Somewhere along the line, I picked up the idea that doubt was big, bad and scary. It sure would be nice to blame someone, but I don’t know who that would be. I don’t remember a conversation or a sermon or a specific church teaching. And even if I could blame someone, that might let me off the hook a little too easily.
Anyway, I don’t know where I got it, but I believed that doubt and questions were to be avoided. I don’t think I ever intentionally chose this position, but nonetheless, I resisted the temptation to press on the questions lingering in my mind.
It wasn’t as if I buried them and pretended they didn’t exist. They were never too far away, lingering in the background of life. I wasn’t even afraid to face the questions if they were “for somebody else.” After all, I was preparing for ministry and people would have these questions. I should know the answers.
I did my best to answer them with sermon podcasts, apologetics books and the constant turning of possible solutions in my mind. But I never admitted that I actually wrestled with these questions. I was afraid to say them out loud and to actually identify with them. It was as if admitting them made me a bad Christian. I didn’t want to look weak.
All my life I had been the knight in shining Christian armor (at least in my own mind). I had spent years being a “good Christian.” And this identity wasn’t constructed overnight. It took work and Bible studies and not cursing and having answers. The questions I had just seemed like chinks in the armor.
Looking back, it is easy to see how this approach did not serve me very well. The first time I started to identify with these questions and doubts, I thought I had lost all hope. It was devastating. I was not prepared for a faith that didn’t fit into the preassigned categories.
It feels very comfortable to construct a theology where doubt is unnecessary and everything fits neatly in its own little box. But maybe God doesn’t fit into little boxes. That would be a pretty bad god if he did.
These days I’m a bit more comfortable with doubt. I think doubt can be a good thing. I think that skepticism can be beneficial. I think we need to face the questions. I think identifying with the fear is the right way to handle it.
If we don’t, we’re punting. We’re kicking the can down the road. At some point, we will have to face them. As the saying goes, “pressure bursts pipes.”
When we put off identifying with our doubt we put ourselves in spiritual debt. We take out the short-term comfort loan that will eventually need to be paid back. The bill collectors will come knocking.
However, if we choose to face them as they come, they can be life-giving. It may be a crude metaphor, but identifying with doubt can be like lifting weights. You don’t get stronger avoiding the gym and eating Cheetos on your couch. You put yourself under tension and face the uncomfortable process of working out.
You don’t live a life of faith by turning away from doubts and hardships. You face them, head on. In many ways, doubt unlocks faith.
Faith is simply the willingness to act as if we believe. It is essentially trust. One of the biggest hurdles for me was feeling the need to fully construct the mental and intellectual model that gave me a grip on God. The clearing of that hurdle was accomplished by trust.
I trusted God before I ever figured my theology out. It was a choice. I set myself to act as if I believed. I didn’t need to be able to prove any doctrinal position in order to pray. I didn’t need to align with a specific theological interpretation. I could just talk to God. I could engage in the relationship. But, it did take intention.
One of my favorite lines in the Bible comes from Psalm 23 and it says, “you prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.” I picture the psalmist surrounded by an advancing army. They are bigger, stronger, more equipped and closing in quickly. There is a very real threat and there are very real reasons to fear.
All the while, unbeknownst to the enemy, he is banqueting with God. God has reminded him that he is with him even in the valleys.
Doubts can seem like valleys. Questions can be uncomfortable. The promise of God is not that he will resolve all the problems. The promise of God is that there is a table and you are invited. God is there, in the midst of it all.
So, my encouragement is simple. Don’t sit on your couch eating Cheetos.
Face your doubts.
Identify with them.
Look for God in their midst.
You have permission.