Woody Allen once said that he would have no difficulty believing in God, IF God would deposit $1,000,000 in a secret Swiss bank account in Woody’s name!
You and I might not go that far, but Woody’s comment does spark some interesting questions. Why doesn’t God give us an understandable answer to questions like why do helpless people suffer or why bad things happen to good people? It would be so much easier to believe if he did. And why didn’t God give us a guidebook that tells us exactly how to interpret the Bible? Why doesn’t God just speak to us in a clear voice at the close of the worship service so that, like those early Apostles, we could leave church and tell our friends, “I have seen the Lord.” After all, “seeing is believing” is a maxim our culture swears by.
But it seems clear to me that if we are going to develop a meaningful faith and are serious about following Jesus, we are consigned to struggle with the great queries of human life. Perhaps such a struggle is essential to a strong, maturing faith. I heard someone say that never to have doubted is never to have taken the walk of faith seriously.
Let me use an analogy I read about recently from the profession of commercial fishing. Years ago, seafood companies had a perplexing problem with the shipment of codfish to consumers who lived inland. Shippers discovered that frozen codfish loses its flavor in the shipping process. Shipping live codfish did not prove a viable option either. So somebody came up with the concept of throwing in some catfish into each of the tanks of live cod. Catfish and codfish are natural, mortal enemies. In a quest for survival, the codfish are kept in constant motion as they seek to escape the catfish. Thereby these cod are kept in peak condition from the ocean to the dinner table. Rather a crude illustration, but here is the idea:
In a sense, doubts, frustrations, and life’s ambiguities are the “catfish” that have been placed in our life-tank to keep us swimming, on our toes, and at our best. I am convinced that there is far more hope for the honest doubter than for the person who says, “Of course, I believe,” and never really struggles with obstacles to faith.
The thought-provoking devotional writer, Frederick Buechner, put it this way, “Doubts are the ants in the pants of faith; they keep faith alive and moving.” What he is pointing out is that doubt can prove to be one of the most effective tools for producing mighty men and women of faith.
In the semantics of the church, doubt has been depicted as a negative word. It is rarely used in a favorable way. Faith, not doubt, is the great word of the church. Pastors are conditioned to stand in the pulpit each Sunday and look into uplifted faces, so proper, so content, so believing, so certain, so full of faith, and so free of doubt.
But, I have a suspicion that the way people look is not the way they really are sometimes. Life’s struggles and problems have a way of knocking us off our perch of certainty. Perhaps you do not share these feelings with anyone; but your doubts are there, and they are real. The truth is that all of us at times cry out with the man in the Gospel, “I believe; help my unbelief” (St. Mark 9:24). This capacity to ask honest questions can often lead to some of life’s most profound revelations.
All of us at one time or another have misgivings about the things we have been taught since childhood, or have heard from a pulpit at some point. Matters of faith can weigh heavy on the mind creating suspicion and robbing us of real joy. It need not be that way, which is why this coming Sunday I will be preaching the second sermon in my new series:
In this series, as I stated this past Sunday, I am disclosing my honest struggles with faith in an open and transparent way, and how and why I have come to the place where I still believe Christianity offers the best hope for humanity, and following Jesus is the way to everlasting life. So bring your friends and family and join me on this journey of discovery!
I look forward to seeing you this Sunday!
P.S. Martin Luther King Jr. Day is coming up on Monday and there are dozens of ways you can remember and honor Rev. Dr. King’s profound achievements throughout Birmingham: https://bhamnow.com/2019/01/15/10-events-celebrating-martin-luther-king-jr-day-in-birmingham-on-monday-january-21/. You know, Rev. Dr. King struggled with his own convictions and experienced doubt. Yet one of my favorite quotes by Dr. King is this: “Faith is taking the first step even when you can’t see the whole staircase.”