Saturday, June 26, 2010

Can Christians have doubts?

We spent some time at our UCCF South summer school considering the subject of DOUBT with Jason Clarke. Jason's main point was that knowing is Trinitarian. That means knowing is personal and relational. To be a Christian is to be in a trusting relationship with the Triune God. What we know isn't stuff it's persons.
Father Brendan Flynn: You haven't the slightest proof of anything!
Sister Aloysius Beauvier: But I have my certainty!
What does that mean for doubt. Some doubt is unbelief which isn't approved by the Bible. But, it means that some doubt is different to that, it's a category we might use to speak of the questions we can ask in the context of trust and relationship. We know that God is there and is trustworthy - the gospel tells us this. Being caught up into the Triune life though doesn't mean I won't have questions. The Psalms are illustrative of this.

There are implications in this for our doctrine of church. If the church is to relationally reflect her God then it should be a place of trust and relationship, and that means we can ask questions, work through issues, live in mess. The alternative is a dogmatic confidence in certainty (Arianism?), rather than robust relationships that can take questions. Are you participating in a Triune Community - a place where there can be room for questions and relationship, trust and care? Do you give people space to have questions, to air them, to ponder them, to work them through, to listen and not necessarily answer immediately, to feel the difficulties and tensions?


  1. I think it's an interesting one - interplaying a doubting priest and the very certain-in-certainty nun. And it's Philip Seymour Hoffman, Meryl Streep and Amy Adams make for a quality cast.

  2. Interesting that this topic has come up on several blogs now. I'd never linked the Triune relationship with knowing and doubt before. I really enjoyed your Exercises in Trinitarian Community post. It is amazing how much comes out of the Trinity and how much people must miss out if they don't start with the Trinity.

  3. I think everything flows from Trinity, it's the disturbing thing with "scholastic"-driven theology - it starts with a god-of-attributes-and-resources and then knowledge is about knowing god's-stuff and it's hard to know if you know enough, and so doubt arises...

    But, when Trinity isn't central doubt arises then in a context where God isn't primarily relational but super-attributed, having that kind of god can mean a church that is dogmatic and certain rather than relational, and so raising questions isn't always acceptable.

    And so it goes..

  4. Esther Meek's 'Longing to Know' is a good book on personal knowing.

    I know someone struggling with doubt at the moment. It is clear that there is 'good' doubt and bad/cancerous doubt. There is a massive difference.

    Faith, I'm reflecting as I talk to this person and think about his experiences, is much less belief in certain things and much more personal commitment (I think Chris you said something along these lines ages back). I can't remember where I heard it (perhaps Glen), but faith is like marriage in that you marry someone not knowing everything about them. There is always going to be doubt that you're making the right decision. But you make that commitment and live with it.

    Then if you do have doubts and questions they are directed TO GOD (ala Psalms and Job), not to the world/yourself. As soon as you give up on God to provide the answers and you start looking elsewhere, then that's adultery. (Not that looking to God for the answers means you don't look for him to speak through other people, experience, creation etc.)

    PS I like the film a lot. It's very wordy because it was a play before a film. The acting is exceptional and what really makes it.

  5. The marriage analogy (which Glen certainly uses in his first Christianity Explored talk - and which I confess to having borrowed!) is very helpful. Knowing that is personal rather than informational is so radically different.

  6. I've always thought that faith requires doubt. If there was no doubt then there could be no faith, only knowledge.

    It seems to me that even the personal relationship is built on a faith basis in the first place. You can't *know* that God exists. And so even that relationship is based on denying rational doubts.

    Any comparison to a marriage relationship seems over-reaching. After all I can actually see, touch and talk to my wife. She isn't just words in a book, knowledge in my head or voices in my mind.

  7. Here's where we're talking past each other mark, you're presupposing that the Triune God is "just words in a book, knowledge in my head or voices in my mind." rather than real persons who can be known, as Christianity asserts.

    If I'm asked to *know* that God exists. on the basis of enough stacked up facts, then you're right I probably can't. Some religion probably does work that way, operating with an impersonal deity. But that's where Christianity is different. It's not that I need to "know that God exists" I'm invited to "know God".

    I don't have to ask if my wife exists, I know her - and I knew her enough before I married her that I could trust her - didn't mean I knew every fact about her but that I had a relationship in which there is trust and freedom and ability to ask questions, learn, discover and enjoy one another.