Doubt, Uncertainty & Faith

For as long as I can remember I have been a questioner. And when I was a student at SVC, it was apparent:

Why do I need to know the quadratic formula?
When will I ever use this in “real life?”
What’s all this for?
Who is God?
Where is God?
If the gospel is true, why all this?

I am a questioner in the broadest sense, walking around interrogating the world for causes and meanings, trying to make sense of it all. But I’m also, by nature, a doubter and a skeptic. It was my questions about God that haunted me. While my friends seemed to have the gifts of faith and certainty, I had been cursed with doubt.

My doubts plagued me, causing me to believe I was a “bad” Christian for not having absolute certainty on every point, for not having airtight arguments and proofs for all of the “tricky” passages. I had come to believe that because I didn’t have certainty, I didn’t have faith.

But doubt, it turns out, is not antithetical to faith, because faith is not equivalent to certainty. Things that we are certain of do not require faith to accept. For instance, the certainty that 2+2=4 is true does not require faith, it is merely a rational assent.

True faith, however, requires some amount of doubt or unknowing perhaps not unlike the way our eyes require shadows for the world to have definition. Uncertainty is bound up in the idea of faith. Those familiar with Hebrews 11:1 “faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” may wonder how we can leave room for uncertainty if faith is being “sure” and “certain.” Pardon this geeky moment, but the words “sure” and “certain” miss the meaning of the original text and most modern translations have returned to a more accurate translation. Better words might be “confidence” and “assurance” or “conviction.” None of these implies fool-proof certainty. There is, in the very nature of faith, uncertainty and room for questions.

Abraham and Sarah doubted God, though God sent the three messengers to give them the news directly about their promised son (Gen. 18). Moses showed doubt asking four or five times for someone else to be sent, even though God spoke to him directly and gave him multiple miracles (Ex. 4). Perhaps the most famous doubter was Thomas who believed only when he saw Jesus and touched his wounds (John. 20). These people had direct experiences with God and still had doubt. And though Jesus commends those who believe without seeing, he does not condemn Thomas for his doubt (John 20:29). Further, Jude makes room for the doubters and questioners exhorting the church to “be merciful to those who doubt” (22).

The Christian life can be characterized as the pursuit of Truth, that is Jesus. Following Jesus implies movement and growth. We often talk about this in terms of relationship. God has invited us into relationship, a dynamic pursuit of knowing someone. God is not a set of factoids to be assented to and certain of, God is to be pursued. The good news is that Truth stands up to questions and interrogation. Our demand for certainty and the doing away with questions is the reflection of a fragile conception of Truth and faith.

Good, honest questions that seek the Truth in community are at the heart of faith seeking understanding. A doubting faith is a living and active one, seeking the living and active God. Uncertainty is not unbelief, doubt is not unchristian.

It was when I learned to follow the questions with a community while in my Junior year at SVC that I discovered that I had not been cursed with doubt, but blessed. The doubts remain, but a vibrant life of faith lives with it as I pursue the Truth.

 

Jenna Reed is a graduate of the SVC Class of 2012. She holds a BA in Theology from Moody Bible Institute, Chicago (2016), a Master of Letters (MLitt) in Theology Imagination and Art from University of St. Andrews, Scotland (2017), and is currently pursuing a Master of Divinity (MDiv), from Princeton Theological Seminary.

Her academic interests include the intersection of the theology and the arts, as well as theological anthropology. When she’s not researching or writing, she can often be found painting, running, exploring local cafes, cooking or watching The Great British Bake Off. She works with Wheatstone Ministries (CA) as a mentor for high school students and currently is an English arts tutor for elementary students in Princeton.

Jenna can be reached at jenna.n.reed@gmail.com.

 

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