So there’s this story in the bible I like a lot. It’s recorded in the book of Mark if you want to read it for yourself, but here’s the gist:
Jesus has been up on a mountain praying, away from the crowds that follow him everywhere. He comes down the mountain to find a chaotic scene.
A father who has a son with some serious issues has been asking Jesus’ disciples to heal the kid. The disciples have tried and failed.
The father brings the kid over to Jesus and I’m going to let what Mark wrote tell the next couple parts here:
(The Dad says to Jesus) “Have mercy on us and help us, if you can.”
“What do you mean, ‘If I can’?” Jesus asked. “Anything is possible if a person believes.”
The father instantly cried out, “I do believe, but help me overcome my unbelief!”
Jesus then punched him in the gut and said, ‘Come back when you don’t have any more unbelief, chump.” Then he rolled out with his posse.
In case you aren’t sure, I made that last part up. What actually happens is that Jesus heals the kid who suffered by major seizures and gave him back to his dad.
The father in that story is one of my heroes and I don’t even know his name.
He tells Jesus straight up, ‘I’m trying to trust in you, but I still have doubts’, and Jesus responds to this open, honest vulnerability by helping him.
Our society does not always value honesty. Imagine if one of the candidates for President of the United States said at one of the debates, ‘I’m not 100% sure I can make all the right decisions as president.’
Their candidacy would be over immediately. The other politicians and the news would destroy him or her. Having doubts is a weakness that strong men and women cannot afford to display.
Yet faith, by definition, cannot exist without doubt.
Think about it. You don’t need to have faith that your computer or tablet or phone is working, because you’re reading off it right now. No faith required.
But believing that an asteroid isn’t going to crash into earth and destroy us all next year requires faith, because it’s possible for you to be wrong.
Believing that an invisible God loves me despite all the ways I screw up requires faith.
We’ve all met people who refused to entertain the idea that they could be wrong - it leads to arrogance and nobody wants to hang out with them.
So what should I do when I have doubts? Here are some thoughts on letting doubt be a healthy part of your life:
1. Don’t beat yourself up.
You need to a place where you’re okay with the fact that you’re going to have doubt in your life for as long as you live. When you’re not doubting God, you may be second guessing yourself and trying in vain to figure out what the future holds.
Take a deep breath and remember that the only thing you can control is yourself. Jesus tells us not to worry about tomorrow because we aren’t in control of what happens tomorrow. He tells us to worry about today. By that, he doesn’t mean wring your hands in fear for today, but rather focus on what you can affect.
If I’m being obedient to God in my day to day life, he promises to take care of the rest.
2. Don’t hide it.
As I said earlier, we have been trained by society not to reveal weakness. Doubt is usually perceived as weakness in our world, which is silly. None of us knows the future.
I’m not saying that you need to walk around announcing all the ways you doubt God in your life - whether he exists, whether he pays attention to you, whether he listens to your prayer, whether he cares - whatever your areas of doubt are.
I’m saying that putting on a mask and pretending that you never wonder whether God is listening, or paying attention or caring; that’s not helping you or anybody else.
Part of the value or being in a church community should be to talk about these true feelings without feeling like you have to fake it.
Identify some people you trust and when you’re wrestling with a situation where you’re trying hard to let your belief overtake your unbelief, let them encourage you in the midst of that.
3. Don’t let it stop you.
I took my daughter to a baseball game at Camden Yards in Baltimore once. You can stand just a few feet above the visiting team's bullpen. She really wanted a ball and kept asking the players for one, but they all ignored her.
When she got frustrated, I kept encouraging her. She never got a ball that night, but I was so impressed at her tenacity. The next game we went to, I brought her early, took her down next to the dugout and she got a ball signed by one of the players.
She was so proud of herself for accomplishing that.
I think God really likes it when we choose to pray and sing and trust in the midst of our greatest doubts - when we refuse to give up. Remember, God is a loving father, not a jerk boss.
Nothing makes me prouder than to see my kids work hard and accomplish something. I’m pretty sure that’s why Jesus healed the man’s kid. He was proud of the guy for not giving up.
Based on what I read in the stories and the letter of the Bible, I don’t think God gets mad at us when we doubt. I think he’s more concerned with whether we’re being genuine with him.
When we throw open our lives to God and invite him in, he doesn’t recoil in horror at all that is within us. He made us, he already knows about the messy areas. Instead, he starts to fill those areas of our life with his light and love. We become people that are fuller, more whole than we ever were before, even as we continue to have our doubts.