“The opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty. Certainty is missing the point entirely. Faith includes noticing the mess, the emptiness and discomfort, and letting it be there until some light returns.”
What if doubt isn’t the opposite of faith? What if the questions we pose to the Divine don’t mean that our faith is lost, or weak, or frail? What if doubt is faith’s perfect dance partner and serves to enlarge it instead of destroying it altogether? What if certainty actually dilutes our spirituality?
In my Christian tradition, certainty was valued above all and questions were only welcomed from ‘unbelievers’ so we could give them our clear, concise answers and bring them into the fold. Nuance was unheard of. Personal experience only mattered if it lined up perfectly with scriptural interpretation that had been reduced to sure answers and moral code.
In other words, the strongest, most successful, and celebrated faith had all the answers.
The trouble was, it didn’t.
This tradition worked for me for many years. It worked right up until it couldn’t withstand the weight of unanswerable suffering. Pain has a way of stripping away constructs that only hold up when everything works according to plan.
So when I had two miscarriages in quick succession despite my earnest and powerful prayers and declarations of life, and when two women from our church died of cancer despite our prayers and proclamations of ‘cancer-free zone’ healing, and a friend’s baby struggled with debilitating eczema no matter how many times we prayed the prayer of faith, I was faced with this question:
Where is God when prayers aren’t answered and it hurts like hell?
Perhaps you have asked the same question, or maybe one like it lurks unasked somewhere in the back of your mind. Maybe you’ve already plunged into the unknown and the questions have surfaced. Or maybe you are terrified to ask but feel an inescapable pull to wander into the terrain of doubt that sits behind your consciousness, peaking out every now and then when the platitudes don’t cut it.
No matter how you feel about your questions, you are not alone.
The landscape beyond knowing is strange and beautiful. On the other side of those questions, there is exquisite depth and the kind of peace found in surrender, not certitude. God is not afraid of your questions, not even the biggest ones that threaten to decimate your beliefs. God welcomes your doubt.
When I began to ask and lean into my questions, I realized I was taught that my faith needed certainty to survive. It didn’t. My doubt-filled questions, fueled by loss and grief, actually revealed a much deeper faith in a more beautiful experience of Divinity than certitude ever offered. When I dove into the questions, I didn’t lose God- I found God.
I found the God who isn’t defined by tidy rules or pithy anecdotes. God who lives in our pain and walks through our suffering alongside us without offering a single platitude. God who is both inside of our boxes and the unexplored territory all around them. The God who is. Who opens arms to all and is so much more than the version of God I grew up with that required a specific system of beliefs to make it “in”.
Mystery, questions and doubt are all meant to be part of a strong foundation of faith. As it turns out, sometimes certainty reduces our faith while doubt fortifies it.
If what we believe can crumble, it probably needs to. God is on the other side of the crumbling.
What brave question do you have that is waiting to surface, pulling at you when you are still? Will you take the risk and step into the wild unknown? I hope you do.