Book Review: Doubt is Just Another Way to Say You’re Thinking it Through

To join in the conversation about Living by Faith, Dwelling in Doubt, or to order a copy, go here.

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Christians often behave as if they’re afraid of their own questions. 

Perhaps this comes from preachers to don’t want to face the same questions in themselves and who attempt to answer the anguished “Why?” of a suffering parishioner with platitudes or, occasionally, accusations of a lack of faith. 

But the truth is, there is a reasonable basis for these questions.

“Life,” as President John Kennedy famously said, “isn’t fair.”  

Sometimes the rich get rich, the good die young and bad things happen to good people. 

That alone is enough to drive any sensitive person to take a good long look at claims that God is all-powerful, all-merciful, all-loving, all-knowing and all-just. 

If that is true, why aren’t the baby rapers of this world piles of ash? Why didn’t Hitler die along with so many others in World War I? How is that the heads of big banks can bring down whole economies and get paid off with our treasure to refrain from finishing the destruction they created?

I could go on.

And on. 

But the point is made.

This God of ours, with His long list of “alls” can seem a poor fit for the reality of what is often cruel and difficult human existence. 

Sensitive, thoughtful, nerdy people, as Kyle Cupp, the author of Living by Faith, Dwelling in Doubt describes himself, are bound see the conundrum and ask themselves their own little whys. These questions are not the Why of a mother whose son was murdered in front of her house, or a girl who was raped and beaten and left for dead. They are the confused questions of a bystander who sees this and cannot balance the two columns, one a column listing God’s attributes, the other a column listing the many instances of “where was God?” that they see around them.

People who are caught in the snares of life’s anguish don’t ask these questions, or if they do, they don’t ask them in the same way. The irony of dwelling in doubt is that the doubts tend to vanish when you are confronted by the hardest realities. There is no choice then but to live by faith or to die psychologically. More to the point, these deepest pits of human suffering are when the Holy Spirit meets us most reliably and in ways that undeniable. 

Backward as it seems, intense suffering, which sparks doubts in those who witness it, often increases faith in those who endure it. 

Mr Cupp has had his own life’s hardships. He’s dealt with them by living in faith, all the while shadowed by nagging doubt. But difficult as the things he’s borne, they do not reach the level of all-eclipsing cataclysm such as sometimes happen to people.

There are things that are not survivable without God. It is possible for some people to survive them physically, but without God they will never be intact again. 

Perhaps the one such encounter that everyone must face is their own death. Without God, death means annihilation. People can pretty that up or, more often, just dismiss it from their thoughts when death appears far off on a horizon they don’t expect to ever reach. Most people who talk blithely about dying without God do not, in their hearts, really believe in their own mortality.

But actually facing death your own death for real is quite another matter. The blithe burbling dries up and your tongue sticks to the roof of your mouth.

It is the time when people make the final choice as to whom they belong, the point at which that choice becomes eternal. 

Everything — every grief and small annihilation we face in our lives up to that point — is a practice session in making the eternal choice. Doubt is not a sin. It is not a lack of faith. It is simply thinking it through. 

What matters is not so much the question, for in essence all these questions are only one, what matters is our answer. Dwelling in Doubt is simply the question in whatever form your life experiences direct it to.

And that question, directed to Our God Who made us, is, “can I trust You to be Who they tell me You are?”

The answer is either living by faith or going the opposite direction and turning your back on the only hope you have. 

Kyle Cupp writes an honest book with Living by Faith, Dwelling in Doubt. He lays bare many of his own sorrows and weaknesses. By his own confession, he is a nerdy, introverted man. But his prose reveals a strikingly honest person who is not afraid to admit that there are days in which the faith he lives by dwells in doubt. 

Death. And What Comes After.

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Ascent of the Blessed, Heironymous Bosch, circa 1500

Death.

And what comes after.

Near death experiences happen to a lot of people. I know people who have been through near death experiences. I know that what these people say is the truth as they understand it.

What do these things mean? Well, first of all, the person did not die. They were near death, not dead. So, I think it’s safe to say that what they experienced was not death itself. At the same time, these are not just dreams or hallucinations as dreams and hallucinations usually are. There is a profound quality to what happened, and it fits with what also happens to the person afterward.

The near death experiences I know about that I feel secure in believing involve a good afterlife. However, this video contains the story of a Catholic priest who had to deal with the reality of judgement and hell. We will all stand before God one day and give an account of our lives. None of us will escape this. As the priest in the video says, the self-serving explanations we give ourselves for our actions here won’t avail us much on that day.

The video raises some of the most important questions any of us will ever have to answer. Give it a watch and see what you think.

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Book Review: A Season of Mystery

To buy A Season of Mystery or join the discussion about it go here.

A Season of Mystery is one woman’s approach to the pleasures and challenges of the last decades of life. The author, Paula Huston, is a Catholic convert who has been through a divorce, remarriage, raising a blended family and is now engaged in caring for her failing in-laws and mother.

She takes the reader through 10 times of life and discusses the spiritual dimensions of each of them in terms of the emotions and spiritual needs of the last half of our lives. She illustrates these 10 times of life and the life activitives she engaged in during them with her own spiritual practices.

Paula Huston is deeply attached to the contemplative side of Catholicism. Since she’s a writer, there does seem to be an obvious symmetry there. Her spiritual director, confessors, and most power spiritual friends are a group of monks who she evidently visits quite often.

Their quiet, reflective and indirect approach to thinking things through obviously has a great attraction for her. She relates stories about the monks, quotes the desert fathers and otherwise builds on them and their spirituality to make sense of the end years of life.

Her conclusion, that the goal of these last decades is to prepare us for the next life beyond death is a charming one with a lot of appeal and I think quite a bit of truth. However, I do tend to disagree with her a bit. I think all of life is a preparation for the next one, and at the same time, all of life, including the last years, has value in the here and now.

We are not here by accident and this life is not a way-station. It has meaning and purpose of its own. The last years of life are just as important as any other time we have.

But then, I’m not drawn to monasticism.

Ms Huston builds the book around 10 times in her own life from which she did things that she now sees as a sort of spiritual activity. For instance, when her children grew up and left home, she and her husband entered into what used to be called the “second honeymoon” and which she calls the “delighting.” It’s that easy time when you’re still young enough to enjoy life fully and suddenly free enough to do so. She calls it a “second adolescence.”

She goes through the times when maintaining what sounds like quite a lot of land and a house becomes too burdensome and she and her husband divest themselves of the things they acquired during their earlier years. She calls this “lightening.”

There are 10 such times in her life. Most people go through similar times in their lives, but I doubt if the situations fall into these exact patterns for everyone. Still, life has its seasons for all of us, and each season has its rewards and challenges.

The only way for anyone to meet these challenges is with God at their side. This book is written by a woman who infuses the times of her life with a monastic approach to God and who communicates that beautifully to the reader.

Even if monasticism and the desert fathers are not your way of walking with Christ, the book is still a thoughtful and enjoyable read.


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