Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Faith and Doubt Revisited

Recently, I listened to Francis Collins' Veritas Forum lecture.   Dr. Collins is perhaps best known for heading up the Human Genome Project.  He is a world famous geneticist and a practicing Christian.  He is very thoughtful in his presentation, and his take on the relationship between faith and science is well worth listening to.

In the Q & A portion of the video, Dr. Collins is asked about certainty, and in his response he makes the claim which I have heard on numerous occasions--doubt is a part of faith. 

Throughout my life, I have heard many pastors say the same thing.  The first Sunday after Easter is traditionally the Sunday we read the account of Jesus' appearance to Thomas--Doubting Thomas, many call him.  Recently, this has also become the Sunday when some pastors, particularly those of a mainline denomination bent tell their flocks, "It's perfectly O.K. to doubt.  Faith requires doubt."

I understand why this is said.  I also preached this early in my ministry.  And one might justify this kind of preaching if one focuses on Thomas and sees in Thomas a reflection of ourselves.

But as I said in a blog post earlier this year, this text isn't about Thomas.  It's about Jesus.  And what does Jesus say to Thomas?  "Do not doubt, but believe."

Pastors say, "It's O.K. to doubt," and encourage it.

Jesus says, "Do not doubt, but believe."

There is a disconnect here!

How can it be resolved?  Is it possible to resolve this?  Can one believe without doubt and somehow have absolute certainty?

Believe with out doubt--I think we can come close.

Have pure certainty--no.

But is what I am suggesting even possible?

If someone gets the gumption to ask me about this matter, I will respond, "I believe in God/Christ/the resurrection with the same certainty that I believe the sun will rise tomorrow."

"Aha!" you might exclaim, "You are talking about absolute certainty!"

Let me ask you: are you absolutely certain the sun will rise tomorrow? 

Prove the sun will rise tomorrow using the scientific method.  Bet you can't do it.  You can make the hypothesis, and that hypothesis may or may not be confirmed.  There is a very high probability that it will, BUT, it is not absolutely certain.  Consider the possibility, however remote, that the sun suddenly goes supernova on us unexpectedly.  Stars do explode.  Or consider there is a giant piece of space matter which has been obscured and unseen by our telescopes.  What if such a thing were large enough to smash into our sun without incinerating causing our sun to explode?  What if such an object were to slam into the earth knocking us out of orbit?  These are possibilities.  Very, very remote possibilities, but still possibilities.  Nothing in this world is absolutely certain.

Yet, I don't know many people who live their lives worrying over such matters.  Not too many people go around doubting the sun will come up tomorrow.  They live their lives with the conviction that it will--even though they can't see it until it happens. 

My faith in God is very much like the belief that the sun will rise tomorrow.  I can't prove it with certainty, but I have the conviction that He is there; that He became God incarnate; that He died and on the third day was raised from the dead.  I don't doubt this.  I believe it like I believe the sun will come up tomorrow.

1 comment:

Kathy said...

This post is to the point.

I am coming to believe that we are all talking about the same thing, but on different levels. This causes confusion, and the devil loves confusion.

I think we need to try to understand what each other is really saying. Here are some examples of what I mean.

In the Augsburg Confession, Luther is trying to express pure catholic Christian doctrine. Rightly understood, there is no conflict here.

Luther wants married clergy. Many in the Catholic Church want it. It will probably come at some time in the future. We are just on different levels of time here. This is what I meant when I wrote that I agree with the Augsburg Confession.

When Luther wrote "rightly taught" he was trying to express pure Christian doctrine. He has been misunderstood because, on another level, someone must teach, and who is right? Interpretation and authority must intervene. Levels.

The ELCA wants gay clergy. I think, on a deep level, the ELCA is trying to express the truth that God loves all people. This needs to be clarified.

Bishop Mark Hanson and others are very welcoming and conciliatory toward Muslims. The ELCA is known for its pro-Palestinian position. This outrages conservatives. I think what Hanson is trying to express, at a deep level, is that God loves all people.

The issue of doubt versus faith is another example. We need to understand what is really being said, on different levels.

Look at the structure of the ELCA. There is a Presiding Bishop in Chicago -- The Bishop of Chicago. He has bishops under him. He speaks with one voice for the ELCA. What is the difference between him and the Bishop of Rome? None. Just levels of understanding. The 2 bishops are on parallel levels.

I say: Let's try to out-smart the devil and come together.