When I read the stories of Abraham, Moses, Naomi, David, Habakkuk, John the Baptist, Thomas, and others in Scripture, I discover that I am not as honest a believer as they are.
Here’s what I mean: They face their doubts openly and honestly, whereas I tend to cover up my doubts and pretend that I have unwavering confidence in God. I find that I tend to value the image of faith, whereas they value honest relationship with God.
One of the things I learn from these great characters in the Bible is that doubts, handled openly and honestly, are more conducive to spiritual growth and fulfillment than maintaining an image of unwavering spiritual confidence.
I appreciate what Ruth Senter wrote many years ago about what doubt that has meant to her faith:
“All my life I had been told, ‘God is love.’ It was one of the first verses I memorized in Sunday school. And I had always been so sure about God’s love—until I saw my dad being loaded into an ambulance. Then none of the verses meant a thing. God was not fair.
“If God were so loving, how could he have led my dad to move our family 1,000 miles across the country, only to find there was no job at the other end of the move? If God cared so much about us, why was my dad now sick, on top of everything else we had just gone through? Suddenly all my neat little theories about the love of God crumbled. God might have said he was love, but at the moment, as the ambulance drove off, I doubted it. It was as though somebody had thrown a bucket of cold water on my faith, which had always burned so strongly.
“All the other Christians I knew came through things like this with glowing testimonies of how they learned to love God more through their trials. They never spoke of praying and feeling like God was nowhere in the vicinity…. No one ever talked about doubting God’s love or his fairness. Christians weren’t supposed to doubt. They were supposed to trust. But I had my doubts.”
Facing her struggles with doubt openly and honestly, Ruth Senter goes on to write,
“Admitting my doubts to others has…helped ease the tension I felt about having unanswered questions. I’ve begun to realize there are a lot of other Christians who have the same doubts and questions I have. Being honest about my doubts gives others the opportunity to be honest about their struggles too. It allows us to help each other through tough times. To pretend that I never question God may cut me off from the companionship I need with another fellow struggler.
“I haven’t outgrown all my doubts. There are still many loose ends of life which I haven’t been able to tie together—and probably never will. I’ll never understand all the ways of God. He doesn’t even expect me to. But he does expect me to love him. And loving means honesty.
“I wish I’d learned a long time ago that God does understand about doubts. It would have saved me a lot of energy I wasted trying to pretend my questions didn’t exist.” (From Campus Life magazine, July/August 1984)
Actually, the only way to remove all doubt from our lives would be to shrink God down to something so small that all our questions could be answered easily. But what good would such a small God be? Harry Emerson Fosdick remarks, “I would rather live in a world where my life is surrounded by mystery than live in a world so small that my mind could comprehend it.”
Baron Von Hugel adds, “The deeper we get into reality, the more numerous will be the questions we cannot answer.”
I am learning that faith is not the absence of doubts but facing our doubts openly and honestly while also loving God and following in His way in the midst of our doubts. ■
—Tom Tripp is the Pastor at the First Presbyterian Church of Colusa.