Sunday, March 18, 2012

Doubt, Imagination, and Hope

I doubt it.
A series of essays based on “21 Things to Give Up For Lent”.  These thoughts are every bit as much about things that I would hope to improve in my own journey as they are offerings to any who stop by this blog.

Topic #21: Doubt

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. (Hebrews 11:1, NIV)

Can we truly give up doubt?  No.  Should we?  No.  Every one of us, even the most rational and analytical people we know, lives in a state of permanent tension between doubt and faith.  Some of us more readily acknowledge this tension than others.  For all of us, doubt can at times be a debilitating paralytic, and at other times, a whetstone on which we may sharpen our ideas.

In our everyday lives, we make certain assumptions about what will happen today, tomorrow, next week, or next year.  We live hopefully, buying cars and houses on long-term credit, thinking years, even decades ahead.  We enroll in degree programs that will take years to complete.  Our professional sports teams sign athletes to multi-year contracts, hoping for long periods of good health and high performance.  We plan for our children’s educations, our own retirement and other long term goals.  These are all expressions of faith and hope in the unseen future.  We expect that tomorrow, and the day after that, and the day after that, will come and go without mishap or tragedy. At the same time, we acknowledge the element of doubt in all of these things.  We buy insurance.  We have fire and tornado and earthquake drills at school and at work.  We hope for the best, but plan for the worst.  Deep down, we know that every tomorrow will not bring the best of all possible outcomes in all areas of our lives.  We hope that life will go according to plan, but we doubt it.

We who profess faith in God live with one foot in the present and the other in eternity.  We may seem to have few doubts about the ultimate questions, but to be completely free of doubt is neither possible nor wise.  Without doubt, we cannot adequately define and refine our faith.  Without doubt, we can become lazy, making no effort to understand and defend our faith.  The Apostle Peter wrote, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” (I Peter 3:15, NIV)  Doubt does not weaken faith.  Doubt challenges us to understand what we believe and to be prepared to explain and defend our faith.  Doubt makes faith stronger.

For those who do not believe in God, those who believe that this life is all there is, I would commend to you as well, the value of doubt.  Do not be so sure of the results of your reasoning that you are unwilling to investigate and understand the reasonable conclusions of faith.  Atheist-turned-Christian Lee Strobel, the former award-winning legal editor of The Chicago Tribune, said "It was the evidence from science and history that prompted me to abandon my atheism and become a Christian."  Let your reason lead you where it will, not where your current faith in previous arguments tells you where it will go.  Hold on to your legitimate doubts until they are outweighed by something else.  At the same time, listen with your heart, even with your imagination.  As C.S. Lewis said, “Reason is the natural order of truth, but imagination is the organ of meaning.”

Therefore do not give up doubt, but do give up being ruled by doubt.  Doubt itself is not an answer. Doubt drives us toward better answers.  Let it be the adversary in your inner court of reason; but when it has made its case, let it be done.  Let doubt be still when what you believe has been thoroughly tested and you have become able to give the reason for the hope that you have.

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