William James wrote that “Faith means belief in something concerning which doubt is theoretically possible.”
Many religious people, be they Christians, Jews, Moslems or others equate their faith in what cannot be seen or proven to be a certainty. But faith, even as understood by someone like the Apostle Paul was something that was not provable in this life. In fact Paul is bold enough to proclaim that if Christians are not correct concerning their faith in the risen Christ that they are to be pitied among men.
Faith in something, even God is not proof. In fact faith can never be asserted to be fact until the final consummation. Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his classic Creation and Fall Temptation, Two Biblical Studies wisely noted that:
“Man no longer lives in the beginning–he has lost the beginning. Now he finds he is in the middle, knowing neither the end nor the beginning, and yet knowing that he is in the middle, coming from the beginning and going towards the end. He sees that his life is determined by these two facets, of which he knows only that he does not know them”
Bonhoeffer’s words show a wisdom often lacking in young theologians. No matter how firmly we believe the words of Scripture or the Creeds they are at their heart statements of faith, not fact. They may be true, and I believe them to be. That being said we cannot prove them and simply making circular arguments about their truth does not make them true. Thus I always find that I am amazed when I see some Christians insist that what they believe is “absolute truth” even when they have no “proof” of its truth outside of their statements of faith. Such is the trap of circular logic. Bonhoeffer quite correctly noted that “A God who let us prove his existence would be an idol.”
I have learned to appreciate the struggle of faith. I believe, but I seek understanding. That being said I know that whatever I know, I only know in part, as Paul said I see “through a glass darkly,” but one day I shall see “face to face.”
Those that equate faith with certitude do so at their own peril, and often are willing to sacrifice others to ensure that their belief remains unquestioned.
The great American Jurist Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote:
“Certitude leads to violence. This is a proposition that has an easy application and a difficult one. The easy application is to ideologies, dogmatists, and bullies–people who think that their rightness justifies them in imposing on anyone who does not happen to subscribe to their particular ideology, dogma or notion of turf. If the conviction of rightness is powerful enough, resistance to it will be met, sooner or later by force. There are people like this in every sphere of life, and it is natural to feel that the world would be a better place without them!”
The fact is that there is nothing wrong with doubt. There is nothing wrong with struggle. In fact it is shown in the lives of those that we consider “saints” throughout both the Jewish and Christian scriptures.
Faith without doubt and faith without struggle is not faith, it is idolatry. Bonhoeffer expressed this well when he said “A God who let us prove his existence would be an idol.”
In fact absolute certitude masquerading as faith in the life of the faithful often leads to great violence and evil. One only has to look at what happened on September 11th 2001 to see the results of such violent certitude.
As for me I have faith, but at the same time I doubt. Sometimes doubts outweigh faith and at other times faith outweighs doubt. That being said I find comfort in the scriptures where Paul honestly and openly writes of his conflicts and doubts. Henri Nouwen had it right when he said:
“Theological formation is the gradual and often painful discovery of God’s incomprehensibility. You can be competent in many things, but you cannot be competent in God.”
That is the real fact of the matter. It is something that Christians more interested in truth rather than protecting their social position have believed for decades have died to proclaim.
None of us, no matter how learned we are, or how certain we believe, really know much about God. And that my friends is certain.