The benefit of doubt in Christian faith
Over the years, I have had tons of people reach out to me to ask questions, get clarification, and seek additional insight on a variety of topics. I love getting questions from people who are on their own faith journey, who are deconstructing their long held beliefs and belief systems, and who are asking tough questions through it all.
Maybe this is the way faith should have always been, people being honest about their questions, their struggles, and about their doubt. But we have long been in an era of ungraceful self-assuredness and self-righteous certitude that has pushed the inquisitive seeker away, and it has been likely rooted in our lack of understanding in the biblical narrative leading up to Jesus and in our fear of not having all the “right” answers to “keep people in the faith.” And, at the same time, we have sadly behaved as if we are communities of perfection, communities without a doubt.
To that end, we have left no room for honest movements of wrestling, questioning, or doubting. In fact, we have shamed, looked down upon, or even repudiated those who have been wrestling with their faith and then asking hard (but really good) questions about their faith and belief systems. We have acted as if there is no room under the grace of God for a little doubt, or that somehow the Almighty God is not capable of handling a few tough questions.
Of course, this is ridiculous.
There is room for doubt in the grace of God, and of course, God can handle our wrestling and tough questions. But day after day and story after story from friends and acquaintances remind me over and over how poorly we operate within that space of grace and how incapable we are of walking through tough questions or a little doubt from fellow seekers.
And it should be of no surprise that many of these people have abandoned our churches in order to wrestle through their faith and deconstruct their belief systems, either in isolation or in more accommodating and graceful communities.
This is one of the main reasons the Church has lost a generation.
And if you don’t have any idea what I am talking about then this is why a generation has been lost.
The truth is that the church ought to be the community in which people can ask the toughest questions and wrestle through the most difficult topics because it has enough grace to push the edges and love enough to handle the tension.
And it’s amazing how far grace and love can go in creating a healthy church community when a church is comfortable residing in the mysteries of God and existing in a humble posture of unknowing, while always holding the door open to fellow seekers and wanderers/wonderers.
I remember a time, as a young 30-something, when I was leading a Bible study of five or six couples. One week, at the beginning of the study, on the first question of the study, this new guy came in with his own question-gun blazing.
Not only was he questioning the questions I asked, he was questioning me and my house-of-card faith. My flimsy card house was no match for his semi-automatic. He decimated me and my faith. I was so rattled that I closed out the study after ten minutes. I wasn’t prepared for questions or thoughts outside of what I knew about my faith. It was brutal.
But even now, being in a place where I am well-studied and well-versed in the Bible and in answering tough questions of faith, I understand that people rarely want canned “Bible answers,” or lessons in how they need to read their Bibles more, or platitudes on how we will “pray for their faith.” People need room to wrestle and grapple with their faith. They need us to be with them without cheap one-liners or generic platitudes. And they need graceful and loving people to gently walk alongside them through it all.
We are shepherds, not judges. We are those who walk among, not ahead. We are those who walk as fellow seekers, not as those who have already crossed the finish line.
This reminds me of some sage advice I received early in my marriage when someone told me that the best thing I can do when my wife is struggling through something. They told me to ask her, “Do you want me to fix your problem or just listen?” They were spot on. Much of the time my wife just wanted me to be there listening to her, rather than trying to fix the problem.
And that’s where we are at in our culture.
Yes, there is truth. And yes, we may have all the biblical answers. But there is a generation of people who are genuine seekers, askers, and knockers who are looking for a safe space, filled with the grace and love of God, to dig below the surface of tradition, to challenge the status quo of belief, and discover a more vibrant and robust faith that is built upon more than surface-level assumption and convenient ritual.
But in order to be a faith community that can handle tough questions, we have to be built upon and rooted in the radical grace and love of God, rather than faith-limiting fear.
And despite this being a seemingly self-evident fact, the reason I know this to be true is because I, too, have had (and continue to have) questions about everything I believe and am in regular, daily community with others just like me.
What I have found is that asking questions, even and especially the hardest questions of faith, does not diminish or undermine my faith. To the contrary, and in so many ways, asking tough questions has actually strengthened my faith.
Being that I am never satisfied, and all too unsettled with cookie-cutter answers, I am always pushing to understand more deeply and find greater clarity in what Jesus meant for his followers. I continue to seek, ask, and knock even when it may challenge or make others uncomfortable.
And while I am a better man of faith for it, I am not sure if I have ever felt that my questioning of, or having doubts about, the status quo, our tightly held belief systems, or long practiced traditions has ever been welcomed or encouraged in the church context.
I wonder how many prophetic voices the Church has silenced for self-preservation? How many people the Church has lost in it’s self-righteousness and self-assuredness?
The Church of the future is one in which we walk alongside each other patiently and graciously in love, wrestling together through the tough questions, finding peace in our unknowing, and embracing long-suffering as a community through moments of doubt.
This Church will be known, not as a uniform entity comprised of perfect people with all the right answers that one needs to emulate. But rather, a diverse community with open doors that welcomes, and is not afraid of, honest questioning, seeking, and dialogue.
For both our individual faith and the faith of our church community will be better for it.
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