Last Sunday (and I know that this a little late – I plan on doing this on Tuesday from now on), the sermon was titled Doubt and Dialogue. The scripture was from Mark, with the man with the son who was possessed. The verse that most people remember from the pericope is when the man cries out to Jesus, “I believe, help my unbelief!”
The man wants to believe, but he’s having trouble. He’s doubting; all sorts of things. He’s doubting Jesus’ power, His love, His ability to do anything. The man says “if you can do anything, please have pity on us.” “Have pity” is from the Greek word for your gut – where we feel emotions, according to Greek philosophy. In America, we tend to talk about feeling in our hearts, but for the ancient Greeks you felt things in your gut, just like when we talk about “butterflies” we get before a speech or when we’re with the one we love. And the man’s doubt is coming from the same place.
What strikes me is that Jesus doesn’t rebuke him. He calls the boy to Him and casts out the evil spirit. Jesus, in fact, never rebukes someone for doubting. He rebukes people for being too arrogant and thinking they know it all – the Pharisees for the most part.
My argument is that doubt is not really the opposite of faith. I think arrogance is the opposite of faith. It is when we think we know it all when we get into trouble with Jesus, not when we have trouble believing in His goodness or power. Doubt He can work with, but if we have walled ourselves off from His touch…He won’t open the door we’ve shut. He “stands at the door and knocks.” Arrogance is the problem of faith, not doubt. We all doubt. That is part of being human. Some have even argued that the episode in the garden of Gethsemene is possibly Jesus Himself doubting. (“If it be possible, let this cup pass from Me; not My will but Yours be done.”) That’s another post, though.
There really are two fundamental reasons that we doubt. One – we just are having trouble feeling it. We have trouble putting this into words – largely because that part of our brain and thinking does not use words. We just…feel the doubt in our gut. It’s like when we meet someone and we just know they are not right. You don’t know why – and you certainly can’t elucidate the reason…you just KNOW. Or two – we think we know about it and don’t believe it intellectually. “No one can beat a four-minute mile! It just can’t be done!”
This is arrogance. This is doubt from a place above the act. Deciding that the miracles in the Bible could NOT happen because miracles just don’t happen is the same thing. We are so sure – because we are so sure. Like in the case of a four-minute mile – we knew it couldn’t be done because it had never been done. Until it was. Currently, the world record for a mile is 3:43.13, by the way. More than sixteen seconds faster than the time that “everyone” said could not be achieved. Humans can’t fly. We can’t run that fast. We can’t…and so on. People don’t rise from the grave. It is the same thing. It is us being arrogant. It’s no different at its core than people thinking that eggs are really bad for you – until more studies have been done and now it’s the “perfect food.” It is us thinking that we know it all, and not allowing for the possibility that we could be wrong.
My point is this- doubt in itself is not a bad thing, but arrogance is. Jesus wants us to believe in Him, but we have a hard time believing when we come to the Bible and His people from a place held above it all. We need to humble ourselves enough to doubt our own surety – and be able to talk about it. The only way forward through doubt is dialogue (unless He shows up and does some sort of a miracle and proves Himself to us – which could happen! But it seems like it’s pretty rare.). The only way to get through doubt – is to talk about it.
Do we have a culture of doubt and dialogue in the Church? There certainly does not seem to be one out in the world – read any political forum on the ‘web! But we need one. We need one to be able to grow – in our faith, in our understanding, as disciples. We need to be open enough to be able to walk into the Church and say – “I am having some trouble with this! Help me!” And then be able to talk it out. We may not be able to solve everything – and sometimes, as they say, we just have to push the “I believe button”, but it moves us forward.
So bring your doubt, and let’s talk it out.