If we’re to have a faith strong enough to carry us through difficult times, we need to become comfortable with doubt. Faith is not the same as belief. Belief focuses on ideas. Faith, however, is a choice, a lifestyle, a chosen stance. Faith requires investing all we are in something greater than ourselves such as belief in God, democracy, honesty, justice, then living as if something is true when the evidence points in an opposite direction. Is love really stronger than hate? Does treating others the way we long to be treated really bring the results we desire? Does honesty really pay off in the long run? What’s the point of caring and sharing when so much cruelty, selfishness, and greed seem far more effective?

The thing about faith is that it cannot be inherited or passed on to another. Faith is a choice often born out of disillusionment. Take the recovering alcoholic. Faith is looking at life as it is then deciding there must be something better and banking everything we have and are on that possibility. Recovery from addiction, for instance.

This nation’s form of government was based on the belief that all people are created equal and entitled to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Not just wealthy white men who were the first to experience the fruits of this concept of equality and fairness, but others, as well. Freed slaves. Women. Immigrants. What’s held our tenuous faith in democracy together is our shared faith that equality of opportunity is actually possible, though difficult. Over time we’ve made slow strides toward opportunity and inclusion. We even fought a civil war to prove the worth of all men, yet our hold on such a lofty principle is increasingly tenuous. Many today are turning away from our national ideals, trading short term rewards for the overarching principle that all men are created equal.. Treating others fairly is extremely difficult. History, told from the perspective of the winners, documents how selfishness and greed tend to override love and justice. Few societies have been able to maintain these lofty principles for any length of time.

Each of the world religions was born out of the hopes and dreams of those who dared to believe change is possible, that we can actually grow into our better selves. In the beginnings of these world religions, men and women recognized that faith in such abiding ideals as fairness and justice must be more than ideas; these principles must be embraced as a chosen lifestyle. And chose they did, even when it meant suffering and death

It’s precisely because living out our lofty ideals is so difficult that we must learn to live with doubt as a component of faith. It’s one thing to believe that love is stronger than hate; it’s another thing to treat one’s enemies with decency and respect. It’s one thing to believe in equality of opportunity; it’s another thing to graciously stand aside allowing another to get that coveted place at Yale or the job of our dreams. It’s one thing to believe in open and fair elections and then gracefully accept disappointing election results.

So, while I have faith that the loving, inclusive, forgiving God revealed in the person of Jesus and His way of the Cross can redeem troubled mankind, I am filled with doubt. Up until Trump challenged our shared assumptions about honesty, decency, and the common good, I had faith that our democracy was strong enough to hold. Today I see the guard rails crumbling. People I had trusted are proving to be untrustworthy, ready to place their faith in a fallible human and his big lie, rather than democracy and the peaceful transition of power. Our better angels seem to be giving way to the demonic forces of power, prestige, and self interest. And yet. As the author of Hebrews wrote, “To have faith is to be sure of the things we hope for, to be certain of things we cannot see.” Thus I am determined to maintain faith that our nation will return to a semblance of decency, even as I have doubts.

Joyce Shutt is the pastor emeritus of the Fairfield Mennonite Church.

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