Chapter 13

Doubt and faith




To many people, the antithesis of doubt is faith. If you are a person of faith you do not doubt anything at all, and indeed you would feel somewhat guilty if you doubted any of the divine mysteries of life. Could you doubt God, for instance, or the onward flow of life, whether or not there was survival of physical death? Yet, on the other hand, until you can face these things definitively you cannot be a really honest individual.

Tennyson said:

There lives more faith in honest doubt,
believe me, than in half the creeds.
           (In Memoriam, XCVI)

We spoke about faith without doubt being dead faith in a previous chapter. What did Tennyson mean when he said that there lives more faith in honest doubt than in half the creeds? In honest doubt you are expressing your own opinion and thinking clearly into the nature of reality. The trouble about credal religion is that one quotes something which eventually becomes almost a word for word quote without thinking very much about what one says. That is one of the reasons why I sympathize with such a religion as Quakerism or Unitarianism that has no formal creed at all - not because I think that creeds are wrong, but because they can often lead one on to smug reassurance. They are all a form of words, as St Paul would have put it (2 Timothy 1.13), they sound good if you really do believe them, and it would be good as well, but as you almost certainly do not understand exactly what you are saying, you begin to delude yourself.

That is why Tennyson's statement that there lives more faith in honest doubt than in reciting half the creeds has a very relevant truth in our lives, particularly today when people will not take statements on trust, simply because they come from a holy, a reliable or even, God forgive me, a scientific source. All these sources are human and therefore liable to error: sometimes terrible error that kills people.

Creeds, on the other hand, are very useful in leading us in the right way to honest doubt, and also to honest education. If you do not claim to accept the trinitarian scheme, and if you aspire to be a Christian, you will not eventually understand what Christianity is about. It is not about believing in the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It is about living life - a life that comes to terms fully with reality, in the power of the risen Christ, the Father, and the Holy Spirit. Then you have something real to hold on to and something that is meaningful to you. But merely repeating words that sound good to the ear can be a way of escaping reality and your own particular version of truth.

In another well-known poem Emerson writes:

I am the doubter and the doubt,
I am the hymn the Brahmin sings.

It comes from a poem called Brahma. Here we have the idea that God is in all things; nothing can be separated from God fully. I am in God, and so are you, and so are the most evil and wicked people. He has created us all; through him we are what we are, and we have to make the best of what we are, often frightful specimens of humanity.

Why are some people born with hereditary diseases of one type or another - epilepsy, or haemophilia, or some diseases of the bones and joints? They did not ask for it, it came to them. It could be said that they inherited it from their parents, but why did their parents have it, and why did they have to inherit it? Most hereditary diseases do not fall on all the offspring of the parents, in any case; some children seem to escape scot-free, while others certainly do not. Why is there this indiscriminate suffering of some, whereas others seem to be completely healthy? This is the sort of question which is at the very basis of doubt. One person suffers the full gamut of tragedy, whereas a close relative comes through and lives a life of ease, good mental activity, and prosperity. Why is there this variation in the person's way of life?

We cannot answer this question on a purely academic level. Ultimately what we have to do is to see what we can make out of our individual life. If I am born a haemophiliac or an epileptic, or someone who suffers from a severe disease of the bones and joints, I am left with it. I can revolt against it, and be extremely angry, and even curse God if I really want to, but it does not help me. God does not mind being cursed. He can carry on very well, but I simply show my anger in a very childish way, and I still have to carry on with the burden which has been placed upon me.

Here we come to something of the solution to the problem. If I can share the problem, I become a greater person, and I begin to understand something about the nature of life and come to terms with other people and their problems in a way that I probably could not do had I been born to health and riches, but unable to empathize with many unfortunate people. Through my own pain, misery, ineptitude, suffering, impotence and all the other negative qualities I can mention, I can come to terms with the suffering of humanity and, indeed, all life. And if I can continue in strength and not revolt against it and be as miserable as possible, I can begin to grow into a real person, something of the nature of the crucified Christ.

