Saturday, September 19, 2009

Believing Your Beliefs and Doubting Your Doubts

Doubt requires more courage than conviction does, and more energy; because conviction is a resting place and doubt is infinite-it's a passionate exercise. -From the play "Doubt" by John Patrick Shanley

I was talking with a college student on Thursday night who thought God was going to condemn him because he had doubts about God's character. I told him that God loves him so much and he will honor this student's seeking out answers to those doubts and will reveal his character to him as he keeps seeking it...because the truth of God can--and will always--stand up to any of our doubt, confusion, and investigating. I believe that our doubt, when explored, will essentially bring us closer to God, unless we let it fester in our hearts and allow it to consume and control us without doing anything about it.

The first Bible verse I ever memorized (before I even believed the Bible) was Mark 9:24--"Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief." What I'm wondering do doubt and faith interact? Is it possible that doubt is the essence of faith and not faith's opposite? Is faith really faith without room for doubt? I am not saying that I doubt God's power or existence. But I know that sometimes we have to choose to believe in him during times of hopelessness, suffering, helplessness, confusion, apathy, loss, or pain when it doesn't make sense to us...Paul says God is a mystery, and I don't think we'll ever fully understand him in this life.

Below is one of my favorite paintings by the Italian Baroque master Caravaggio. It is of Doubting Thomas, who did not believe that Jesus had been resurrected until he felt his wounds. Look at the face of Thomas in the instant that he believes! All doubt he once had has now truly been obliterated. And look at Jesus. Look at his kind and understanding face. Look at how tenderly and patiently he holds Thomas's hand, the way a father holds a child's. He wanted Thomas to believe, even though Thomas needed proof first. Jesus says that blessed are those who have not seen, and yet have believed. What does that mean?

What no person has a right to is to delude others into the belief that faith is something of no great significance, or that it is an easy matter, whereas it is the greatest and most difficult of all things. -Kierkegaard

Not the least of my problems is that I can hardly even imagine what kind of an experience a genuine, self-authenticating religious experience would be. Without somehow destroying me in the process, how could God reveal himself in a way that would leave no room for doubt? If there were no room for doubt, there would be no room for me. -Frederick Buechner


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