When one talks about faith, the subject – the question – of doubt is soon to follow. Faith and doubt are opposites. Aren’t they?
On Wednesday, I heard this piece on NPR’s “Morning Edition” — http://www.npr.org/2013/09/18/223402246/dont-know-just-admit-it. The story is about admitting our ignorance, about being willing to admit “I don’t know.”
Nowhere is this necessity greater than in the arena of faith. Faith is not the absence of doubt. Faith is tried by doubt, tested by questions, and refined by fire. Like some of you reading this post, I can say that my faith has been challenged. Sometimes to the point of breaking. Sometimes to the point of fading into darkness. Sometimes to the point of raising hard questions without simple or clear – or perhaps any – answers.
Today my faith is strong because at times it has been weak. Like a muscle that is strained by exercise, it has grown by being tried. If you are in a time of trial remember that your faith is not undone by doubts and questions. It is strengthened and grown by them. A lifestyle of doubt or a permanent condition of doubting is not healthy for our faith (and I think these conditions are what the biblical discussions of doubt are really about). A faith tested by the fires of life is a faith that will endure when the fires are hotter and the questions are harder.
Last week I ended with a thought-provoking quote from Augustine —
“To one who has faith, no explanation is necessary. To one without faith, no explanation is possible.”
Far be it from me to argue with one of the great minds of the church, but I wonder again if Augustine was correct. Faith is subjective in so many ways. Faith is sometimes described as distinct from reason or even its opposite.
Faith must have some objective component! If someone disappoints me again and again, I reach a place where I no longer have faith in him or her. If the evidence accumulates that my assumption is untrue or my perspective is flawed I need to question or abandon it.
Faith is a tension between believing in spite of the evidence (to which I plan to turn next week) and the need to root my faith in a reality that is, well, real.
Much of what I believe I cannot prove. I cannot prove that God is real. That I love my wife and children, family and friends. That America is an ideal worth believing. And as I suggested a week ago I have plenty of reasons to not believe, to not trust.
But when I consider the alternative I am left adrift. I cannot conceive a world without faith (which to me also implies a world without hope and without love). Or life without these things. I want my explanations! I want my reasons! I want to know “why?” But what I want even more is to believe.