April 4, 2014
D is for…
…doubt. I have heard a number of relatives and religious leaders hold forth about how doubt is a sin. I must respectfully disagree.
Elie Wiesel famously stated that the opposite of love is not hate but rather indifference…because hate at least requires an expenditure of energy or emotion, whereas indifference implies that the object/person is not worth wasting even negative emotion on. In the same vein, it has been suggested that the opposite of faith is not doubt—doubt is an element of faith, says Paul Tillich—but rather certainty (Anne Lamott).
I find these kinds of redefinitions useful to consider. They send me to look at the way Jesus treated the disciple who became saddled with the moniker Doubting Thomas, he who insisted he wouldn’t believe that Jesus was resurrected from the dead unless he could see Jesus and stick his fingers into the crucifixion wounds. Jesus appeared and accommodated his needs. When Thomas announced his belief, Jesus pronounced that those who believed without seeing/touching would be blessed.
But…Jesus did not say that Thomas was not blessed. Jesus appeared and accommodated his need to see and touch. And Jesus said, “Be not faithless, but believing” even as he was inviting Thomas to let his fingers do the walking. (St. John 20) Jesus never scolded him or told him his doubt was sinful. This is grace. Jesus understood that some people need a little more for their faith to be whole, that sometimes the “substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” is a little too ephemeral for some. This is not faithlessness; it just takes some of us longer to get there.
This does not mean that a doubtless faith is not a good goal. Doubt is not the place one should be satisfied to remain, to get stuck. I don’t want to live in perpetual doubt—it’s tiring. But it’s also not always a willful, headstrong choice.
If doubting is a sin, then even the like of Mother Teresa is guilty. The point must be made, though, that even in her deep doubt and unbelief, Mother Teresa didn’t quit her ministry. And this leads me to what seems to be the counterstrike for doubt: doing. Mother Teresa doubted but still put her hands on the faces of the dying poor. St. John of the Cross, from whose book we get the term “the dark night of the soul,” kept journeying, kept writing, kept doing.
If I keep doing, despite my many and great doubts and fears, will God hold that doubt to my account or will he see and heed the doing? Though I have my ever-present doubts, I believe in a God of grace and mercy. Besides, if God couldn’t handle my doubt—if my doubt is a threat to him—then he wouldn’t be much of a God, would he?