Buechner Themes

Faith Despite Doubt

If you’re absolutely certain about all your beliefs about God, Jesus, religion, faith, and the meaning of life, then the writings of Frederick Buechner may appeal less to you. If, on the other hand, you have questions or doubts, or if you believe that the very essence of faith in God means acceptance without irrefutable proof, then you will strongly resonate with what Buechner has to say.

A common feature across Buechner’s fiction is the presence of characters who struggle with questions of faith in the midst of despair. Buechner “let’s doubt and darkness have their say along with faith and hope.” Rather than stating dogmatic conclusions to the struggle, Buechner allows his characters the freedom to be truly human, inviting his readers to decide for themselves how faith intersects with life. Similarly, in his nonfiction works, Buechner states his belief that “If there’s no room for doubt, there’s no room for me.” The very impossibility of proof is the gap that God occupies. Buechner experiences faith as centrally mysterious and beyond evidence.

An example of this tension between belief and doubt comes from his book Wishful Thinking: “Whether your faith is that there is a God or that there is not a God, if you don’t have any doubts you are either kidding yourself or asleep.”

Lord, I believe; help my unbelief.
— Wishful Thinking

And from Nancy Myers’ interview with Buechner: “They want me to come out and say, ‘Look, it’s all true.’ And of course I do believe it’s true with ninety-eight percent of myself, but I want to be true to the experience of truth, which always includes the possibility that maybe you’re just kidding yourself.”

From the perspective of Brian McLaren’s four-stage spiritual framework: Simplicity, Complexity, Perplexity, and Harmony (found in Naked Spirituality – A Life With God in 12 Simple Words), Buechner does not live in the “everything is black or white” world of Simplicity. He speaks to those who struggle with the imperfections of humanity, who realize that in life there are no easy answers.

According to Buechner, we cannot really know that there is a God but instead we rely on faith to bridge the gap between doubt and belief.  Though we cannot see God, we trust that he is always there and that we can experience him through the experiences of our lives. As Buechner summarizes: “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief.”


Here is prose so beautifully written that it verges on poetry. Yet The Magnificent Defeat wrestles with sweaty contemporary problems, including the problem of those who want to believe and can’t.
— United Press International

Buechner has always been a strong advocate of “telling it like it is”, in contrast to a tendency in parts of the Christian Church to “say what we ought to say”. If you’re looking for a writer who is prepared to face up to the sometimes very difficult aspects of life, but who maintains an active faith… Buechner’s books … should prove richly rewarding.
— Rob Brennan