And Another Thing…

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Why I Doubt

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.”

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15 Responses

  1. J D says:

    Mike, I appreciate your expression of faith in the midst of doubts. I would say that everyone who’s honest will have to admit times of struggle in this area. I liked Lynn Anderson’s book “If I Really Believe Why Do I Have All These Doubts?” The unjust (in our view) suffering of others does stagger the imagination. The answers are not very satisfying. One thing that keeps me hanging on during times like that is the lack of another answer. Another thing is the unjust suffering of Jesus. I think it’s better to acknowledge these thoughts and feelings than pretend they do not exist. Good post.

  2. Jeff says:

    I feel you, though my occasional doubts/struggles probably come from being too lukewarm in some areas of my life. When a sense of contentment with what we have sets in, it’s hard to overcome the inertia of just sitting and enjoying (especially if it took a lot of effort to get there).

    I think (at least for me) doubts are easiest to overcome when I’m out helping others. Perhaps my doubts are eased by knowing that I am God’s tool in that moment, or reflecting and realizing that God was working through me without me even realizing it. I think it relates to your point of arguing about how to be the body of Christ, and actually being it. I’m don’t think people who are NOT taking action on their beliefs should be allowed to suggest how others need to act, or otherwise criticize the results.

    I’m not sure how much this comment replies to your post, but I felt the need to write something. I look forward to your follow-up.

  3. odgie says:

    JD – Thank you for the feedback. The cross is really the lynchpin for this, isn’t it? I have wondered if part of the message of the cross is that God is as distressed by all of this as we are. And you are right that we have to speak to doubt in the open.

    Jeff – Action is critical; a mandatory piece to the puzzle rather than just an option. It is far easier to sense God’s presence in service than in intertia. Good thoughts.

  4. preacherman says:

    I believe everyone has doubts in their life. I know I have in my life. I’ve been in desert many times where It has seemed like I have had no answer from God or have had to wait a long to for a response. Or you don’t get the answer you want after praying and fasting. Doubt arises. It is normal. Look at Abraham and Issac as the have to wait for children. David during his problems. The Isrealites time and again see what God has done for them (leading them out of Egypt; providing manna;) yet they doubt. So don’t get down brother. Understand that each person goes through those times. Keep trusting. Keep on keeping on. Go will see you through it. I know as I keep trusting through the times of doubt I am blessed greater than before in my relationship with God.

  5. Hey, Mike,
    I think we all do the last thing you said, “believe in spite of our doubts.” Both Sarah and Bob and their kids are dear to my heart. When Sarah died, it tore out my heart, but her faith in spite of living out some of my worst fears, strengthened my faith. I don’t know why she had to die, but I know Sarah trusted God…as did Scott. Bob is a hero of mine, and now Tresa is too, because of their faith. I don’t know why he has to be sick, but I know that his faith and Tresa’s strength and faith have strengthened my faith, too. When I have been told how absurd it is that I believe in God as the Creator of the Universe and the absolute truth of God’s Word, and the resurrection of Christ–I can tell you that I believe, and I can even tell you why I believe, but I can’t prove that I am right, unless the Bible is assumed to be the absolute truth. I know that faith in the resurrection and the creation, the flood and the fall of man is foolishness in the eyes of this analytical world we live in….but we believe, and that is counted to us as righteousness. I think you are just becoming wiser, Mike, because the older and hopefully wiser I become, the more I know that I don’t know much! I think it’s okay to doubt–or at least it is okay to shout to our Heavenly Father that we don’t understand why—about many things. All we really know is that He IS! That’s all we need!

  6. Trey says:

    Wrote a long reply about totally understanding this, but somehow it didn’t save. Shoot.

    Well done. I look forward to the next post.

  7. Becky Reeves says:

    I agree with what everyone has said and could echo many of these thoughts. Something else I’ve been thinking about recently when I am plagued with seasons of doubt is that as we go deeper with Christ and live out more and more His death in our lives satan and his dark principalities take notice. One of satan’s main temptations has always been in the form of doubt…”Did God really mean what He said?” “Will He really do what He said He would?” “Is He even who He says He is?” The questions go on and on, but these are all of the first things satan proposed to Eve in the garden…the first temptation. So, instead of this being discouraging, I take courage that satan notices my life bringing more glory to God by attacking me with doubt. And, I have nothing to fear as God is all powerful and as His word can defeat satan’s attacks every time. Jesus pleaded with the Father in Jn 17:17 “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.”

    Stay in the word, Mike. It’s the only thing that always brings me through any temptation, including doubt.
    Thank you for sharing so candidly! It’s helped me in my season of doubt to articulate what God has been showing me.

  8. odgie says:

    Preacherman – You are right that doubt is universal

    Jerri – “I think that you are just becoming wiser, Mike.” Thanks, and I hope that you are right, though I have some doubts about that one too. 🙂

    Becky – Thank you for your candor. You and Dave are always welcome here.

  9. Many of your doubts are human in nature. I doubt people too. I doubt groups of people even more.

    As for the pain and suffering doubts, my faith grows stronger after each time of doubt. I get angry with God. Then we make up. I end up loving Him more. I wonder if that changes how He feels about me?

    Mike, you’re to smart to lose your faith. People that do typically don’t have a lick of sense.

  10. preacherman says:

    I totally agree with Big White Hat as far as pain. Good thoughts Big White Hat.

  11. odgie says:

    BWH – I had not thought of it like that, but you are right. Any relationship is stronger after it endures some strife and conflict; it only makes sense for that to hold true about the believer’s relationship with God.

  12. […] attend appears to be in the final stages of his battle with cancer. Bob, whom I have mentioned here before, is a career FBI agent, a happily married father of five, and one of the best teachers and layman […]

  13. […] received word this morning that Bob, whom I have mentioned before (here and here) passed last night after a brutal battle with bone cancer.  Words fail me at this point. However, […]

  14. craig hicks says:

    Believing without seeing is laughable- idiocy. Most people won’t buy a car unseen, or a car or a …The world operates on the principle seeing is believing. However, anyone can do that. Kingdom living is a paradox. It dares you to think outside the box. It dares you to let go of the handles while your eyes are closed and learn to ride the bike by the rules of another dimension. This is NOT easy.

    When Jesus told Thomas, “Blessed are those who believe and haven’t seen.” He was acknowledging that we would have a harder go of it. He was acknowledging you. He was validating your struggle. And mine. And we are extra blessed because it’s extra hard. In the eyes of Jesus I believe your doubts in the midst of faith make you heroic.

  15. […] growth, refinement, resilience, service, suffering I have previously written about my own struggles with faith at length. Last week I put it to you all out there as to what you would say to somebody […]

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