the improbables

“I’m sure you have your reasons.

But I have my doubts.”

-Jon Foreman in Doubts

The reflection that I recently entered here, [complaint box] may have unintentionally given the impression that doubt is no issue for a sturdy and steadfast faith such as my own. This is certainly not the case. The fact that I don’t tend toward blame, anger, or remorse regarding this complete and sudden, overwhelming flipped-upside-down life is related. But that’s a different issue than doubt.

To say that doubt has plagued most of my life would also be largely inaccurate. It’s more like a chronic nag that comes and goes. I think this may be the cost of having a lifelong history, curiosity, and genuine faith, and the ability to want to understand other perspectives in our pluralistic society.

For some, a complete and unquestioning buy-in of a certain denomination, author, or group seems so neat and easy. If the pastor says the earth was formed 4000 years ago at which point velociraptors dwelled peaceably among the waterfowl and puppies, then so be it. Because you should interpret the poetry in the book of Genesis from a young-earth creationist perspective or you don’t really believe in Jesus because of this doctrine and that, quite clearly connecting the two.

I do not believe that most church leaders pigeonhole folks to that extreme. But there are plenty more not-so-extreme examples. I’m not claiming that explanations for claims like the above don’t exist. To me they are huge leaps of logic and stretches of the imagination that defy both plain-as-day Scriptural and life-experience. But what do I know, merely a physical therapist by profession?

Over the years I have gradually learned not to judge the unquestioning types. Sometimes they seem more than a bit contrived, and underneath such unwavering confidence and certainty lies fear, insecurity, or a simple lack of maturity to look directly at some cold hard facts.

But this is completely my own problem. Judging motive is always plain wrong. Each of us walks in our own shoes. Perhaps, for those types, they have simply learned that absolutely nothing good comes from allowing a splinter of doubt or questioning. Of course, I have also repeatedly witnessed their genuine strengths and weakness as both representatives of Jesus and as plain people.

The completely unquestioning, over-confident and uncharitable atheist types are even more baffling. Says who? Tyson Neil Degrass? Truly, if you look very deep down ANY belief system or worldview, be ready for cracks and usually major crevices that will emerge to strike you with some severe improbables there as well.

If you’re even somewhat like me, faith sometimes comes hard. For good reason or none at all, you’re just not feeling it. In those times, it’s hard to hear the song. You doubt because, well, just open your eyes.

Sometimes all the repetitive singing, reciting, even the preaching, self-convincing hashing and rehashing, makes me numb. The sanitary churchy words upon words upon words upon words begin to mulch and garble resembling the (in truth) delicious food that now so often tastes like cardboard to my chemotherapy affected senses.

“Away with your noisy hymns of praise.

I will not listen to the music of your harps.

Instead, I want to see a mighty flood of justice, an endless river of righteous living.”

Amos 23-24

Thankfully, my case of the improbables always came and went quickly and infrequently. By my late thirties and early forties, this was far less of an issue. It felt great to be able to move on to more important things like attempting to live out rather than defend or obsess over faiths and beliefs. What happened to cause this shift?

As a child I had memorized a few dozen prayers and creeds as part of mass and CCD. I think these were mostly true and good for me in their time. Later, I had read quite a bit about faith and doubt, knowing that doubt itself is normal for many. But any sort of formulas were met with limited success. In my 20’s and 30’s I had read the Bible at least three times through, once in a hulking volume with study guide, taking in every references and commentary in the margins.

A few years ago I memorized, at a much more relaxed pace, a portion of the Scriptures I have always cherished, chapters 5, 6, and 7 in the book of Matthew. With a few promptings I retain most of it! This has proven meaningful, to say the least. Yet somewhere I came across the idea that the best way to deal with doubt is to simply walk with it, letting your works carry you through.

“Gasp. Works.”

[“Works are simply what you DO in the name of your faith, your exterior actions and deeds, rites, and rituals, as opposed to inner qualities such as heart motive, grace, or faith.]

Cool your jets, John Calvin. “Let your works carry you through” does not mean that good works earn some kind of approval and a ticket to heaven. It doesn’t mean that a gracious God is not the prime mover at the bottom of it all. I -think- it simply means that on this side of complete knowledge of the mysteries of God and this life and faith, there are times when you are going to choose not let your “feels” of the moment rule the day. You are going to lean on what you have chosen to do and how you live in your community, what you have done and believed, and the rituals and creeds that we all keep in one form or another.

You’re simply going to keep at it when you don’t feel like it.

In the same way that I have difficulty completely understanding the unquestioning faithful, they have difficulty understanding what I (and others) have feebly attempted to explain. And that’s okay. Please know that having serious doubt at times, or even just the improbables, is no sin. You’re not alone.

Suddenly your eyes are open to the wonder and beauty literally everywhere! You hear the music again.

I suspect that God has even more grace for the doubters who nonetheless desire to seek Him. Or at the least, there is an extra measure of mercy where either type is in error.

And all the words? I think, probably, it is sometimes well and good to get hepped up on C major and caffeine, or write an essay ; ) . But there is also a time when all that needs to be and should be said …

“Thank you, God. I love you.”

“If you can, Jesus, take pity and help us.

“If you can?” said Jesus. Everything is possible for one who believes.

Immediately the father replied, “I do believe. Help me overcome my unbelief.”

According to Matthew, Chapter 9

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