At Peace With Doubt

Kyle Cupp, author of the new book Living by Faith, Dwelling in Doubt, describes how he’s come to be thankful for his religious doubts, holding that they can “become the building blocks of faith, giving to faith its structure, shape, and power”:

I have my doubts about God, still, especially in stillness and in quietude. I probably wouldn’t make a good monk. There are times when I feel the close presence of a being I want to call God, but these experiences tend to come when I’m not looking for them, when I’ve forgotten myself: chasing my giggling children around the house, scouring one bathroom of mold and rotting caulk while my wife cleans the other, lying down with closed eyes listening to her read poetry. It’s in these simple moments that I sometimes feel as though the love I experience is bigger than I am, almost as though I’m bathed in a spirit that unites me to every love across the universe. Later I’ll make the mistake of getting all theological about God, a point at which God seems to vanish and I’m left with cold formulas that sound lofty but say almost nothing to me.

I’m not sure I’d have it any other way. God is described, ironically, with the term “ineffable,” a word that deconstructs every doctrine we formulate. It indicates the infinite distance between the words and formulas we use to describe God and whatever it is to which they refer. Between our finite words and an infinite God there’s a lot a room for uncertainty. A lot of room for doubts. An endless space for questions and conflicts of interpretation.

In a Q&A about his book, Cupp mentions that he learned early on to deal with religious ambiguity and uncertainty – he was the product of a mixed faith marriage, one parent Buddhist, the other Catholic:

If I were a character in a novel, talking a lot about the uncertainty at the heart of my faith life, the early childhood experiences of a mixed religion household and divorce would make a credible back story. The world of my home began as place of irreconcilable differences. I learned the behavior of trust from my parents, but this trust always meant believing in two people who didn’t agree on matters heavenly and earthly.  Trusting them meant living in tension. Looking back, I think I made peace with this tension. As an adult, when I’ve had my moments of doubting God’s existence or wondering whether any of the stuff said about God really corresponds to something out there, I haven’t felt an overwhelming need to get hold of final answers. You might say I’m at peace with my doubts—with the tension between belief and unbelief in my faith. It’s not that I don’t struggle, but that I feel at home in the struggle.