Having doubts about God is a tough place to be.
It’s unsettling, disorienting and maybe even frightening, because the foundations of your faith are under assault.
You doubt that God cares — that he’s listening or responding. You doubt that he is even aware of whom you are or that he even exists. At times like these, it’s possible that you feel something is wrong with you. Whatever it is, it must be your fault.
Besides, isn’t doubt the enemy of faith? Isn’t it a spiritually destructive force that tears you away from God? Isn’t doubt the one thing that Goda can’t handle?
No. None of these statements are true. Sometimes, there is a benefit to doubt. Doubt can do things spiritually that nothing else can do. As Frederick Buechner once said, “doubt is the ants in the pants of faith. They keep it awake and moving.” Friends, God can handle your doubts!
Today’s scripture passage is found in Mark, Chapter 9, beginning with verse 14. In it we find a distraught father who is having a crisis of faith.
In earlier stories about the disciples, they had no problem healing the sick or driving out demons in Jesus’ name. Yet, in this particular case, they ran into a problem. This demon was different.
Seeing the difficulties they were having, the emotional father wondered whether anyone — even Jesus —could cast out this particular Spirit. And at the climactic moment, he cries out to Jesus and says: I believe; help my unbelief.
Seasons of doubt have been long called “the dark night of the soul.” It’s a phrase coined by St. John of the Cross who lived in the 16th century. Doubt (or the dark night as he would say) is a season of painful alienation from God, and can cause anxiety, discouragement, depression or despair. It’s an unsettling place to be.
Yet, doubt has its value.
It can move you further on your journey of faith, even when you feel like you’ve left the path altogether. Doubt isn’t a sign of weakness; it’s a sign of growth. Doubt forces us to look at who we think God is.
Some of us were nurtured into the faith by folks who were woefully mistaken about ancient history, and about what the Bible really said and what it means to us today. Whenever your world view and their world view collide, a season of doubt can most certainly ensue. Yet, the doubt created under these circumstances can lead to a larger, more accurate view of God, and a faith that is stronger than ever.
What I am suggesting is that faith and doubt are not polar opposites; they’re companions. Your faith can mature because of its encounters with doubt. It can lead to a better, more mature notion of God and the Bible.
Rachael Held Evans, a popular Christian writer and blogger, suggests that there are six indicators that can help us measure our doubt. Three signs that your doubt is taking you in the wrong direction are as follows:
Disobedience. When we allow doubt to stop us from taking the risk of obedience, we are guilty of sin. When we let intellectual certainty keep us from loving our neighbor, caring for the poor, studying the Bible or praying, our doubts are not serving us well. They are most certainly leading us away from God.
Entitlement. Doubt has transformed into a sense of entitlement whenever we start to demand answers from God—as if he owes us an explanation. As you will remember, Job, and even his friends, was rebuked for his sense of entitlement.
Cynicism. When we become cynical, we’ve been rendered useless in the Kingdom of God that is inherited by the poor, the gentle, the meek and the merciful.
On the other hand, here are three indicators that our doubt is moving us in a positive direction:
Obedience. One thing I love most about Mother Theresa was that despite her seasons of doubt, she continued to serve the people around her. To me, obedience in the face of doubt is most likely the strongest kind of faith there is.
Humility. The best kind of doubt springs from humility—knowing that we don’t have all the answers. That we haven’t got God figured out. If we don’t learn to test our beliefs, we can grow arrogant, prideful and unwilling to change our minds even when it’s the right thing to do.
Love. Love should always be our motivation, even while doubting. The person who loves his neighbors and prays for his enemies will often ask serious questions of himself, of the church, and of God. That’s not the least bit unusual. It’s loving people — despite these nagging doubts — that really matters.
A young man named —let’s call him Eric — recently shared these thoughts about his doubts:
Recently, for no apparent reason, I have felt jolted out of my Christian worldview, and I suddenly find it really hard to believe in the existence of God anymore. It’s been three months since I have felt this way, and I have done my best to trace through my intellectual struggles. I really don’t know why, but these are some of the problems that really bother me:
I find it really hard to reconcile my scientific world view and the seemingly fantastic stories of much of the bible.
If God is a present reality, why can’t I experience him actively in my life as a real and dynamic person?
Why doesn’t God intervene in our evil world right now?
Sometimes I wonder if it’s easier to believe that Jesus was a mistaken Jew and that we got it all wrong about the resurrection.
Have you ever had doubts like Eric’s? If you had the opportunity to offer counsel to “doubting Eric,” what would you say? I suppose I would have to say this:
I’ve had my own seasons of doubts as well. Doubts can arise at the most unexpected and inopportune times. Just embrace them, and allow them to lead you to a better, stronger, deeper faith.
Don’t surround yourself with a bunch of doubters. Though it’s tempting to surround yourself with like-minded people, try to find friends and companions who themselves are strong (right now) in the faith. It’s possible that their faith can breathe new life into your unsteady faith.
Most of all: Stay focused on Jesus. Read and re-read the Gospels. Pay attention to his teaching, his lifestyle, watch him as he interacts with others, observe his values and “drink in” his resurrection. Allow Jesus to influence you during your seasons of doubt.
But I’d also want him to know this, too:
Don’t be afraid of doubt.
Doubt is a normal part of the Christian experience
Doubt can do things spiritually that nothing else can do.
God is big enough to handle your doubts!
Dr. Mark Bushor is pastor of Central Christian Church in Killeen.