Honest Doubt or Stubborn Skepticism?

What’s the Difference?

I am also guilty of unfairly labeling Thomas as a doubter. Growing up in a church where pastors, speakers, Bible study leaders, and other Christian friends always associated the name Thomas with the word doubt, I was influenced.

Well, in a sense, that would be just technically natural. We remember Thomas by his famous words,

Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.

His statement is found in the famous story of Jesus’ appearance in the midst of his doubting disciples after his resurrection.

But why do we single out Thomas, as if he was the only one who doubted? Didn’t every one of the remaining eleven disciples doubted Jesus’ resurrection? How about Mary while standing near Jesus grave? Didn’t she ask the gardener about the location of Jesus’ body—not recognizing (perhaps because of doubt) that the gardener she was asking was actually the Jesus she was looking for?

Yes, Thomas doubted. But wasn’t it an honest doubt?

As far as I observe, the one difference I see between Thomas and the other disciples is that Thomas vocally expressed his doubt. Like the suffering Job of the Old Testament, Thomas expressed his feeling with full honesty—a healthy characteristic that is expected of a relationship—the same characteristic that made Job become vindicated by God instead of his friends.

Thomas’ words is an expression of an honest doubt. In contrast, those Pharisees who ask Jesus tricky questions are stubborn skeptics. They don’t really look for answers. They look for ways to prove that they are better than anyone else. They are driven by arrogance not by a searching soul.

An honest doubter is thirsty. An answer quenches her thirst. A stubborn Skeptic on the other hand, is an addict: no amount of intake will satisfy—any answer we provide seems to worsen his condition. An honest doubter is confused; a stubborn skeptic has already made up his mind.

Perhaps honest doubt is a sign of genuine perplexity while stubborn skepticism is a sign of an arrogant disbelief.

I think, one very obvious difference between honest doubt and stubborn skepticism is what happens after one receives an answer. The honest doubter is transformed into becoming a fearless proclaimer—My Lord and my God!”; while the stubborn skeptic looks for another loophole, for another way to challenge, for another trick.

By the way, wasn’t Thomas the only one in the four gospels who proclaimed that Jesus is God? Perhaps that’s what happens when we deal with our honest doubts carefully.

When I encounter honest doubters, I am compassionate enough to help. They honestly thirst for answers. But the moment I notice someone asking tricky questions like the Pharisees in Jesus’ time, I just ignore them . . . for they will never be satisfied. They are not looking for answers, they are looking for arguments. I don’t want to waste my time explaining to a stubborn skeptic.

It’s okay to doubt. For it is impossible to grow faith without the element of doubt. Like the tiny mustard seed that grows into a six-feet tall plant, faith grows in the soil of doubt. There is one danger, though, when we are in time of doubt: we are prone to be attracted to the skeptics’ arguments.

I have observed people who when facing doubt, they immerse themselves deeply into more doubting questions, they entertain other doubters statements and they welcome skeptics’ arguments. No wonder they end up being skeptic as well. No wonder they never recover.

When a person is cold, he needs to cover himself with more clothes instead of removing his garments. My two younger sons are afraid of the dark. They are afraid because they remember the horror movies they watched. But the more afraid they become, the more they want to feed the cause of their fear: the more they watch horror movies. Like the person who is cold, the more they are freezing to death, the more they are removing one by one all their garments.

Some doubters are like my sons, the more they doubt, the more they entertain the already attractive skeptic’s faulty arguments. Instead of carefully looking for answers, they entertain themselves with more skeptical questions and proofs that support their doubt.

For many years in my Christian life, I always swing back and forth between strong faith and crippling doubts. Every time I experience doubts, I express it to my family and non-condemning friends, and then I immerse myself to other facts that will help me recover. At the same time, I avoid skeptics’ words, for they will not help.

After recovering from doubts, I always end up fearlessly proclaiming, My Lord and my God!”

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I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Doubt

Months before I graduated in college, I was assigned with a team of artists to partner with a group of college students from one of our country’s top universities. My team were all Christians; our counterpart, all Buddhists. For one week, we stayed in their university campus exhibiting photos taken by mariners at sea during the gulf war.

One day, when I was left alone in the exhibit area together with our “counterpart,” I was challenged by three beautiful ladies. “Do you believe in God?” they asked me. Quickly, I answered with a smile, Yes, of course, I do!” not realizing that I was speaking with people who have different belief—at least different from mine.

“Can you prove to us that there is God?” was the next simple yet dreadful question. I was taken by surprise. Never did it occur to me that one day I would be by my own to defend what I truly believed in my heart. My mother wasn’t there for me to rescue me, nor the pastors who mentored me. I was alone. Much worse, was when I realized that I wasn’t even sure if God was with me to help me defend His own existence.

As I was preparing to answer, thinking very carefully where to start, those three angel-like figures where smiling at me, gesturing like they have already caught me in the corner. The moment I opened my mouth and started quoting the Bible, they stopped me right away. They raised their voices in unison as they interrupted me, as if I’m about to make a mortal mistake that will cause me instant death—and they were there to stop me so I would be safe.

“That’s where we base our belief! How can I not quote anything from it?” I was planning to argue with a question, when one of them said, “The Bible was just written by men. It’s full of errors. You cannot count on it in an argument.”

“What do I do now?” I asked myself? They don’t even allow me to argue, or at least to speak . . .

Then they said to me, “Cite anything you like, but never quote the Bible because we don’t believe in the Bible. We don’t accept any argument from the Bible.” They encouraged me to argue without using the Bible.

How do I deal with such debaters? Instead of answering their question, I asked them the same thing. “How about you, what do you believe?” Then, they started telling me what they believed.

I listened attentively as they discussed with me the concept:

They do not believe in the context of God. There is no heaven and hell. Life is an eternal cycle: after we die, we will be reincarnated in human form or in another forms like animals, insects, trees, stones, any form under the sun. Our next form—wether as human or non-human form—will be strictly based by our performance while still alive.

If we, as humans, are consistently reciting the “Chant of Buddha,” then most likely, we will become human again when we are reincarnated. However, if we don’t chant, chances are, we will become animals, or plants, or rocks where our chances to hear the Buddha chanting are less. The chance that we become humans again depends on the degree of how much chant or how much access to the chant we have while we were alive.

There is no God, they believed. Buddha is no god; rather a universal force. A chant activates that force. Every creature that comes in contact with that chant is blessed by the force. The more a creature—wether a dog, an orchid, or sand—is exposed to the chant, the more it is likely to become human in the time of its reincarnation. Therefore, humans have the greatest advantage: we don’t need to wait for somebody to hear the chant, all we need is recite the chant by ourselves. In that way, when we are reincarnated, we’ll be sure that we will be humans again.

I thought I was already freed from defending my faith. I was wrong. After they explained to me their side, they challenged me again, “Now it’s your turn. Prove to us that there is God.”

I knew I couldn’t. So instead, I asked them to prove me that there is no God.

I then took a single strand of hair from my head, then I asked them, “Who among you have already tried to go inside this strand of hair? How many strands of hairs we have in the entire planet, including those from animals?” They looked with each other, and said, “Obviously, no person can enter inside the hair.”

“How about inside this stone, have you ever heard a person who entered inside a small stone? And how many stones our planet have?” I asked them as I reached one small stone from the plant pot near us. “How about inside the leaf of a plant?”

What if God was inside one of those hairs, or stones, or leaves?”

I started enumerating things, big and small: the woods, the birds, water, air, the pearl under the sea, asking them if “they have heard anyone who had checked the insides of every object, and searched the entire planet and found out that there is no God?” I even asked them if they know of anyone who has gone to the moon, or made a routine round in our solar system to thoroughly search for God. “Has anyone tried to travel around the Milky Way, or to Visit Andromeda or make a complete search around the entire universe and then successfully come back to earth and proudly declare—after reaching every corner of the universe, including the black holes—that indeed, there is no God? What if God was hiding in one of those places that you haven’t searched?”

Although I couldn’t prove the existence of God; they couldn’t disprove it either. Both of us need to resort to what we call “faith”—belief in something despite lack of evidence.

I told them, if you have searched every place in the whole universe and then come back to earth and declare that you have not found God any where, then I will not believe you. Because if you were able to do that—searching the entire universe, reaching through the tiniest and the most gigantic creatures—then you are the god. In that case, there is god.

Is there a chance?

Here’s my personal perspective:

If they were right—that there’s no God, and that we are in eternal cycle of reincarnation—then I have eternal chance. Next time, I will simply believe them and live my life chanting eternally to keep myself forever safe.

But what if I was right? What if there’s heaven and hell? Will they have another chance? Will there be any second opportunity for them?

