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Friday, July 2, 2010

Faith and Doubt

The other day I was presented with an interesting question which basically asked if it was sinful to doubt one's faith. My quick response to that is no, doubt is natural and normal, though it would be wrong and careless when presented with doubts not to struggle for deeper understanding.

From my point of view doubt is necessary in order to grow in faith and understanding of the faith. The answers and explanations provided in grammar school often don't satisfy the educated adult mind. I know that it was in the seminary that I began to question some teachings of the Church, as I understood those teachings. Questioning and wrestling with different approaches led me to a deeper understanding of many Church teachings, and a stronger faith in God. Learning that many parts of Scripture were true, but not necessarily historically true, has given me a deeper appreciation of the Scriptures and a deeper conviction that they are the revealed Word of God.One difficulty that we face today however, especially with some of our younger people, is that as they begin to experience doubt they just give up. They don't pursue deeper understanding. Part of this is due to an intellectual laziness on their part, but part of it is due to the fact that many of us Church leaders have never told them that we are available to listen to and discuss their doubts.

Another, and deeper, level of doubt is what happens when we wonder not about a particular Church doctrine, but about the whole thing--Is there a God at all? Is there anything after this life. In the end no expression of doctrine can fully express the great mystery that is God. We are all confronted with a decision to believe, or not believe, that there is a Creator, that there is something more than this earthly life. Though I am a priest I have often visited this question, and always come away with a deeper Yes. Not everyone does however. Though i believe that many of our teachings, while true, are inadequately expressed by an outdated theology and understanding of the universe, I still believe that they point to a deeper mystery which can never be adequately expressed. None other than Thomas Aquinas expresses this at the end of his great work, The Summa Theologica.

A third type of doubt is that created by the bad witness of us Christians, especially those who are leaders. The recent sex abuse crisis is a vivid case in point. This leads people to ask "How can I believe in a Church where such things happen, where priests abuse children and others cover it up?" That is certainly a legitimate question that hopefully leads us to understand that while these things are atrocious and horrible and need to be stopped, the mystery of Church is deeper that the bad example of some leaders. At the same time it helps to realize that this is a true "scandal" in the biblical sense, not because it involves shocking behavior, but because it leads others astray.

There are many wonderful bishops, priests, religious and lay people who provide me with inspiration that strengthens my faith. i pray that more attention can be called to them, especially in the media. At the same time I also believe that it is incumbent on those of us who believe to strive to live lives that reflect those beliefs.

I believe. Amen

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