“This is a book with the not very catchy title Faith and Doubt, and the most important word in the title is the one in the middle,” so writes John Ortberg in the introduction to his newest book, Faith and Doubt
. I’ve read a number of books in my life on doubt, and everyone of them — unless my memory fails me — was by a professor or a professional intellectual. Because this new book is by a pastor, I’m especially appreciative. He opens this book up with this line: “I will tell you my secret: I have doubts.” And then this comment I deeply admire: “There is a part of me that, after I die, if it all turns out to be true … there is a part of me that will be suprised.” Alongside that bold statement is this one: “Because I have faith too. And I have bet the farm.” Yes, indeed, the key word here is and: Faith and Doubt. Ortberg knows that faith coexists in most of us with some doubt. It is not Faith or Doubt, but Faith and Doubt.
What are your experiences of faith and doubt? Has it been a world of faith or doubt?
One thing I like about John Ortberg is that he’s not embarrassed at having gone to a high school with the lamest nickname in history. He went to East Rockford High School and their nickname was the “E-Rabs” — “East… Red … and … Black.” Whenever I rib him about this, he reminds me that I went to Freeport High School and our nickname was the “Pretzels.” Sure, not your most fiersome name but it’s a lot better than “E-Rabs.” Don’t you agree? I mean, we can say “twist them up” but what does an E-Rab do?
Back to the book … John’s known for his wit. Like this story about the human quest to be home and to be home with God and where God is determines where home is. But this story lightens up the theme: “I was mistreated once — I don’t remember now, but I’m sure it was bad — and I told my parents I was leaving. I packed my very small suitcase and told my mother to call my grandfather; then I sat outside on the curb waiting for him to pick me up.
An hour later, my mom came outside. “He’s not coming, you know,” she said.
“Why not?” I asked.
“Well, for one thing, because he’s already raised his family. For another thing, you’re not his son. You’re our son. And for another thing, you’re seventeen years old. You’re too old to run away.”
Deadly wit. [An E-Rab can say “raised” and not “reared” and get away with it. Pretzels know better.]
But this book is serious. A chp called “The Leap,” full as it is of good stories and quotations, speaks of moments, mountain top experiences, that create space in humans for faith to develop. “You hear an inspirational talk. You watch the birth of a child. You receive an answer to prayer. Sometimes it’s beauty that pierces your heart — a series of notes in a song, a phrase in a book — and you know that God is there. Faith is born” (68). But doubt will follow; doubt is the valley below the mountain. Faith involves a leap, but he’s doesn’t see the leap as irrational — and this is so good about this book. “It does not mean choosing to believe an impossible thing for no good reason” (73). It’s a choice. It’s commitment. It’s betting the farm.
So many themes in this book, including what “hope” (in things, in a person) is, the silence of God — he sees his doubts stemming from a lack of evidence, the negative evidence of failing Christians, the problem of pain — may be the best chp of the book and worth the price itself — and other chps on how doubt sometimes goes bad (falling into skepticism and cynicism and rebellion) and how uncertainty is a gift (the nature of genuine relationships), and why John believes (he gives his arguments).