…and we can all be afraid to ask.

Have you ever had something make you nervous enough that you just didn’t want to think about it?  A test in school?  A project at work?  A conversation you needed to have with someone close to you?  Have you noticed how important everything else becomes when there’s something you don’t want to think about or work on?  Your desk needs organized.  Your kitchen needs cleaned.  Home projects you’ve put off for years become pressing.  You may even exercise (or at least map out the mother of all exercise plans).  Anything but facing the thing you actually need to be spending time on.  Not necessarily because you can’t do what you’re avoiding, but because of how thinking about it makes you feel.

No one likes to feel stressed.  We’ll do whatever it takes to avoid it.  The bigger the stressor, the more we’re likely to avoid it.  The bigger and more important the question, the more we may avoid doing what it takes to find the answer.  So we’re scared to take that pregnancy test for fear the results will be negative and we’ll be disappointed again.  We put off that medical test that might explain symptoms that could be nothing, but that in the back of our mind we’re worried might be cancer.

But what about the questions everything else depends on?  What if we avoid the questions that would help us understand the purpose and meaning of our very lives?  What if our fears keep us from pursuing the answers that would change the lives of everyone we know and love?  What if we let ourselves face the evidence and it turns out there is no God?  Or what if it turns out there is, and our whole lives are based on the wrong things?  What if we know we’d have to change everything if God turned out to be real?  Why don’t most of us spend our whole lives seeking the answer to this one question?  Could there actually be anything more important?  Anything that could affect our lives more?

Of course, it’s possible to tell ourselves we’re looking, but still not be open to finding answers that aren’t the ones we’re looking for.  In John 5:39, Jesus told Jewish leaders that even though they searched the scriptures constantly, in fact the very scriptures that testified about him, they still had not found him.  Jesus was not the answer they were looking for.  They had too much invested in a different answer; a different kind of savior.

We may smile our knowing superior smile, because they didn’t see what was right in front of them.  But what factors may blind us to the truths in front of us?  What may keep us from looking at the evidence?  What social pressures may prevent us from expressing the answers we do begin to find, particularly if those around us would no approve?

I mentioned in my last post that everything comes back to beginnings.  For me, that’s the foundation of my faith.  The starting point for everything else.  The simple truth that we exist, that anything exists.  And that things that exist have a source.  Who, or what, is that source?  Where does the evidence take us?  Do we have the courage for the search?  And if the evidence does point to an answer, are we willing to accept it?

We all want answers to the same questions…

If you’re a religious parent, English evolutionary biologist and author Richard Dawkins sees you as a threat to your children.  He is calling for schools to protect your kids from your science denying, oh-so-dangerous religious indoctrination.   You know what your problem is, right?  Some, Mr. Dawkins most likely included, would explain the problem is that you clearly checked your brain at the church door when you decided to become a Christian, or a Jew, or a Muslim, or a member of whatever faith you joined because you just didn’t know any better.

Of course, for those of you who do believe in the conclusions modern science has reached, it’s assumed you can’t possibly believe in the possibility of any God being behind the workings of the universe.  This, some would say, would clearly be due to the fact that you’re a God-hating person whose eyes and heart have been blinded by evil and a profound modern arrogance.

Two sides.  Two at times equally “religious” sides, seeing themselves as the only followers of truth and the exclusive holders of it, and seeing any questioning of their perspective as either dim-witted or evil.  You may think Richard Dawkins is an arrogant, condescending and narrow-minded tool of Satan.  He may think you’re too stupid to understand that science has all the answers and that all you have are a bunch of stories.  Or maybe it’s the other way around.  It all depends on where you’re coming from.

Of course, none of this is entirely true.  There are countless brilliant scientists who believe in God, just as there are countless religious men and women who believe in the importance of scientific research and discovery.  What matters is not what we think about the opposition or what they think about us.  What matters is that we stop pretending that other people with differing points of view are the opposition.  We are all trying to figure out the same thing:  How did we get here?  And does the answer to that question give us any indication of what our lives are all about?

I have read articles and books from every perspective I could find.  I have sought science and religion’s answers for the one thing I know for sure.  That the world around us, the universe that contains it, and we ourselves… exist.  Matter is here.  A fact.  The fact that all other theories and scientific pursuit are based upon.  And the one for which science has no answers, because nothing in scientific discovery supports the idea of matter coming from nothing – in fact science has repeatedly made a point of proving that this simply cannot happen.  No matter what may have happened since, the first elements of matter still had to come from somewhere.

If we put aside for one moment the unspoken fears of real and open discussion, the fact is that every pursuit of the question of existence comes back to beginnings.  If you believe God created the universe, you have to believe in a God who existed eternally, with no beginning.  If you believe the big bang theory is a better explanation of the universe, and don’t hold to the idea that God may have originated it, then you have to believe that some form of matter was in existence in order for there to be a big band, and that matter has to have existed eternally with no beginning.

