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Elizabeth Glass Turner ~ A Reasonable Doubt

On a recent hot summer day, I pulled down the flap of my mailbox and discovered an official-looking summons. For the first time in my life, I had Jury Duty – those dreaded words that bring pained expressions to millions of Americans every year.

Being a woman of a thousand and one opinions, however, I immediately waved the paper under my husband’s nose. (My armchair interest in crime – most notably evident in the time I spend in armchairs reading old Agatha Christie stories – came bubbling indecently to the surface.) The case, however, ended up being a relatively boring one (because somehow I did get on the jury). Before the proceedings began, the defense lawyer and the prosecutor each gave their pitches on the nature of reasonable doubt.

Employing two heavily loaded words – reason, and doubt – the two men attempted to lay their early groundwork. One needed to convince us beyond a reasonable doubt. One needed only to create a reasonable doubt. And in the end, assuming innocence as we were sworn to do, the six of us came to the consensus that, like it or not, reasonable doubt was present.

And what, I wondered as I drove home, does reasonable doubt look like to a person of faith?

Not reasonable doubt as it exists in the criminal justice system, but reasonable doubt as it exists in its dance with faith.

Many believers position doubt as one pole and faith as the other, opposites that most people slide back and forth between on a spectrum. But as a citizen, I had just sat with a “juror” tag on my shirt well aware that we were deliberating, not between doubt and faith, but between doubt and certainty – a reasonable doubt, a reasonable certainty – which would the evidence – and the portrayal of the evidence – create?

It’s fascinating to note that if you read the words of the author of Hebrews from the NRSV, chapter 11, verse one renders, “now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” – faith is assurance and conviction of the longed-for invisible. But if you flip the pages of a worn King James Bible (or flick the screen of your iPad), you will read, “now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” – faith is substance and evidence.

And so we come to the mystery of our faith – Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again…

I love reasoning about my faith. Intellectual curiosity and faith, far from being antagonistic towards each other, fuel each other.

But part of the mystery of our faith is that faith is evidence; not faith in evidence, or certainty about evidence, but faith, the evidence of things not seen – which conjures Flannery O’Connor’s words in the novel Wise Blood, “faith is what someone knows to be true, whether they believe it or not.”

Because, as anyone who has slogged through the dark night of the soul eventually learns, faith is never blind; faith, instead, knows all too well. And until your faith has a head that is bloodied but unbowed, you will look for evidence that will strengthen your faith. But of course the logic of faith is that your gritted teeth, your plummeting down into the void until you fall through the other side – these are the evidence.

This makes sense only in the mystery of the dead Christ, the risen Christ, and the coming Christ – which means that it makes all the sense in the world…