For the past few months I have been taking a class working towards certification in pastoral counseling. I am a big supporter of clergy continuing education and believe that all clergy should make time to take at least one class each semester but that is a topic for another post.
During class yesterday the question of faith and doubt came up, can you have one without the other. So I posted this to Twitter and Facebook and got some interesting responses. Most everyone agrees that doubt leads to deeper faith, and I would have to agree. There are many examples of this in Scripture. One thinks of Thomas, one of the most famous doubters of all time. Thomas doubted that it was Jesus and needed proof but when Jesus did in fact appear his doubts were gone. What if Thomas had just believed, but not really, and went about his business.
Another example is Jesus Himself. Before His arrest, Scriptures tells us, that Jesus went alone to the garden to pray. His prayer was so intense that drops of blood feel from his brow. We can read the dialog between Jesus and His Father. In summer Jesus starts to bargain with God, if there is another way let’s do that! A few times we see Jesus at His most human and this is one of those times.
As I was reflecting on this on the ride home I also thought of the time Jesus spent on the Cross. At one point He cries out to God to ask why God has forsaken Him! Another example of the humanity of Jesus when He felt so alone in a time of great need. However in the end, He commends His soul to the hands of God.
Doubt is not a bad thing. Doubt is a human thing and leads us to better understanding if we are willing to do the work. I also would say that someone with doubt has an amazing amount of faith to be able to doubt, most people just go alone with whatever they have been taught.
In a recent Bible study we discussed what happens to the soul after death. Much of this teaching comes from the tradition of the Orthodox Church and it hard to understand and grasp. Some of the people in the class were visibly shaken by this and spoke up, perhaps a bit less respectful than I would have liked but we take people where they are.
I have learned that any serious Bible study requires us to rid our thoughts of what we learned in Sunday School, if we learned anything at all. Children need to be taught with images and not concepts as children cannot grasp concepts that adults can, so when adults study Scripture it can rock their world! And for some it obviously does. But we have to push through that and keep an open mind. Our learning about the faith should never stop.
So go ahead and have your doubts, but seek answers to your questions. I would suggest starting with your priest and not searching the internet as you never know what you are going to find. Reading books is also a good practice, but again consult your priest for a list of good books on the subject, if he is unsure ask him to try and find out. Priests do not have all the answers but they are a good place to start, it is part of the job!