The following is adapted from a message I gave last Sunday about faith and doubt. I should have the podcast available soon, but until then I thought I would adapt some of it into a couple of blog posts for those that don’t have the time to listen to the entire message. On Monday I focused on the church’s response to doubt. Today I’m focusing on those of us who doubt and offer some thoughts on how I think we should handle our struggle.
How do we deal with the doubts in our lives?
The simple truth is there are no easy answers to most of the doubts and struggles we face.
Which is why I am convinced that when we find ourselves riddled with doubt, it’s not answers we should go in search of. Definitive answers leave no space for faith and as Christians it is faith not answers that lead us to salvation. As the writer Anne Lamont one wrote, “The opposite of faith is not doubt, it’s certainty.” Faith simply wouldn’t be faith if we had all the answers.
But in our doubt, it’s not even faith that we should begin searching for.
Hope is the expectation of better things to come. At the heart of that expectation is trust, trust that the God who calls us will provide, that the God who promised to watch over will be faithful, that the God who leads us into the wilderness will be by our side every step of the way.
It is in that trust, in that hopeful expectation that one day all things will be made new that we are led to faith.
But of course, faith is never easy. Doubt is often harder. It sometimes causes unbearable pain.
Some days my doubts get so strong it’s all I can do just to hang on to my faith.
But what does keep me hanging on isn’t a list of secret answers I’ve read in a book or a special theological paradigm I’ve learned that will get me out of all my difficult questions about God and faith. It’s not a powerful worshipful service that I once attended or a transformative conference I went to.
I keep holding on to my faith because of people.
Now, I know all too well that it is also people that cause so many of us, myself included, to doubt. Hypocritical Christians, abusive priests, corrupt church leaders, evil people of every kind are more than enough to cause us all to doubt our faith in God, if not lose it all together.
But I hold onto my faith, and in particular in my belief in the resurrection, because I have encountered the resurrected Christ in my own life. Not in the sense of a ghostly apparition or a heavenly vision, but in the flesh – in friends and neighbors and strangers who have extend love and grace to me and the world around them in ways that none of us deserve. And in doing so they have given me the hope necessary to sustain my faith, hope that maybe, just maybe there is a God and maybe, just maybe that God really is a work in the world reconciling everything and everyone to himself.
For me, I find that answers and rationalizations and justifications often do very little to ease my doubts. To be sure, they have a place and can be helpful, but for me, the only thing I’ve found that has come close to easing my doubts is the hope I find in incarnation.
In the incarnated love and grace and healing of God embodied in the lives of people.
Which is why I believe that when find ourselves wandering in the wilderness of doubt, the question is not where do turn for answers, but where do find oases of hope in a desert of despair.
Of course, the church is a good place to start your search, but God is at work in incredible ways beyond the doors of our sanctuaries. God has to be, otherwise everything we do within those four walls would be an utter waste of time.
And, besides, as the Bible teaches us time and time again, God is not always hanging out where we expect to find him. Sometimes, a lot of times God is found at the most unexpected times in the most unexpected places.
Which means if we’re struggling with doubt and want to search for God we must cast our gaze beyond the church.
Try volunteering at your local soup kitchen or homeless shelter and you will see Matthew 25 come to life before your eyes. You’ll witness God work through the love and generosity of men and women just like you and me to feed the hungry and clothe the naked and give the thirsty something to drink.
Take the time to follow a hospice chaplain as they go about their daily calling. Watch as God’s love and grace and comfort and peace are poured out on the lost, the least, and the dying.
Find one of the saints of the church who has spent decades of their lives walking with God and listen to their story of God’s faithfulness, of how God has been faithful to God’s promises in their lives time and time and time again.
Visit a clinic in a neighborhood you otherwise would avoid and see the healing touch of God at work through doctors and nurses donating their time to heal the sick who can’t afford to pay for treatment.
Speak with someone whose life has been shattered by addiction and put back together through the compassion and patience and care of strangers who have no obligation to them other than love for neighbor and you will see God’s redemptive work in the world unfolding before your eyes.
You won’t find definitive answers in these places. None of the people you meet will be ease all of your doubts. But you will find God incarnated before you eyes and you will find hope and you may just find yourself back on the path to faith.
I don’t know where you find yourself.
Maybe you’re in the Promise Land, maybe your life is flowing with milk and honey and your faith is strong.
Or maybe you’re wandering in the wilderness and your faith is all dried up and you don’t know where to turn.
I wish there were magic words I could say that would erase your doubts. I wish there was a step by step program I could teach you that you could follow and never struggle with faith again.
But there’s not. Even a visit to a soup kitchen or a homeless shelter isn’t a cure-all.
But I hope I can offer you some comfort, perhaps a respite for your journey, or maybe just maybe even a little bit of hope.
I want you to know you are not alone.
Although it may not look like it, even at church you are surrounded by a whole host of witnesses who have doubts of their own, who have struggled or are struggling or will struggle to see God at work in their lives. Lean on them. Learn from them.
I want you to know that God is not angry with you for doubting your faith and neither is the church.
It’s ok to doubt. It’s healthy to doubt. And as we’ve already seen, the Bible is filled with stories of people who doubted God. The writer of Hebrews talks about those very doubters when he writes,
“All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.”
God is not ashamed of you and neither is the church.
And finally don’t stop asking questions. Don’t quit searching for God. Don’t give up on hope.
I want you to know that there is hope all around you if you just know where to look. It won’t always be obvious. It wont always appear in burning bushes or parting seas or fire from heaven. It’ll come in helping hands and open arms, in shoulders to cry on and listening ears, in grace extended to the undeserving and love poured out on the unlovable.
It’ll come in the quite whispers of life we over look and take for granted.
It’ll come when you least expect it.
But if you’re searching, if your looking, if you’re hoping to find God.
God will find you.
Grace and Peace,