As I finish my time with the Marin Foundation, I'll be writing posts based on chapters from Unexpected Gifts: Discovering the Way of Community by Christopher Heuertz, a friend of mine and of the foundation.
Where was God when I discovered the lump in my breast?
Where was God when I was falsely accused?
Where was God when we lost our child?
Where was God when I was being abused?
Where was God when I lost my job and then my home?
Life does not happen without questions. They're inevitable. Communities that make space for questions are often healthier, more vibrant, and certainly more nurturing than those who stifle them, burying them beneath the surface of our collective consciousness. More important than questions, healthy communities must make room for something else, for a word that has become riddled with connotations of weakness and failure...
Chris shares something I learned previously from his wife's book, Pilgrimage of a Soul. Their priest often shares that the opposite of faith is not doubt. It's certainty. When we become so rigid and unwavering in our beliefs that we can no longer move away from our respective positions, then our faith becomes hardened. Petrified. As Chris says, "Faith isn't a formula; faith can't be reduced to trite theorems that logically add up and prove that what we hope is true or right." And I agree. Faith isn't 2+2 = 4. Faith is 2+2=_____ or 2+2=75.64. That's not to say that faith doesn't add up rationally every now and again. But in my experience, those occurrences are more rare than routine.
Faith involves making an option for the absurd. Faith requires humility. Faith requires honest courage. Faith requires the maturity to confess that it is the optimistic cousin of hope—and hope is often unrealistic.
Nearly two years ago on the Friday afternoon before my partner's birthday, I arrived home from a doctor's appointment to find a Facebook message waiting for me, telling me to call one of my grandmother's neighbors. I did so, and was informed that she had been involved in a tragic car crash. She had been airlifted to UK Hospital and rushed into surgery. I've faced hard times in my life, but never before had my own faith been tested in such a real, tangible, palpable way. Sadly, barely more than 12 hours later, she was gone, and with her, my faith.
Community is an incubator in which faith and doubt can coexist... a place where we are free to ask tough questions.
That Sunday was my pastor's last service. Most of my church family had been made aware of what happened. I spent the majority of that service crying, almost to the point of passing out. My closest friends surrounded me, holding my hand, giving me a box full of tissues, and withholding the platitudes they were certain I was hearing elsewhere. In that space, my doubts and the pain that accompanied them were welcomed, even cherished.
We all know the doubts will come—they should come, if we're honest—but they don't have to overcome us. Together we remind one another of God's presence, faithfulness, and nearness. We do this with courage and humility. We accept that doubt and questions are a natural part of faith; that they belong in our lives and our communities.
Over the course of the chapter, Chris addresses several examples of doubt. He talks about the differences between himself and his wife. He addresses the absurdity and outrageous nature of many of Christianity's presupposed beliefs. He talks about Santa Claus. He discusses how Mother Teresa's doubt makes her more admirable than not, given that, despite the prevalence of doubt in her own life, she never stopped having faith. Finally, he upholds the apostle, Thomas (you know the one), as an example of how doubt can be an invitation into deeper faith rather than a hindrance to it.
Seminary, for me, has been the place in which I can doubt safely (most of the time). The last three years have raised questions of salvation, human agency, heaven and hell, Jesus, scripture, justice, love, and countless other topics, too many to list here. And while my faith is not what it was when I was a child or even a teenager, while I am often in a place of uncertainty and ambiguity, I don't think I would change this for the world.
Doubt is not easy to handle, and it should not be faced alone.
Doubt lived with in solitude and isolation can be dangerous and potentially harmful. We were created for community and relationships, and both are vital when it comes to facing doubt in ways that lead to life rather than death. Suffering, pain, and injustice, sad as it is to admit, are inevitable components of our time here on earth. They cannot be escaped. And when they are present, when they run rampant and threaten to smother us and defeat us, that is when we need community most. Through community, and through communion (i.e. worship), we're reminded that this too shall pass. For now, doubt is inescapable. Let's learn to use it and embrace it, letting it bring us closer to each other, and closer to the One who is the embodiment of Truth, and in whom all things are made new.