Have you ever noticed that Doubt can sometimes move in waves? Lots of people I know are currently doubting – what to do, what to believe, who to listen to, where to go, who to love? In The Curly Pyjama Letters Mr Curly writes to Vasco Pyjama:
swirling season has come to Curly Flat and there is much whirling and twirling.
Wish you were here.
Love, Mr Curly
(Michael Leunig, 2001)
It seems that swirling season has come to our part of Curly Flat…
Having said that, I’m not really sure what swirling season is, perhaps a heightened sense of the ephemeral, or of interconnectedness, maybe of finitude? It is definitely Autumnal.
The city tries to shield itself from these seasonal variations, but, all around, the world is falling asleep, the annuals in the garden are dying, the summer leaves are losing their grip. If ever there was a season for Doubt, it is now.
It’s not an easy season to appreciate though. If Spring is a season of change holding out the promise of a future, then Autumn is a season of change holding out the reminder that all things have an end. Winter will be upon us soon. And in the face of that reminder it’s hard not to feel a sense of rootlessness, to wonder if too many of our projects have been frivolous distractions from the one pre-eminent task of preparing to die.
Are we being set adrift in an ocean that has never been sailed, in a world whose globularity is still an open question? Will we sail on forever? Will we fall over the edge of everything into the Abyss? Will we eventually find that we have come back home, creeping up on ourselves from behind?
It would be a mistake to think that we can combat doubt through the acquisition of greater stores of knowledge. The only satisfying response to doubt is trust. No amount of knowledge can ever bridge the gulf between our finite capacity as humans, and the infinitely searching questions that living in the world throws up for us. We can increase in knowledge, we can grow in wisdom, and we should seek to do so. We can learn from each other and build upon the knowledge and wisdom of those who have gone before. But really, if you think that there will ever be genuine comfort in mere knowledge, you haven’t even begun to grasp the scope of the universe in which we live. You haven’t even really come to grips with the inescapable newness and particularity of every human life and decision.
Anselm of Canterbury spoke of a fides quaerens intellectum – a ‘faith seeking understanding’. I take it that this ‘faith’ is not a set point of view, a set of philosophical/theological foundations which cannot be questioned but only verified. No. The real faith that enables understanding consists in this: no matter how far we sail, even if we sail off the edge of the world and into death, there is one who can reach us there and bring us back. There is no doubt so strong, no knowledge so deadly, that he cannot call, ‘Lazarus, Come Out’, and bring to us the Resurrection.
I don’t think you will be a genuine lover of truth, a real scholar, a real knower, if you do not have this faith. Where will you find the courage to pursue the truth all the way to the bitter end? How will you steel yourself to that resolve in the face of death and dissolution? You won’t. You will shrink back, the final premiss of your syllogism will be a fairy tale, anything, to save you from the wound of death.
But the one who trusts in the God of the Resurrection will follow the truth into the jaws of death, will doubt all things, will dare to know anything, can conduct research in the Valley of the Shadow of Death, because you have this trust: God can raise the dead.
Even when your doubts have smashed you into pieces. Even if you’re not sure that there is anything left of you. He can bring you back. Don’t fear doubt, don’t be afraid of the season of swirling. Don’t try to wall yourself off from it, or build for yourself a foundation that can withstand all assailants. Eventually the waves from the sea of doubt will pound your defences into sand.
What is your only comfort in life and death?
That I with body and soul, both in life and death, am not my own, but belong unto my faithful Savior Jesus Christ; who, with his precious blood, hath fully satisfied for all my sins, and delivered me from all the power of the devil; and so preserves me that without the will of my heavenly Father, not a hair can fall from my head; yea, that all things must be subservient to my salvation, and therefore, by his Holy Spirit, he also assures me of eternal life, and makes me sincerely willing and ready, henceforth, to live unto him.
(Question 1, Heidelberg Catechism , 1563)
The only source of comfort in the face of doubt, and the real source of the ability to seek the truth in the face of doubt, is not secured by what you know but by being known.
I keep the Lord in mind always.
Because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.
Therefore my heart is glad, and my spirit rejoices;
my body also rests securely.
For You will not abandon me to Sheol;
You will not allow Your Faithful One to see the Pit.
(Psalms 16:8-10 HCSB)