Upon the tragic death of a friend, Alfred Lord Tennyson wrote the poem “In Memoriam.” For a long time, Tennyson blamed God for the accident. It took him 16 years to regain his faith, but with significant insight he wrote: “There lives more faith in honest doubt, Believe me, than in half the creeds.”
We would have lost this beautiful poem forever had not Tennyson honestly battled with his doubts and won.
What exactly did Tennyson mean? I think he meant that a person who faces his/her doubts in complete honesty is a person of much greater integrity than those who simply rip off a creed without careful consideration.
As we struggle with our own faith and doubt, I want to share two thoughts.
First, Jesus does not condemn honest doubt! So the other disciples said to Thomas, “We have seen the Lord.” But Thomas answered, “I will not believe until I see for myself” (John 20:25).
This story of Thomas and his struggle with faith is shared with the early church and with us for a reason. It is shared for the reason of “reassurance.” It is shared to let us know that others have doubted before us and have come through all right. It is shared to let us know that Jesus doesn’t slam the door for those of us who are honestly grappling for faith.
The truth is that humankind itself is not so much divided between believers and unbelievers as we ourselves are divided. In reality, all of us are strange mixtures of faith and doubt. As has been observed, “Faith is not so much the absence of doubt. Rather, faith is the mastery of doubt.”
However, perhaps the words of the late Paul Tournier, noted Swiss physician, speaks more plainly when he says, “that those of us who claim never to doubt do not know what faith is, for faith is forged through doubt.”
So, let us remember that honest doubt is never a sin. Doubt becomes sin only when we delight in our doubt, flaunt our disbelief and parade our agnosticism. Otherwise, honest doubt can be quite healthy. Christ died for our sins, not our minds.
Second, take the initiative in the midst of doubt! We are told in scripture that eight days after the resurrection that the disciples were again in the Upper Room, and this time Thomas was with them. Even though Thomas had serious doubts about the resurrection of Jesus, he stayed with the people who had faith. We could say he acted on the possibility. And Jesus honored his faith that was forged through his doubt.
History says that John Wesley’s faith was being challenged by doubt. “How can I preach the Christian faith,” he asked a minister, “when I am not totally certain about my own faith?” The minister responded, “Preach faith until you get it. Then preach faith because you have it.”
The late Dr. Harry Emerson Fosdick, former minister of Riverside Church in New York, stated that “None of us can believe in all of God. Not any of us! All of God is just too vast for our comprehension. But some of God — that’s different. So many people lose faith in God because they are not willing to take God in installments.”
Now, let’s take this belief in Jesus Christ. Not everybody agrees with us on the full meaning of his life and ministry. They are, however, willing to believe that he had a God-consciousness like no other, that he lived a blameless life and that he was the most compassionate person who ever walked the earth. Well, just start there and one day the bells will sound and you’ll know.
Simply put, everybody believes something. Do you believe that love is better than hate? Just start there and the world will be so much better.