Doubt is a natural part of every person’s life. Many saints, such as St. Teresa of Calcutta, have shared their experiences with doubting the existence of God, the love of God, or the promises of God. But how we handle doubt can determine whether those doubts weaken or strengthen our faith.
Fr. Ethan Southard was recently a guest on The Inner Life™ and explained that doubt is not always a bad thing. He said, “You know, I think when we hear the word doubt and we start to think about that, our initial reaction could very often be a negative reaction. But I don’t necessarily think that doubt is a negative thing.”
To offer an example of this, Fr. Ethan Southard explained the difference between how Mary, the mother of Jesus, approached moments of disbelief, and how Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, approached a similar situation.
Retelling the story of the Annunciation, when the angel Gabriel told Mary that she was to be the mother of Jesus, Fr. Ethan pointed out that Mary first had some questions. She asked how she could become pregnant since she had no relations with a man, and after receiving an answer from the angel she said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. Let it be done to me according to your word.”
On its face, the story of the angel Gabriel coming to Zechariah and foretelling the miraculous birth of John the Baptist seems very similar. Gabriel foretold of the birth and life of John the Baptist, and Zechariah asked, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” At this question, Zechariah was struck mute because of his doubt in the Lord.
Why the difference in reaction between the doubts that Mary expressed and the doubts Zechariah expressed? Fr. Ethan answered, “Let’s start with Zechariah. He was wanting the angel, and wanting God, to explain it on his terms. He says, ‘You fit into my world, you explain it to me on my terms, in my way that I want, that I understand.’ But Mary was the opposite. She says, ‘How can I fit into your world? How can I expand into your world?'”
“I think that’s the big difference,” he pointed out. “What’s our attitude? Even if we have doubt, are we still open to God and where He’s leading? Or are we putting up an attitude that just does not believe God is God and God can do something in our lives? Because God is opening us up to be a new creation in Christ. And so we actually change to God’s reality through a new understanding, to a new reality and a new way of understanding. So when Mary heard these new things she would turn them over in her heart. She would ponder these things, and her inner life would just continue to grow.”
When we are faced with matters that we doubt or don’t understand, we can imitate Mary in asking questions, pondering the Lord’s response, and making more space for God in our lives.
“That’s the big journey we’re on,” said Fr. Ethan. “But just the fact that we have doubt, that we have some kind of confusion, or maybe an unfinished or an incomplete understanding, God can definitely come into that space and move us into His vision and His plan for our lives.”
Listen to the full conversation below: