The Doubter and The Resurrection

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Nearing the end of last fall, I sort of left faith, which is different than leaving the Church.

 

This was not the first season of doubt for me. Just the latest in a long sordid history of rich and dark and holy times when I walk off into wasteland, dragging my difficult, but important questions behind me: The Bible, Real Life, History (both the world’s and my own), Hell, Heaven, Miracles, the Problem of Pain. The only conviction anchoring me was my steadfast search for something authentic. Not something I should do or something I feared for but something real. Something worth wrapping my whole soul around.

 

My doubts arrived after a series of painful events in the lives of those around me, and by the middle of January, the tragedy toll only seemed to skyrocket. That was when I became very afraid, and angry, and skeptical, because I can see what Marx was getting at when he said, “religion is the opium of the people.” I’ve seen how it can space out the most sensible people. I’ve felt like the last sane person amongst all this calm, against all this chaos.

 

As I set about in my searching, I heard folks repeatedly explain away my questions because of the mysteries of the divine, or  my limitedness as a human, or that my doubt was a manifestation of sin in my life. Of course, all this did was highlight my fears that we were engaging in a kind Orwellian Double Think. Or, (chills), that I was simply blind. That I was the only one who couldn’t see it.

 

The most holy day of the year is coming soon, and I know from experience that it can be the most frustrating and frightening day of the year. Many Christians will wake up and want to fall to their knees, cry in their happiness, rejoice in the victory that he is risen, but they won’t be able to. They will feel paralyzed by the presence of those so sure.

 

I am nearing the edge of my own wasteland, but unlike so many times before, I’m not going to leave it. This is God’s dwelling. In the tension, in the honest practice of asking, searching, seeking. The place I wrestle with questions is the same place I find consecrated ground. I speak in unexpected hymns. Soul, mind, heart, authentic. I am not the first.

 

A passage from Greg Boyd’s, Benefit of the Doubt:

 

As is apparent in so many Old Testament heroes, the faith of Habakkuk was obviously nothing like the certainty-seeking, doubt-shunning faith of so many today. Instead of avoiding cognitive dissonance by piously slapping the “mystery” label on an apparent contradiction, Habakkuk boldly goes to the mat with God. This is the kind of faith these descendants of Jacob were “blessed” with. And far from being offended by this raw honesty, God is the One who blessed them with it! This apparently is precisely the kind of honest relationship, and the kind of honest faith, God is looking for!

Boyd, Gregory A. (2013-09-15). Benefit of the Doubt: Breaking the Idol of Certainty (p. 83). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

 

The true mark of faithfulness was never, ever about the certainty of the mind and heart, but the authenticity within them. And I’ve come to believe that is better to not play pretend here. God did not make us to be blind followers or bidders on behalf of the church. Love isn’t like that, so neither is God.

 

For some of the faithful this month, this will be a time of impulsive squelching, of cloaking and straining yourself to believe and finding yourself utterly burnt out on Monday. I pray for the opposite.

 

Speak the truth that is haunting you. Lay out all the questions and fears without edit or softening or excuse. If it is heavy, let it drop. This faith is for the scholar and the street smart, the burnt out and on fire, the jaded and the impassioned, the weak and the strong, and for you, too, sojourner, who feels like it will never ever ever make sense. Take heart: this faith is not about being certain. That is the opposite. What this comes down to is the authenticity of your shaking voice, asking the questions that scare you. Sitting, waiting, wanting.

And it is exhausting, so take a few minutes if you need to, on Easter Sunday. Sit alone with a novel or a sketchbook or Netflix and drone out the shoulds of the day. There is no shame in that. There is rest there. And God made rest. Find him in the resting.

 

Or go to the words of another. Call your spiritual middle man. I offer up in Paul Tillich:

 

Sometimes at that moment a wave of light breaks into our darkness, and it is as though a voice were saying: “You are accepted. You are accepted, accepted by that which is greater than you, and the name of which you do not know. Do not ask for the name now; perhaps you will find it later. Do not try to do anything now; perhaps later you will do much. Do not seek for anything; do not perform anything; do not intend anything. Simply accept the fact that you are accepted!” If that happens to us, we experience grace After such an experience we may not be better than before, and we may not believe more than before. But everything is transformed.

