Doubt2

When I was five, my parents took me to faith-healer. I was a severe asthmatic–the breathing-machine, oxygen-tent kind–and it was speculated that this revivalist had the unction. I went forward and the preacher anointed me. He put his hand flat against my forehead, asked me to repeat a prayer after him. He said “amen,” claimed healing, and sent me on my way.

I’m thirty-five and asthmatic to this day.

I’ve said it before–this childhood experience was the genesis of my doubting. Over time, this seed sprouted, grew into a wide-branching tree. For a time, I was embarrassed to admit it, afraid that I was the lone doubter amid the throngs of Sunday worshipers. I felt somehow other-than Christian, a second-class saint. What did my doubting say about the efficacy of Christ’s sacrifice, or the sovereignty of God? What did my lack of faith say of my ability to find healing, peace? Was I truly alone?

I’ve grown enough in my faith to admit it. I struggle with doubt even on the good days. And on the bad ones? Doubt swarms like a locust plague, threatens to consume what meager harvest has managed to grow. But now I know the truth–I am not alone. I’ve had friends confess doubt. Good friends; friends in the ministry. I’ve seen pillars of the church fall, cite their lack of faith as the culprit. Perhaps you struggle with doubt, too. And not just the “why doesn’t God fix my finances?” kind of doubt, but the seemingly more dire doubts like “is there anybody out there?”

Sometimes, it feels as if the church is conspicuously quiet on the topic. Some complexities are a bit too much to untangle in the course of an hour, after all. But let’s discuss it today; let’s discuss it here.

Tell me, do you struggle with doubt? Do you flounder in your faith? If so, how do you find peace? Do you find solace in the Scriptures? If so, where?

I’ve resolved some of my questions by and through grace. In the spirit of good will, I’ll share a bit more in the comments. Would you join me there in working this out?

*Photograph by Beshef, via Creative Commons license.

39 comments

  1. Elizabeth

    Wow – millstones around the neck and the deep blue sea come to mind.
    That preacher/healer has a lot to answer for.

    I’ve not had BIG struggles with doubt – but what I consider healthy questions along the way.
    Thanks for sharing your story.

    Reply
    • I have struggled with doubt my whole life, and it pains me that doubt is either not spoken of in the church, and/or that it is spoken of poorly. I’ve long thought that Thomas has gotten a bad rap as a doubter, particularly as his doubt led him to a strengthened faith! Just a few days ago, I posted a bit about my experience with doubt, and it is wonderful to see you wrestling with this big and important topic as well. Thanks for your story!

      Reply
      • Sorry, Elizabeth, my reply was posted incorrectly. I did not intend as a reply to your comment.

        Reply
      • “Thomas has gotten a bad rap as a doubter….” Exactly. But without him, 2 of the most important questions of scripture would be left wide open. Right?

        Come lunch time, I’m going to talk a bit more about this. But I’d love to hear more of your thoughts on Thomas, Matthew.

        Thanks for sharing here.

        Reply
        • Thanks, Seth. Most definitely Thomas played an important role in the scriptural narrative, it was through his expressing of his doubts that we can, even today, see through Thomas’s eyes.

          The unfortunate thing is that we call him “Doubting Thomas.” Do we call Peter, “I Don’t Know Him Peter”? Not that I’ve experienced. We lift Peter up as a great leader in the early church and Thomas is just the “unbelieving disciple” which we are taught, either explicitly or implicitly, not to mimic.

          What I think is so telling, however, is Jesus’ response to Thomas. Jesus doesn’t rebuke or admonish Thomas. Jesus simply says (my paraphrase), “Here, look at my hands, touch the marks. Put your hand in my side.” I think it is a wonderful example of how God responds to our feeble faith. It is not a rebuke, but it is a gentle and loving encouragement and condescension to our needs.

          Reply
          • Yeah… I like this comment. No rebuke for Thomas, but old Pete? He caught it! I like your thoughts here.

            Also, I just noticed your post today (I’ll put it in the hopper to read). I never mind shameless promotion, especially if the topic and timing are serendipitous.

        • If you would forgive what may seem to be shameless self-promotion, here is a link to my recent blog post about doubt: http://thealreadynotyet.com/2013/02/01/the-saturday-demon/

          Reply
  2. Kreine

    I have a lot of doubt stemming from my childhood teaching of God. (I don’t say I struggle with doubt because I think questioning is healthy and important, even if it is terrifying at times.) The more I examine my doubts, the more I realize they are less about God and more about religion.

