Sunday, May 1, 2016

Benefit Of The Doubt

Benefit Of The Doubt

“The opposite of faith is not doubt, it's certainty. For what need do the certain have for faith?”
-Anne Lamott

I love music. I know this is a agonizingly uninteresting statement; everyone loves music. There's nothing interesting about saying, “I love music.” Why did I even write that? In fact, the only person I ever met who didn't love music was a self proclaimed sociopath; I'll let you do the math. I loved music so much that I wanted to learn to play it. I wanted sing the song Pistol by Dustin Kensrue to my now wife when I proposed to her, I wanted to lead people into Gods presence with worship the way my brother AJ does, or revel in it's paradoxes and complexities the way my friends Dennis and Bobby do, or use it to bring the purest sense of joy the way my friend Jordan does. I love that music can serve so many purposes for just one person. So I attempted to learn this music stuff. I bought a guitar, joined the Youtube School of Music, and got practicing. The trouble is, there is no resolution in learning music. You can't just learn music, there's always more to grasp, you are always a student. The more I studied and learned, the more I realized I didn't know anything. This startling reality hit me when my afro-mentioned friend AJ, who is the best musician I know personally, showed me videos of musicians doing things he said he'd never be able to do. It made me begin to realize why the majority of people who devote their lives to learning this topic make barely livable salaries, look homeless and are, for better or worse, very emotional. We can't fault those who fit this stereotype, they produce the greatest art in the world or admire and understand it better than any emotionally stable non-musician will. There was so much I didn't know, it made me begin to wonder if there was anything to know. The more I looked into it the less sense it made. It eventually made me realize learning music wasn't for me. However, a strange thing happened. A remarkable tension formed, a tension of doubt and love. The more I began to realize how nonsensical music theory is, the more I fell in love with listening to music and appreciated those who braved the mystery of music theory.

A lot of people approach faith this way. They love the initial tenants of Christian spirituality. They see how loving your enemies leads to a more peaceful and harmonious world, they know the virtue of charity and sacrifice, there is scientific proof that prayer strengthens the brain and decreases stress. There is a part of them that longs to see miracles. There are people that they deeply love and admire who have vested their entire lives into this thing, even being willing to sell all they worked for in a moment if their God asked them to. Yet, as the virtues attract the skeptics the logic of it all repels them. You can't convince an atheist mom with two little boys that the same God who killed all of Egypts first born, or flooded and killed the entire earth, loves them unconditionally. You can't tell a evolutionist biology teacher that the earth is only 6,000 years old and expect them to throw all that they've studied their whole life out the window (though, as my favorite podcaster Science Mike says, I'm growing more and more convinced the "Darwin or God" debate is a false dichotomy.) It's no surprise to anyone that the agnostic would love the virtues of Christianity but is repelled by the nonsense of it all. Yet, shamefully, what is not being talked about as much is all the Christians who feel this way. I say shamefully, because if there was ever a people group that held in high value the ability to safely convey doubts, fear and pain you'd think it'd be the followers of the Man who welcomed these things. Now, before I get accused of flicking mud at the church, let me say this: I'd trust almost every friend of mine who loves Jesus with my biggest doubts, worst fears and deepest pain. I'm not saying the church has rejected honesty. I will say this, many in the church are afraid of doubts being expressed in an open and corporate setting. We want these things locked safely away in the awkward conversations of the pastors office, the one on one talk at a coffee shop, or in the isolating caverns of our hearts. Doubts can be contagious, and by and large, in my own personal experience, the churches answer to doubt is to suppress it, ignore it, hide it and not seek to satisfy it's itch. Some circles consider doubt a sin. There is this unspoken belief that doubt almost certainly gives way to atheism. Doubt or faith; another sickening false dichotomy. I would like to argue this. I don't want to be divisive and, most importantly, as I hope you'll see soon, I am not at all refuting that famous passage in Hebrews that says “Without faith it is impossible to please God.” (I don't remember where it is in Hebrews, somewhere between the first chapter and the last chapter) But I have a fight to pick with the fight against doubt. Here are the points I have to make about this.

1. The fear of doubt is causing something far more sinister than doubt; it's causing a deconstruction of faith for so many. My wrestling matches with doubt have always been brief and mild. It's always been pretty easy for me to believe in God and commune with Him. I definitely have questions, but trusting God is who He says He is has just always come naturally to me, a gift that I am so thankful for. Until recently I misjudged the people who do struggle with doubt as arrogant; people who aren't "humble" enough to embrace Gods mysteries. But I have several friends that I know of  who have experienced, or are experiencing the deconstruction of their faith because of the pressure to conceal doubt and challenging questions. This deconstruction is not an act of arrogance, it's not being too smart for their own good (oxymoron) and it isn't easy for them. It is a period of deep suffering, deep sorrow, deep fear, and deep fighting. And more often than not, it is a season they walk through alone. When this happens, when you suffer in silence over your doubt, it creates new neurological pathways in your brain. Where the neurological pathways to God were once connected to love, joy, peace, patients, kindness, gentleness, holiness, faithfulness, goodness and self control, the pathways are now being connected to fear, hopelessness, isolation, dishonesty about faith, and suffering. What do you get when you mix questioning Gods existence or goodness with real nasty neurology? A deconstructed Christian.

