Saturday, April 22, 2017

On Doubt and Faith

Preparing the meditation on John 10:19-31, I chanced upon this excellent sermon by Donald Wacome, a lay preacher at St. George's Episcopal Church, Le Mars, Iowa, delivered  Trinity Sunday,  First Sunday After Pentecost, 6 June 1993:

"Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted." (Matthew 28:16-20)
"...However we interpret Matthew's text, what's remarkable in it is Jesus' response to the doubters, whoever they were. At first he seems to ignore them. He immediately gives the disciples the 'great commission': "go therefore and make disciples of all nations..." It is quite easy for us to regard this as the sort of task appropriately given to faithful, confident worshipers, not to doubters. It seems natural for us to want to make sure our own doubts are resolved before going out to tell others. The great task of spreading the good news about Jesus seems one best reserved for those who are certain about it, for those whose worship has no shadow of doubtfulness. We assume proselytizing should be left to those who feel 100% confident about their message. To go out and preach when you're not totally sure about it seems like a good way to make a fool of yourself, or worse, a way to become a hypocrite and a charlatan.

Yet this doesn't appear to be the way Jesus sees it. His response to the doubters shows that what counts from his point of view -- and thus what counts in reality -- isn't having faith. As though faith were always and automatically a good thing. But this isn't true. Sometimes having faith in something or someone is a bad thing. It can be foolhardy, a manifestation of credulity or gullibility. It can be an evasion of personal responsibility for what one believes and does, a way to feel good about not making the effort to ask hard questions, listen to objections, or find reasons for what we believe. It can be an attempt to get certainty and security where there is none to be had. Think of the ill-fated followers of David Koresh. There was nothing laudable about their faith in him. It was only pathetic, not praiseworthy.

Faith in Jesus is at the center of Christianity, not because it is faith, but because it is faith in Jesus. What matters is not the strength or intensity of our faith but its object. Not that we trust, but who we trust. Our faith varies; it vacillates from being strong and confident, free of doubt, to being weak and doubtful, all depending on what we're feeling, on what we're experiencing from one day to the next. What is strong and reliable isn't what we do, but he in whom we trust, however shakily, however doubtfully. The weakest faith in the God revealed in the resurrected Jesus is greater than the strongest, most confident and certain faith in anything else. The answer to our doubt is not finally stronger faith on our part; it is the faithful one himself."

No comments: