I ran across an interesting story on CNN on a Pastor in California who decided for the next 12 months he was going to live as if there was no God. This intellectual experiment where he questions the foundations of his religious faith and suspends belief for a year is a result of a friend suggesting, “What if you tried out atheism, and lived with no religion at all for a year?” The pastor said in the article that I go to movies and suspend disbelief for three hours to get inside the story, so why can’t I suspend my belief in God to see what atheism is all about. The pastor thought it would be a neat little experiment. This “neat little experiment” is a direct result of this pastor’s faith being shaken and the doubts that usually occur when that happens.
Philip Yancey, in his book, Disappointment with God, tells of a letter he received from a woman who was struggling with life and her faith in God. He writes, “A young mother wrote that her joy had turned to bitterness and grief when she delivered a daughter with spina bifida, a birth defect that leaves the spinal cord exposed. In page after page of tiny, spidery script she recounted how medical bills had soaked up the family savings and how her marriage had cracked apart as her husband came to resent all the time she devoted to their sick child. As her life crumbled around her, she was beginning to doubt what she had once believed about a loving God.” She wanted to know, “Did I have any advice?”
This young woman and the pastor in California are not alone in their doubts. The new and the seasoned Christian and everyone in between have doubts. The writer of Psalms struggled with the doubt that came from God’s apparent silence and inactivity. The writer began to wonder if God really did care about him. He cried out: “Awake, Lord! Why do you sleep? Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever. Why do you hide your face and forget our misery and oppression? (Psalm 44:23-24).
There are many times when we are tempted to doubt God, most commonly when life comes crashing down around us and things continue to get worse rather than better. We ask what it is that we have done wrong. We begin to wonder if God cares, and then we begin to wonder if He may be taking off this season of our life. The pain and the uncertainly that results takes over our lives and we don’t seem to have the emotional energy for faith anymore.
But if you retain nothing else in this blog article, I hope you remember this: Doubting is a common experience among Christians. The only way to never doubt is to never question or try to get your arms around anything. So, not only can you be a Christian and still have some doubts, but you can hardly be a Christian without doubting at times. Doubting does not mean that your faith stops, it means you are trying to understand your faith at a deeper level. Doubt can often lead to faith.
I believe that God honors our struggles to understand. We question so that we might know. We don’t let the doubt rest; we think; we read; we study; we talk to others; we pray. Our relationship with God is too important not to struggle, because we know that doubt leads to faith. I’m not sure God is very excited about someone who just passively believes because someone told them what they should believe. It is better to doubt than to never fully engage God at all. Yes, your pastor told you it is OK to doubt, because if we are simply passive we will never grow spiritually. In fact, the Bible indicates that those who struggle with God receive His blessing.
Let me close with the story of Thomas who doubted, but soon changed his mind in John 20:24-29: “Now Thomas (called Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.” A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!” Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”