Our life on earth is not merely a physical one of being as strong and rich as possible, while enjoying all the good things of the world with all the bodily strength at our disposal. It is here to come to support other people as well and to enrich the whole of creation, the whole created universe. Then we begin to see the meaning of our life here. If we are here simply to be as happy, prosperous, rich, or influential as possible, each of these qualities detracts from this great armamentarium of universal assets and soon we are low, and we depend on the help of other people. That, of course, is no bad thing, for it may make us realize how impotent we are unless we do rely on others, and should not always become absolutely self-sufficient in our own right.

But the very young person could not possibly reach that degree of understanding; they would necessarily compare themself with their contemporaries and prove that they were at least not inferior to them and, indeed, probably superior, because they could run, walk, or do something else better than the other person. When we are young, indeed, we enjoy flourishing and showing ourselves in our own glory. When we get older it is still satisfying to be able to perform particularly on an artistic level, and we can enjoy new forms of art and see the old fusing with the new, and something of real value coming, but now we can help as much by our teaching ability as by our performance.

Therefore, God is in the doubter and the doubt and in the hymn that the Brahmin sings. He is in everything and the doubter is not greater than the doubt or the spiritual attitude of the Brahmin, the high-caste Hindu priest. He is in all and shows himself in all. What does the hymn that the Brahmin sings have in common with doubt or the doubter? What is common to the three is the fact that the Divine essence inspires them all. The hymn, the doubt, and the doubter are all expressing aspects of ignorance. When one moves beyond them, one is no longer trapped in material thoughts or questions, and can enter a new realm of spirituality. And then we can start to be ourselves.

I can only be myself when I stop asking questions about why I am this, that, or the other, and can instead be fully aware of myself as I am, and give as I am now; and as I give, so will I grow and see things about myself and about the world in which I live and the world beyond which I live. I now know the problem of life generally. In such a situation I can move towards sanctity. This sanctity was shown fully in the lives of the great saints, especially our Lord Jesus Christ. His life never amounted to much in the world's eyes. Now he is the supreme manifestation of the Creator in his fullness of being.

He who doubts from what he sees,
will ne'er believe, do what you please.

If the sun and moon should doubt,
they'd immediately go out.

To be in a passion you good may do,
but no good if a passion is in you.

I have quoted some of these lines from William Blake in a previous chapter. Again, if you doubt on a negative level, you can never proceed. You see more and more of less and less of things. The moon and sun dare not doubt of their particular abilities, because if they do they immediately go out. If you are in a passion, you may do good, but if the passion is in you, you flare up and what is in you extinguishes all that is creative and good and you become a lifeless being; fortunately, this is usually only temporary.

Therefore doubting is of the basis of life. Without it one cannot be a full human being. One is shutting one's eyes to the reality of existence, and in so doing one is shutting one's eyes to the reality of much of human nature, which means in essence one's own nature.

But is there any place for faith if doubt is of the nature of ultimate reality, and all our lives are extinguished in an immediate wind of doubt? Nothing is created that is not worthwhile, but there is surely more to the matter than this. Faith causes us to flourish, and brings out in us a core of positive being. A good example is seen in medical practice, for instance. Take a condition like cancer, which is virtually incurable, particularly in its later, more widespread forms. But more and more has been known about it through constructive therapeutic research, first of all cutting out as much as possible (surgery), and more recently using radiotherapy to destroy as much as possible, with the use of cytotoxic drugs (called chemotherapy), and there are also hormonal and other methods of treatment. They all help us to deal with it.

The condition is still incurable unless it is removed at an early stage of its development, whether by radiotherapy, drugs, or some other means of treatment. But more and more hope has come to us over the years, and now we can face the fact of cancer with greater confidence than in the past. This is the foundation of faith. Many types of cancer spread so rapidly, they are so malignant, as we would say, that they kill in a matter of weeks, or perhaps a few months. These have not been rendered substantially less lethal by any known method of treatment. Others, on the other hand, have been ameliorated considerably, and patients have been known to survive and live much more constructive, prolonged lives than before. That is where faith has modified present doubt, and made cancer far less menacing.

We are not expected to live in doubt; in fact, we are expected to live in knowledge. Knowledge is the full aspect of our existence. But we will never have that full knowledge that is our due, because we are not in a state of understanding to accommodate it. But if we were to know about the nature of the soul after death, we would be in such a state of spiritual understanding that we could grow from the purely physical to the psychical and then to the spiritual mode of existence.

