Category Archives: Spirituality

Doubting Faith

“Bran thought about it. ‘Can a man still be brave if he’s afraid?’
‘That is the only time a man can be brave,’ his father told him.”

-George R.R. Martin

Like bravery, faith is not the absence of doubt and questioning. It is the decision to move forward in spite of and even because of doubt. Some would call this foolishness, but those who understand faith in this way are living according to reason in pursuit of truth.

Faith is neither unreasonable nor a matter apart from reasoning. Reason precedes faith. We can know something to be true with our intellect only (e.g. today is Sunday), but faith is a step beyond the simple knowing of factual information. It is a leap into the unknown which involves the whole of a person’s being. It is a an affirmation with our whole life that something is true even if it cannot be definitively proven to be so. It is trust in a principle, an ideal, a person. It is the assurance that we will not be disappointed if we live according to what we affirm.

If we know something to be true beyond doubt, then it is not a matter touched by faith. We do not profess, “I have faith that today is Sunday,” or “I believe that objects in motion tend to stay in motion until acted upon by an outside force.” These things can be proven; they are facts and there is very little room to doubt or question them. Faith enters the picture when something is unable to be proven. Faith is subjective. It is something which must be embraced by the individual for him- or herself and by nobody else on their behalf.

“I believe in God.” This is a statement of faith. Who can prove that God does or does not exist? Who can demonstrate beyond reasonable doubt what attributes this being possesses? We can make arguments and arrive at reasonable conclusions which appear to be consistent with our experience and empirical observations, but nobody can prove or disprove the existence and nature of God to the extent that most would agree on the conclusion.

Why, then, should we have faith at all if faith cannot be demonstrated to be factual? As stated above, faith and reason are connected although they do not overlap. Before taking the step of believing in something, we must first understand what we are to believe. We must ask questions of the object of our belief. What evidence is there that this is true? The object of faith is not something irrational. Belief in something we made up on the spot is not a proper subject of faith. Reason must bring us to the precipice of faith from which we make our leap. First comes searching, questioning, and using our intellect to explain the object of faith as clearly as possible. Next comes faith. Belief before reason is not faith. Belief explained by reason is not faith. Only belief which has been informed by reason and is entered into with our whole selves by going beyond reason can properly be called faith.

So then what is doubt? Doubt is the natural result of applying reason to the object of our faith. If the object of faith cannot possibly be proven, then we must have unresolved questions even while we take the leap of faith. To be clear, we have been talking about faith as a leap, but this does not mean that faith is irrevocable or a single motion only. Faith is the continuing trust that we place in the object of faith. It may waver or fail. Faith is never the absence of doubt, but rather the embrace of doubt with the resolve to move forward rather than stagnating until we hold absolute proof. If we wait to prove the object of faith, then we will never have faith. If we believe without ever questioning or allowing doubt to have its place, then we never had faith in the first place.

We must then conclude that in order to have true faith, we must also have true doubt. Since faith depends on reason leading us to an object of faith which cannot be proven, unresolved questions must necessarily exist. Can a person have faith if they doubt? That is the only time a person can have faith.

Life Before Meaning

Three years ago I began a new journey. At the time I was a seminary student, working for The Salvation Army as a youth minister. I’d always had questions about faith and had entertained doubts, but for the first time in a decade of calling myself a Christian, these questions and doubts began to disrupt the foundations of my faith. I stepped back.

I took a break from seminary and left The Salvation Army (a complicated story, perhaps for another time). I wondered where I’d end up and what I would do now that I found myself moving away from the faith I’d held to so closely. I wondered what I would do for a career. Did my education matter? Did it have any relevance to what I would do in the future? Maybe I had wasted my time.

I had an identity crisis. Who am I if not a Christian? Where do I belong if not in a community of faith? Who do I live for and what do I value if not what I had learned in all my studies? From the time I was 17 until my time of questioning I had diligently sought answers to life’s greatest questions. I wanted to know who I am, why I exist, what I should do, and how I should live. I wanted to belong somewhere and to be understood. I wanted meaning. Now I had lost it.

I realized that I had set myself up for failure in my pursuit of meaning. Though I had studied, prayed, received counsel and prophetic messages, and explored my own heart and mind I had not yet lived. I convinced myself that life was to be lived in a certain way for certain values, but I had not let my own life speak. I resolved to take a step back from my rigorous pursuit of meaning by intellectual and academic means. I decided to live first and let my experience of life demonstrate its own meaning.

I took a job as a maintenance technician. I tried hard to do the job well and learned a lot. I had some health issues which prevented me from working, so I took some time off. I found another job doing maintenance. After a few months I was let go. I realized that maintenance was not for me. My experience of life was showing me who I am. I felt a desire to work with people and for others. I began working as a Youth Advocate for a children’s home working directly with ten foster kids. I loved it. I felt passionate again. I excelled at my job and looked forward to it. I found that it was forming me to be a certain kind of person. I was gaining patience I had never found in myself. I learned to handle stressful situations while staying calm and reasonable. I was able to teach about hygiene and I loved it. My passion for life and for serving others was resurging within me because I was living life as it came to me and not trying to force myself into anything.

The time came for me to leave that job to be a stay-at-home parent. I began to reflect on the past years of my life. I asked the same questions which had troubled me three years ago. Who am I? Where do I belong? Who do I live for? What do I value? This time I was able to begin to answer these questions from my own life experience. I found myself drawn to those same themes I had read about and to which I held fast when I called myself a Christian. I value the Kingdom of God and its King, Jesus. I want to live for a world where the poor are comforted, the meek inherit the earth, those who hunger are filled, and the pure in heart are called God’s children. I belong in God’s Kingdom, doing his will so that love and justice prevail.

Who am I? I still am unsure. I have not abandoned my doubts or questioning. I am not persuaded of the whole of Christian doctrine, creeds, practice, and values. I don’t even know if I’m a Christian. What I do know is that I’ve made peace with doubt and questioning. My experience of life these past years is driving my pursuit of meaning. Preconceived notions and idealistic expectations have not driven me to a forced life of faith, yet letting go of these and living for the sake of living has brought me back to where I started. I believe in Jesus and the Kingdom he proclaimed. The remainder of my questions and doubts have yet to be resolved, but I know how I will find answers. I will go forward with life and let the answers find me on my way.