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Sister Joan Chittister, OSB

Sister Joan Chittister, OSB

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People of Faith Should Be Grateful for Doubt

Posted: 10/ 8/10 07:49 AM ET

The fact is that all the great spiritual models of the ages before us found themselves, at one point or another, plunged into doubt, into darkness, into the certainty of uncertainty: Augustine, John of the Cross, Teresa of Avila, Meister Eckhart, John the Baptist, Thomas, Peter, one after another of them all wondered, and wavered, and believed beyond belief.

Surely, then, doubt is something to be grateful for, something about which to sing an alleluia. Unlike answers that presume the static nature of God and the spiritual life, doubt stretches us beyond ourselves to the guidance of a God whose face is not always in books.

Doubt is what leaves us open to truth, wherever it is, however difficult it may be to accept. But most of all, doubt requires us to reconfirm everything we've ever been made to believe is unassailable. Without doubt, life would simply be a series of packaged assumptions, none of them tested, none of them sure, and all of them belonging not to us, but to someone else whose truth we have made our own.

The problem with accepting truth as it comes to us rather than truth as we divine it for ourselves is that it's not worth dying for -- and we don't. It becomes a patina of ideas inside of which we live our lives without passion, without care. This kind of faith happens around us but not in us -- we go through the motions. The first crack in the edifice and we're gone. The first chink in the wall of the castle keep and we're off to less demanding fields.

Doubt, on the other hand, is the mother of conviction. Once we have pursued our doubts to the dust, we forge a stronger, not a weaker, belief system. These truths are true, we know, because they are now true for us rather than simply for someone else. To suppress doubt, then, to discourage thinking, to try to stop a person from questioning the unquestionable is simply to make them more and more susceptible to the cynical, more unaccepting of naive belief.

It is doubt that is the beginning of real faith.

This post is an excerpt from my book Uncommon Gratitude.