A friend of mine was a pastor at a church where she admitted to me that her congregation had different ideas about what fate looked like than she does. For them, the mark of true faith was a steadfast certainty that did not change from day-to-day. For her, on the other hand the practice of faith was more like a journey to brilliant mountaintops, followed by journeys into deep, dark valleys of doubt.
One time, after she brought a prominent speaker who not only gave people permission to explore their doubt, but who affirmed it as a necessary part of the practice of faith, the leaders of the church sat her down.
“We need to know what you really believe about Jesus,” they said sternly. “Can you honestly tell us, here and now, that you believe that Jesus is the son of God?”
“I knew my answer was going to cost me my job,” she told me, “but I simply couldn’t look them in the eye and lie.” She told them that, although she desperately wanted to believe this every day of her life, there were days when she admittedly had her doubts about what this meant and whether she could claim such a faith with all of her heart.Not long afterward, the church board convened and resolved to ask her to step down from her position as minister of the church. It was heartbreaking, but at the same time, she found some strange freedom in her own confession.
“I had a choice,” she said. “I could continue collecting a paycheck and doing ‘ministry’ to people who wanted me to pretend to be something I was not. Or I could free myself from that dishonesty to explore what it is that I really believe, why believe it, and where – if it all – I might find a place where I could serve others who were on a similar path.”
Does Jesus require certainty or mustard seeds? Is God enduring enough to withstand our doubts? Is there really no room in the Christian faith for questions, for hard days, for those moments when we feel so far from God that we wonder if we can really believe any of it?
At least we find honorable company in our struggles to remain faithful. It may not be as comforting as the illusion of certitude, but at least it’s more honest. And not nearly as lonely.
See related article: “Replacing Faith with Curiosity“