We have made an idol of the perfect faith journey. The idea goes something like this: a person without faith has some sort of realisation that God is real, at which point they ‘find faith’. The person then goes on to live life with ups and downs, trials and tribulations, problems, rewards, challenges, mountaintops and valleys, but continues to have a rock solid experience of God until they day they depart the earth.
The problem with that ideal is that it is depraved. It’s actually a damaging idea rooted in some fantasy land where happiness is king. It might look like God is king, but the reality is that positive experience has been idolised into our perception of what ‘good’ or ‘true’ faith looks like.
The reality often looks more like this: we are brought up with a belief system (be it atheist or theist or pantheist or whatever), we carry that belief system into our teenage years, often fervently, or choose to reject it equally as fervently for an opposite (but still hold a faith in something fervently). We then become young adults aware that the world around us is not black and white, who are able to hold our own beliefs up to the light and to question them, to doubt them.
We will reach a point in our lives where we are genuinely confused about what to believe. That rupture is perhaps caused by tragedy, thought, or even simply the realisation that over half of our life is behind us.
After struggling through this point, knowing that we cannot have the monopoly on some sort of truth, we are better able to relate to people at all kinds of stages without holding the same level of judgement that, say, a pragmatic twenty something might have towards a black-and-white teenager.
What’s interesting about this reality is that people stop at different stages.
Not everyone reaches a point where they can relate to people at all stages from all walks of life. Mother Theresa died doubting the very existence of God.
Not everyone begins to question their reality so deeply as to doubt its core. Some simply challenge the parts of their faith they disagree with from their own experience. Often I wonder if these are people who struggle to relate (both in the sense of difficulty to communicate with and practically are not exposed to) those outside of their own faith.
Not everyone even challenges their faith beyond their black and white teenage world. We call these people fundamentalists.
Perhaps then, a season of doubt, a degree of unbelief, an ability to contrast the believing times when all around us makes sense with those times that the soul is darkened (as Mother Theresa would call it, the ‘dark night of the soul’), is actually a really good thing.
I’m not saying that chronic, persistent doubt is healthy – no doubt that leads only to cynicism and depression. But we haven’t yet grasped, as a Church, that it is totally healthy and good to have periods where we think, doubt, wrestle and wonder ‘what if?’
Perhaps if we left more room for doubt, and were less inclined to sideline it, treat it as too dangerous or ignore it altogether, we would encourage a deeper, greater faith in one another?
I could be wrong.