Secret Doubt

Think First

J L via Compfight

We don’t usually do this, but Jessica Kelley (Henry’s mom) over at Jess in Process wrote a piece about her struggles with doubt, and we got her permission to reprint it in its entirety. She perfectly represents the basic premise of Greg’s upcoming book Benefit of the Doubt. Thanks Jess!

Secret Doubt

In the high school haze of break-ups and break-outs, cliques and cattiness, it isn’t terribly unusual to find a 16-year-old girl crying.  Even my small Christian school had its drama, and I remember when that girl was me.

We were arguing when the warning bell rang.  We quarreled through the tardy bell too.   My angry tears formed as our classes plowed ahead without us.

He was kind, but uncompromising.  He was patient, but absolutely resolved.  And my heart was breaking.

“So God sends remote tribal people to hell for all of eternity,” I said, “If we don’t reach them with the gospel before they die?”

My Bible teacher calmly reaffirmed his position, citing verses and theology that I had no answers for.   It was posed as absolute truth.  He was so, so certain. 

But I couldn’t see how this was good or loving or praise-worthy.   Yet if I rejected this piece, wasn’t I rejecting the whole puzzle?  My 16-year-old options seemed to be: 1) Accept this picture of God or 2) Reject this picture of God and burn eternally with those poor, unreached tribal folks.

So I swallowed my objections, repressed my doubts, and headed to Algebra.  But deep down, I was no longer certain… about God.

Is God seeking certainty?

* * * * * * * * *

She had the gentlest spirit.  She was kind, disciplined, and devout.  She prayed faithfully every day.  I remember thinking she was a better Muslim than I’d ever been a Christian.

I met her during my college days, on a three-month trip to North Africa.  As I headed home, I agonized over my understanding of God.  Would my new friend spend eternity with the tribal people I’d still failed to reach?   Would God spare me, someone who was spiritually undisciplined and self-centered, yet born into a culture defined by Christianity?  How could He spare me and discard her?

Those secret doubts gnawed at my conscience, but again I stuffed them.  I was terrified to think critically about my long-held beliefs.  That’s because my faith was a veritable house of cards.  Removing one belief could topple the whole stack, and then what?  I wouldn’t be certain of anything.

Is He seeking certainty?

* * * * * * * * *

I once thought that I held all the right beliefs.  In fact, I didn’t have beliefs.  I had the truth, or so I thought.

Now I realize that there are multiple views, within Evangelical Christianity, on issues like God’s foreknowledge, the nature of salvation, the age of the earth, the nature of hell, and the atonement.  My first reaction to this was:  Well great, how do I know if I’ve taken the right stances? (Actually, my first reaction was: What’s the ‘atonement’?)

Considering the diversity of perspectives under the umbrella of Evangelical Christianity, how can I ever be certain I hold the right ones?  Will there be a theology quiz upon entering eternity?  Will I have to pass a spiritual polygraph of sorts, based on my certainty?

Is He seeking certainty?

 * * * * * * * * *

During the past few years, Ian and I have found ourselves engrossed in many conversations.  We’d steadfastly plow through our toddlers’ escalating interruptions until Ian would receive a smack!  That’s when we’d stop, and look down at our little Henry.

Ian’s lips would curve upward.  Henry would break into a massive grin and wallop him again. Now, Henry knew hitting was off-limits, and he’d never try that with anyone else.  But for the two of them, it was part of some shared, unspoken language.  Henry was inviting his dad to wrestle.

“Do you want me to wrestle you down, boy?” Ian would say in a mock-threatening tone.

“Yes,” Henry would laugh.

That’s when an extended wrestle-fest would ensue.  As Henry neared the end of his life, when he was too weak to wrestle, he’d smack his dad and say, “Will you get me stuck?” That’s when Ian would gently pin his giggling boy.

Henry must have felt supremely safe in those strong arms.

* * * * * * * * *

Over the years I’ve had a lot of misconceptions about faith and doubt.  I’ve equated faith with certainty.  I’ve considered doubt to be a sign of spiritual immaturity or even an absence of salvation.  So for most of my life, I’ve stuffed my reservations, fears, and downright oppositions toward God.  I thought He was seeking certainty, my stoic profession of absolute confidence in His plans, His word, and His heart.  I was afraid to wrestle.

But Jacob wasn’t.  Jacob wrestled with God all night long on the riverbank (Gen 32:22-31).  He refused to let go until God blessed him.  God renamed Jacob “Israel” after that and his descendants became the Israelites, “The Wrestlers.”  They were a people unafraid to wrestle with God, and unafraid to be honest.

If I’m honest, I’m still not certain of most things.  But I no longer seek certainty.  Instead of relying on a rigid set of beliefs, my faith’s foundation has become the self-sacrificial love displayed on Calvary.

I’m confident in the person of Jesus, at least enough to be moved to action.  I’ve entered into a covenantal relationship with a God who desires intimacy.  Since intimacy can only arise within raw honesty, I occasionally wallop God with my doubts and objections. His giant outstretched arms, once hammered to wood, are always ready to wrestle.  He welcomes it, honors it, and within that embrace, I feel supremely safe.

He’s not seeking certainty.  He’s seeking us, doubts and all.

* * * * * * * * *

If you’ve ever found yourself struggling with issues surrounding faith, I encourage you to wrestle with the One who invites it.  I’ve found no other process more rewarding.

If you’re interested in resources to aid this journey, I’ve found this sermon series by Greg Boyd to be monumentally helpful.  I also keep a book titled Across the Spectrum within arm’s reach.  It offers several perspectives on multiple topics, like those mentioned above.

In addition, ReKnew is hosting a conference next month titled Faith, Doubt, & the Idol of Certainty where Greg will speak about these issues at length.  I’ve embedded a video below for anyone interested and able to attend.

God bless, wrestlers and friends.

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