“Learning to Love Doubt”

“Learning to Love Doubt”

Some question marks of faith

I want to put in a good word today for doubt.

We talked about this yesterday in our confirmation class. The question at issue was, can you entertain doubts about religious orthodoxy and still be a good Christian? Or is it part of the definition of Christian that you believe certain things or in a certain way?

I was gratified that our confirmands were completely untroubled by the idea that it’s OK to go through times of doubt in your faith. And I told them that they were in the right church. The United Church of Christ is a big tent, and a lot of people migrate to the UCC from more doctrinal or exclusionary denominations, ones where you write down what the pastor says and that’s your truth. (OK, I’m exaggerating, but not by much.)

By contrast, I think we’re a church which recognizes that faith isn’t static, that people grow and change over their lifetime and their understanding of faith grows with them. Church then can be a place where it’s safe to explore the hard questions of faith and know that God accepts our grasping after truth. As one of the confirmands put it, God is not going to be too hard on you as a human being with a finite mind trying to figure out the highest consciousness in the universe.

Sometimes it seems to me that the opposite of belief is not unbelief, but certainty. That is, if you’re so rock-solid sure of the great questions of faith, that doesn’t leave much room to learn and grow and better apprehend what God is up to, does it? It’s a human failing that we always want to default to certainty. And there are churches that live entirely within certainty, for example tying themselves into knots to reconcile the Bible’s internal contradictions, with the attitude, “God said it, I believe it and that settles it.”

That strikes me as dishonest or at least lazy, as if they’re unwilling to explore beyond, say, the black-letter law of the scriptures, uninterested in digging into its historical context or the nuances of Greek and Hebrew and the ways they can deepen our understanding of the texts.

For myself, I want instead to keep asking questions, and wondering, and even living with doubts that arise in this fallible human brain, knowing that God is always there in forgiveness and in mercy.

If you’re curious, we gave the confirmands a list of faith statements and asked them to consider, on a 1-to-10 scale, how fully they believe or disbelieve each statement. Food for thought …

1. God – an all-knowing, all-powerful divine entity – exists.

2. God intervenes in human life.

3. God hears our prayers and always responds.

4. Jesus’ mother was a virgin and his father was God.

5. Jesus was resurrected after he died on the cross.

6. The Holy Spirit is all around us and within us.

7, The Bible is literally true in all its details.

8. The Bible should be understood as metaphor and poetry, not mostly history.

9. The Christian church is overall a force for good in the world.

10. Being a Christian does, or can, make a difference in my life.

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