It seems like doubt is all the rage among 20- and 30-year-old Christians these days. Articulate and earnest Christians are coming out in the open and posting their doubts online and in print. Thoughtful young Christian Leaders like Jason Boyett and Rachel Held Evans not only wrestle with the faith as they have received it, but chronicle their journey of doubt for others to share. They are talented and sincere Christian writers, sharing their experiences. Yet it seems to me doubt has become a badge of authenticity among 20 and 30-somethings. Is doubt the new mark of a follower of Jesus?
It’s worth noting that doubt belongs in the Christian story. Gospel accounts of the resurrection include the doubts of Jesus’ closest followers. Doubt does not—and should not—exclude us from worship. Jesus bridged the gulf of open rebellion and sin in order to restore relationship with humanity; a little thing like doubt certainly won’t hold him back. The earliest Christian community followed Jesus’ example and did not reject those who struggled to believe (John 20: 24-31 is an excellent example). Nor can I blame others for expressing their doubts. Honesty trumps mindless conformity. The demand for agreement on certain points of doctrine has damaged people’s faith as much as the open confession of uncertainty.
Yet there are problems with the popularity of doubt in our day. Doubt comes with a price. I’d like to suggest six ideas that could help any pastor when asked to speak about the subject of doubt.
1) Doubt can be the evidence of the Holy Spirit at work.
In every generation the essentials of faith become polluted with the non-essentials of Christian culture. Perhaps the Holy Spirit is moving a new generation of believers to question whether every detail of Evangelical faith is actually required by God. In every age religious expressions are infused with political, social, and intellectual agendas that have no real bearing on the Kingdom of God—we just like to think they do!
2) Never trust anyone who hasn’t wrestled with doubt.
The person who receives the words of Jesus without any questions is someone who hasn’t really heard the words of Jesus. The Son of God is an equal-opportunity offender. Saul of Tarsus was a first-rate Jewish scholar who believed he was doing God’s work by persecuting Christians. After meeting Jesus on the road to Damascus he spent three days, blind and alone, reconsidering everything he previously believed to be God’s will. If Jesus is real, everything changes.
3) Don’t confuse doubt with seeking.
We seek in order to find; sometimes we doubt in order to avoid seeking. Jesus appeared to Thomas because his doubts were reasonable; Thomas responded with the declaration, “my Lord and my God.” God invites us to seek—even to question—yet he assures us he can be found. The witness of scripture and of the centuries is that God reveals himself to those who seek him. Too many people consider doubt an impartial quality, as if doubt is somehow above the fight. Instead, doubt is a method, and like all methods it has its limits. Doubt is a useful tool, but a terrible destination.
4) Doubt is not the opposite of faith.
In his useful book, God in the Dark, Os Guinness points out that unbelief is the opposite of faith. Unbelief is the willful choice to not believe even after the questions have been answered. Doubt can spring from honesty or confusion; unbelief springs from the will. In the final analysis, even our intellect is called to obey.
5) My doubts are my doubts—they don’t have to be yours.
Sometimes the religious establishment can be guilty of a stifling orthodoxy. It’s equally true that the next generation can be guilty of demanding uncertainty of others. I might think your faith is nothing more than Christian superstition, but that does not mean I’m called to change your mind. I suspect God is more interested in whether we play nice together than whether we all sign the same creed.
6) The object of faith is a Person, not a proposition.
For twenty-five years I’ve loved my wife. After twenty-five years I don’t pretend to understand her! How much more the unfathomable Creator? The book of Job reveals the essence of faith is relationship, not precept. I may doubt my understanding of God, but I trust I will never doubt him.
Jesus is our destination, and along with St. Augustine we can boldly declare from the pulpit: "You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until we find ourselves in you."