Sometimes I think that we have serious issues as Christians owning the reality of what it means to be human. I think lots of times this comes in the form of really being terrified by doubt.
I’ve been there myself (https://teamchauncey.wordpress.com/2008/11/26/two-days-at-once/). At least that was the way I remember this time…maybe this wasn’t what most people experience.
Doubt’s a scary thing, y’know. Especially when your entire life and existence is defined by the proclamation of the Risen Lord Jesus, the thought of that not being true is a deeply terrifying one.
There are lots of things that come to mind when I think of doubt.
For one thing I think everyone gives it too much space to be heavy. Doubt is a space where differing perspectives on life present their arguments contrary to whatever you may believe. I think that often times we give that scenario a sense of “I’m doubting my faith so my faith is less legitimate.” Honestly, we tend to do that a lot. I know I do. However, at some point or another I realized that we never really level the same caliber of skepticism at our doubt that we do at our faith. Maybe we do have good reasons to believe what we do, maybe the arguments for not believing are really shoddy, and maybe I do in fact know who I am?
I think it’s a strange situation in which our faith (often much more long-lasting and impactful than our doubting seasons) is quarantined while doubt is allowed to run amok. Frankly, I want to push for both of those things to be weighed realistically. Doubt shouldn’t receive the quantity of internal press that I give it and it should receive an equal share of what is typically a one-sided skepticism.
Another thought is that doubt and faith are not mutually exclusive. They both exist (arguably in everyone) at the same time. (example: http://www.usatoday.com/news/opinion/forum/story/2011-08-28/Why-certainty-about-God-is-overrated/50166464/1) A person can follow Christ to the best of her/his ability and still have moments (or if you’re mother Teresa…years) where you really wonder where God is, if He’s really got your back, if He is who He says He is, and if He’s even really there at all. All the while you can actually be believing. You can actually do both.
Certainty is not the same as faith, because faith is at some level a choice. It is not an invincible empirical treatise of existence, it has no metrics, and you cannot force it to be so (cough, Richard Dawkins). You choose to believe something. This is key. Again, if you’ve read recent posts you’re aware that I’m not very Reformed theologically. Thus, I believe that I can indeed really choose. There will always be a grand variety of arguments one way or another. People are always dreaming up ways to refute faith, Christ, and religion in general. I think that many of their arguments are poor excuses for shirking the responsibility to engage with a complex existence, but some of them actually do carry the weight of being questions to which even the most thoughtful Christian may not have a great answer for.
Here’s the clincher, it is at this point when you/I have weighed our experiences and the options of what seems rational and what does not (to do this we have to discount certain forms of epistemology…read this word as “how we know what we know.”) that we have to choose. We have to be honest with ourselves. Whatever our choice may be there will always be things that cannot be well-explained. Some of our choices may seem very silly to certain people, they may scandalize others, and they may land us in the black lists of certain communities.
The fact that it is a choice does not in fact make faith illegitimate. One may still choose with intellectual honesty and integrity in the face of doubt. That’s believing. That’s faith.
At some level it chooses you, but you must choose it back. I guarantee you that God will hunt you your whole life and bless you if you try to be an atheist, on the other hand there will be moments where the Christian story seems like a fairy tale to the most faithful believers. The choice remains. Doubt happens to everyone. Even the disciples were not 100% certain post resurrection (Matthew 28:17). So inevitably we make a choice.
Intro Toy Story 3 (warning, I will spoil the ending of the movie, but for the bold of heart, read on.) This is a perfect allegory for our discussion. There’s more biblical undertones here than I can shake a stick at. I cried about 3 times during the movie and left feeling like I understood the Gospel better. Plus it was just so good.
In the film the real boy Andy is going to college. The number of toys are down to a handful of the main characters. The ones we love. A remnant. As the story progresses Andy is cleaning up his room for college and decides that he will put his toys in the attic and take Sheriff Woody to school with him. In a mix-up the toys feel that they were going to be thrown away by Andy. Woody, having seen the entire context attempts to convey that Andy does in fact want them. They choose not to believe this and decide to go to a place where kids will play with them: A daycare.
Woody goes with them at first but reminds them to whom they belong. He leaves the daycare with the belligerent toys standing by the fact that Andy abandoned them and doesn’t love them at all. Shortly thereafter, the daycare becomes a nightmare. Run by a nihilistic bear who is scarred by his past abandonment the main characters are put in the equivalent of a toy prison camp. They are forced to play with children who are far younger than their proscribed age-limitations. Woody discovers this and then comes back to stage a rescue. It works.
