Metropolitan Anthony: Doubt and Questioning Part of Christian Life
Metropolitan Anthony Bloom was the archbishop of the Russian Orthodox Diocese of Sourozh in Great Britain and Ireland from 1957 to shortly before his death in 2003. A popular author of several books on prayer and a regular guest on radio and television broadcasts, Metropolitan Anthony became well known in the English-speaking world for his efforts to share Orthodox Christian spirituality with the modern world.
In 2001, shortly after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, His Eminence recorded a series of talks, in which he tackled various issues of contemporary Christian life, seeking “to say things which have accumulated in my mind and heart over the years.” The first video in the series, embedded above, examines the role of doubt and questioning in the life of faith.
His Eminence begins with a vignette:
A number of years ago, I was invited by the BBC to give a talk on believing, and when I finished my talk, the person responsible said to me: “Bishop Anthony, we shall never invite you again to speak on our religious programs”. And I said: “Was my talk so desperately bad?” He said: “No, it isn’t that. But we don’t want any of your certainties. What we want is doubt and questioning”.
And I think we are at the moment at a point where not only the BBC, not only people without a faith, but people who have a faith – religious, philosophical or people who believe in life, in truth, in man are shaken by what is going on. I am not speaking only of the horror that had seized upon America and has spread all over the world. I am speaking of a gradual loss of faith, a gradual diminishing in the number of people who wish to come to Church and an increasing number of people both within the Church and outside it who ask earnest questions, searching questions about their own faith and the faith which they have inherited.
The Metropolitan continues with a reflection on the role of doubt in the Christian life, drawing from the lives of the saints to illustrate that doubt is a natural part of any relationship and, in the context of our relationship with God, a spiritual trial.
And so I would like to insist on the fact that when a doubt comes, when hesitation comes, when we began to question what seemed to be so simple and clear at other moments, we are not committing a sin. I was about to say: it is our right and more than this – it’s our duty. A right and a duty because we are called by God to be His friends…We must be honest with God and with ourselves. God does not want to be surrounded by credulous people, but by people who know Him enough to trust Him at times beyond the limits of their knowledge…
On the one hand, faith is a certainty. When the saints spoke of their faith in God, they spoke of their inner certainty concerning the God they had met at the depth of their soul. But faith has got also other nuances: faith means faithfulness. What we have discovered of God and ourselves, what relationship has been established between Him and us one moment, if it is true, if we believe it is true, must develop into a way of life — in the same way in which when we make friends with a person we have the joy of friendship, but we must also live up to this friendship. Basically it means to be worthy of the friendship which is offered and given without reluctance, generously and at times at a cost. In our human relationships this happens time and again: we make friends and then we prove incapable of living up to the friendship which has been given us as a most precious present. But our friend does not turn away from us: he endures, he remains faithful, even if we waver, even if from time to time other friendships, other things, attract us more than the precious friendship which we have gained once. This happens supremely in relationship between husband and wife, between children and their parents.
Faith, therefore, is certainty of things unseen because a relationship, an encounter at the depth of our soul cannot be put into words, it is an experience. … We begin with an experience and this experience may fade and calls us to ask questions. The first question is: But where has He gone? The second question is: But was He ever here, or have I had simply a delusion; perhaps, there was no God? And then fear comes and doubt comes. And it is very important for us to be prepared to face these situations. Each of us in a different way, to which I will come if I can, at a certain moment has had a sense of God. And then there are other moments when we lose this sense, and we must at that moment have faith, be certain that the experience which we had was real.