“there are two easy ways to slide through life: to believe everything or to doubt everything. both ways save us from thinking.”
– alfred korzybski
this saturday eve at the refuge’s weekend gathering we began the 1st week of advent. we are using an advent guide produced by our friends from urban skye that focuses on the third way, the ways of Jesus, as a backdrop for the upcoming weeks. we all have a natural tendency, when threatened, to fight or flee. when it comes to some of our experiences with “church” i am guessing some of the same reflexes apply. the first way is to respond in violence and anger, whether that’s in the quietness of our hearts or in our actions and words. the second way is to retreat, hide, run, pretend nothing’s wrong or that there’s nothing we can do. the third way is the way i want to learn–an active presence, a hope for what’s possible, a willingness to stay in the conflict & tension and seek God’s direction & wisdom and courage to live it out. so i noticed that maybe that’s what this series “what could be” is all about, me attempting to practice the third way when it comes to “church”.
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the other day my 15 year old daughter asked me a question that has no easy answer, no cut-and-dried response. she asked “what was there before God?” then she added, “i know God made the world, but how did he come into existence in the first place & what was ‘there’ before?” whoa. the first thing that crossed my mind was whipping out john 1 or genesis 1; the only problem is they definitely don’t properly answer her question. but i resisted the panic that rose up in my chest and the fleeting thought that because i had no good answer that maybe my faith was just a sham & i was actually an atheist, and responded with “julia, way to ask the world’s most profound question that no honest person can fully answer!” right after that, the next question that got fired from the back seat by one of the 9 year old twins was: “i have a question, too: how do we know the Bible is really true?” oh boy, just an average day driving home from basketball practice!
the definition of doubt is: “to be uncertain about something; be undecided in opinion or belief.”
here are some synonyms for “doubt”:
- apprehension, confusion, disbelief, lack of confidence, misgiving, mistrust, quandry, skepticism, suspicion, uncertainty, reluctance.
recognize any of these?
here are the antonyms:
- belief, certainty, confidence, dependence, faith, reliance, trust.
okay, which words do you like better, which ones make you feel more secure, less anxious? i admit, as i read these two lists i kind of cringed because i realized how much has shifted for me over the years. i used to think the sign of being a good christian was a rock-solid certainty that i could back up with the right scriptures. now, i think one of the signs of our faith journey is to be willing to wrestle with doubt. to honor it. to recognize that it is part of what makes faith, faith. and as much as doubt is frustrating in our own lives & in the lives of others, i believe that we, the church, need to get better at honoring doubt. this is a place where a lot of people live, people who’ve been around “church” for a long time and people who haven’t. doubt is part of our human experience. we doubt we are loved. we doubt we are lovable. we doubt God cares. we doubt God is good. we doubt all kinds of things, whether we say them out loud or not. in the quietness of our hearts, in the darkness of night, most people wrestle with doubt in some form or another.
honoring doubt is a little like welcoming pain, it’s living in the tension and not feeling the overwhelming need to make it all better and tie it up with a neat and tidy bow. julia’s question can never be wrapped up, it just can’t. but the question i have to then wrestle with is “what does that mean for my faith?” can i live with the not-fully-knowing? can i still believe the big story & cling to Christ’s hope while i question a lot of the minutia?
a lot of us have been taught that certainty comes from right belief about words in the Bible, that if people could just “believe properly and trust Jesus” everything would be okay. umm, tell that to my friend who’s teetering with sobriety during one of the most difficult seasons of the year. tell that to my friend whose husband just ditched her. tell that to my friend who got kicked out of their church after dedicating years of their lives to building it. tell that to my friend who’s still single after years of hoping to find a partner. tell that to my friend who goes to bed hungry so that her children can eat. tell that to my friend who keeps trying to connect with God but can’t seem to feel him in the darkness. everyone i know doubts. i always think back to the disciples, they were there, in the flesh, and had trouble believing. and here we are, 2,000 years later, trying to make sense of this great mystery & what it means for us, for the world.
so how can we be people, communities, who honor doubt (and not just doubt about God but about ourselves, too)?
mostly i hope for something similar to my last post about welcoming pain; that we’d be more honest about it, that we’d provide safe places to wrestle, and we wouldn’t try to make everything ‘better’ just so we don’t feel as anxious. but i think i might add a few other ones, too, when it comes specifically to two forms of doubt about faith & doubt about ourselves:
accept doubt as a natural part of our experience instead of resisting it. this is what is freaky for those who are going through a bit of a deconstruction process when it comes to faith. what happens when some of our questions aren’t just a detour back to our usual or customary constructs but actually a journey into the wild outback without a map? i have let myself and God off the hook a bit and reconciled in my heart that some of my doubts will never be fully answered this side of heaven & to quit getting so mad at myself for not going back to somewhere that i don’t think exists anymore anyway. i think we’d love people better if we let go of trying to resolve what can’t be fully resolved & focus on the very simple few essentials instead: love, love, oh, and love. most people don’t doubt the ways of Love that much anyway, isn’t that interesting?
give room, lots of room, instead of being so afraid. this is the thing church-y people are the worst at. i know so many of you out there started getting sideways looks & stopped getting invited to things when you started asking questions. my one friend described it this way:
“i honestly was insulted by how people who i once believed like started to treat me. they dealt with my doubt like i had caught a bad cold. they promised to pray for me and assured me that it would pass. one person attributed it to a mid-life crisis.’ i found out how much people depended on me to continue to believe the same way, the same things, the same bullshit. my doubt actually scared some people.”
yeah, my hope is that we can learn to live in the tension of people’s spiritual journies and give up our crazy need to bring people over to our way of thinking, to not be so afraid, and have faith that God is big enough to hack it.
let go of our need to make people understand God’s love the way we want them to. i daily come face to face with how desperately i sometimes want to convince people of certain things (not so much about spiritual technicalities, i am done with that). the doubt that is hardest for me to let go of is when people doubt they are loved. by God. by people. i want to jump up and down and try to convince. “see, see, see! you are loved!” but then i remember in my own life that God’s love, other people’s love, have always been the hardest for me to grasp no matter how much convincing was in the mix. one of the things i am learning to let go of is the false belief i can convince anyone of anything. i’m not one word away from making someone understand Jesus’ love. sure, i can love tangibly, stay in for the long haul, and continually point towards God, but i cannot convince anyone of anything; that job is the mysterious work of the Holy Spirit and i am thankful that he/she is relentless in pursuit. one of the problems i have sometimes seen, though, is that we can get so frustrated with people’s “lack of progress” in this area that we get tired of trying to convince and give up. what if we gave up worrying about convincing and just relaxed & recognized that a natural part of life is to wrestle with self-doubt?
a few years ago my friend nadia posted a blog that included a simple picture i always think of: “faith needs doubt like children need love.” my daughter’s question makes me think. and my lack of a wonderful spiritually acceptable answer doesn’t make me throw in the towel; actually it makes me have even more respect for my faith, for the faith of others. faith is way bigger than me, than the walls of a church, than the confines of a particular culture or a denomination, than the lack of an answer to an obviously profound question. the Kingdom of God is uncontainable. and it can stand up to doubt. the question is, can we?
God, help us trust that you are big enough for our doubts & help us be people & communities courageous enough to hold the doubts of others.