Ever feel like an outsider because you have had some doubts? In your faith? As if everyone else has seen Jesus personally and therefore exudes a thick confidence—an invisible wall that separates the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’?
Will Ingram pointed out someone who said, “As the island of human knowledge expands, so too does the shoreline of mystery.” It seems that knowing and not knowing sometimes go hand in hand. Don’t they say opposites attract? But we trivialize the mix. Doubt is often to certainty as certainty is to doubt: Heresy.
So for those who sometimes feel like an outsider, here’s some good news:
You can doubt and still have integrity (Despite the fact that you’re often meant to feel like an outsider).
I think it was Einstein who said that curiosity has its own reason for existing. Just because you have some doubts doesn’t mean you’re a one-dimensional clot, an interloper. If doubt accompanies sloth, it may be disobedience. But it might actually be a sign that you have a hunger for understanding. Pull on some green in the garden and you might get a carrot. And didn’t Jesus say something about loving God with our whole minds?
We have to honour that doubt often plays a part in a growing faith
I remember my own doubts. As I grew up I doubted things like miracles which seemed abnormal. And as I dove into the world of biblical scholarship I questioned the reliability of some of the stories about Jesus, especially through the lens of German liberalism. So when we pretend we’ve got it “all together” and that we’ve never seriously wrestled with the big questions or hurts, we’re lying. I’m in a different place now, but it’s a journey. Plus, when we always fake perfect assuredness, we make others who have doubts feel like, well… outsiders (again). Frederick Buechner has a way with words: “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.”
Doubt can be fertilizer for massive growth if you keep tilling the soil
You need to keep working at it. When Martin Luther King Jr. was 13 he shocked his Sunday School class by denying that Jesus physically rose from the dead. In his words “doubts began to spring forth unceasingly.” But eventually in college, because he took his questioning seriously, he discovered a faith that he could claim as his own and that would give him a strong, incredible faith through his adult life. If you have doubts and then stop the quest for growth you’re a reed in the wind; but if you keep pursing your questions, you can grow into an oak. I think we can learn a lot from the man with the sick child in Mark 9: “I believe; help my unbelief!”
Belief is this massive perspective-changing thing. Jesus says, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” I think the word “blessed” means someone who has received God’s kindness or favour. Live in belief (trust) and you will experience God’s kindness and favour.
In the end, faith is often a choice
We decide to believe. Each of us will have the evidence before us of lives changed and of what Jesus shows us about the world and the hope of heaven. That stands in contrast to other options. So we decide. And decisions matter. Believing in marriage is fine—but you show that by making a decision. Believing that your family is important is fine—but you show that by making a decision to prioritize them. Believing in God and that he loves you is fine—but you acknowledge that love by making a decision to worship, cherish and serve him.
Let me leave the doubters among us with one last piece of advice: Doubt Faithfully.
Let me use an extreme but profound example. The Holocaust was horrid. Torture and terror I find it difficult to imagine. I hear that 95% of people in the camps lost their lives. Elie Wiesel was one of the 5% who survived. He was a boy and remembers some of the men in the camp putting God on trial. How could God be good and just and do this to his people? The verdict was summed up in a single word, chayav. It means “he owes us something.” So what did they do? Abandon him? Give up hope? No.
They went and said their evening prayers.
Doubt faithfully: Keep praying, worshipping, consult wise people, read the Bible, keep asking. Stand on the mountains of strength God has planted in your D.N.A. Quite often we need to do the work of a robust faith while relying on the help of others… and God. In my view, all roads eventually lead to the brilliance of Jesus. But we cannot live on a second-hand faith. Only a firsthand faith will fly.
As Alister McGrath says, “We cannot live on borrowed answers.”
I have in the past tried to bury my questions because I felt that by revealing them I showed myself to be a poor christian.
Thank you for the permission to explore complecated issues. I do need to wrestle with them and I believe it will make me stronger in faith.
Lesley, I think this is something that happens to a lot of people, unfortunately. They feel they need to leave a part of themselves at home when they come to church. I have found that for me personally, questioning is an important part of the pathway to growth. In my mind questions force us deeper into the meaning of biblical stories and meanings and insights, not further away. I’m reminded of the story of Jacob (in Genesis) wrestling with the stranger at night–as a result, Jacob is named Israel, re-casting him as a slightly limping but renewed figurehead of a nation. Stronger.