“Well, I looked my demons in the eyes, laid bare my chest, said ‘Do your best, destroy me. You see, I’ve been to hell and back so many times, I must admit you kind of bore me.'” Ray LaMontagne
I have been a Christian all my life. I have chased after God and hope and blessed assurance all my life. And for years, I have doubted. Sometimes a single piece of theology, sometimes the whole shebang. Sometimes because of disillusioning experiences, sometimes because of cognitive dissonance, sometimes because of learning an alternative idea. Sometimes — often — just because.
I have heard a few sermons on doubting, and they have rarely been helpful or resonant. Some of the best stuff I’ve read about doubt in a long time is happening right now at Alissa Writes Words, so I am joining the discussion. Here are some things I want you to know about my doubt:
Doubt waxes and wanes.
There are days I don’t want to believe in God. There are days I don’t want to be religious anymore. The fatigue of fighting for a flighty faith weighs on my limbs and weakens my heart, and I just want to take off this dented armor and settle in for a nice, hot bath of agnosticism. Let the demons come, I think. I can’t fight them anymore. Let me rest in the doubt, in the wide cool space of unbelief.
There are days I want to believe in God — but can’t, not fully. There are days I go to church or read some Scripture and want to feel religious fervor, want to feel connected to the Divine — but don’t, not at all.
There are days, too, when I am hopeful, when I am moved by some brief spiritual or ecclesiastic experience, when I see the expanse of time and earth and believe in this Creator, sovereign and complex, knowable and near. When I believe in the god-man from Galilee who cherished prodigal lambs and redeemed us by his blood and offers us glory after the grave. When I believe in a Christianity bigger than purity rings and Veggie Tales. When I believe in the God of justice and grace who is there and has been and will be.
But even those days, the doubt is here, its dark side cloaking it only for a time.
Doubt is one thing, skepticism another.
Usually, even when I question God’s existence, or the reality of an afterlife, I choose to believe in those things anyway. I choose to function and think as if they are real. I believe even as I doubt. Doubt and faith are two sides of one coin.
But when I say, “I don’t believe in God sometimes,” that’s different than saying, for instance, “I don’t believe in young earth creationism.” (YEC is the easiest example because it was one of the earliest fulcrums of my questioning, at least a dozen years ago.)
I am no longer in a period of doubting YEC. I am a skeptic of YEC. I don’t believe in it. I don’t believe in the system that promotes it. I don’t believe in the evidence, and I don’t believe science will eventually confirm it, or won’t confirm it because God’s ways are mysterious. I don’t believe it’s necessary to believe it, to be a Christian or respect the Bible or know God. Simply put, I have rejected that doctrine.
This may seem like a very obvious distinction, but it’s needed. There’s an attitude I encountered in the circles I grew up in, that people (especially children who were raised in said circles) who didn’t believe exactly the right thing were merely Wandering Away For A While, but when their faith truly matured, they’d come back to the truth, to orthodoxy as defined by this particular circle. Because the only true interpretation was there, and anyone claiming a different interpretation was just still figuring it out.
I don’t want to respond to that unhealthy certainty with certainty of my own, but, well, I am fairly sure I will never “wander back” into YEC, or many of the other doctrines I’ve moved away from — not because I’m uniquely enlightened, but because I am finally free of the charade, of the fear of disputing the norm. The relief of losing an ill-fitting belief is stronger than the anxiety. It comes with deep breaths of honesty, with empty hands ready to carry more sincere convictions. I can’t go back to pretending something false makes sense, to screaming at myself to just pray more and repeat the prooftexts until it rings true.
I am done suppressing common sense and conscience to fit people’s expectations, and this is not doubt, but growth. This is owning my skepticism and pursuing alternatives and being a healthier, fuller person.
It may be harder for you to accept my doubt (and skepticism) than it is for me.
It’s the parent who is scared of you rejecting what they taught you. It’s the friend who thinks this is just a temporary trial, like a cold that lingers for just a few weeks before you return to full health, the memory of sickness fading fast. It’s the pastor who assumes you’re just having some post-college angst. It’s the person of faith whose faith is so different than yours that they can’t understand doubt is not a phase or a hardship, but part of your faith. Part of your worldview. Part of you.
Doubt is not a disease, and I don’t expect to be miraculously healed. As a teen, I condemned myself for questioning, because everyone around me was so certain. And they said doubt would come occasionally, but if you are maturing in your faith, the doubts will become less frequent and less strong. And if you are mature in your faith, you won’t speak your doubts and disagreements too loudly, because we are to be unified in Christ, and truth is absolute, and speaking up is a disservice to the gospel.
But I have since accepted this wild moon of doubt that circles around my heart. I hope you can accept it, too.
I respect your doubt-free faith.
While a certain level of collective religious certainty skeeves me out, I respect individual faith. Those of you who believe and rarely or never doubt, I am baffled but respect your faith for its devotion, its steadfastness, its very faith-ness — your assurance in things hoped for though yet unseen.
Doubt makes my faith truer for me, but I recognize everyone’s journey is different. You may have fewer questions and more convictions. Be blessed in that. Maybe one day I will greet you here in the valley-dark shadows, or maybe one day we will sit together on your hilltop in the sun.
I am speaking my doubt because others can’t.
I am speaking my doubt for my 14-year-old self. I am speaking my doubt for the pastor who thinks he has to appear certain to be credible. I am speaking for the homeschooling poster child who is afraid to buck the system. I am speaking for the closet agnostic and the faithful wrestler. I am speaking for the nomad heart, the rebel spirit, the open mind. I am speaking for myself, here and now.
Not because I’m especially important and single-handedly will change the whole narrative of American evangelical Christianity, but because I am one voice, and you are once voice, and if we all speak our doubts (which are our truths), maybe not so many people will be afraid of uncertainty, and not so many people will feel guilty for doubting, and not so many people will fake a faith that isn’t real. Maybe the church will welcome doubters. Maybe we will think bigger thoughts and take deeper breaths and accept that questions are okay, even when they are never answered.
I hope so, because I am haunted by doubt, that fickle moon, that whispering ghost. And because the thing about moons is that they reflect a lot of light, and the thing about ghosts is that sometimes they are holy.
Click over to the linkup to read some gorgeous and important pieces from other doubters.