Doubt can be bad but it doesn’t have to be
In the glut of internet facts we swim in like a trash compactor on the Death Star, doubt is not hard to come by. Slogging through the truthiness spectrum of political speech might make you sick. Yes, you could be sick with doubt.
In its metastasized, cancerous form doubt is debilitating — calling into question every thought you thought you knew, casting a shade of suspicion even on the love from those you love the most. It can feel terrible, so we often run from doubt. Who wants to feel that discomfort? Instead, we hide in sandcastles of certainty propped up by obvious lies which we accept because we’d rather not deal with it. This conceit codifies our cynicism as a way of life and the longer we go in that direction, the more solid our fantasies seem and the safer we feel. Which is why when these structures inevitably fall, we are so devastated and sometimes close to destroyed.
Doubt can be dangerous like that, but it can also be a step toward salvation. If we see our faulty foundations for what they are before our whole lives fall down on us, we can avoid a lot of pain and and make ourselves stronger to face even greater difficulties. We could choose difficulties for love and the transformation of the world — which is much better than reacting only to what life brings our way. Finding trouble for Jesus sake is what I strive for as much as I can.
Doubt is a door
George MacDonald said in his novel, Sir Gibbie,“To the true heart every doubt is a door.” Think about that for a second.
The first time I heard that read to me on librivox.org I paused the recording. I like the drama of actually pausing the recording as opposed to just looking up from my book. I stopped running (I was out for a jog), dug my phone out of my fanny pack (because fanny packs are very convenient), pressed paused (actually), shaded the phone from the sun (it was summer) and managed to hit rewind 30 seconds (Phew — feel the drama?). Then I listened to the reader say it again, “To the true heart every doubt is a door,” and then I paused it again and I just stood there on the sidewalk.
Whoa! There is a whole universe in there! What if doubt could be trusted? What if I could trust my true heart and learn not just to believe, but learn also to disbelieve. I wish a lot of people would start disbelieving. There is so much we take for granted that could use a lot of skepticism. We are good at skepticism but the things that need our skepticism the most are the least apparent. Often the most damaging lies are surrounded by those sandcastles that can make us feel safe. They might actually be a bit more solid when they are built by a whole cultural narrative, but they are still made of sand and they will still bury you alive when the waves wash in.
Doubt your ability to choose well
Here’s one great thing to doubt: Doubt your autonomy. Yes, you have agency and an ability to choose. This is a blessing but that is not your best feature. Choosing in itself is not freedom. Your God given freedom is for choosing WELL. Jesus got at that choosing when he told those two little stories about the pearl and the treasure in the field.
“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it. — Matthew 13:44-46
There is one thing that is better than all the other things. I think many of us know this at least in part. We have felt it in our bones. We have seen it in glimmers of recognition. We have heard it on the edge of other sounds. There is a longing we all know that we could trust more if we were better at doubting all our other conclusions. Those conclusions are ordinary pearls, or worse, they are just plastic. We wear the lesser pearls around our necks to help us forget the quest, but it’s still there. There’s doubt in that feeling of satisfaction. Do you feel it? Do you trust it? We found the treasure in the dirt but we didn’t excavate what clanged beneath our shovel for fear of what it would mean about everything else we think we really want. You really could doubt those other desires. I know you could.
But, but, what if ….
And of course you won’t be sure if you start a quest for that fleeting something more. The quest comes with little certainty. How would it be a quest if you knew where the end was? Requiring to know everything about the next step before we even try is another rule for life that could use your doubt. Have you ever known everything about anything? We fool ourselves with all the available knowledge without ever knowing very much of it anyway.
Again, my main man George MacDonald said, this time in his novel Lilith (which is a hell of a quest BTW) “Doubt may be a poor encouragement to do anything, but it is a bad reason for doing nothing.” This is at once an encouragement for my line of thinking and a caution. Doubt is not incredibly motivating. That’s why it’s so common to ignore what you can plainly see and settle into living in a sandcastle. The path of least resistance often bushwhacks through a thicket of doubt with ease. This is why I’m writing this blog post. It’s not that your doubts are bad, it’s that you haven’t trusted your doubts long enough to know which doubts are bad. Your doubts could be a door into a richer, fuller faith. They could lead you to riches you have not yet imagined, if only you can get past some of your conclusions. Come on, you can see the tide coming in.
Trust your doubt that this current castle will stand, and strike out on a quest for something more.