On Doubt

August 27, 2015 | Written by Amber Van Schooneveld

boardwalkOr, “How doubt strengthens my faith.”

Sometimes, I doubt the existence of God.

I figured the easiest way to say that was to rip the Band Aid right off. I’ve been a Christian for 31 years, I work for a Christian organization and I’m an author of Christian resources. So saying this is not easy—in fact it threatens my very livelihood. I fear rebuke or at least a good ol’ intervention, but I’ve found that admitting rather than suppressing doubt is the healthiest thing I can do for my faith.

That’s one reason I have genuinely appreciated Pulpit Rock in the year or so I’ve attended. I recently received an invitation to women’s ministry that said, “come messy,” and I believe they mean it—even for those of us who have been Christians for a long time.

God made me a thinker. I feel pretentious saying this, as if I think I’m Stephen Hawking. But the contents of my thoughts are not necessarily intelligent; it’s rather an approach to life. I don’t take anything someone says for granted, and I can’t help but pick at any statement for its vulnerabilities. It’s a gift of God to be like this—the world needs these kinds of people—but it is an uncomfortable way to be, especially if you are a Christian where toeing certain lines is important.

Often, American Christianity is offered as a package deal. We preach Christ crucified, yes, but we tack on a prodigious list of beliefs if you want to be a good Christian. (You probably don’t need examples, but I’ll throw out a few: political party, homeschooling, evolution, old earth/new earth, women teaching, etc.) When we invite people to accept Christ, we often imply that swallowing all of the accepted stances whole is necessary if we’re to have real faith.

This creates an environment where questioning is unwelcome. When Christianity becomes a cultural package deal, to question one particular aspect of it is to threaten the entirety of it.

So often people like me, at least the timid thinkers like me, stay quiet. We suppress our doubts for fear James 1:6 will be thrown at us, as we’re subsequently thrown out the door. But what happens when a doubt is deferred? Does it, like a dream, as Langston Hughes so beautifully wondered, dry up like a raisin in the sun or fester like a sore? Does it crust over or just sag like a heavy load?

When I deny my doubts, when I squash them down and tell myself not to think about them, my faith becomes anemic. It becomes a weak, scared thing hiding in the corner. Afraid to engage. Just trying to coast by without notice. It’s not growing because it’s not engaging.

It’s hardly the kind of faith I think God wants.

But when I instead take a deep breath and say, “OK, brain, let’s have at this,” it’s…terrifying. Questioning the ground on which you stand is a slippery business. But when I allow myself to go there, when I ask the hard questions, I am engaged. I am pursuing. I feel alive. I have the audacity to think myself like Jacob—who had the audacity to wrestle with God—and was blessed. Or like Job, who had the audacity to be honest with God rather than regurgitating pious platitudes, and was commended.

The fear is that doubt will push us further from God. But my doubts only push God away when I push them down. When I earnestly pursue them and am honest with God, they have pushed me closer to Him every time.

God is not afraid of my questions. They don’t threaten Him one bit. I believe He is pleased when I choose to pull my head out of the sand of denial and instead say (or sometimes shout), “Why, God? Are you even there? How can this be? How can this make sense? I don’t get this at all!” When I prod into my faith, I remember the beauty of why I first believed. Rather than coasting, I’m pushed further into relationship with Christ.

And isn’t that what God ultimately wants, as He has revealed over and over in the Bible? He doesn’t want people who look pious on the outside, but people who will genuinely engage in a relationship with Him.

Doubting is a painful process. And it’s a process I’m likely to be in, in some form or another, for much of my life. I imagine it would be a whole lot easier to be someone who seems naturally blessed with belief. But when I lean in and genuinely pursue thoughts in an effort to be intellectually honest, I feel God’s pleasure. I’m like Eric Liddell, but much slower and sitting on the couch.

So, I’d like to say thank you to the leaders and members of Pulpit Rock for allowing me, and all of us, to be in process. Not everywhere is safe. Let’s continue to be centered on the life-giving message of Christ crucified, while honestly and continually struggling toward God.

If any of these thoughts resonate with you, I’d encourage you to read Benefit of the Doubt by Gregory A. Boyd, which has inspired much of it.

 

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