Doubts and Delusions


14 Jun 2017

I once heard a psychiatrist say that people who believe in God have a delusion. I felt sorry for him that he does not have faith in God.

Unwittingly, his words planted a seed of doubt in my mind. ‘Is my faith a fixed, false belief, a delusion?’

Later, I heard that the difference between faith and delusion is that people with faith may have doubts but people with delusions have no doubt in what they believe to be true (even though others know it to be false). What a relief! My faith is not a delusion. Even though I cannot prove that my belief in God is true, it is not a fixed belief, I occasionally have doubts! True faith is holding on to my faith even when I have doubts.

How helpful it is to listen to the reading about Thomas’ doubts after Easter, (Jn 20: 24-29), to hear that faithful followers of Christ have doubts too. St Therese of Lisieux had doubts in the days leading to her death.

‘And now all of a sudden, the mists around me have become denser than ever; they sink deep into my soul and wrap it round so that I can’t recover the dear image of my native country any more – everything has disappeared.

I get tired of the darkness all around me… I hear its mocking accents; “It’s all a dream, this talk of a heavenly country, bathed in light, scented with delicious perfumes, and of a God who made it all, who is to be your possession for eternity! You really believe, do you, that the mist which hangs about you will clear later on? All right, all right, go on longing for death! But death will make nonsense of your hopes; it will only mean a night darker than ever, the night of mere non-existence.” (Fr Iain Main, The Impact of God)

Mother Teresa who did so much for the poor went through a prolonged dark night of faith. Sometimes I wonder if that came with the burden of being ‘canonized’ while she was alive. Thomas Green says in Weeds among the Wheat, ‘It always struck me as extremely dangerous to canonize someone while they are still alive… Mother Teresa seemed quite unaware of her overblown press image.’

Last year, John, a very spiritual Catholic man in his mid-80s told me that he does not believe that Jesus is God or the Son of God, causing a mini-earthquake in my mind. I scrambled to read books, Jesus by James Martin and Understanding Jesus by Andy Hamilton, to see what they say, instead of talking to Jesus about it! In my confusion, I did hang onto my mantra, ‘Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me’. The Jesuits are always talking about friendship with Jesus, talking to Jesus and listening to Jesus. I realised that Jesus is in their name, Jesuits! In my search for God in silent meditation, getting rid of my thoughts and images, even my images of God, I have lost focus on Jesus, the Word made Flesh. Close upon the heels of this, I heard Cyprian Consiglio, Camaldolese monk and Catholic priest, say that the Father is Silence, Jesus is the Word. I heard John Main, Benedictine monk, say that Jesus does not lead us to himself, he does not stop at himself, he leads us to the Father. In the gospel of John, Jesus constantly refers back to the Father.

Thomas said, “Lord, we do not know where you are going, so how can we know the way?

Jesus said: I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No one can come to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father too. From this moment, you know him and have seen him.

Philip said, ‘Lord, show us the Father and then we will be satisfied.’

Jesus said to him, ‘Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me?

Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father, so how can you say, “Show us the Father”?

I am in the Father and the Father is in me… (Jn 14: 5-9, 11)

That is why we need the two wings of prayer, Word and Silence, listening to Scripture and listening to God in silence. I am thankful to John for his words causing me to have some doubts, which helped strengthen my faith in Jesus.

‘Faith is the fearless search for truth. So it is not lost when one questions one’s beliefs.’ (Tony de Mello S.J., The Song of the Bird)

‘Doubt is a pain too lonely to know that faith is his twin brother.’ (Khalil Gibran, Lebanese-American artist, poet, and writer) Twin brother may be too strong a word. Doubt is the shadow of faith. Wherever faith is, doubt follows.

‘Someone who believes in a world with God cannot escape the whisper, “Perhaps there is no God.” Someone who believes in a world without God cannot escape the whisper, “perhaps there is a God.” This ruthless ‘perhaps’ is inescapable.’ (Anthony Campbell, S.J., God first loved us)

So who has the delusion, the one who believes in God or the one who believes there is no God?

Susie Hii is a writer and author of Happy, Healthy, Holy.
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