The Christian faith is rife with difficulties. Save your life to lose it? Be born again? The Father is greater than I, but I and the Father are one? This bread is my flesh? “What on earth is he talking about?” said everybody from Nicodemus to the mob in Jerusalem to the crowd at Capernaum.
Indeed, the crowd at Capernaum didn’t even stay for an answer (John 6). They stalked off, leaving only a few disciples behind. The faith has more or less continued to make people’s brains hurt ever since.
That’s because the Gospel proposes to reveal reality to us, and reality is strange. Reality shows us patterns (two arms, two eyes, two legs, two nostrils, two lungs, two lobes of the brain, two kidneys), but then quietly veers from what you expect and gives you one heart.
We think we have things figured out by Newton, but then light turns out to be a particle and a wave at the same time, and space turns out to be curved, matter turns out to be energy, and time turns out to expand and compress depending on how fast you are going.
In a world like that, it’s hardly a surprise that the One God turns out to be three Persons and that one of the Persons should have assumed a human nature, died and risen from the dead. Reality is weird. But because it is weird, it is only natural that difficulties will arise. The question is: What will we do when that happens?
Jesus’ first piece of counsel to those having difficulties and doubts was: Do what he says, and you will find out whether he speaks from his Father. Here’s a second piece of advice: Instead of stalking off and saying, “This is a hard saying! Who can hear it?” (John 6:60), try remaining with Peter, who says, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68).
In other words, stay with Jesus and interrogate your doubts. Don’t just go limp when the devil says, “The faith looks weird, so the whole thing must be a trick!” Find out if the weirdness reflects reality.
The problem with many folks who fall into doubt is not that they have rigorous questions the faith can’t handle; it’s that they aren’t rigorous enough in asking their questions. The devil, as we have seen, has only suggestion to inspire doubt, since the truth is dead against him. So he gives us half-truths and part of the picture in order to suggest that God does not exist or is evil, that Christ is a fraud or that the whole thing is a sham.
This means that when people cave in to doubt and lose their faith it is not because they have discovered some shocking new truth. Rather, it’s usually because they’ve chosen to believe that the devil’s shoddy tissue of suggestions constitutes a good argument against Christ.
It is not because they have been intellectually rigorous, but because they have gotten tired of using their intellects. They haven’t “asked the hard questions”: They’ve given up asking hard questions and instead settled for easy answers. This explains the sort of ex-Christian who rejects the possibility of God’s existence by declaring, “It’s 2011! No thinking person today believes such things” — a reply as silly as “God can’t exist because it’s Tuesday!”
It’s the sort of thing said by people who have stopped using their intellect and begun worshipping it.
The Catholic model for all those who want answers to difficulties is not “Don’t ask questions,” but ask questions in faith and then use — not worship — your intellect.
St. Thomas Aquinas basically said, “Difficulties? Bring it!” and spent his life showing that, as Blessed Cardinal Newman observed, “Ten thousand difficulties do not amount to a single doubt.”
Mark Shea blogs at NCRegister.com.