In defense of doubt

jesus

There’s a lot about my Christian faith that I don’t understand. I can’t conceive of a loving God allowing his children to suffer in hell for eternity because they never heard of Jesus, were repulsed by the actions of those who claimed to represent Jesus, or just didn’t find substantial evidence to back up God’s existence.

I don’t fully understand prayer. Is it about changing myself, or getting what I want? If I ask God for something and don’t get it, isn’t that treating him like a genie? If God already has a plan mapped out, is prayer supposed to change his mind?

And that’s just the beginning of my laundry list of questions. Why bother calling myself a Christian at all, then?

Because there’s something inherently attractive about a religion where God came to meet us, rather than requiring humans to work their way up a moral ladder (provided you already believe a God exists).

Because Jesus said to love our enemies. As much as I find that notion ridiculous, I also find it fascinating and want to learn more.

But of everything else about Christianity that’s complicated, this obligation to “share my faith” is especially puzzling.

I know what it’s like to be on the receiving end of a polished, rehearsed, and coldly delivered “faith pitch” that utterly lacks sincerity and a desire to know the person you’re speaking to. I’ve resolved never to speak about my beliefs like that. Because if what you believe makes up who you are, it’s something that will eventually uncover itself when you talk to people. When you love someone, you make him or her known. It’s something we do without realizing it, when that kind of devotion is so tightly woven into our lives. And people notice a difference.

My goal has always to strive for authenticity. I fumble and stumble around for honest answers, not theological constructs. I try to make a point of asking, “What are your beliefs, if you’re comfortable sharing?”

I don’t try and hide the fact that I struggle. I envy the Christians who seem to have it all figured out, who calmly state that the answers to all their questions were found in the very same verses that give me trouble. I’ve wondered if there’s something wrong with me for not being as persuasive as they are.

But I think there’s something inspiring about the persistence to understand something that’s bigger than us. There are plenty of times when this faith thing seems like a fool’s errand, and maybe it is. I wonder sometimes if maybe that’s the point. If a spiritual realm exists, it’s impossible to think we can fully understand it using the resources of a material world.

There’s something more inviting about a person who says, “I’m on a journey to find wisdom, wanna join?” as opposed to “My beliefs are solid and unchangeable, here’s why.”

My fear is having a small, easily shakable faith that falls apart by asking a single question, losing a certain debate, or reading a particular book. But to only surround myself with other Christians, only read Christian books, only listen to Christian music…I fear that even more.

When I flip through my Bible, I see beauty in the verses that provide hope to people lying in hospital beds, courage to men and women on the battlefield. But I also look through the Bible and see horror: verses that have been used to justify the worst crimes against humanity, the most dangerous kinds of intolerance.

I’ve been the accuser of heresy before. I’ve also been the one accused. But in reality, all of us are both.

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About Beth Caplin

Just an author, blogger, and editor working hard so my cats can have a better life.
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13 Responses to In defense of doubt

  1. Bryan says:

    One of the many things I love about Jesus is He never criticizes anyone for doubts. In contrast, the religious leaders were always criticized by Jesus.

    One of my fav passages in the Bible is when Jesus cast a demon out of a man’s son. And in Mark 9:24, after Jesus said all things are possible for those who believe–The boys father says…

    Mark 9:24
    Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me with my unbelief.

    Let’s surround ourselves with people we can be ok to share our doubts and concerns! After all, isn’t that what community is for?

    Like

  2. Thank you for an excellent and very honest post. For me, the funny thing I’ve found is that as I get older my faith hasn’t weakened – or at least I don’t think it has – but it has changed in some ways. I’m less likely to get into arguments or debates about finer points of doctrine or theology, or the merits of one set of beliefs over another. My faith now seems less like a list of rigid doctrines doctrines (though I still believe in the centrality of the Resurrection) and more like a relationship with God. I muck up so much it’s unbelievable – and that bit in Revelation about being ‘luke warm’ could have been written about me – but he’s always there and always will be. Somehow I know that.

    And yes, I have a very hard time with the ‘eternal punishment’ doctrine of hell too.

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    • Beth Caplin says:

      I have never seen anybody ‘win’ a theology debate; 99% of the time it’s a waste of energy. It’s even more frustrating when two people claim to be biblical scholars but come up with radically different interpretations of the same verse(s).

      Like

  3. Am I Thirty? says:

    I really like this. You’re writing is so honest. I don’t consider myself a religious person at all. There is too much about religion that I do not agree with. However, I do like to believe that there is a God out there. It’s something I really want to believe but sometimes struggle with. I am envious of people who are so sure in their beliefs. But I think it’s natural for most people to question their faith, no matter what they believe.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Beth Caplin says:

      I think you can honestly say that people whose beliefs are *never* challenged are never going to grow. And failure to grow intellectually stunts your ability to view the world and other people objectively.

