Sunday, 26 February 2012

Faith Versus Doubt

Today I was reading the newspapers online, as I do.  (I'm far too tight-fisted actually to buy a newspaper when you can get the news for free on the internet.)  

Anyway, I came across this article about Bishop Richard Holloway's new book.  It was the prisoners' lock-up time and I had time to kill, so I read all the comments too.  As usual with comments on religious articles there was plenty of ignorance and even more nastiness evident among them.  I can cope with that, though.  And, in fact, I do think that it's very important for mature Christians and particularly Christian leaders to research the way in which we as Christians are seen by atheists and others.

Here is what struck me as I read about Richard Holloway's new book, and also as I read all the comments online:

Whilst sharing doubt is of course admirably honest, and will resonate with people in congregations who also are feeling those doubts, is there an argument for not sharing our doubt, or only rarely and in a minor way? Can sharing our doubts be self-indulgent sometimes? Is it helpful for the upbuilding of congregations and people we are called to lead? And what, if any, is the point at which a minister's faith would be sufficiently diminished that to stay on would effectively be taking money under false pretences? 

I'm, not, by the way, intending this post as an anti-Holloway rant.  Far from it.  I have no personal ill-feeling against the chap AT ALL; I'm sure he's very affable.   I just want to express here the questions that have occurred to me.

My own inclination is that part of being a leader in the Church and helping to "upbuild" a congregation is to shine like a light in the darkness (as both Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount and Paul in the book of Philippians put it).  This involves modelling, with God's help, a life of faith and trust and closeness with Him.
I have known periods in my life as a Christian, which began in earnest back in 1979, when I've gone through wee desert periods.  In those periods, I've never once doubted the existence of God, but I've not felt his nearness.  These have all turned out to be good for me in the long run, though

Some argue that "the opposite of faith is certainty" and it is true that belief in the existence of absolute truth is very unfashionable nowadays.  I have no allegiance to fashion though, and I just don't believe that it is true that "the opposite of faith is certainty".  I am more of the view expressed in Hebrews 11:1 "Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see." 

On a continuum between certainty and uncertainty (which presumably all would agree are opposites) it seems to me that the point of faith is that it is much nearer the certainty end than the uncertainty end.

I think doubt and crises of faith suck the life and joy out of people.  They are negative experiences, generally.  Experiences that suck the life and joy out of people, and negative experiences, are, it seems to me, not the work of an all-loving God.  Their origin is a whole lot more sinister.

A wise man, JC, once said, "Feed your faith and your doubts will starve to death".  I agree.  No, it wasn't that JC.  I mean Johnny Cash!



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