I recently held a doubt night with a group of men I was in charge of helping to lead. They wanted to discuss the topic and I was to facilitate the discussion on doubts. I started a few weeks earlier and had them write down all their doubts about God, Christ, religion, this life, this world. They looked something like this.
I don’t get the Trinity. Is it even real?
How can God have done all those miracles in old times but I don’t see any now?
To this. . .
If it’s as it says in the Bible, how come scientific evidence points to the earth being much older than how I read Genesis through the appearance of Christ in the New Testament?
If evolution is wrong, why is there scientific evidence pointing towards the probability of evolution?
And this. . .
How can a Good God send people to hell?
Why doesn’t God step in and stop the suffering in this world—the violence, wars, diseases, natural disasters, hate, etc.? Why? It doesn’t make sense. What kind of God is that?
To this. . .
Why did my aunt die? She was a good woman, and she died. Why?
Why would she leave me if I gave her everything? Where is the God in that?
Will I ever find a job?
So we sat down and I prepared some worksheets to allow them to work through some thoughts and study on their own, then in small groups, then in a bigger group and then altogether as one group. It was interesting especially because the previous meeting I was preceded by a facilitator (famous guy who runs a large church out of Seattle) who argued that it was important to have a right belief in order to have truth faith.
Well, you know me . . . not that I like to challenge, but . . . perhaps it comes naturally. We explored the role of doubt and we found that doubt was central. Far from being something that was removed by faith, it was mixed with faith, necessitated faith and wasn’t diminished in the presence of it. We first looked at the refrigerator.
If I have an unreasonable phobia preventing me from opening refrigerators I seek counseling to get help because it prevents me from eating and I go out a lot (thankfully I have roommate). Bobby on the other hand, has no fear of opening the refrigerator. Now, does it take courage for me to open the refrigerator? For me, the person with the phobia? Everyone agreed it did. Does it take courage for Bobby to open it? People thought for a moment (they were in small groups), but everyone agreed it really took no courage for Bobby to open the refrigerator. I asked them (through the worksheet to come up with a definition of courage using the word fear). They had different versions, but the definition was something like “courage isn’t the absence of fear; courage is the triumph over fear.” Later on in the worksheet I had them write an analogous definition of faith using the word doubt. Faith isn’t the absence of doubt; it’s the triumph over doubt. It’s not the best definition, but it works. :-)
We then talked about relationships. I gave an example of a couple, a man and a woman, who were thoroughly and utterly convinced and convicted that they were perfect for each other in every way and would have a long and lasting marriage. In the context of their conviction and belief, there was no decision to be made at all. It was clear; they needed to continue their loving by being married. Now I mentioned another couple. Imagine a second couple. This couple facing family opposition, various challenges, and is plagued by an uncertainty future not sure of where they will be or if this will work out in the end. Now it’s here that a real decision has to be made. Far from doubt taking away the chance for faith, doubt is the very place and sacred site where faith is forged.
It’s in this situation that the couple must decide to 1) not get married or 2) go forward and get married. Now I have sympathy for people who fall into #1 because it’s a hard decision and scary. I understand, though (for a good woman) I may not have chosen that option. But I admire and am more like people in #2. Those are they who took a chance in the context of doubt and allowed faith to be forged (assuming it was a relationship in which faith was implicit, infused, and inspired and which inspired faith in all those around them). That’s a real decision, that’s real faith. And it’s hard to find that these days.
Strangely but honestly enough, many of the guys disagreed when I asked the question of which situation requires a decision. Some said both situations, both couples had to make a decision. It was hard for them to understand the subtle point of what I was suggesting, that a real decision (and therefore a real choice and therefore real faith and therefore real LOVE) was only required in the second. A REAL decision that required faith.
I’ve been working on faith for a bit, but it’s been working on me for much longer.