While reading some blogs today, I ran into a quote on Rachel Held Evans blog which has encouraged me to open my heart on the matter of doubt and Christianity.
It was a quote from Tim Keller:
“A faith without some doubts is like a human body without any antibodies in it. People who blithely go through life too busy or indifferent to ask hard questions about why they believe as they do will find themselves defenseless against either the experience of tragedy or the probing questions of a smart skeptic. A person’s faith can collapse almost overnight if she has failed over the years to listen to her own doubts, which should only be discarded after long reflection. Believers should acknowledge and wrestle with doubts —not only their own but their friends’ and neighbors.”
Unfortunately, for many Christians and church leaders, doubt is something simply to be conquered. It is something to be beaten as an addict beats the very thing that controls him. For many it’s like this…if we head down that road, we’re sure to be enticed by the all-encompassing logical process of understanding all too much for our own good. So what becomes of us? Do we put our heads in the sand and ignore the ache forming on the edges of our mind, trying to numb our problematic noggin with an overindulgence in church activity? For many that is the solution. If we ignore it, maybe it will go away.
Doubt is a lonely road to travel in the church. I mean really, who can you tell? What kind of advice are they going to give you that will make you feel better? They’ll probably load you up with platitudes like, “you just have to believe” or “faith is about believing even when you don’t understand”. While these statements are undeniably true, they don’t usually help an ounce in a crisis of faith. I recently had one guy try to encourage me with his story. It was extremely fresh for him, but actually made me laugh out loud, especially after it went on for about ten minutes. I managed to cover my laughter with an appropriate comment and tied it back into his story. I think I had more doubts after I talked to him than I had before.
So here it is…
I deal with doubt.
In fact, I have dealt with doubt lately more than ever before. Yes, I’ve been a pastor for 13 years. Yes, I’ve been a Christian for 33 years. But never before have I dealt with the onslaught of doubt that I’ve been dealing with lately.
The source of this doubt, this faith crisis, is not sin. It is not laziness. It’s not even rebellion in my heart. It comes from one thing…revelation of truth. I know that sounds rediculous, but let me explain. I grew up planted in a garden of impenetrable pentecostal theology, reinforced the fencing at a local pentecostal bible college and enjoyed a careful diet of food grown only in my own truth garden. At the same time, as an extreme charismatic I was taught to not over think things and to just embrace whatever the Spirit was doing.
My world started unravelling as God began undoing theology that was so central to my very belief system. For a while I embraced the new understanding I had of God’s word, but who could I talk to about it? Nobody was on the same page, in fact most people would have considered me a heretic if I’d shared what I now believe to be true about God. Most denominations (yes I realize this is a very big generalization) are only interested in convincing you that their theological stance is right. They usually stop discovery at some point and start to put up fences, drawing lines in the biblical landscape of truth in order to resist heresy and maintain order.
Doubt is difficult for the church to deal with because it flies in the face of a faith culture. Jesus was hard on those who faltered. He said things like, “you of little faith” and “where is your faith”? The difference is that those whom Jesus rebuked for their doubt had just witnessed incredible miracles and were on the verge of becoming recipients of miracles themselves. His rebuke was reinforced with proof! The only logical argument involved was of the “seeing is believing” type.
As I question my Christianity and my understanding of the word and my understanding of what God is really like and whether or not I believe in Him or even if I want to believe in Him, there is one glaring problem. What do I do with my experience? I can explain God away all I want with logical arguments and reasoning, but what do I do with the things that my eyes have seen and the imprint of His presence on my life. Bill Johnson says, “The person with an experience is never at the mercy of a person with an argument.”
Through my doubt, I have learned to be open to new ways of looking at things. Doubt has opened the door for God to reveal truth that was missing from my knowledge base.
God is not locked into our understanding of His word.
God has never been about us understanding every theological argument in scripture. I’m not against an understanding of who God is and developing personal theology, in fact I see more and more value in it as I’ve come to discover truth about God that I hadn’t previously seen in scripture. But the ultimate truth is that He has only ever been about two things…
YOU and ME.
So my advice…relax and stop taking yourself so seriously. Leave that up to God. He’s pretty serious about us.
Some final thoughts:
I think as a church, we could do a way better job of working through doubt. Doubt is a reality, but doubt doesn’t have to be lonely.
Pain and doubt usually go hand in hand, and when we are asking the age-old question, “where is God when I really need Him?”…that is the moment we most need a friend who will not judge us and will refrain from Christian clichés.
Do you have an experience you can share?
Are you walking through some doubt right now?
What are the questions you deal with?