Second Sunday in Lent
Genesis 17:1-16; Mark 8:31-38
At this point in our Lenten Covenant Time of Reflection
- After God has challenged Abram to leave his home and his people to become a monotheist with the vague promise that as a 75 (now 99) year old childless man he would become the Father of Nations;
- And after Jesus has invited everyone who wants to follow him to pick up a means of execution, deny themselves, walk away from their families, homes and communities and lose their sense of self
- After all those stories about Faithful Commitment,
I think we need to take a moment to talk about doubt.
Abram’s doubt is left out of the story. He is normally held up as the Absolute Ideal of Faith. A man so faithful that he left his ancestral home in order to follow up on a promise made to him by one of many gods running around the local theology. A man so faithful that he was willing to take his son, his only son, whom he loved, his only shot at the promises made by his God that he would have more descendants than stars in the sky, take that son to sacrifice him to the God who had hung an entire Covenant on him. A man so faithful that he was willing to circumcise himself on God’s say-so.
All for the sake of his One God.
And now, after this promise, made 24 years after the first one, with a few strings attached and no sign of a son or daughter or any other offspring, Abraham allowed himself a small chuckle. Because, really, “Can a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Can Sarah, who is 90 years old, bear a child?”
But God did not hold this against him. This chuckle of doubt.
And doubt is what started Jesus’ terrifying speech about discipleship. When “he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again,” Peter had his doubts.
Whether those doubts were about the plan, the necessity or the Resurrection, we don’t know, but Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke him. Because – it sounds like – Jesus was not completely immune to those doubts. They were more temptation from the Adversary, trying to poke holes in God’s ideals.
And the reason for the 40 day period of fasting, penitence and preparation, before Baptism and after a three year membership course was to allow time for doubts, for second thoughts and for settling into a whole new spiritual and theological practice.
Doubt is a necessary part of faith. It’s not the enemy of faith. The enemy of faith is certainty. Doubt is like a conversation that faith has with itself while it’s trying to learn more. Faith can’t grow if doubt isn’t allowed to ask questions.
I’m not talking about self-doubt, although some of this might apply. I’m talking about doubts around the Big Faith Picture, and about doubts about the details.
- Can God be trusted?
- Is the apparently impossible possible with God?
- Is this the right thing to do?
- Do I believe in a Bodily Resurrection?
- Is hope a worthwhile pursuit?
These are big questions and important ones too. They are not questions we can or will have all figured out today.
So how lucky are we to have what is just as important as doubts, and that’s a place to ask them and people to ask them with. Not people who will give us the right answers. People we can trust with our questions and, along with our questions, our doubts.
How lucky – how blessed – we are to have places and people where we don’t need to be confident and sure of everything. How blessed we are to have places like Book Club and Bible Study and a Membership Course and Children’s Church where we can wonder and let faith and doubt and questions explore together. Where we can say Tell Me More about what you believe so that I can explore more deeply what I believe.
That’s how we learn. At least it’s one way. It’s how we understand our faith and what we believe – by being able to explore What I think now in with people who will say Tell Me More with no agenda, no judgement or no hidden right answer they’re pushing us towards.
The traditional approach to doubts has been to tell people to ignore them, express the faith statement and eventually the repetition will take hold and the doubts will go away.
I prefer the statement of the father who came to Jesus looking for help for his sick child. Jesus said, “If you believe, all things are possible.” The father said, “I believe, help my unbelief.” I don’t see any way to read that other than the father wanted to believe, and did believe, but had some doubts. He expressed that doubt to the very person with the power to punish him for it, and with that honesty – that faith in the face of doubts, that willingness to be honest and authentic and faithful – Jesus healed the child.
We are allowed to doubt. We need to doubt. Only through doubt can faith grown. How lucky we are to have permission to let doubt lead faith in community with others who are also trying to learn and to grow along our faith journey.