Q & R: Missing the Point on Doubt?
Here's the Q:
I just finished reading your book “Adventures in Missing the Point.” In the chapter about doubt I thought about the verse In James that says “But when he asks, he must not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.” Jesus also used the word doubt many times exhorting his disciples not to doubt. This seems to be in contradiction to what you seem to be saying about “embracing doubt.”
I am wondering, “Who is missing the point?” I don’t think we need to feel inferior, defeated or unworthy when we doubt; as you have pointed out that all of us have doubts from time to time in our lives, but I am concerned about how people will engage your words in their lives. As scripture points out doubt is not good for your lives, faith is, and believing is. A mature believer will overcome his doubts by his faith and by knowing the truth of God’s word and the steadfastness of the Holy Spirit being active in our lives. Doubt comes to us in many ways, some through our own lack of faith or knowledge but “undoubtedly” through the schemes of Satan also. We must not be unaware of these schemes. Maybe after reading this chapter I am the one missing your point; let me know if I am.
Doubt, I believe, should not be “embraced” but used as a barometer to seek out the truth, strengthen our faith and grow deeper in our relationship with God. I believe you point this out also but you also say doubt can be a good thing, as well as a bad thing. That is almost like saying “sin, although bad, can be good for you because it can lead to repentance and then a receiving of God’s blessings through forgiveness.” See Romans 6:1.
Brian, I enjoy reading your books. I find them challenging to me to think, to explore and to grow. Please continue using the gifts God has given you in this way. I don’t always agree with everything you propose. That neither means either one of us is right or wrong, but it means we all “see through a glass darkly” and in the end (or is that the beginning) we will have answers to our questions and clarity to our thoughts.
Here's the R:
Thanks for your question. As you say, we all "see through a glass darkly ..." and good questions help us all think more clearly and hopefully see more clearly.
Maybe this distinction will help ... There's doubt that focuses on people (you might doubt your spouse, your boss, your parent, your child, your teacher) and there is doubt that focuses on ideas or statements or opinions. The kind of doubt that James is talking about, it seems to me, is the former. He is concerned about us doubting God's character - doubting that God is good, or that God cares, or that God is just, or wise, or generous with wisdom. That's why he assures us that if we ask God for wisdom, God will help us.
But if we hold false or inadequate ideas, opinions, or interpretations - about science, about politics, about history, about God - unless we are willing to doubt those opinions, we'll never improve them. One of the things I write about quite often - especially in the third section of my upcoming book, Naked Spirituality - is that there is a difference between doubting God and doubting specific ideas or opinions about God. When we ask God for wisdom, as James suggest, and when we don't doubt God, we can have the courage to question (or doubt) ideas or interpretations that may be inadequate or unworthy or otherwise immature, trusting that God will give us the wisdom we need.
Our beliefs and opinions, in this way, must be corrigible (correctable). I hope that distinction makes sense.