Sunday, April 22, 2012

Fr. Touma (Bitar) : There's Doubt, and then there's Doubt

Arabic original here.

There's Doubt, and then there's Doubt

They say that the Apostle Thomas is the doubting disciple. He was not with the rest of the disciples when the Lord Jesus, to Him be glory, came to them after His resurrection in the flesh. So when they met Thomas and told him that they had seen the Lord, he immediately said, "Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe" (John 20:25).

The fath that Thomas is talking about here, and to which John the Beloved Disciple is referring in his gospel, is not like the faith that we know. Faith here means believing. You believe or you don't believe, this is a human action. There's nothing blessed about it. This is why Jesus said to Thomas after eight days, when He came to the disciples while Thomas was with them, "Because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed" (John 20:29). This makes Thomas' doubt, if it is not held against him, an act of not believing what the disciples told him about their seeing Jesus.

In any case, whether we talk about Thomas' faith or his doubt, his faith is not like faith as we understand it today, and neither is his doubt. Faith in the Lord Jesus is not based on using the senses, nor is doubt based on the inability to use them.

Faith, as it occurs to us today, has a human aspect, there is no doubt about this. But it also has a divine aspect. The human aspect is related to receiving on the one hand and on the other hand it is related to response. Initiative in faith belongs to God. We are unable to attain it on our own. Only in Him are we able to attain it. In this way, the initiative towards Mary belonged to the angel Gabriel, "Peace be upon you... the Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women" (Luke 1:28). Mary was, at the beginning, in a state of receiving. Then, after dialogue with the angel, she had her response: "Here I am, the handmaiden of the Lord. May it be to me as you say" (Luke 1:38). It is clear that the Lord God did not impose His will. He leaves the way open for us to respond or to not respond. He does not alter what we are inclined towards or what we desire. Naturally, He knows what is to come in advance. He does not act except at precisely the right time, when we are ready to accept what He offers us and thus are ready to accept His demand and fulfill His will. "My word does not return to Me empty," says the Lord!

This presupposes that if we are to accept what is of God, that our internal state must be prepared for it. "Blessed is the man who has resolved in his heart to go up, in the Valley of Baka, to the place that he intends. There the judge will permit him blessings" (Psalm 83:5-6 LXX).

The purity of heart and the soundness of intent that come from humans imply human virtues that are found within a person. Similar virtues are believing, compassion, bearing witness to the truth, faithfulness, helpfulness, being forgiving, generosity, and hospitality. When these virtues and natural, human virtues like them abound in a person, it gives him the capability of acquiring divine blessing. On this basis, they make him ready  to respond to God in the way that Mary responded, with an "amen," "may it be to me as you say." That is, in practice, with faith!

In the above context, when doubt occurs it comes as a "lack of believing." It is, in reality, a human event, part and parcel of the state in which Adam and Eve found themselves after the fall. This is not harmful to a person in his cooperation with God. As long as the heart is prepared, even if a person is beset by doubt, there is nothing to fear. It does not constitute a barrier between him and God. The Lord God will spread certainty of faith into his being at the appropriate time. This certainty is blessed!

The kind of doubt that is harmful to a person, the kind that prevents him from accepting that which is God's and thus from responding to Him, comes from an impure heart. Whenever a person is compromised by self-love and disregards love of the truth, whenever his being is enveloped by selfishness and pride, whenever he is tarnished by jealousies and taking joy in sin, whenever he disregards mercy and and compassion for others, then his doubt comes as a rejection of God. Here, the faculties of perception suggest alienation from God, they suggest being filled up with the self. So the person finds himself in a state of enmity with God, in an existential clash with Him, and likewise in a state of treating the self as a god!

In such a state, one who believes that  making human affairs easier through the intellect is the ideal solution for human cares, is cut off from a sound understanding of the actual state of existence. It is as though an upright state of existence is out of the picture. It is as if a person ignores a blurring of the heart's intentions-- of the entirety of the heart-- and so becomes foolish. Such a person has not only exploited the power of the intellect in his desire to follow his sick passions. He has even reached, existentially, the furthest limit of being aware of his passions. This means that deep down he has adopted an image of himself as an instrument, as an object and no longer as a living being. In his opinion, being an instrument comes to be the mark of precision and thus the supposed virtue par excellence! The person who in his own eyes is no longer a heart and someone who can be loved, but is rather an intellect, turns himself into an object because the intellect does not transcend being an instrument and a biological laboratory. If the heart does not govern this instrument that is capable of being extremely stubborn, if it does not use it for the service of humans and to the glory of God, then at that point the person has completely given himself over to utter darkness. At this point, the intellect proceeds with a dark and brutal force springing forth from a will to disobedience that neither brings one near to human nature nor to the God who created this nature. What is the identity of this dark power and of this state? This is precisely Satan's power that rebels against God, after he completely departed from God and from the soundness of his nature in order to create for himself an existence perverted by falsehood in the image of his total lust for self and his regarding himself as a god.  Through his will and his deepest feeling, he denied the divinity of God the Creator! One who has intentionally sought to kill God has overthrown God within his deepest feeling. Within his consciousness he has turned God into a dead idea, without any value and without any place for expression in him. He has turned Him into an absolute non-entity! This is the peak of foolishness! "The fool said in his heart, there is no God"! In this context, doubt is rejecting and killing God and there is no recovery from this. In such a case, a person's rationality toward his world becomes an indication of spiritual suicide, not just of error. A person commits this within his deepest self and he turns his guidance over to Satan, and through Satan to eternal perdition! As long as a feeling  of what belongs to God and to humans remains alive, even if a person is devoid of God's blessings, then the opportunity remains available for life-giving repentance, through means that God alone knows. If feeling dies, academically, through a complete and willing surrender to darkness and to following the power of the intellect with a blind heart, then a person has given himself over to eternal death, living here in the body and then after that dead! It would be better for such a person to have never been born, says the Bible! It is the will's eternal movement toward a nihilistic existence! This is the outer darkness!

And so, "Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life" (Proverbs 4:23)! 

Archimandrite Touma Bitar
Abbot of the Monastery of Saint Silouan the Athonite-- Douma
April 22, 2012

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