Daily Devotion - Thursday, February 4, 2016
Over the years, I've been pretty open about my struggles with doubt as it relates to my faith. I've shared from the pulpit on numerous occasions that I have had seasons when I've wondered if God is truly "at the wheel," so to speak. I've even wondered in my lowest moments if what I was doing (this whole Christian pastor thing) was just an exercise in futility.
One of those times came a couple of years ago after the horrific tragedy that occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary School--when a crazed gunman executed little children. After that happened, I had a dark moment or two about what God was up to, if God was up to anything at all.
I realized after Sandy Hook that all of the things I had been programmed by Christian culture to say were pretty useless and trite. In the end, I had to dive to the bottom of my doubt during that dark time in order to find some ground to push off of in order to return to the surface.
I once had a church member meet with me to share his numerous concerns about the things I was teaching and preaching. He spent some of the time berating me over my openness when it comes to my struggles with doubt. "You shouldn't teach people that it's okay to doubt," he chided me. "You should lead people to the truth, not to doubt."
Later, as I had time to reflect on his criticism, I felt sorry for him. I really don't know how to arrive at a real, mature and vibrant faith without experiencing doubt. The great Scottish writer, George MacDonald (who was a huge influence on C.S. Lewis), once wrote: "Do you love your faith so little that you have never battled a single fear lest your faith should not be true? Where there are no doubts, no questions, no perplexities, there can be no growth."
In the Gospel of Mark chapter 9 a man asks Jesus' disciples to heal his son, (which the writer of Mark describes as being possessed by an evil spirit) but they can't seem to do it. Jesus arrives on the scene and assesses the situation:
21 Jesus asked the boy’s father, “How long has he been like this?”
“From childhood,” he answered. 22 “It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”
23 “‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.”
24 Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”
That last verse echoes my own prayers to God in the midst of my doubts. I come to God sometimes like that man came to Jesus--with just a little bit of faith, barely enough to grasp. Jesus once taught his followers that if all you have is faith as "small a mustard seed," you have enough for God to work with.
Maybe that's your prayer right now in this season of your life. You're coming to God and saying, "God, today all I've got is a seed's worth of faith. Just a speck. That's all I've got right now. Please, can you make something grow out of this?"
And the amazing thing about the grace and love of God, I'm convinced, is that God actually loves it when we come to him in those broken moments because we're finally admitting we can't do it without God. We're finally acknowledging that we're willing to be open to God's mysteries, and God's specific and personal plans for us.
I've also come to realize that when I am yearning for meaning and certainty, when I am railing at God to show up and reveal Godself--- what I am asking of God is something I ultimately can't handle. Even Moses wasn't able to handle the full presence and revelation of God when he met God on the mountain. All he caught was a glimpse of God's glory and meaning.
The great preacher Frederick Buechner put it far better than I could: "Without destroying me in the process, how could God reveal himself in a way that would leave no room for doubt? If there were no room for doubt, there would be no room for me."
May you embrace your doubt not as a curse, but as a gift. May you know in your heart of hearts that your doubt is a path to faith, a necessary moment in your journey to wholeness and oneness with God. May you learn to confidently pray to God, "I believe, help my unbelief." And may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you now and always. Amen.