The Audacity of Doubt

Doubt is audacious.

It can taunt us at our most secure of moments.  It challenges our most established convictions. It denies our eviction notices. It just won’t go away.

But is it really that bad?

Aren’t the beliefs you hold the dearest, the ones you have wrestled with the greatest?  In this way, doubt is the necessary path to confidence and certainty.

I like what Francis Bacon has said, “If a man will begin with certainties, he shall end in doubts: but if he will be content to begin with doubts, he shall end in certainties.”

While I think we must avoid the type of skepticism that says that certainty is impossible, I do think it is important for every person to progressively work through his or her beliefs with a healthy measure of inquisitiveness and curiosity.  As Socrates said at his famous trial, “The unexamined life is not worth living.”

As a pastor who works primarily with college students, doubt is a perennial topic for me.  In reflecting on this, particularly in light of Easter, I want to offer three categories that broadly describe different forms of doubt:

1.) Childish Doubt

This form of doubt is not intellectually motivated but psychological.  This is a type of doubt that can be experienced at any stage of life, but is often the result of emotional scars incurred in one’s childhood.  This type of emotional doubt is deep seated and difficult to displace.

2.) Collegiate Doubt

“I was agnostic because it was cool thing for a first semester student to be,” she told me as she explained how she has now returned to the Christian faith.  The death of her younger brother, who was an outspoken Christian, forced her to throw off a worldview that she wasn’t truly convinced of.  She had embraced agnosticism because it was in vogue.  Her doubt was socially motivated.

3.) Convictional Doubt

This is the sort of doubt that is based on a person’s intellectual quest for truth. Students I meet with this sort of doubt are often articulate, thoughtful, respectful and truly open.  Because I don’t view doubt as fundamentally bad, I would attribute this category to many students I know (both theists and atheists).

A Doubtful Postlogue

This week I have read through the resurrection accounts each morning. I’m thankful for Didymus the Doubter.  You probably remember him by his better-known name, Thomas.  I can identify with this guy.  I often have to press every detail for explanation and I can be slow to trust.

The reality, however, is that the gospel is true.  The historical events of the life, death, burial and resurrection of Jesus are factual.  While I have experienced seasons of “quiet doubt” in my life, they have led me to a deeper appreciation of the truth claims of Christ.  The gospel IS true.

I can identify with the line from Fyodor Dostoevsky’s novel The Brothers Karamozov, “It is not as a child that I believe and confess Jesus Christ. My hosanna is born of a furnace of doubt.”

My doubt has led me to a deeper appreciation of the historicity and truthfulness of the gospel.  In this way, I must consider doubt to be one of my closest of allies.

While there is a certain type of audacity to doubt, it can prove to be a vital path that leads many on a search for truth…on a search that leads to the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  Now that really is audacious.

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