Church is often the riskiest place to be spiritually honest. – Pete Enns
I don’t think it’s possible to be spiritually honest without acknowledging the reality of doubt and its part in the journey of faith.
I know there are many people in the church who have their doubts and questions about it all. I also know most of these people wouldn’t feel comfortable coming out and being honest about those doubts for fear of being told they lack faith or that they must not be true Christians. If church is your community, where your friends are and where you’ve spent many years, if not all your life, then risking the loss of that in any way is scary. (there are those looking at the church who are interested in coming in but fear rejection because they can’t embrace everything that the church seems to hold so tightly – but that is for another post)
It’s ok to doubt. It’s ok to question. Yes, doing so is very uncomfortable. Being open to the possibility of being wrong or having misunderstood is not a pleasant process. Maybe you’re not wrong but for some reason are questioning and aren’t certain if you are correct. Not knowing what will happen when you come out on the other side of your questions, is a very, very, scary place to be.
Some deal with their doubts by anchoring themselves deeper in their tradition’s accepted beliefs. They may even become fierce advocates of the faith, numbing down their own true sense of everything and putting on a mask of certainty and anger toward anyone who would question their belief or dare to offer any alternative way of thinking.
Others will see their doubts as a lack of maturity or the result of sin in their lives. They will humbly tow the party line and feel guilty about having those second thoughts. They will repent. They will keep going, sincerely pursuing Jesus and hoping their doubts eventually go away.
When it comes to faith, certainty is not necessarily a mark of spiritual maturity. One can trust God without being certain at all.
There are different things that cause people to doubt. For example, doubt can stem from the thought that the foundation for your belief system mostly rests on a book that was written and compiled centuries ago, in a land far away, by people whose understanding of the world was very different than yours. It’s normal to doubt when that very same book, ever since its contents were gathered, has been the object of debate by many sincere individuals trying to figure out what it “truly and clearly” claims. It’s normal to doubt when scientific discoveries and what we learn about how the world works seemingly contradicts the Bible.
If God is all that the Bible makes him out to be, and If, as the Bible claims, God is capable of anything (except of course creating a rock he can’t lift – Isaiah 67:1), then I think it’s safe to assume that he knows who I am and where I am on this journey (Psalm 139). If he is love, his love does not depend on my ability to perfectly understand and master “correct doctrine”. God is not diminished by my inability to understand him. My lack of knowing, my inability to fully comprehend and even my certainties do not change what is true about him. This does not need to make me insecure. Those who are the most ardent, and sometimes arrogant and angry, defenders of “the faith”, can be insecure individuals who find it difficult to handle the idea that something they hold to be true may not be true or that absolute truth about God may not be something we can handle.
If you are someone who has doubts and simply likes to ask questions, to say that “the Bible says it, I believe, that settles it,” doesn’t really settle anything. It’s a bit more complicated than that.
What is one to do? Pack it up and walk away or embrace doubt and let it lead you into a deeper and honest pursuit of truth and the One who claims to be the Truth? Can faith grow amid doubt? Does following Jesus require certainty?