 

Or listen to the prophetic voice of Rachel Held Evans, who last year, around this time, penned a post for people like me. Gave me the courage to say aloud what I felt:

 

But you won’t know how to explain that there is nothing nominal or lukewarm or indifferent about standing in this hurricane of questions every day and staring each one down until you’ve mustered all the bravery and fortitude and trust it takes to whisper just one of them out loud on the car ride home:

“What if we made this up because we’re afraid of death?”

And you won’t know how to explain why, in that moment when the whisper rose out of your mouth like Jesus from the grave, you felt more alive and awake and resurrected than you have in ages because at least it was out, at least it was said, at least it wasn’t buried in your chest anymore, clawing for freedom.

 

Or simply be still.

 

And I’ll be there with you, trapped in a place of mercy. A place of grace. A place where I have found the patience of God to be abounding and his yoke, light.

 

Be still if that’s all you can do. Be present. Listen.

Know you are not alone.

  • RachaelTMickel

    If I wasn’t so exhausted from my day of doubting, I would have cried. This is SO where I’m at!!! It’s difficult when you are raising teenagers, though. I feel like I need to put it on hold, give them something solid to stand on. I know the misery of uncertainty and the comfort of easy answers. Is it better to teach them authenticity and the anxiety that comes with it, at an age where their minds are not ready for this, or give them the easy answers and hope they also understand that it’s ok to question? How so I do that??? Not expecting an answer. Just sharing.

    • I am no parent, but this question is profoundly important! If you didn’t read the above answer from Annemarie, you should. Also, one of my favorite writers and friends, Addie Zierman, wrote a great post about this: http://addiezierman.com/2013/11/07/how-then-will-you-raise-your-kids/

      • RachaelTMickel

        Thank you, Benjamin! Annemarie’s comment was so dead on and made me think about some things. I also read the article you linked. I remember those days! I have a couple teens and another close to the teen years. I’ll tell you, it’s a whole new ball game! They may not get up at 4am, but they sure make you think! Always on my toes with their beautiful minds!

      • RachaelTMickel

        I forgot to mention that I sent you am email.

      • Sheri

        Love Addie. Her book, “When We Were On Fire” changed my life!

    • Sheri

      Rachael – I read your comment yesterday & really wanted to ponder on it, before I commented. First, I don’t know you, your teens or your situation. This is my story & experience. But when I was raising my son as a teenager – he was WAY more in tune to what the church & Christians were about than I could ever imagine. So while you are “exhausted from your day of doubting”, most likely they already know. I think kids & teens respect the authenticity rather than any pat religious answers we can give them. They will have their own spiritual crisis at some point where they have to find their own God. We always pray & hope that it is the God we raised them to believe. The best we can do as parents is be a listening board to our children & hopefully when they have doubts we can be there with them. My son went through his doubting period when he was in High School. He was brought up in a pastor’s home & a conservative Christian private school. The pivotal point in his crisis of faith took place when he was in a class in school where he was challenged to debate the various philosophies of the world. Christian, humanism, atheism & one other, I can’t remember. My son got put in the atheist group. His job was to convince everyone that the arguments of atheism were valid. Well, if you knew my son – an influencer, solid Christian background AND independent & a truth- seeker. Yea…. our son WON the debate with his Atheist arguments. Annihilated the Christian spokesperson. Shocked the heck out of everyone! Picture me as an evangelical pastor & my son the WINNER of the Atheist debate! To say that they will have their own spiritual crisis is an understatement. We still love telling this story. It’s so ironic. But what was important back then & now, is that my husband (more so than I) stayed with him through it. He looked up all the research sources on the internet that my son found. He talked with him. He helped him sort out his thoughts. Yea, he won the debate & got a reputation (bad one) that hurt him during his Christian walk during school. But, to this day our son still talks to us about his Christian walk & theological questions. Rachael, they need the authenticity & your open conversation. You’ll do great. Go with your gut.