    I choose to trust that God is good, that the Almighty is loving and gracious. Sometimes, yes, I find even that difficult for my heart to believe. Yet within my questioning, I choose to trust.

    It definitely helps to view God as a parent who unabashedly, exuberantly loves humanity with the same abandon I have in loving my children. Every moment is a gift, an opportunity for personal growth, and contains the possibility of a deeper relationship.

    Reply
    • oh, i love this, Kreine: “I realize they are less about God and more about religion.”

      that is the case for me as well. the force with which religion is applied as a band-aid to cancer has made me want to turn tail and run from the whole thing. and that is scary, when you think you might be running from Jesus.
      now, though, i think what i run from is not Jesus as He reveals Himself to me, but this fear-based system that tells you what to think, what to wear, how to worship, etc. (this is what i call ‘religion’)

      and i’m glad to run from it, b/c we humans tend to become like what we worship.

      Reply
  3. As I said on Twitter, we have similar stories. I was taken to several faith healers for my diabetes when I was a kid. Twenty-odd years later, I’m still diabetic. Those experiences shook me to the core, perhaps a strange thing to experience when you’re eleven or twelve. It took me a while to come back from that, and, even now, I struggle with doubt (not to mention a resistance to certain types of churches and crowded places). When doubt comes, I try to nip it in the bud. If I dwell there, the doubts multiply and grow larger and larger until all I want to do is crawl under the covers and never leave the bed.

    Something that helps me is the recognition that my diabetes can be a gift and a reminder of God’s grace. Diabetes is a way for me to relate to people who suffer. It reminds me that I’m not in control. In some ways, I think it keeps me humble.

    Reply
    • “Something that helps me is the recognition that my diabetes can be a gift and a reminder of God’s grace. Diabetes is a way for me to relate to people who suffer.”

      This is a bold (and very good) statement. I’m going to coopt this if that’s okay.

      Reply
      • Feel free. Everything’s a remix, right?

        Reply
        • Everything’s a remix. Indeed. And that’s good advice coming from WriteRight. Can I use that too? :)

          Reply
  4. I also think that Thomas gets a bad rap, and just like Peter and his failed attempt at walking on water. At least he got out of the boat. For me the one of the keys for dealing with doubt is to make sure I do not isolate myself. God did not create us to live in a vacuum. When I lack faith there is someone around me who can have faith for me. Mark 2 has a great example of this: http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Mark%202:1-12&version=NIV

    I do have a question. Should the Pastor not have prayed for your healing?

    Reply
    • I think that’s a good question, Jon. Sure, I think prayer for healing is good, and right. But the way it was done seemed off, even at the time. It was more like, “if you have enough faith, God will heal you.” I remember some discussion about whether I had faith like a child, and that is where I think the rub came in.

      Prayer for healing though? No problems with that.

      Thanks for the question. Thoughts?

      Reply
      • It is a dangerous road to claim a “lack of faith” for the reason a miracle / healing didn’t occur. Do I really know how much faith another person has? There are just somethings we do not know. Faith is not some super formula that we have to get the right mix. (That is an area of doubt that I battle with) A little over a year ago my wife and I closed our church plant after 3 years. It is easy for me to think, well if I would have only prayed more, fasted more etc. The only thing I can do is step out in faith and if things do not work out, I get up the next day, and step out again.

        Reply
  5. One of my favorite practices during Easter is to spend some time staring at Caravagio’s “The Incredulity of Saint Thomas.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Incredulity_of_Saint_Thomas_(Caravaggio) It’s my Easter-reminder that Jesus is patient with me, that he’s willing to not only let me see his hands and his side but to stick my finger deep into the hole and cause him pain. I feel like the mystery my doubt has forced me to live into has brought more depth to the small seed of my faith than any certainty could have.

    Thanks for this, Seth.

    Reply
    • I like this. I like this a lot. I’d like to hear more, in fact. (Do you detect a writing prompt?)

      Reply
  6. I don’t struggle with doubt that He exists, but rather that He loves ME. When I’m feeling particularly blue and low, I am reminded of how much my parents and family love me and then I realize that that love is only a fraction of how much He loves me!