I think the same would apply to a lethal disease like cancer. When we are in a state of grace, when God flourishes in us, we are all inspired by the Holy Spirit, I believe again that so-called spontaneous cures would occur much more frequently and rapidly. What is a miracle at the moment would become very much more frequent; a miracle in this respect being defined as something which makes one wonder because of its marvel. Many of these words simply describe things that we do not understand, but a miracle is something that makes us wonder. The greatest miracle, of course, is life itself: that we survive, that we live in a hostile environment amongst people who do not understand us or life for that matter. Yet we fend for ourselves and grow for ourselves, and survive in a society which is not particularly conducive to personal understanding. We survive, we marry, we procreate, and our children survive as well. It is amazing that in our world that has been so contaminated by warfare at one time or another, especially in our own generation, children have done so well. The promise of the future is good rather than bad, unless humans behave so stupidly that they destroy each other en masse.

Life is conducive to faith not doubt. If we live with reasonable common sense the species will survive - indeed, will multiply if we live in complete ignorance concerning contraception, for then human procreation will outrun food supplies and living space. Then alone there is a danger that we will start to fight amongst ourselves and wars of immense destructiveness may develop. Nowadays, responsible people do not go in for warfare. Nothing is ever gained in the long run by trying to get something from another country, by wresting something from it. It is noteworthy that some of the worst-governed countries of the Middle East are the ones that participate particularly in warfare. If only they would govern themselves properly, they would be far happier than by causing a great deal of trouble and misery to those outside themselves!

That is the whole point of the matter. If we are not happy in ourselves, we start doing things that are immoral and destructive. At the end of the day we are thoroughly miserable. Real happiness comes from within when we know the power of the Spirit of God governing our lives and the lives of those around us. When we are not happy we look around us and seek for things that are not really ours at all, and strive for them as our possessions (Matthew 5.23-26). I am not saying from this that the problems of the world are entirely due to hostile attitudes of certain nations in, for instance, the Middle East. I think that would be an over-simplification of a difficult political issue, for even if justice were done according to what these people want, they would still remain unhappy because they would still not be fulfilled as individuals. If I feel that I have been hard done by, that the world has treated me badly, I may behave more and more boorishly and miserably, and I will not really become happy even if what I believe is justice is done, and I will simply look for something else to cast my eyes on and desire. Happiness does not come from possessions: it comes from equanimity.

What then should a nation do that feels it has been hard done by through the perfidy of its neighbours? The answer is quite obvious from the last chapter on equanimity. It should be quiet, still, and worship God, and be open to the divine essence. Then peace will come to it, and it would start to be peaceful to those around it.

In our world there is no war that has not had its basis in previous injustice of one type or another. If I believe that injustice has been done to me, I will not rectify matters by fighting with other people. Jesus made this so perfectly clear in the fifth chapter of St Matthew's Gospel: "if someone slaps you on the right side of the cheek, turn to offer the other side also" (Matthew 5.39). What does that actually mean in fact?
We learn the doctrine of Jesus further on:

You have learnt what they were told: love your neighbour and hate your enemy but what I tell you is this: love your enemy and pray for your persecutors, only so can you be children of your Heavenly Father who makes the sun rise on good and bad alike, and sends the rain on the honest and the dishonest. If you love only those who love you, what reward can you expect? Surely the tax gatherers do as much as that. And if you greet only your brothers, what is there extraordinary about that? Even the heathen do as much. There must be no limit to your goodness as your Heavenly Father's goodness knows no bounds. (Matthew 5.43-48)

It is only when you are in that state of grace that you are no longer bound by any considerations of what is your due and what you should be getting from other people. You are now in an attitude of peace with all people and you have no more enemies at all. If there is justice in your life and in the world, then doubt and faith come close together: doubt that anything can be done by the power of the human being acting on its own; faith as the essence of love, bringing what seems impossible to fruition.

There is no harm in doubt querying physical and psychical phenomena of one type or another. If I were to doubt the veracity of many of the phenomena quoted in the Bible, in the Old Testament and the Gospels particularly, that would be no great sin. After all I am the doubter and the doubt, I am the hymn the Brahmin sings. What is important is to be open and see that many things are beyond my understanding, and I come close to them only when I can be quiet and still, and know that I know nothing.

