In Praise of Doubt

Doubt can lead to transformative experiences if you keep seeking.

Doubt can lead to transformative experiences if you keep seeking.

Experience changes everything.  Thomas wasn’t there when the risen Christ appeared the first time (John 20:19-31).  He needed to see for himself before he was going to believe. And thus his title was forever enshrined as “Doubting Thomas,” and we all learn to wag our finger and shake our head at him from a distance.  But are we any different? After all, I can describe to you how to ride a bike, even explain all the physics behind how it stays upright and manages to go on only two wheels, but you don’t know how to ride a bike until you get on it and try.  And usually you fall down in the process. The same is true with faith.  I can tell you all day long about what I believe and why, but until you’ve experienced God for yourself, it’s still just an idea, and you have every reason to doubt.

In many ways, a healthy skepticism keeps a society functioning.  Otherwise demagogues take advantage of unsuspecting masses. A few years ago I saw a movie called The Invention of Lying, set in an alternate universe where lying had not yet been invented.  It was a little chaotic. If you asked someone how they were doing, they never just said “fine.”  Instead, they told you all their troubles and woes and everything that was bothering them at the time.  The main character has a revelation one day, and he walks up to the bank counter and asks for a large sum of money.  When they tell him he doesn’t have it in his account, he lies for the first time in history and says he does.  So they give it to him! It turns out we are right to be skeptical.

So what about us and our faith?  We’re all like Thomas before that second meeting:  none of us has seen Jesus face to face. So how do any of us believe?  How is faith possible in a modern world where resurrection is a scientific impossibility?

Let’s compare it to courage.  We are often mistaken when we hear stories of bravery.  We think those people must be fearless because they are brave.  But that’s not exactly right. To be fearless in the face of certain danger or death is much closer to insanity.  The truth is that the only time you can be brave is when you’re scared to death. Finding the strength to do what needs to be done in spite of your fears–that’s courage.  Fear and bravery have a mixed up relationship. The same relationship holds true to faith and doubt.

There is a big difference between faith as fate or faith as a choice.  Throughout history, many people have believed the same thing has the people around them without question, perhaps without doubt.  Their fate was to be born into a people of faith. But something strange starts to happen in the modern world where people move around a lot.  You start bumping into people who believe all kinds of things differently than you do. In the modern world, you’re faced with a few options to deal with the problem of multiple worldviews:  1. Ignore everyone, 2. Fight everyone, or 3. Talk to everyone and figure out where you stand. You see where I’m headed with this? Doubt, if coupled with a strong search for the truth, can lead to transformative experiences. And a faith that’s been burnt to the ground can rise from the ashes as something far stronger. But you have to keep seeking.

Faith would not be faith if it just means accepting the facts.  Faith transcends facts, moving beyond what is obvious. Faith is a choice.  Faith is a chance to rise above the cold, hard facts of life and believe in something more, in something better than the facts.  Thomas’ doubt led him to an experience that made is faith stronger.  Thomas was a seeker.  And so are we. Or at least I hope we are.  Don’t let your doubts get you down. Keep seeking.  And maybe one day Jesus will show up and change everything.