This conversation has unfolded more times than I can count throughout my years of ministry. The most profound experience of this had to do with a family who had wanted me to have a conversation with their grown son. He and I were similar in age, and they were hoping I could help.
He had told the family that he was agnostic … that he might be heading toward outright atheism … and they wanted me to act fast to save his soul. So they introduced us and then helped coordinate a time when he would be home at their house during a time when I could stop by for a visit.
We sat down to talk, and their son, attempting to either test me or outright just drive me away, said, “Look, I don’t believe in your God. I am doubting whether there is even a God of any sort, but I am an atheist if all you’ve got is the God of the Bible.”
I then asked him, “Tell me about this God you don’t believe in.”
He began to tell me about a God of judgment … an angry God who slaughtered innocent children and who commanded faithful followers to completely destroy villages in the conquest of the promised land. He then talked about a God who was not described in scripture, but who was described in modern culture. This was a God who set the world in motion and then was removed from it, leaving all of us to our own devices.
After I listened to him for a period of time, I finally responded: “Well, we should get along great. Because that God that you don’t believe in? I don’t believe in that God either.”
Not sure that was where his parents really wanted me to go with this. But I knew that there was no other way go talk about it.
I have discovered that, for many people, it is best to start at the place of doubt. There are many people who struggle with doubt. If we are honest about it, we who find ourselves in the heart of mainline Christianity are pretty uncomfortable with doubt. We are the ones who sing, “Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine!” with gusto and confidence, and we are not sure we have a place for doubt. We don’t seem to have a hymn named “Waning Assurance” in our hymnal.
It is in this liminal space … this thin space … that we encounter our doubts. If there is anything that creates fear within us, it is the sometimes surprising onset of doubt. More than coming face-to-face with our sin … our brokenness … our grief, doubt feels like it can be our undoing.
What I have discovered, however, is that doubt can be a pathway to God. That is why I think I connect so easily with people who are honest about their doubts. I myself have been surprised by the deeper connection with God that has occurred as a result of my own brutal honesty about my doubts.
So as we journey through brokenness, our doubt often comes full force at us … as if to throw us off balance … or to move us farther away from God. But God is one who meets us right where we are. God is not put off or angry about our doubt.
If I am honest, God uses my own doubt to clear a pathway for greater connection … and a greater community … as I deepen my relationship with God and with all of creation, which includes the children of God.
Embrace the doubt. Then take the next step in faith. It is there that God will be waiting.
Lord, you give us the Psalm quoted by Jesus crying out with the question of why you have forsaken us in our time of suffering. You let us freely speak our doubts, and in that freedom, we soon discover a new pathway that leads us to your arms of grace. Amen.