A good Lutheran friend of mine frequently shares his favorite quote from his denomination’s founder, “Sin Boldly.”
Of course, Martin Luther was not advocating for the right (and obligation) of Christians, now that it was established that our salvation is by grace, to sin. He wasn’t saying, “grab a couple of hookers, a case of Jack Daniels, a nickel bag of pot and your friend’s credit card and head to Vegas because Jesus forgives you!”
The point that Martin Luther was trying to make was that we don’t need to spend all the effort (which all of us do) in hiding our sin because indeed it has been covered by the blood of Christ. If his words were taken literally, it wouldn’t be shocking then to be standing in the vestibule of a Lutheran (or any protestant) church and hear a faithful member making a nonchalant comment like, “Oh yes, we did visit Yosemite in 2003, I remember it well because that was the year I was having the affair with my secretary Barbara.”
Luther wasn’t attempting to trivialize sin either, like having the affair or stealing or lying should be taken lightly now that we are covered. Indeed, sin is serious because it cost the blood of Christ, and the natural consequences of sin in this world are immense. His point was that once it is done, we shouldn’t be ashamed about it because we are forgiven.
Doubt is not the same as sin. Indeed, it is this entanglement with sin that has caused so much confusion. Scripture refers to “unbelief” as the opposite of faith, not doubt. I would have shared the Greek roots to the different words, but I can’t remember them and I am presently sitting in Starbucks and I have not paid the $19.99 to subscribe to their T Mobile Hot Spot, so I can’t look it up.
From my upbringing in the Bible belt, I was told that to doubt was sin, because doubt was an expression of disbelief. That is not true. I don’t even believe that doubt is an act of the will, and without being an act, how can it be sin?
Doubt is a state of mind or an intellectual (and sometimes emotional) “zone” that we can wonder into. It is more like the “zone” of being hungry. Yes there are external stimuli that can entice or promote the state of hunger however, the state will eventually come on its own, even if you are alone in a cave in the middle of nowhere.
Doubts come to every one but not at the same rate. The difference between people is (like almost everything) is a combination of nature (genetics of personality and cognitive functioning) and experiences. I truly believe that there are those fortunate . . . or maybe unfortunate . . . souls who almost never doubted their Christian faith. But these same people tend to never doubt anything, even the Amway rep’s promise that they will get rich if they join the MLM program.
I have been a strong skeptic my entire life. I can remember doubting (sometimes with a good outcome) things my teachers were telling me in elementary school. This was at a time with no other child would doubt such authority. So I am a skeptic. I really do think that part of that was based on either genetics or how my brain developed in my mother’s womb, because it was certainly there at a very young age. I didn’t learn to doubt through my early upbringing either, because my siblings are not real skeptics and I certainly don’t remember either my mom or dad encouraging me to question things.
But my experiences, the fact I have a graduate degree in a secular environment, may have had some influence on my skepticism plus the fact I am well read. But, while I think I was born a skeptic some children are raised as skeptics.
I remember one family in our very conservative Bible-belt community who were atheists and raised their children to be atheists. They also raised their children to question all the mores of our society. But they weren’t total skeptics because their parents never allowed them to doubt their atheism. If they would have left their atheism and had embraced the Christian faith, that would have disappointed their parents dearly.
Up until this point I’ve been talking about the predisposition toward doubting. But the stimulus for a crisis of doubt can be intellectual (a professor in college that challenges everything you were taught about Christianity), but often it’s emotional. The best example is a personal tragedy. My girlfriend left me . . . how can there be a god? In Philip Yancey's book "Disappointment with God" the main character, a theology student, had a crisis of faith when he put his faith in a supernatural healing (a man with cancer) and when that "healing" turn out to be bogus, his faith crumbled. So that was somewhat of a hybrid between intellectual and emotional stimuli.
My personal crisis of doubt was the combination of years of subterranean doubts that came to the surface like an erupting volcano when I went through a personal and emotional catastrophe (see the posting below “A Personal Fall.”)
The reason that my previous doubts had to be subterranean was because I was told that doubting was sin, and if I dared to express it to anyone outside my own head, I was quickly condemned, or at least shunned.
But, like I said, doubt is not an act of the will, so you can not will it away anymore than you can will away the state of hunger. So, if you are led to believe that doubt is sin, you end up suppressing it. Some people are able to suppress their doubts all the way until their death beds; others will eventually come to the surface . . . with the death of a mate, or a child or a book that challenges what you’ve been led to believe.
So what is the healthy thing to do? Doubt boldly! Pull the doubts up and “take them to the mattress” as the godfather would say. Doubt completely! If the doubts require it, take it to the point of Descartes, “I think therefore I am.” If necessary, doubt everything. Then you do begin shoulder to shoulder with Descartes. You are thinking, therefore you exist. The questions then become basis. Do I exist because of a personal beginning (created in other words) or out of a spontaneous, random existence (for example matter and antimatter spontaneous splits into a reality and a parallel anti-universe . . . not created or planned). If you accept that, don’t stop doubting there . . . keep going baby! Doubt boldly. Honestly take it head on. Just arriving at an atheistic, impersonal universe doesn’t even start to solve the problems.
The point of becoming an atheist is just the peering into Pandora’s little box. Doubt boldly! Take your doubts to their bitter end . . . even if it takes years. That's what I had to do. See if you can live consistent with a true atheistic view. Remember you can’t cheat. You can’t pretend meaning, where there is none. You can’t pretend personal value, where there is none. You can not pretend ethics where there are none.
Next allow your doubts to take to you pantheism. But don’t stop there . . . keep doubting! Take on the huge challenges that pantheism brings . . . both good and evil from the same source? Doubt boldly.
The problem with Christian doubting is that we hide it. Then when we do look at it, we take it out of its cage, like a wild Tiger. We keep it leashed; as we pet the doubt softly . . . then we quickly put it safely away.
We are often told that doubts or questions are like the boogie man . . . very dangerous. So, we are like the kid that believes that a monster lives in his closet. Night after night he stares at the crack in the door and trembles, pulling the blankets over his head. What he needs to do is to grab the door, jerk it open, pull the monster out by his tail and wrestle him to the floor. Doubt boldly!
When I went through my personal fall, I told my boss, Curt (whose cruelty had bought out my ugly hatred and started my doubting) that I had a lot of questions about Christianity that I needed to answer. I will never forget him looking at me with a very serious stare, “That is very dangerous. I knew a man who went to search for answers . . . well, he’s not a Christian today.”
I think people get in trouble, like the man mentioned above, when they doubts are not complete. In my weekly Starbucks discussion with my adult sons, one mentioned that he considered the church as a charade. “Yes Dan,” I told him, “I agree with you . . . but don’t allow your skepticism to end there . . . all human belief systems and institutions have a bit of a charade to them. The non-believers often have the biggest charade. They can not live consistently with their non-belief, so they throw in absurdities, to support the masquerade. For example, they will say, ‘The Universe smiled on me today.’”
The book, Seeing Through Cynicism: A Reconsideration of the Power of Suspicion, sounds very interesting and it is on my reading list. I know Dick Keyes and I think I know the angle he will coming from so I strongly encourage you to consider it. Also Os Guinness has a great series on Doubt and I will try to link it when I post this Blog.