Another important Mildenhall question to think about: Is dialog possible between people of faith and people of doubt? [Viewpoints, Sept. 13]. My answer is an unqualified “Yes”-not only possible but essential. Why so?
Because people of faith are also people who have doubts to deal with, including me. And people with doubts can also be people with a burgeoning faith deep down. I sense you are among them, Helen. The dialog, then, goes best when each accepts the other as a work in progress, open to the ways God works through each, as both want to grow mutually.
The word “want” is crucial here. Without wanting mutual good, the dialog doesn’t get anywhere, if it even goes at all.
Furthermore, I find it striking that this dialog of faith and doubt, indeed this titanic struggle, takes place not only between but within the souls of the great men and women we meet in the Bible. God called them to do great things, notwithstanding their doubts. Repeatedly we learn how they overcame the impasse of doubt by doing works of truth and love, trusting him despite wobbly faith and imperfect knowledge. All that is meant to comfort and instruct us when we stagger under the weight of similar battles, not in the abstract but in harsh realities of disease, heartache, failure, and death.
If we who confess faith in God do so with humility instead of vanity, open in mind and heart instead of closed, then surely the congregation is appropriate for the faith/doubt encounter. And the marvel is that the mercies of God keep on bringing us together for the long haul as we grow in faith by doing works of truth and love that reach well beyond ourselves.
When the congregation falls short of this high calling, we begin to look too much like a football team in a tight huddle. Outsiders have no idea of what’s going on in there but can’t help noticing that we don’t show our best side to the world.
My dialog partner asks whether in her present quest it’s practical and productive to attend a worship service, a small group Bible study, or one-on-one dialog. From her comments, I gather she’s not ready for that, at least right now. And I noted with appreciation her desire to have no part in disrupting or undermining people of faith.
While I believe these things can have great promise, I also know the importance of timing and a readiness for them. To that end, here’s a word about one of the three she mentions: a church worship service and a way to grasp what happens when liturgy comes alive.
Liturgy, an old but still useful term, means “the work of the people.” That work includes offering to God and each other our hang-ups and failures as well as our thanksgiving for the sheer wonder of being alive, plus our encouragement to each other as we go through times glad and sad. All of those things happen, for instance, as we sing the great hymns of the faith, old and new (and where else, by the way, do we gather and sing these days, the 7th inning stretch at Wrigley Field notwithstanding?).
If we’re paying attention, the dialog going on is really something. We lament and adore, complain and commend, admonish and comfort, doubt and hope. The Psalms do the same. The baptismal Creed, handed down to us from the earliest Christians, helps us take our place as witnesses to God’s saving work in our time. Sound preaching neither avoids doubt nor makes them the measure of all there is. Rather, proclaiming the Good News delivers the power to translate faith into works of justice and mercy as we go about fulfilling our calling in the life of the world for another seven days. We celebrate a meal together with Christ as our host welcoming us hungry ones to his table and giving us bread for the journey. Where else do such things happen?
I’ve talked enough, Helen. It’s your turn and I’m all ears.