Yesterday while I was doing the Run for the Cure I listened to Krista Tippett’s interview with author and pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber. While the whole conversation is worth a listen, I was particularly intrigued by Bolz-Weber’s comment about the corporate nature of prayer and faith.
In this excerpt she begins by noting that the call to pray for others can be shared corporately within the body of Christ. Thus, for example, imagine that I’ve been deeply hurt and offended by an individual. While I sense a conviction to pray for that individual I still find myself unable to do it given the raw nature of the offense. In that case Bolz-Webber suggests that I can appeal to a fellow congregant to pray for that individual, in essence, praying vicariously, in my place.
That’s an intriguing concept, but Bolz-Weber then pushes it further by suggesting that the same principle can be extended to matters of faith and confession. In short, when the creed is confessed, if I find myself doubting a section of that creed, others can vicariously believe for me.
While that’s my summary, nothing beats getting the original exchange, so here it is:
I am sympathetic with the general points that Bolz-Weber is making here. In particular, I think she is dead on to point out that individualism in the body regarding creedal confession creates enormous problems. Thus, when a person finds themselves doubting one or more confessions in the creed, they find their entire faith being called into question. The solution is not to walk away from faith, nor is it to engage in a case of bad faith by faking it. Rather, the solution is to be honest with one’s own doubts but to realize that at those points one’s faith can be carried vicariously in virtue of the beliefs of others within the community of faith.
Finally, I think we need to distinguish between the doubter who does not want to believe and the doubter who does want to believe. Last week I wrote some articles critical of United Church minister Gretta Vosper who is proudly and unabashaedly atheistic. In this case, vicarious belief would not work because Vosper rejects theism altogether. But this is a world of difference from the congregant who wants to believe: “Lord I believe, help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24) In that case where the honest doubter wants to believe and wants to remain part of the community, I would think the phenomenon of vicarious belief shared by the community of faith would be a fitting response to instances of doubt.
In short, when you can’t believe, the church can do it for you.