      • RachaelTMickel

        Thank you, Sherri. Thank you so much for telling me your story. That is a funny story, if you appreciate the irony of the situation. 🙂

        You’re right–they do need authenticity and open conversation. If only I didn’t feel like I am re-doing my teen years with them! ha! It’s interesting–I have a blog and I posted something about being in doubt. It was scary to post…I was literally shaking when I hit “publish”…but it’s crazy how much God has spoken to me since!!! I needed to hear His voice. NEEDED it! I told my daughter the other day that God always seems to surprise you. Just when you think He has forgotten, He shows up. (She has her own set of questions and struggles.) That sounds so trite, but GOOD GRIEF it sure sounds profound when it happens!

        Thank you again for your post and the thoughtfulness you put into it. Pretty sure I will refer back to it. It reminded me of something a friend told me once when my kids were little. “They have to have their own testimony.” It’s really starting to hit home now!

  • Mike O

    I loved the phrase, “This faith is for the scholar and the street smart …” I made the statement to my conservative brothers the other day when WV was all the fury: “When theology meets reality, there are consequences.” And by that I meant that we (conservatives) are hurting people. Bad. Oh, that the scholar would *become* street smart! Oh, that people didn’t feel that they had to trade one for the other. Oh, that “theologians” would allow reality to be a factor!
    I am not currently in the wasteland, but I can see it from here. I feel like I’m still in the house, maybe outside on the front porch, and I can see the wasteland. And there be Christians there!
    I do not happen to be drawn to the wasteland, I am still drawn back inside. Because at my core, I am conservative and I am still welcome here. For now. But I am drawn back inside having *seen* Christians in the wasteland; Christians we’ve *sent* there! And I’m drawn back inside, having seen Christians on the inside – *my* people – not care. I see the inside from the outside now – the way Christians in the wasteland see us. And it’s not pretty. I see why they left. I wonder why I stay.
    Yet I remain on the inside. I belong here. I fit here. For now. And I see something toxic in here. Maybe I should run. Maybe I am immune. Maybe not. But as God is my witness, as I write this today, I am not supposed to run; I am supposed to stay. And I am supposed to have it bother the hell out of me that nobody in here smells the odor I smell; that nobody sees the Christians in the wasteland; when all they have to do open their eyes and hearts and *see”.
    But they don’t.
    Maybe that’s why I’m supposed to stay. On the inside. Where I happen to still be welcome. For now. Helping “my people” – conservative Christians – to at least look out the damn window and see *people* out there!
    … to give street smarts to the scholar.
    Thank you, Ben.

    • Thank you! (and I greatly enjoyed our email correspondence. Keep walking brother!)

  • Beautiful. I am certain about nothingbut I find this is OK. It’s my doubt, the suffering without perfect answers that I lay at the foot of the cross. I’ve been through so much hell in the last 2 or 3 yearsbut I don’t mind the shadow land .

    • Shadow land is where faith is born, matured, and reshaped. It’s the holy land.

  • Annemarie

    Rachael, I’m there with you. (I’m sorry, my English is not very good, I’m Dutch ;-)).
    Since a couple of years I’m going through lots of doubts and questions. I’ve
    learned a lot since then but I do find it difficult too in raising my teenage
    children. I have decided to be honest though. I tell them that I do not have it
    all figured out, that I really do not understand God and that I have a lot of
    questions about the bible (like they have them too). I can give a hundred
    reasons why I should not believe in God. But I tell them too that I want to
    believe because I love the story of God. Like Rachel Held Evans says ‘the story
    of Jesus is just the story I’m willing to risk being wrong about’. I tell
    them what I find attractive about God’s story, I acknowledge there are a lot of
    things going wrong in christianity and I tell them we have to discern between
    God Himself and what people tell of Him. And eventually they have to
    figure their believes out for themselves.

    I have become very allergic to easy answers so I really do not want to give them to my
    children. They are too smart for them and I am afraid they will reject God all
    together because of them. I do not want to lie too them. I think it does more harm than an being honest about your doubts.

    But it’s hard. One of the reasons I long for a more solid faith (with room for mystery
    and questions) is because I’m afraid I am not giving a good example to my
    children.

    • Love Rachel’s quote and this response. Thank you Annemarie! And your english is good! I am Proud to have a Dutch commenter here!

