From Faith & Doubt
As long as you have faith, you will have doubts. I sometimes use the following illustration when I’m speaking. I tell the audience that I have twenty-dollar bill in my hand and ask for a volunteer who believes me. Usually only a few hands go up. Then I tell the volunteer that I am about to destroy his (or her) faith. I open my hand and show the twenty-dollar bill. The reason I can say I am destroying his faith is that now he knows I hold the bill. He sees the bill and doesn’t need faith anymore. Faith is required only when we have doubts, when we do not know for sure. When knowledge comes, faith is no more.
Sometimes a person is tempted to think, I can’t become a Christian because I still have doubts. I’m still not sure. But as long as doubts exist, as long as the person is still uncertain, that is the only time faith is needed. When the doubts are gone, the person doesn’t need faith anymore. Knowledge has come.
I tell the audience that this is exactly the point Paul was making in his first letter to the church at Corinth: “Now we see [that is a “knowing” word] but a poor reflection [now we have confusion, misunderstanding, doubts, and questions]… then we shall see face to face [we don’t see face-to-face yet]. Now I know in part [with questions and doubts]; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”
After talking about all this, I say that faith should be rewarded. I give the twenty-dollar bill to the volunteer. Then I ask the crowd who believes I have a thousand-dollar bill in my hand. Now many arms will shoot up. But it’s too late. Sometimes people are not to be trusted. Trust by itself is neither good nor bad. It needs to be warranted.
This is part of what it means to say that faith is a gift. Just as beauty tends to elicit admiration, so faithfulness tends to elicit trust. As I get to know you, I find myself trusting you. But it doesn’t feel to me as if the trust is something I am creating by willpower. It simply grows out of knowing that you are trustworthy. It comes as a gift.
The writer of Hebrews says, “Without faith it is impossible to please God.” That troubles folks sometimes. They wonder why we have to have faith. It’s true that without faith it is impossible to please God. But without faith, it is impossible to please anybody. Try making a friend without having faith. Try getting married without faith. Try raising a child without learning about trust.
George MacDonald wrote a book called Thomas Wingfold, Curate, about a pastor who comes to realize he does not know whether he believes in anything spiritual. The book tells of his journey toward God. Toward the end of the book, Wingfold befriends a young man who suffers from a terminal illness. He both cares for the sick man and speaks of his own doubts.
In their final conversation, the young man asks Wingfold about his faith in God: “Are you any surer about him, sir, than you used to be?”
“At least I hope in him far more.”
“Is that enough?”
“No, I want more.”
The young man tells Wingfold he wishes he could come back from beyond the grave so he could let Wingfold know for sure that God exists.
Wingfold responds that even if such a thing were possible, he would not wish for it. He does not want to know for sure one minute before God wants him to know. He says he would prefer to obtain “the good of not knowing.”
Knowledge is power, and uncertainty is unpleasant, so how can not knowing be good?