Posts Tagged ‘Doubt’

About four years ago I wrote my second sermon and I chose the topic of doubt.  My premise was that doubt was not a shameful failing, but a step on our faith journey.


Years later, it’s still a lesson I struggle to remember and I suspect that doubt is something that most of us share, often secretly, from time to time.  I’ve wondered where we got the notion that doubt is a spiritual sin.  I think that it’s not because we decided it was wrong, but because our religion views faith as a virtue.  It’s not wrong, the Bible and our own hearts confirm that faith—the ability to hold our belief in God, the ability to take that mental leap—is indeed a virtue.  In the Christian communities, it’s become increasingly defended over the past decades as many people have tried to equate faith and ignorance.  However, faith as a virtue doesn’t make doubt a vice. 


We’re asked to have faith.  We’re not asked to have blind faith.  Without those periods of doubt, we never question and go searching, without a search, we never find God.  The ability to allow for possibilities, to question one’s faith, one’s god, and one’s own self is a necessary one for spiritual growth.  It’s necessary to having a real relationship with our Lord.  It’s not belief if we don’t think about it, we don’t think about it if we don’t consider everything, and we don’t consider without doubting.


Acknowledging that it’s okay to doubt is the first step into moving beyond the doubt.  Sometimes we need to admit that we’re furious at God or that we’re not sure of his love.  Admitting those things is the only way to be honest, with ourselves and with God, and honesty is the only way to a dialogue.


Most Christians hold to the doctrine that Jesus, while being human, was also sinless.  That’s why we can take comfort that on this Good Friday, even Jesus, asked, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”


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When I was in eighth grade at a Christian school, our teacher had us debate whether or not, as Christians, we should or shouldn’t read books like The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman.  The Golden Compass is part of a trilogy known as the Dark Materials series that is considered to have themes that are anti-Christian.  Many of my classmates had had parents who had forbidden them from reading the books or later from seeing the movie or had had similar experiences with other books.  Many people see the books as an attack on Christianity, Christian tradition, Christian values, and the Church. 


To my surprise, a large number of my classmates said that we shouldn’t read books like that.  The main argument that they had against them was this: it might cause us to question our faith. 


First, do we really think our faith is that weak and that fragile and we have so little faith in our own faith that reading the book will cause us to question all our religious beliefs?  Secondly, if reading a fiction book does cause us to question everything we believe, doesn’t that say that that faith wasn’t very strong in the first place?  And that maybe we should be questioning why our faith isn’t that strong?  Third, why is questioning always a bad thing?


To address the first part of this post which is censorship, I think that while some reasonable limits should be put on making sure that truly inappropriate literature does not find its way to young children, I think that in general that trying to shelter our children is a futile and often dangerous thing to do.  For instance, Laurie Halse Anderson’s book Speak portrays a girl dealing with the aftermath of a rape after a party.  It has been banned in many libraries.  I think though that while we would like our children not to know that these kind of things don’t happen, the fact is that they do, and that people need to understand this and be prepared to better protect themselves and their friends.  If the character in the book or one of her friends had had more awareness she might have been saved a lot of pain.  People should be allowed to freedom to read.  After a certain point they should have a degree of autonomy over what literary content they choose to digest.  Most of the best literary works have been banned at some point or another. 


The second issue at play here is questioning.  I’ve noticed that a number of Christians seem to fear questioning their faith.  While I can sympathize with wanting to avoid those periods of disorientation, isolation, doubt, and confusion, I think we can’t live in fear of them.  First of all, periods of doubt, particularly during difficult periods in our life, are inevitable for many of us.  Second of all, questioning is not always a bad thing.  Questioning can make our faith stronger, it can push away doubts, it is often vital to our faith.  Questioning strengthens us and real faith, faith that has a solid rock, is rooted in answering real and honest questions.  Religion means little if it does not answer the questions that we ask ourselves, if our questions about the universe, destiny, ourselves, humankind, are not found in our faith.  Much of the Old Testament is filled with prophets questioning God.  John questions Jesus in the New Testament.  Periods of doubts in our faith are part of our faith journeys.  I gave a sermon on this earlier in the year at my church (if anyone’s interested I can post it here at another time).  Jesus himself experienced moments of doubts.  If Jesus, supposedly our perfect example, had doubts, why are we ashamed of them?  Doubts are a natural part and they are not a sign of being a bad Christian, I believe that periods of doubts and questioning are part of God’s plan for us.  Instead of discouraging our children not to question, or to fear these periods of questioning, we should support them in their questions and try to provide what answers we can give and encourage them to find their own.  We have little faith in our own faith if we continually fear it being torn down.

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