When in doubt…

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 54; 146, Ezra 9:1-15, Revelation 21:1-8, Matthew 17:14-21


Doubt is an inescapable factor of the human condition. From checking an iron we aren’t sure we unplugged to wondering whether a God could possibly exist, we all experience doubt, most of us on a fairly regular basis. Many of us fall prey to the false choice between doubt and faith. In a world that emphasizes an “either/or” mentality, we can find it difficult if not sometimes impossible to sustain a “both/and” perspective. It is entirely possible to balance both doubt and faith in our lives.

After her death, Mother Teresa became a famous example of the embodiment of both doubt and faith. The publication of her private papers revealed her inner struggle with God and faith. For some people, this revelation confirmed their skepticism of faith. But rather than undermine her previous image, perhaps it really served to make her more accessible: if such a revered religious figure struggled with the same doubts we do, our faith also has the potential to be as great as hers.

Jesus worked mercifully with doubters. Matthew describes how one day a man brought Jesus his son, a boy who would fall into the fire and the water when convulsed by seizures. In Mark’s version of the story, the man claimed a demon had also struck the boy mute. When the man asked Jesus to help “if you are able,” Jesus replied all things were possible to those who believed. The man replied “I believe; help my unbelief!” Could there be a more desperate, humble and honest response? Jesus went on to heal the boy through prayer. Yet this man, while his belief was bolstered in the moment, certainly continued to experience doubt throughout his life, just as the rest of us do.

Both Matthew and Mark tell us the disciples asked why they hadn’t been able to cure the boy. Jesus blamed it on their lack of faith. How could the disciples, who lived with Jesus day in and day out, lack faith? It seems neither faith nor doubt are determined by what is  right in front of us, but by our spiritual state. When we allow doubt to make us feel guilty, it only gains a stronger hold.

We are built to juggle contradictory emotions and ideas. At a good memorial or wake, we grieve loss and laugh at memories. Sending a child to the first day of kindergarten or college is often bittersweet. Our relationships with loved ones are a complicated mix of love, anger and countless other simultaneous feelings. These conflicting emotions do not invalidate each other or the experiences that drive them. God has given us the ability to harbor both faith and doubt, so let us use each wisely.

Comfort: Doubt is not failure.

Challenge: When you doubt, don’t try to cover it up. Work through it with trusted friends and advisers.

Prayer: Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD their God. (Psalm 146:5)

Discussion: How are you affected by other people’s doubt or faith?

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