Allport provides good advice on handling doubt: “Only a child who is assisted in revising his imagery and his theology to accommodate the day-by-day increase in experiences could escape the surge of doubt.” Cultivating the mind is important. Our faith must grow as we grow. As we cultivate our intellect, our faith must grow with it. One way to do this is to draw from great works of literature and Christian thought. Walker Percy said, “It is no small thing to turn your back on two thousand years of rational thinking and hard work and science and art and the Judeo-Christian tradition.”
It is helpful to understand doubt as a process of growth. Newton suggests this by exploring Fowler’s stages of faith. He notes how Fowler”is convinced people move through stages of faith during their lives and that one of these stages involves criticism which he argues is not only acceptable but indeed necessary on a journey of faith” (333). It is true that people should move through stages in their faith and struggling with doubt is part of the journey. Fowler thinks that faith “is a process, rather than a state. He believes as faith matures, it becomes deeper and broader” (333).
McGrath also thinks doubt is part of growing up in faith. He thinks doubt “is an invitation to grow in faith and understanding, rather than something we need to panic about or get preoccupied with” (Doubting, 12). He also thinks many Christians avoid talking about doubt. Other Christians “suppress their doubts” (13). McGrath believes that doubt is neither skepticism nor unbelief. He defines unbelief “as an act of the will, rather than a difficulty of understanding” (13-14). Doubt “often means asking questions or voicing uncertainties from the standpoint of faith” (14). “Faith and doubt aren’t mutually exclusive—but faith and unbelief are” (14). McGrath thinks that doubt “is probably a permanent feature of the Christian life” (14).
Faith is like a growing plant. It must be cultivated. It is “easy to uproot a plant in its early stages of growth; once it has laid down roots, however, it is much harder to dislodge it. By failing to allow faith to take root by seriously thinking about their faith, some Christians make themselves vulnerable to doubt” (29). Faith is not static; it must grow. Faith needs both experience and understanding if it is to grow.
Flannery O’Connor also wrote about growing in faith. She writes: “I think there is no greater suffering than what is caused by the doubts of those who want to believe. I know what this torment is, but I can only see it, in myself anyway, as the process by which faith is deepened. A faith that just accepts is a child’s faith and all right for children, but eventually you have to grow religiously as every other way, though some never do.” (Kelly James Clark, When Faith is not enough, 94).
Kelly James Clark thinks that doubt is not like a headache or a broken arm. It is more like “arthritis, nearsightedness, and the common cold” (96). These things are not “necessarily terminal ailments, but they are not easily curable either” (96). Clark is arguing for the idea that there are no quick cures from doubt. It seems to be a permanent fixture to the life of faith. The author notes, “These are ailments we simply must learn to live with, even though learning to live with them is not something we desire or welcome. So too with doubt: it is a malady that we shouldn’t relish or glorify, but we must make do with it” (96).
Clark argues that we must follow whatever light we have, no matter how small. He writes: “The lights may be dim, but they are lights, and we must follow them. However faint and frail they may be, they are all we have to direct our paths” (103).
T. S. Eliot wrote:
“These are only hints and guesses,
Hints followed by guesses, and the rest
Is prayer, observance, discipline, thought and action.
The hint half guessed, the gift half understood, is Incarnation” (106, Four Quartets, 33).