The D Word: Part I

Posted on September 11, 2012

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“And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists…”

Hebrews 11:6

Doubt that God exists is a lonely and horrifying experience.  I know, because I have experienced it.  For a Christian, doubt is isolating, paradigm-shifting, and not spoken of.  I often wonder as I sit in church, lead youth group, or talk with former college classmates how many others are questioning or have questioned the very existence of God.  Once a trickle of doubt enters, everything looks different, and normal Christian conversations can be as painful as small talk the day after someone in your family passes away.

I am so happy to share that I have been brought through a process where I have been assured over and over, by the very God I’m doubting, that it’s okay.

You Can’t Kill God

One of the worst feelings when working through beliefs is the feeling that your decision is The Decision.  You push the question to the very back of your mind, fencing it in like a rabid dog, afraid that if you let it out, and truly question if God is alive, He will immediately cease to exist.  Poof.

Here’s the good news.  If God exists, he exists! If he does not exist, he does not exist. Nothing that you think, question, or speak is going to change the truth.  If you decide that I’m not a real person, it honestly doesn’t matter… because I am.  How much more powerful, sovereign, and eternal is the Great I Am?  It is therefore not your decision whether or not God is alive.  You are free to explore the question knowing that it in no way impacts His existence or love for you (more on the second part later).

You are Healthy

Doubt is perhaps the most difficult for someone who has spent their life in a Christian environment, believing that everything they are taught is true.  This is ironic, because these are the very people who should doubt!    

 “A faith without some doubts is like a human body without any antibodies in it…. A person’s faith can collapse almost overnight if she has failed over the years to listen patiently to her own doubts, which should only be discarded after long reflection.” Tim Keller

Sometimes, doubt about God’s existence is the result of the snowball effect.  Someone who has spent their whole life building the Jenga-tower of Evangelical Christian faith, never questioning any of the individual doctrines, assumptions, or beliefs, may find that it all comes crashing down as soon as one legitimate question arises.  Good spiritual leaders will avoid any attempt to build a structure of doctrines and will never say “because I said so.” They will instead foster a community where questions are welcomed, answered, and even anticipated.

For some Christians, doubt of God’s existence is the presenting issue that traces back to a single question that they have not found a good answer to. They can’t believe in a God who teaches x.  God must not exist if y happened.   Finding the question that started the doubts will definitely not “cure”  doubt, but might help you understand the process you are going through more accurately.

You are Not Alone

You cannot kill God, and are healthy for asking questions- so where does the unhealthiness come in? “The dark night of the soul,” the feelings of depression and loneliness, the despair?  Part of it, certainly, is the feeling of separation from a God you’ve believed in all your life.  Healthy doubt creeps towards the unhealthy when instead of questioning aspects of what we have been taught, we question the existence of God Himself.  But part of this unhealthiness also comes from the participation in the prolific lie that you are the only one.

Well, you’re not the only one.

People have been telling Jesus for centuries that they’re not sure they believe He is God.  “Lord I believe; help my unbelief!” Mark 9:24. There are entire online communities dedicated to Christian skeptics who struggle with doubt on a daily basis (I highly highly recommend Rachel Held Evan’s blog).

Tim Keller talks about a community of healthy doubters and how to foster such a community:

“Believers should acknowledge and wrestle with doubts — not only their own but their friends’ and neighbors’. It is no longer sufficient to hold beliefs just because you inherited them. Only if you struggle long and hard with objections to your faith will you be able to provide the grounds for your beliefs to skeptics, including yourself, that are plausible rather than ridiculous or offensive. And, just as important for our current situation, such a process will lead you, even after you come to a position of strong faith, to respect and understand those who doubt.”

God has not given us a spirit of fear, and yet we always find exception.  When our friends struggle with anything, doubt included, our immediate response is to be afraid for them. I do not believe that fear is from God.  I have found that every time I come to God, telling Him how afraid He should be for my doubting friend, my struggling neighbor, or my wandering family member, He reminds me that He loves them.  I have yet to have God tell me that I should be more afraid.  Let us make a community where it is possible for our brothers and sisters to talk about their doubt without fear that we are going to freak out!

Please stay tuned for Part 2, where we will talk about the second half of Hebrews 11:6

In the meantime, promises for those who are doubting:

  1. You will not be separated from God’s love even in a future where you doubt his existence.  (Romans 8:38-39)
  2. God’s love endures forever. (Psalm 113:1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11,12,13,14,15,16, and all these)
  3. A mustard seed is very small. (Luke 17:5)
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