Even Your Doubts Are Invited To The Party

Faith Is Strengthened not so Much by a What, But by a Who.

Cali Yee / 7.27.21

The Nicene creed is something you may or may not have learned growing up. And if you did grow up with it, reciting it may feel like repeating the basic dinner prayer. Actually, quickly saying grace at the table so that you can shove mashed potatoes in your mouth is a lot like monotonously chanting the creed so that you can hurry on to post-church brunch. Either way, we have memorized many phrases at church.

When I was in middle school, saying the creed was just like going through the motions. In fact it became like a game. Make sure you cover all your bases: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; and if you do it without having to look at the projector screen, gold star for you!

But then came the doubts about the creed. I keep saying “I believe in…” but do I really believe it? If I have questions about God does that mean I have no faith? And God, let me just say that these are some fantastical things you want me to believe in. A virgin giving birth? What of the birds and the bees that my parents vaguely glossed over in middle school? And I know that Jesus rose from the dead but how, exactly, does that work? It feels like a deus ex machina situation. Doubts are really starting to feel like the unwanted toy you get in your McDonald’s happy meal.

People say that doubts help to strengthen faith. And I think that is true but I also have doubts about it (see what I did there?). What really does the work of strengthening faith is not so much a what but a who.

Francis Spufford writes about the “who” in his article for Mockingbird’s Faith and Doubt Issue:

But realism calls not for a cartoon but for the most richly truthful picture of ourselves and our situation that we can handle. And that, for me, is what the Creed asks of us. Realism, including the uncomfortable parts of realism. As that realism settles in, too, we start to see the upside. We start to notice that although we need justice, because it’s certainly better than injustice, that isn’t all we need. That’s not enough to nourish us.

We start to see that we might need something kinder than justice. And that’s where our faith, our Christian orthodoxy, comes to the aid of our self-possession in a different way. All of this has been about people and what we do. I’ve talked about the Creed as an encounter. But the encounter, the way I have represented it, was between us and the propositions [of the Creed]. But there is another party involved here, isn’t there? If it’s true, if what we declare we’re going to live as if actually is, then we are not the only active players here. And the propositions are not cold statements but live realities. What they tell us, every time we go to meet them, is that before we even began tentatively, stumblingly feeling our way into this stuff, a preemptive Love has already set out to meet us, had already arrived, long ago, to offer, with infinite patience, to do as much as we would let him do of the living and the working–and the failing, too. That part is very important for us.

With a God who we can’t see (and even sometimes, can’t feel) it’s easy to make faith about what we do rather than what God does. But if belief in God is dependent only upon our own actions or words we are in a sticky situation. And if having faith means having no doubts or questions then faith has become no more than another pursuit in measuring up to the law. A situation in which a broken, confused, skeptical sinner is responsible for completely understanding the fullness and omniscience of an ontologically different being. And that is a big oof.

Sometimes, it feels like our faith will be completely shaken or destroyed when doubts and questions start to creep in. But our uncertainties are met with an unshakeable and unchanging God, a God who doesn’t get worried by our little, and even big, doubts.

And that is really good news. It’s good news because belief is the work of the Holy Spirit in us through the One who came and died for us. The Spirit works in us whether we want it to or not — whether we understand it or not. The invitation to the party of grace will continue to be delivered to your door no matter how many doubts live in your house. And if it’s God’s work and not ours, then we are in good hands, capable hands, patient hands — hands that extend an invitation, hold our doubts, and catch us when we fall again.

Saying aloud what you believe and who you believe in is a good thing. It just isn’t about you and how you say the words, or if you have them memorized — no matter how much you want that gold star.