If You Love God, Be Honest with God. Doubt Can Strengthen Faith.

Photo Credit: Ian Svendsplass

Have you been led to think that if you love God, you won’t question God? I had been led to think just that. I’m not sure where it came from. Perhaps it was the ecclesial equivalent of department store messaging subliminally enticing me to buy faith, not doubt. However, I have since concluded that those who love God won’t hide their honest faith questions from God, but will be open about their doubts.

When I was back in seminary, I endured a challenge to my faith. It wasn’t quite like Jim Morrison’s supposed experience with faith and doubt back “in seminary school” in the Doors’ song “Soft Parade”. Still, while I wrestled with all kinds of intellectual questions, the most trying situation involved a door closing in my face. I had been praying for years for a certain door to open in terms of future direction. The door did open, as far as I could tell, but at the last moment it abruptly slammed shut. At the time, it was devastating. To add insult to injury, the same day a literal door in one of the seminary buildings came off its hinge when I tried opening it. The door hit me in the forehead. I had to go to the emergency room at a local hospital to get several stitches above my right eye. Talk about adding insult to injury, or injury to insult!

As I coped with grief, I remember sharing with a spiritual advisor of mine at school about the ordeal involving future direction. This same spiritual advisor said that in all his years of ministry he had never seen God open a door so clearly for someone and then close it on them. I then told this mentor that because I loved God, I would not question God about the matter. His response: If you love God, wrestle with God. Be honest in your faith struggle.

This was good advice, but still very hard and painful. I would have rather stuffed it. And yet, I knew what it was like to have people tell me that all things will work out for good, and that God has a better plan. Those statements have always really frustrated me. At the time of my seminary ordeal, a friend at the seminary who was going through his own season of doubt in faith said that he might not get his answer until the next life when he sees Jesus face to face. As hard as that might be to hear, it’s honest—and often true. That was a more fitting response.

Just like this friend, my spiritual advisor at the seminary did not slam his Bible in my face, but walked with me and listened to me. One of my professors said to me that sometimes the only way we know God loves us is by taking to heart Jesus hanging on the cross for us. These two counselors helped me, as did my wife, who has walked with me, too, every step of the way, even to this very day.

I believe it was Elisabeth Elliot—no stranger to grief—who said that the spiritual sojourn in grief involves passing from denial to doubt to devotion. Regardless of the source of the statement, I have found that this cycle has sometimes fit my own wrestling through doubt in my faith walk. Sometimes the questions that we wrestle with soften our hearts and deepen our faith rather than make us brittle and shallow.

The amazing thing is that the Bible does not hide from doubt in the face of loss and suffering. It makes space for it. Job is perhaps the oldest book in the Bible. Front and center and throughout this book, the question of “Why do really bad things happen to a very good person?” looms large. Perhaps it comes as no assurance or comfort to you, but God never answers Job’s “Why?” question. His answer fits more a “Who?” question: Who are you, God? Job experiences God in a much deeper way through this ordeal than ever before, even as he goes through some of the most excruciating struggles one can imagine. It didn’t help that he had to endure his friends’ short-sighted and pre-packaged answers, as well as God’s deafening silence for a time.

In addition to Job, the psalmists wrestle with God in the midst of doubt, as does the Lord Jesus hanging on the cross, uttering the cry of dereliction: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46; Psalm 22:1) The Bible does not hide from this piercing question, but lives the question in faith.

As my spiritual advisor said to me, so I say again: If you love God, wrestle with God. Be honest in your faith struggle. To build on his exhortation, live your question, and walk alongside others as they live their question(s), listening as you go. Love God. Love people. Live the question. In living the doubting question of faith together, we take steps in the direction of loving God with all our hearts and our neighbors as ourselves (Mark 12:30-31).

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