When looking for a quote on doubt, on this feast of St Thomas the Apostle, whom we call “Doubting Thomas,” I was surprised how differently people look upon this common human experience. Some of the quotes presented doubt as if it was some kind of failure.
For instance, a quote from the Evangelical pastor John MacArthur: “For some reason, we think of doubt and worry as ‘small’ sins. But when a Christian displays unbelief … or an inability to cope with life, he is saying to the world, ‘My God cannot be trusted,’ and that kind of disrespect makes one guilty of a fundamental error, the heinous sin of dishonoring God. That is no small sin.”
I would think that statement would only make matters worse for someone dealing with doubt.
Listen to Your Doubts
Tim Keller’s quote better serves people who seek to understand their personal struggles. Perspective is very important. Keller, a Presbyterian pastor, writes that “A faith without some doubts is like a human body with no antibodies in it.” Those
who blithely go through life too busy or indifferent to ask the hard questions about why they believe as they do will find themselves defenseless against either the experience of tragedy or the probing questions of a smart skeptic. A person’s faith can collapse almost overnight if she failed over the years to listen patiently to her own doubts, which should only be discarded after long reflection.
We are all called to live with a certain tension that does not invalidate faith, but can actually strengthen it. Naiveté is not a virtue, especially when it comes to faith. Immature faith can only grow and mature through facing up to life’s absurdities. There is much that we can’t give an answer to that will actually alleviate our suffering and struggles with faith. Like Jesus, there are times when we have to sweat blood and endure the silence of God.
St. Thomas, Representative Doubter
I have always loved St. Thomas. He spoke out his doubt, and any of the other disciples of Jesus would have probably have had the same doubts if they were not present at his first appearance. One can only imagine how mind-boggling the experience was, and yes, frightening.
If I was present at the tomb of Lazarus when he was called out of the grave after being dead for four days, I certainly would have been terrified, and not consoled at all. Life happens, and sometimes, rarely, God will intervene, and when he does, the timing may not be ours. The Lord allowed Lazarus to die, and sisters to mourn for four days, just so he could prove to those who were there that he had the power over life and death.
Yet, even seeing a dead man raised, some did not believe. They even reported Jesus to the religious authorities. Which put Lazarus in grave danger from the authorities.
There are some who truly never have doubts. Others, perhaps the majority of us, must at times work through periods of doubt, and when it is overcome, come out with a deeper faith. Of course, not all do. Some do walk away.
We Must Grope Forward
Mystery is always a part of life, and that means that it is about a truth that has no end, that we must grope forward, never getting the whole picture, and perhaps more than once deciding if we will continue or not.
I pray for faith, study, and make acts of trust. Trust grows by trusting and being able to look at doubt, but not make it central to one’s faith walk. If we want black and white answers to our questions, we are in the wrong universe, because that is not possible.
Yet, at the same time, our faith can also be deep and strong. It is the inner tension that makes us choose, we hope in a manner where we also seek to understand our hope and who it is we place our trust in: Jesus Christ.