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Monday, September 10, 2012

Good News From Christianity: Doubt Welcome

As theologian Thomas Merton wrote:

The best way to pray is: stop. Let prayer pray within you, whether you know it or not. This means a deep awareness of our true inner identity. It implies a life of faith, but also of doubt. You can't have faith without doubt. Give up the business of suppressing doubt. Doubt and faith are two sides of the same thing. Faith will grow out of doubt, the real doubt. We don't pray right when we evade doubt.*  
We live in a complicated world. While we want to believe things will be wonderful if we live just so, following scripture and being the "holy" or the "other" as we were taught in Sunday School, we know from hard experience that this is not to be so. When life gets difficult, doubt rises in our minds. We wonder about our faith and our God, especially when the awful things happen or are inflicted upon us by other people, natural agencies (earthquakes, tornadoes, fires, etc.), or by disease. Some faith leaders will tell us, over and over again, that there is no room for doubt. They proclaim doubt to be the work of the devil and to be resisted at all cost. These leaders tend to believe faith will shatter like fragile glass if doubt comes knocking.

Then there are many others, myself included, who say God encourages doubt. Doubt well dealt with makes for stronger faith, faith that leads to action. Go ahead and wrap your arms around your doubts and then do something about them. Use them as the beginnings of a research project. Christianity has 2,000+ years worth of wonderful thinkers to call upon, men and women who have written deep explorations of doubt and pushed on the most difficult questions. In your search, avoid those writers with easy answers and instead focus on the wrestlers who grapple with these issues and with God like Jacob who would be renamed Israel (wrestles with God) did. You may find some explanations than help you deal with life's most painful moments, explanations that give you perspective on where to stand when it hurts and how to cry out to God in your anger and your pain (God is big, God can take it, go ahead and rail). Not only will your faith be stronger for it, but you will find yourself drawn into action. The wrongness in the world and the way we mistreat others should lead you to stand up from your studies, shake your fist, and scream NO. Use your anger with the way things are, the knowledge you arm yourself with, and strap on the whole armor of God** and go forth. Do your best to right wrongs where you are.

Doubt may well be the key that unlocks your future and draws you into a much closer relationship with God than you ever imagined. Rather than having faith shattered, you may come out of the experience a much stronger and more resilient believer. You doubt it? That's a good start.

*Quote from Naked Spirituality by Brian D. McLaren, p. 163.

** Ephesians 6: 14-17: 14Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness.15As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. 16With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

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