Why Is Doubt So Important?

I started my writing on this website with the idea in mind that I would focus on uncertainty and doubt as a central aspect to my writing. It was important to me that what I wrote was intrinsically queer, and I wanted to play around with ideas that have been central to mainstream Christian thought in ways that flipped it around. However, because I am still working out the implications of a doubtful approach, I want to delve deeper into the idea that I opened with: why is it that doubt is so important?

When I wrote my first post about doubt I had been engaging in a series of long and sometimes difficult conversations with a friend of mine regarding Side A versus Side B theologies and the implications of our respective approaches to biblical infallibility, the ability of humans to know things, and especially how our beliefs about the Holy Spirit played into our decision making when it came to this issue (i.e. Side A vs B). Those conversations led the way to a lot of doubting, refiguring of my own faith, and putting into more concrete words why I believed what I believed. They also led me to a place where I realized I could not know exactly what the Bible intended, or whether some experience or feeling was the result of the Holy Spirit, or whether my own experiences could be trusted to inform my theological knowledge.  

This shook me a lot, which was weird because my own ideas about this stuff were already founded on a lot of distrust of things like the Bible. What shook me though, were the ideas that my own certainty could not be known to be 100% true. The Bible COULD be the inerrant work of the Holy Spirit speaking through prophets and leaders and scribes over the course of 5 or 6 hundred years, instead of a collection of stories, letters, legal codes, and poetry that describe the interactions of the Israelites and early Christians with a force that they knew to be God. My view of scripture that allowed me to criticize and pick apart scripture for its issues with homophobia, misogyny, and extreme and violent xenophobia might be wrong. What if those things were in fact true to who God is?

So, while I was having this breakdown about not knowing whether any of this was true, or not true, and how I could neither know nor not know, I started looking at a philosophy of uncertainty about everything. This did not mean that I threw what I believed out the window and restarted (although I definitely had to refine and sometimes adjust my belief because of various issues I began to realize I did not know enough about) but rather that my assumptions about belief were much less solid. No longer did I feel comfortable claiming any kind of truth about the Bible, or about God, because I could not be certain about those ideas.

The consequences of this change of mind were a little bit terrifying. There was one night when I started dissociating because I did not know what was real. I went down a rabbit hole of “how do I know what I know? But wait how do I know that? What is the basis of this assumption that I have about these basic tenets of reality?” This process was not fun. But for me it was necessary in determining that knowing things is really difficult. And knowing things for certain is nearly impossible.

This process was also really heartwarming. Because God knows our hearts, and the extent of our abilities, God also knows the limitations of our knowledge. God knows that we do not have the ability to know things certainly, and that humanity is most likely going to make incorrect assertions of knowledge and truth. God knew this when scripture was being written. God knew this when various movements of Christianity were being formed. God is therefore aware of the numerous and sometimes conflicting camps of human opinion when it comes to issues of scripture and faith.

For myself, this signified that if scripture is “God-Breathed” it was thus created with the intention that the books would have to be interpreted, and with the knowledge that there might be hundreds of thousands of conflicting opinions about single concepts. God breathed the scriptures into being with the knowledge that we would disagree about a lot of things.

This means, for me, that my doubt when it comes to scripture is expected and allowed. It means that my own interpretation of scripture, while perhaps not correct, is still okay. It also means, I think, that the assertion that our own interpretations, or even a historical or traditional interpretation is entirely correct and that everything else MUST be incorrect, holds no weight. The lack of doubt in those ideas assumes that one’s own ideas line up exactly with the original intent of the scripture, and because this cannot be known with any certainty, these assertions of absolute truth are therefore a little superfluous and cannot be trusted (though in the same way that I do not think any assertion of truth by humankind can be known to be true with any certainty).

This is not to say that scripture should not be trusted. I think the practice of faith is an incredibly valuable one. But faith is not the opposite of doubt; it is rather the practice of engaging with doubt to the point that you put trust in God that God has done and continues to do what is good and right. It is the practice of hoping in what you cannot be certain about. My doubt when it comes to scripture informs, not detracts from, my faith. It allows me to engage with scripture with questions and with scrutiny. It prompts me to look for answers where I do not think Scripture is consistent.

Ultimately, doubt is therefore important as a result of its ability to hone in on that which cannot be fully understood. Doubt not only facilitates my own faith development by pushing me to wrestle with difficult questions that I find in scripture and in church, but it also opens up a whole new appreciation for the mystery that exists in God. It shows me that God cannot be understood through human eyes or even through accounts written over millennia. If anything, doubt is crucial to the understanding that human knowledge about God is severely limited.

This is why I find uncertainty so valuable. It facilitates questions, it allows for new ideas, it offers potential for new knowledge and new forms of understanding, and it points to mystery. Certainty restricts these acts of engagement. It restricts our ability to know more about God, and it restricts our ability to question where we find God to be inconsistent or incongruous. It does not allow for individuals and groups to engage with scripture on a level where they are able to find deeper meaning beyond traditional readings of passages. Uncertainty and doubt are therefore central to the development of Christian thought and growth of our own faith. It is central also to our ability to have faith. To believe that God sees our inability to know certainly and is kind enough to allow for us to nonetheless come into communion with God

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