For most people it seems to be in our nature to romanticize our youth. As the stresses of the present and the tyranny of the immediate monopolize our attention and energies, many of us tend to think of our past as a golden age full of opportunities and potential that time, choices (good and bad), and responsibilities have stolen from us. When I think back to when I was 18 (as I am 36 this was literally half my lifetime ago) I certainly miss some things: the energy level (remember when sleep was an option?), the belief that there was always something better around the bend, and the seemingly limitless opportunities that the world held for those who were willing to work for them. More than anything else I miss the sense of absolute certainty in my perception of the world. Up was up, down was down, right was right (and easy to discern), wrong was wrong, and the Lord was working in everything.
I miss those certainties because it seems nowadays that all I have are doubts. And these doubts have lead me into a seriously dark valley in my journey of discipleship. The irony of this is that the externals of my life have never been better than they are now. I am in the first year of marriage to a woman that I love more than life itself. I have a good job with a bright future, and in a year and a half I will have a degree that will only brighten that future. What’s more, despite the schedule I have to keep and the demands of dealing with Dr. Sunshine, I am having the best educational experience of my life. The work is challenging and satisfying. Most of my professors are excellent. I have made great friends among my classmates and seem to hold the genuine respect of the students and faculty where I attend. The rest of my family continues to enjoy good health. My wife and I are surrounded by people that we are proud to call our friends. I lead a life blessed far beyond what I deserve. So how can I have doubt?
- I have doubt when a 38 year old mother of four, who did so much to spread the gospel and ease the suffering of others, dies of leukemia; leaving behind her husband to raise their children alone.
- I have doubt when a 42 year old man, an FBI agent and father of five, one of the best layman Christian apologists I have ever known, is stricken with bone cancer and is fighting desperately to live long enough to see his children grow up.
- I have doubt when I hear the lies of false prophets and know that many people will believe them, whether those lies are “God hates fags” or “God wants a mansion and he wants me to live in it.”
- I have doubt when I think of the necessity of St. Jude’s Hospital.
- I have doubt when I realize that the Left Behind series is more widely read today than anything by Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
- I have doubt when one of my clients tells me about how at the age of 8 her mother started taking her along on a trip to Southeast Washington D.C. so that Mom could score some crack.
- I have doubt when believers spend more time fighting about how to be the body of Christ than actually being the body of Christ.
- I have doubt because I rarely, if ever, hear doubt discussed in a meaningful way in the church.
How do any of these things glorify God?
Please don’t misunderstand; my will to believe is strong. I regularly read the literature of theodicy and apologetics. I understand that this is a fallen world, not at all what the Lord intended for us. I make every effort to “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect,” (1 Peter 3:15). I have no interest in giving up my faith. But willpower and academic understanding are not enough to sustain me in this valley.
I guess that the reality of the race analogy that Paul uses so frequently in his letters is coming home to me. Although it seems that the life of faith is more a marathon than a sprint; the goal is not finish first but just to finish, even if you have to crawl across the line with your tongue hanging out to do so.
So I put it to you other believers out there – do you have doubts? Not just things you cannot explain but things that really make you stop in your tracks and reassess why you believe what you believe? What do you do in response? How do we address these issues in a meaningful way with non-believers?
So as not to be a downer, my next post will be on “Why I Believe In Spite of My Doubts.”