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Archive for the ‘Doubt’ Category

O Come All Ye Faithful, Joyful and triumphant . . .

Come and behold him, Born the King of Angels . . .

All Hail! Lord, we greet Thee, Born this happy morning

Those words from a traditional hymn are on my mind this Christmas morning. Today the world celebrates Jesus, the Son of God who became human about 2000 years ago. Remembering his birth fills hearts with joy and mouths with song. People give gifts and feast with family and friends.

Venice - The Adoration of Magi in Santa Maria dei Frari.But not everyone is so happy this Christmas morning. Some miss loved ones from whom they’re separated by death or conflict. Some remember painful Christmas experiences. Some are alone. Some wonder if they really believe what they’ve been taught to rejoice about on December 25.

Life is not all “joyful and triumphant.” Sometimes we don’t want to greet the Lord because we feel that the Lord has abandoned us. We may feel forgotten, forsaken, far from faith.

If you haven’t experienced such darkness, expect it. Prepare for it. Bolster your faith in advance. Ask hard questions. Pursue truth no matter what it might do to what you’ve been taught. Befriend experienced, wise Christians who can mentor you through faith and doubt. Pray now for strength to persevere when you feel like you can’t pray.

If you have experienced such darkness, share it. Use that experience to bless people who are currently going through it. Let them know that they are not alone. Assure them that their doubt does not kick them out of heaven. Gently come alongside them. Be present for them. Be patient when they’re not ready to talk. Be willing to wait, to listen. Pray for them.

If you are experiencing such darkness right now, know that you’re in good company. Read through the Psalms to find words to express your experience in uncensored prayer to God who understands and expects our cries and questions and can handle whatever pain we spew out. Find words of lament from Psalm 22 arising in agony from the lips of the Son of God on the cross and know that questioning God’s presence is part of faith.

“Come all ye faithful, and all ye who would like to be faithful if only you could, all ye who walk in darkness and hunger for light” (Frederick Buechner).

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My previous post told of my intense experience of doubt in my early 20s. My faith did not stay dead, and its revival had several parts. Let me tell you about three.

As soon as possible after my return to Abilene, Texas, I visited the office of one of my professors. I asked why he had chosen to be a Christian after exposure to so many alternatives.  He answered, “It makes the most sense.” That statement frustrated me then but blesses me now.

Another professor assigned me to read a thin but dense book that gave me a way to deal with some questions that had been crushing me. As soon as I finished reading, I experienced God indescribably. I acknowledged that God was bigger than my doubts and recognized that I could believe in God even when I had doubts.

Next came the Sooners for Christ, a group of students at the University of Oklahoma. In that community I found acceptance, love, and openness to my questions. I found freedom to be myself, and I rediscovered a passion for ministry. Through devotionals, conversations, ping pong games, and retreats, my faith was forming flesh.

My road back to faith included many parts, including a conversation, a book, and a community. God works in diverse ways.

Sooners for Christ in Mexico, Spring Break 2003

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I grew up in a good home. My parents were Christians. They prayed, read scripture, taught my brothers and me to do those things, and regularly took us to church gatherings.

As a teenager, I started questioning some of our church’s teachings. Biblical and important ideas became unbiblical and unimportant. My religious tradition had taught me the value of studying for oneself, and that’s what I was doing.

For the most part, I stayed quiet about my questions. I didn’t try to cause trouble, didn’t leave my heritage, didn’t start a new one. After high school, I served as a youth ministry intern, preached for a small church, and took a few mission trips.

The questions were maturing and increasing.

Then I spent a few months in England studying philosophy of religion and the development of doctrine (teaching) in the early church. It was, academically, the most difficult time of my life. It also was the hardest spiritually. I finally reached a point at which I knew I had no faith.

The death of my faith was not because of my education. It was not the fault of any professor or assignment. In fact, my philosophy of religion professor was a minister who, upon hearing my confession of faithlessness, smoothly shifted from academic guidance to pastoral care.

Maybe in another post I’ll tell you about my return to faith, but here I want to highlight the precise moment in which I knew my faith had vanished. I had researched and rejected the major philosophical arguments for God’s existence. One night, however, sitting on my bed in a small basement room, I prayed, “God, I don’t even know if you’re there… much less if you’re listening… but for some reason I’m praying anyway.”

Why did I pray? Why do you pray? Why have people prayed for thousands of years?

Perhaps it’s when our prayers seem pointless that they have the greatest impact. As Barbara Brown Taylor says, “the most important time to pray is when your prayers seem meaningless.”

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Closing quotation from Barbara Brown Taylor, Home by Another Way (Boston: Cowley, 1999).

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“Be merciful to those who doubt…” (Jude 22). Doubters often feel that they are a marginalized minority in the church. The reality, however, is that most of us experience doubt. Faith is not the absence of doubt. Faith often happens through doubt. When we suffer the depths of doubt, we need the community of faith to embrace us as members who belong and contribute. We need people to love us. We need them to pray and praise on our behalf when we cannot.

(Day 357: Second John – Jude)

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Jesus dies, and his followers grieve. Then a group of them hears that he’s no longer dead. Some believe the news. Thomas doubts: “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

Maybe you’ve experienced similar doubt, wanting tangible evidence for faith. I have. The search for such information can strengthen us, but there’s more.

Thomas’ encounter with the risen Christ leads him not to a rational conclusion based on facts but to a declaration of faith based on experience. Jesus offers the evidence, and Thomas no longer needs it. Instead of touching the scars to satisfy his doubts, he proclaims, “My Lord and my God!”

What can God use to increase our faith? Evidence or experience? Both.

(Day 315: John 19-21)

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I remember the day I stopped believing in God.

My agnosticism had been developing for some time but birthed in the fall semester of 2000. I was a visiting student at Oxford and had developed a capacity for researching and explaining various philosophical arguments for God’s existence… and for bashing them all. I won’t tell you the whole story here, but I now believe in God again and am a follower of Jesus.

Doubt led to a faith crisis because I had assumed God demanded my certainty. I thought I needed to have all the answers to all the questions about all the beliefs I was expected to hold. What I learned through my process of returning to the Christian faith is that God does not command certainty but expects me to humbly acknowledge, accept, and admit my intellectual limitations.

Isaiah 64:8 indicates that we are God’s children. My wife and I look forward to our child’s quickly coming birth. I don’t know a lot about parenting yet, but I know that little children usually don’t understand their parents’ thoughts, actions, or goals. The verse also calls us clay in the hands of the divine potter, and I’m pretty sure clay doesn’t understanding anything at all.

I want to learn, to grow, to understand more; but I don’t need to have all the answers. My salvation does not depend on my knowledge. I do not bow to the god of certainty.

(Day 222: Isaiah 64-66)

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My wife and I like movies that have happy endings. Too many stories in real life have sad endings. When we watch a movie, we want to feel good when the credits roll.

The book of Psalms expresses an array of human emotions: love, loneliness, delight, despair, etc; and it ends in praise. Psalms 146-150 are songs of praise. The book of Psalms has a happy ending.

And the Psalter’s closing of praise encourages me. Whatever negative experiences I have, whatever pains I endure, whatever doubts or fears attack me, I can praise the God who is mightier than all of them, the God whose love perseveres against competitors, the God who is working justice in the midst of life’s cruelty.

Praise the Lord!

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