Note to editors: the capital letters in this piece are all intended as such; God and god or gosling, Scripture & Tradition as such. Please don't auto-correct your way through this column (and I'm not worried about you, Henry, it's the hands beyond your handling that I want to alert)! Pax, Jeff
Faith Works 10-4-14
Really, It's Doubtful
I have my doubts.
There are days I wonder how many people read this column, for instance. I doubt that anyone could come up with a Middle East policy, left or right, Democrat or Republican, that would find traction and make progress quickly. And my doubts about the wisdom of doing another "Transformers" movie are nearly limitless.
What I don't have doubts about constitutes a fairly short list. My natural tendency, I'd say, is to skepticism and pessimistic inquiry, so there are many subjects on which I'm likely to say "who knows for sure?"
Yet I don't have doubts about God. And I know that's a bit odd.
You may say "Jeff, you're a pastor. A preacher of God's word. Of course you don't have doubts about God." Thank you, but I'd say with great care and respect that it isn't necessarily the case. Lots of people, including people of great faith and wisdom, doubt the existence of God. Mother Theresa had her "dark nights of the soul" (and that phrase comes from a saint, St. John of the Cross). Philip Yancey, the evangelical author and editor has admitted his seasons of doubt, as has the new Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, running into doubts when he's out jogging and praying.
I could go on. Psalm 86, for instance.
So you could say that, for those of us who have never really wrestled with doubting the reality of God, we've not been tested or tried to the point where our reasons are stripped down to basic beliefs. So many spiritual autobiographies tell of that moment of severe trial through which, after a period of doubt, their faith in God becomes even stronger, and less rooted in one's own "getting something" out of that belief. That may be so, and I consider myself forewarned, and a bit forewarned.
Meanwhile, I am aware that my persistence of faith is somewhat anomalous. It makes me think through the fact that some people almost seem predisposed (we'll avoid predestination today, thank you) towards belief, and others are more likely to stay rooted in doubt. I don't assume that my faith stance is how everyone else should or must be to have "real faith," a phrase I doubt has much usefulness. It could be a character trait (or flaw, say my atheist friends with a smile), or it might be a quirk of my particular cognitive makeup (say my neuroscientifically oriented friends). Wiring, not choice. I doubt that, but I have to entertain the possibility.
The kind of faith I have, though, seems to me, personally and pastorally, to be available to almost anyone, even if it's easier for some to jump on board with than it is for others. My faith can, in the classic "elevator talk" formulation, boil down to this:
1. There's a God or there isn't. You can break this down to a sub-atomic level, but essentially, for daily use, we answer that one way or another. I don't find asserting "Yes, there is a divine being beyond my finite limits who is above, behind, and around all that I know as a limited creature" is a big leap. YMMV.
2. If there is a God, that divine being is either aware of us and interested in what we do, or said god or godling is not. I argue from Scripture & Tradition that there is a basis for saying God cares. There are many who would agree there "may be" a god, but said god-ish being does not necessarily have to care one iota about us, and probably doesn't. There's also a Satanic subset who maintain there is a supreme being, and it wants to eat you and laugh, but that's for item three. Anyhow, Deism and most agnosticism can agree there's a God, but they'd hold onto indifference as the main characteristic of that person.
3. If there is a God, and that God notices us at all, does that God care for us? I argue (see S& T above) that God in fact loves us. I have met folks within the last few weeks who believe there is a divine being, one who pays attention, and they think I worship a weak, loser God. Theirs is evil and hungry. Mine sent Jesus.
So you can agree with me on two out of three and still scare me to death. Belief is a strange thing, stranger even than belief in God.
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he believes in God (whaddaya know). Tell him what or Who you believe in at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.