Faith Isn't Faith Without Doubt
Many years ago, I experienced what I have described here before as a "crisis of faith." It turned my world upside down and created a seismic shift that had far-reaching effects on my life and ministry.
That experience began when I was rocked by doubts on an Easter Sunday morning on my drive to church, which for a pastor is probably the worst timing in the world for such a thing to happen.
In the end, I ultimately resorted to diving deeper into those doubts, questioning everything I thought I believed.
It was a painful thing to endure, to be honest. At one point in the process of re-examining my beliefs and my ideas about faith in general, I wondered if I would ever recover. I didn't know if where I was heading was going to lead me away from ministry altogether.
Thank God, it didn't. I had good guides, you see. People who either spoke directly into my life, or those who wrote about similar struggles, and who offered me new ways to imagine a new way forward.
Since that time, I have come to see doubt as a necessary and important part of growing in faith and maturing as a follower of Jesus.
I've also been able to act as a guide, and speak truth into the lives of others who experience doubt, and don't know what to do with it. I say this with the greatest humility because I am totally a work in progress.
In his latest book Faith After Doubt, Brian McLaren makes one of the most important distinctions about the difference between faith that has been tempered by doubt, and faith that really isn't faith at all.
McLaren states that "faith" before doubt is all about correct beliefs, which honestly end up being both formed and informed by the individual's subjective view of the world.
I completely concur with his assessment because that's where I was before everything crashed for me. I was comfortable in my beliefs because they were in line with the way I saw things. I held on to them tightly, full of what some might have perceived as certainty.
But underneath everything, I was far from certain, no matter how hard I tried to be. I had no room for doubt in the belief system I'd created---a belief system that was not faith at all.
According to McLaren, we can only truly experience faith after doubt because doubt is what enables us to see clearly how belief can become a substitute for faith, especially when it is unexamined.
He writes that when what we once thought to be faith (belief) goes through the crucible of doubt, it can emerge transformed into what he describes as "revolutionary love."
One of the most wonderful descriptions of this process at work comes from Alan Watt, who wrote extensively about how real faith almost always begins with a plunge into uncertainty, which in turn becomes a catalyst for transformation.
Faith has no preconceptions; it is a plunge into the unknown. Belief clings, but faith lets go. In this sense of the word, faith is the essential virtue of science, and likewise of any religion that is not self-deception.
This is all pretty heady stuff, I know. But practically speaking, there is such good news in all of this, which is what the Gospel is all about, after all.
Don't be frightened of your doubts. Don't shove them down inside of you because they don't fit into the system of beliefs that you've constructed. Feel them instead. Let yourself embrace them.
Sure, the whole apple cart of what you believed to be your faith might get turned over, and maybe it needs to be. You see, the best and truest way to grow in faith begins when we are willing to surrender even our most tightly held beliefs.
After all, this is ultimately an act of trust---trust that God is bigger than your doubts, bigger than your need for certainty, bigger than you ever imagined God could be.
May you find the courage to embrace your doubts today. May you trust that God will chart a path forward for you that is not meant to harm you, but to give you hope for the future.
May it be so, and may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you now and always. Amen.