I came across a blog post a few weeks ago which caused me to stop and reflect. The author was saying that if we take the notion of faith seriously as “trust in relationship,” then there will always be an element of doubt in our faith. After all, he said, faith is not certainty. Faith is a deep trust that something is true.
The author calls this “being an agnostic Christian.” He believes that the kinds of questions we all ask ought to make us stop and wonder about the truth of some of the claims we make as people of faith. Questions like “Why is there so much suffering in the world? Why is it necessary for there to be so much pain in the world? How can we know what God really wants from us? Does God really interact with the world? If so, how does it happen?” And so on.
I agree with him that these kinds of questions are a necessary part of what it means to be human. We can’t help but wonder sometimes about how all that goes on in the world squares with our faith. If you don’t sometimes have doubts, then you are either in denial and pushing them down so deeply that you have lost touch with them, or you have rationalized the conflict in some way for yourself.
I am reminded of that wonderful story about the person we call “doubting Thomas.” The story goes like this in the Gospel of John — just after Jesus has been crucified, he comes back to visit the disciples. Thomas isn’t with them. When he comes back, his friends can’t wait to tell him about what happened.
Now let me ask you … if you were Thomas and had watched Jesus die this agonizing death, could you believe that he somehow had come back to life? I know I would have had a tough time swallowing that story. I would have thought it much more likely that my other friends had lost their marbles. Jesus was dead! There’s no way he could come back to life.
Which is exactly what Thomas tells the other 11 disciples. “Unless I see him with my own eyes, unless I touch him with my own hands, unless I can hear and smell him, I just can’t believe it. It’s not possible!”
The story continues that Jesus comes back a week later. He steps over to Thomas and says, “Go ahead, Thomas. Touch me. Doubt no longer.”
As I imagine that scene, I don’t see Jesus as being angry at Thomas in the least. Rather, I imagine Jesus’ face wreathed in a small smile, his voice gentle and loving as he reaches out to Thomas who needs this reassurance.
Now, I don’t think the Gospel of John is reporting an actual historical incident here. This is a story which tells a deeper truth, namely that “Blessed are all those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
I think this is exactly the point the blog author was making … that the way we see the world has to do with what or whom we trust (which is what “believe” in the Bible usually means).
For me personally, this means that I believe in, I trust, a God who renews life in the midst of death, who provides hope in the midst of distress, who invites us to be light in the darkness of the world so that we shine with the reflected light of God’s compassion.
That trust is what gives my life meaning and purpose. It is not about believing a set of doctrines. It about finding life in the midst of a relationship which, like any other relationship, ebbs and flows.
So even as I believe that God is the God of life, sometimes in the midst of all the death in this world, I wonder. I sometimes doubt, wondering if the light of life will ever be seen in all the darkness. Even as I believe that God calls us to reach out to other people in grace and compassion, I wonder sometimes if it really makes a difference.
I cherish those doubts, because they keep my faith alive and active. Frederick Buechner once said that “Doubts are the ants in the pants of faith; they keep it awake and moving.”
So I say, cherish your doubts, for doubt is the welcome attendant of truth. A belief which may not be questioned binds us to error, for every belief is incomplete and imperfect. Do not fear to doubt and seek for a deeper truth; doubt will never consume the truth.
I read somewhere once that those that would silence doubt are filled with fear; their houses are built on shifting sands; but those who fear not doubt, and know its use; are founded on rock.
So do not fear doubt. Rather, rejoice in the help our doubts give us. They help us keep questioning and learning and discovering and growing.
Cherish your doubts, for doubt is the attendant of truth.
Yme Woensdregt is Pastor at Christ Church Anglican in Cranbrook.