Recently an article over at Desiring God, a blog hosted by John Piper, took aim at Christians who wrestle with doubts.
The article was shockingly uncharitable towards Christians such as myself– far more uncharitable than I had even expected from the arrogant wing of Calvinism. The premise of the article was that “doubt dishonors God” and that it’s a hallmark of “weak faith,” as if those of us who struggle with doubts on our faith journey are either second class citizens who haven’t gotten with the program yet, or worse, that our doubts are somehow an intentional act of rebellion against God.
Well, I have a newsflash for all the Calvinist out there who agree with the premise of that article:
We’re not doubting because this is our idea of a good time.
Nor are we doubting because it’s trendy or cool.
Our doubts are none of those things.
But if you’d really like to understand Christians whose faith includes elements and seasons of doubts– If you’d really like to understand Christians like me– I’ll break it down for you. While doubts can be caused by a variety of things, I believe many of us experience this for two distinct reasons.
First, Christians who doubt are often intensely curious people, and this isn’t a bad thing.
Even the word to “doubt” ultimately means to “question,” and those of us who doubt often do so because we are always curiously asking questions. We take in answers and mull them over, usually ending up with even more questions as we attempt to figure out the “inner workings” of life and faith and everything else in the world around us.
Christians who doubt are Christians who are busy asking questions and wrestling with answers. Instead of dishonoring God, I believe we actually deeply honor him, because when we ask questions it means one thing:
We’re using that big ole brain God gave us.
For the first 20 years of my Christian life, I didn’t ask many questions– I just memorized the answers I was handed. Outwardly, I would have appeared as a mature, solid Christian, but inwardly I was dishonoring God by limiting what I allowed my brain to ask, seek, and explore. Thus, repenting of certainty and embracing doubt became one of the most God-honoring, spiritually mature things I have ever done in my life.
Secondly, many Christians who doubt often do so because what we were taught doesn’t seem to line up with real-life experience.
Since the article I’m responding to came from among the 872 point Calvinists, I’ll give an actual example:
Calvinism of course, teaches that everything that happens in life and the world, good or bad, was all directly orchestrated by God. Now, when life is good this kind of idea feels great, but when life goes bad? Not so much.
I’m the guy who had a vasectomy as an act of worship in order to give my life to raising kids who needed a family– it was an invitation I was sure came from God himself. However, after completing 4 adoptions where 3 of them ultimately failed for various reasons after the fact, my “act of worship” cost me the deepest dream my heart ever held: having lots of children and ultimately grandchildren.
Being told on one hand that everything that happens in life is from God and therefore good, while also laying in bed at night unable to get the memories of your last goodbye with your own children out of your head, is the kind of thing that naturally prompts you-know-what.
We wrestle with reality and wonder how everything could really be a divine plan from God. We question whether or not everything that happens to us is actually good and wonderful when it feels so hellish and painful.
When life happens, and when that doesn’t line up with what we were told about God, we naturally are faced with some really, really hard questions– questions that don’t have easy answers.
Asking those questions, having a curious mind that wants to understand, and struggling to figure out why real-life suffering doesn’t line up with what people like Calvinists teach us about God, isn’t a sign of weak faith. It’s not a sign of rebellion or dishonoring God.
It is a sign that we are human– a sign that our hearts and brains are functioning as intended, and that life experience has left us wrestling with some difficult questions.
On one hand, I grieve that Calvinists such as the author of that piece don’t seem to know us– that they don’t know we’re simply curious people who have often experienced tremendous doses of pain and hardship that caused us to spend long seasons asking hard questions.
What I grieve even more is that out of all the verses the article quoted on doubting, there was one verse conspicuously left out:
“Have mercy on those who doubt.” – Jude 1:22
Because if you really knew me and those like me, if knew how we long to reconcile our painful experiences with the things that we were taught, and if you knew how desperately we long to cling to a solid answer that makes sense to us…
You’d have far more mercy on us than what you have shown.
Dr. Benjamin L. Corey is a public theologian and cultural anthropologist who is a two-time graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary with graduate degrees in the fields of Theology and International Culture, and holds a doctorate in Intercultural Studies from Fuller Theological Seminary. He is also the author of the new book, Unafraid: Moving Beyond Fear-Based Faith, which is available wherever good books are sold. www.Unafraid-book.com.