This is the second post in a series on Faith and Doubt.
Being right can feel good. Dangerously good. Down right addictive. I should know. I’m a recovering rightaholic.
My pursuit of being right left jagged relationships in my wake and gave me plenty of wicked emotional hangovers. If faith were one more excursion into the land of being right I would have to pass. But it isn’t, and that’s what I want to make clear in this post.
Jesus saves us through our faith. Our faith does not save us. We’ll come back to this in a bit, but first let’s clear up a common misconception about faith and it’s relationship with doubt.
Some seem to think of faith as having the right answers for the test. You know, THE TEST. The salvation test.
This model of faith and salvation goes something like this.
When we die, we stand before God for judgment. God’s judgment consists of a fill-in-the-blank exam. If we have the right answers, and we really, really mean them, then we pass.
Salvation is a passing grade on the faith test. Heaven’s gates swing wide for us when we fill in the blank with the right doctrinal concepts.
The Bible is inerrant.
Mary was a virgin.
God created the universe in six days and rested on the seventh day.
Doubt about any or all of these intellectual matters disqualifies you for salvation. At least, that’s a common misconception about the Christian concept of faith. On this view, our faith saves us because we pass God’s test. We fill in the blank with the right concept.
There’s just one problem with this. We end up making faith one more achievement by which we save ourselves. This time it’s neither our moral conduct nor our promotion of social justice that wins God over. Instead, it is our intellectual correctness unclouded by uncertainty.
God gave us minds to arrive at truth. Intellectual rigor requires that we endure a measure of uncertainty as we sort through data and weigh evidence. Coming to firm conclusions about the origin of the universe and a mature grasp of the principles of right and wrong require long seasons of study and reflection.
Uncertainty of this sort in no way undermines the faith through which Christ saves us.
So what is saving faith? And can doubt undermine it?
Let’s take a look at scripture. When Jesus descended from the Mount of the Transfiguration, he met a man whose son was possessed by a demon. Under the demon’s influence the boy would fall to the ground and writhe in what would seem to us an epileptic fit. The disciples had been unable to heal the boy.
Jesus told the man to bring him the boy. This is the exchange that followed:
[The father said, “The demon] has often cast him into the fire and into the water, to destroy him; but if you are able to do anything, have pity on us and help us.” Jesus said to him, “If you are able!—All things can be done for the one who believes.” Immediately the father of the child cried out, “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:14-29)
I believe; help my unbelief.
This is a crystal clear example of saving faith. The father is putting his trust in Jesus. It’s risky business. He doesn’t know with certainty how things will turn out. He’s holding his breath even as he hands over the son he loves.
Saving faith is not about being right in what you think. Faith is about putting your trust in the right person.
The opposite of faith is idolatry, not doubt. Relying on our cleverness, our connections, our rectitude, our education, our money, our status, our good looks, our charm. Relying on anything other than Jesus to defeat sickness, death, and sin is the opposite of saving faith.
Having a lump in our throat as we wait for Christ to do what Christ promises to do is the kind of doubt that comes with faith. We need help with our unbelief even while we’re finally admitting that we cannot save ourselves.
Our faith does not save us. Jesus saves us. Faith means letting go of all those idols we’ve been clinging to—idols ultimately to our trust in human performance—and relying on Jesus.
The doctrines and creeds of the Church are not where faith begins. Instead, they are where saving faith has led again and again. People of faith have reflected upon their living, mysterious relationships with God.
Again and again they have found that the Creeds and doctrines of the Christian community provide a true expression in general terms of the deeply personal experiences they have had.
There is, however, a form of doubt that might accurately be called Damning Doubt. That’s our topic in the next post.