Thursday, December 12, 2013

Embrace the Tension of Faith and Doubt

This week, I was vacuuming my home, when a sudden notion, quick as lightning, entered my mind and would not leave:

What if this whole Christianity thing is all a hoax?

My heart quickened and my mind began to race. As I pushed the vacuum back and forth, back and forth, this initial thought spiderwebbed into countless anxiety-causing directions. What if you've given your whole life to believing a lie? What if being a pastor isn't doing anyone any good? What if you're teaching your children the wrong thing? Even worse: what if God is real, but just doesn't care about you and your life?

I didn't know vacuuming could be so philosophically dangerous.

My existential crisis came and went in a moment as I began to remember truths from Scripture and personal encounters with Jesus. God loves you. God is with you. God is for you. There is hope.

Yet the questions still lingered. They're always there, actually, hovering in the background, waiting for moments of weakness or distraction to suddenly jump back into the forefront of my mind.

Confession: I doubt. For the longest time, I used to think that I needed to make these doubts disappear, answering any and all of my unanswerable questions with such clarity and confidence that they would be snuffed out with some hard philosophical blows. There is a particular pressure as a pastor to have these doubts figured out, to be a source of trust and confidence for others, to be a model of belief when others cannot.

I'm learning that faith and doubt are strange bedfellows. One of my personal values is embrace the tension:
Live with a posture of open hands, holding two seemingly-opposing ideas, circumstances, or feelings in each hand--the present and future, suffering and hope, the kingdom of God being now and not yet, grace and justice, etc. Live into the paradox and mystery of our reality; grey-tinted discernment over black-and-white thinking.
Faith is not the absence of doubt. Faith is intentionally moving forward towards Jesus in the face of doubt.

This is akin to courage and fear. Courage is not the absence of fear. Courage is moving forward in the face of fear, stepping into the acknowledged danger with confidence and hope. It takes guts to stare one's doubts in the face, recognize their existence, wrestle with their implications, then continue to move in deeper relationship with God without sacrificing integrity. It's far easier to totally abandon faith and embrace doubt and skepticism, or attempt to ignore any doubts and walk in a blind and shallow faith. Once the doubts and questions are recognized, faith and trust and obedience begin to deepen.

So, embrace the tension of faith and doubt. Acknowledge the fears and questions as they come, then step forward in faith towards the One who offers unconditional love and grace and hope.

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