A friend on Facebook wrote a few months ago, “Faith is not the opposite of Doubt. Hope is.”
I have pretty strong opinions about the way I see Christians reacting to doubt. Generally, I think we suck at it.
Certainty lures us with a promise of safety and emotional stability. Doubt wears a DANGER sign, by contrast. Skeptics and Agnostics inhabit the land of Doubt, a place no Believer ought to be found, we say. So we rush past the questions, head tucked down and coat collar up.
Maybe if we move fast enough, the hard questions will stop chasing us.
This is Easter week, and today is the dark Saturday between Good Friday and Easter Sunday. If Easter were a musical composition, this is the part where the the dramatic negative music continues a little more quietly for a page or so before the score explodes into the joy and celebration of a Risen Lord.
In the biblical narrative, Doubting Thomas has already walked off after the events of Friday to simmer in his own disappointment. The women haven’t been to an empty tomb yet to understand what it means when we say “Christ conquered death.” It’s bitter to think you had the answer and then have that ripped out of your hands by a Roman governor who would rather execute an innocent man than face the political backlash from making the better choice.
Christianity is crazy. You either need to grasp that and own it in faith, or walk away. The Norse used to deride the English monks for their worship of “the nailed god.” Ha. What good is a god nailed to a tree?
Either Christianity is robust enough to step into the shitty places of life, or it’s irrelevant. If this truth hasn’t hit you yet, well…. wait. The crisis will come.
I could move from here into a complex discussion of the Problem of Evil across a variety of philosophical and religious systems. Truly, this is where the questions punch us in the gut and leave us on the mat, bloody and gasping.
Nobody has a clear answer there. The systems of belief (and non-belief and anti-belief) duke it out to prove their answer is better or more fitting or less harmful. On this side of Glory, we aren’t given the answer to the question of how a God who says He is both Good and Powerful exists in a universe so marred by Evil.
And most of us don’t sit back with a cup of tea to politely discuss the situation; we are thrown into the ring by personal tragedy (ours or someone we love). It would be weird if doubt didn’t show up in the small still hours of the dark to suggest perhaps this whole Jesus thing is a crock.
In my experience, people who doubt are met with quick answers. Too quick. A good teacher knows you have to let students stew in a problem before they’re ready to to grasp an answer. Sometimes you just have to walk beside them until it “clicks” and the answer is clear.
Life is a lot more about walking beside people through the valley of shadows than it is about delivering them packaged answers, like pills popped from dispensaries for troubled souls.
Our proof texts and pre-packaged answers for doubting souls interrupt the very important process of growing to love God on our own within the context of a personal journey.
Worse, sometimes we jump in with arguments that God Himself never made.
This really bothers me. I’ve seen a lot of young adults walk away from the “faith” they were raised in because adults taught them “truths” that weren’t so clear. In our rush to explain, we deceive. In God’s name.
Galileo proved that the Church’s interpretation of Joshua’s long day, which locked them into a geocentric astronomy as the only valid interpretation of the Bible, could never match the observations through his telescope. The Church loses followers when she insists that God said something He didn’t actually say.
Here’s where you’re going to get offended. 🙂 But I can’t make this point without listing a few examples. The raging debates over how the universe got here (young age creationism) turn away scientists who assume they’d have to check their scientific training at the door to become a Christian. Doctors understand that the beginning of life isn’t a clear-cut moment, but strident anti-abortion rhetoric shuts down any real discussion of just how difficult it is to “prove” that life begins at conception. The debate over homosexuality has devolved into two sides, one that uses the Bible as a club and the other which mocks Scripture as an irrelevant, judgmental, bloody book of vastly outdated cultural practice.
Christians can’t conceive of a public policy divorced from their personal moral codes, so they talk a lot about being “persecuted” while rarely understanding alternate viewpoints on the political and social issues they feel like they’re losing.
When Christians harden our rhetoric over issues not central to the definition of the Gospel, we run the risk of linking our own interpretations and fallible opinions to the eternal Word of God. Instead of seeing Scripture and preaching as witnesses to Jesus, the fully revealed Word of God, we present stances that are locked in our cultural and political contexts.
As soon as those contexts shift, the flaws in our thinking are exposed. We said “thus saith the Lord,” and people took us at our word.
When we focus our energy on fighting for a specific political cause — banning abortion or gay marriage, keeping tax breaks for churches, condemning food stamps and welfare as “stealing” the income of holy middle class taxpayers (never mind the complicated American history of race, poverty, and social mobility and opportunity), keeping a small federal government, refusing to listen to anyone who might be a “socialist” — we blur the lines between witnessing to the Truth of the Gospel and witnessing to our own personal viewpoints.
And because we failed in our preaching and practice to differentiate God’s thoughts from our human attempts to understand Him, when people reject our preaching or practice (whether they’re right or wrong to reject), they reject the Faith as well.
I realize that conversion is a complex theological topic. We are all unbelievers; our only hope is in the work of Christ to renew our hearts. But Scripture speaks of not placing stumbling blocks in front of people coming to know God — in front of children, in front of the world.
My decade in the high school classroom taught me this: even teenagers can understand complicated, nuanced arguments if you take the time to explain them. Questions need not be a moment for panic and alarm. Answers are rarely as important as the process of deriving those answers. A troubled soul needs a caring listener, not a sermon.
And a God who can weave the story of Redemption through His entire creation and all of human history truly is “big enough” to calm the doubts of His children. Trust the Holy Spirit to do His job of illumination. Trust the Word to bear witness to the truth of God and His ways.
He is risen!
He is risen indeed.