Making Space for Doubt
Recently Pope Francis willingly made himself available for a rather extended interview that was then published. People are always interested in what the Pope thinks and what he has to say. And Pope Francis is certainly generating quite a bit of interest as folks try to figure out the direction of his papacy. Since the Pope hails from Argentina, people think he is going to be different than most of his European predecessors. Probably only an American Pope would generate more interest.
It does make room for the Lord. It makes room for God to be present in the world in a variety of ways and speak good news to us in multiple ways. Doubt does not have to destroy in order to allow for more space and more grace. I think this is perhaps what the Pope meant when he tells us to leave room for doubt.
I also was interested in reading the entire transcript of the interview. Everyone is becoming aware the Pope has some pet issues, which is not unusual for any important person. The Pope clearly has a deep concern for social issues, particularly justice issues. He has been speaking openly about the Church’s need to tend to the poor among us. It seems clear the Pope has a special concern for the down and out in any society. That makes sense to many Christians. It resonates with how many of us would read the gospel, as Jesus proclaimed it.
The Pope has ditched plans to move into the typical papal residence, which he feels is too luxurious. Instead, he is living more modestly in a smaller place. I like this witness, which he is offering by this simple act. “Actions speak louder than words,” goes the old saying. He obviously is speaking loudly.
The thing he said in his interview that I found fascinating and would like to give some focus in this inspiration piece concerns the issue of doubt. I found what he says to be both refreshing and encouraging. Let me share a couple lines from the interview and then pursue the papal encouragement to all of us.
Pope Francis says, “The great leaders of the people of God, like Moses, have always left room for doubt,” he said. “You must leave room for the Lord.” In the first place I like how the Pope seems to be aligning himself with the “great leaders of the people of God.” There is no doubt the Pope is a leader of the people of God. He was chosen by his peers, who would affirm that they were guided by God’s Spirit in choosing him to sit on the Chair of Peter. I am fine with this theology and hope that God’s Spirit did in some way inspire the papal conclave to choose the Argentinian who took the name, Francis I. And I hope that God continues to inspire this leader of the people of God to become a “great leader.” He is on the way!
I like the fact that Pope Francis says these great leaders have always left room for doubt. That’s a neat way of putting it: always. Not sometimes leave room for doubt, nor occasionally. Always leave room for doubt, says our Pope. Let’s consider the role of doubt.
Doubt is not the same thing as disbelief. The way I see doubt is to portray it as a process of thinking. In matters of faith, doubt does not mean negativity. To doubt something is to be unconvinced yet. To doubt something means I don’t find enough evidence yet to persuade me to believe. To doubt is not having enough experience to be conclusive. As I understand doubt, it means “not yet” more than it means “no.”
Often doubt is an appeal for more time. I see doubt as a very healthy part of the process of maturing. Especially in matters of faith, most of us grow up in families where we either are taught some particular religious tradition or we are taught that no religious tradition makes sense. It is not surprising that I am Quaker, since that is the religious context that formed me.
The other part of the Pope’s words is equally important. “You must leave room for the Lord.” What a fantastic idea. I imagine the Pope is giving doubt the credit for creating space for the Lord. Doubt opens us up for “the more” and “the new.” I am confident the Pope is not against doctrine. Doctrine certainly is not bad. But it can be limiting. Because doctrine comes to us in words, the words are necessarily limiting. Doubt can create spaces in the doctrinal declarations.
Let’s look at a couple ways that doubt can create space. One of the creeds begins with the affirmation, “I believe in God the Father, Almighty…” This clearly is a good, classical way to acknowledge God. But doubt comes along and says, “that is true enough, but I doubt that is the only way to describe God.” Doubt powerfully opens us up to new possibilities. It allows there are other ways to understand God. For example, doubt allows the chance to see God also as Mother.
A second example shows the creativity of doubt. For most Christians the Bible is in some sense God’s word or good news to the world. It is true for me. Again doubt comes along with a positive way to open us up to even more. Doubt says something like, “True enough, the Bible is a source of God’s good news to humanity. But I doubt it is the only way God speaks good news to humanity.” When I hear doubt speak this way, I find it exciting.