2. Fearing and avoiding doubt makes faith look like weak fiction. I have always been thankful faith comes easy to me, and there are virtues to gain in this. One is that I believe real, sincere faith creates room for questions and doubts with out fear. Fear is the enemy of faith; where fear reigns faith is surrendered. Why is it that so many of the faithful are so afraid of doubt? Is God not real? Is His Word not true? Does He not love us? If we answer yes to all of these, then even when we are completely stumped by a question the challenges the very fundamentals of what we believe, we are brave and confident in our God. Real faith is bigger than hard questions. If we fear doubt that means our faith is not sincere and that we really fear our God isn't as rock solid as we purport. I understand being afraid of doubt leading a loved one away from God, but fear will do that a lot quicker than doubt.

3. Fearing doubt has created a culture of ignorance and intolerance that is ugly to the rest of the world. In our efforts to avoid doubt and protect western, traditional Christian thought, sometimes we avoid truth and evidence. We come up with faith based arguments against scientifically proven things. Sometimes we cringe when we hear some one, especially a fellow Christian, propose the idea that maybe the scientists aren't just godless heathens, maybe the earth really is millions of years old and maybe macro evolution was a part of it all. We fight and judge this because that doesn't line up with how we were taught to interpret Genesis 1 and 2. But a lot of us don't that the creation account in Genesis is written in the form of Hebrew poetry while most the rest of Genesis is written as a historical narrative. It's more like a song proclaiming God's creativity and no one reads songs and takes it literally; which means there's biblical room for belief in God using evolution to carry out His creation and that the earth is, in fact, very old. Now, I'm not saying this is how it went down, I'm not saying I believe in a old earth or in evolution, to be honest I don't know where I stand here. But I do know that if we chose to be ignorant on scientifically proven issues instead of educating ourselves and having gracious conversations, we will contribute to the deconstruction of Christian faith. As Galileo warned the church, one must be careful when interpreting the bible in a way that directly conflicts with science, as creation too is "God's Word." And, as Greg Boyd puts it, "If there are ways of interpreting scripture that don't conflict with science, shouldn't we look into that?"

4. Doubt has the potential to give way to the truest sense of intimacy with God. Doubt causes us to ask tough questions, and guess what? Sometimes God gives great answers! And if He doesn't give us answers, eventually He'll give us peace over our unanswered questions; one thing He will not do is leave us hanging. It may take a while, but He will help us. Once you get the answer or once you get the peace, you are so much more intimate with Him than before. Doubt also has the ability to expose things we have been taught in Christianity that just aren't true. For years I believed church was a building that held boring meetings once a week for white people to talk about Jesus. I hated church. I couldn't believe God would want that for a bride. But once I realized that this about functions as much for church as a golf ball functions for a basketball, and that church wasn't a place; it's a deeply diverse body of people who are united under the love of Christ, who dedicate their whole lives to looking like a community version of Jesus on the earth and who love and take care of each other no matter what, I fell that much more in love with a God who could design something so beautiful, complicated and possible. Doubt removes the masks and forces us to come to God as we are; and when we come to God stripped of defenses and confidence in our theology, He gives us himself.

Doubt is not bad and doubt doesn't have to equate disbelief, maybe it's a sign that you are thinking. Doubt is an experience. Doubt isn't anymore sin than sadness, happiness, joy or anger. Those things are what we make of them.  My best friend told me about a friend of his who had been preaching for his church, and his friend had a movie clip that was so perfect for his lesson, it would have really hit it home. But he couldn't show the clip in church, because it had the word “damn” in a context not talking about hell. My friend said to me that this showed him how fake we seem to be expected to be at church; everyone in the church body watches movies, shows and commercials or listens to songs that have plenty of swearing in it, everyone there has cussed after stubbing their toe or getting pulled over by a cop, why is it at church we are expected to pretend that stuff doesn't happen? Church should be the place where we feel like it's the safest place in the world to be real. And he's right. Church should be the place where we welcome doubts and questions, and Christians should wrestle alongside the skeptic rather than against him/her in their struggle with doubt. Church is is the place where the saints look like sinners, and the sinners help each other look more like Jesus; confronting doubt and all.

Recommended reading that helped inspire this blog:
 Water To Wine: Some of my story by Brian Zahnd
Traveling Mercy by Anne Lamott
Generous  Orthodoxy by Brian McLaren
Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller
Searching For Sunday by Rachel Held Evans

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