On Doubt

I was not always a Christian. For many years of my life — may God forgive me — I viewed Christianity as something primitive and simplistic, something irrational and even immoral (like so many of the children of modernity, I considered the entire concept of the Last Judgment as theologically and morally indefensible — such was the enormity of my pride).

And for many years, like the young St. Augustine, I wandered along crooked paths, not knowing that all the while God was allowing me to go astray because He saw that even those same crooked paths would eventually lead me back to Him.

When I discovered Orthodoxy, I knew immediately that it was everything that my heart had always longed for. In Holy Orthodoxy I found all the truth that I had ever encountered outside of the Christianity of my childhood, and none of the errors on account of which I had abandoned it. Like T.S. Eliot, I had arrived where I started, and knew the place for the first time. By the mercy of God, I had come home.

But still, there was that voice. The voice whispering to me in the back of my mind. I imagine that in better times, in the time of Christendom, those who apostatized from the Church heard the voice of their conscience, whispering to them in quiet moments that they had made a terrible mistake. Now I, an apostate from modernity, heard a similar voice whispering to me that I was making a terrible mistake. What if it all isn’t true? What if it’s all just a fantasy? What if there is no God, what if there is no eternity, what if you’re just throwing your life away? What if it’s all in vain? Where is the evidence? Where is the proof?

I think many, many people — even those who were raised as Christians, even those who never forsook their faith as I did — have heard the voice that I am talking about. It is a quintessentially modern voice. It is the voice of doubt. It is the voice of science, of rationality, of reasonableness, of empiricism, even of plain common sense.

Or at least, that’s what we have all been encouraged to believe. But I made a discovery one day: that isn’t what the voice is at all. It’s not the voice of rationality. It’s the voice of fear.

That’s all. It’s just fear. It’s the voice of fear: raw, elemental, existential fear. It seizes every argument and every pretext to justify itself to our rational mind, and it repeats itself over and over, like a broken record, in order to worm its way into our heart. But in its essence, it isn’t any of those arguments; no matter how many times it repeats itself, it cannot change what it is. It’s simply fear.

And here’s the thing: there is absolutely nothing at all that we can ever do to convince fear not to be afraid. It isn’t reasonable. It isn’t logical. It’s just fear.

So when you hear that voice, don’t argue with it. Don’t even worry about it. Just ignore it, and look steadfastly to Christ. It doesn’t even matter if the voice won’t go away. The demons have been defeated, and all they can do now is whisper. So let them whisper. They can whisper all they want. It won’t change the fact that Christ is risen. It won’t change the fact that death has been destroyed. It won’t change the fact that we are all the children of God, and that our home is in Heaven.

But if you do want to fight that voice, don’t fight it with arguments. Fight it with love. Fight it with the love of God, fight it with simple and childlike prayer, fight it with actual acts of love for the actual human beings all around us. Fight it with obedience and humility and faith. Because ultimately, faith is not a feeling, nor even the absence of doubt. Faith is a decision to place our trust in God.

Because, as it says in the Holy Scriptures, we ourselves don’t need to fight in this battle at all. “The LORD shall fight for you, and ye shall hold your peace.”

So let us hold our peace. It is above all in silence — even if after many years of waiting — that we will finally meet Christ. And when we do, all fear shall pass away.

I want to say to you, about myself, that I am a child of this age, a child of unfaith and skepticism, and probably (indeed I know it) shall remain so to the end of my life. How dreadfully has it tormented me (and torments me even now) this longing for faith, which is all the stronger for the proofs I have against it. And yet God gives me sometimes moments of perfect peace; in such moments I love and believe that I am loved; in such moments I have formulated my creed, wherein all is clear and holy to me. This creed is extremely simple; here it is: I believe that there is nothing lovelier, deeper, more sympathetic, more rational, more manly, and more perfect than the Saviour; I say to myself with jealous love that not only is there no one else like Him, but that there could be no one. I would even say more: If anyone could prove to me that Christ is outside the truth, and if the truth really did exclude Christ, I should prefer to stay with Christ and not with truth.

-Fyodor Dostoevsky

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