This week, you all have the honor of reading a guest post from my good friend, April. As a sophomore in college, I began writing editorials which were graciously published by my school newspaper. During my short tenure as a columnist (I gave myself that title, “ranting lunatic” is more accurate), I encountered several editors, one of whom was April. Last spring, April changed hats and wrote an article on doubt, which caught my attention and prompted me to inquire if she’d like to drastically improve my blog via writing a guest post. The result is found below. In celebration of a week off, I’ll be driving across the country so I can spend the holiday with my family. Enjoy the post and please, I beg of thee, don’t get used to this caliber of writing….I’ll be back next week.
I’m not always what you would call a rational person. I do all sorts of things that don’t make sense. I wait until 2 a.m. to begin reading Paradise Lost for class and expect to stay awake. And I’ve convinced myself that I can text and walk at the same time, despite all evidence to the contrary. Last week I walked straight into a tree. (It could have been worse.)
Add to this list the mysteries of life: I don’t understand gravity or light, for example. I don’t understand love, nor do I understand why a piece of music, like Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony, can move me to tears. That lack of understanding doesn’t bother me.
But, for some reason, when it comes to the Christian faith, I want everything to be rational, comprehensible and perfectly aligned. I seem unable to live by the rhythms of belief unless I feel like I’ve got it all figured out. I’ve agonized through many hours of questioning, doubting, conjecturing, testing, and banging my head against the wall of my imagination, trying to find — and analyze — God.
So last summer, when I asked a friend if he’d ever doubted God’s existence, I was expecting commiseration…stories of struggling through the book of Joshua or sparring with Descartes in philosophy class. Something.
But it was like asking a fish if it had ever gotten altitude sickness. He looked at me for a moment as if he didn’t understand the question, shrugged, and said, “No, not that I can remember.” That was it. I couldn’t decide whether or not he was telling the truth; either way, I was jealous. This friend had seen God work in powerful ways, and he had more faith than I did. I wanted to respect him, but I found myself looking down on his simple trust in God. At that moment, I realized that I was proud of my doubts.
As Bryn wrote last week, some Christians of a certain breed of evangelicalism get bonus points in the eyes of their peers if they doubt their faith. They appear edgier and more authentic than those Christians who jump in headfirst… You know, the ones who just believe the Bible.
And some people prefer to remain in that state of doubt, even though it’s terrible — believe me, I know. It’s the constant deconstruction of any semblance of truth; it is, for some people, a kind of defense mechanism. If we remain on the outside of belief, we won’t be hurt if it all turns out to be a farce. It seems as though we come to faith, if we come to it at all, piece by piece. Our faith is hard-won and incomplete, and that’s what makes it feel real.
But we hold it all with shaky hands. It’s great to love the questions; the only problem is that they don’t love us back. Who is this God we seek, and why is it so hard to find him?
I have to believe that the Christian faith is bigger than we allow it to be in our doubts. It’s so easy to lose track of what matters most when we get caught up in our own particular intellectual questions.Please don’t misunderstand me: The questions matter. They matter to you, and they matter to God. And I know that some people have significant intellectual barriers to Christianity; there are those who feel they need to work through the questions before they can commit to Christ with integrity. Even Christians sometimes feel unsettled within Christianity — I mean, try explaining the Trinity to a kid or a non-Christian friend and tell me that you don’t feel absolutely dumb. Seriously.
For the past few months, I’ve been wrestling with questions that I don’t even know how to articulate. On some days, I breathe doubt like smoke, and no amount of fanning the air will clear it. But in my best moments, I can stop staring at the questions and begin to see through them to the God who makes all the questioning worth it. I remember that Jesus’ favorite example of faith was not a scholar. It was a little child. If you’re anything like me, that bothers you. You think you know so much more about God than you did when you were in Sunday school, listening to sanitized Bible stories told by hand puppets. But so it is.
I think Jesus might have pointed to children because children know how to do two things really well: They know how to be loved, and they know how to participate in a good story. Christianity is the overwhelming love of God, and it’s the best story the world has ever told. It’s much more than a cold, hard belief system; it eclipses our proofs, theorems and calculations. In such a rare clarity as this, I don’t need to figure everything out on my own — as if I could fix my faith like a do-it-yourself project on the weekends.
So instead of turning to books of apologetics or philosophy, looking for a watertight case for belief, I lean heavily on other Christians. I stand in church, listening to other people reciting the creeds, confessing their sins and praying so that, somehow, they can teach me how to believe in their God again. If I am willing to be changed, they slowly draw me back into the story.
And then together we stand up before the world — its science and scholarship, its tolerance and cynicism — and proclaim that God himself walked this planet as a human being. We say that somehow the answer to the whole weary world lies in the outstretched arms of this man on a cross. We say that he broke out of the grave, sent death into reverse and is making all things new. And this is a historical claim, not merely symbol or myth.
The story can sound crazy. But if Jesus is the author and perfecter of our faith, I have to believe that he is also the confidant and comforter of our doubts.
Jude 1:22 says, “Be merciful to those who doubt” — implying, of course, that God was merciful to them first. Think of Sarah, who laughs when God says she will bear a child in her old age. She doesn’t believe it is possible, but God is faithful. God doesn’t tell her to earn faith by slaying her doubts one at a time. Furthermore, Mark describes one of the most comforting scenes in the New Testament, when the father of a demon-possessed boy cries to Jesus, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” Jesus does not ask the man whether his belief outweighs his unbelief, but answers by simply healing the child.
Last night, I walked back from a friend’s apartment under a clear sky. I’ve been spinning on this planet for 21 years, and I still haven’t gotten used to the stars. These pinpricks of light have traveled millions of miles so that we can turn them into constellations. My life is small and fragile, like a spider web that could tear with the wave of some cosmic hand. But it doesn’t. It shimmers with dew; it overflows with grace; it’s beautiful even on the darkest nights. I have to believe in a God who sees and knows me, or at least I’m not willing to ignore the possibility.
My comfort is that I don’t have to panic in my questions or silence my doubts with canned answers. I can simply trust that God is love, that God wants me to know Him, and that I’m closest to the truth when I push back against Him. For now, in weakness, that’s enough.
Take courage, friends. God is strong, and faithful, and yes — real.
“One thing that’s given me courage … has been this belief that the truth, what is actual, must be faced and is somehow holy. That is, what exists is holy and God knows what exists; He can’t be shocked, and He can’t be surprised.”
– John Updike