It’s a question often posed to me by well-meaning friends and acquaintances when they learn that occasionally I wake up in the morning unsure if there is a God: Why can't you just have more faith?
With exacerbation in their voice, they urge me to stop reading so much, stop thinking so much, and stop asking so many uncomfortable questions. My doubt, they conclude, reflects a concerted act of rebellion against God that I can start or stop at will. My doubt, they say, would vanish in an instant if I would just pay more attention to all the things God is doing in the world, if I would just have a little more faith.
These conversations can be frustrating for sure, and I'm only now beginning to accept the fact that I can’t drag unwavering believers along on my journey any more than they can drag me along on theirs. Learning to dialog in a loving, affirming way can be tricky, but recently I’ve discovered a rather succinct way of explaining my predicament.
When people ask, Why can’t you just have more faith? I say, Because I’ve seen the rabbit.
Now, before visions of Donnie Darko begin running through your head, let me explain.
You’ve probably seen the famous optical illusion of the duck and rabbit. Well, let’s say that the duck represents a faith-view of the world and the rabbit represents a chance-view.
For most of my life, I could only see the duck. I interpreted everything that happened around me and within me as acts of God. He was the only explanation for how the world came to be, how people managed to be good to one another, how believers had religious experiences, how things always worked together for good, how the Bible spoke to me, how the day after I prayed for this or that I just happened to received this or that.
I looked at the pattern and saw only a duck. How anyone could see anything else was simply beyond me. It was a duck—plain and simple.
Then one day I saw the rabbit. It happened rather suddenly and it startled me. In one shocking moment, just as clearly as I could see the duck, I could see another pattern that explained the world: chance, wishful thinking, self-delusion, self-centeredness, superstition, fear, projection, science, psychology, coincidence, power plays, politics.
It’s not that I stopped seeing the duck. It’s just that once I saw the rabbit, the picture made sense both ways.
So in day-to-day life, I tend to switch between the two. At one moment I see the duck, at another I see the rabbit—two creatures in one pattern, two explanations for whatever just occurred.
It’s an imperfect metaphor of course, (and for those who will flood my inbox with emails about relativism, please note that I’m not saying that both the duck and rabbit are equally true; just saying that I see them both in the pattern).
The point is, telling me that there’s no rabbit isn’t going to help. Telling me to ignore the rabbit isn’t going to help. Telling me that I’m a sinner for seeing the rabbit isn't going to help. It would be like me demanding that you look at the picture above and only see one creature.
I’m not saying that those of us who see the rabbit are better or smarter than those who don’t. I’m just saying that, for me, doubt is not some concerted act of the will that I can suddenly stop. Sure, I can focus on one way of interpreting the world and nurture the side of me that is quick to perceive the spiritual, but the rabbit will always be there, making another picture out of the pattern.
Rachel Held Evans is author of Evolving in Monkey Town and a forthcoming experimental memoir on biblical womanhood. Read more from Rachel on her website.