The Road through the Void

This finally happened to Tennyson. The Spirit through his poetry brought him to a place that was not free of doubt or tears but rather a safe place to weep and be comforted. The resolution to his grief was not an understanding of the mystery of death, but a discovery of a Parental Presence.

Then was I as a child that cries,But crying knows his father near.

You remember, I’m sure, the story of the small girl who was deeply afraid of the dark and employed all sorts of delaying tactics (I’m thirsty and need some water) to ward off going to bed. Her father who understood her fear gently gave her a choice. While she must go to bed immediately, she may choose whether to leave the the light on in her room and dispel the darkness, or leave the light off and have her dad sit with her in the darkness. She always chose presence over light.

But Tennyson’s doubt was more than the consequence of an overwhelming, sudden grief. It had a broader intellectual basis. As is often the case, grief can lead to severe questioning on a variety of difficult fronts. He was suddenly perplexed by the savage cruelty in nature. He saw the violent structure of the food chain and what he saw did not jibe with what he knew of God. Tennyson is the very one who coined the bloody phrase, “Nature, red in tooth and claw,” a phrase that was later used to describe Darwin’s Theory of Evolution although evolutionary notions had not yet surfaced. God seemed to the poet to be out of joint. His love and the negatives in nature were at terrible odds.

As a believer he also found that he could not simply take refuge in the doctrinal system of his church. Platitudes, statements of belief, confessions could not cut through his problem and sustain his faith. He now painfully questioned the very system that had previously kept him going. On what could he rely? His doubt now demanded of him an utmost measure of honesty so as to hold his faith to account. He could not shy away from his mind and still be himself. Deep doubt does not just go away on its own. Would the music ever come? Yes, but not the old music.

Perplext in faith, but pure in deeds, At last he beat his music out. There lives more faith in honest doubt, Believe me, than in half the creeds. He fought his doubts and gathered strengthHe would not make his judgment blind.He faced the specters of the mind And laid them; thus he came at length

To find a stronger faith his own. And power was with him in the nightWhich makes the darkness and the light,And dwells not in the light alone

Tennyson fights through his grief, his problems with the violence in nature, his questions with the creeds of his church, and finds the God who is with him not only in the light but in the darkness. To his amazement he discovers that doubt is one way to have a relationship with God. He comes to a stronger faith by facing the frightening specters of his mind. So must we all. Troubling questions that threaten a belief system don’t just go away for good on their own. They stubbornly refuse to be swept under the rug.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

How can one build faith that is not first preceded by doubt? To question is to face the personal crisis that no amount of religious certitude can answer.

As someone now in the twilight decade of life, questions came only at midlife but it finally rang through, loud and clear, looking into my first born’s face: God is only revealed in His creation and in the loving deeds, unselfishly given which demonstrate wherever there is love, God is.


We all see repeated ads–“Help, I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!” True, But God sent His son to do the heavy lifting. “praise God from Whom all blessings flow” . I committed my life to Him in 1939. He committed His life to me in AD 33. Even with the lights out He is near. Tom Z


"Surprisingly, people who carry this strange concoction of doubt-faith within their souls have come to see their doubt as a definite plus and as an indispensable element for being alive before God. They no longer see the elimination of doubt from their lives as a viable or even desirable option. In short, they have learned to live with both the tumult and the glory of an ardent, doubt-conscious faith and to flourish with ambiguity."

I think I know what you mean by “doubt.” You mean to question, examine the foundation or truthfulness of something. However not everybody can live with “both the glory and ambiguity.”

What happens when your doubt discovers you have held a false belief? Creating confusion instead of certainty.

Perhaps it may be better to “not doubt,” as Jesus taught. On the other hand, what if you are a Muslim, Buddhist or Hindu confronted with Christ? Or a LDS or SDA confounded with flawed prophecies or prophets?

I think the majority of Christians would prefer certainty to uncertainty; confession to confusion. Individuals that live for their reputation, employment and appearance will seldom permit doubt much legroom. Leaving the safety zone can be very risky.


This article has helped validate my own experience. As these types of disturbing questions began to rise, I wrote a song that contained the following:

“Now I found, that all the man made creeds,
Could never really reach me in my deepest need.
And could never heal my suffering and pain,
'Cause they just keep trying to bottle up the rain…
bottle up the rain!”

Certainly not Tennyson! But I’m more convinced of God’s presence in the darkness, the disillusionment, and yes…the grey in which much of life is lived…even the life of faith.




