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The Paradox of Doubt

It’s been a few years since I’ve talked about Thomas – Doubting Thomas as he’s come to be known. As I’m sure you know, the title of Doubting Thomas was not meant to be flattering. In fact, the opposite was the case. As far as the church was concerned, we should not be Doubting Thomases. The church didn’t want anyone to question its teachings, doctrine or practices. Don’t doubt, don’t question, simply believe even though you haven’t seen, even though you might not understand, because the ways of God are not the ways of humans, and all is a mystery. If you had enough faith you wouldn’t doubt.

This has actually been a very effective tactic for a very long time. But it is losing its effectiveness. The realm of science continues to call us to question and evolve in our thinking.  And one is no longer anathema if they don’t belong to a church or don’t believe in God. It’s becoming very common. So, people are finally feeling safe enough to think for themselves and to question.

Doubting is part of our human makeup. I bet we’re all familiar with Rene Decartes phrase, “I think therefore I am. But most of us probably don’t know that this is part of a larger phrase: “I doubt therefore I think, I think therefore I am.”

Without questioning and doubting we'd be back in the dark ages when it comes to so many things: technology, medicine, physics, astronomy, music, art, poetry, books, women's roles, LGBTQ acceptance, racial equality (ok... we still have a ways to go with these last three, but you get what I'm saying). 

Even religion, has changed a little bit. But I'd venture to say that it has changed less dramatically than almost anything else. Why? I’m not entirely sure. Maybe because God isn’t supposed to change, therefore religion can’t? But we must remember that God and religion are two different things. Religion points to God (Buddha said, I am simply a finger pointing at the moon, I am not the moon). Religion strives to mediate a relationship between people and the Divine. But religion is only as enlightened as those who created it. And religion is bound by the language and culture in which it developed.

To believe that the revelation of God in the world ended 1900 or so years ago when the last gospel and some of the last books of the NT were written makes no sense. Divine energy didn’t stop flowing in and through and around creation once the books of the Bible got the canonical stamp of approval. And we as humans certainly didn’t attain some enlightened status at that point, therefore, not needing a continuing revelation of God. Just look at the wars, economic injustice, human trafficking, drugs, starvation, divisions, etc. We’re not there yet. The Divine had darn well better still be present and working in and through us, revealing (to those who have eyes to see and ears to hear) new ways to be the kin-dom of God.

The paradox of doubt is that we must doubt that which we believe to be the truth if we want to eventually discover the truth. Everything we've learned, believed and do in regards to all of life should be questioned if growth is to occur. This includes questioning everything about religion.

I'll grant you that all this questioning might cause things to become a bit chaotic for a while. And chaos is uncomfortable, frustrating, anxiety-provoking, and confusing. But great things can happen in chaos. There is no guarantee to this, but if we don’t try, if we don’t explore, if we don’t question, if we don’t doubt, then nothing will change and there will be no growth.

Not questioning may work for some people. And maybe you’re one of them. If so, simply stop reading right now. But it doesn’t work for me. There are things about Christianity that don’t make sense and I want to understand why and where they came from. And if they are no longer relevant, then I want the freedom to let them go and listen for the new revelations from God. Taking the Bible literally makes no sense to me. The virgin birth makes no sense to me. Jesus dying for our sins as a sacrifice required by God makes no sense to me. Miracle stories that didn’t exist until 40-60 years after Jesus’ death make no sense to me. LGBT people being told that they are abominations of God makes no sense to me. Black and brown people being considered second class makes no sense to me. Women not being able to preach makes no sense to me. The list is long…

The challenge is not to simply ask the questions., but to hang in there looking for answers. And to recognize that this is a continuous cycle. We construct a certain way of understanding ourselves, our world and our God. Then we learn something new, or a life-changing event happens, or the old answers don’t make sense anymore. So, we begin to deconstruct our model of how we understand ourselves, our world and our God. Deconstruction throws us into chaos. But if we hang in there, we will eventually work through the chaos to reconstruction, new creation, new understandings, new models and visions.

If you want to hear and see my LEGO house  analogy, check out the video of my sermon, here.

I’m inviting all of us, as we’re confronted with new ideas, new perspectives, and new scholarship, to trust Spirit’s process of creation within each of us. And recognize that it is a cycle that we go through over and over again in our lives. Construction, deconstruction and reconstruction... it's how we grow.

Love & Light!