Tag Archives: doubt

A Letter About Doubt

I wanted to follow-up on something at the end of our conversation. I said, “Doubt is not necessarily a bad thing.” And then you said, “But it could be.” To which I replied, “Of course it could be.” I’m not entirely happy with my response.

Doubt could be a bad thing if you assume doubt means a loss of faith, if you assume doubt borders on Agnosticism or Atheism. Some people assume this and then, rather than explore their doubts from within (which is where their problems lie), they start looking elsewhere, as if doubts can be dealt with through another belief system. But it can’t. They will eventually find the same struggles there.

That’s why the Psalms really are a great thing to turn to. Read Psalm 13 sometime soon. The Psalmist, in his own way, asked the same questions you are asking,

“How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
and day after day have sorrow in my heart?”

Read that Psalm–slowly; soak it in. You could even make it your own prayer. The Psalmist doesn’t have it all together. Nobody does. Doubt is a universal struggle. That’s not meant to diminish your questions and concerns in any way, but simply to say that you are not alone, you are not an oddity among people of faith.

What’s unique about the Psalmist, though, is that he didn’t keep these things to himself and didn’t walk away from God. Instead, he dared to direct his questions and doubt and anguish at God. If I have some kind of issue with a friend or family member, the solution isn’t to walk away but to address that friend. Otherwise I’m not dealing with the problem. In one way or another, if I don’t address the source of the problem, I am simply ignoring the issue. If your questions are about God, don’t shut him out of the conversation and struggle, but be honest in your prayers.

I mentioned that we shouldn’t let our current mood or state or whatever dictate the entire course of our lives. This moment isn’t the only moment in your life–there have been many and there will be many. There are certainly pivotal points of change in life, but it seems to me that more often than not we fall into those moments. We don’t make a choice one day to take this moment of doubt or this moment of anger and let that guide my life from here on in. Psalm 13 kind of addresses this in a small way: “I trust in your unfailing love.” The Psalmist remembers God’s faithfulness and the things that God has done for him and the people of Israel. Psalm 77 is another Psalm of struggle, and there it says, “I will remember the deeds of the Lord.”

There’s something poignant in Bruce Cockburn’s words (at least, as I understand them):

Derailed and desperate
How did I get here?
Hanging from this high wire
By the tatters of my faith

Sometimes all we have to go on is what has come before–whether that is the faith of the “saints” (that is, Christians that have gone before) or our own faith to this point (or our baptism) and we choose to carry on in faith through this season.

Daniel Taylor, in that book I was telling you about, says this:

Normally doubt is seen as sapping faith’s strength. Why not the reverse? Where there is doubt, faith has its reason for being. Clearly faith is not needed where certainty supposedly exists.

Doubt does not mean you have lost your faith or no longer believe, nor does it mean that you are heading in that direction. And your doubts in themselves don’t make or break the truth of something. Doubt means simply that you have questions and uncertainties about your beliefs and about God. To have faith means to carry on in spite of uncertainties and seasons of doubt.

[…]

I hope this is helpful…

Don’t stop believing

Gordon Atkinson (of dormant Real Live Preacher) wrote a letter to his daughter about her doubts. It’s warm and fatherly. It also expresses the important but generally ignored notion that doubt or lack of understanding is not in itself reason to give up on faith:

On the one hand, it is glorious for you to ask questions. It is beautiful and righteous and good for you to wonder at the deep mysteries of the world. How I love your mind. How I look forward to years of conversations with you.

On the other hand, if you can know this without it causing you to despair, understand that you will not find answers to many of those questions. Some questions will haunt you all of your life. And most answers you do find will only come after decades of searching and seeking and trying and failing and despairing and hurting and grieving and giving birth and discovering and accepting and laughing and experiencing the rich joys of life.

My precious daughter, if I could give you any gift today, it would be that you might experience the joy of your questions without being burdened by the elusive nature of their answers.

You are young. Now is the time for practice. Throw yourself into the practice of Christianity. Pray and worship and read the scriptures. Ask your questions, yes, but do so while practicing your faith.

I think you’ll find that when your mind reaches its limits, it’s good to pay attention to the body.

And the body needs practice.

Read the rest: “A Letter to my Doubting Daughter.”

Belove

From Girl Meets God:

I have written [in my prayer book] this, from Diana Eck’s Encountering God:

The Latin credo means literally “I give my heart.”  The word believe is a problematic one today, in part because it has gradually changed its meaning from being the language of certainty so deep that I could give my heart to it, to the language of uncertainty so shallow that only the “credulous” would rely on it.  Faith…is not about propositions, but about commitment. It does not mean that I intellectually subscribe to the following list of statements, but that I give my heart to this reality. Believe, indeed, comes to us from the Old English belove, making clear that this too is meant to be heart language.  To say, “I believe in Jesus Christ” is not to subscribe to an uncertain proposition.  It is a confession of commitment, of love.

