Since I recently had 2 posts on faith, I thought it would be a good time for a related re-blog on faith and doubt. It is actually the 2nd post I ever wrote back in December 2010 (with some minor editing). It is a bit rambling, as some of my posts are but in it I share my personal thoughts and struggles with doubt. See my faith and doubt category for a variety of posts/links on faith and doubt.
Faith and Doubt
I think I was born skeptical. I’m also a more thinking/analytical type of person. Faith has never been easy for me. For years, I’d try to suppress my doubts. Or I’d read and study like mad trying to find enough evidence or proof to make the doubts go away. It didn’t work. One of several reasons I enrolled in seminary was that I hoped more intense learning would give me the answers I was seeking and finally rid me of the pesky doubt. Well, seminary did not rid me of doubt- in fact, it gave me new things to doubt about! However, seminary did give me a proper understanding of the relationship between faith and doubt. That set me free at last!
For years I thought of faith and doubt as being opposites and diametrically opposed to each other. Doubts were “bad” and must (and could) be eliminated. Yet…if you have 100% certainty, then there is no need for faith. Faith and certainty are mutually exclusive. Certainty is a myth. The very nature of faith requires less than 100% certainty. Genuine faith is always going to be mixed with some doubt. Faith and doubt go hand in hand. We walk by faith, and not by sight.
Sometimes doubting is not a lack of faith, but an expression of faith. There is a difference between doubt and unbelief. Unbelief is outright rejection. But with doubt, you do believe but are simply questioning it. I see this as a healthy faith. A faith that never questions, never thinks, never ponders….is that even faith? Blind faith is not a good thing. One dictionary defines blind faith as: “belief without true understanding, perception, or discrimination”. That kind of so-called faith can lead to all kinds of trouble. We don’t want a faith based on rumor, or wishful thinking, or wrong assumptions. Faith and doubt are not antagonists, but together they can lead to a more robust faith.
I find the Christian faith to be reasonable and rational. There are intellectually sound reasons to believe. Yet…faith must come into the picture. While some questions can be answered, others can’t be. There are things that don’t make sense. I’ve doubted various aspects of the Christian faith over the years. I still do. Yet, I do believe!
Hebrews 11:6 states, “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him.”
Another way of wording this is generally attributed to Augustine: “Understanding is the reward of faith. Therefore seek not to understand that you may believe, but believe that you may understand.”
Sometimes we get this reversed – we want absolute proof or certainty before we will believe. Yet, that would not be faith! If you have irrefutable proof, then you have drifted into the realm of the empirical, or the natural and scientific world. But the supernatural can not be examined under a microscope.
Why couldn’t God have made it so that He could be proved in the empirical or scientific sense? Things would be easier that way. As a doubter, I sure would appreciate it. Yet…if God could be proved in the empirical sense, then everyone would HAVE TO believe. They would have no choice in the matter, and God would be more like an ominous authority or a dictator. Most of us don’t like to be dictated to, and we’re pretty big on the freedom to choose.
God is a loving Father that wants people to choose to love Him out of a willing heart of faith. (Not because they had no other option!) Faith must be a decision of the heart, rather than a conclusion reached through logical deduction alone. Faith transcends the empirical and is in a different realm. The intrinsic nature of faith (and love) is that it can not be reduced to mere logic.
There is also a danger in making an “idol” out of certainty and proof. While a healthy faith should ask questions, an obsession for certainty and proof can end up completely destroying your faith. An article I read several years ago described it this way:The basic flaw of all doubt is that it can never be fully satisfied. Doubt demands proof, but then doubts the proof offered. Doubt so loudly clamors for answers that it drowns out any answers that are provided. No evidence will ever be enough! Like the sub-title I have chosen for my blog: “In faith there is enough light for those who want to believe and enough shadows to blind those who don’t.” (That is Blaise Pascal by the way.)
I suppose it comes down to this: Are you honestly seeking answers, or just looking for any excuse not to believe?
I believe God will “reward” the honest seeker with deeper faith and understanding (Hebrews 11:6). But keep the “order” in mind – it is faith seeking understanding, not understanding seeking faith. I’ve seen this verse worked out in my own life. Despite my doubts, my faith has actually never been stronger. But it took me some time to reach this point. This is one of several ways that I have been “set free” in my Christian walk over the last several years. But that’s another post…