"Doubt is the ants-in-the-pants of faith."
- Frederick Buechner
I was in a conversation recently where "doubt" was the topic. Initially, everyone was very enthusiastic about talking about it and seemed to be grateful that the permission to discuss such a thing was being granted. Words and phrases like "finally" and "yes, I've felt that too" surfaced from almost everyone in the room. The consensus was that "doubt" is a part of every believer's life and we shouldn't shy away from it.
And then we shied away from it.
It was hard to detect just when it happened, but a subtle shift took place in the room. If I recall, something like, "But where is this going?" was all it took. Doubt about doubt. A conversation that was open and vibrant quickly had the life sucked out of it and talkative doubters suddenly became the nervous-nellies heading back to the shoreline. Words and phrases like "hope" and "we mustn't stray too far from our orthodoxy" quickly brought everyone back to their senses. I was disappointed.
Doubt was acceptable on a very short leash. We choose clean underwear over ants-in-the-pants every time; clear definitions and air-tight answers over "well, maybe...I'm not sure." Although I fully understand the desire for such clarity, I cannot sign off on such a stance because faith is all about the unseen, the things hoped for. I have heard "doubt" discussed as a sin in the life of a believer; the scarlet "D." But doubt may just be an indication that someone is really moving into the waters of biblical faith, where you can't touch the bottom and you can't make it work out on paper and you can't tell how it might turn out.
Far too often, we adhere to a flat-earth theory when it comes to our faith. There are acceptable boundaries, known landmarks, that define who we are and what we do. If you should venture beyond those, you'll sail right off the edge of the faith. "Well, maybe."
"To come to a doubt, and to a debatement of any religious duty, is the voice of God in our conscience. Would you know the truth? Doubt, and then you will inquire." - John Donne
"If my religion is true, it will stand up to all my questioning; there is no need to fear. But if it is not true, if it is man imposing strictures on God...then I want to be open to God, not to what man says about God. I want to be open to revelation, to new life, to new birth, to new light. Revelation. Listening. Humility." - Madeleine L'Engle