This entry is part 7 of 9 in the series: ‘The Sin of Certainty’ (Enns)
‘God Wants You Dead’, exclaims the title of chapter 7 of Peter Enns’ latest book.
Many of us, says Enns, feel doubt creeping up on us, and then start to feel guilty about it. So we fight it. And then, when we find that the doubt won’t go away, we end up living lives of ‘quiet and wretched desperation’.
But doubt is not the enemy of faith, but only the enemy of certainty. In fact, doubt is the friend of faith, because it takes us away from the security ‘knowing what we believe’ and towards trust. Doubt tears down the walls of our self-made castle, and takes us out into the bracing air of reality. As we leave behind our ideas about God we find God himself.
God wants us to die – to die, that is, to our certaintist theology. We take up our cross (Mt 10:37-39; cf. Gal 2:19f; Col 3:3)) not simply to carry it, but to die on it. And that death means letting go of comfort, control and … certainty. ‘The life of Christian faith is more than agreeing with a set of beliefs about Christ, morality, or how to read the Bible. It means being so intimately connected to Christ that his crucifixion is ours, his death is our death, and his life is our life – which is hardly something we can grasp with our minds. It has to be experienced.’
But God doesn’t leave us dead. He brings us ‘from death to life’ (Rom 6:1-14). Following Jesus means dying and rising right now, in the thick of our daily lives. Doubt signals that this process is under way. Doubt is God’s instrument for transforming us. Doubt may still be painful, but it teaches us to trust. Doubt is ‘divine touch love’.
The value of the dark places of the Bible is that they connect us with the dark places of our souls. They tell us to stopping faking ‘spiritual victory’, and start being honest with ourselves, others and God. Didn’t Jesus himself experience divine abandonment (Mt 27:46)? The ‘dark night of the soul’ of mystics such as St John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila can be painfully unrelenting – and is probably more common amongst Christians today than many of us would care to admit. But, once again, the experience teaches us to trust God anyway. Trapped in a chasm of utter darkness, we finally lose our need for clarity and control, and learn to trust God. Control, after all, is an illusion anyway. We need to let it go, and ask God to help us to die, help us to trust.
Take a lesson from Mother Teresa, whose own dark night lasted from 1948 until near the time of her death in 1997. But she trusted God anyway, and perhaps her dark night actually fuelled his life’s work. Faith without doubt is mere religion, something that takes its place in our lives alongside our jobs and our hobbies.
Oh dear. If only Peter Enns had sometimes used the word ‘sometimes’! If only he had said that sometimes Christians come into times of chronic doubt, and that even at those times God can teach them vital truths about following him. And if only he hadn’t tried so hard to recruit the teaching of our Lord and others about self-denial and tried to bring into harmony with his celebration of chronic intellectual uncertainty. If only he had said that real faith is more than right beliefs, instead of trying to persuade us that real faith is other than right beliefs.