Week of March 19, 2014

Todd JonesMy Dear Friends,

Lent is a season to walk more deeply the path of faith, and this inevitably means encountering honestly our doubts. Miguel de Unamuno, that courageous and noble Spanish philosopher, said, “Faith which does not doubt is dead faith.” Faith, after all, is not the same thing as certainty. Who can be certain about the mystery and majesty of God? The author of Hebrews reminded us, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). Faith brings us into the realm of uncertainties that live alongside our convictions. Paul reminded us that “we walk by faith, not by sight.” This was Paul’s way of acknowledging the reality of doubt as a necessary part of faith. “Now we see through a glass dimly,” he wrote to the Corinthians, “then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood.” George MacDonald, the Scottish writer who played such an important role in C.S. Lewis’ faith journey, goes ever further in seeing the necessity of doubt. “Doubt is the hammer that breaks the window clouded with human fancies and lets in the pure light.” The light of truth always exposes our doubts and uncertainties, as well as helping us to see our faith.

I often return to the story that Mark tells of the father who comes to Jesus on behalf of his son, who suffers from epilepsy. He told Jesus in desperation, “It has often cast him into the fire and into the water, to destroy him; but if you are able to do anything, have pity on us and help us.” “If you are able! — All things can be done for the one who believes,” Jesus replied. The father then cried, “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:22-24) I have always been grateful that Mark included this honest declaration by the father, and that Jesus accepted the truthfulness of his statement. We have all of us been in his place, where at once we both believed and yet we doubted. Our doubts never go away by ignoring them, or by pretending that we do not have them. Acknowledging honestly our doubts enables us to claim as well our faith. The two can and often do live side by side!

Sir Francis Bacon said, “If a man will begin with certainties, he shall end in doubts; but if he will be content to begin with doubts, he shall end in certainties.” Bacon thought that it served our quest for faith and truth to admit our doubts at the very start and then to trust God with them to take us to a better place. Alfred Lord Tennyson said, “There lives more faith in honest doubt, Believe me, than in half the creeds.” Robert Browning said as much in his poem, “Bishop Blougram’s Apology”:

You call for faith: I show you doubt,
to prove that faith exists.
The more of doubt, the stronger faith, I say,
If faith overcomes doubt.

I have learned to welcome my doubts as friends, and not be anxious about them when they come. God is larger than all my doubts, and faith is finally the work of God’s Holy Spirit in our lives, not something we could ever give to ourselves. Frederick Buechner writes winsomely about doubt in his classic book, Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC. “Whether your faith is that there is a God or that there is not a God, if you don’t have any doubts you are either kidding yourself or asleep. Doubts are the ants in the pants of faith. They keep it moving.” “I believe; help my unbelief!”

With Love and Prayers,

Todd Jones

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