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There but for Doubt

I think it’s good to know that, if you doubt your beliefs, you’re in very good company.

I wish the Church would spend more time talking about doubt and its necessity. I’ve been in groups that gave off the distinct impression that any instance of doubt was just a sign that you weren’t working hard enough to love and obey God. Doubt was a sign that you were weak, and if you smiled bigger, sang louder, and read more, you could wish it away. Now, they may not have said it in so many words, but those always seemed to be the implications. As a result, I learned it was best not to say anything, for fear of rocking the boat.

I think it’s good to know that, if you doubt your beliefs, you’re in very good company. Any major character in the Bible doubted, even rejected God and called Him to task at times. I once had a book that looked at the lives of many major Christian leaders, thinkers, and artists, and many of them went through very dark times in their spiritual lives.

You can add one more to that list: Mother Teresa.

It’s hard to imagine a more perfect symbol of piety than a frail woman who worked with the most destitute and neglected persons India had to offer. And yet, her journals reveal a person who went through 50 years of intense doubt and anxiety concerning her beliefs. I read “I feel that God does not want me, that God is not God and that he does not really exist”, and I’m shocked at how familiar those words sound. I’ve often had very similar sentiments, and I know many others have as well.

It’s hard to reconcile this image, one of a woman whose beliefs compelled her to work with some of the most miserable individuals on Earth while at the same wrestling with those very same beliefs. Does this make Mother Teresa a hypocrite, one whose actions didn’t match her spirit? That seems highly unlikely (if Mother Teresa’s a hypocrite, than I’m really screwed).

I think that’s why I’ve stuck with Christianity as long as I have (although you could argue that it’s Christianity that’s stuck with me for this long). It makes allowance for this incongruity. It may even encourage it, considering the many grey areas the Bible is silent on. But it seems to understand that life isn’t neat, predictable, clean, and full of answers, and that any spirituality needs to take that into account. I’ll refrain from waxing cliched (like, “we have the Answer so we don’t need to answers); I’ll save that for bracelets and t-shirts.

But I think I like this messy piety, as riddled with doubt as it can be. As much as it sucks (and believe me, it does at times), it allows us to be human while promising that, someday, we’ll be something much more.

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