Faith and Doubt at Christmastime
“Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be” (Luke 1:29).
An e-mail arrived from someone who wanted to know how to deal with doubt. I wrote back and said not to worry, we all doubt from time to time and doubt can actually be good for the soul. A second message arrived a day later: “I wanted to tell you that I very much appreciated your e-mail. It’s good to know that someone with your experience and expertise questions their faith from time to time. Sometimes I feel like I’m the only one. There are people who are filled with conviction and don’t understand why I have questions, and others on the opposite side of spectrum–those who don’t embrace God at all (they have more difficult questions that I can’t answer)–and I find myself going through highs and lows with my faith. Sometimes it feels like a big question mark; I wonder why there are so many unanswered questions, and other times I just accept it.”
Faith and doubt always go together. There is no such thing as 100% faith. After all, if you had certainty, you wouldn’t need faith at all. In heaven we will not need faith because we will experience ultimate reality. But between now and then, our doubts spur us on to greater spiritual growth. Doubt can be a good thing if it moves you to study, to think, to investigate, and to ask hard questions.
Christmas seems like a good season to ponder the relationship between faith and doubt. Did Mary have any doubts? Did Joseph? What about the shepherds and the Magi who traveled from a distant land to worship the baby Jesus? Luke 1:29 tells us that Mary was “greatly troubled” when the angel Gabriel came to her. When she heard that she was going to give birth to Jesus, she asked, “How can I have a baby? I am a virgin.” Gabriel brushed aside her doubts with one sweeping assertion: “Nothing is impossible with God” (Luke 1:37).
A virgin, a stable, a star, some shepherds, strange visitors from the East, gold, frankincense and myrrh. It doesn’t seem likely but that was God’s plan for bringing his Son to the world.
“When we are in doubt, God will never fail to give light when we have no other plan than to please him and to act in love for him.” So said Brother Lawrence. The issue is never our doubts. It is always the condition of our heart. At Christmastime we are asked to believe that God entered the human race as a tiny baby. He asked for no special favors and got none. As Martin Luther said, “He whom the worlds could not enwrap, yonder lies in Mary’s lap.” Can you believe that? If you can, everything else is just details.
Lord Jesus, we do believe! Give light from heaven that we might believe deeper, longer, stronger. Amen.