Pensive Ponderings

Reflections on things that matter.

The Courage to Doubt

doubt

It seems to me that there is a tremendous amount of anxiety associated with the concepts of faith and doubt among Christians. Within the Christian community, there is a great deal of emphasis placed on “not wavering in faith,” and “banishing doubt.” These ideas and concepts seem to be very spiritual and correct, but they do a lot of damage when not understood properly.

Pastor Steven Furtick of Elevation Church preached a sermon series last year in which he used Abraham as the quintessential example of faith. He is, after all the “father of faith.” Pastor Steven used the scripture in Romans where Paul proclaims that the patriarch did not ‘waver in faith’ (Romans 4:18-19). Pastor Steven then proceeded to turn to the book of Genesis and show all of the places in Abraham’s life where he appeared to be less than faithful. He did this, not to prove that the Bible was inaccurate or off in some way, but to show that “faith” is not what we tend to represent it to be.

Many Christians (and non-Christians) feel like faith is something they have to manifest all the time. Like it’s some sort of inner strength or super power that real Christians have and fake Christians and unbelievers lack. Obviously we don’t ever say this, but it is felt. It is felt in every church in the West. We feel like we are not allowed to doubt. Ever. Doubt is a sin. Doubt is not Christian.

But two contemporary men of faith seem to disagree with this absolutist notion of faith. One is theologian Paul Tillich, who says that “Doubt is not the opposite of faith; it is one element of faith.” The other is C. S. Lewis, who claims that the man who doubts because he sincerely cannot believe is closer to God than the man who tries to pretend to have faith. Those of us who are questioning our faith are not heretics or blasphemers if we doubt. Doubt is that element of reality that challenges whether or not what we believe is real. Without doubt, there is no faith. That’s why those of us who were raised in church have a hard time believing when we get out on our own. We were conditioned to “have faith” in what we have never been allowed to question or doubt. We are being required to use a muscle we have never exercised.

Believing in God because it is orthodox is not faith. Believing in God because you have discovered that he is real is faith, and that faith doesn’t come without doubt. All faith is immature that has not been tested, and until we have really come to think we might not believe, we cannot say we ever really have. That’s the difference between theory and practice. The laws of motion are certainly true on paper, but they are real when we witness a car crash, and still more real when we are in one. Until it is tested by doubt, faith is theory.

I write this essay because I want people to think about doubt differently. I want to free some Christians and some agnostics siting in churches (or having left churches) to be real about their doubts. When we are real about our doubt, we will begin to know that faith is not blind. We will begin to find out the truth about God.

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