Every generation is just arrogant enough to believe it has discovered all people “lead lives of quiet desperation.” I find it interesting that in the West children are taught a lot of “positive ideas.” There is a desire on the part of the adults to shield children from influences that give a different perspective. The Church is a huge culprit here. It has caused more disappointment than almost any other institution in the West. Why do the Churches disappoint? They refuse to acknowledge doubt.
John Wesley argues that false religion “has a form of godliness.” Christian faith that loses quality of living loses all faithfulness. A recent report with a similar title to Wesley’s “Almost Christian” sermon claimed that what was being taught to youth in the church was a form of Christian faith that had one goal. Many youth believe that being Christian means being happy. The “form of godliness” is a facade. An attempt to be happy and to portray happiness. “Fake it till you make it,” is the motto.
We should ask didn’t Wesley do something similar? Did not the Moravian bishop Peter Boehler counsel him to “preach faith until you have faith” and “once you have faith preach faith?” I argue here that Wesley knew about the “form of godliness” because he once exemplified it. All he knew about Christian faith was transmitted to him by his upbringing. It was an upbringing that left him wondering about two things. What should a Christian do with each day? In other words, how does a Christian live each day of life? The other question is “why do I doubt?”
Struggling With Doubt
Churches disappoint because they do not believe in doubt. The Sunday following Easter can sometimes be called “Doubting Thomas Sunday” because of the lectionary readings. Every human being has doubts. Once youth who have grown up in church and seasoned adult believers discover that doubts occur. Life throws a lot at them. They cannot always be happy. Illnesses occur. Relationships dissolve. Natural disasters happen. People taught that practicing Christianity means they will have no troubles are hearing and believing lies. The same lies are told when a believer is told they have troubles because they “give in” to doubts.
Confirmation classes in most United Methodist congregations never bring up the topic of doubt. Yet, to struggle with personal doubts will enhance the faith of a person. Parents do not forbid children to begin walking because they are afraid the child will fall. The crib may be safer. But what sort of life will that be? The same principle is involved when we do not allow questions to be asked or doubts to be expressed. Do we want the faith of adults to be the same as that of the children in Vacation Bible School?
Doubt and Disappointment
Christian people become disappointed in their churches and denominational leaders. Our consumerist culture excuses the dissolution of connections and relationships so that a person can change to a different “product” or “service.” Many disappointed Christians opt out for a change. Others may opt out of the market completely. But some, those who struggle with and acknowledge their own doubts, tend to be forgiving of the failures of other people.
When a person is caught in a lie, continuing to lie inspires no confidence in other people. Church leaders that do not recognize this truth fail. It is possible that they get away with it for awhile especially if they are satisfying some other felt need. Eventually, the lie catches up to the liar. Often youth walk away because church leaders meet the needs of people other than the youth. If they lie while doing it, the youth are gone and not returning.
“Get your mind off yourself and onto something else,” is usually the advice given to people who express doubts. This position does not need to be vocalized by church leaders. It is common in American culture to hear this in some form. Wesley’s original attempt was to gather with other serious-minded students to read the Scriptures, pray, and to pool resources to help the poor. All of these activities are good for spiritual living. The fourth “act” was the one that made the other three possible. Their was a personal discussion on the “state of the souls” of the participants.
Churches are places of dogmatic assertions. They should also be places for safely expressing doubts. “Lord, I believe help my unbelief” has become my cry from the heart begging for healing. Great events of faith occur because of doubt. Wesley did not want to go to the Aldersgate meeting where his faith was affirmed. Luther wanted to know why he did not feel forgiven. Jesus prayed in Gethsemane to avoid his trial, torture, and death. What would the world be like if the doubts were never expressed? Wesley could have settled into a comfortable parish. Luther could have left the monastery for another try at practicing Law. And Jesus could have run off into the wilderness to never be heard from again. The church will be healthier when we express doubts about our assertions of faith.