Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1).
Over the past year a small but earnest number of reader queries asked the magazine to address the issue of doubt — uncertainty over some of the basic elements of the Christian faith.
Worth noting are the suggestions from retired clergy. After decades of leading the faithful, a few leaders have come to conclusions that put them at odds with fundamental church teachings, such as the ancient creeds. And now, in their twilight years, they feel compelled to share.
The Lutheran’s first charge (page 4) is to “nurture awareness of Christ’s presence in our lives and the world.” It is also to provide an open forum for discussion. There are limits to that, of course, one being the magazine is not in the business of being so provocative it scandalizes the faithful (although anyone who puts just about anything in writing today seems to upset someone).
A letter from a reader in the South, however, prompted this column. This mature laywoman spoke of her group of church friends who no longer attend church regularly and wonder whether church is still relevant. “Some just don’t believe a lot of the church teachings anymore,” she wrote. “Personally, I believe in God. What I don’t believe in is what I consider things you have to suspend rationale thought to believe.”
This atrophy of faith is a challenge but certainly isn’t new. The Bible is filled with stories of doubt, from Jacob at the Jabbok (Genesis 32) to the disciples, most famously Thomas (John 20:24). Likely the difference today is a change in social norms that makes much greater room for expression of reservations over religion that simply weren’t acceptable 50 years ago, much less 500. Think back or read how atheists and agnostics were viewed in the 1950s and ’60s.
The Lutheran addressed this issue head on in March 2006. The cover story tackled crises in faith and did it well. Under the admittedly suggestive headline “In praise of doubt,” the subhead explained: “What we see as a stumbling block can be a step toward deeper faith.” The article said: “When we open our hearts, make ourselves vulnerable and share our struggle with doubt with each other, we open ourselves to the experiences of God’s faithfulness amid the struggle that our fellow-believers have to bring to us. The fact that we are still able to serve God, to do some good, to proclaim some truth and to love another despite our doubts testifies to the fact that God must really be with us.”
There is much more. Take time to read the article, its sidebars and study guide (click on “Resources” in the left-hand column at www.thelutheran.org). It’s worth it and it’s free. May it prove helpful.