Monday, February 25, 2013

Faith, Doubt, and Unbelief Part 2

Paul Tillich thinks of doubt as a “necessary element of genuine faith.” Necessary might be too strong, but we should expect that a majority of Christians struggle with doubt (Wennberg, Faith at the Edge, 20). Wennberg thinks that “few things are more dangerous for the Christian life than the belief that good Christians, doing all the things that Christians are supposed to do, will never experience prolonged, disturbing doubt” (21).
            Tillich thinks of faith as “ultimate concern.” It includes three parts: That which is of central importance to you; that which gives your life meaning; and that which “you are willing to sacrifice everything else for” (Wennberg, 21). This would mean that everyone has faith, the “secular as well as the religious” because everyone has some ultimate concern. “My ultimate concern could be God, but it could be my family, my nation, my job, my personal welfare,” or some other concern. The object of the Christian’s ultimate concern is God. Another word for faith is trust and reliance. An ultimate concern means that nothing is more “fundamental for thought, values, and behavior” (22). Wennberg continues: “It is what we have built our life around, sacrificed for, defended, sought to further, shared with others . . . And its just because it is so important, so ultimate in our frame of reference, that we will quite understandably experience serious doubt at least at some point in time” (22). The loss of small things really do not matter. Those who have given up the faith are not free from doubt. C. S. Lewis said when he was an atheist he doubted whether God might actually exist. We must put doubt in its place. It may be part of who we are, but it is not all we are. For example, we might believe God is real. We desire His presence and pray to Him. We can decide to be a “believer with doubts” (35-36). One could make a different decision. “One can decide in favor of doubt rather than in favor of what is doubted. This too would be an act of will, an act of self-characterization. One can do this simply by turning away from the life of faith—the church, prayer, Christian fellowship, Scripture, service in the name of Christ. By such actions one in essence declares that one has ceased to be a believer in what one formerly held dear. One decides no longer to do what believers do. In those circumstances one is not so much being overcome by doubt . . . as one is deciding in favor of doubt. I may not be responsible for my doubts, but I am responsible for my response to my doubts” (36).

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