Doubt Your Doubt
Doubt is, to some extent, built into our nature. Many people find themselves going through crises of faith at different points in their lives. Some doubts are more intellectual in nature, a failure to connect faith and reason well. Still, others doubt in a raw and emotional way.
In my own experience, nothing makes me doubt my faith more than the suffering of children. It’s so visceral for me that I can’t even formulate it in a rational way, other than to look at the situation and then look up and ask God, “How is this happening?” On an intellectual level, I can express an argument for why suffering exists, why Christianity best explains it, and why we look to the future when God will right these wrongs. Even then, my heart tends to be slow in coming around.
All this is to say: doubting is inevitable and the Church should never “doubt shame” someone into belief. Instead, the Church should be a safe space where one can responsibly voice doubt and be given oversight through whatever issue they’re wrestling with.
At the same time, doubt should be done responsibly with a proper posture. That posture looks less like Job and more like Habakkuk. In Job, the title character uses a theological system known as retribution theology as a way to insist that God had made some kind of error and that his suffering was unjust. Still, the problem with Job seems less to do with his theology and more to do with the way he accuses God. Indeed, the oft quoted, “For I know that my Redeemer lives” (Job 19:25; RSV) is a defiant stand on his own self-righteousness and a complaint that he has to look elsewhere to be vindicated because God is in error.
In the book of Habakkuk, the prophet sees injustice in the geopolitical circumstances of the world. Israel, God’s covenantal people, are being bullied by other, stronger nations. The prophet hears God pronounce this as a judgment against Israel and can’t believe his ears. He argues against God’s plan but then, at the end of his protest, he says:
I will take my stand to watch, and station myself on the tower, and look forth to see what he will say to me, and what I will answer concerning my complaint. (Habakkuk 2:1)
Habakkuk is a model for doubting for those of us within the Church. He is honest with God while at the same time raising legitimate questions due to his lack of understanding.
All this is a preface to point out that there is a fad of contemporary Christians who rely heavily on the experience of doubt in ways that cause them to seriously deviate from (little-o) orthodoxy into a progressive Post-Evangelicalism.
Unfortunately, these instances of doubt can be more harmful than positive. It is possible to commodify one’s doubt, to brand oneself as “enlightened” at the expense of orthodox teaching, doctrine, and practice while still claiming to be Christian. In these situations, doubt allows doctrine to become fluid and subjective. Tradition becomes just merely a path where one “walks into the mystery of God” but there is no way to measure the validity of said traditions (more on this in the coming weeks).
One of the implications of this mode of questioning is that the doubter can easily become the provocateur. Often times this can be out of a desire to be “prophetic.” However, like Rachel Held Evans has pointed out on the Liturgists podcast, “Being prophetic is not an excuse to be an ass.”1 Doubt isn’t an excuse to obfuscate, confuse, or “be an ass” through vague, obnoxious, or cynical comments. It all goes back to posture.
Which brings us to the point. As Timothy Keller would say, “doubt your doubt!”
That’s not an empty platitude. It’s an exhortation to radically interrogate the source of your doubt. Frequently, doubt can become a means by which we either intentionally or subconsciously distract from our own shortcomings and allow them to perpetuate. Sometimes are doubts can show us larger problems with ourselves than with our belief system.
But in instances where we do have legitimate doubts, let us remember the posture of Habakkuk and ultimately be willing to submit to God’s answer to our problem. Wielding doubt responsibly can help us further conform to the image of Christ and work through the tough issues. When it’s done irresponsibly, it can take us places we don’t want to go.
- While Evans is right on this point, this is not an endorsement of her.