Dealing With Doubt And Failing Miserably

Dealing With DoubtWhile 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?

Comments

  1. says

    You’re speaking my language brother.. :) Ive wrestled with a lot of doubt and it all seems to be rooted in not understanding why God allows things to be the way they are. I was just wondering today if God gets tired of hearing the word “why?” But like you my experiences of Him have come to outweigh my misunderstandings – this doesn’t mean the questions go away but more make them easier to live with… I guess. Anyways great post! I look forward to reading more.

    and PS.. I want to believe in God.

    • says

      Thanks for your input Justin. It’s true…we will always live with questions. Faith requires trust even when the questions loom large and understanding and revelation are nowhere nearby. Just checked out your blog. Love what you’re doing!

  2. says

    Great post! Your right, it is okay to not take ourselves too seriously. God is good and he will work out our doubts and fears, we just have to continue looking to him with our questions.

  3. Deanna Johnson says

    Hi Rennie
    The Lord has been teaching me that my salvation has nothing to do with the denomination I was raised in or the theology I was taught. It is solely wrapped up in what He did on the cross. Everything thing that I have to deal with, He has already paid for with His precious blood. I need to place my faith in what He did and He will take care of the rest.
    Great Post! I pray the Lord will continue to move in your life as you endeavor to follow His ways!

    • says

      Hi Deanna, so great to hear from you! I agree with your thoughts 100%. When we live in what Christ has already done, we can completely stop striving and enjoy the journey. Blessings to you and the rest of the fam!

  4. says

    NIcely written and thoughtfully phrased. Held Evans’ work is so refreshing–it’s nice to read someone who so interestingly engages in topics that we are so often too scared to talk about. Keller is great too, his Reason for God helped me through a tough time by reminding me that Christians can BOTH have faith and be intellectually rigorous. I appreciate you creating yet another place for this discussion to happen.

    A favourite quote of mine is Tennyson’s when he struggled with faith in God after suffering the untimely death of his good friend:
    “There lives more faith in honest doubt, believe me, than in half the creeds” (Tennyson, In Memoriam)

  5. says

    Very True Pastor Rennie, if we didn’t have doubts we would not seek answers, which I found was True in my own life. I was very touched by your honesty it was reassuring to hear a Pastor confess to doubts. You asked if we wanted to share our own experience with them, I’m sorry but it is not short and sweet, it has detail, it is also not humorous, it speaks of my heart’s focus but yes there is a time for everything including humour. Although I accept my weakness and shortcomings and others too, not meaning sin, I don’t take them seriously either, I’m like you and everyone else, a person of worth regardless of them but I do take seriously my walk with The Lord and below is my Testimony of how God lead me from doubts to assurance.

    After coming to real heart repentance but because of so much conflicting teaching I felt very unsure about what was Truth and so had doubts. One day as I was reading the Scriptures a verse touched my heart, Mark 9:24 some Christians call this a Rhema Scripture ( Greek word ) it said… that a man’s son was in need of healing and Jesus asked him do you believe, the man answered yes I believe but please help my unbelief and so I also asked for Jesus to help my unbelief with great heart conviction that I needed His help, He is our only Teacher Matthew23:8-10 through the empowering of The Holy Spirit He will lead us into all Truth. Matthew10:26-28 – Psalm32:8

    Not long after this, realizing my confusing was because of the conflicting teaching in the Churches, in books, tapes, videos, songs and by Theologians and Evangelists, even those who had a high profile and yes they all claimed what they believed was True but what some taught was different which means some of them were trusting in their own worldly understanding or what they had been taught instead of God’s Truth.

    I knew this to be True because The Holy Spirit does not say one thing to one person and something different to someone else when it contradicts and as I knew we are not to agree to disagree or argue but to take our difference to God and He will show us who is in error as we are to have the same focus and to be of one mind and purpose, so it confused me greatly because how could they all have the mind of Christ and also be in conflict which was shown by their division, our God is a God of Unity and Truth and Paul warned against this type of division in the Church.

    I prayed to God earnestly for His help again and He gave me another Rhema Scripture James1:5-8 God tells us that if we lack His wisdom we are to ask for it and as I was not born with it and even King Solomon asked for it in Trust and Faith and was then commended by God, so I did this too and now I have no doubts that I have received it and I don’t keep asking for it instead I thank God for this gift and I know that my heart is growing in knowledge and insight and will continue to do so as He perfects me in His Love to conform me to the image of His Son.

    What God has shared with me He has confirmed in His written word by His Living Word but as I said before I’m still learning but I know without a doubt what God has already shown me is His Truth and I don’t have confusion or fear error anymore … Jesus tells us we don’t have because we don’t ask with Faith believing what He says He will do and sadly I found this is very True with those who Trust in their own understanding or others instead of God, although The Holy Spirit may use us and others to share God’s Truth and God even uses the foolishness of Preaching by our Men Pastors until they are perfected in Love but we must always seek the conformation of Scripture first both when sharing and listening and not just parts of it but the whole picture.