The way towards the knowledge of God is the knowledge of complete stillness, quietness, and obliteration of egoism. But while you feel that you should be getting this, or that other people are unjust to you, or that you know the right way and other people are stupid, and you alone can treat them properly, you can cause an immense amount of trouble.

There are a number of facts about the human situation that are worth remembering. The first is that we are all children of God, the second is that we are all basically ignorant on an intellectual level and that the intellect never brings us to happiness, no matter how wonderful it may be in its own constructiveness. The third is that bodily health is a very blessed state of existence, and it comes not by doing anything but by living a proper life, a life of giving to others in concern about the well-being of the world. The fourth is that an active mind is the greatest gift that God can give us because then we can read, hear, listen, understand, and contribute on a mental level to other people. Fifthly, God shows himself moment by moment in the life that he provides, for he is above all else a living God and through his life he comes to us all and stimulates us and makes us into new and greater people. We as Christians see that life fully manifested in the life blood of Jesus himself, and from that life comes the doubt of suffering, of crucifixion, and then the marvellous revelation through resurrection which brings us to the true life.

Why did Jesus have to be crucified in order to be resurrected? Was it there merely to prove this phenomenon was necessary before we would know Jesus properly? Nobody can really answer this question categorically because it is beyond us. I think it was a part of the necessary natural history of Jesus not only in relationship to himself but also to the world. He showed that the world had to be disabused of its various follies, and when it was absolutely dark, as it was just after the crucifixion, a light could come to light up the world and bring a reality to all who lived in it. Then at last that which was dark was lit up as the Paschal candle at the time of the resurrection. Then at last all people would know the living nature of God.

To say as I have said before that our God is a living God and to quote the doctrine of the Holy Trinity is extremely stimulating. What does it really mean in the end? It means that God shows himself in the form of the greatest of all, when we have moved beyond the individual to the community. This is why a single view of God, quite excellent and certainly a part of the revealed religion as in the case of Judaism and Islam, is not quite adequate. When we see God fully, we see him full of the Spirit and the Son also, so that every part of our living universe is embraced in the constitution of God. Nothing is outside his scope when we see how he is involved in every aspect of the created universe.

If all this can be done, we begin to understand the nature of what God is telling us and then we can be at rest in our life. Therefore, the faith of Christ is bound up in the doubt of his being; not that he was not what he was, but that we can never understand the full nature of the incarnation and what it has done to the world. Then we can begin to see how much greater it is than we could possibly put into any words on a purely intellectual level. It is not a question of asking whether this did or did not happen, or whether it was really true or false; rather, that it was in all the circumstances true and that we are not in our present state of understanding capable of citing the whole mystery in the fullness of being. It is only when we realize that we know so little of the truth of creation that we can come to the knowledge of God and see how all things work together for good to them who love God (Romans 8.28). Indeed, then there is nothing that is evil or bad. Many things are unpleasant and we have to go through them as part of our growth into adults, but if we go through with strength, faith, and love - and doubt as well, let me say - we will emerge as stronger, more authentic individuals, more able to face the problems of everyday life, and come through them as decent people, full of the strength of Jesus himself.

I have said before, and I will say again as my last contribution to this thought: we are all Christs; potential Christs, perhaps, if you prefer, rather than absolute Christs at the moment, but everything that was in Jesus is in the human as well. That is why God took on a fully human form. He suffered as we did, he bore the pain that we have to bear, but he could do it perfectly as we cannot in the same way as he could. It does not matter at all. We can only do it as best we can, remembering how feeble and frail we are. Jesus was a man of immense spiritual and psychical strength and his emotional strength was amazing also. We know nothing about his physical strength; I do not visualize him myself as a man of immense physical vitality; most spiritual people are not of that type; but he was able through his life to give of himself so absolutely to others that they began to grow and enter into the full life of a human being and begin to start to live as they ought to live. Then they would say with him: I and the Father are one (John l0.30), no one comes to the Father except by me, because in me you see the fullness of the nature of God revealed bodily.

Thanks be to God.


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