I will tell you my secret: I have doubts.
I have spent my life studying and thinking and reading and teaching about God. I grew up in the church. I went to a faith-based college and then to a seminary. I walked the straight and narrow. I never sowed any wild oats.
I’ll tell you more than that. There is a part of me that, after I die, if it all turns out to be true—the angels are singing, death is defeated, the roll is called up yonder and there I am—there is a part of me that will be surprised. What do you know? It’s all true after all. I had my doubts.
Is it okay if we ask questions and consider objections and wonder out loud?
Is it okay if we don’t pretend that everybody is split up into two camps: those who doubt and those who don’t? Is it possible—maybe even rational—to have faith in the presence of doubt?
Because I have faith too. And I have bet the farm.
And faith—like doubt—grows in unexpected places. A few months ago I received an email requesting a thousand copies of a book I had written. That was an unprecedented request from anyone besides my mother, so I was curious about the story.
It was from a young man named Kirk, a high-functioning corporate type, father of three young daughters with a brilliant future before him, who found out one year ago that he had ALS—Lou Gehrig’s disease.
But Kirk was convinced that in the midst of tragedy faith was his only hope. And he decided to use his final months to invite the people he loved deepest to reflect on what mattered most.
The doctors told him he had two to five years to live, but he died in nine months. I write these words on a plane returning home from a dinner that his family sponsored, with hundreds of people, where we saw a videotape of Kirk, in a wheelchair, fighting for breath, speaking of his faith in God as the only force that could sustain him.
Kirk’s dad drove me to the airport. He told me of difficulties in his life—how his mother had died when he was four, how now in his seventies he had lost his son. He told me of how he had once been an agnostic, and how he had come to believe.
I do not know why tragedy, which destroys faith in some people, gives birth to it in others. Suffering both raises unanswerable questions and tells us that our only hope must be a hope beyond ourselves.
There is a mystery to faith, as there is to life, that I don’t fully understand.
This is a book with the not very catchy title Faith and Doubt, and the most important word in the title is the one in the middle. Because most people I know are a mix of the two. And it strikes me as arrogant when people on either side of the God-question write as if any reasonable person would agree with them because, of course, they wouldn’t hold an opinion if it wasn’t reasonable.
Can I be faithful and still follow truth wherever it leads? Is it possible that doubt might be one of those unwelcome guests of life that is sometimes, in the right circumstances, good for you? I want to know….