Permission To Doubt: One Woman’s Journey Into A Thinking Faith, by Ann C. Sullivan
[Note: This book was provided free of charge by Kregel Book Tours in exchange for an honest review.]
When one reads enough books, one finds ways in which they provide a subtle commentary on each other. This particular book in many ways covers similar ground to books I have read recently that sought to understand God’s mysterious workings regarding suffering . Yet this book manages, unlike some of the other material I have read about the subject, to find the empathetic rather than critical aspects of my judgment because of its approach as a personal narrative that is not too overly sharing but is warm and personal enough to provoke a kind response in me. The book itself is organized rather logically, looking at the different aspects of doubt and covering the issues of depression and anxiety from the perspective of a personal narrative. Although the author came from a good family and did not have the usual abuse and family issues of alcoholism and brokenness that tend to lead people to struggle with issues like anxiety and depression, a physiological weakness in a heart value led her at the age of 19 to start having crippling anxiety attacks and mild depression that lasted for about thirteen years, a period of time that also included a miscarriage.
In dealing with the issue of doubt, the author makes a lot of sound comments that are based on personal experience. Some of them are related to how we deal with doubt in seeking to live healthy lives and, to the best of our ability, ensure that we are not putting ourselves in harm’s way through living in sin and remove ourselves from the encouragement of others, recognizing that doubt thrives in solitude and isolation. This advice is certainly well stated, and the author is spot on as well in recognizing the need to take care of our health even if we seek not to abuse drugs or place our faith in science and medicine. The author here, and elsewhere, strikes a moderate position in seeking not to alienate people or to be too dogmatic about areas (including, for example, the afterlife and God’s judgement) where the Bible itself leaves judgment to God. Another area where this book particularly succeeds is in pointing out that God is big enough for our doubts, for our concerns, for our wrestling, for our questions. God does not promise that faith in Him will protect us from trouble, only that God will be with us through the trouble until we make it on the other side.
There are two views of religious experience, one of them that faith is supposed to be a wall and a moat against difficult times, and the other that faith is supposed to be something that walks with you through difficulties . The fact that I have my own lengthy experience with battling anxiety and depression in my own life  certainly allows me to relate very well and very easily to others with that struggle, especially those who deal with it as bravely and as openly as the author. All too often people who struggle as Christians are made to feel as if they are less worthy as Christians because of their struggle, when in reality we should all encourage others to be open about their difficulties with the confidence that others will respond in love, at times urging repentance and a change of one’s ways, but many other times simply offering a loving hug or a shoulder to cry on or someone to lean on and share one’s burdens with. If this book encourages others to be more loving with those who wrestle with doubts but who live nevertheless in faith and obedience, it will have been a success. We should all aspire to a thinking faith that recognizes doubt, accepts the fact that our knowledge has limits, and seeks to live in obedience with God as best as possible. Despite some flaws, this book does a good job at its task, even if it talks about a subject most people would rather not have to deal with.
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