doubt & faith: the wild, beautiful ride

for the next month we are doing a series at the refuge’s saturday evening gathering focused on “doubt and faith.”  i usually don’t do this, but i think i’ll write about it each week here as a little mini-series because i know so many of you can relate to this conversation in different ways.

i facilitated this past saturday with my lovely friend christa, but there will be a variety of voices and perspectives over the upcoming month, all approaching doubt and faith from different angles.  part of each conversation will include a video from our friend craig spinks’ site—recycle your faith.  these short videos are very thought-provoking pieces worth checking out.  it will be fun for me to flesh out some of what i’m learning and experiencing through our conversations, too, in a more tangible way as part of the upcoming weeks.

this weekend we watched this video—the golden dancer—and had a mini-panel of 2 friends who shared a bit about their journies of living in the tension of faith and doubt.  you definitely had to be there to experience it (they were both so brave & honest) but a few thoughts stood out  for me over the course of the evening:

  • certainty does not equal faith
  • faith is strengthened by doubt
  • God fills in the cracks in some wild and mysterious ways that dogma can’t.
  • God’s love is more freely experienced in this place of wrestling and doubting than when we had all the answers.
  • the idea of billions of God’s creations burning in hell because they haven’t accepted Jesus the proper way is awfully unsettling
  • we can boldly interact with God with our questions and our faith can survive.  note:  i said “our faith” not necessarily “religion.”
  • there must be a safe place for us to explore these questions out loud instead of alone or in some super-secret conversation over coffee with another potentially heretical friend.

we had a chance in smaller clusters to share how doubt and faith co-exist for us.  for me, i love what theologian paul tillich says:  “doubt is not the opposite of faith; it is one element of faith.”

i had been taught—subtly and directly—in many of my church experiences and countless Bible studies i attended that “doubt means you’re not trusting God enough.” so i would try to bear down and confess my lack of trust and hope my questions and honest fears would go away.   yeah, they didn’t.   but God didn’t go away either.  i think part of my spiritual reformation happened when i stopped listening to “the powers that be”—whether that be pastors, leaders, authors, or anyone else who was a little too certain, a little too sure, and used the word “should” a little too often.   i started looking to the relationships i was in and how valuable conflict was to strengthening our connection, how a true relationship can hack it but a superficial one can’t.

God and i are still hanging in there.   many of my superficial relationships “in church” are gone.   doubters & pot-stirrers aren’t super popular there.  i have let go some of my need to know, my need to be certain when it comes to doctrine and dogma.   i liken it to a clenched fist—there’s not much room for anything to come in and it’s usually used for a fight.  as i’ve loosened my grip and let go of what i used to cling to so tightly, my hand (and my heart and life) have opened.  to new ideas.  to the mystery of God.  to what is possible.  also, a hand open to receive usually doesn’t hurt anybody.

over the years i have reflected a lot on the story of the father who brings his demon-possessed boy to Jesus to heal him in mark 9.  the father cries out to Jesus, “i want to believe! help me in my unbelief!” in the past, this passage was used against me (and no doubt i used it against myself, too) in some odd-twisted way.  it wasn’t “help me believe and see and taste and know and experience the real untempered unmanaged God.” instead it was “help me believe what they are saying to me about what i’m supposed to believe. “

they are two radically different things.

and the first one is what i hope i will honestly & freely keep crying out to God on this wild & beautiful ride.

i feel clear that doubt and faith need each other.  that any faith that can’t hold up to doubt isn’t faith at all. i still believe in “what is unseen.”  i have faith despite my questions.  i still believe that “there’s a God and i’m not him” (one of my favorite lines from the movie rudy), that life isn’t some kind of weird cosmic experiment but that God is telling a beautiful story through his people, that Jesus is not a side note but somehow the center, that i’m not supposed to “know” everything but i am supposed to love &  somehow try to walk in mercy, justice & humility, that Jesus’ spirit & example is alive & well & worth following, and that God doesn’t seem to mind (and probably even kind of likes) all my “i don’t knows” (i am pretty sure his ways are higher than mine anyway).

i always love to hear your thoughts & reactions.  how do doubt and faith co-exist for you these days?

* * * * *

ps: i have a post up at communitas collective today – smashing down the high places, if you want to check it out.

ppss:  if you are new here at the carnival, i wrote this piece as part of the “what could be series” last year.  my hope is that more and more communities would be  brave enough to be a place where doubt is respected & honored. it’s tricky but so beautiful.

Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar is dedicated to creating safe and brave spaces for transformation and healing in real life, online, and outside. She co-pastors at The Refuge, a hub for healing community, social action, and creative collaboration in North Denver, co-directs #communityheals, a non-profit organization dedicated to making spaces for transformation accessible for all, and is the author of Practicing: Changing Yourself to Change the World, Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.


  • Kathy,

    Thank you so much for this post. I can’t tell you how much I relate to what you say here.

    You wrote:

    “…I liken it to a clenched fist—there’s not much room for anything to come in and it’s usually used for a fight. as i’ve loosened my grip and let go of what i used to cling to so tightly, my hand (and my heart and life) have opened. to new ideas. to the mystery of God. to what is possible. also, a hand open to receive usually doesn’t hurt anybody.”

    I have often used the same metaphor, only not so beautifully!

    I’m adding a link to the end of my blog post today. I think a lot of my readers will be encouraged and blessed by these words.

    Thank you for your honesty and graciousness.

  • Kathy, I hardly know what to say. This goes straight to the very raw places in me. In some ways I feel that the questions shouldn’t be so foundation-shattering. But I feel that the center of my faith has been certainty. I loved the things about Jesus that I was certain of. My certainty was like the gate that allowed me to experience him. We worship God through statements of certainty. We tell people about what we are certain of. And our communities of faith and our families, and our work and lives are built on that place of certainty.

    When we’ve gone after Jesus fairly wholeheartedly (recognizing that there’s A LOT lacking in my ‘wholeheartedness’) losing certainty means that experience of God, worship, community, work…everything…just had the bottom fall out from under it.

    But if, as you said, “certainty does not equal faith”…well, it means that all is not lost, but it also means that I’ve probably missed a great deal of the heart of following Jesus.

    I’m thinking about the certainty that the disciples felt before Jesus died and screwed up everything they were certain about 🙂 I’m wondering what their certainty did or did not feel like to them after the resurrection, Pentecost, etc.

    Recognizing that certainty has been my opening to experiencing God in the past, and that now, when I try to meet God I never find the rock beneath my feet that seems to allow me to meet with him–seeing that, I realize I need a new way to experience God. I’m not sure what it is, but I’m thinking of in the Magician’s Nephew when Narnia hasn’t been created yet, the characters are all standing on solid ground, but in complete darkness. I think that may be my picture for being with God right now. Jesus is the rock underneath, but I don’t know who he is or what he looks like. It’s dark. But he’s there.

  • “there must be a safe place for us to explore these questions out loud instead of alone or in some super-secret conversation over coffee with another potentially heretical friend.”

    love ya,

    your potentially heretical friend.

  • Being a place safe for expressing doubt has been one of the corner stones of our gathering (if you can have corner stones in that kind of environment).

  • Kathy:

    I’m actively learning more and more that the only thing about God and life that does not change is the Character and Nature of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. However even my understanding of God and His Character and Nature is continuously growing and in some ways changing.

    I’m finding out that much of what I once new was wrong.

    I love what you said about people that use the word should too often. As I read somewhere “We would all be better off if we stopped “Shoulding” ourselves and on others.”

    For me I don’t know if the right word is “Doubt,” but “questions” and “questioning” doctrines and dogmas are definitely helping set me free from religion, and saving/strengthening my faith and building my relationship with Father and the few others he has currently connected me with.

    Questions regarding things I’ve thought had to be translated wrong in the bible I’ve had for 32 years are beginning to be confirmed that is the Holy Spirit was allowing me to see truth that I once doubted because it disagreed with the evangelical doctrinistas.

    Tom Wilson

  • Hi Kathy,

    This was of great encouragement to me, as all your missives are. In fact, I’m hard pressed not to submit a paragraph or 40 in response to every post!

    With regard to faith and doubt, I’ve told people for years that God is big enough to handle our questions. Perhaps it’s time for a follow-up query: If He’s not afraid, why should His children be?

    I loved your comment about real relationships standing the tests of time and uncertainty, also your “God and i are still hanging in there. many of my superficial relationships “in church” are gone. doubters & pot-stirrers aren’t super popular there.”

    Frankly, I would think pot-stirrers would be welcomed, encouraged, and applauded. Who wants a burnt, smelly, unpalatable meal, when instead you could have a beautiful melding of spices and textures, and no sticky stuff difficult to clean up? I hope my pot-stirring days never end!

