Monday, August 12, 2013

I doubt it (is that ok?)

I am reading You Lost Me by David Kinnaman.  This book is a report on research into the "dropout problem" among young adults in Christian churches in America and some prescriptive thoughts for reaching these dropouts and reorienting our churches around the gospel.  It is a challenging read for a church leader and long-time follower of Jesus like myself.  One of the later chapters has especially spurred my thoughts recently.  The chapter is simply titled "Doubt."

Doubt is an interesting phenomenon in the life of a follower of Jesus or even in the life of someone who is considering following Jesus.  We spend a great deal of time as preachers and teachers encouraging people to trust God and "exercise" their faith.  All of this encouragement can, and should, be used to deal with our doubts.  It is my experience, however, that we almost never address doubt directly and I spend a lot of time preaching and teaching.  By contrast, I've said and heard something like "when we sin we should . . . ." or "when you are discouraged you should . . . ." lots of times.  Not so much with doubt.

I've always thought doubt was a near-universal experience mostly because I have personally experienced it.  Don't most of us assume we are mostly normal?  The research by the Barna Group presented in You Lost Me backs this up.  That's good, sort of.  Good in the sense that I am normal, at least in this one case, and you are, too.  Not so good in the sense that this thing that everyone feels is not being addressed.  In  leaving it unaddressed we, Christians, give the impression that it's not acceptable to doubt or, worse, that we don't have any way of dealing with doubt.

Doubt need not be feared.  While faith doesn't depend on doubt, doubt certainly provides an opportunity for our faith to be strengthened.  Maybe an illustration from my "other" life will help.  Scientific theory and advancement is built on doubt.  Thoughts like "that doesn't seem right" and questions like "how does that happen?" are the impetus for scientific discovery.  The questions and skepticism do not yield discovery on their own, of course, but the testing of theories and exploration of processes does.  This is doubt applied, if you will.  Experiments are ideas and questions put to the test and I would suggest that followers of Jesus should apply this practice and encourage others to do likewise.

A brief aside:  there are some readers who would like to delve into and challenge naturalism based on the above paragraph.  I am with you but that will have to occupy another space.  Suffice it to say that the above paragraph applies to actual science.  Naturalism is philosophy and has only recently come to be, mistakenly, synonymous with scientific thought.

The Bible actually has a something to say about doubt.  Interested readers should cast fresh eyes on the Psalms and the book of Job.  Doubt is hit head on in the life of Thomas and even in the Great Commission.  Check out the response of the disciples in Matt 28:17!  How did Jesus respond?  With Thomas, Jesus invited him to test his doubt.  "Put your hands here."  With the disciples at the end of Matthew, He gave them the mission anyway, effectively inviting them to test Him and His authority.

We can do the same.  If God is the source of all truth, all sincere testing will lead us closer to Him.  We should test our doubts rather than nurse them in the dark.  One warning, you can explore the effects of gravity by dropping a marble but you can't explore God without risking yourself.  If you have emerged from your doubts with a stronger faith, you should work at making others feel comfortable expressing, and testing, their own doubts.  Someone may one day topple our current model of the atom but, if God is who He says He is, no one will ever topple Him! 

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