By Susan K. Smith,
We grow up in a theological environment which makes us feel like if we have faith, we do not have doubt. We view the two as being incompatible. That opinion reminds me of what being “incompatible” looks like. When I was a child, we had to take cod liver oil every day. We, of course, hated it, but my mother tried to make it all better. So, she would pour us big glasses of orange juice – freshly made by her, no doubt – and would put a tablespoon of the dreaded oil into the orange juice and stir.
No matter how long she stirred, the oil and the juice would not “mix.” The oil stayed stubbornly on top of the juice and there we’d be. We’d have to drink it, but in spite of the juice, we got the full effect of the taste of the cod liver oil. Cod liver oil (and castor oil, for that matter) do not mix.
But faith and doubt do mix. Challenges, including bigotry and hatred, racism and sexism, homophobia, militarism and so much more, are the oils with which we are faced every day. They do not taste good, but they serve a purpose: they strengthen us, just like the dreaded cod liver oil strengthened the immune systems of me and my four siblings. One cannot get through this life – not here or anywhere in the world – without having learned to ingest the dreaded oils of life. Every time we have to deal with injustice, every time we get a setback, personal or otherwise, we are forced to ingest an oil we do not like, and yet, those oils give us the determination to push through. Rather than sit and weary ourselves over how bad life is, there is something about those oils which give us stubborn resolve. We decide that the bad tasting oils are not the bosses of us. We decide that we will not be silent and pliant, and every time we do that, our spiritual selves get stronger. Injustice has a function – and that is, to train us to fight. Why some people seem to have to take more oil than others is not known, but here is the stark truth: Though the powers and principalities believe they can defeat those upon whom they trounce, they learn, over and over, that we who have taken the oils will not be stopped; we will not stay down. The oils make us stronger.
We cannot have faith without having doubt. Doubt that comes from dealing with bad times is normal. We wonder how long we’ll have to deal with what seems like an endless stream of evil. We want it to go away – but we have to understand that it will never go away. Faith means that we understand that no matter what comes our way, no matter how hard, vicious and ugly the battle, that in the end, there is and will always be God. Faith doesn’t mean that we believe we are supposed to see a victorious outcome of our battles; faith means that we believe in God to fight for what we believe is right regardless of outcome and know that God is with us. Faith is more knowing about God’s presence than it is knowing about how our fights will turn out. Faith means that we get the strength to stare evil in the face and not back down. It does not mean that we believe that we will never get knocked down. When Rev. C.T. Vivian stared down Sheriff Jim Clark during the 60s, challenging him to stop keeping black people from registering to vote, he did not know if he …and all those who stood in the rain that day …would get a victory. He got knocked down, and he got arrested, but he didn’t stop fighting. His resolve, in the face of the bitter oil of racism he had been forced to swallow, only grew. That “knowing” was the mixture of faith and doubt. Surely he and others wondered, like the psalmist in Psalm 13, how long the Lord would hide his (sic) face from them? How long would it be that this mean-spirited racism would stand, with religious people on the other side supporting it?
Oil and orange juice …doubt and faith…our lives are a testament to how we must always deal with the two. They are always there. What we must remember is that as life makes us take those oils, that we are getting stronger. We are allowed to have doubt, as the oils taste bad, and we are allowed to have doubt, as the result of doing what we think is God’s will often elusive. Doubt is a part of faith; without doubt, there really can be no faith.
Today, as we deal with what feels like overt evil overtaking this land one more time, remember that it is oil, castor oil, cod liver oil…and that the spirit of God is the orange juice. The doubt is what we taste first, but the sweetness of the orange juice is with us. As we cry, we rejoice. Doubt and faith, mixed, will always reveal the glory of God in the end.
Amen and amen.