I saw a brave and beautiful thing yesterday. Hundreds of people had gathered to hear good news and, in his turn, a young musician stood to deliver it…but he could not. Instead, he admitted feelings of doubt and profound sadness. I squirmed in my seat, having learned how to conceal my own intervals of doubt and sadness, at least in church. After his disclosure, the musician performed a song he had written about the struggle of life, a song which expressed his intention to obey the instruction to “be still, and know that I am God”.
When I stopped squirming I realized that this is really the test, isn’t it? If faith is more than self-hypnosis, if church is more than group-hallucination, then periods of doubt are reasonable and telling. If God wanted to prevent doubt, he could. But he leaves us this fissure to leap; he often remains behind the veil of plausible deniability. As Christ in humility allowed himself to be crucified in the flesh, God in humility allows himself to be debunked by the intellect. This is not to say that the evidence is ambiguous but that our intellect is weak; evidence is easily evaded and forgotten and – at times – truly lost in the dust storms of life.
But there is a world of difference between doubt and disbelief. The young man I am here honoring follows in the tradition of Job and David, grieving his sense of disconnection, bringing his complaint (if I may call it that) to the one who must answer him, if anyone will. Doubt holds the evidence in both hands, for and against, weighs it honestly, prays for clarity, endures the uncertainty. Disbelief chooses to empty one hand, simply discarding evidence that is incompatible with the chosen path.
Disbelief is easy. Doubt hurts.
I love our church, and hearing of this man’s honest struggle and witnessing the acceptance and encouragement he received may help me to move beyond my squirming and even my pretension of spiritual health. I love, too, that the church deals patiently with our struggling, not as though our doubts could somehow injure the object of our faith. Doubt a fairy tale and it disappears. Doubt a rhinoceros at your own risk; you certainly will not diminish his reality.
Our faith creates nothing, but it connects us to realities beyond our grasp. It is for this connection that we were created, and so precious to our Creator that he refuses to force it upon us.
Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,”
even the darkness will not be dark to you…