Learning to Embrace Doubt

Barna Group released a study yesterday stating that the majority of Christians have either doubted their faith or are currently doubting their faith.  40% said they worked through doubt at some point in their journey while 26% of those surveyed said they still experience doubt. Only 35% said they never doubted the faith.

The authors of the study went on to explore what happens to those who doubt (i.e. who do they talk to, what do they do, etc.) before coming to the conclusion that “doubt is a catalyst to spiritual growth.” Hence their suggestion for “lead pastors and spiritual mentors to view seasons of spiritual doubt in their constituents as fertile soil—not as dangerous ground.”

I would have to agree with this conclusion as I feel that followers of Jesus should learn how to embrace doubt and unanswered questions rather than seeking to move past them. To quote a previous post:

It may sound strange in a society of answers, but not knowing can actually do more to free your soul than all the answers in the world. Learning to be conformable with unanswered questions means living a life of trust. We trust Jesus with our concerns and questions. We trust the Holy Spirit to guide and direct ourselves and those around us. We trust the Father with the future and what might or might not happen.

Trusting Jesus. What a novel concept… yet it something we in the Western world don’t do very good. Rather than trusting an invisible, perhaps-distance spirit who may or may not be real, we like trusting in our understanding of the Scriptures. The Scriptures, after all, can be touched, read, seen, and studied.

Even those who focus on experiencing God fail to truly trust him with unanswered questions as they bounce from spiritual high to spiritual high. If I can only experience him then my doubt will be gone… or so the thinking goes.

So, you may ask, how do we learn to live with unanswered questions?

In my newest book, The Mystery, the Way, and the Journey: Embracing the tension of the unknown (currently in process), I talk about rediscovering three fence posts that point us forward into the darkness of the unknown:

  • The written Scriptures as viewed through the incarnation of Jesus (i.e. Jesus is true God of true God so let us look to him when reading the Old and New Testaments.)
  • The community of believers who have followed Jesus throughout the ages (i.e. not only those around us today, but those who have gone on ahead of us)
  • The Holy Spirit who is the corner post holding everything together (i.e. when all else is lost, the Spirit remains)

Following these fences posts into the darkness while embracing doubt and unanswered questions is to be honest with ourselves in acknowledging the complexity of the world in which we live.  And in doing so, we are also recognizing the complexity and mysterious wonder of the Creator God.

He is not a simple being who can be described in simple terms or made to dance to the tune of our thoughts and desires. The focus of Christianity, Bishop Kallistos Ware reminds us, is not to “provide easy answers to every question, but to make us progressively aware of a mystery. God is not so much the object of our knowledge as the cause of our wonder” (The Orthodox Way)

Dionysius the Areopagite said it best in the 5th or 6th century:

Unto this Darkness which is beyond Light we pray that we may come, and may attain unto vision through the loss of sight and knowledge, and that in ceasing thus to see or to know we may learn to know that which is beyond all perception and understanding.

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