women Facebook page for 30 seconds, you will find comments reflecting these attitudes. Doubt is viewed as a sin by many church members. And church leaders encourage this attitude in some ways. The Aaronic Priesthood Manual contains the quote “when the Prophet speaks… the debate is over,” encouraging the youth of the church to obey blindly. In April 2009, Elder Kevin W. Pearson presented doubt and disbelief as the same thing, and he also stated that feeling doubts was a choice, implying that to question is choosing to lack faith. In short, having questions is presented as an incorrect or sinful choice to make.
But Christ did not sin. He died sinless, allowing Him to atone for the sins of others. So if Christ doubted, it cannot be a sin. We can say we are following Christ when we have questions and reach out to God for answers. If Christ doubted, those of us who question are in good company. We are not sinning when we doubt, because Christ doubted and did not sin.