Doubt. In faith circles, this is seen as a dirty word. Most believe it’s the antithesis of faith. If you doubt, you aren’t a good member of your particular religion. What if doubt and faith are more closely related than we could ever imagine? What if doubt is an all important step to forming a better, deeper and more lasting faith? What if?
My faith centers around a person. Sure there are dogmas, scriptures, creeds and traditions that surround him; and these are all well enough. But at the end of the day, it’s about the life of a man, Jesus. The claims of Jesus and his followers are really quite extraordinary. Virgin birth, miracles, God and man in one, claims of a new way to be human and raising others and eventually himself from the dead. These really are quite compelling assertions.
I would offer, that if your faith is formed off of taking this at face value, for what authority figures such as pastors, parents, Sunday school teachers and even previous interpretations of the Bible have taught you, and you’ve never had a good struggle with many elements of your faith, that’s preposterous. This is where I think a good dose of doubt comes in handy.
If you begin to doubt, wonder and meditate on these things, you can’t help but be moved. Moved to search. Moved to action. Moved to explore and really know why you believe what you believe. It causes you to look at the world differently. It causes you to rethink Jesus. Reexamine the way we’ve been doing life, treating our fellow man, treating the environment and treating our relationship with our creator.
One of my favorite parables in the Bible is when Jesus sends his disciples across the lake in the boat and he says he’ll catch up later. In true Jesus fashion, he comes strolling along on the water. The disciples freak out, taking him for a ghost. Peter believes that this is Jesus and expresses the desire to walk to his teacher. Jesus tells Peter to go for it and after a step or two on the water, he begins to sink.
Jesus’s response is very interesting. He grabs his beloved disciple and rescues him. He doesn’t yell at Peter or tell him that he’s unfit to be a disciple. Jesus helps Peter out then asks him why he doubted. Not that he doubted in Jesus, but that Peter doubted in himself. (I think Jesus would understand if Peter was just a bit skeptical in seeing his teacher walking on water.) Jesus is telling Peter that he shouldn’t doubt in his own God given ability to do extraordinary things.
Doubt, wonder and mystery should lead us on a quest of sorts. Filled with reading, prayer, silence and solitude, conversation, questioning and more reading. Anything that is worth anything takes struggle, work, dedication and discipline. If faith is just easily and simply formed, it’s easily discarded and deemed irrelevant all the same. Maybe this is why our young adults, 18-30 year olds, are leaving religious affiliations of any kind in droves. We’ve told them not to question, not to think, not to doubt; but simply to believe.
The mistake that’s been made with millennials is one that we must correct. We have to allow and see the value in questioning. If we learn to ask big and well thought questions, we can get some deep, rich answers. Or at least arrive at a place that we know we’ve given a lot of thought to certain beliefs. Besides, I have a hunch that God isn’t scared or intimidated by any questions we could lob his way. He’s God.
At the end of the day, we may not arrive at comfortable answers. And that’s fine. We’ve never been commissioned to have the answers. If we have all the answers and there’s no room for doubt, uncertainty and further questioning, God ceases to be God, because we are. Arriving at truth on our own is much more powerful anyway. If we were intended to have all the answers, correct beliefs and right thinking, God could have just created us that way. Instead, he allows us this journey to be a work in process. Having all the answers is God’s job and we wouldn’t be very good at it anyway.
Rob Bell says, “The moment God is figured out with nice neat lines and definitions, we are no longer dealing with God.” Maybe God isn’t a God to be figured out. Maybe there are certain things that we are supposed to question and doubt and poke and prod. What I can be sure of is my desire to continue the conversation. It’s a conversation that’s been happening for many years and is sure to continue for many more. So what can you contribute to the discussion? What’s your story? How have you dealt with doubts, questions, fears and mystery? Have you figured it out? I doubt it.