    Reply
    • Yes… This is a struggle. I wrote about this one recently and I wish we fleshed this out more. Truly. You want a go at it? :)

      Reply
  7. As my pal Nathan Elmore said after visiting Mar Thomas Church in Muscaf, Oman (an Indian church that has roots to the first century and St. “Doubting” Thomas and that has endured over two milennia): “See how far a little doubt and a lot of faith can travel in God’s hands.”

    Reply
    • I love this quote. Thanks, Winn. And sweet mercy, I hope that’s true.

      Reply
  8. My doubt depends on the day. It can be a whisper or a shout, a drizzle or a storm. Sometimes just that tired wondering, ‘is heaven real – it is worth all this?’, or ‘is the bible just nonsense?’, sometimes it’s wondering how much I can doubt Jesus and yet still belong to him. I regularly find doubt is loudest when I’m most frustrated/hurt by fellow Christians!

    Sometimes doubt is a friend, but often it’s a source of real pain. I feel it’s hard to talk about in church – I don’t want to unsettle people and sow unhelpful seeds and I’m scared that they will be so appalled they’ll decide I’m not genuinely God’s child.

    Grateful for this post!

    Reply
    • Thank you Alice, and I totally hear you. It is odd how people run when you start talking about doubt in the church. i have a good friend, a minister in Ft. Smith, Arkansas who deals with it head on with his congregation. Men like him (and Winn above) are a real asset to those of us who struggle.

      As I’ll write a bit more below, I think the questions give way to answers if we’re faithful to keep asking. Keep asking.

      Reply
  9. JC

    I haven’t struggled with doubt about God’s existence for many years because I started seeing him working in my life a long time ago. However, I have often struggled with his love for me personally. Mostly because I had no concept of unconditional love. It has become easier as he has brought a real church family into my life in the past 4 years. They loved me even when I wasn’t so lovable and have watched me grow and mature with their help. I was in church for over 30 years before I found a small house church of people who wanted the same things I did….relationships that were deep and not only on Sunday mornings. I’ve been in church all my life and did not understand why maturity was not taking place after so many years. I now know its not something you can do on your own or get by sitting in a pew and listening but something the Holy Spirit does within you when you have relationship with the Lord and others of like mind. Like mind does not mean we believe all the same things but that we want the same things…a closer walk and deeper relationship. We come from all different denominational backgrounds but we are bound together by the blood of Christ. Its this deeper relationship with Him that eventually takes away the doubts. Its hard to doubt someone who you know intimately. Its easy to doubt a far away God. Honestly, I don’t think the modern church has the ability to fill this need. It takes intimate fellowship which can only happen in a small group. I’m not saying anything against church attendance just that having a small group of believers who meet together brings a different kind of relationship that you can’t find in large group settings. Its easier to be transparent with a couple of people but a couple of hundred is scary. I hope all those who read this will find a special group of people like I have to help you and love you through your doubts. Its something we do for each other as each of us can start doubting at any time when circumstances make us feel hurt, sad, alone, and many other emotions. We need each other and this is the kind of fellowship the early church. Everyones needs were met physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

    Reply
    • I have that kind of group, and it does help. It helps a lot.

      Reply
  10. I’ve been holding back a bit to see how this would all unfold. But here’s where I find comfort in Scripture (and I allude to it a bit). In John 14 Jesus is talking about “going to prepare a place,” and Thomas essentially says, “what are you talking about?” Doubting Thomas asks what ends up being (in my opinion) one of the most important questions in scripture, as Christ answers with the proclamation that he is the way to God. (“I am the way, the truth, and the life….” John 14:6.)

    Later in the Gospels, Thomas is the proof that Jesus was who he claimed to be as feels the wounds of Christ.

    So, without Thomas’ questions and doubts, the Gospels might look a great deal different, I think. At least, those are my thoughts. I’ve always found great comfort in the character of Thomas.

    Reply
  11. Mike

    It’s the Christian without doubt that causes me pause. I believe that Jesus left room for doubt…not because there was cause for it but maybe because He knew that within that space it could reveal the larger answers to faith. The kind of sustaining faith that doesn’t evaporate when we have all the answers. Certainty isn’t the opposite of doubt as much as it’s the killer of faith. Today, my questions cease to be about doubt but if my faith is large enough to cover it.

