When I was a kid, I was taught in church that doubt was bad. It wasn’t so much directly taught, but rather implied by the words and actions of those in leadership. Doubt was considered this thing you experience when you are weak or unhealthy. If you doubted what you believed, you were “backsliding” or are probably living in sin. I learned very quickly that if I doubted something, I never talked about it. I learned to pretend that I was confident in all things. I even went to school for theology to try and actually be confident in what I believed, but I was left with more questions. Eventually I realized that maybe they were all wrong. Maybe doubt isn’t such a bad thing to experience.
Doubt And The Devil
I can remember going to Sunday school as a kid and being taught that the Devil uses doubt to get into our heart and mind and cause us to lose our step in our relationship with God. They would have a few Bible verses to back up what they were saying, but it never quite felt right to me. You mean we’re not allowed to question things?
So at the ripe young age of nine, I decided that Christianity seemed like a bit of a sketchy thing. I guess that never quite went away. But we’ll get to that later.
It’s the perfect lie though. What a genius way to hold your little house of cards together when leading a church based on a belief that is largely content you couldn’t possibly know for certain! Create a bunch of statements, make people recite them on occasion, and then create a basis on which if anyone questions any of these said beliefs, they are deemed unhealthy, and unfit for any leadership role, or any prominent place in said church. You protect the integrity of your card house…and your ego.
The problem with this, is the Church creates millions of people with such fragile belief systems that even the tiniest prick of the needle to the balloon of their faith could cause the whole thing to collapse, and make them feel like their life is imploding. Its extremely damaging emotionally and spiritually. There’s no room for doubt, therefore no foundation for when doubt will inevitably creep in.
When Life Loses It’s Meaning
This happened to me. My life imploded. My heart was ripped out of my chest. You can read about that here. Suffice to say, it was extremely difficult. It still is difficult in some ways. But I can at least say I’m in the healing process now. But it wasn’t always that way. For some, they are in the thick of it, still trying to make sense of their once solid structure of faith.
My belief system was chipped away one bit at a time over many years, until eventually I was at odds with what I claimed to believe. For some, it happens all at once. But I think it’s safe to say that we all end up at the same place: devastated.
We are left picking up the pieces of what feels like an endless sea of rubble. Especially for those of us where our faith was the primary focus of our life. I worked in churches for a decade! So to one day realize that I could no longer accept everything I had ever claimed to be true, it was a serious realization for sure. It felt as though life had lost its meaning. I wondered if I would ever feel ok again. My doubt had spread over my life like the darkness of evil had spread across the lands of Mordor, and I was Frodo, and my doubt was the ring, growing heavier by the second. (That’s a serious geek reference. I apologize to those who have no idea what I’m talking about. But really? You should probably go watch Lord Of The Rings.)
I kinda just drifted in life for about 6-8 months with no real progress in any direction. But during this time I think what I was unintentionally doing was taking a break from the worry and the intentionality behind trying to figure out what I believed, which ultimately gave me the space and the opportunity to begin to heal from the very deep wounds that had been caused over the years. A process that I am still in the middle of today.
Because I was able to start the process of healing, I was eventually able to start looking ahead and reexamining what I was willing to accept as a part of my belief system and what I was not. This led to a very amazing result..
Accepting A Life Of Doubt
For what felt like a lifetime, I was trying to figure out where to go next, what to believe now. But slowly I realized that the biggest thing that had changed was that I was no longer afraid of doubt. I felt like I had been wired to fear doubting, to run from it at all costs. But it wasn’t until I embraced doubt as a healthy practice and a productive emotional and psychological process that I was able to truly feel free from the restrictions and arbitrary boundaries of religions and doctrines and dogmas. I was able to discover that if God exists, then God is something we will never understand or comprehend or really know. God is always going to be so much bigger than what we have recorded. And anyone claiming otherwise is wrong and foolish.
Doubt has freed me from the responsibility I always felt to be right about everything, or even to argue about faith and beliefs and systematic theology. I used to be really bad about this. I always thought I knew more than the average person. And maybe I did by the standards of theology books in certain sects. But now that I’ve had the chance to step back, I realize now that almost all of it is speculation at best. How can we know something that can’t really be proven? How can I really claim to be more right than you if you believe that God’s name is Allah and I say God’s name is Yeshua? When you step back and look at it from an outside perspective, can either one be more right than the other? I haven’t MET God face to face. It isn’t like God audibly told me which is right or wrong. I’m willing to bet the other person hasn’t either. So why not focus on other things? Why not choose to love people, despite the difference of opinion? We do it every day with other things. But with faith we get passionately aggressive and defensive.
I’ve come to realize the only reason we ever get aggressive or defensive about our faith is because we are afraid that it might all be a lie. It goes back to the very real issue that most of us have been raised in a faith that leaves no room for processing and accepting doubt. So any time someone challenges what we believe, it causes a serious amount of troubling anxiety and fear, and we get combative.
I’m stereotyping and I’m aware of that. But I really do think this is probably more common than we all realize. I know that is how it was for me, and as soon as I accepted doubt as a reality and that it was not only going to happen, but that it was ok for me to doubt things, I no longer feared what I did not know. Almost like the flip of a switch, I was able to let go of all the knowledge, the theology, the need to be right, and was able to focus on the person instead. I was able to see the story behind the person. And I found that was way more important.
If we aren’t able to deal with doubt when it comes, then it won’t be doubt. It will be a crippling, life-affecting, brutally devastating experience. But if we accept doubt as a real and important part of our journey through life, then doubt will be nothing more than a step on the staircase of growth and progress.
I doubt myself every day. I doubt decisions, thoughts, feelings, motive, intention. I doubt other people. I doubt the love and affection of others. And I certainly doubt God. I go through days where I wonder if God exists at all. I ponder what death will be like. I consider if there is a Heaven. I wonder how God handles all of us before and after we die. I think about how the world is held together. I imagine how the universe was made. I think about science, philosophy, psychology, and other religious beliefs.
At the end of the day, nothing effects me negatively anymore. It causes me to challenge the way I’ve thought or believed, maybe. But there is room in my life for doubt. coincidentally, there is also now much more room in my life for patience, love, sensitivity, and passion for those who are less fortunate than I am.
I may not know that much about God these days. I certainly won’t argue about God with you. People don’t often come to me with questions about faith or God or church much anymore. But I feel like I’m finally able to grasp what it means to co-exist with the world in love and unity. I wouldn’t go back or trade my current state of being for anything.