Leaving Room for Doubt

Although I am not Roman Catholic, I feel like the Pope is in some sense “my” Pope.  Of course I don’t think the Pope is my Pope in the same sense as a Catholic must see the Pope as his or her Pope.  I know quite a bit about Catholicism and I hang out with a fairly substantial group of Catholics.  I am a lay Benedictine monk, which means I am free to participate with the Benedictine monks in their life and worship.  I am grateful for everything the Catholic community has given to me.

But I am still not a real Catholic in the sense that someone must be if he or she is actually a full member of the Church.  And I recognize the Pope is the Head of the Roman Catholic Church and, as such, has a special relationship with all those who are full members of that Church.  But to see the Pope in that role is to have a too narrow view of the Papal Presence in our world.

I am convinced the Pope is also more than Catholic.  In many instances the Pope speaks to the entire human race.  When the Pope speaks about making peace in our world, that is not simply a Catholic concern.  When the Pope addresses issues of humans doing good work for fellow human beings, hopefully more than the Catholic community is listening and responding.  The Pope always has my ear.

The Pope recently was interviewed and his comments were reported out in Jesuit publication.  I found his remarks engaging and thought provoking, as did so many others in this country and around the world.  There were a couple sentences in the wide range of thoughts that particularly captured my attention.  Let’s look at these sentences.

Pope Francis is quoted to say, “The great leaders of the people of God, like Moses, have always left room for doubt.”  Perhaps this resonated with me because I think it is so true.  And maybe it also surprised me a little, because leaders like the Pope are not usually commenting on the role of doubt in religious life. 

Leaving Moses aside, let’s ponder the role of doubt in our human lives.  To doubt is to be uncertain about something or someone.  Doubt means we are not confident in something.  It might even mean we think something is unlikely.  Often I have said, “I doubt that,” and by saying this, I am saying I really don’t think it is true.  Certainly doubt is not the same thing as “false.”  Doubt is a gray area somewhere between truth and falsehood.  To doubt is to be unable to affirm the truth or the likelihood of something.

I agree with the Pope.  I think great leaders do leave room for doubt.  Probably leaders of all kinds---great and otherwise---should leave room for doubt.  But when the Pope says it, it is powerful because the person with the greatest power to command faith or belief is saying it is ok to leave room for doubt.  That perspective I find refreshing.  It goes against the grain of a leader’s usual privilege.

For example, let’s focus on a different kind of leader than the Pope.  Let’s consider the role of mother or father as leader---leader of a family.  Too often I believe parents put children in intellectual and faith straightjackets by insisting on believing something which may, in fact, be dubious.  Belief in God is one such area where believing is not always easy. 

Apparently some people have experiences that compel belief in God.  That belief is so powerful, deep and sure, it makes any temptation to doubt seem silly.  At the other end of the spectrum, some folks are equally convinced that God does not exist, that there is no basis for God; any form of doubting again is silly.  For an atheist, doubt seems as frivolous as for the die-hard believer in God. 

But for the huge number of folks in the middle---in the gray zone---doubt is seemingly unavoidable.  I believe, but I also can say that my belief is not absolute.  There are clear and good reasons for me to harbor some doubt.  And I certainly doubt that my view of God and how God works comes very close to the real God.  My theology is dubious.  It is a working model until God reveals more or until I come face-to-face with the Holy One in this world or the next!

I appreciate Pope Francis allowing room for doubt.  And his second sentence I find equally compelling.  The Pope says, “You must leave room for the Lord.”  That’s a zinger, too!  When you think about it, this second sentence balances nicely the first sentence.  The Pope is savvy.  Of course, we should leave room for doubt.  But we should also leave room for God!  We could write a book on this one.

Perhaps one function of doubt is to clear away the debris in order to make room for fresh and renewing experiences of God’s Presence and Power.  Perhaps we can learn to doubt the nonsense of our lives in order to gain new senses of our human potentiality and possibilities in the Real Presence of God.  Thanks Francis!

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