This business of doubt takes me to Abraham and the question of the οὐ.
“Without being weakened in faith, Abraham faced the fact that his body was as good as dead, and that Sarah’s womb was also dead – and yet, looking to the promise of God he did not waver through unbelief but grew strong in his faith, giving glory to God, becoming fully persuaded that God had the power to do what he had promised (Romans 4:19 or there abouts).”
Here’s the question.
It all depends on the οὐ. A good number of ancient manuscripts have Paul in Romans say οὐ κατενόησεν (ka-teh-noh-ay-sen = to fully consider, think about in depth, ponder at length) but a good number of them omit the οὐ (no, not).
Did he fully consider his condition, did he ponder in depth the obstacles, did he wrestle with doubt?
We can’t decide the issue based on manuscripts. The older English translations say he didn’t think about it, the more recent that he did, and that, having done so, he worked out his doubts into full assurance. Doubt was the grist in his mill of faith.
[Geeks, let me geek/greek out a bit more here, the rest of you can skip to the punch line if you wish; variant readings in New Testament manuscripts are rated on an A|B|C|D scale by Bruce Metzger (super Greek geek) in his Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament with A meaning the reading is virtually certain; B there is some doubt; C there is considerable doubt (a major shoulder shrugging moment); and D is maximized doubt – we really have no idea what the original reading was so we’ll just go with the least unsatisfactory reading – which is pretty much how we all vote in every election anyway. Metzger goes with no οὐ here, concluding that no οὐ fits better here because “Paul does not wish to imply that faith means closing one’s eyes to reality, but that Abraham was so strong in faith as to be undaunted by every consideration.” But still, Metzger puts the no οὐ reading in the “C” shoulder shrugging category. A doubtful reading about Abraham’s doubt. Too good. Geek session over.]
The thing is, we don’t need manuscripts to decide this. Abraham was a human being, therefore he had doubts. Plus the Genesis story leaves little doubt that Abraham struggled with doubts through his journey (anyone who asks the question, “How am I to know?” is struggling with doubt). Faith (whether of the religious or irreligious variety) is processing doubts by dealing with all of reality, rather than select portions of it. Anything less is more folly than faith.
The fact is, when Abraham was still Abram, he doubted before he faithed. He saw that crack in the wall of his polytheistic, cosmopolitan, commercialized reality. No matter what room, what town square, what marketplace, what temple, it was there. And then, one day, when he stopped avoiding it, stopped covering it, stopped ignoring it (and evidently this only took seventy-five years), the crack in the wall spoke. “Lech lecha.” Get going. Destination: Unknown. But I will show you. And it will turn into a party for the whole world.
Toxic doubt paralyzes us, immobilizes us, and turns us into hardened, bitter cynics who no longer see wonder nor listen for voices in the cracks showing up in the walls of our world. Doubt that serves as the flip-side of faith always gets us going and keeps us moving.
It’s so what we do with it – what we let it do with us.
What wonderful freedom not to fear the cracks through which light is beaming, but to let them speak instead.
What things unseen are just waiting to be seen if we aren’t afraid to listen and look?
What realities might be realized if we will fully plumb the depths of our own barrenness, of our own deadness, inertness, or that of our current belief system and settings, rather than numbing our brains and applying another layer of cosmetics one more time?