Monday, August 30, 2010

Have You Tried Doubting Your Doubts - Reynolds

This meditation has been around a bit -- a sermon, a newspaper article, or you can look it up in A Troubled Faith, chapter 5. A good number of people have indicated that it has been a real help to them. I hope you find it worth the time and effort. And don’t miss the delightful bit at the end forwarded by Dianne Anderson.

If you feel bothered by doubt, go ahead and examine your beliefs. Question the things you have been taught. But don't stop there. Keep on. Doubt your doubts. Question them as thoroughly as you have questioned your faith. I think you will find that, while many things you think you should believe may fall, in the end you will find that belief makes more sense than unbelief.

Too many times, I have had someone, usually someone young, tell me that they went to a priest or a pastor with questions about their faith, only to be told that they should not question, only believe. Of course, if faith is "assent," intellectual assent to the teaching of the church, then doubt is wrong.

If faith is "trust," then doubt may not be such a bad thing after all. It is, in fact, the only way that false beliefs can be shown to be false, that bad customs may be replaced by good customs, that ancient idols may be toppled from their thrones. We can understand Aristotle saying that "doubt is the beginning of belief," and Galileo calling doubt "the father of discovery."

People once believed that the earth was flat. But Christopher Columbus said, "I can't believe that!" and sailed on until he discovered the Americas.

Martin Luther was taught to accept the penitential system of the medieval church and the sale of indulgences as a means of salvation. He said, "I can't believe that!" He tacked his "protest" to the door of the parish church of Wittenberg, and the Protestant Reformation was begun.

When the steam engine was new, there was speculation that perhaps ships might be equipped with it and even run the whole course of the Atlantic Ocean powered completely by steam. Someone wrote a book showing the impracticability of it, but one person who read that book exclaimed, "I don't believe it." Indeed, the first boat to cross the Atlantic solely by steam carried a copy of that same book.

Jesus of Nazareth, in this sense, was one of the greatest of doubters. The Jewish people considered the Samaritans to be an ignoble and inferior people with whom proper Jews should have no dealings. Jesus refused to judge all the people of Samaria by that notion, and told the story of a good Samaritan who was a better person than either the priest or the lawyer.

He was taught that pleasing God meant keeping every letter of the Law. "I don't believe it!" He said, and taught that healing the sick was more important than keeping laws of the Sabbath, and that justice and mercy were more important than tithing herbs.

Progress, the development of truth, is built upon such doubters – the questioners who stop to think and to inquire.

Moreover, isn’t doubt necessary to real faith? We don't attain real faith through sticking our head in the sand in order to believe. Real faith is not hereditary. It's not something we're born with, something we inherit from our parents. We must find it for ourselves. A creed is the expression of someone else's faith, not ours. It is something outside ourselves. It is not ours until we test it, question it, doubt it, and wrestle with it as Jacob wrestled with the stranger in the pre-dawn darkness (Genesis 32:22f.)

Only by facing our doubts, looking them dead in the eye, will we come to a faith that is ours, that is strong and secure. Then we may come to understand, believe, and cherish it for ourselves. We can’t claim faith for our own unless we have faced the possibility that there is “nothing there,” until we have taken the risk, like Peter, of stepping out of the boat onto the water (Matthew 14:28f.)


Peter Black said...

Thank you for this candid post. Your views here confirm what I have encouraged congregations I've served to do. I've challenged them (especially youth) to explore and question stated beliefs in the light of scripture and sound wisdom, for that which is true and of God will withstand honest examination and reasonable scrutiny.

violet said...

I enjoyed this thoughtful post. And it was nice to be introduced to you at the Vancouver WG event.

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