Good doubt

By John D. Pierce

Through his 1965 book, The Christian Agnostic, Leslie Weatherhead taught me to distinguish between rejecting faith and constructively rethinking what I’d been taught about faith.

I discovered that often faith and doubt are not opposites but two sides of the same coin. A doubt-free faith is usually a defensive and fragile faith — that fears critical analysis will bring one’s whole belief system crashing to the ground.

A later thoughtful theologian, Frederick Buechner, in his book, Wishful Thinking, rightly described doubt as “the ants in the pants of faith.”

Many of us were raised in congregational cultures that wrongly considered doubt to be sin. To question any aspect of faith or cultural expression of Christianity was regarded as unfaithfulness.

For biblical support of such claims, Thomas often took the rap. He has long been tagged with the “doubting” moniker for his insistence on seeing the marks of Crucifixion before believing Jesus had reappeared to the disciples.

Doubt, however, was a part of Thomas’ road to belief, not the defining mark of his life. It was he who affirmed Jesus as, “My Lord and my God.”

To never doubt is to never question. In our imperfection we need to consider the possibility that our faith could benefit from new considerations.

Decades later, I still find wisdom in what the late Dr. John Eddins, who taught systematic theology at the old seminary in Wake Forest, N.C., told us. He said to hang on to what you believe until you find something better to replace it.

That allows for some firmness of faith rather than throwing our beliefs and every understanding of God to the wind. Yet it doesn’t fear the needed reconsideration — often driven by constructive doubt — that enables us to be exposed to new light.

It’s a good thing to doubt well. Such is a needed ingredient of mature faith.

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