doubt & faith: the wild, beautiful ride

kathyescobar spiritual formation, the refuge 17 Comments

doubtfor 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?

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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.