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The Easiest Question

9 April 2010

Once, in a missionary meeting with Southern Africa Area President Richard E. Simmons, I learned a lesson that served me well throughout the rest of my mission. It was his turn to speak, and he opened up the first few minutes to questions. One of the first questions asked was, “If we look just like our spirit, then why do the genetics passed on to us by our parents play such a big role in our physical appearance?”

His response came quickly, without the slightest hesitation, “Well, that’s about the easiest question to answer anyone’s ever asked me – I don’t know!” The question was immediately dropped. Further questions were asked and answered, but it was that response that really impressed me.

I realized at that moment, that if I had been asked that question, I probably would have given an answer. It would have been a speculative answer, perhaps beginning with, “I’m not sure, but I suspect that…” But would that have been wise? Perhaps giving my speculation, as long as I marked it so, would have been acceptable, and maybe it would have even settled the question in the mind of the inquirer, but would it have been wise? I didn’t know.

But I did know this – Elder Simmons had come to teach truth. He had no need to speculate. Perhaps somewhere in the back of his mind he had a speculation. Perhaps he was even pretty sure his speculation was correct. Perhaps his speculation even made perfect and arguable sense – but he didn’t voice it.  He stuck to the pure and undefiled doctrine. He only told what he knew. In this case, the only thing he knew was that he didn’t know the answer to the question, and he said so.

There is power in sharing undefiled, unspeculated doctrine. If true faith can only be exercised in things that are true, then there can be no real faith in speculation. If truth and speculation are mingled, there is room for doubt, and where there is doubt, there is no faith.

This lesson is important to understand as a missionary, gospel doctrine teacher, parent, or any other kind of teacher – that it’s okay to not know all the answers. Besides, when listeners see that you are not afraid to say, “I don’t know,” they’ll place more confidence in the answers that you do know. Its okay to say “I don’t know.” It’s best to say “I don’t know,” if that is the truth. One who teaches and mingles truth with speculation will not be trusted nearly as much as one who speaks only truth and is not afraid to not have the full answer. After all, every question has at least one safe answer that we know we can place full faith in – namely, “God knows the answer, and I know God lives and loves us.” If this is true, then what is there to fear? We can seek for answers, but why should we be worried about not knowing the answer if we are living close to the Lord, knowing that He, and only He, has all the answers?

2 Comments leave one →
  1. 21 April 2010 3:16 pm


    I think a willingness to say I Don’t Know is a native part of intellectual Mormonism. I’m always happy when I see it exercised. I can think of a couple people who would have done well to say I Don’t Know a little more often……

  2. 29 April 2010 12:33 pm


    Very true! I know I can think of a number of times when I should have used it, and didn’t. It’s always best to be 100% honest, which means when you don’t know, tell them you don’t know.


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