Faith, Doubt and Other Lines I've Crossed

Eli Wexler of Flagstaff, Ariz. walks across a slackline stretched 80 feet wide and anchored 100 feet high between to two rock
Eli Wexler of Flagstaff, Ariz. walks across a slackline stretched 80 feet wide and anchored 100 feet high between to two rock outcrops in the Sedona Wilderness in northern Arizona on Sept. 22, 2012. Highlining is a form of slacklining, which is the art of balancing on 2 inch wide nylon webbing tensioned between to points. The sport is similar to walking a tightrope, only the webbing used in highlining has more slack. Participants are tethered to the line so they don’t fall. (AP Photo/The Arizona Republic, Rob Schumacher) MARICOPA COUNTY OUT; MAGS OUT; NO SALES

One of the worst things you can be when you're a dogmatic person is wrong. If you insist that you're right about something and it turns out you're wrong, you're not just wrong about that something. You're wrong about having been right. You're wrong simply for your attitude toward your own knowledge. This is something Paul gets at when he writes "Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen?"

Years ago, I believed in a lot of things like heaven and God. And I was told that to really believe in them, I had to eliminate any kind of doubt. The problem was I'd study the Bible and doubts would creep in. I'd find difficult passages that we'd based clear-cut theologies on. I'd learn more about the writers of the books and why they wrote and to whom and suddenly everything was looking a lot muddier.

This kills belief. Belief can't handle being wrong. Belief is concerned not with what is believed but the the rightness of the one believing. And so belief takes things like "God" and "heaven" that should be fluid and evolving and growing and maturing as ideas and separates them from the people. Belief puts God behind a curtain, preserving God like a museum piece.

Since then, I've gone from believing in these things to hoping in them. Because when you believe in something "unseen" to use Paul's word, you become dogmatic. You can't prove it to anyone, and so you end up insisting that you are right instead of insisting on what is right. But hope -- hope leaves room for doubt. Hope embraces your doubt. I hope in God, but I could be wrong. I hope in heaven, but I could be wrong.

This does two things -- one, it opens you up to people. It opens you up to loving people. To seeing who they really are, and seeing how they see you. To discovering new things every day in them. To finding reality in other people instead of in creeds and beliefs and dogmas. To finding God in all of life, not just the smells and bells of the church.

Second, this kind of hope turns away from belief and discovers faith. When I have faith in something, I don't have a handle on it. I don't have it in my grasp. I have to hold it with open hands, but when I do, I discover true freedom. Sure, hold on to your truth, faith says, but your truth doesn't have to hold on to you. The freedom to have faith instead of belief -- the freedom to doubt -- is one of the most beautiful things about following Christ.

With faith, I can work for good in the world. I can see the world in all of its messy, random, meaningless tragedy and say: So what? I'm going to create meaning. I'm going to love my neighbor. I'm going to work to free the oppressed. I'm going to live out grace. I'm going to feed the hungry. I'm going to live as if life has meaning, despite the evidence, and hope that I'm right.

This allows me to live with the mystery, to love my neighbor without having an agenda for their conversion. My agenda is for their peace, their equality, their worth as a human being. Doubt allows me to follow Jesus in my own life, and help people find grace and peace and acceptance in their lives.

Doubt also keeps me sane. Rather than making me like a wave tossed by the sea, as the book of James puts it, it allows me to go on. It allows me to participate in the grace and love of God even though I feel separated from it so often. It allows me to read the Bible seriously -- which is very different than how I grew up. It allows me to rethink things like hell and sin and this thing called penal substitution that imagines God demanding blood for sins (and offering Jesus to die to satisfy that bloodlust). And it allows me to love, to really love.

Because love, too, doubts. Love is uncertain. Love is a risk. It's something you have to have faith in, not something you can believe in. Love "hopes all things" Paul tells us, and that means it doubts.

I'll be honest, it's hard to doubt. There are days I want to just give up on this whole thing. It's hard. But that's what community is all about. We're there to help each other doubt more, and have more faith. I wouldn't be who I am today without the people who have encouraged me to doubt, and to have faith, and to let go of my belief.

One thing I know: We can't conquer hopelessness with certainty. We can't fix tragedy with dogma. We can only embrace the doubt that comes when we hope, when we have faith, when we love.