Essential Doubt

Scripture Reflection for the Second Sunday of Easter (Year A)

What are you most certain of?  Have you ever had a firmly-held belief shaken, or challenged?  When I was 19 years old, I attended a faith development workshop where I was introduced to the idea that our creation stories from scripture should not be understood literally; they were instead used metaphorically by our early ancestors to describe how our universe and humanity came into existence.   At one point in our workshop, the facilitator of the workshop posed the question to one participant: “You do not actually believe we are all descended from the same two people, do you?”  I struggled to conceal my own shock, because yes, up to that point, I did believe that, and from the look on her face, so did the young woman receiving the question.  As I lookDoubted around the table, I could see 15 other young men and women, jaws on the floor, every one of us just having had a fundamental component of our belief system challenged.  At the time, I remember I did not like what I was feeling because I felt as though someone had pulled the rug from beneath my feet, and I no longer felt certain of anything.  Liars, those catechistsHad I always been this easy to fool?  Later, I realized that if someone had tried to explain to me in fifth grade catechism that our creation stories are metaphorical, I would have been confused beyond reparation.  The good news which arose from this shocking Creation Story Incident started me on a path of questioning my faith when I saw contradictions that did not make sense to me, or that were inconsistent with my experience of the world.

I tell this story to: 1) illustrate the real discomfort I felt in connection with having my certainty challenged, and 2) show that doubt can, for some people at least, yield spiritual fruit.

Doubt is an unwelcome word for some people of faith, particularly if you are 100% certain of everything you believe, but my experience has been different.  My own spiritual struggles have deepened my faith in ways I would never have expected.  In fact, it has been precisely doubt that has helped my faith to develop in the way it has.  Some even suggest doubt is an essential part of faith, because the absence of doubt suggests not faith but certainty.  According to English novelist Graham Greene, if you were to abolish doubt, you would not be left with faith, but with “heartless conviction,” and from there, a slippery slope to fundamentalism.

I have an ongoing circular conversation with an atheist friend who routinely tries to bait me into a theological debate about the existence of God.  He says he does not believe in God, and does not understand how anyone could believe in something they cannot see, or something that is not proven by science.  Because it is not my job to debate the existence of God, my usual response is to remind him that whether you believe in God or not, either position is still a belief.

It has been several years since the creation story incident, and during the years between then and now, I have become less worried by doubts when they arise.  This is because I have learned that no one person has all the answers and also that, even amid doubt, it is possible to keep the faith.  In today’s gospel, even though Thomas expressed doubt over Jesus’ resurrection, “After eight days…Thomas was with them.”  He remained faithful amid his doubt.

Trevor Droesbeck, Office of Youth Faith Development
Archdiocese of Moncton

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