I'm not sure exactly what angle you'd like me to speak to this, so let me take a few swings at it.
One of the interesting questions I am often asked when people find out I'm a pastor is if I ever have doubts about my faith. What an interested and rather loaded question, for I find that both answers I can give are both right and wrong.
- Some people hope I will say no. I can almost hear them think, “Whew! If you believe in the face of doubt, then maybe I can, too!” The problem here is that you're never kicking at the tires of your own conclusions about God - what is the value of something you never seek to understand better than you already do? On some level a form of doubt is needed to progress forward... if you simply seek to piggy-back off of someone else’s confidence/faith - even a pastor's - you need to be careful where your foundation is.
- Some people hope I will say yes. I can almost hear them think, “Whew! I thought there was something wrong with me. I’ve been a Christian a while and I still have doubts from time to time and am glad to hear you wonder about it all, too." The problem here is that we can become so used to asking questions that we never seek out the answers. Some may feel that they can’t become a Christian and embrace Jesus until they have all questions answered (which means you will never make that choice because you'll never have God completely figured out - that's why He's God and we aren't).
For the sake of this discussion, let's confess that we all have doubts. The real question, though, is what we each do with it... that's the difference between having doubts versus being a doubter.
I've seen two primary things that cause us to doubt:
- A crisis of intellect. At some point we reach the end of our knowledge and have to decide if that's all there is or if there is more out there that we can't explain. Some believe the latter of those two choices is pure foolishness and that anyone who would conclude faith in Someone they can't see is absurd. On the other hand, these same individuals place their faith in intangible things all the time (i.e. gravity, love, etc) and fail to see the similarities. In contrast, others believe when you get to those places of tension it's better to ignore them or appear theologically insecure... this isn't healthy either.
- A crisis of emotion. I find that often when I am talking with someone who has an overabundance of skepticism ("I doubt everything!") or an unhealthy self-construct of security ("I doubt nothing!") there is often an experience from the past that wounded them emotionally. Maybe they once expressed their doubts and were blasted for it... or perhaps they have a rock-solid idea about God but something happened in their life - the loss of a loved one, for instance - that created anger toward God they haven't yet figured out how to express. In these cases, it's often more an issue of healing than it is obtaining more information.
Everybody has doubts... some are daily, others seasonal, and many scattered over the years. Isn't this true of all relationships that matter, though? Haven't we ever wondered if those people closest to us are really for us or against us? When was the last time a friend or loved one let us down... and we had to reevaluate our perception of things? How disastrous it would be to let those moments of doubt turn us into doubters of the relationship altogether.
Likewise, should we turn our back on God tomorrow because we had a tension or an issue we couldn't reconcile today? I know of many who doubt God "forever" because of a few bad experiences with a local church. Likewise, some are afraid to doubt "out loud" because they fear someone who considers such things inappropriate will snap at them for doing so.
Ready for this?
Tension is good... questioning everything - yes, everything - is biblical.
Test everything. Hold on to the good. (1 Thessalonians 5:21)
You can’t figure out what matters in life if you don’t struggle over things... you can't resolve a question until you wrestle with it... you can't reconcile hurt until you stare it in the eye and call it what it is. When we walk away from something because we can't figure it out, we hurt themselves. Similarly, God is not honored when we pretend everything is fine and bury our questions. If you shove them down long enough you will find the issues will surface all at once... and that's when the real crisis of faith begins.
So again, not knowing what the question is let me say this - doubt can be faith building… if you let it. It can lead to insight, intimacy, and good things in our relationship with God... if you let it. The Lord is not offended or made insecure by our questions but uses them to show us a side of Himself - and sometimes the answer isn’t what we expect.
Take for example a little conversation God has with a guy named Job - someone who forgot just how big God is...
God: "Have you journeyed to the springs of the sea or walked in the recesses of the deep? Have the gates of death been shown to you? Have you seen the gates of the shadow of death? Have you comprehended the vast expanses of the earth? Tell me, if you know all this.
What is the way to the abode of light? And where does darkness reside? Can you take them to their places? Do you know the paths to their dwellings? Surely you know, for you were already born! You have lived so many years! (Job 38:16-21)
Gotta love God's sense of humor... I mean, should we honestly expect that our theology is ever complete? At best it can be sound in its foundation, but never arrogant.
So let's seek answers to our questions, and seek questions to our answers. And along the way, can we be sure to show mercy to those who ask questions? Maybe they're more courageous than any of us who are afraid to say ours out loud.
Be merciful to those who doubt; snatch others from the fire and save them; to others show mercy, mixed with fear—hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh. (Jude 1:22-23)