“Worship him, I beg you, in a way that is worthy of thinking beings” — Romans 12:1 (Jerusalem Bible Translation)
In Part I of this series, I talked a bit about my own personal journey of how embracing doubt helped me truly discover God’s loving presence. In addition to the personal revelation that doubt can provide, it can also serve as a communication bridge to non-believers, which is very important in today’s Western secular culture.
In his classic book Introduction to Christianity, Pope Emeritus Benedict summed up the benefits of doubt as follows:
“Anyone today who makes an honest effort to give an account of the Christian faith to himself and to others must learn to see that he is not just someone in fancy dress who need only change his clothes in order to be able to impart his teaching successfully. Rather will he have to understand that his own situation is by no means so different from that of others as he may have thought at the start. He will become aware that on both sides the same forces are at work, albeit in different ways.
First of all, the believer is always threatened with an uncertainty that in moments of temptation can suddenly and unexpectedly cast a piercing light on the fragility of the whole that usually seems so self-evident to him. A few examples will help to make this clear. That lovable Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, who looks so naive and unproblematical, grew up in an atmosphere of complete religious security; her whole existence from beginning to end, and down to the smallest detail, was so completely molded by the faith of the Church that the invisible world became, not just a part of her everyday life, but that life itself. It seemed to be an almost tangible reality that could not be removed by any amount of thinking. To her, “religion” really was a self-evident presupposition of her daily existence; she dealt with it as we deal with the concrete details of our lives. Yet this very saint, a person apparently cocooned in complete security, left behind her, from the last weeks of her passion, shattering admissions that her horrified sisters toned down in her literary remains and that have only now come to light in the new verbatim editions. She says, for example, “I am assailed by the worst temptations of atheism”. Her mind is beset by every possible argument against the faith; the sense of believing seems to have vanished; she feels that she is now “in sinners’ shoes.” In other words, in what is apparently a flawlessly interlocking world someone here suddenly catches a glimpse of the abyss lurking—even for her—under the firm structure of the supporting conventions. In a situation like this, what is in question is not the sort of thing that one perhaps quarrels about otherwise—the dogma of the Assumption, the proper use of confession—all this becomes absolutely secondary. What is at stake is the whole structure; it is a question of all or nothing. That is the only remaining alternative; nowhere does there seem anything to cling to in this sudden fall. Wherever one looks, only the bottomless abyss of nothingness can be seen.
Paul Claudel has depicted this situation in a most convincing way in the great opening scene of the Soulier de Satin. A Jesuit missionary, brother of Rodrigue, the hero of the play (a worldling and adventurer veering uncertainly between God and the world), is shown as the survivor of a shipwreck. His ship has been sunk by pirates; he himself has been lashed to a mast from the sunken ship, and he is now drifting on this piece of wood through the raging waters of the ocean. The play opens with his last monologue:
“Lord, I thank thee for bending me down like this. It sometimes happened that I found thy commands laborious and my will at a loss and jibbing at thy dispensation. But now I could not be bound to thee more closely than I am, and however violently my limbs move they cannot get one inch away from thee. So I really am fastened to the cross, but the cross on which I hang is not fastened to anything else. It drifts on the sea.”
Fastened to the cross—with the cross fastened to nothing, drifting over the abyss. The situation of the contemporary believer could hardly be more accurately and impressively described. Only a loose plank bobbing over the void seems to hold him up, and it looks as if he must eventually sink. Only a loose plank connects him to God, though certainly it connects him inescapably, and in the last analysis he knows that this wood is stronger than the void that seethes beneath him and that remains nevertheless the really threatening force in his day-to-day life.
Ratzinger, Joseph Cardinal; Pope Benedict XVI; Benedict; J. R. Foster; Michael J. Miller (2010-06-04). Introduction To Christianity, 2nd Edition. Ignatius Press. Kindle Edition.
In Part III of this series, I will continue with additional insights from Pope Emeritus Benedict on how embracing doubt is an authentic way to live an enhanced faith and a way to form a bridge to non-believers.