Faith and Doubt is the subject for this week.
Faith. And Doubt.
Not OR Doubt. AND Doubt.
Paul Tillich once wrote that doubt is an element of faith. So our topic is Faith and Doubt.
And yet we treat doubt like the ugly older sister. The unwanted bastard child of our young mother’s innocence shattered. The way we were before we made our money.
But even the ugly duckling turned into a swan. Even Scrooge found the Christmas Spirit. Even Shrek got married.
At the end of the movie Moulin Rouge, Toulouse Lautrec (the midget who plays the magical sitar) while nursing a heart-broken Christian (played by Ewan McGregor) says to him, “Christian, you may see me only as a drunken, vice-ridden gnome whose friends are just pimps and girls from the brothels. But I know about art and love, if only because I long for it with every fiber of my being.”
And I think Doubt could be looked at the same way. We see it only as a lack of faith; write it off as weak and untrustworthy, something only the heathen and the shallow of heart succomb to.
When in reality doubt may be more intimately intertwined with Love than we first imagined.
And so sometime I like to kid, “Doubt, you old friend. Where have you been keeping yourself? Welcome back doubt, welcome back.”
Welcome back, Doubt. Welcome back.
And it always comes back doesn’t it? Usually followed by sadness for me. Maybe confusion for you. Or frustration. Or a sense of failure.
Or maybe it invigorates you. You’ve gotta find the answer to the doubt so you read and pray and seek the wisdom of people you look up to, and by God that doubt’s gonna get it’s due once you’ve found an answer. Doubt fuels the faith! Nothing a little research can’t take care of.
Or maybe doubt just makes you tired, and while you don’t want to slam it shut, you do close the door on faith, the church, even God. And maybe if you shut it quietly enough, like a teenager who’s been out past curfew, no one will hear it close.
Like the Dixie Chicks wrote of heartache, doubt always comes back, “I’ve been expecting you. Come in and wear your welcome out the way you always do.”
Cause sometimes doubt is exhausting! What if Jesus had responded in the desert, “Yes! I’ll take the fame, devil. Nice cars, the best wine, sexy women, red carpets. Fame and Power is where it’s at! And while you grant me those things in exchange for saying you are Lord, please book me a nice dinner at Uchi too because I haven’t eaten in 40 days and. I. Am. Starving!”
Doubt walks with us when we’re in need. When we haven’t eaten for 40 days. When we’re physically or mentally or relationally or spiritually traumatized. Doubt is there. But doubt is not the temptation. It is our reason just trying to fix the situation, just trying to make us well.
Doubt is not the enemy. Doubt is not Satan knocking on your door ready to offer another wager, hedge another bet against you. Doubt is just the other part of faith, the yang to the yen, the egg to the chicken.
And I wonder, what if one is supposed to come from the other so that we don’t know which came first? What if Faith spawns doubt and doubt gives way to faith? And they’re just two elements of the mixture we call Christianity?
I know it seems crazy, but even Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, crying tears of blood beseeched God, “If it is possible, take this cup away from me!” And for me that’s doubt: the recognition of the other. There is the choice. One or the other. Doubt. But it is also doubt that leads to the confession, “Not my will, but Yours.”
Without the recognition of the other, is there any choice at all? Without doubt can there even be faith?
What if Jesus had never wavered? What if instead of a night of prayer in the Garden he threw an all-night party celebrating his faith in God that all the suffering and abandonment and death would be worth it? What if?
Sometimes I wonder if the more I doubt the closer I am to finding the truth… if there is even truth to find. What I mean by that is, I’m not searching for a dogma, I’m not interested in a set of rules to help me navigate life, I’m not looking for a belief-system that will secure my seat in the heavenly beyond. Rather, I seek to find the truth of who God is and who I am and whether or not we have anything to do with one another.
I know it’s confusing: this thing we call faith, this life we call journey. But if doubt is the recognition of the other, and the other teaches us more about the nature of God which is always love, then when we are changed by that encounter with love, we can be thankful for our doubts. It’s cyclical see? Cyclical. Like the world God created, like the three in one that God is, like the dust we have come from and the dust to which we shall return.
And so with our doubts and with our faith, we forge forward toward love, making the best decisions we can along the way. And the way is not easy. And seeing the other, our many choices, may lead us astray. Even then though, doubt wins when we recognize we are lost, for doubt has entered our minds to show us the other, this time being Love, and doubt reminds us that maybe there is more to this life than what we have found, and doubt leads us back to love.
Love is doubt. Doubt that we will make it through, but Faith that God will be with us all the way. Doubt that we could ever do this on our own – for look at the world and the mess we’ve made, but Faith that God will redeem that which is broken. Doubt that God even exists for how can Love win in a world like this, but Faith that even among stable filth can a Savior be born.
Faith and Doubt.
September 9, 2010