September 19, 2012

Stomachs of Trust

“This one is for all you doubters out there in sanctuary-land. We know who we are.”

Is doubt a sin?

Depends. I suspect there is a kind of head doubt that can lead one into temptation. Standing comfortably over on the curb of faith, scoffing at the blunders and excesses and misinformation of those passing by you, struggling in the religious race: That’s a sin. Tossing out vexing questions that call for impossible answers, just to make your parents (or anyone with whom you cannot yet connect) squirm and worry about your salvation: That’s likely a sin, and kind of cruel, too. Dressing up your naked dread in a coat of Christian Confidence, always ready with the right comeback or explanation or verse: If that’s not a sin, it surely is annoying. Imagining you are a spiritual island, all alone on your own comfortable terms, doubting your need for the mainland of those who have gone before you, insisting that “God” wash up on your shore just the way you want: That’s probably a sin, being so cut off. If nothing else it’s lonely, always being right.

But there is another kind of uncertainty in the Christian pilgrimage, what Frederick Buechner once dubbed stomach doubt. That may well be hope in the Lord, only upside down. That creeping numbness you carry after watching too much World News Tonight, too many Google news feeds. That comfortable self-loathing (or church-loathing) to which you retreat when the pilgrimage proves harder than you had first imagined. That pinch you feel when your friend confronts you with a calamity that sent her reeling away from any sanctuary or its god. The fear of failure when a 9-year-old smacks you with a theological puzzle you cannot explain. That dread that settles in your bones at the end of the day, horizontal in your bed: when life is not coherent, the way forward not at all clear, the coming of another morning not at all certain.

Garden variety anxiety notwithstanding, I suspect that knots in the stomach exist to bear witness to the fact that all is not yet right with God’s good world. The gospel is already true, and yet that news has not yet worked itself out in every place and time. We feel that in our gut. See Romans 8. In that way, the Christian should likely pull up a chair next to stomach doubt and get to know it better. Befriend it, hear it out, invite it over to the party that is Jesus’ resurrection and see how things go between them. By paying attention to stomach doubt and not castigating ourselves for it or dressing it up in the drag of faithless surety, we learn to trust in the sure promises of the Triune God: whose light and life will eventually find its way into every corner of every abdomen. That’s a Holy Spirit-born truth we are likely to learn in our bellies before we are convinced of it in our heads.

The opposite of faith is not doubt.
It’s too much of the wrong kind of certainty.