And then on the first page of my prayer book, a quotation from the Gospel of Mark: “Lord, I believe; Help thou mine unbelief.”

Once, when we were still dating, Steven read aloud to me from an obscure British novel…he read a scene in which a believer and a cynic are debating God. Of course I know you believe in it, the cynic says, what I want to know is do you believe in it the way you believe in Australia? Some days, I believe the Christian story even more than I believe in Australia…

Living the Christian life, however, is not really about that Australia kind of believing.  It is about a promise to believe even when you don’t. After all, when I stand up in church to say the Creed, it may well be that that very morning I didn’t really know for sure that some fifteen-year-old-virgin got pregnant with a baby who was really God.  Saying the Creed is like vowing to love your bride forever and ever.  That vow is not a promise to feel goopy and smitten every morning for the rest of your life.  It is a promise to live love, even, especially, when you don’t feel anything other than annoyance and disdain. (Lauren Winner, Girl Meets God, p. 268-269)

This reminds me of a couple of things I’ve quoted here before:

The goal of faith is not to create a set of immutable, rationalized, precisely defined and defendable beliefs to preserve forever.  It is to recover a relationship with God.  (Daniel Taylor, The Myth of Certainty)

and

major theories in the areas of mathematics, physics, and psychology…involve a prior decision as to what is fundamental in the area studied… All of them rest on fundamental assumptions which can be questioned.  But the questioning, if it is to be rational, has to rely on other fundamental questions which can in turn be questioned.  It follows…that there can be no knowing without personal commitment.  We must believe in order to know. (Leslie Newbiggin, Proper Confidence)

Doubt

Read this this morning:

“Dubious questioning”, wrote Coleridge, “is a much better evidence than that senseless deadness which most take for believing. People that know nothing…have no doubts. Never be afraid to doubt, if only you have the disposition to believe, and doubt in order that you may end in believing the truth.”

“Doubting Thomas” is the uncomplimentary title that Thomas has often been tagged with. But it would be more accurate, I think, to call him Honest Thomas. He was a man of integrity; he didn’t pretend to believe things that he didn’t really; he didn’t say the words just to feel part of the crowd. It’s much harder to own up to being the odd one out among a group of friends, and it was brave, when he found that he was the odd one out, not to go off and be by himself.  For a whole week he went on meeting up with the other disciples. Their faith and stories of visions must have made him feel uncomfortable and left out. But he still hung around. Eventually, Jesus came and met him in person. His integrity paid off; when faith came to him as a gift, it was his own and not someone else’s.  (go read Maggi Dawn’s entire post)

After Thomas’ confession of faith, Jesus says: “”Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”  It’s easy to think, perhaps, that what is implied is that Thomas was wrong for doubting or perhaps that faith without seeing is better than faith after seeing.  But I’m not sure that Jesus is making a qualitative statement about Thomas’ belief.  Thomas wasn’t censured for his doubt.

I read this afternoon:

… those moments in life when awareness of God breaks through the crust of our routines — a burst of praise, a pang of guilt, an episode of doubt, boredom in worship… (Eugene Peterson in Working the Angles)

It has nothing to do with the context of Peterson’s words (which are from a chapter on spiritual direction), but the description of “an episode of doubt” as a “moment in life when awareness of God breaks through” really struck me.  I had never thought about doubt in that way before: as a time when we become more aware of God.  (Is that ironic?  I’m reluctant to say it is.)

But it’s true, isn’t it?  When we have our times of doubt, it’s God we think about and are obsessed about: are you really there?  In times of certainty, so far as that is possible, a person much more occupied with other things and not with God.  (The corresponding period of awareness is the ‘moment of clarity’, from which a “burst of praise” may come forth).  In a sense, then, periods of doubt are a healthy thing, spiritually speaking, because they slap us across the face and awaken us from our stupor, our apathy, our lukewarmness.

Getting back to Thomas: I like Maggi Dawn’s image of a somewhat uncomfortable Thomas meeting with the disciples, even though he did not share their conviction about the risen Christ.  When times of doubt come along, it does not mean that faith is absent or lost and that I should immediately leave for another faith, but simply that questions have arisen for which I don’t have an answer.  An answer will eventually come; or perhaps I will accept not knowing, accept the fact of mystery.  (I don’t mean to suggest that if an answer doesn’t come we must just accept not knowing, but that one or the other may well happen.)

Time for a sappy analogy (I don’t know why I do this):  Moments of doubt are not cause to abandon the good ship Faith–the hull hasn’t yet been breached and if you stay with the ship you may well come through the storm much stronger.