Hank Williams asked one of the profoundest questions I’ve heard: “Why can't I free your doubtful mind and melt your cold, cold heart?” He plaintively sang:
The more I learn to care for you
The more we drift apart.
Why can't I free your doubtful mind
And melt your cold cold heart?
Williams meant the words for a woman whom he couldn’t convince about the genuineness of his love, but I sometimes imagine that God sings them to us: “Why can’t I free your doubtful mind and melt your cold, cold, heart?”
God longs to free our “doubtful minds.” That doesn’t mean, though, that all doubting is opposed to faith.
Faith is rarely easy for me. There are questions with which I’ve been wrestling for decades now:
How can I imagine, in a way that honors both science and story, the origin and emergence of a contingent and dependent world in which consciousness, including self-consciousness, evolved?
Why are injustice and suffering part of life in this breathtakingly beautiful world? And, since I have no expectation of an answer to that question, how do we cooperate with God and others to make meaning from our pain?
Are the risks of human freedom worth its costs? And a related question: Is there a thinkable alternative to the ennobling and character-making power of freedom responsibly borne?
How do we account for the upstart insistence of hope which seems to rise ineluctably from the bleakest and most God-forsaken places?
Such questions are the contours of my familiar doubts, and they show that sometimes I doubt my faith and sometimes I doubt my doubts.
I resonate with Tennyson’s words: “There is more faith in honest doubt,/Believe me, than in half the creeds.” I also agree with Buechner’s humorous claim that “Doubts are the ants in the pants of faith. They keep it awake and moving.”
Faith includes doubt. As Paul Tillich said in Dynamics of Faith, “Living faith includes the doubt about itself, the courage to take this doubt into itself, and the risk of courage.”
Since doubt is part of faith, rather than its opposite, what do I mean when I say that God to want to “free our doubtful minds”? The doubt from which God wants to free us is fearful uncertainty about God’s goodness.
There is a lot I don’t know about God, but Jesus has convinced me that God really is love. It took a long time, longer than I care to admit, for that idea to move from my mind to my heart.
If we can’t trust that love is the heart of God, then our own hearts will be cold; but a felt-awareness of God’s passion and compassion for us, often mediated by others who love us, can melt our icy and isolating fear that life and God are somehow against us rather than for us.
Jesus persuades me again and again that God loves each of us and all of us fully, joyfully, and eternally. God’s love is present with us. Our wounds and hopes affect God. God is committed to our becoming and our flourishing. God’s love is sweeping and all-encompassing; it takes in everyone and everything.
In the middle of vexing doubts, we can trust that nothing ever separates us from the God is who is pure, free, non-coercive, and healing love.
Think of Jesus, then, as God’s love song. Maybe a first-century, Galilean, peasant woodworker sounds like Hank Williams.