    All of Heaven’s best,

  • Kathy, since I started this journey to the outer territories eleven years ago my faith has been reduced to: God loves us but I don’t know what that looks like.
    The rest has not come into focus.
    I love you

  • Some people have made faith God .. no, faith is not God. here’s an illustration,

    It is not your faith that motivates God to act; it is His love for you which motivates Him. My son got his fingers mangled in a beater when he was about 6, I’m outside chopping wood. Dad!!! Dad!!! – he screams. Do, I stop and examine his faith in me that I will act? Of course not!! It is a Father’s love that motivates me to come to his aid. So it is with God – His love for you ….

  • Kathy–One of my favorite passages that I take to be along these same lines is when Jesus comes to the disciples after the ressurection and later Thomas tells the others unless I see I will not believe. When Jesus comes back He doesn’t berate Thomas but He does tell him to see and believe. He also says Blessed are those who believe without seeing. Sometimes that sounds super spiritual to me but other times I read that phrase and think “you know, it’s okay that I don’t see everything just the right way; I can believe in a God who doesn’t need me to have all the answers.”

  • rachel – thanks for the link & for your thoughts here. i really respect your journey and your blog so thanks for taking time to share. excited about your book, too, so fun!

    blueorchid – oh how i love your honest journey. it can be so scary, the darkness and not feeling the solid ground underneath, wondering how far the sinking will go, but i love that image from narnia that gives you a little hope…i think of you often and how much i wish you were in some of these conversations we’re having face to face!

    phyllis – potentially? hahahha! love you & am so glad that we don’t have to whisper anymore. i wonder what those blue sky people make of us?

    jim – yeah, it makes me so happy that you have each other & the safe place you’ve created

    tom – the shoulds really take their toll. and yeah, to me a lot of doubt are the questions & questioning. i love it when my kids and i sit around and they start asking deep and powerful questions that i have no easy answers for…something really lovely always comes from it.

    margret – thanks for your thoughts & i love the metaphor!

    ken – oh how i love you.

    mark – always beautiful thoughts about God’s love for us

    minnow – i love it when there’s another angle to a passage that has made many feel inadequate and ashamed somehow…

  • Honestly, my first thought was dancing…seems to be a romance theme that God has for me! I think because more often than not, doubting and dancing are part of my contemplative times with Him! Good thing He can handle my doubting…AND my crazy “white girl” dancing! Ha! 🙂 But, as you said, the doubting and questioning happen ALONE!!! For me, I think it’s because I’m doubting the church and the so-called “church going Christians” right now! It’s a little safer to doubt alone. Honesty really got me no where with my so-called Christian friends.

  • Thanks Kathy – this post is so powerful! Whenever I think I have things kind of figured out, something happens and I am left wondering – okay God, just where are You in this? I am thankful for friends who want to “go there” with me and a body of believers who don’t look down on doubters. Life is full of laughter and tears, joy and pain, love and hate, and somehow, God is in all of it. I really love the mystery of all of that but still long for a relationship with Him that is close and life-giving.

  • I have not posted a comment in a while. This is a good series. I have a few friends who are searching lately. For God? I think so. I directed them to this site because the authenticity of the words are evident as well as clarity of purpose: you love God and want to help fellow seekers.

  • tammy – yeah, sometimes the hardest thing is not to have someone to process some of these doubts with. i hope that happens but meanwhile, i am glad you have a partner who doesn’t mind your white girl dancing

    patty – yes, life really is a big bundle of paradoxes, isn’t it. i think learning to embrace them is a big part of our journey.

    laurie – always great to hear from you. i wish united still flew down to el salvador, we really want to get down there but it’s hard without direct access. i hope this place can be helpful to others on the journey. peace & hope to you in the trenches…

  • hi greg, thanks for taking time to share and glad to engage on email, too, if that’s easier ( there are all kinds of possibilities for opening up space to talk about it but it’s so important to create some rules for engagement so people can feel okay to share (that’s often why people dont’ share doubts, no matter how young or old), for fear of getting shut down. in down we go, there’s a whole chapter called “honoring doubt” that has some exercises in the back to consider, and i don’t know what kind of rules you already have in place for hard conversations. a safe way to start is to somehow give everyone a chance just to write something anonymously on a piece of paper. set the context, honest things that cross our minds and hearts about God & us… “sometimes i doubt….” and read them out loud so that no one is “outed” too quickly. some other kind of reflection station…a board or wall where people can write their doubts in grafitti or some other creative way….and then process the collective together. i’m just brainstorming here 🙂


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