Headlong into Doubt

As a young boy, Steve Jobs attended a Lutheran church with his parents. At age 13, he asked the pastor, “If I raise my finger, will God know which one I’m going to raise even before I do it?”

The pastor answered, “Yes, God knows everything.”

Jobs then pulled out a Life magazine cover depicting starving children in Biafra and asked his pastor, “Does God know about this and what’s going to happen to those children?”

The well-intentioned pastor answered, “Steve, I know you don’t understand, but yes, God knows about that.”

Jobs declared that he didn’t want to worship such a God, walked out of the church, and never went back.

This story was relayed by Kara Powell in an excellent post recently on the Her•meneutics blog on Christianity Today. And as someone who has worked with young people for many years, it’s a situation that can cripple you with fear.

Because we feel like our main job in working with those who are young (or young in faith) is to provide them with knowledge. With information. With assurance. With answers about God, the world and everything in it.

But in the back of our minds, our own questions persist:
What if I don’t have all the answers?
What if the ones I do have fall terribly short?
What if I’m just flat-out wrong?

The fear of not knowing is very strong within us. And this isn’t just about teaching young people. As Trevor talked about yesterday, our desire as adults to not look like an idiot leads us to avoid even asking the tough questions. We’re afraid to fail. We’d prefer to look like we’ve got it all figured out than to have our doubts or uncertainties discovered. Consequently our growth is stunted.

Why is doubt most often seen as a weakness?

Why do we agonize when someone is doubting their faith? Why do we put them on our prayer lists? Why do we use the term to forever disparage a guy like Thomas?

Because my guess is that Thomas wasn’t the only one who doubted the resurrection of Christ. He just had the guts to express it. He was the one who took the time to look – to ask – to probe.

And his doubt led him back to greater faith.

Doubt – in its proper context – is not a weakness. Doubt is one of the strongest tools that we have to understand the mysteries of our world. It has always led mankind to explore. It has sparked our scientific discoveries and industrial progress.

Doubt leads us to truth. And it is integral to the development of our faith. Powell went on to add this:

According to our research at FYI, (the) suppression of doubt can sabotage a young person’s faith. Contrary to what many of us might believe, students who feel the most free to express doubt and discuss their personal problems actually exhibit more internal and external faith indicators in high school and college. Doubt in and of itself isn’t toxic. It’s unexpressed doubt that becomes toxic.

That’s why I’ve come to see my job as a youth minister differently. I do not exist primarily to dispense information, though I hope that I teach some truths about God. Although I pray I can provide clarity concerning tough questions, I do not feel pressure to fully explain the complexities of the Divine.

The best I can do is to provide an environment where it is safe to doubt. To question. To express fear, confusion, skepticism and uncertainty.

Sometimes church can be the last place where our doubts can be safely expressed. We’d all rather be the one jumping out of the boat walking on water than the one probing spear wounds in Jesus’ side. None of us wants to be branded with the scarlet “D” like Thomas.

But there is a God.
And he can handle your doubts.

And Christ is truth.
But you don’t have to know it all.

So ask the hard questions. Go ahead & look like an idiot. Say “I don’t know.” Study. Explore. Probe. Examine.

Dive headlong into your doubt. Because that’s how real faith is formed.

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6 thoughts on “Headlong into Doubt

  1. Allen,
    recently Greg Boyd began to explore some of these same thoughts in a series of lessons. Here are the url’s for the sermons. I have listened to the first one and part of the second. These are challenging. I too have sensed a change in the process of ministry. To sometimes even ask questions that are unsettling. And I am unsettled. This is not a comfortable journey with all answers to every one of our questions. I feel again like a kid in the backseat of a long car ride I keep asking God and Jesus “are we there yet” and they keep saying “almost,” or “not quite,” or “just over the next hill.”

    http://whchurch.org/sermons-media/sermon/sledge-hammer-faith

    http://whchurch.org/sermons-media/sermon/honesty-however-ugly

    http://whchurch.org/sermons-media/sermon/according_to_your_faith

    • I love this portion of the first sermon – Sledge Hammer Faith:
      “Biblical faith is not striving for certainty; it’s the willingness to commit in the face of uncertainty.”

  2. Thanks for the resources. I’ll definitely check them out.

    One of the most difficult things about embracing our doubt is becoming ok with being unsettled. We put such a high premium in our culture on our comfort and living a “good” life. But our doubt is hard and often forces us to move and change.

    Perhaps if we can divorce “good” from “comfortable”, we can begin to live better lives.

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