Doubt and Liturgy

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“To believe is human, to doubt, divine.”

This is the tagline of one of my latest reads that a few of my friends are in the process of discussing. It is a work written by theologian, philosopher, and provocateur, Peter Rollins entitled Insurrection.

There is much to discuss within the pages, and I would be happy to buy a cup of coffee for anyone who would care to read and discuss it with me (not an empty offer, by the way!) But I will have to leave much of that discussion to such venues, or to my current “Breaking Bad Theology” night which is exactly what its double-entendred name describes (discussing a deconstructionist book [Rollins] and then watching Breaking Bad).

All that being said, I feel as though one of the places that Rollins seemed to intrigue me the most were his statements concerning the place of doubt in Christian worship or liturgy.

He uses Jesus’ statement on the cross as a starting point, as recorded in both the Gospels of Matthew and Mark: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

For Rollins, this is a witness of Jesus expressing what he describes as an existential or experiential atheism, calling it “the deepest, most radical form of divine loss” (p. 21).

There is much to unpack here (and he does), but in essence, he argues that for us to fully participate in the death of Jesus, we also must go through Crucifixion; a process of having all comfort and structure stripped away until there is nothing left.

And to much of this, I would agree. Now here is where it can get a little scary for us. Many of us would say “yes and amen” to the fact that doubt is real and suffering is real and that many of us have felt that God isn’t there.

We would say “yes and amen” to this fact. But would we so regularly agree with actually experiencing it? That is, would we eagerly desire to engage in such a deep sense of loss or participate in an experience of disillusionment?

This is the part that has given me pause for reflection. As one who seeks to craft an environment where the realities of our faith can be experienced and shape us, the large absence of doubt in our current liturgies concerns me (and I say “our” in the sense of my church, not in universal sense, as I am in no place to speak for others).
Am I offering a sort of holy security blanket in order to shield people from the stark realities that they need to experience, as Christ did? Do we not have opportunities to fully feel the loss because we are so eager to get to the phrase “but God” or speak of resurrection?

What if we were to sing songs that express doubt, that recount anger toward God, or that question his very existence or presence? How would that be received? And better yet, how could it be truly good for us? We do identify with break-up songs a lot, after all…and even sing them! And this can be a sort of catharsis. It is one thing to say that loss happens, and it quite another to declare, in the loudest voice, that loss has happened to me.

But we rarely refuse to sing such things because we say we “know better” than what we are singing. We are quick to say “Yes it feels this way, but Jesus is alive.” “All things work together for good.” “Consider it joy when you face trials” (this last one being one of my least favorite, poorly-quoted phrases that others say to suffering people–one I heard way too often while I was enduring some great losses of my own).

Jesus knew he would be alive again, didn’t he? He said many times that he would be raised. But that fact did not seem to prevent him from being grieved and overwhelmed with sorrow “even to the point of death” (Mark 14) and then proclaiming his felt absence of God. This is not to mention that he still had (has?) scars to prove it. Jesus even directs Doubting Thomas to touch (experience) Jesus’ scars as proof of the fact of his resurrection. Could it be that we need to become more acquainted with the “scars” of Jesus?

What do you think? Should there be room for doubt in corporate worship times? If so, how?

4 thoughts on “Doubt and Liturgy

  1. Much better!!

    P.S. Now that I’ve pushed past the scars you inflicted on me by not giving credit where credit is due, my spirit toward you has been resurrected; thus, I just read the rest of your post. (I really like it! :-P)

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