      I’ve gone from trying to be “religious” to trying to figure out what’s true. And so far what I think is absolutely true in Christianity is what it says about humanity: we are beings with inherent worth and value, but we also fall short in our attempts to be “good.” That rings true for me, based on my life experiences, in ways that other religions do not address. But I struggle with trying to understand the rest…that Jesus is the only remedy to that condition, and everything else described in this post.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I like to focus on the faith part of my faith/doubt because I’m happier that way. I’ve definitely spent time on the other side and find myself becoming anxious–like what’s the point of anything? Anyway, I really like some of the thoughts I’ve seen here about prayer and I thought I’d pass on something my mom sent me last week, which I loved. Happy peace-finding, everyone!
    “…I believe we have misinterpreted the words of the Savior, “Ask and ye shall receive,” in a manner that transforms God into nothing more than a genie that sometimes emerges from a lamp to grant our wishes and sometimes doesn’t. We focus on what prayer can do for us (not what) prayer can do to us…It’s about having the kind of heart God wants me to have….” (Dan McDonald A Thoughtful Faith podcast, episode 41, 18:09

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    • Beth Caplin says:

      Sometimes it helps to start from the basics all over again: focus on the things I do believe, the things that make the most sense. It’s much easier than trying to tackle all the hard stuff at once. Thanks for sharing.

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  5. Beth Caplin says:

    “As regards to healing, I too agree that to pray for a specific outcome can be problematic about asking for what you want. In those situations I usually pray for peace of that person who’s ill, pray for God to watch over them, to help them during their time of struggle, but always ending ‘In Your Will’.”

    Yes. To all of that.

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  6. njmckay says:

    I remember going through those same questions about prayer when I was a teenager. A lot of my spiritual growth came out around that time, and thankfully I had an amazing Youth Leader who helped me along my way. Like the others said, prayer is more of a communication and strengthening of a relationship between yourself and God. As regards to healing, I too agree that to pray for a specific outcome can be problematic about asking for what you want. In those situations I usually pray for peace of that person who’s ill, pray for God to watch over them, to help them during their time of struggle, but always ending ‘In Your Will”.

    I also remember struggling for answers a lot with my friends in high school, I had a friend from a Hindu background and we got into a discussion about religion, and the difference between the two. I found it hard to find an answer, I respected her and her religion, but at the same time i didn’t want to force mine down her throat. (I always believe in showing your faith through actions than preaching). There was no resolve, no ending to it, I just sort of shrugged it off and we switched topics.

    Questioning your faith is nothing new, even now at age 30 I still have questions, still have concerns, and still doubt myself from time to time. I believe it is through asking these questions, especially through prayer with God, that you may find some answer, or if anything grow further along your spiritual path.

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  7. Doug Daniel says:

    I agree with C.J. about the nature of prayer. We lose sight of its core meaning because so many people focus on petitioning God, even for worthy things. Prayer is relationship, and sometimes you ask for stuff in a relationship, but that’s not the main reason we should pray. We need to talk to our father early and often….

    As for loving our enemies– that’s the radical core of the Gospel, God’s love for us when we didn’t deserve it, and his expectation we would do the same thing with those who wrong us. It’s the thing that sets the world right side up.

    Hang in there– doubt means your faith is alive and active, not set in stone or frozen in some rigid posture that can’t learn or grow. And for sure there’s nothing wrong with you.

    Like

    • Beth Caplin says:

      I read some of the older entries of my prayer journal recently, and was kind of blown away by all the whining and the complaints. But I guess even that’s good, because it’s still talking. It’s a picture of a person who’s frustrated but pushing through anyway.

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  8. C.J. Penn says:

    Regarding what you say about prayer, for me, prayer is simply conversation with God and Jesus. It’s my relationship with them that seems to keep me going. They say that open communication is key to a healthy relationship. And that’s why prayer is important to me – it nourishes my relationship with God.

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    • Beth Caplin says:

      I’m inclined to agree. I’m starting to think prayer is more about my own personal growth than just asking for stuff. It’s much more likely to be given strength in a moment of panic than, say, $30,000 to pay off my student loans so my husband and I can buy a house.

      It scares me to pray for specific outcomes, like curing someone of a deadly illness. I know plenty of faithful people who have endured horrible things, despite numerous prayers on their behalf. If it’s possible for someone to pray their way out of physical danger, then why isn’t it possible to try and “earn” other things? Doesn’t that defeat the Gospel message?

      Like

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