For a few weeks now I’ve been leading a Sunday School series on the subject of “doubt.” My task, as I’ve undertaken it, is to convince those in the class that doubt is not the opposite of faith, rather it is a component of faith. I feel pretty good about this idea so far. The foundational idea beneath this is from 1 Corinthians 13:12. To begin by acknowledging that we know only in part, and that we perceive the world as if we were looking in a tarnished mirror, implies that faithfulness demands a healthy skepticism about our own rightness. This, of course, creates a conundrum for the Christian who seeks to be faithful to God in truth while not being able to clearly and fully perceive that truth. To be sure, my call is not so much to doubt God or God’s truth, but to doubt myself and my own ability to perceive and articulate that truth. That’s a pretty big shift!
Okay, now please allow me a digression before returning to 1 Corinthians. In Mark 9:14-28 we read a story of a father whose son is demon possessed. He begs Jesus to help the boy and Jesus tells him that “all things can be done for the one who believes.” And immediately the father replies, “I believe; help my unbelief!” Rather than drawing a rebuke from Jesus, at this confession Jesus casts the demon out and the boy is healed. It seems that this confessed mixture of belief and doubt was sufficient faith for Jesus. I contend that it is so today as well.
Sarah’s doubts didn’t prevent her from conceiving a child. Moses’ doubts didn’t prevent him from leading the people out of Egypt. Jeremiah’s doubts didn’t prevent him from prophesying the hard and sad truth. Zechariah’s doubts didn’t prevent him from having a son. Peter’s doubts didn’t prevent him from leading the church. Thomas’ doubts didn’t prevent him from being accepted as a part of the community of Christ.
Okay, so what now? Let’s say that we finally let down our guard and our false barriers and admit our doubts to God and each other. Let’s say we finally accept that we can give thought and voice to these doubts without fear of rejection. What now? Don’t mistake me; doubt is not a goal. It’s not the finish line. Doubt is a catalyst for change! Continued growth, insight, understanding, learning, and revelation are our goals through doubt.
When Homer flips through the Bible and pronounces that, “This book doesn’t have any answers!” we laugh because we recognize the feeling. Or at least we recognize the sickeningly familiarity with people who proclaim that the Bible has ALL of the answers for EVERY question and situation and detail that occur in life. We’ve been told that the Bible is a “user’s manual” for life. I would say that such a metaphor is completely useless, except that I’ve been assembling a lot of baby furniture lately. The instructions for baby furniture actually do feel eerily similar to the Bible at times… But of course, while the Bible isn’t merely an answer book, it does have some answers. And it has some great questions. And it has some stories that are Truth. And it has some really confusing parts. And it has contradictions. And it bears witness.
So this takes us back to 1 Corinthians. It is tempting and easy to allow doubt to become paralysis. If we’re unsure of what to do, where to go, what to believe, it can seem possible or obvious to do nothing. But if doubt is a catalyst for change, then it doesn’t allow that option. Neither does Paul. Paul says that in the face of uncertainty and doubt these three remain: faith, hope, and love. And we all know what he says next, that the greatest of these is love. We can’t just stew and hope to be any more mature or any closer to having some answers. We’ve got some loving to do!
In his book, The Sacredness of Questioning Everything, David Dark issues the following challenge: “Show me a transcript of the words you’ve spoken, typed, or texted in the course of a day, an account of your doings, and a record of your transactions, and I’ll show you your religion.” Whew. To what extent do our actions exemplify our beliefs? Our doubts? Our convictions? I would contend that they exemplify them precisely. Let your doubts affect your actions and let’s see if there’s any change in you! Let your faith affect your actions and let’s see if there’s any truth in you!
How would you live differently if you were honest about your doubts? If you agreed to test Paul’s word and know only love, and act only love, what are the chances that your doubts would lead you closer to God? Do you listen to the same people on the radio every day? The same people on television? The same magazines? The same websites? The same same same? I’ll assume you do so because you think they’re good and right. But what if you decide that they don’t have Truth in a headlock? I propose that if you inject a bit of healthy doubt into the notion that you and the people like you are “right” that you’ll find the witness to God richer, deeper, wider, broader, and more expansive than you had ever previously imagined.