I cannot prove the existence of a God I do not see, nor touch. But I still choose to believe. Others may view it as being irrational. I think, that’s faithacting beyond reason.

I sometimes encounter other groups who are good or even expert in pointing out errors in the Bible. They are geniuses in finding what they think are faults. But for me, they still cannot provide something more solid, more rational . . . still they cannot offer me a surer alternative. What they do is point out the problems and errors but they can’t show the alternative way, can they?

Honestly, I don’t have enough faith to doubt the existence of God.

Faith Connection

Showing Off versus Self-restraint

I love to watch martial arts movies; but I like Jackie Chan’s more than others. His movies are not violent and not brutal. Rather, they are funny and full of display of genuine art, gracefully performed in a very entertaining way. The one thing that stands out, however, why I love Jackie’s movies so much, is his self-restraint. Though an expert fighter, Jackie always avoids fights by evading challenges, sometimes leaving a connotation that he’s afraid to fight. What a powerful display of self-restraint: the one who can crash your head in a single blow may always choose NOT to, even at the expense of being labeled coward!

In daily life, I observe the very opposite. Many people with power are so excited in testing if it really works, trying to crash people’s heads as much as they can . . . doing it to as many people as they want as often as they can. Some people in position always find ways to exhibit their phantom power — displaying to everyone that they are above us all, that they know something others don’t, that they posses something that others lack. Yet, what they do just makes people repel. And when they observe that people avoid their company, they feel insulted and then they persist to be liked. A paradoxical cycle begins: the more they attract people with their titles and positions, the more people repel.

In contrast, true powerful people are not powerful because they are able to put down smaller people. They are powerful not because they are able to overcome their attackers. No! Instead, they are powerful because they are capable to overcome themselves. They have mastered to restrain themselves from hurting others, from fighting back, from taking revenge.

I also know some people with high position yet they don’t seem to use it to take advantage of smaller people. Like the great Jackie in the movies, they don’t display phantom power, rather they hide their true power so that smaller people will not be afraid of them. They reach out. They, at times, even share power to smaller people like me. In return, I look at them with great reverence, acknowledging the true great power they have.

There, another yet opposite paradox is set in motion: the more they don’t show off their power, the more they become great, and the greatness becomes evident.

They use their power to overcome themselves, their own weaknesses, their own temptations, instead of controlling others. They remind me of a motto that struck me so strongly when I was in college:

If I can defeat others, I am strong; if I can defeat myself, I am stronger.

For years, I worked out my own attitude to align to that motto. And I find it again and again that it’s not always easy.

———————-

Knowing that in every rule there’s an exception, here’s what I see In quick view of this two-sided paradox:

Those people who exhibit their power are those who actually don’t have it; while those people who really have it don’t display it.

Faith connection

But how do they do that?

Faith.

It takes faith to feel comfortable in the presence of uncomfortable paradoxes.

Faith is courage in action. In my part, it takes courage not to use my position. It takes courage not to use my power to crash their heads, specially those who attack me. It takes courage to face the consequence of not striking back.

To be painfully honest, it is always difficult, doubting, troubling, not so assuring. It is challenging. It goes against my human instinct, against my normal reason. That’s why I need faith. Because If everything is so assured faith is no longer necessary. If everything is clear, easy and without doubt . . . if everything is doubt-proof, flows normally with everyday reason, then, I don’t need faith at all. All I need is believe.

Faith, according to the Bible is, “Being sure of what we hope for, and being certain of what we do not see.”  In contrast, belief is based entirely in proof and evidence, in what is seen and measured, in what can be calculated and explained. To see is to believe, remember?

As a layman, I see my faith as an inner battle triumphantly manifested in the choices I make after I made it. When the martial arts expert refrain from accepting a challenge or from striking back after being hardly hit, perhaps he’s not displaying belief in himself, maybe he’s exercising faith — believing against all his human logic that by doing so, that by avoiding the fight, he gains victory. Yet, without proof, without evidence, he acts with assurance.

“You can win more friends in two months by becoming interested in people than you can in two years to get other people interested in you.”

Dale Carnegie

How often do I fall into the trap of attracting people only to painfully discover that I am achieving perfectly well the very opposite of my goal! Against the normal flow, I learned that if I want to attract people I have to approach them in reverse: I need to be attracted to them. Instead of using my position or any superficial things, I’d rather selflessly concentrate on people, highlighting and appreciating what they have — a sign of being attracted.

What proof do I have that they will surely like me in return? Nothing. I only have faith.