Doubt: The Darker Side of Faith
- Monday, March 05, 2012
I "get" doubt, both as an external observer and as an experienced participant. In both my professional and personal life, I continue to have opportunities to serve as an "apostle to the skeptics," and I've struggled with the darker side of faith for a number of years as well.
Why call doubt the “dark” side of faith (as if one could become some sort of “Christian Sith”)? Because when we are in the dark, we can’t see clearly. We are in the midst of the unknown. And often we stumble about as we try to move. Doubt is like that. And the way many Christians respond to doubt does not help either.
"Doubting Thomas!" Generally this epithet is considered derogatory in Christian circles, which really is a shame. Yet doubters are in good company. For example, C.S. Lewis also struggled with doubt. The period of time after the death of his wife, Joy Gresham, was intensely painful, as chronicled in A Grief Observed. 
I know that some well-meaning Christians will say, “You just need faith.” But I caution anyone who has considered saying such. The rational questioner will translate your message: “Forget the evidence. You just need to be a fool.”
Without meaning to sound trite, I have found two doubts and two affirmations that have encouraged me when I doubt. I often share some (or all) of these points when students come to me who are struggling with faith issues. So here are two things to doubt and two things to know.
First, doubt that having doubts is wrong. (Translation: It's OK to have doubts.) The process of doubt is how we come to know things. Remember when you didn't believe the stove was really hot until you touched it, or when you spared yourself some heartache when you doubted another person's sincerity? Doubt can be both educational and beneficial.
Sometimes we equate doubt with having difficult questions. Actually, painful questions are part of faith. The Bible itself asks hard questions, often making painful observations. For example, during my sophomore year in college I went through a season of questioning, and thought that reading Ecclesiastes would help (since it is considered part of the “wisdom literature” of the Hebrew Bible). Not a good idea. I ended up in a deeper funk.
To the book’s credit, Ecclesiastes 3 inspired an awesome song by the Byrds (“Turn, Turn, Turn”). And yes, the book ends with some great aphorisms (“Remember your Creator in the days of your youth” – Ecclesiastes 12:1, and “Fear God and keep his commandments for this is the whole duty of man” – Ecclesiastes 12:13). But in my defense, Ecclesiastes also has some real downers, like “And I thought the dead who are already dead more fortunate than the living who are still alive” (Ecclesiastes 4:2) or “There is an evil in all that is done under the sun, that the same event happens to all. Also, the hearts of the children of men are full of evil, and madness is in their hearts while they live, and after that they go to the dead” (Ecclesiastes 9:3). All that sounds like life is just suffering and then you die. Bummer.
So here is the deal – if the Bible includes passages that struggle with life’s difficulties, why should we be surprised when humans still struggle with these same issues? More to the point, how can someone condemn a person who walks through the same shadowy places as the human authors of scripture?
Instead of condemning those who struggle, I conclude doubt is part of the life of faith.
Second, doubt your doubts as well as your beliefs. Often we doubt because we are trying to be objective. So if you really want to be objective, or "open minded," you must be just as willing to doubt your doubts as to doubt your beliefs. That is one piece of advice I got in college which really helped me navigate my own difficult questions.
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