Making Room for Doubt
Last week I talked about making room for regret, staving off the cultural impulse to “have no regrets” so that we might recognize and confess that we make mistakes, can learn from them, and be reminded of our aspirations and unrealized possibilities and potential through them.
This week I want to invite us to make room for doubt. As I am reading the accounts of the resurrection in preparation for Easter I’ve been struck, once again, by the fact that none of the disciples – those who travelled with Jesus, knew him best, and heard his predictions and promises – greeted the resurrected Jesus with the words, “I knew it!” or “We’ve been expecting you!” or “Welcome back!” None of them. Instead, in each and every Gospel, the disciples can’t believe what they’re seeing. Luke captures it as well as any. After several people have seen Jesus and reported what they’ve seen, and after Jesus himself has appeared to the whole company, showed them his wounds and eaten fish to prove he’s not a ghost, and even after they have overcome their initial fear and are overjoyed in seeing their Lord, the disciples, as Luke reports, still hang in a state of doubt: “While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering,….”
Doubt. It’s part and parcel not only of the human condition but also the life of faith. But not all see it that way. In fact, there is a fairly large strand of the larger Christian community that perceives doubt as the opposite of faith – indeed, as faith’s most dire enemy – and therefore something to be shunned and looked down upon. But I want to suggest that doubt is, in fact, not only a natural part, but also an essential component, of the life of faith, and when we don’t make room for it we suffer needless guilt and it only grows and preys upon us.
This morning I had the opportunity to interview Tom Long, professor of preaching at Candler Theological School at Emory University in Atlanta. Tom’s written a new book to help preachers – and, really, all Christians – deal with the question of evil that regularly arises in the face of tragedy. In that book he looks to the parable of the wheat and the tares (Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43) and notices that the first reaction of the field hands to the discovery of weeds (evil) in the field is doubt, the impulse to call into question the trustworthiness of the landowner (God). Doubt, according to Tom, is the natural and often helpful first response to tragedy and evil. It is not the last response, not the only thing we have to say, but if we don’t make room for our doubt it’s unlikely we can come to believe or share our faith with authenticity.
A couple of days ago I came across this very recent video of Atlantic columnist, political commentator, and blogger Andrew Sullivan talking about his religious doubts. I found it both interesting and encouraging, and I’d invite you both to name some of your own doubts and to wonder about whether you have a place to share your doubts as well as your faith. Further, I’d appreciate your wisdom about how we can create communities – in our households, congregations, circles of friends, and beyond – where there is room to doubt as an honest and genuine part of the life of faith. Thanks, I’ll look forward to your insights. In the meantime, enjoy this short piece by Andrew Sullivan:
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Tom’s book is What Shall We Say: Evil, Suffering, and the Crisis of Faith. And, related to the resurrection stories, I wrote a piece that appeared in the Huffington Press last year on “Resurrection Doubt” should you be interested.