Summary: Do faith and doubt ever occupy the same space? This sermon looks at the question of how faith grows, and the relationship between ’absolute’ faith and ’absolute’ doubt.
"Faith and Doubt" - Sermon for Suites by the Lake – October 20, 2007
Sermon for Retirement Suites by the Lake - October 20, 2007
[This sermon was for an inter-denominational service for a retirement community]
An atheist stumbled off the edge of a cliff and as he fell he grabbed onto a tuft of grass and was able to hang there, precariously. Looking down he saw the rough ground a few hundred feet below, looking up he was frightened and decided, in his desperation to call out: “God, if you’re there…please save me!!!”
To his great surprise he heard a deep, resonant voice respond. “I am here. Just trust me and let go, and you will be fine”. So the man called out again, “Is there anyone else up there?!?”
That story is perhaps mildly amusing, but it does suggest that we may find faith in God in the most unexpected of circumstances. Clifford Elliot was a pastor who would say “We are all faithful people, we just need to discover what that faithfulness looks like in our lives”.
Faith, or the desire for faith, can pop up when we do not expect it. Likewise doubt can sometimes surprise us. We tend to think of faith in God and doubt about God as completely separate things, as though they can’t in any way be occurring at the same time. We either have faith or we do not. We either doubt or we do not.
The reality of course is nowhere near that tidy. Human beings are incredibly complex.. I think we know that at a gut level. If we are people who have faith in God, we tend to think of that as an absolute.
But then, when we do experience doubt, we can be unduly shaken. “O no! I find that I can’t trust God in this situation”, or “Yikes! I think I am really holding some bitterness toward God” because of this disappointment or that disappointment.
Or if we don’t claim to have faith in God or to ascribe to any set of beliefs, we also often can think of that as an absolute. But then we find ourselves thinking differently than before. Or we feel perhaps a fluttering of faith in our hearts: “Could there be anything to this?” we might ask ourselves. Or we may long for faith when we see in it others.
I’d like us to think briefly about two simple words: The word: “And”, and the word: “Or”. I want to talk about the genius of the word “And”. I want to talk about the tyranny of the word: “Or”.
First of all, what’s the ‘genius’ of the word “And”? Well, the word “And” links at least two things together. It’s used when there is a choice, when there is not a single clear-cut answer. “And” is a word of inclusion. It’s you and me. It’s this and that. My way and your way.
What’s the tyranny of the word: “Or”? The word ‘or’ suggests exclusion. It’s you or me. It’s this or that. It’s my way or your way.
The genius of the word “And” is that it leaves open possibilities. And I think this is very important when we consider what faith is. When we consider what doubt is.
In our gospel reading today, a father is faced with a crisis. His son is mute and epileptic. And more than simply stating a medical condition, using the language and understanding of his generation, the father recognizes a spiritual aspect of his son’s condition.
He is held back, limited and actively suffering due to his situation. Every father, like every mother, wants the best for their children. It is heart-rending to watch a child suffer.
Now this man has heard about Jesus. Word has gotten around that Jesus REALLY loves people and that He feeds and cares for them, He teaches them AND He has been known to heal people. So this man comes to Jesus, explains his son’s situation, and looks longingly at Jesus for help.
For solace. For a solution to an agonizing problem. “If you can do anything”, he pleads, “take pity on us and help us”. Notice the father includes himself, identifies himself as being in a place of really needing to receive.
"’If you can’?" said Jesus. "Everything is possible for him who believes." That’s quite a statement. “Everything is possible for him who believes”. What do you think Jesus might be getting at?
Sometimes, from the outside looking in, belief or faith in God appears confining, limiting. Like it shuts down thinking and dreaming and aiming high in life. But Jesus is saying that the opposite is the case.
If we think for a moment of faith being like earth or topsoil, faith is the kind of soil that has the potential to grow amazing things. Everything. Every dream. Every hope. Every creative endeavour.