April 10, 2011
A Faith Strengthened by Doubt
“And the Lord said, ‘Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren’” (Luke 22:31,32).
Doubt is not necessarily the enemy of faith. When we pass through the wastelands of doubt and our faith falters, or perhaps even fails, it is possible to experience that doubt in such a way that our faith later becomes more vibrant. And a faith that has been invigorated in this way is not only of more value to ourselves, it is of exceedingly more value to those around us.
Kahlil Gibran, the Syrian-born mystic poet, said, “Doubt is a pain too lonely to know that faith is his twin brother.” When we reflect on the matter, we realize that this is true. Both faith and doubt deal with the unseen. They both confront questions that, at least for the time being, have no complete answer. In the face of these questions, faith mellows our doubt with reverence and gratitude, and doubt makes our faith more experienced and mature. It is doubt, properly dealt with, that takes our faith out of the nursery and into the real world.
The person who has never doubted may have a faith that is quite genuine; his or her faith may, in fact, please God. But relatively speaking, that person’s faith requires less trust than that of the one who has survived seasons of doubt.
To see this point, compare faith to courage. Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the doing of what is right while one is experiencing fear. While it may be possible to speak of the courage of one who has never faced any significant danger and therefore has never had much reason to be afraid, how much more admirable is the bravery of the person who has really struggled (and not always successfully) against both danger and fear! Similarly, those who know the most about faith are often those who have had the most experience with doubt.
Real faith has no need to pretend or to run away from difficulty. Instead, faith embraces doubt with honesty, recognizing that troubling questions are inevitable in a world where our sins have hidden God’s face from us. Doubts are what make faith, faith.
“Isolation has led me to reflection, reflection to doubt, doubt to a more sincere and intelligent love of God” (Marie Leneru).