“Christ is contingency,” Christian Wiman asserts in his memoir My Bright Abyss. There was a time that I would have wholeheartedly disagreed with that statement. Christ is certainty! I would have argued. Everything that I had ever stood for, and everything that parents had stood for, had to be true.
I’ve believed – even in my transition from evangelical to Orthodox, even in the midst of the grief of my brother’s death and my parents’ divorce – I’ve believed wholeheartedly in this faith that has always surrounded me, protecting me like a brick wall.
A day came when I began to wonder: What’s beyond the wall? Can I find God out there?
And very slowly, the bricks have been coming loose.
Was there really a snake who tempted Eve in a garden, or was that just a story? If it’s a story, does the meaning of it still matter?
What does “Jesus died for our sins” really mean?
Does hell really exist, and are non-Christians really going there? Is it possible that everyone will go to heaven?
Aren’t most religious people influenced by their culture? Am I a Christian because I accepted Jesus into my heart at age 6, or because I was born into a Christian family in a relatively Christian country (well, it was in 1978)?
If Scripture is inerrant, then why do we reject things like slavery and polygamy (clearly ok in the Bible) but continue to uphold things like traditional marriage and male-only priesthood? Is it okay for Christians – and their understanding of the Bible – to change with time and cultural advancements?
Why the obsession to prove God, and to reject science? Why can’t spiritual belief and science co-exist, and even complement each other?
Does God even really exist? Is it possible that everything I’ve ever believed is bunk?
Yes. It’s possible. It’s possible that God doesn’t exist. It’s also possible that he exists, but we’ve got him all wrong. It’s possible that we’ve tried to trap him with our meager human understandings, when really none of us truly know what he’s like.
I want to believe, though, even if my only reason is to know that my brother is alive in a place that is safe, light, and peaceful. I want to believe, even if my only reason is that I want to have not wasted my entire life up to this point (oh, think of all the Sundays I could have slept in!). But there is more than that. I want my life to have meaning, and for me, the thought a life with no belief at all seems empty.
Here’s what I want you to know about doubt: Doubt does not equal unbelief.
Wiman continues: “Faith is not some hard, unchanging thing you cling to through the vicissitudes of life . . . faith never grows harder, never so deviates from its nature that it becomes actually destructive, than in the person who refuses to admit that faith is change . . . I mean that just as any sense of divinity we have comes from the natural order of things – is in some ultimate sense within the natural order of things – so too faith is folded into change, is the mutable and messy process of our lives rather than any fixed, mental product.”
For me, faith used to be a fixed product. Unchanging. Certain. Now, I see that Wiman is right: change is the nature of the created world. Organisms are born, grow, and die. Daylight changes to dark and back again. The world revolves around the sun, and we have winter and summer. And if God’s divine hands created the world, then maybe change is part of divinity as well as humanity.
Faith doesn’t seem to be something I hold tightly in my hands anymore. Instead, faith is something innate and organic, growing with me as I question, read, rant, doubt, discuss, pray, and yes, keep going to church.
I don’t see belief as having all the right answers. I see belief as a movement into the depth of the painful beauty of human life. It is acknowledging both the presence of something beyond bone and skin and soil, and the absence of perfection in the world.
For me, faith is a movement into wholeness, which often looks like brokenness with hope attached. Maybe that’s what my belief is: hope, tethered by an unraveling thread, but tethered nonetheless, to my beautiful, broken spirit.
Today I’m linking up with alissa writes words for her “What I Want You to Know About Doubt” link-up.
Yes, Yes, Yes, those doubts have gone thru my mind to. What if I’m just believing in superstition. I still though believe in a supreme being, its everything else I sometimes doubt. Then I pause, close my eyes and say in the end are the details that important?
Good way to think about it. I don’t think the details are as important as they’ve always told us they are.
Thank you for this, Karissa. You unpacked the complexity of doubt so beautifully. So glad you joined us in this conversation. <3
Yes yes yes to wholeness that looks like hopeful brokenness! With you.
I think often about wholeness/holiness, and what it really means. It used to mean having your sin, your humanity, completely blotted out by God. Now I see it more as a perfect blend of imperfect humanity moving toward God. Wholeness in brokenness. Thanks for reading.
Karissa. So much here, and so beautifully, efficiently written. I was tempted to skim through the questions, simply because I heard them all in my head so many times. Resisting that urge, I appreciated reading them in the voice of someone else.
Your second to last paragraph is the pinnacle for me. “Something beyond bone and skin and soil… and absence of perfection.” So glad I got to read this.