    Reply
    • Mike… I think we are brothers, separated at birth, except I got the tall genes and you got the good looks.

      Thanks for being in this space.

      Reply
  12. Yes – Thomas is a huge part of the process of revealing who Jesus is. Thank you for pointing it out. I’m excited about this and never thought of it really.

    I love when John sends a message to Jesus saying, “really – are you the one or have I been wasting my time?” and Jesus is so kind, he sends a message back listing tangible proof and then he speaks incredibly highly of John to the disciples. It gives me hope that doubt doesn’t make me less in Jesus’ eyes.

    Reply
    • John…

      I’ve honestly never thought about this story as one of doubt, probably because we’re predisposed to think of the baptizer as such a man of great faith. But your take is spot on. I’m going to read that story again with fresh eyes. Thanks.

      Reply
  13. Ross Warnell

    Seth – I’m a 71 year old former Ozark Mountain boy (Eureka Springs) living in Kansas City, Kansas and wanted to share my insights into this…

    On All Saints Day, 1755, a major earthquake struck Lisbon, Portugal. The cathedral filled with worshipers was badly damaged, and a hospital collapsed. Scores were killed or maimed. Coming as it did at the time the enlightenment was getting into full swing, faith came under full blown attack from the new crop of rationalists. In a very real sense Western Christendom took a blow from which it has never recovered.

    I have finally come to the conclusion that there are no answers to the wrong questions. I do not need a God who explains plate tectonics. I do not need a God to explain converging air masses resulting in Joplin, Missouri being flattened. I do not need a God who can wave his magic wand and make a screw up in the genetic code all better (as much as I would want it).

    What I DO need is a God who is with me in the inevitable suffering I and everyone else in this world encounters. And a God who is with me, not as some disembodied “presence” (Jesus the Friendly Ghost), with real life, flesh and blood people filled with his spirit. A better way of living and relating and being. As Frederick Buechner has said, “Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid.”

    I have come to realize (late in life to be sure), the opposite of faith is not doubt – it’s fear.

    Blessings on your days,

    Ross Warnell

    Reply
    • “What I do need is a God who is with me in the inevitable suffering…”

      Ross, thank you for sharing your take. It’s what I need, too. These are good words and I’m glad you shared them.

      Reply
  14. I am 40 and didn’t come to a place of doubt till my late 20’s. Conincidently I was in divinity school at the time. WHile I don’t dought God my dought is in the plans. It comes from the dysfunctional church and the shear pain I see people in. As an ordained minsiter my openess with might doubt always follows with judgements or little criticism from others, as if ministers don’t doubt or shouldn’t. I just wonder if God knows what he/she is doing? WHat gives me peace and a sense of groundedness in the midst of my doubt is my call. As clear as day I can tell you that God called me to misnistry when I was 6. I didn’t know it at the time, all I knew was that I wanted God in my life. That brings me comfort when I just don’t get the way God does things.

    Reply
    • Going back to the sign posts does help. And ministers should be allowed to doubt. Sometimes, I wonder why we don’t give ‘me more latitude.

      Reply
  15. Jessica.

    I’ve doubted that I have been truly saved a lot of the time because I feel too sinful because of stupid worries I thought when I was 20 about falling into the 3rd temptation Jesus went through in the desert.

    I also doubted that I was truly healed from my past of sexual acts. I thought in a brief moment I could be healed but I didn’t feel “completely” healed.

    That lead to a lot of doubt and it made me fall a lot.

    I am still dealing with this so I am not sure what advice I can give.

    I find what REALLY works for me is focusing on how loving Jesus is. I know, it sounds weird when you want answers but seriously, i don’t have all the answers. Focusing on the love of Jesus gets my mind off a cycle of enraged doubts. I like to think of it as trust. Knowing God knows what His doing and His got the whole world in His hands even though it’s hard to believe when the doubts come.

    Like that verse in the bible where Jesus is like “what’s up guys!” and his like standing on water as no one has ever done before. So obviously his disciples are shocked and Peter decides to take the plunge and trust Jesus by walking to him on the water, but he gets distracted by the wind and rain begins to sink out of fear but Jesus pulls him right back up again, till Peter is focused on Jesus again.

    Reply

Leave a Comment