Is it OK to Doubt?

Now that I’ve written it, I’m feeling like the title of this post is a little like “click-bait”, those annoying Social Media exploiting posts that just beg you to participate only to lead you on and on through page after page without finally resolving the initial question. Think, “13 Previously Unknown Sayings of Jesus! #7 Will Blow Your Mind!”

I guess the easiest way to fend off that type of critique, though, is to resolve things quickly.  So, the answer is “YES. It is fine to doubt.” You are free to go on about your day. Unless, that is, you want to know why . . . .

See what I did there?

Now, the standard line through this begins with the notion that doubt and belief are not exactly opposites. This is the same argument that is made when talking about disinterest, rather than hate, being the opposite of love or boredom being the opposite of happiness rather than sadness. I get it. Life is somewhat more complicated than we usually think it is and black-and-white dichotomies are rarely as useful as we’d like them to be. Thus, the topology of faith, where both belief and doubt live, is more textured than we might have first considered.

But, to the extent that belief and doubt are not opposites, they are also not equivalent, i.e. shades of the same meaning. Yes, skepticism has its place, even in the life of faith, it cannot be substituted for consent. This would be tantamount to telling your five-year-old daughter that the reason that the boy pushed her down in the hall is “because he likes you.” Er, wait . . .

Unhelpful.

Better, perhaps, is to begin by seeing faith, in all of its modalities,  in the context of something larger, relationship. And while the character of the relationship might be nuanced by the types of words we use to describe it, the existence of the relationship is not. Whether you doubt someone or believe them, you must acknowledge them as a “them” first. That is, faith implies a pre-existing relationship. I cannot doubt your intentions without acknowledging that you exist and are capable of intentions. Likewise, I can not really even say, too you, that I doubt that you exist. That would be silly. Who would I be talking to?

Even in conversations about objects and third parties (i.e. “I believe/doubt that God exists”) am I not really saying that “I doubt what you’ve told me about this,” and, in doing so at least expressed my faith in your existence?

Thus doubt is not the opposite of belief, but form of faith that prefigures belief. You could say that it is a sign that one is predisposed to belief or has the potential for belief. While I wouldn’t go so far as to say that one cannot have faith without doubt – this, I believe is what Jesus meant when he talk about “the faith of a child”- I certainly believe if one cannot even doubt, then one cannot even begin to have faith.

So yes, gentle reader, it is OK to doubt. In fact, I’d encourage it, particularly if you find yourself in a position where you are having trouble with your faith. Reach out in your doubt to someone and form a relationship. Then leverage that relationship into one of trust and belief. Then reach out again, until you find that you can believe deeply even in difficult things.

 

 

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