    • RachaelTMickel

      Thank you for that! (And your English was great!) It hit me as I was reading this that there is a difference between being honest while being anxious and being honest, but with confidence in God. If I am being ruled by fear, as scripture says, I am not being made perfect in love. Since God is love, I need to cast my cares (fears) on Him and be confident in His love and care for me.

      Thank you so much, Annemarie!

  • SurvivorGirl

    All last year I was involved in a Bible study where the leader told the class that doubt was a tool of Satan and that if anyone who calls themselves Christian has doubts, then they’d better go home after class and recommit themselves to Christ. I thought my head would explode, because I felt caught between utter fury at her for saying those words and utter despair for the others who were actually believing her words. Tillich is also the one who said that “doubt isn’t the opposite of faith but an element of faith. Buechner, whom I love, as well, wrote this: “Doubt are the ants in the pants of faith; they keep it awake and moving.” That is certainly so for me! Thank you for another great post, Ben! xoxo

    • Love alllll of those quotes and you. Hate everything that happened to you that year. So glad you swung by here, my fav commenter, I hope you’re doing well!

    • Sheri

      A WHOLE year?? I would have quit after the first two weeks & probably said something that would have gotten me thrown out of the church. 🙂 I see why you call yourself SurvivorGirl, although I have a feeling that there is much more to your story. I also feel sorry for all those people who believed that untruth. I’ve always held on to the belief that God is big enough to handle all our doubts, our unbelief, angry words, & pain. Even when we are at our worst moments – screaming in the car & crying, asking God why… He isn’t shocked or worried that we are walking over the edge of the abyss. He is probably just wanting to gently stroke our hair & wrap his big God-arms around us & hug us until we stop crying & stop swearing. I think of David in the Psalms. He spilled his guts to God & God called him a man after his own heart. I’ll take that truth any day. Thanks for the quotes, SurvivorGirl. I had never heard them before.

      • SurvivorGirl

        You are most welcome. Thank you for sharing your thoughts! Love ’em!

  • Roo James Wilson

    What I find truly amazing about your writing is the breadth of people you speak to. To me, that is the clarity of wisdom, that is speaks not only to where you’re at but also to the many scopes of folks searching out truth and words that they cannot speak. For all it’s worth, I encourage you to continue to develop this amazing talent you have, use those words to breathe love and life into the many weary souls that pass your way. Much love to you brother.

    • So you’re officially the affirming voice in my life, Roo. Seriously. Needed that. I worry sometimes about becoming pigeonholed here, because although I am so passionate about humanizing the gay christian experience, there are many other spaces I walk in, too. Thank you for this. Been cherishing this comment all day.

      • Roo James Wilson

        You are more than welcome Benjamin. 🙂 There is a lot I’d love to discuss with you, email me if you want: roo.james.wilson@gmail.com

  • jtheory

    Adding that Tillich quote to my favorite quotes ever. Man that is really where I am right now.

  • Hey brother. This is beautiful, and rings true when set next to the little I’ve learned of the mysterious power in the universe in my very few years of life experience. Thanks for writing, and may it keep flowing.

    • Love and miss you LD. I tell everyone I know that you are NOAH! (seriously, anyone reading this, my friend above was Russel Crowe’s body double. I am barely a degree of separation for Russell Crowe.)

      • Hahaha you cray. I love you too brother. Come to NYC some day :~p.

  • So blessed by this honest post by an obvious truth-seeker. I definitely feel this way, and question absolutely everything. I’m at the point where I try to just enjoy following Jesus, and try not to worry about my beliefs and whether I’ve “got it right” so much. Thanks for showing people like me that we’re not alone!

  • Laura

    A friend of mine (Heather Zempel) just released her new book called “Amazed and Confused…When God’s actions collide with our expectations”. It is about Habakkuk – a really honest and feisty guy. She writes, “Doubt can help us bond with God in a powerful way, so we must understand the difference between doubt and unbelief. While doubt compels us to run to God to debate, complain, argue, and question, unbelief causes us to abandon God… Doubt engages; unbelief walks away” Hope you’ll keep wrestling!

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