By Deacon Daniel Malyon
“Therefore doubt should not be scorned, condemned or ridiculed but recognised and catered for as it can lead one through the darkness of struggle to a greater faith than before” Doubt As A Weapon Of Faith.
A number of years ago I was attending the agape meal when I had a strange conversation with someone. They were visiting the parish from another city and upon seeing the black-clad convert deacon joyfully asked, “what do you do for a living?” When I explained that I teach philosophy their expression changed and they said, “I feel sorry for you, that must be difficult.” I enquired the reason for this response, and she explained that she sees philosophy and leading to atheism and loss of faith since it causes people to question their faith and breeds doubt.
Since this time I have had seemingly identical conversations with a number of people, all sharing the same concern, that something designed to breed questions if ultimately against the Church and a danger. I however stand firm in my belief that doubt, when overcome, can be a weapon to strengthen ones faith against the struggles of the postmodern religious world.
Firstly, we must consider the nature of doubt. In scripture, doubt is warned about often. In Genesis it is words of doubt which lead Eve to disobedience, it is the witness of Christ’s arrest which leads the apostles to doubt his word, and it is doubt about the nature of Christ which leads Thomas to deny the resurrection until he witnesses it in its glory. However, we also see doubt lead to a strengthening of faith.
Moses’ doubt regarding his ability to lead the Israelites leads to him trusting in God’s providence over his presumed talents, Peter’s doubts lead to his profession that he will lead the flock, and Thomas’ doubt leads to Christ’s appearance to him and his proclamation that Christ is “My Lord and my God.” In this manner, we are made aware of the clear correlation between facing the challenge of one’s faith and the spoils of it being overcome.
The of these is that questioning the more difficult aspects of ones faith allows one to have a greater appreciation for it and especially the history of the Church. Speaking from experience, growing in love of the Saints and Fathers of the Church was one of the things which brought me to Orthodoxy. In a similar way, growing in one’s respect for the heritage of the Church allows a strong bond to develop between the youth of the Church and their faith today.
This develops and is given the space to develop through allowing an exploration of the challenges which the Church has faced from philosophers and heretics over time, and by allowing youth to express their doubts and hear how the Church has responded in the past as opposed to simply ignoring them or letting them fester.
An example of this could be found in one who is facing a difficult time in seeking answers to problems of faith through the clergy around them, they may feel disheartened and doubt in the veracity of the Church, however this doubt, if nurtured and catered for, can allow that person to develop in their love of the Church through seeing how it has persevered and responded to the same challenges.
As well as this, challenges lead to a deeper understanding and growth in the faith. We see this throughout our lives and the same can apply to our faith. In the same way that a child will only develop in their education through facing challenges and learning the correct methods to overcome them, the same applies to faith. This directly correlates to the Church itself and its own legacy in Nicene Era. Over centuries the Church was faced with internal strife from heretics and syncretists who sought to undermine the Church in the world.
Whether it be the Arians, the Pneumatomachians, the Nestorians or even the gnostics, it was through responses to these and through the development or incorporation of theological language that these were overcome. In the same manner someone, today must be faced with challenges to their faith in order to be able to equip themselves with the terminology and understanding to respond to these.
A similar warning is found in the First Epistle of St John. In this, St John says, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.” Without developing the tools to test such spirits and applying them, someone will not be able to discern this but will be left with only a shallow understanding. In the same manner, when faced with a tough question on their faith or untrue claim regarding our theology they will be unable to answer unless they are prepared to do so by taking time to question and seek answers previously.
In a similar way, doubt is useful as it prepares you to address the doubts of others. A challenge the Church faces today is that many who lead our youth or set an example for them in the world arm themselves own with stock answers and some quite unrealistic interpretations of the challenges faced by those doubting faith, and in this manner prepare others for nothing but confusion when faced with challenges themselves.
I this manner, doubt can help you by giving you the capacity to explain to others your own journey and why doubt may be acceptable or allow you to address the doubts of others from personal experience. This makes one a realistic example of the truth of faith and the challenges faced by the faithful.
Therefore doubt should not be scorned, condemned or ridiculed but recognized and catered for as it can lead one through the darkness of struggle to a greater faith than before, whether that be through a greater love of the Church, greater understanding of its teachings, or through them using their experience to train others. I this manner we must change our understanding of challenges as something not to be avoided or hidden from under the guise of faith but faced with a realistic and healthy understanding of the questions faced and knowledge of how these are addressed. It is only through this that we can cultivate in ourselves the fullness of faith amongst the struggles of our times.
By: Deacon Daniel Malyon | A Deacon of St Paul’s Ministry and St Mary & Pope Kyrillos VI Church. United Kingdom ~ Coptic Diocese of London.
Delivered to you by COPTICNN™ | Coptic News Network on 2020-11-30 from London, England
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