• on October 24, 2019

Christian Buzzwords Series: Doubt

“I believe. Help my unbelief.”

“Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe”

“Why have you forsaken me?”

Doubt.

It’s a complicated word. Just writing it brings that metal taste of anxiety toward the back of my mouth. That taste associated with uneasiness, uncertainty; sometimes even fear. And yet it can be exhilarating, freeing one to explore different avenues, reassess one’s convictions, and take stock of one’s belief. It’s interesting how a word can be both corroding and comforting.

Søren Kierkegaard, the famous Danish theologian and philosopher whom Dale and I rave about, had a fascination with doubt. One of his earliest unfinished works was titled De Omnibus Dubitandum Est, which roughly translates into “everything must be doubted”.

In the work, Kierkegaard presents us with a character who takes the title seriously. He doubts everything. Doubts his beliefs, doubts his convictions, and even doubts his own existence. At the end of such doubting, the character of the tale is basically shattered; unable to put his feet forward.

For Kierkegaard, doubt was the failure of faith. Faith is certainty in the face of absurd situations, trusting in the character of God beyond the confines of particular contexts. Kierkegaard wrote a lot about faith, particularly in Fear and TremblingPhilosophical Crumbs, and Works of Love. He thought doubt was a dead end.

More than that, he thought doubt could corrode away one’s self and turn them into an arrogant, snide person.

Another theologian, however, viewed doubt differently. Paul Tillich believed that doubt was a necessary aspect of faith. After all, if you are certain about something, then you don’t have faith in it since you are certain. And the only way not to be certain, is if you have doubt. Therefore, doubt makes faith possible. The two must exist in some kind of dependent relationship.

For Tillich, doubt is necessary to define the Christian reality. There is much we don’t know, and the central characters within Scripture are, really, comprised of big doubters. Moses wasn’t sure he could lead people out of Egypt, David wasn’t sure that he had the stuff to be a good king, and Jesus’ last words was a forlorn cry in the Gospel of Mark.

Doubt, argues Tillich, invites us to wrestle with the Almighty, to present our questions, and to go deeper.

I’m not here to settle which one is better, as I’m sure you land somewhere between these two thinkers. But I will say this: you probably won’t know where you stand concerning doubt unless you doubt. And that’s where I often live.

I’m learning that I always need to flirt with doubt.

I hope this isn’t unsettling that a pastoral presence confesses this. Because the reason for my doubt is quite simple.

I doubt, simply, because I think God can take it. More than that, I think that God can respond to my doubts, whether it be now or later. Questioning, uncertainty…it’s simply where I live.

And I think God often desires that we doubt, so long as we bring our doubts to God.

1 Comment

  1. I relate well to Paul Tillich. I am sympatico with him. As I recover at home from
    recent surgery, think I will look for one of his books I have in my bookcase.

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