I’ve been lurking on Spectrum for years Elaine, and read a lot of your witty, insightful, pointed comments. But this one is, by far, my favorite. Beautiful!

As was this article. This resonates deeply with me. Thank you


Damn, Elaine you nailed it!

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Everybody doubts. The more certitude you exude, the more doubt you’re trying to hide from yourself. It seems to me doubt and faith go hand in hand - maybe “doubt” is not the right word here. Maybe what’s required is a healthy dose of humility - admitting we can’t know everything. I think what we struggle for is “belief”- to the point of forcing a fake sense of “faith”. Believing the unbelievable is not FAITH. The best we can say is - Today, based on all I know, I can believe “THIS”; but I will wait and see what tommorrow brings while never rejecting light for fear of losing belief.


When confronted by claims of omniscience, the only logical reaction of a rational and finite mind is doubt and disbelief, it being a logical impossibility for a supposedly all-knowing creature to prove his purported unlimited intelligence to one of lesser intellect.

In other words, one must be omniscient to know if another is his equal, so an infinitely wise being would never make the claim to anyone but another god.

(But then again, any other omniscient being would already know that the first already knew everything he knows, so that statement–and all other conversation, for that matter–would be tacit, pointless and ultimately boring. “Yeah, I knew that.” “I knew you did.” “I knew you knew I did and I knew you were going to say that.” etc., and ad nauseum.)

However, taking logic one step further, there is no way for any being, no matter how profound and broad his intellect, to know to an absolute and logical certainty that there isn’t at least one other entity somewhere–and possibly an infinite number of them–who know something that he doesn’t, whether those entities are hiding for some unknown reason or are possibly exposed in every site and from every vista.

That is, The God of The Bible, like all of the other gods He claims to have surpassed, cannot be sure that there isn’t a larger being outside himself, or an impossibly small NoThing within His Creation, that knows more than he does–and perhaps even infinitely more.

So no matter who expresses the thought that he knows everything–including all thoughts–or insists that a lesser mind express his thoughts for him, that being is not only making an unknowable and unprovable statement, it is absolutely reasonable and prudent to doubt his words, and perhaps even his existence.

And no, the circular argument “I am that I am.” does not elevate anyone above the constrictions of logic and/or language but instead leaves open the question of whether he is anything more than a literary abstraction and/or verbal absurdity.

All of which might, at first, seem to lend credence to the atheist argument that God is a delusion of credulous and superstitious minds, while I contend the real challenge–and indeed the mandate–for the doubter and the atheist is to simply redefine their terms for, and understanding of the concept of “God”.

In other words, there is no reason for me to attribute any characteristics to my creator other than the fact that he created me and my world. So the fact that I exist–and an unimaginably large number of creatures and creations at least seem to exist around me–proves that he exists. I wouldn’t be here if my maker hadn’t been real to some extent, and clearly my creator continues to exist or I would no longer be here, either.

And admittedly, I don’t know everything, so its possible that I’m only a brain in a vat or stuck inside The Matrix. That is, I can’t know for certain that my reality is real in any absolute sense any more than I can erase all of my doubts about other people’s gods and more importantly, their definitions for him.

But I’m okay with a creator who isn’t sure about everything and still gets excited about what’s to come simply because he doesn’t know what’s going to happen, given that this makes him all that more interesting and approachable.

And besides, even if he, I and everything are all a lie, or only true in some virtual way, at least what I’ve perceived of the falseness is incredibly fascinating, is (almost always) beloved and, most importantly, is beyond any lingering or reasonable doubt.

Paul Tillich argued that true faith must stand in the face of doubt. For a Scriptural basis to this view he pointed to the story of the father who confronted Jesus with his demon possessed son when Jesus came down from the Mount of Transfiguration (Mark 9: 20 - 25). When Jesus tells the father, “All things are possible to him who believes,” the father answered, “I believe, help my unbelief!.” That is the plea of every true believer. Of course, that is a theme that runs through the whole of the gospel According to Mark.


I dont know about GOD, but I do know there are "ministering spirits."
It was my VERY first conscious experience.
It happened about 3 years ago now.
It was a Friday evening. I was going over my music for Sabbath worship and alone in the church building. I went to the bathroom, pushed the flush mechanism, and noticed it did not shut off. Flipping it did not help. Water ran at full force. I had repaired problems before so looked for tools in the closet to work on it, but there were none. I knew that running all night would create a huge water bill. There were no places that I saw to turn off the water outside.
I called a head decon, a first elder, the pastor in that order. The deacon and the elder said they couldnt help me and gave no suggestions. The Pastor said to just let it run.
I went back to the problem, gave it one more try. I went to the door. I spoke out loud to my angel. I said, Angel, you are going to have to fix this. I stated my concern about the money.
I went out the door, turned off the light. A couple of seconds after the door shut, the water stopped.
I have to believe my Angel did it. My angel is a great plumber, and brought “his” own tools.

