Faith and Doubt

(This is an exerpt from the tenth chapter of my soon to be released book, Grappling with God: The Battle for Authentic Faith. This chapter introduces the importance of doubt and questioning in the development of authentic faith. This book gives an account of the life transforming work we do at the Center for Christian Life Enrichment.)


“Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my hand in his side, I will not believe.” (John 20:25)

 

 

Here is the paradox: true faith—deep, mature, and abiding—is full of doubt and questioning. This is not an easy truth to swallow. After all, many of us associate doubt and questioning with a lack of faith, with nonbelievers and skeptics. True believers, we tell ourselves, accept things without question. On my journey to deeper faith, however, I found the opposite to be true.  Spiritual maturity is not believing only what we have been told because someone older and wiser has said it is so. Faith must be tested, wrestled and grappled with through questioning and doubts, until it becomes one’s own.

When I was a young Christian, a teenager of sixteen who had declared himself to be one of Christ’s own, mine was a simple faith. In the Young Life youth group, we met together to pray, sing, and study the Bible. My faith was experiential, defined by what I experienced within this loving and accepting community. I was full of questions. I didn’t know anything so I hungered for answers. In this state, I was truly like a child with an insatiable and sincere desire to know Jesus and become a better Christian.

It was a blissful, innocent time when a tiny faith seed had been planted in my life. That phase, however, didn’t last long. I wasn’t satisfied with just being a new Christian. I wanted to know the Bible, to expand my mind so I would have the answers. I didn’t place any priority on feelings. As I saw it, emotions were too close to the appetites and longings that could get someone like me into trouble. I decided to supplant what I felt with what I knew, becoming a voracious student of the Bible. This endeavor continued for years.

In my first year in ministry, I obtained the reading list from friends who were in seminary and devoured an entire year’s coursework on my own. I toted around thick books on theology, which I consumed like popcorn. I committed scripture to memory and learned the “right” way to interpret it. I devoted myself to Christian apologetics to prove the validity of the Christian faith and counter any worldly doubts or arguments to the contrary.  I wore my knowledge like armor.  I was a warrior who could win over most challengers and slay cynics with the sword of “truth.”

My goal was to master my understanding of Christianity, replace all doubt and answer all questions. I trusted only the Bible and those whose expertise in interpreting the scriptures was greater than my own. Unwittingly, though, I became a master of dogma. I understood theology, knew the Bible inside and out, and could quote scripture endlessly. Although I could explain doctrines and knew the creeds, it was not the same as personal faith. Dogma is someone else’s teaching; like a legal position on a certain issue. Dogma is knowledge devoid of relationship.

My perception of God was as limited and narrow as my view of the world. I didn’t dare question any of it for fear that at any moment I would find myself on the wrong side of God—just as I had worried as a child about doing anything to draw my father’s anger or my mom’s disapproval. Questioning was neither safe nor profitable.  What I thought God wanted me to do was trust what others said was true in the Bible and doubt everything else.

Even when I was in my thirties and began to surround myself with intelligent, thoughtful people who challenged my beliefs, I was terrified to look honestly at what I believed. I thought I should be through with doubting. My role was to answer others’ questions, not to spend a lot of time formulating my own. If the Bible said it, I believed it and thought I was responsible to defend it. If I felt a twinge of discomfort over something in the Bible—for example, God telling Abraham to murder his son, Isaac, or the genocide of every Canaanite man, woman, and child when the Israelites invaded the Promised Land—I searched to find an explanation until I was satisfied.

Cloaked in my knowledge, I hid from my feelings and from myself.  I tried to hide from God, too, hoping to stay under His radar; appeasing Him with good works, but never to draw too my attention to myself. This behavior went against what I said I believed. I knew from scripture that Jesus was “the way, the truth, and the life,” (John 14:6).  I could cite chapter and verse that proved God loved us, that every hair on our heads is counted. (Matthew 10:30) But I could never imagine a God who would be big enough and patient enough to allow me to doubt, question, and challenge Him. I was much too afraid of being punished and ostracized by the community to seriously embrace my doubts.

Watch for the release of Grappling with God and continue reading about my struggle to deepen my intimacy with God and meet my hunger for more of Him.

 

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  1. Faith, Day by Day | Out of the Blue Blog - July 26, 2011

    […] (This is an excerpt from the eleventh chapter of my soon to be released book, Grappling with God: The Battle for Authentic Faith. This chapter introduces the importance of living by faith day by day. This book gives an account of the life transforming work we do at the Center for Christian Life Enrichment.) […]

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Published: 18.07.2011 / 08:43 AM

Category: Grappling with God,Podcast,Relationships,Spiritual Growth

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