I grew up thinking that “faith” and “doubt” were opposites. Faith was good. Doubt was bad. With that mindset even questions could be dangerous, as I figured they could lead to doubt. For an intellectually curious person, that is a difficult thing to deal with, and I struggled with it for most of my rememberable life. The questions I used to resist ranged from wondering whether God really cared that much about X or Y specific rule mentioned in the Bible, sometimes vaguely or heavily interpreted, to that large and ever-present question: Does God exist?
At one point, I had what seemed to me a revelation, and which I have since learned to be something many people of faith agree on: Doubt is not the enemy of faith, but can in fact make it stronger. Answers need questions as much as questions need answers.
The way I see it, when you are a person of faith and you question your faith, one of two things happens: either you lose said faith—in which case it was probably not real or strong enough to begin with—or, you find that despite the inner struggles, despite the sadness, despite the unexplainable or unanswerable, your faith remains. The latter is what happened to me when I let myself explore my doubts.
I often find myself frustrated at the need many of us often have to make things “either/or” and to put everything in a box, from ethnicities to religions to God Himself. We feel the need for a conclusive answer. Right or wrong. Black or white. Faith or reason. Science or God. I think there are very few things in life that are so simple. I also think the whole point of God and faith is that it is something beyond our “boxes” and something we cannot be conclusive about.
In the end, what we are left with is a choice of faith. I choose to have faith, to believe that there is a God, and that being connected to His Higher Power makes me a better human being. Wanting to be the best person I am capable of being is in itself enough reason for faith. My faith may not be “traditional,” and sometimes I miss that sense of simplistic confidence that I used to have. In its place, however, I have instead gained awareness, humility, and openness that I hope will never go away. I’m hungry to learn, because I know that there is so much I do not know.
It follows that if there is a God, and if the Bible is His Word, then the two things that He has said matter most are: Love God and love your neighbor. Those are things that I should do, can do, and will do. Following the primary commandments and being loving and kind, tolerant and forgiving toward one another—as fellow human beings, made in God’s image, each of intrinsic and immeasurable worth—is of much greater significance to me than trying to figure out what opinions and preferences God might have regarding specific things about my lifestyle and personal choices, or those of my loved ones, or of humanity in general.
Over breakfast one morning, I was reading Hebrews 11, “the faith chapter,” and came to verse 6: “Without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.”
I used to see that verse as saying that “if you doubt, you displease God.” Now I read it quite differently. There are only two things it says I need to do in order to have faith and please God: 1) Believe that He is, and 2) believe that He rewards those who “diligently seek Him.” I believe that He is, and I have diligently sought Him—the questions and doubts were a necessary part of that “diligent seeking.” I have found peace in knowing that I’ll never have all the answers, and that’s okay. That’s a part of faith. Greatest of all, He rewards me with His presence. I know there’s no way of explaining that to someone who doesn’t have faith, but I know that I know Him, and that knowing Him is pure joy.
While I can’t say that my faith is stronger than before I started on my journey of doubt, I can say this: I have thrown every doubt at my faith, and my faith is still here.