As long as I can remember I’ve been a church kid. Even before I could remember I went to church. I even remember finding a small church on Jekyll Island one Summer when we were vacationing there, and I was the only kid in the class, but I also learned how they make mirrors from the teacher. Granted I really just went that day because I wanted a perfect attendance award back home, but still. Despite all this, there are some days that I really struggle to believe in the God of the Bible. I don’t mean the, “I’m questioning if God will provide me with the things I need” type of doubt, but full blown, “There might not actually be a god up there and maybe we are all alone in the world” type doubt. Am I an atheist? Agnostic? No, I don’t consider myself either of those things. I consider myself someone of strong(ish) faith. A believer who trusts that one day God will justly deal with all of the evil that exists in His creation. It’s just that some days I struggle with believing what I believe.
The obvious problem with all of this is that I also get up and preach a sermon once a week and lead a discussion on it that night. I teach teenagers. I visit the hospital as a volunteer chaplain and pray with people for healing, patience, and guidance. My guess is that the most reasonable response to the above confession is that I’m probably the last person anyone would want doing those things, right? You want someone that’s going to bolster confidence and deep faith. Someone that’s going to be able to confidently stand behind anything he says in those settings without wavering. The problem is that I’m just not sure that that’s always possible. In fact, I’m a strong believer in the idea that doubt is a powerful tool in making our faith stronger.
I can only speak for my own experiences, but I believe that many of our churches today are suffering greatly because we treat doubt, especially doubt in the existence of God, as if it were something inherently evil that must be rooted out and destroyed with facts and logic. Yet most people who have struggled with doubt know that that is not usually what happens. You get relief for a while, but not always permanent. Someone may read about the goodness of God, and how He is love, and then look around at the world and see all of the injustice, evil, pain, and suffering, not of the unjust, but of innocent people. How can a God that claims to be love and to care deeply for the innocent allow this to happen? I’ve read plenty of books with all sorts of responses to this question. Cutesy and quaint answers. Deep and twisting philosophical answers. Well ordered and precise logical arguments. Most of them make sense to me, and I can see how they would be true, but that doesn’t mean they always stick, and in my times of doubt I can always think of a million reasons why these answers don’t really answer anything, or at least only make me ask 100 more questions.
In contrast to this church culture that has all of the answers, and can somehow have faith that seems to easily withstand any storm without even a hint of flickering out, the scripture seems to paint a very different picture. My mind quickly goes to Psalm 13 where David cries out, “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me? Consider and answer me, O Lord my God; light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death, lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him,” lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken.” Perhaps you read this differently, but I can’t help but see David, the one anointed to be king, continually protected by God, questioning if God is even there listening to him at all. The situation he’s in makes Him question the goodness of God. Granted, the last two verses of the psalm cry out in trust, but that’s exactly what I’m talking about. A believer who struggles with belief. And there are plenty of other psalms and sections of the scripture filled with God’s people wavering between faith and doubt. The more they know God, the more they learn about Him, the more they put their lives in His hands it seems the harder it can be for them to really believe at times.
What usually happens, in my experience, to those that try to just sweep their doubt under the rug rather than face and embrace it is that their faith becomes more of a facade to cover that doubt that’s building up. They’ll let you know they’re the most trusting believer there is, but it ends up being a sham. Or the person with doubt feels like they’re all alone in the church. Everyone else is so grounded in their faith, and I’m the only one over here struggling. Obviously, I conclude, this is not a place where I belong because I’m not the Christian I thought I was, so they imagine.
So this is why I believe it’s important for me to stay in the ministry. Not in spite of my struggle with faith, hoping and praying that if I can get up there enough and keep preaching enough sermons that I’ll “fake it till I make it,” because I don’t believe my faith is fake. Like David I believe my faith is deeply rooted in my knowledge of who God is. It’s just a struggle to always hold on to that sometimes. I’ve come to realize that I don’t believe I can get out of ministry, not because I’m some strong champion of the faith, but because I’m the exact opposite. I’m weak, hypocritical, and sometimes talk out of both sides of my mouth…just like many others who try to maintain this facade. But the curtain has just grown to heavy for me, and this idea of faith that so many seem to expect church leaders to have just isn’t something I can hold up anymore.
I believe that we need to have more discussion about our struggles. My guess is that some of the people reading this are possible in the same boat I am. Maybe you’re a leader, or at least a very active member in a congregation. Maybe you’re just someone trying to figure out where you are. Maybe you’re someone who has been hiding their doubt under the rug for too long, or someone who feels like an outcast because everyone else seems to have it all together. Wherever you are, I’d love to hear from you. I’d love to hear your story of faith, doubt, or whatever mixture between the two you’re trying to figure out. Feel free to go to my Facebook and send me a message. Let’s talk about what it means to be believers struggling with belief.