The Most Integral Part of Faith Formation
One of the low moments of my pastoral career came out of the blue on a Wednesday evening some years ago.
A church member whom I loved dearly came to meet me an hour before I was scheduled to teach a class, and informed me that he and his wife were leaving the church.
He then proceeded to berate me for thirty minutes on all of the things I'd done wrong in his mind. He told me that I'd become "too liberal," and that I was "watering down the Gospel," by talking about grace too much.
Then he told me that I was doing the people in my church a disservice as their pastor because I was leading them to doubt rather than to certainty.
It was apparent that anything I had to say in my defense would fall on deaf ears, so I told him I was sorry I'd let him down, and wished him well.
He didn't know, and I didn't have the energy to tell him of the anguish I'd experienced due to a crisis of faith I'd only just begun to emerge from at the time of our conversation.
He had no way of knowing that the reason why I'd become more focused on grace, more open and inclusive in my theology was that I finally, fully realized that faith and doubt go hand in hand.
I was crushed by the quiet anger in his voice, and saddened by the obvious disappointment that he felt toward me. But I also knew that I was in a defining moment for me, and there was no going back to the person I'd been.
The fact of that matter is that everyone experiences doubt when it comes to faith in God, but only a very few people truly find peace in that fact. Most Christians are programmed to fear doubt, to quell it by any means necessary.
This is why there are so many angry, combative Christians out there in the world, posting on social media, preaching certainty, doing everything they can to dispel doubt wherever they encounter it... they haven't learned to embrace doubt as a necessary aspect of their faith formation.
Theologian Miguel de Unamuno once wrote:
Those who believe they believe in God, but without passion in the heart, without anguish of the mind without uncertainty, without doubt, and even at times without despair, believe only in the idea of God, and not in God himself.
Most of us want our experiences of God to be sweetness and light---imbued with images of a Good Shepherd, a loving Parent, an enabling, and empowering Presence.
But there is a reality of God that so few of us grasp. You see, the same God who says to us through the Christ, "I will never leave you, or forsake you," is the very God who cries out "My God, my God! Why have you forsaken me?"
When Jesus utters those words as he is dying on the cross, he ushered in a way of understanding doubt that is revolutionary and life-changing for those who would truly see it.
God experienced the loss of God. God felt doubt. God felt the uncertainty that so many Christians proclaim cannot be a part of the Christian faith. What I've come to know, however, is the exact opposite.
Doubt is an integral part of what it means to be a follower of Christ. It keeps us from merely believing in an idea of God, and missing out on the reality of God all around us through the eternal, universal Christ, who is in all and through all (Eph 4:6).
Don't be afraid of your doubts. Know that they are an integral part of your faith formation---the person you are becoming as God continues to transform you into your best and truest self.
May the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you now and always. Amen.