As I lay there looking up at the ceiling, I reached out my hand into the darkness and cried out on the inside, “If you’re there, won’t you let me know?” I spoke to God, whose existence I was uncertain of. I often laid awake at night, wrestling with doubt, wondering if he was there, wondering why he made it so hard to believe.
That’s a picture of my later teenage years. Having grown up in a Christian family, going to church consistently and frequently, I was expected to confess my faith in Jesus and be baptized around the age of thirteen. Thirteen was the supposed age of accountability, when one became eternally responsible for one’s spiritual choices. In other words, I was in danger of hell if I did not believe and experience baptism. But doubt kept me from this response. I knew that I couldn’t fake this one. These questions of ultimate importance demanded their all of me depending on which way I chose. To a young man, this also meant renouncing things like drinking and sex which appeared to me to be the road to fun and social acceptance. Though these social repercussions were certainly in the back of my mind, it was genuine doubt about my understanding of Christianity that bothered me most.
I was particularly disturbed by my understanding of salvation that seemed so dependent on my location in the world and in time. I understood Christianity to say that if I’d been born in “the deep heart of Africa”, where I imagined the Gospel had never been proclaimed, I would be destined for hell even though I’d never had a chance to believe. This seemed to be unjust and unacceptable. What did this say about the God I was supposed to believe in if he sent people to eternal torment for something they had no choice in? In my memory, I didn’t get good answers to these sorts of questions. (Of course, I was fourteen years old, so maybe I wasn’t listening that well!)
Although I eventually did come to faith in Jesus, was it wrong to wrestle with these and further doubts? I’ve always felt like doubting was a necessary part of my faith journey. I’ve identified with other doubters, sometimes so much so that this empathy threw me into murky waters of intense doubt and depression. On the other side of these times, I’ve found a nuanced and more flexible faith.
At the same time, people who seem to have deep faith have always drawn me. Most of the time I’ve equated passion with faith. And sometimes I’ve equated emotion and mysticism and charismatic elements of Christianity with strong faith.
I feel caught between two currents: one that appreciates doubt and wrestling with God and faith; and another that is drawn to what appears a more certain faith characterized by passion.
Perhaps you’ve experienced something similar. You’ve wrestled with your faith and wondered if it was enough. Or your faith has been challenged by insights into the world through education and interaction with other people. Perhaps tragedy has left your faith in ruins. These challenges create dissonance with what you’ve thought to be true. Perhaps you’ve felt you had to give up on faith altogether since you no longer believed certainty was possible. Or perhaps you’ve just never felt like a good Christian because you weren’t as passionate and certain as others seem to be.
If you identify with any of the above, I’m hoping to write several blogs that speak to the interplay of faith and doubt. I’ll use the book, Benefit of the Doubt, by Gregory Boyd, as fodder to kick around these thoughts. As I work through the book, I’ll share highlights with you and hope to generate thoughtful discussion.
So for now, how do you identify with the topic of doubt and faith?