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Steve, shouldn’t the deacon have called the local 24-hour plumber?
Next time it happens simply find a brick or piece of wood and prop up the float so that the water cuts off. Or find some string or cord to tie around the float arm and anchor it to something higher so that the float stays in a horizontal position.
Be kind to your angel!!! Don’t overwork him/she/it.

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Tennyson’s father was a bitter, alcoholic clergyman. It makes sense to me that when he “escaped” to Cambridge and met Arthur Hallam, he idealized him and built a world in which Hallam was the emotional center.

When his father and Hallam died and Tennyson was plunged into poverty and left Cambridge, he understandably felt his world had come unraveled. His father’s death alone would bring up religious issues, compounded by the fact that he was a man of the cloth and not an emotionally supportive father. There may be homosexual overtones in Tennyson’s love for Hallam, though some are at pains to deny it. This is complex grief, and that takes many years to resolve.

My spirit loved and loves him yet,
Like some poor girl whose heart is set
On one whose rank exceeds her own.

Tennyson’s resolution is interesting; he felt he was offering it to mankind, and perhaps he was. It began, as it must, with Presence.

This was a time when traditional religious beliefs about origins were being challenged by science, even before Darwin. I recently read an historical novel (based on real people) entitled, Remarkable Creatures:

Chevalier paints the novel’s scientific and theological implications in subtler hues, and they provide a more surprising portrait of an era on the cusp of intellectual revolution.

Geologists are wrestling with the discovery that similar layers of rock have been observed around the world. And it quickly becomes impossible for Elizabeth to believe that the bizarre skeletons that Mary unearths – 18-foot-long monsters with paddles instead of legs – are really crocodiles that migrated to England hundreds of years ago.

Some of the novel’s most interesting sections show Elizabeth gently pushing against accepted wisdom, letting the physical evidence lead her toward heretical conclusions.

“To appreciate what fossils are,” she notes, “requires a leap of imagination,” but she discovers that “few wanted to delve into unknown territory, preferring to hold on to their superstitions and leave unanswerable questions to God’s will.”

Of course, any concept of human evolution was still far off, but just the new idea of extinction startled people in the early 19th century. “Even I,” Elizabeth confesses, “was a little shocked to be thinking it, for it implied that God did not plan out what He would do with all the animals He created. If He was willing to sit back and let creatures die out, what did that mean for us?”

I wish that “Remarkable Creatures” were, frankly, a little more remarkable. Except for just a few moments of excitement and tension (and a single, fossilized sex scene), the plot moves like a careful geologist on the beach, slow and steady, turning over lots of the same things again and again. Yes, it can be rewarding, but you have to be patient and willing to look hard.

Tennyson was patient, and willing to look hard.

He saw Hallam as an ideal type of individual, born before his time. Integrating the ideas of the changing science into his grief process, he saw Hallam as a type of ideal person towards which the human race is moving in its development.

I see in part
That all, as in some piece of art,
Is toil coöperant to an end.

I think there are fruitful parallels to the Adventist journey to be mined here.

One God, one law, one element,
And one far-off divine event,
To which the whole creation moves.

But you have to be patient and willing to look hard, and, most of all, willing to feel.

Our little systems have their day;
They have their day and cease to be:
They are but broken lights of thee,
And thou, O Lord, art more than they


And the there you have it…The great divide between me and many in my rigid SDA upbringing.

Empathy is a choice. How sad that so many use religion to block their feeling and experiencing of it.

EMPATHY: Let’s do that.


I think it’s harder to have empathy when the mantra of your church and life is, “we have the truth”, all others are Babylon". Then, on top of that, are the myriad of unbiblical “rules” to follow…which also causes one to look down on others because they aren’t doing it too. Or not doing it well enough, or not doing all of them.

The Gospel is so beautiful and simple. Until one is born of the Spirit, which produces the Fruit of the Spirit, spiritual bondage and angst will prevail, particularly in a system of legalism.

The SDA paradigm, I’m afraid, is antithetical to the born again work of the Spirit. Not to say that not one in Adventism is born of the Spirit. I don’t believe that at all. But, I think it’s in spite of the doctrines, not because of them.