For much of my adult life, I have lived with the dilemma of doubt. I’ve often wondered, Are doubt and faith mutually exclusive, or can they coexist? What is the relationship between the two extremes?
My favourite biblical character is the disciple of Jesus familiarly known as Doubting Thomas.
When the other disciples told Thomas they had seen their leader following his resurrection, Thomas refused to believe unless he had both visual and tactile proof.
Thomas often gets a bad rap for his rank skepticism, but perhaps he can be rehabilitated and serve as an ideal traveling partner on the rocky pathway of life.
In 1985, I wrote one of my former Religious Studies professors at Memorial University, the late great Dr. R. Sheldon MacKenzie, about my raging battle with persistent doubt.
His response set the issue in context for me.
“Burton,” he said, “we must not be afraid of our doubts…. The opposite of faith is unbelief, a different thing entirely. And it is by our doubts that we grow.”
He then told me that “the ONLY member of my class in theological college who later gave up his ordination was the only man who never had a doubt about anything.”
My personal experience has been that doubt can have a truly positive character, as it is an integral part of living, growing and maturing.
The writer of the Book of Proverbs states, “A simple man believes anything.”
The person who responds to an answer with more questions receives the greatest amount of knowledge.
I suggest God does not despise the honesty which detains the doubter from saying “I believe” until he is able to believe truly.
Being fearful to believe demands a willingness to take a risk, a leap of faith.
A doubting believer is not an oxymoron.
To say it is, leads to anxiety and bondage in the doubter. Unbelief is an intellectual refusal to believe, whereas doubt is a suspension of decision.
Back to my mentor-friend, Dr. MacKenzie, “We encourage people through their doubting periods, but we would not want them to stop asking deep questions of their faith. That would be to produce the most unlovely kind of Christians. There are too many people who have the answers to everything. They help only a few who refuse to do any thinking for themselves.”
As for how to deal with doubt, acknowledge it and admit you want it resolved. Candidly and honestly share it with a nonjudgmental person. Seek advise.
If, after counsel and personal meditation, you are able to determine the source of your doubt, deal directly with it.
Have I resolved all of my doubts, even after more than three decades as a clergyman?
Not by a long shot. Some doubts may never be adequately dealt with. Perhaps there is something to the title of one of Rev. Leslie D. Weatherhead’s books, The Christian Agnostic.
Meanwhile, while continuing to live with the dilemma of doubt, I draw encouragement from Doubting Thomas who, in the end, became an example of newfound faith by declaring “My Lord and my God!”