When David Copperfield declared that he was going to make the Statue of Liberty disappear, I must admit that I was more than a tad skeptical. Not that I wanted to accuse the guy of deliberately deceiving the public, but I was just not convinced that he could actually do it. Not being a total stranger to the dark and murky realm of magic myself, I felt qualified to question.
My career as a magician began about age 11 when I ordered my own ‘magic kit’ from a novelty company’s catalog of amazing things. It came complete with a nylon cape, a magic wand, a paper top hat, and a box crammed full of paraphernalia for performing astonishing tricks. Together, they empowered me to perplex and mystify audiences everywhere—populated almost exclusively, of course, by my own family. Any situation that contained the slightest hint that it might provide an audience sent me running for top hat and cape. Grand entrances were my specialty, accompanied by dramatic strutting about and invitations to witness my newfound power over the paltry laws of nature, all to the boundless delight of … well …, me.
Unlike David Copperfield, my powers never enabled me to actually make anything disappear on purpose. There was only one confirmed disappearing act associated with my career, but it was extremely well received. Somehow the entire magic kit, along with my future in the business, mysteriously vanished after only a couple of weeks. No one in the family was ever able to determine exactly how that happened, but some suggested that its disappearance might have been caused by some mysterious force latent within the kit itself. Others concluded that an unexplained supernatural act bringing such relief to so many could not have been a product of the black arts, but must have been an actual miracle from God. I was, shall we say …, skeptical.
Skepticism, even at 11, can be a good thing. Later, how we handle it can be vital. It describes that ‘netherworld’ between belief and unbelief, where uncertainty rises up, where further progress is halted, and where indecision induces its attendant paralysis. It is that ‘Y’ in the road, where we no longer have one path ahead of us, but two, and since the laws of physics won’t allow us to take both, a decision must be made. If that doesn’t happen, and this territory becomes a destination rather than a way-point, skepticism becomes a dead end. It is intended to be a question, not an answer, and in that regard, is very like the New Testament concept of ‘doubt’, which means, ‘to be in two minds’. Skepticism offers neither ‘yes’ nor ‘no’, only ‘I don’t know.’ It seeks not to prevent or remove options, only to clarify and reinforce them.
A pastor’s story about a wedding he presided over once makes an important point. Everything had been meticulously orchestrated prior to the big day, and all had gone just as planned, right up to the pivotal moment of the vows. The groom boldly declared his willingness to “take this woman,” along with all the potential conditions and restrictions the preacher described. His “I do” still lingered in the air as the preacher turned to address the bride. The familiar, “Do you …” began his recitation of her part. When the time came for her response, she hesitated. She looked at the groom, then down to her feet, then toward the preacher, and back again to the floor. Tears filled her eyes as she softly mumbled, “I don’t know… I just don’t know…”, whereupon she turned abruptly, ran down the aisle, and out of the building. She did not say, “No” in response to the proffered set of vows. She said, “I don’t know.” That’s all. She didn’t say that she was rejecting her groom, or that she did not want to marry him. All she said was, “I don’t know” . . . and no wedding took place. Skepticism does not bring with it a third choice. It calls us either to believe or not believe, and failure to choose forces a choice all its own.
Paul and Silas escaped the malicious intent of the Jewish leaders in Thessalonica and made their way to Berea. The Bereans were described as more “fair minded”, than those in Thessalonica, because they received the message about Jesus with “all readiness” (Acts 17:11). Did that mean that they were not skeptical? Did they just blindly swallow the Apostle’s testimony with no hesitation, no investigation, no examination, and no interrogation? Hardly. Skepticism did for them what it was designed to do. Rather than preventing their challenges, it instigated them. They asked questions, they investigated, and they searched the Scriptures daily. They independently tested what they heard against sources they trusted, and evaluated what they did not know in the light of what they did know. The result was that many of them believed. Instead of preventing belief, skepticism enabled and strengthened it. Skepticism helped ensure that their choice was not a blind leap in the dark based on nothing, but one that was founded on the most reliable source that existed. Skepticism did not eliminate the role of faith, but gave faith an evidential and reasonable basis.
Skepticism can be misused and/or ignored, as we see throughout our culture today. Some employ it as a permanent excuse for unbelief, especially regarding Jesus’ message. Then we see others blithely toss it aside to swallow unfounded claims of the godless in every arena. There are two dangers. Skepticism producing no answers leads to belief in nothing. Not having it at all leads to belief in anything. There’s no magic in skepticism, but there is power. We can leave skepticism unattended and watch it bind faith in the cords of its own indecision—or we can employ it to unveil truth and break us free from doubt.
© 2014 Gallagher’s Pen, Ronald L. Gallagher, Ed.S. All rights reserved.
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This was very good and so very true.