Flannery O’Connor: Trust, not Certainty
Our faith is deepened by doubt
In this letter, Flannery O'Connorshocked me by claiming that faith is deepened by doubt. It took a few minutes to sink in, but after sitting with it, I recognized she was right. It's as I've wrestled with some of my most serious doubts – instead of denying them – that my faith has actually strengthened. Often times, doubt has been the catalyst to move me beyond my naive notions of God to something more sober, radiant, and mature. O’Connor ends her letter reminding us that our journey toward God is not about reaching certainty, but deepening trust.
I think there is no suffering greater than what is caused by the doubts of those who want to believe. I know what torment this is, but I can only see it, in myself anyway, as the process by which faith is deepened. A faith that just accepts is a child's faith and all right for children, but eventually you have to grow religiously as every other way, though some never do.
What people don't realize is how much religion costs. They think faith is a big electric blanket, when of course it is the cross. It is much harder to believe than not to believe. If you feel you can't believe, you must at least do this: keep an open mind. Keep it open toward faith, keep wanting it, keep asking for it, and leave the rest to God.
I don't set myself up to give spiritual advice but all I would like you to know is that I sympathize and I suffer this way myself. When we get our spiritual house in order, we'll be dead. This goes on. You arrive at enough certainty to be able to make your way, but it is making it in darkness. Don't expect faith to clear things up for you. It is trust, not certainty...
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Flannery O'Connor (1925–1964) was an American writer and essayist known for her Southern Gothic style of writing and her strong Catholic faith. Her works often explore themes of morality and religion, as well as darkly comic set pieces. Her most famous works include the novels Wise Blood (1952) and The Violent Bear It Away (1960) and the short story collections A Good Man Is Hard to Find (1955) and Everything That Rises Must Converge (1965). O'Connor received the National Book Award for Fiction for her collection A Good Man Is Hard to Find and Other Stories in 1972, posthumously. She was also a writer-in-residence at The University of Iowa and a member of the National Institute of Arts and Letters. O'Connor is recognized as one of the great American authors of the 20th century.
O'Connor, Flannery. The Habit of Being: Letters of Flannery O'Connor, edited by Sally Fitzgerald. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1979.