However, the bear, Woody and the rest of the toys fall into a garbage truck at the very moment of their victory over the bear. His thoughts on the role of toys in existence is outed as he screams “WE’RE ALL JUST TRASH WAITIN’ TO BE THROWN AWAY! THAT’S ALL A TOY IS!” At this point his toy cronies abandon him.
Woody, the bear, and Woody’s friends all end up going to the garbage dump where they are stuck on a conveyor belt that leads to an incinerator. The bear goes down and Woody decides to help him in order to save all the toys from certain destruction. The bear decides not to help them. As the toys we have grown to love move toward seemingly certain doom they all hold hands.
I honestly had no idea what would happen at this point.
But then, they’re miraculously (and logically) saved. If you’ve seen the film you get it, if you haven’t you’ll just have to take my word for it.
They get back to Andy’s house and he passes them on to a sweet little neighbor girl who loves toys. He lovingly describes each and every toy to her, it’s role in his imaginary games, and then plays all afternoon with her and the toys. They know they are loved by Andy.
The film then ends leaving me crying.
SO. You’ve sat through my summary of the film. You should still see it. It’s an incredible film. The best Pixar film I think I’ve seen. I loved it.
Where does this all tie in?
Toy Story 3 is an expose of faith, doubt, and real life in the context of the two as it relates to an owner, a life-giver, a creator, etc…
The amount of choice involved in deciding to participate in a purpose of life is emphasized throughout the film. Three varying perspectives on faith and doubt are portrayed.
Woody as a character is the one who places his significance as a toy in the context of an ultimate purpose. Throughout the series he at one time almost chose to abandon Andy in favor of something that would mean he would never be set aside. Now, in the moment of truth (so to speak) he represents a call to the other toys to allow themselves to be defined, used, or laid aside in terms of belonging to Andy. You could think of Woody as the perspective of faith. He chooses, based on his experience and rational perspectives, to accept that come what may he is Andy’s toy.
Andy’s other toys represent throughout the film a sense of secular humanism. A sense of “Andy/God has abandoned us and never really was who he claimed/seemed to be. We have experienced the loss of our friends (other toys we knew throughout the films), the loss of our purpose for Andy, and we choose to make reality what we want it to be.” Their attempt to engage with the daycare is framed in a way of seeking purpose in what they are doing. What they feel satisfied (or not) with. They strive to feel like they’re a part of something special by choosing to be played with in whatever context they’re able.
The bear essentially represents nihilism. He chooses nothing. His stance on reality as expressed above is one that says “there is no purpose other than an inevitable end. Others can and will be thrown aside at will. Power is the only reality.”
In these characters we see the spectrum of our choices. We watch the consequences play out.
We watch as Woody proclaims a faithful (and accurate) perspective on Andy and purpose as a toy to the deaf ears and stiff necks of the other toys. We watch as the other toys drive to do something lands them in purposeless, despairing chaos. We watch as the bear’s nihilistic attitude forms him into an oppressor of others and a tormented soul.
I think realistically we see ourselves in lots of the characters. At times in all of them. We see our choices and ability to choose played out in archetypes.
The fascinating thing about faith and doubt as shown in toy story 3 is that at the end of the day our faith and our doubt don’t really change the reality of existence. At some level there’s an interesting thing that happens…we can’t make God not exist any more than we can make him exist. If God’s there as many of us believe, then He’s not going to stop being because we don’t happen to choose Him. On the other hand, if He’s not there we can’t force Him into existence by choosing Him.
Not that our choice doesn’t matter. By no means, I think that as we watch toy story 3 we’re reminded of what actually endures. That our choices while important, can be changed. That we’re all capable of being found when we’re lost, redeemed when we despair, and chosen even when we don’t always choose back. I think in watching toy story 3 none of us really want to be the bear…yet, even the bear is offered the option to not choose his own perspective. He is offered redemption at every turn.
The perspective of the writers of Toy Story 3 and of myself is that while doubt and faith are things we choose, we’re always chosen regardless. The One who gives us life offers us the opportunity each day to be a part of his People Story (ehhh…I know, I know.) We participate in and through choosing to believe. There will always be reasons to choose not to believe. The question comes down to us, what we do with our choices, and what we allow to carry weight.
We are given the choice. Our choice does not lessen faith, but matters more than we are really able to comprehend. We are loved that much.
Let me know your thoughts.