The following is adapted from a message I gave on Sunday about faith and doubt. I should have the podcast available soon, but until then I thought I would adapt some of it into a couple of blog posts for those that don’t have the time to listen to the entire message. This part focuses on the church’s response to doubt. On Wednesday I’ll focus on those of us who doubt and offer some thoughts on how I think we should handle our struggle.
It’s one of the last taboo subjects in the church.
We don’t like to talk about it, so we almost never do.
It makes us uncomfortable, exposes our weaknesses, and reveals our insecurities, but all of us, all of us struggle with doubt.
Doubt doesn’t respect age or gender. It doesn’t care about socio-economic status or education level. And it couldn’t care less if you’re clergy or lay. Doubt sneaks up us on all of us like a thief in the night to rob us of our faith.
And our hope.
And our joy.
The real problem we have in the church is not with doubt, but with our inability to make space for those who do have doubts about their faith, who are going through the exact same struggle the people of God have endured for as long as their have been a people of God.
Too often we don’t do a very good job of giving our brothers and sisters the freedom ask the question they need to ask and share the pain that’s ripping their faith apart. Too often we treat doubt as if it were some kind of sin or disease and doubters as if they were lepers to be shunned. As if any display of weakness will reveal the church’s imperfections to the world and anger God.
Contrary to the God of the Bible who listens to our questions and embraces our doubt, who even when we shout to the heavens “My God, my God why have you forsaken me” does not pour out his wrath, but showers us with love; contrary to the very God we claim to worship, we as a church too often dismiss doubts as “just a phase,” dishonor heartfelt questions by telling people “just to believe,” and compound the pain of the suffering by blaming those who suffer for “not having enough faith.”
We get so consumed by our need for surety and our obsession with showing the world that we’re strong and that we’ve got everything together that forget we worship a God whose power is made perfect in weakness, whose kingdom is made up of children, where the poor are blessed, the last made first, and all are redeemed not through power and might, but through one who, though God, humbled himself and was obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
If anything it is weakness, not strength that is at the heart of the Christian faith for we worship a crucified Christ not a conquering Caesar.
But somewhere along the way, as we moved from the marginalized to the mainstream and began seeking power rather than giving it up, we forgot we are.
We forgot what it means to be the people of God.
We forgot our story.
This week as I was working on the message I preached at church yesterday, I asked my friends on Facebook and Twitter to share some of the things that cause them to doubt. I expected to get a handful of responses, maybe a few more, but it was like the floodgates opened up and not just from people I knew had struggles, but people who on the outside looked like their faith was unwavering were actually riddled with doubt and couldn’t wait to get it off their chest – especially as they saw others do the same.
And the stories.
Some of the stories they shared were unspeakably heartbreaking. Stories of abuse and oppression. Of trust broken and pain ignored. Of anger and sadness. Of confusion and doubt. Of lives torn apart and dreams shattered.
That they have the strength just to get out of bed every morning is incredible. That so many of them still have faith is nothing short of a miracle.
As I listened to their stories I was reminded of the fact the Bible is a book filled with the stories of people who doubted.
Adam and Eve snatched the fruit from the tree because they doubted God’s promise to watch over and provide for them, so they tried to take things into their own hands. Abraham doubted the promise of God constantly, most famously trying to fulfill God’s promise of a child on his own. Job doubted God’s goodness. Jonah doubted God’s calling. Israel doubted God’s faithfulness. And, of course, the apostle Thomas doubted the resurrected Christ even as he stood right before his eyes.
But the doubting doesn’t stop with the Bible.
The history of the church is filled with great men and women of God who had deep doubts about their faith.
The 16th century Spanish mystic St. John of the Cross experienced what he called the dark night of the soul. For the last 50 years of her life Mother Teresa said she felt absent from God. In 1953 she wrote “Please pray specially for me that I may not spoil his work and that our Lord may show himself – for there is such terrible darkness within me, as if everything is dead.”
For 50 years one of the great saints of the church doubted God. Not for 5 minutes or for 5 days or even for 5 years. But 5 decades.
For more than half of her life Mother Teresa struggled with doubt.
And that’s ok.
Because the story of the people of God is the story of people who doubt. Who in their weakness wander in the wilderness in search of God.
Which means if you find yourself mired in doubt, you are not alone. Your story is part of much bigger story. It’s part of the story of God’s people throughout history and throughout the Bible who have wrestled with doubt and pain and unanswerable questions.
Which means if we do not make room for doubt in the church, then we have no right to claim to be a Biblical people. We have no right to claim to be the hands and feet of God if we push away those who struggle and kick out those that ask questions.
If we really believe in the truth of the gospel, if we really believe that the God of the Bible exists, if we believe this thing called Christianity is really worth living, then doubts and questions should not bother us because we should have nothing to fear.
Grace and Peace,