To doubt is to vacillate, to be paralyzed by indecision.
The word descends from the Latin word dubitare, which is related to duo (“two”). Together with the related words dubiosus (“doubtful”), and dubium (“doubt”) it suggests an inability to decide between two incompatible alternatives (Online Etymology Dictionary, “doubt,” “dubious“).
In the Greek New Testament, one of the words which is rendered “doubt” is distazo (διστάζω). It is a combination of dis (δίς), meaning “twice” or “double,” and stasis (στάσις), meaning “standing” or “state.” So distazo is to stand in two places, to waver, to be stuck between two opinions. (See Matthew 14:31.)
The other word which is sometimes translated as “doubt” is diakrino (διακρίνω). It is also a compound word: dia (διά), which means “thoroughly” and krino (κρίνω), which means “to judge.” It has a connotation of over-analyzing things, of thinking so much about a decision that you never move forward. (See Matthew 21:21.)
After an angel appeared to Nephi and his brothers, promising them that they would be successful in retrieving the brass plates, Laman and Lemuel were not convinced. “How is it possible?” they asked (1 Nephi 3:31). In response, Nephi reminded them what they had just experienced: “Ye…know that an hath spoken unto you; wherefore can ye ?” (1 Nephi 4:3).
Helaman’s 2,000 young warriors went into their first battle with no fear. Their mothers had taught them that “if they did not doubt, God would deliver them.” They told Helaman, “We do not doubt our mothers knew it” (Alma 56:47-48). And God did deliver them. Not one of them died. Helaman and the other soldiers attributed their miraculous preservation to their sincere belief “that there was a just God, and whosoever did not doubt, that they should be preserved by his marvelous power” (Alma 57:26). That belief impelled them to act and enabled them to fight without distraction.
Moroni urged his modern readers, “Doubt not, but be believing, and begin as in times of old, and come unto the Lord with all your heart, and work out your own salvation with fear and trembling before him” (Mormon 9:27).
In all three of these passages, doubt inhibits action. Only when we overcome our doubts will we begin to take the actions which can lead to miraculous results with God’s help.
After promising that God will answer our prayers, James warns us that we must not waver: “For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed” (James 1:6). The Greek word translated “waver” in that passage is diakrino, and some translations render it using the word doubt:
But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind (James 1:6, New International Version).
So what should I do when I have doubts? If those doubts are slowing me down or preventing me from acting, I need to overcome them. I can’t allow myself to become immobile simply because I am unable to decide. Like Nephi, I will remember experiences which have given me reasons to believe. Like Helaman’s armies, I will remember people of strong faith who have inspired me to believe.
Today, I will overcome my doubts. I will remember that when I act in faith, I can receive God’s power and experience miracles.