Some days I find it really hard to believe in God.
I sit in church surrounded by the familiar, friendly faces, perusing the notice sheet as the worship band finish their sound check with a chorus of ‘10,000 Reasons’, and I’m convinced we’ve made it all up.
We’re kidding ourselves, aren’t we? It’s obviously just wishful thinking. A fairy story. A diversion from reality, far too good to be true.
The questions rage, unfiltered, through my mind.
‘If there is a God, why would he answer our prayers about the weather for the summer youth camp whilst ignoring the cries of a Syrian mother begging for her three young children to be spared?’
‘Even if there is a God who answers prayer, how likely is it that we predominantly white, middle class Baptists in 21st Century Britain have him/her all figured out?’
‘Isn’t it perfectly possible that all our ‘spiritual’ experiences and answers to prayer can be explained away by psychology and neuroscience?’
I look around at other people in the congregation and wonder, is it just me? Or are there others who have these same doubts but are too afraid to admit it?
It seems to me that people are walking out of church and losing their faith altogether because they are never given space to ask the tough questions. When their worldview expands and the ‘truth’ they were taught in Sunday School stops making sense, the church responds by praying for their poor, backsliding souls and offering easy answers and carefully selected Bible verses.
We have a tendency to take the deepest mysteries of the universe and try to condense them down into straight forward language and neat formulas. Of course, there are names, stories and metaphors that can give us some sense of understanding of God, but they are only useful as long as we remember that we can never really know what we’re talking about. These metaphors can speak deep, transformative truth into our lives, but if we start trying to speak of this truth in terms of factual reality, we start to lose the plot.
Questions are inevitable. Doubt is a healthy part of faith – it shows we are living, feeling, thinking human beings, and if God is real, I think he can handle it.
I am generally suspicious of Christians who claim to be certain about what they believe.
I think religious certainty is one of the biggest problems in the world today, and I think it is driving people out of the church.
Religious certainty tends to make us judgemental of others. We become very good at categorising people into those who are in and those who are not.
Religious certainty can make us so focussed on the spiritual realm and the afterlife that we ignore, or even justify the catastrophic effect our lifestyles are having on the planet.
Religious certainty leads to violence. If any group holds their beliefs above all else, eventually destroying the “other” using violence will seem justifiable.
Religious certainty has the potential to tear the world apart.
That said, I do totally get it – religious certainty feels great.
I think back to the time when I felt certain about my beliefs, the Bible was clear and I had no need to question it. In many ways, I really miss that kind of faith. I’m still mourning the loss of the certainty I once felt in Christianity and the cosy sense of security that came with it.
I completely understand why some Christians are so fiercely defensive about their beliefs. They insist that we can be certain because the Bible is inerrant and infallible. They respond to questions and doubts by putting their fingers in their ears and singing louder, or by shaming the one who is doubting.
Life is so much easier when you’re certain about everything. To let doubt have a voice is to risk losing that certainty, or even losing faith altogether, and that can be terrifying.
As uncomfortable and unsettling as it can be, I am learning to embrace doubt as an essential part of my faith. If God exists, he is beyond any of my wildest thoughts, deeper than my deepest fears and able to withstand my most troubling questions.
Some days my faith is strong. I am filled with hope, I sense that I am part of a greater story and I feel consumed by a love wider than the universe.
Other days my faith feels like fumbling around in the dark for a rope, or steering in the vague direction of a small flicker of light on the horizon.
And I think that’s OK. It’s scary, but facing up to my unknowing is often exhilarating and always humbling. If my faith is not at its core a deep, unfathomable mystery, then I’ve lost my way.
‘I have a lot of faith. But I am also afraid a lot, and have no real certainty about anything … the opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty. Certainty is missing the point entirely. Faith includes noticing the mess, the emptiness and discomfort, and letting it be there until some light returns.’
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6 thoughts on “Confessions of a Doubting Christian”
First off, you are not alone. Having been in the church system for well over 50 years I know exactly what you are talking about. I think many times we are not allowed to voice our questions, doubts and concerns in the religious system so we just bury them and go along with the program. It actually took my wife and me leaving the organization to start feeling OK with our questions. Of course then we realized that questions only lead to more questions, but that also opens up a freedom where God can actually work. As you said God is big enough to handle our doubts and frustrations. The church seems to have all the cut and dry answers but that does not totally relieve the doubts and questions we have. I guess if we could figure God out and have all the answers, then our God would not be a very big God. There is so much more to God and spiritual life in him that we will never be able to comprehend it all. Of course it is all a matter of faith as we cannot prove things one way or another. If is faith in God and trusting him to lead us to truth. Although we will never be able to prove our spiritual beliefs, I feel that God is able to lead us and guide us in our faith. As Hebrews 1:11 says Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. Thank you for the good article.
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Emma, you are a very wise person.
Great post. Two things I try to keep in mind (and heart):
Humankind’s attempts to deal with God (in whatever form) are a developmental process. Our species is only somewhere around 200,000 years old. Give it more time.
Yes, Christianity did get it most of it wrong. Doesn’t mean we have to trash all of the church, but God tried to tell us something in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. Our task is to quietly discern. Once again, the process is still unfolding.
Emma, you put into words exactly my experience, wise words indeed. Thank You
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I feel ya. Every day it’s a question. What never wavers is the evidence that love is the true healer, wherever it comes from. I have vowed that if this world is a sick joke and we are being used or something for horrible shit, I will stand my ground on being full of love. Whatever makes me, me, deep inside… if any part of us lives on, that’s where I’ll be, loving regardless.
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You have written everything I have been feeling but could not articulate.
Thank you for letting me know that I am not alone, nor damned.
Keep writing, Emma. You tackle issues that need to be tackled without judgement. Would that our church congregations could do the same.