Katie: The Importance of Faith...And Doubt

Hi everyone.

I hope you had a nice weekend. I went to church on Sunday, and was very taken with my minister's sermon. It was beautifully written and delivered, and I thought some of you might enjoy parts of it. You can read the whole thing online later this week at The Brick Presbyterian Church website.

The minister at Brick Church is Michael Lindvall and the sermon was on the existence of doubt as it relates to faith. Many people explore their faith and end up on different places on the road before we all arrive at the ultimate destination. Doubt and questioning can leave us feeling guilty and inadequate (Great! Like I need more reasons for that!) But his thesis is that doubt is a part of everyone's journey. I thought I would pass along some of the key passages from this sermon, because it really resonated with me and I found it both intellectually stimulating and comforting. I was so happy I was there to hear it.

Here's some of it:

I want to say two things in this sermon about the experience of religious questioning and doubt. The first is this: questioning is not the opposite of faith. Ironically, it's a part of faith. Questions, even those big questions that cross the edge into doubt, are intrinsic to a dialogue that is actually a part of the act of believing. The great 20th century German-American theologian Paul Tillichalways insisted that doubt isn't the opposite of faith, but rather an element of faith. Presbyterian minister and novelist, Fred Buechner,put it more memorably: "Whether your faith is that there is a God or that there is not a God, if you don't have any doubts, you are either kidding yourself or asleep." Then he adds (and I rather like this metaphor) "Doubts are the ants in the pants of faith. They us awake and moving."

The current chief rabbi of Great Britain is a brilliant man named Jonathan Sacks. He recently said much the same thing as Christians Tillich and Buechner. "To be without questions," Sacks wrote, "is not a sign of faith, but of lack of depth." Then he went on to offer a big "however" – actually, three "howevers." Sacks offers three caveats, a trio of conditions that form what you might title "The Guide for Faithfully Living Your Doubts." As a Christian, I think his three conditions for questioning are on the mark as much for Christians as they are for Jews….

First condition: Ask questions. Push and probe, object perhaps to the precipice of doubt – but as you ask, be open to answers. The fact is that answers only come when you entertain the possibility of actually learning something.

Rabbi Sacks second condition for asking big religious questions is this: You must accept the limits of your understanding. By its very nature, faith is another way of knowing. It honors the mind, it's reasonable, yet it's a way of knowing that pushes deeper….

The minister goes on to quote the great 17th century French mathematician Blaise Pascal and his famous pensees including this one:
"Reason's last step is the recognition that there are an infinite number of things which are beyond it…

Rabbi Sacks' third condition for faithful doubting is perhaps the most important and most subtle. It is the realization that you learn by doing. You learn to ride a bicycle by riding a bicycle….there is no such thing as theoretical bicycle riding and there is no such things as theoretical faith.

And he sums it up at the end:
So ask the hard questions. Doubts are indeed the ants in the pants of faith. But as the good rabbi said, bring three things to your questioning:

Bring an honest readiness to learn.

Bring the awareness that human understanding has its limits, and the deepest kind of knowing may be beyond its long arms.

And finally remember you that learn through the doing. You grow faith by living in faith. You learn to ride a bicycle by riding a bicycle. The road itself is the teacher.