Could Doubt Be The Voice of God?
Twenty-odd years ago, before I set off on a journey to seminary and then the pastorate, I was actually working on a Master's degree in Early Modern British history, with a minor field in Renaissance literature.
My goal was to get my PhD, and take up the torch from my major professor, Dr. Richard Greaves, who was one of the preeminent Early Modern British historians in the world.
Along the way, I took a part-time job as a director of youth ministries in a tiny church in Tallahassee, Florida, and soon discovered that church ministry made my heart sing, like nothing else could.
I came to realize that I was meant to be a pastor, not a historian.
That's an abridged version of the story I tell when people ask me about my journey to becoming a pastor. What doesn't usually make it into the narrative is the hours of anguish I spent fighting against the call to leave my former life behind.
I kept thinking of the words of my professor who told me that in his entire 40-year career in academia he'd only had two students who he thought could carry on his legacy, and I was one of them.
So I was holding on to my own expectations, and then became burdened by my professors' as well----not to mention all of my friends who thought it was crazy to choose to work in a church of all things.
I found myself in the throes of doubt, unable to see the way forward. I felt trapped. I became angry---at myself and at God. I was miserable.
In the midst of all of this, I had a moment with one of my professors, who taught African American History at Florida State University. It happened right before class, and it changed my life.
I was always early to class because I wanted to ensure no one sat in "my seat." When my professor arrived, she looked at me thoughtfully, and then busied herself with preparing for her lecture. There were other students in the room, but we were all being quiet.
Finally, she broke the silence in the room and asked me, "Are you okay? I see you walking around here looking like you lost your last friend." I told her a bit of what was going on, and then declared, "I feel like I'm stuck."
She looked at me over the glasses perched on the end of her nose. "Boy, you ain't stuck. You're never stuck. Don't ever think that. There's always a way forward."
Her words landed on me like grace.
From that moment, I knew what I had to do. It would take nearly a year, and a handful of miracles, but I would eventually find myself sitting in a classroom at McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago on my way to becoming a pastor.
This whole memory was prompted today by a couple of lines that I read from John Donne, one of the British Metaphysical Poets from the 16th century.
Back when I was studying British History and Renaissance Literature, I'd written a paper or two on some of Donne's work. Donne was no slouch. He first coined the phrases, "... no man is an island," and "... for whom the bell tolls..." among others.
Donne also had aspirations for his life and career that were never realized because he became a minister instead. So in this, I have always felt a connection with him and his work.
Here's the line that I mentioned, the one that got me thinking about all of this today:
To come to a doubt, and to a debasement of any religious duty, is the voice of God in our conscience: Would you know the truth? Doubt, and then you will inquire.
In the end, I had to come to a place of doubt that was so uncomfortable, I was ready to listen. And to think that my doubts could have been the very voice of God speaking to me, urging me, and leading me forward is overwhelming and amazing.
But I now believe that is exactly what it was.
Maybe you are struggling with a decision right now, and you are filled with doubts about the way forward. Perhaps you feel that you are stuck. Maybe you are second-guessing what you used to feel confident about.
Let those doubts act as the voice of God for you as you seek the truth and the right path. Allow yourself to question because it is only when you are ready to listen that you will discover what you are seeking.
May the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you now and always. Amen.