Doubt is a pain too lonely to know that faith is his twin brother.
A few years ago, I was having a conversation with a guy in a coffee shop. At the time I was trying to speak to more people about God, so I shoehorned into the conversation that I was a Christian. Naturally, this guy then strung out a list of gripes he had with Christianity, and I responded in what I thought was a relevant way, socially acceptable way.
‘Don’t you ever have doubts?’ he asked with a foam moustache.
‘All the time!’ I replied, thinking that by showing that doubt was a regular part of being a Christian, he could become a Christian and still be racked with doubt. I thought it might be an easier sell that way!
I now look back and feel like I got it badly wrong. I conflated too many different things into one big post-modern mess. Let’s try and break it down.
The problem isn’t that Christians struggle with doubt. It’s what we do when we hit a wall of doubt that is vital.
Firstly, a question is not a doubt. We all have questions about God, and as Christians we don’t need to feel that’s problematic. Asking a question, and getting a good answer, strengthens faith and understanding. A worldview that doesn’t allow for genuine heartfelt questions is only going to suffocate and stifle. What we must do, however, is ensure that we act on the questions we have, and earnestly seek the answer. It’s only by refusing or failing to do this that a question burrows and frets its way into the psyche and becomes a doubt. Looking back to my conversation over coffee, what I really meant (and should have said) was that I had *questions* ‘all the time’.
‘It’s sounds really painful, having all these nagging doubts to deal with every day,’ my co-drinker suggested. And it would be, wouldn’t it, if you’re entire worldview was based around the certainty of uncertainty?
My real problem was not my own beliefs about God, but my own desire to be seen as culturally normal. I mistakenly saw doubt as the flipside to the sort of blind faith that leads to extremism, as well as believing glib phrases like the one at the top, where doubt and faith are Siamese twins. By suggesting that Christianity was something I believed but was also something I might be wrong about, I could maintain friendships and not be labelled as a fundamentalist. This sort of behaviour is best summed up by a ‘This is my truth – what’s yours?’ type of approach.
But guess what? God isn’t a postmodernist. The Gospel is either true or it’s the greatest hoax that has ever been pulled. It isn’t a bit true, or true for me but not this other guy. Some things just are black or white.
I realise I’m talking in broad strokes here, but some Christians can overplay the role of doubt within Christian life. The idea is that, by emphasising doubt, we put the focus on always searching for answers, on questioning everything. This is the accepted cultural standard for our time, but the problem is that this sort of approach can turn doubt into an idol, so that you’re own scepticism and rational faculties become, oddly, your God. If you make an idol out of doubt, then when you try and tell people about your faith, what is there to commend it? ‘Come, be like me, and base your life on uncertainty.’ If your message is ‘I’m certain that I don’t know’, then why would anyone see anything true or meaningful about your life?
Jesus didn’t ever say ‘doubt in me’. He asked people to follow Him. Following Jesus doesn’t mean the path is always clear and free from obstacles, but it does require a commitment to follow. Sometimes you’ve just got to dig in, man up, and trust your lead scout. Faith isn’t about blind obedience, but nor is it predicated on a shrugging uncertainty. It is a sure and certain hope that we have in Jesus.