By Lynn Paris
A friend recently asked me where I was on my spiritual journey. I hesitated. In fact, I hesitated for about a month while I tried to figure it out. I guess that’s because my journey has been hitting some major speed bumps lately, and I wasn’t sure how to answer him. The problem was, I didn’t feel sure about anything anymore.
Trust me; it’s a whole lot easier being sure. I’ve written about this before, and I’ve always come to the same conclusion. Blind faith, and blind adherence to doctrine is the easiest way to go. I spent some time in that bubble and it was bliss.
In fact, it’s still difficult not to envy those who never doubt that their way is the right way, the only way. But being blind seems like a huge price to pay for the comfort of being sure, and I had a hard time coping with blindness. On the other hand, once doubt starts creeping in, it’s a bit like staring into the sun; you can be blinded by all that light, and temporarily lose your bearings.
Which is about where I was when my friend asked me about my spiritual journey. But I think I’ve found my bearings again. I think I’m ready to answer him.
I am consumed by doubt, and that, I have discovered, is not such a bad thing. In fact, a close friend shared with me a meditation he had found that described doubt perfectly:
Cherish your doubts, for doubt is the handmaiden of truth. Doubt is the key to the door of knowledge; it is the servant of discovery. A belief that may not be questioned binds us to error, for there is incompleteness and imperfection in every belief.
… Therefore, let us not fear doubt, but let us rejoice in its help: It is to the wise as a staff to the blind; doubt is the handmaiden of truth.
Now that is a powerful defense of doubt. Of course, the fact that it was found in The New Union Prayer Book, a Jewish book of prayers and meditations, might give one pause. After all, according to my religion, Jews have been guilty of doubting ever since they doubted that Jesus was the messiah they’d been hoping for. Putting that aside for the moment, however, I love the concept of doubt being the handmaiden of truth; the staff to help me get my bearings after temporary blindness.
Now before I go any further, I need to set one thing straight. I’m NOT talking about doubting the existence of God. I have put my faith in God; I have put my life in His hands. Which is not to say that I DON’T have doubts about Him; I have them all the time. But God is bigger than my doubts; He can handle them. Anyone who claims they’ve never doubted that which they cannot see and do not know is probably just afraid to admit it. Of course I have doubts; I’m only human. But I also have faith.
So then what is the doubt that consumes me? The answer, unfortunately, is my religion. In fact, it’s any religion. Because religion is man’s interpretation of how God chose to deliver His message, and to whom He delivered it. We Christians believe that God chose to deliver His message through Jesus, who delivered it first to the Jews, and later the Gentiles. It’s fully documented in the Bible, our holy book, and it’s a wonderful interpretation. It happens to be the interpretation I choose to accept. But it’s MAN’S interpretation, and we all know how fallible men are.
At any rate, in this interpretation, the only way to God is through Jesus. It’s a very narrow road, and a simple one. If you accept Jesus as your savior, your sins are forgiven, you fall under God’s amazing grace, and you are saved. I can afford to be comfortable on that narrow road because I’ve accepted Jesus.
But I’ve found I can’t be comfortable for too long. Because if the road is really that narrow, then what happens to the billions (yes, billions) of Muslims out there? Their religion is Islam, and apparently, they believe in the very same God! Sure, I know they call him Allah, but IT”S GOD, the God of Abraham, Noah, Moses, and Jesus. Their holy book is called the Qur'an, and it focuses on faith and submission to God. They had a different messenger, of course, whose name was Muhammad. So sometimes I think (but would never ever say or write) that maybe, just maybe God decided, in His infinite wisdom, to send a different messenger to the Muslims. Maybe, with His infinite compassion, He figured the Arabs needed to hear about Him from one of their own. He’s certainly capable, isn’t He? He created the universe and everything in it, so no one could argue with His ability to create another messenger.
And, strangely enough, since the original Qur’an was written and/or passed down orally in Arabic (as opposed to the Bible, which was written and/or passed down orally in Aramaic and Greek) the Muslims consider all translations deficient because of language differences, the fallibility of translators, and the impossibility of preserving the original's inspired style. Hmmm. So my problems with the many human interpretations and different translations of the Bible wouldn’t seem that odd to a Muslim, I guess. Only to my fellow Christians.
One of my biggest doubts concerns evangelism. According to my religion, our obligation is to go out to all the nations and spread the news about Jesus. The goal is to convert, or at least try to convert, everyone in the world, so that they have the opportunity to be saved. Before the second coming of Christ. Before they are condemned to eternal hell. I’ve always had a real problem with that.
It used to be that my problems were twofold: 1. I wasn’t the type. To be out there evangelizing, I mean, and, 2. Only God knows your heart, and only God decides who’s saved. Who was I to judge? But lately, my problem is that God may just be SO big that He’s already accounted for the billions of people around the world who aren’t Christians. After all, since God is our Creator, didn’t He create them too?
He’s omniscient, so He obviously knows everything there is to know about the Muslims and Buddhists and Hindus; He’s up-to-speed on Judaism, Jainism, Taoism, and Confucianism, even if I’m not. And what if He’s OK with that? What if He even started ALL of them, using different messengers, to connect all His children to that which is holy, to inspire them through faith with the desire to live a righteous life and love their neighbor? Isn’t He powerful and compassionate enough to DO that?
The truth is, I don’t know. I have doubts. But I will always have doubts, and, like I said, God can handle it. I probably don’t belong in my church, though, because thinking like this is antithetical to the doctrine preached within its walls. But I like my church. I love the people who go there; I embrace the message and the messenger. And I believe God knows my heart. In the end, I hope that’s all that matters.