Many people search for certainty and think it can be found in spiritual traditions, more often referred to as “religion”. Certainty is the enemy of faith. Certainty destroys faith.
We were watching, for the second time, the HBO documentary, “Going Clear” about Scientology. (While they self identify as a “church” and even put a cross on many of their buildings, Scientology does not bear any close resemblance to what Paul called the “ekklesia”.) Certainty is a requirement of Scientology dogma and doctrine. Certainty is a requirement of many groups that call themselves “spiritual” or “religious”. It is a disease that afflicts religious conservatives and religious progressives both. It is a disease I believe also afflicts atheists for that matter, (though I’m not absolutely certain of that).
Doubt is an essential ingredient to a living faith. Spiritual traditions that do not encourage doubt and questioning are not legitimate. Any spiritual tradition that rejects the doubt and questions of its members obfuscates the search for meaning. Religious practice is ultimately about what is ultimate. Ultimate meaning is not so limited that it can be summed up in articles of doctrine, or a creed.
Doubts and questions of all kinds should be welcomed and they should even change the nature of the religious tradition. Leaders of the Protestant Reformation doubted and questioned and eventually changed the shape of the church and theology. Our own denomination was born from doubts and questions. We are kept alive to the movement of God’s Spirit by listening and responding with humility to questions and doubts and being willing to bring our own questions and doubts to the table of conversation.
There it is: humility. Without doubt, there is no humility. Arrogance is also an enemy of faith in general and Christian faith in particular.
The words of a US Senator Chris Coons speak volumes to the need for doubt. He graduated from both Yale Law and Yale Divinity Schools and serves as the junior senator from Delaware. “I think there’s a broad misconception out there – and I came to divinity school believing it – that only those with unshakably firm conviction and profound faith belong in ministry. My divinity school training taught me that, in fact, the opposite is true. In order to be an effective preacher and faith leader, you’ve got to question. I came out of school more convinced that doubt is essential to faith – that without doubt it’s not faith; it’s a dogmatic belief that can become extremism. The whole essence, the definition of faith rests on a foundation of doubt, and if it rests on a foundation of questioning, then that demands of us humility as we interpret the text and serve in the world.” (Christian Century, Feb. 18, 2015)
Let us find the freedom our Christian faith provides in the seeking, in the doubting, in the questioning. The Christian journey is a life of discovery along “the way” alongside our brother Jesus. Go ahead. Be unafraid to be uncertain.