If someone asked me to describe my faith, like giving a State of the Union for the soul, I’d say “don’t call it a State of the Union for the soul because that sounds like you’re elevating the government to a god-like position,” and when the person realized that I was making a dumb joke on purpose, I’d finally answer. Sorry, I’m a little wary to get into this post when it’s all about my own religious doubts. But I’m going to share them because I have a feeling that many of these doubts are universal.
My faith at the age of 33 feels more like a relationship and less like being a member of a movement. It’s alive, I hope, and yet fragile. It gets attacked, sometimes by me and my faults, and sometimes by others, either intentionally or by accident. In my younger years, I thought of my faith in terms of brawn, and whenever I sensed atrophy, I’d rush off to read end times theology to make sure that Jesus was only coming back Pre or Mid Tribulation, or I’d brush up on Calvinism and TULIP and find someone who would listen to me shout down the theology of Limited Atonement. This, at the time, made me feel better. I called it righteousness. And then I was forced to look in the mirror around age 25, and didn’t like what I saw. I had become the Pharisee that I believed so many others to be. It was the beginning of confession, of repentance, and I believe, the first time that I really, honestly met Christ, down in the trenches of my own mistakes and my own darkness. But meeting and attempting to walk with Christ since then hasn’t removed my doubts.
Some Reasons Why I Doubt My Faith At Times
I struggle with the fact that Christ promised to return as recorded in the Bible, and 2,000 years later, has not. I struggle with how silly each generation looks when they swear they’re the last one, including many who knew Christ or directly followed him. I’m hoping this has something to do with God’s sense of humor. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not waiting for the sky to fall or for those blazing trumpets like I’m supposed to, and I don’t even really think about it, except when I do think about it, and it feels like a leak in the ship. A lot of that history over 2,000 years has been filled with some incredibly dark stuff. Atheists and agnostics call this the problem of evil. Evangelicals often shrug it off, or in a quiet panic learn to interpret every little development on the world stage as a sign of the end, and both of those responses trouble me.
On my good days I can understand and marvel at the idea that God granted freewill to mankind (unless your theology says otherwise) and the consequences of personal choice are often horrendous, but on my bad days I understand why a guy like Bill Maher, in his movie ‘Religulous,’ asked the man playing Jesus at Bibleland theme park “well what is he [God] waiting for!?” Some days, the answer of ”God’s timing is better or at least different than ours” just rings a bit hollow, and I wonder if I’m participating in a vast con, hiding some of the payoff like the ball in a shell game. At times, those “just you wait and see” answers feel like too much sleight of hand.
Another doubt that I have is just the fatigue of the race, if life is…a race. I’ve spent my whole life in this Christian sphere; growing up in a fundamentalist church where they told me I shouldn’t listen to the rock band Rush and had me watch Christian end times horror movies that were probably equivalent to spiritual abuse, went to Christian school and Christian college, church-hopped around Seattle through places that felt either totally dead or fueled by intolerance and ignorance, and also landed in churches where I felt like God was moving through ordinary, humble people, meeting pastors along the way who showed me the heart and mind of a complex, daring God. Still, there’s that fatigue at times, what Don Miller calls the “long middle,” where you no longer see where you began, don’t see the end, and in my case can’t help but think of God as stagnant or safe, instead of wild. At times, I doubt the familiar rhythms of faith, I doubt the presence of God, or I doubt because of my mistakes that I keep making, and wonder in my gut if God’s grace may have missed me, even while my “beliefs” tell me otherwise.
Finally, I find that some other Christians lead me to doubt. I don’t like being evaluated in face to face settings by Christians with all the right answers ready to go. I lose patience when I feel like a person’s holy hobby for the moment. It’s like those books that have a tabbed index so telemarketers can respond correctly depending on the comment. Even now, I know some people reading this are forming a bunch of assumptions about how I need to a) read the Bible more b) let go of fear c) get right with God. I get angry when Christians use death as an excuse to condemn others. I abhor Christian superstition, where everything that happens can be easily explained. I groan when “on fire” Christians can’t stop talking about how cool Jesus is; there is a certain vocabulary that not only turns my stomach, but it causes me to doubt my own faith, because I just don’t feel like bragging about Jesus or God, in the same way that I’m not wanting to brag about my wife and daughter, although I love them dearly as well and think the world of them.
If people are after a Jesus-y trophy, they can have it. I resent it when people ask me in backhanded ways to prove my faith. Whenever there is an expectation to answer in a certain way, I’d rather pass. The Christian competition wears me out. I’m not even saying these People of the Spiritual Olympics are always inauthentic, and I do my best to leave their salvation status between them and God, but it can be hard to believe in Jesus when so many weird people have become weirder and give him credit for it like it’s a good thing. I dislike the simple math of fundamentalism, and even while I know it to be just an interpretation of faith, it makes me second guess myself at times. That’s why faith is as much unlearning as it is learning, and underscores why I struggle to relate to people who use faith as reinforcement.
Common Ground with the “Outcasts”
The skeptic movement can be difficult to navigate (because some are very dogmatic, ironically) but I do resonate in part. I like when Richard Dawkins admits he can’t be sure that God doesn’t exist, and wish, like the new atheists have asked of Christianity, that our faith be more transparent in every season. Doubt doesn’t make us look weak, it makes us look human.
When atheist Daniel Dennett framed Jesus as a sky Santa, I don’t think we Christians got angry because he was blasphemous, we were angry because it hit close to home. Yes we believe (for reasons far greater than one blog post), but let’s at least acknowledge the absurdity or perhaps the unlikeliness of what we believe. Sometimes it’s almost as if we think our position is “Jesus walked down the street to purchase a loaf of bread for mankind” and we fume when people don’t accept that. What we believe, recorded in the New Testament, is possible, divine, but it is not probable. How much more credible would the Christian faith be to laugh when the atheists or agnostics make their jokes, acknowledging yes, “it’s a wild sounding story, I have to give you that.” I like that atheists remind us Christians that some of what we believe sounds crazy, otherwise we tend to get a little too sure of ourselves and groupthink takes over.
What’s the Purpose of Sharing Doubts?
I do think there’s a human tendency to hide our imperfections, and perhaps religion magnifies this. Even if it’s not a part of the theology, people get involved and set up a merit-based system where spiritual performance is close to godliness. Doubt is the party pooper at the Turbo Christian’s root beer keg party. I’m learning to be okay with my doubt, and praying that God continue to teach me what it means that God is strong in our weakness, and to learn this in my life, not just in my head. Some will wonder why. ”You’re sharing doubts and common ground and that’s it?” Yes, that’s it, by design. Christians so often feel the need to put a Hollywood ending on everything spiritual. We have to marinate a bit more in the reality of doubt. And if we can’t recognize the good, or at least the intriguing in those who are unlike us, then we really are just another camp, another team, another clique. I see in Christ a bridge builder, challenging everyone, and welcoming everyone. If following Him means moving beyond Biblical comprehension to engage the world, and this produces a risk to the tranquility of faith based on answers, then that’s a really good thing.