To those who doubt:
You’re not alone.
You’re not the only one.
The longer I am a pastor, the more I find most people have doubts of some kind, but most are not willing to voice them. It takes an immense amount of courage to share your uncertainty with people who seem to be so certain. Church these days seems more filled with people of certainty rather than people of faith, people who have arrived rather than people who are seeking, people with rock solid beliefs rather than people crying out in their unbelief. But under the surface, I don’t think our churches are filled with people of certainty. Far too many people are leaving the church, and faith, with questions for that to be true.
Church, that place that is supposed to have the answers, doesn’t seem all that comfortable with the questions.
I know the quiet gnaw of questions that grow into doubt. They come silently at first, creeping into your consciousness from behind some long held belief. Their presence isn’t always consciously felt, but you begin to know they are there before you see them. And the thought of looking at the doubt, as it sneaks out from behind the truth so long believed, keeps from looking at it. You look away. Pretend it isn’t there. Or double down on the truth hoping that will make the doubt slink back to wherever it is it came from.
But sometimes it just won’t go away.
And that’s when the loneliness starts. Loneliness and doubt are longtime bedfellows, one feeding the other. Doubts isolate you. Make you feel like you are the only one uncertain. You look around and everyone else seems to accept those things that seem hard to believe. You wonder and they look certain. You question and they answer. Quickly. And with that look that says, “Why would you even question that?”
It doesn’t take long to learn that your questions make people uneasy. It takes only a few raised eyebrows, pat answers, or disapproving tones to learn that asking questions isn’t safe. For you or for them. Even if you haven’t found the nerve to ask your questions or voice your doubts, you aren’t stupid. You’ve seen on how public people with doubts have been cast off by those who once claimed them as their own. Question a literal six-day creation, how the estimated 8.7 million species of animals fit into Noah’s one little ark, how Jonah survived in the whale for three days, or how God could command the genocide of the Canaanites and you could find your faith questioned, be called a heretic, and be accused of denying Christ altogether. You know this because you have watched it happen to very public Christians who had the courage to publicly voice their doubts.
But it isn’t safe.
So you keep quiet and isolate yourself. And it’s lonely.
So here’s me being honest: I have doubts. Not doubts about the central tenants of the Christian faith, but doubts surrounding all these secondary and tertiary issues that I don’t have answers for. I’ve wrestled with a literal, six-day account of creation. I’ve wrestled with major tenants of my theological tradition. Hell, I’m still wrestling with predestination and how to reconcile that with the idea that God wishes that all might be saved.
There was a time when I thought doubts were dangerous. I believed that asking questions was akin to taking the foundation out from under the house. One question could cause the whole house to fall. But I don’t believe that any more. In fact, I have done an about face to say that I believe doubting to be an essential component of an authentic faith.
Let me say that again. I believe doubt to be an essential component of an authentic faith.
The person who never questions their faith unnerves me. I have a difficult time believing they are being honest with me. When I read the Bible I do not find people who never questioned, never wrestled, or never doubted. I find people who, because their of their humanity and the difficulty of faith in the world, struggled. Gideon had to throw out the fleece how many times. Sarah laughed out loud when she heard she was going to get pregnant. Thomas needed to touch Jesus before he believed the tomb was empty. David penned the words that Jesus cried on the cross, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me!”
Those who seem to be the most human seem to struggle with faith.
The reason for that is probably more simple than we think: Faith is hard. That’s why it is called faith.
If we were being honest (which can be hard in church), on some level we are all doubters. Each of us, in some fashion, a Doubting Thomas wondering how it can be. Some of us doubt if God is there. Some doubt if the Bible really is inerrant. Some doubt miracles. Some doubt the genocide of Canaan. Some doubt the practicality of “turn the other cheek.” Some doubt Jesus really meant that we should love our enemies. Some doubt that the poor really are blessed.
My guess is, if the church was filled with people who didn’t doubt the words of Jesus, things would look at lot different. A little less competitive. Fewer favorites. Quicker forgiveness. More laughter. More tears. Greater compassion. Diversity – racial, economic, educational, et.
Grace. A lot more grace.
Yes, when we’re honest, we all have to admit we have doubts.
photo credit: Stefano Corso