The Beauty of Doubt

For the last two nights Spencer and I have been watching a documentary on the history of mankind on the History Channel. It is exquisite, I must say. At the same time, it makes me feel like an unthinking idiot for believing in this book –this best-seller of all time that can be reduced to opportune timing. Confucius, Buddah, the Hindus and the Hebrews all wrote down their theological theories around the time when man started expressing himself through language on paper. And here I am, thousands of years later, doing the same thing. It’s quite remarkable how this one skill of compiling letters into coherent thoughts on a page transcends time and space. I love it!

I started a Tom Wolfe novel last night. It’s the first fiction book I’ve cracked open since my son was born 10 months ago. Simultaneously, I’m reading through the Bible in one year with a group of women. It’s kind of like homework, really. Yet, to date, I have loved every minute of it. But as I flipped to Exodus this morning, doubts loomed. What is this book? Why am I reading – nay studying –a piece of text that may not be true? Am I a fool to have been duped into believing this? God, I want so badly to believe this, but can I reconcile this with ancient history?

Doubtful that I was the first person to wrestle with these thoughts, I immediately Googled a few key words for reassurance that I am not a loon. And then I hit my second-favorite modern theologian, Tim Keller, who says in his outstanding book, Reason for God:

My thesis is that if you come to recognize the beliefs on which your doubts about Christianity are based, and if you seek as much proof for those beliefs as you seek from Christians for theirs—you will discover that your doubts are not as solid as they first appeared (xviii).

Thanks, Tim. Seek I will!

Then I move on to my favorite appreciator of texts, C.S. Lewis (First Class Honors in Greek and Latin Literature, Philosophy and Ancient History, and English Literature). I love the way he thinks and he says something that gives me a little encouragement:

I have therefore no difficulty in accepting, say, the view of those scholars who tell us that the account of Creation in Genesis is derived from earlier Semitic stories which were Pagan and mythical. We must of course be quite clear what “derived from” means. Stories do not reproduce their species like mice. They are told by men. Each re-teller either repeats exactly what his predecessor had told him or else changes it. He may change it unknowingly or deliberately. If he changes it deliberately, his invention, his sense of form, his ethics, his ideas of what is fit, or edifying, or merely interesting, all come in. If unknowingly, then his unconscious (which is so largely responsible for our forgettings) has been at work. Thus at every step in what is called–a little misleadingly–the “evolution” of a story, a man, all he is and all his attitudes, are involved. And no good work is done anywhere without aid from the Father of Lights. When a series of such re-tellings turns a creation story which at first had almost no religious or metaphysical significance into a story which achieves the idea of true Creation and of a transcendent Creator (as Genesis does), then nothing will make me believe that some of the re-tellers, or some one of them, has not been guided by God.

His reasoning always feels like water to my parched soul. Ahh!

And at the end of the day, as I lay on the back patio with my husband, staring at the stars and contemplating galaxies and the Maker of this all, I realize that the beauty of doubt lies in the search. It’s easy to let a worthy doubt settle in and keep me from opening that Book, but if I never seek, then I will never find. So, I will lay my doubts aside and crack open that thick cover, flipping through its thin pages to my bookmark. I will return to the plague of locusts in Exodus –another instance I would quibble with if the History Channel hadn’t run that documentary that proved how every single plague in Exodus is scientifically viable. I happen to believe that God’s finger was responsible for each of those instances, but I appreciate that this Channel continually causes me to wrestle, question and probe, leaving me with a tested faith.

And even when I close my Bible and sink back into Tom Wolfe, that same God  – coupled with a girl’s cerebral doubts about Him – will be woven into an American’s modern work of literature. It’s in fiction, it’s the stars and the moon on a clear night and it’s in the babbling of my 10-month-old son –God just won’t go away. He is a piece of our blueprint and we are a tiny reflection of Him. We are made in His image, by Him, so naturally we’re looking for Him. And the search is beautiful, I must say!