In reading over Jordan’s most recent post, I was saddened by her confession that she is a “coward.” Her post was an excellent one, and discussed many things that Christians often keep within themselves. However, I think she short-changed herself, and that she is much braver than she gives herself credit for.
Let me first say this: no Christian is a coward. Having faith may be the toughest job of all, and it takes more than a little bravery for someone to walk the fine line of doubt.
The Bible recognizes that Christians are the tightrope walkers of the moral universe; we have to find a way of bearing the burden of carrying an intelligent mind versus following the commands of and believing in something we can’t see. A passage from Proverbs about ‘The Skeptic and the Believer’ captures this perfectly:
“The skeptic swore, ‘There is no God! No God!–I can do anything I want! I’m more animal than human; so-called human intelligence escapes me.
“I flunked ‘wisdom.’ I see no evidence of a holy God. Has anyone ever seen Anyone climb into Heaven and take charge? grab the winds and control them? gather the rains in his bucket? stake out the ends of the earth? Just tell me his name, tell me the names of his sons. Come on now–tell me!”
“The believer replied, ‘Every promise of God proves true; he protects everyone who runs to him for help. So don’t second-guess him; he might take you to task and show up your lies.’
“And then he prayed, ‘God, I’m asking for two things before I die; don’t refuse me–Banish lies from my lips and liars from my presence. Give me enough food to live on, neither too much nor too little. If I’m too full, I might get independent, saying, ‘God? Who needs him?’ If I’m poor, I might steal and dishonor the name of my God.” (Proverbs 30:1-9)
Though I think the scenario could be more applicable if the Skeptic were assuming a skepticism derived from his intelligence (instead of an unthinking animal, as he claims to be), I think this verse communicates that God understands the believer’s predicament. We’re human! We will have doubts because we think! We want evidence, and God doesn’t seem to provide it! And this verse seems to suggest that maybe doubt is okay, if we address it in the correct manner.
The Believer in this passage uses a confrontation with doubt to strengthen his faith; he ends the passage by praying that God would make the job of being faithful easier by facilitating a pious life. We don’t ever see the long-term results of this prayer, but the reader can already see that the Believer has changed and done something good in the eyes of God: pray. He is reacting to a challenging situation by praying.
Christians are all, simultaneously, the Skeptic and the Believer. We think, therefore we doubt. We all struggle with an element of that sickness that comes from trying to quell our doubts on both sides of the line; we doubt the existence of God, and we doubt our own choice in believing something we may not see in a concrete sense. It’s the burden of being human, and I think it’s an essential element of faith. Doubt is the thing that pushes us to believe more, to affirm why we believe what we believe when everyone else points, snickers and deems us the “irrational” ones who are not to be trusted, not to be believed. Perhaps not even acknowledged.
But they do not know the inner struggle that comes with being Christian. We are brave because we choose to try and balance God’s gift of our intelligence and a knowledgeable faith in God. It’s a hard task. I would even go so far as to say that it sucks sometimes. But it is easy to stay on one side of the line, living life in ignorance of the other. It would be great if we had proof of God’s existence and that kind of reward for a faithful life, just as it would also be great if we could say there’s no evidence, and therefore there’s nothing in which to believe.
Towards the end of my interview for Harvard, my interviewer asked me, “If you could have just one piece of knowledge, and you were the only one in possession of it, what would it be?” My answer was, “the existence or non-existence of God.” That was fine. Things got sticky when I had to come up with a way to share that knowledge with everyone else. If I was the only one who had seen God, how could I show Him to other people? How could I prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, God’s existence or non-existence?
I couldn’t. My only answer was that I would know within myself, and that I would be comforted by that. I will most certainly tell others, but it is not within my power to open up their eyes to God. Hopefully my comfort and happiness alone would be enough evidence for others, my assuredness in my walk no longer of faith, but of absolute knowledge of His existence (or non-existence).
Being a Christian won’t ever be comfortable. It won’t ever really be easy. But we are not cowards for saying, “Hey, this sucks sometimes!” How we use those times of doubtful sickness is what moves us toward that goal of perfect faith and piety. We won’t get rid of doubt, so perhaps it’s a sickness we should learn to embrace as we deal with it and try to eliminate it. Even if our only response, like The Believer in Proverbs, is to pray, than we are already taking a step in the right direction.