On the Certainty of Doubt

On the Certainty of Doubt July 28, 2009

A reflection from Michael Patton on the role of doubt in the Christian life is currently up at the Evangelical Portal at Patheos.

As Patton writes, “In a fallen world with fallen people — and Christians who are still battling the flesh — should we expect anything else? Do you really believe that once you become a Christian doubt is no longer a foe?”

Through my studies of Kierkegaard (the subject of my doctoral dissertation), I’ve come to view faith and doubt rather differently than before.  I still believe that something like propositional assent (an affirmation that “God exists” and “Jesus died for my sins”) is involved in faith, but I’ve come to believe that it’s more a consequence of faith than the essence or precondition for faith.  Faith I have come to see more as a “resting transparently” in God, a relationship of openness, trust and humble receptivity to God’s truth and direction. 

Yet you must believe God exists, you may reply, before you can trust in Him.  Actually–and perhaps paradoxically–I don’t believe that’s true.  Faith is a deeply mysterious thing.  Yet it is when I resolve to rest in God and receive Him that He reveals and gives Himself through the Word.  It’s not as though you must believe in order to have faith; no, you must have faith in order to believe.  I think too many of us doubt because we think that our belief is our own responsibility.  This turns faith into another “work.”  If I only work hard enough, will it strongly enough, put together enough pieces of the puzzle, then I will believe in God and Christ and then I can rest in God.  No.  Resolve to rest in the God who is always making Himself known to you, resolve to receive his truth through the word, and then you will have the belief that faith brings.

This is not to disagree with Michael Patton, who is actually addressing a different set of questions.  But it is to encourage you with this: the seed of doubt is borne in the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil.  Grasping at the knowledge of God according to our own efforts and powers will only–inevitably–result in doubt.  What product of human effort is not doubtful?  Faith is not be found in grasping at knowledge; it is to be found when, striving against the sin of the Fall, we learn to rest transparently and humbly and with absolutely receptivity in God.

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