Eternal matter with no source or origin, or eternal God with no source or origin.  Wherever else the exploration takes us, this is the choice to be considered.  It’s one of beginnings.  And to some degree, let’s acknowledge that either way, it’s one of faith.  In this regard too, we’re all in this most important of all scientific and spiritual pursuits together.  Richard Dawkins is not the enemy.  Religious zealots are not the enemy.  The only enemy is an unwillingness to ask our most burning questions, for fear that we may not find the answers, or that we may not like them when we do.

In praise of doubt.

Several years ago, I was helping one of my daughters sound out her letter combinations.  “What do these letters say together?”  “Chuh.  Chuh.”  “Good.  And what sound do S and H make?”  “I don’t know.”  “Shhhh,” I offered helpfully.  “I don’t know!” she whispered.

As a parent, it’s one of my favorite stories.  As a seeker of truth, it terrifies me.  How often do we “hush” those who in one way or another find the courage to express their own “I don’t know”?   How often are they driven to a timid whisper, or worse, to complete silence?  How often do we ourselves hide our sincere questions and doubts away?

In religious circles, we haven’t done too well with doubt.  In scientific circles, about the same.  We like certainty.  Clear-cut conclusions.  Agreement.  In Christian discussion, we refer condescendingly to “doubting Thomas.”  We’ll come back to him in a minute.  First, let’s consider someone else:

Nearly 2,000 years ago, an unnamed blind man in a tiny fishing village on the Sea of Galilee had an experience unlike anything we read about in all of recorded history (Mark 8:22-25).  He was brought to Jesus to be healed.  Jesus, the Son of God, took him by the hand and led him outside of the village and away from the crowd.  The most powerful being in the universe touched the eyes of an unknown blind man… and he was healed.  Just like that.  Sort of.  Partly.  Jesus asked him if he could see, and the fact was, he could.  Again, sort of.  He saw people, but it was all still blurry.  Either innocently or courageously, this nobody told God that the people looked like trees walking around.  Jesus put his hands on the man’s eyes again, and blurred vision turned to complete, perfect clarity.  A miracle by the creator of the universe that took two tries.  Why?  We never read of anything like this happening to anyone else.  Whatever else we are to take from this, one thought stands out.  What if this nameless man from an obscure village had been content with seeing a little?  What if he’d been afraid to say things weren’t exactly clear yet?  After all, who was he to tell Jesus it wasn’t good enough?  That he couldn’t see as well as he knew must be possible?  That he wanted to see more?  Maybe his willingness to express the fullness of what he was seeking, and his unwillingness to settle for less, was the point of this miracle in two acts.

Not much later a father was also brought into contact with Jesus (Mark 9:14-29).  His son was possessed by a spirit that took his speech from him and threw him into convulsions on the ground, into the water, and even into the fire.  Can you imagine the fear of a father watching his child be thrown into fire?  “If you can do anything,” the father pleaded with Jesus, “take pity on us and help us.”  “If you can?” Jesus challenged.  “Everything is possible for one who believes.”  If we stopped right there, we’d see a sharp (and even seemingly uncaring) rebuke, silence our doubts, and conclude never to speak of them again – not even in a whisper.  But the man had the courage to cry out his confession.  “I do believe; help me in my unbelief.”  What?  Which is it?  Belief or unbelief?  Can you find a degree of belief and still struggle with doubt?  Yes!  Jesus’ response?  He healed the child.  Victory from the jaws of defeat.  Doubt confessed.  Faith requested.  Courageous confession and bold request both accepted by God without so much as a word.

So we return to Thomas and to the profound point of our little journey (John 20:24-29).  After his resurrection from the dead, Jesus appeared to his followers… except for Thomas.  He wasn’t there.  So the others came to Thomas with excitement.  “We saw him.  He’s alive!”  And here’s where Thomas got his nickname.  He wouldn’t believe.  Not without seeing the holes that had been driven through Jesus hands.  Not without touching the chasm driven into his side by the head of a Roman spear.  Yes, we read Jesus’ words of how blessed those are who haven’t seen and still believe.  But before we get there, we shouldn’t miss the hope Jesus gave to the rest of us.  Thomas needed to see, to touch… to know.  So Jesus showed him.  Thomas was not rejected for his doubt.  He was allowed to see Jesus hands.  To touch his side.  And to turn his doubt to belief.

A blind man received sight (and then better sight).  A father’s child received his life back.  Thomas received the confirmation he needed for his belief to be restored.  I know questions don’t always lead to immediate answers.  But I also know answers seldom come without the questions.

Do not be afraid to express your doubts.  Doubt courageously.  But do not just take up residence with your doubts either.  Doubts exist so we will pursue certainty.  Questions are for answering.  Do not be afraid of what you will find.  It matters that what we build our lives on is true.  It’s worth questioning to make sure.  And if our faith is true, that is where our genuine pursuit will lead us.  If it isn’t, no matter how painful, we should discard it and move on in pursuit of what is true.

Just as importantly, we should be careful that our responses, whether intentionally or unintentionally, do not “hush” others who have doubts.  Our own discomfort with doubt can speak volumes.  But there must be an openness, a space for doubt before the pursuit of answers, and of faith, can really begin.  We must commit ourselves to allowing that space for ourselves and for others.

An open discussion about doubt, belief, and faithfulness.