    Proverbs 4:7 Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding.

    Blog Post – http://freedomborn.wordpress.com/2012/05/07/the-gaining-of-wisdom/

    Christian Love from both of us – Anne.

    P.S Where is God when I really need Him, right with me, or He is lying in this Scripture below ….

    Isaiah 43:1-3 – Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you. I have called you by name; you are mine. When you go through deep waters and great trouble, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown! When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you. For I am the LORD, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Saviour.”

    Jeremiah 29 :11-12 For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the LORD, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.

    Lamentations 3: 33 For He doth not afflict willingly nor grieve the children of men.
    Blessings – Anne

  6. says

    I just came across your post here on Doubt. I have been enveloped in doubt for quite sometime; for probably a number of reasons. I’ve gone from a bright eyed, extremely naive Jesus Freak of the 80′s who gave up his long hair and blue jeans and rock music to attend a conservative Christian liberal arts college to a man of 60 who doubts, at times, God’s very existence.

    I have been seeing a therapist (initially for my diagnosis of PTSD) that has become quite intense. Faith, and my struggle with believing, is a constant running theme in our sessions. She, being a Christian herself, does not shy from our talking about matters of faith.

    I have said over and over that I don’t know if I believe in God anymore or if He’s even there; since I feel no connection to any kind of Higher Power. I’ve often wondered, and voiced last night to my therapist, why I don’t just say “I no longer believe in God” or why don’t I want to try Buddhism or some other religion.

    I heard myself say, for the first time, that I probably haven’t been able to do any of the above because deep, deep down (in my gut) I know that at one time I did know the truth (or at least the pure part of it) of Jesus. I don’t know how to get back to that original kernel of what I once believed. There are so many layers of sh*t that I have to dig through to get there.

    The years of judgment directed towards me then (and even now) because I am a gay man. The dogma and doctrine of the denomination of my choice. And, most of all, being an eyewitness and survivor of the attack on the World Trade Center on 9/11, trying to reconcile God’s inability to answer the prayers of those trapped on the upper floors who, I would assume, were praying for God to save them. But He couldn’t. And I understand why He couldn’t. He has set rules governing how our world and universe operate and those “rules” prohibited Him from picking those people up and gently placing them on the ground. So I had to witness their decision to jump to their deaths rather than be burned to death. So that has shown me that God is powerless to answer some prayers. Powerless because of the rules He made. So, I ask myself, why pray.

    With the anniversary being two days ago, I read a survivor’s account of that day and how God spoke to her and saved her; which angers me because does that mean God just chose to save some people and not others?

    I so need something to believe in. I live with the memories of 9/11 everyday and other losses. An ended relationship that I thought would last a lifetime. Being the caregiver for parents that I see growing into old people who will eventually die. And I don’t know how to wrap any kind of faith around any of that. And yet I hurt so badly.

    I can’t be the Christian I was back in my college years. But I don’t know how to be one today; with all I’ve encountered in life. I don’t know how to be a Christian who is so steeped in doubt right now. And to go to church just seems hypocritical to me. I sit there listening to sermons not even knowing if I buy into any of what’s being said. Where are the churches for those of us in extreme doubt?

    It’s rare for me to respond to a blog post. I didn’t write this expecting you to give me an answer. Maybe I just needed to get this down in words. The world of Christianity is not so black and white. There is so much that is gray. And that is where I am right now. In all that gray matter.

    • says

      Hi Artie. Thank-you for your honesty and expression of your actual heart state. Too many of us just try to hold it all in and never really delve into the depths of our hearts.

      A look at your blog, reveals your passion and heart of people and the drive to impact this world in the aftermath of 9/11. I commend you for that. No doubt your tireless work has brought healing to many who have journeyed through hell and struggled to find an exit.

      Unfortunately when you are dealing with doubt and questioning everything, the struggle is that awareness is heightened. You suddenly become aware of hypocrisy. You suddenly become aware of false teaching. You suddenly become aware of judgment.

      Doubt is necessary and it is also dangerous.

      Doubt has the potential to exposes lies and reveal truth and can bring one into a place of understanding and clarity…eventually. However, the danger in doubt is that in questioning things, if there is never any resolution it will ultimately result in rejection. The longer doubt lingers in a person’s heart, the closer they come to rejecting even the idea of a loving God.

      I’ve walked this journey. I’ve walked out of church on Sunday morning wondering, “Is this God even real?” The thing is, the only element that will really convince me that God is real is an encounter. All my reasoning only leaves me empty and increases doubt. But an encounter and witness of His working and power pulls me toward Him every time.

      There is way too much tragedy in this world. I hate it! But it has always been this way. The church itself grew and thrived in the midst of persecution and hatred. The church today grows and thrives in countries where persecution is a part of daily life.

      Those who experience tragedy on a daily basis, often cling to Jesus. But for many of us it results in the question “why?”

      For me doubt has two possible results: rejection or revelation.

      At the end of doubt, my simple prayer is, “God reveal yourself to me”. And He usually does.

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