Doubt is Part of Our Faith Journey
Every so often in the confessional, a person will confess to “having doubts.” Sometimes the doubts are about the existence of God, or of something the Church teaches. However, what I’ll always point out is that doubt is not a sin; despair is (giving up on God and life entirely). Were they in despair, they would not be at confession.
Doubts are something we all experience, and in a sense I think you can say Jesus likely was dealing with them too in the garden before He died, and on the Cross. But our Lord confronted them, and while there may have been doubt, with this, there was trust. He trusted in the will of the Father, even if He was not sure how it might all work out. And ultimately this led to the resurrection and His triumph.
The same is true for Thomas, who always takes center stage on the Second Sunday of Easter. We meet the apostles in the upper room; locked up because they are afraid. Jesus comes though to be with them despite the door being locked, and says peace. Thomas is not with them; perhaps struggling with doubt, wondering what has happened, how could He have really died, and not being totally sure about the resurrection just yet. He has the famous line saying unless he touches the hands and side of Jesus he will not believe. Then when Jesus comes again, he does that, and does believe.
Over the years you’ve probably heard the expression “doubting Thomas,” but I’ve always felt this was quite unfair to the apostle. For one the others had doubts too, they were just there the first time Jesus showed up. And Thomas says “let us go die with him” when Jesus goes back to hostile territory to raise Lazarus. Thomas will ultimately lay down his life for the faith too; tradition says he died while spreading the Gospel in present-day India.
What then, exactly is doubt? I think it takes many forms. There’s the doubt that comes from spiritual dryness; where we pray and God does not necessarily feel all that close. There is the doubt that comes from wanting more assurance with our faith, such as a sign or some indication that we are going to heaven or all will work out. There’s doubt of God’s presence in the world when we look at all that is going on, sometimes with people we know and love. And there is doubt with the Church too people go through; many struggle with a particular teaching on this or that. All of these are shouldn’t cause us to worry, but rather to deal with them in a healthy way.
With respect to feeling the closeness of God, it’s important to keep praying, because it helps us so much spiritually. Each morning I have the exact same routine; I get up and one of the first things I do is exercise. It’s not something I always want to do, but afterwards I feel much better and am better equipped to get through the day. Prayer is exercise for the soul. Sometimes we feel like Peter, James and John on the mountain top when Jesus was transfigured; other times we might wonder “are you up there God? Can you hear me?” The answer though is always yes, which is why prayer can’t be something we let fall by the wayside when we get busy, or get down. God is always there to strengthen us.
With respect to the situation in our lives or the world, we also have to remember at one moment in time, things can seem quite awful. A loved one is going down the wrong path; there’s stressors all around us; the sin we ask for help battling we keep confessing. Despair is just giving up. But prayer helps us face these things, but also when we “let go, let God,” we’ll find as we look back that things do indeed work out. We or people we care about often learn from their mistakes; adversity makes us stronger; and with us through it all was God who can see the plan in it’s full.
Lastly with respect to the teaching of the Church, remember, to love is to will the good of the other. Think of growing up and the boundaries you probably had. Sure, once you are grown up you can stay up as late as you want, eat what you want, watch what you want, play when you want as no one is going to say “no.” But you know you’ll be miserable if you do certain things. The Church wants us to be truly happy, and as the Church God created, the Church guides us in faith and morals. Over the centuries the Holy Spirit helps the Church to articulate these with greater clarity. Don’t be spiritually lazy or arrogant. The Church respects us, and it is OK to question things. That means we are thinking. But a lazy or arrogant person says I’ll interpret these things all on my own, who is the Church to tell me what to do? Church teachings may challenge you; and some carry much greater weight than others. You can say “I really have a hard time with this” and be a good Catholic. But if one is completely shut to what the Church teaches on a major issue, or telling others the Church is wrong on this, it moves beyond doubt. On the tough issues for you, pray about them, think about them, read what the Catechism and other apologists of the Catholic faith have written about these things. What you’ll find is that this isn’t a “because I said so” kind of thing; rather the teachings are grounded in logic and arguments, Scripture and Tradition. Ours is a truly “thinking” Church which I’ve always greatly admired.
Doubt is indeed a part of life; how often have you doubted yourself or others and been surprised in the end? As such we need to be patient. What we call “faith” is a whole lot more than saying “I believe”; rather it’s coming to know how to believe. For without a doubt, God loves us and never doubt His mercy. On our part may we spend our lives growing in our understanding of who God is through the peaks and valleys of our faith journey.
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