Tuesday, September 18, 2012

In Fear of Doubt

A few Christians have had the luxury of growing up with the freedom to doubt. Most haven't. From what I can tell, most Christians fear doubt, and have been taught to fear doubt. In fact, fear in general is a quite the motivator to keep people in check, especially in religious groups. If you can cause enough fear in people, you can control them. And, a sad thing it is that too many church leaders believe it is their role and right to control people, to keep them in obedience to their high wisdom and greater understanding of things spiritual. Leadership, especially spiritual leadership, is distorted when it tries to keep people from learning to think for themselves ... even doubt for themselves. 

I believe and it is my experience that the greatest and strongest faith is the examined faith. Being given answers-on-a-platter just buries the fear that lies beneath the surface of every person who wishes to know truth. "Just take my word for it" is too often a manipulation by leadership who misunderstand their role (or worse) and a disquieting copout for those who heed them. As children, our good parents gave us tools to live and think independently and to survive and thrive in life. To do any less would be to neglect the ultimate goal of raising children and to doom them to a life of dependent weakness. Spiritual growth is the same. Spiritual "parenting" is the same. The Christian scriptures of the New Testament to a certain extent call this discipleship. A disciple follows a teacher and learns to live in the life that the teacher leads them to. The goal of Christian discipleship is to lead another to something, a place where the hand off takes place, to stand alone in one's faith, to know the master teacher himself, Jesus Christ. Knowing him is the goal. Learning to seek answers from him is the intent. The role of the one who disciples is temporary. The idea of discipling is that the one who was discipled grows mature enough to disciple someone else. Old Testament scriptures are quoted in the New Testament to that effect: "There will come a time when no one will need to teach another about Me (God), for all will know me from the least to the greatest. I will put my very Spirit within them" (paraphrased from Jeremiah and Ezekiel, OT prophets, and quoted in a letter to Hebrew Christians). 

This is a hard thing to swallow, but if followers of Jesus truly believe what they know their scriptures teach, then they will intrinsically know that following a man or woman, or a church group's rules or system wasn't the goal Jesus' had in mind. Being in a relationship with himself was his desire from the beginning. Restoration of the intimacy of knowing God was always what God was after and why he visited us in flesh. Even following the words on a page, as in "scripture," wasn't the end goal. Certainly knowing scripture and following its teachings are a good and necessary thing, but Jesus himself put that popular idea in pinpoint perspective when he spoke strong words to a group of religious leaders. "You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have eternal life." How many of us have in effect refused to come to Jesus Christ because we think that by studying scriptures we have eternal life. The Good Book was never meant to be worshiped or to replace the true object of our reverence. When we revere the book above Jesus thinking we can know him simply through the words, we replace the true Word. One of the Jesus writers who knew him in the flesh, one of his closest followers, told us The Word was made flesh in Jesus and lived among us. The Book was meant to lead us to the Christ, not replace him. In him we find life. 

Any teaching that leads us to depend upon a man, be he pastor, bishop, priest, or minister, is teaching that falls far short of God's intent for leadership or discipleship. When "seasoned" followers of Christ feel as though they will dry up and die without the weekly teaching of some person, they haven't learned nearly the first thing about life lived in perfect harmony with the Spirit of God. Teaching is good, but it does not equate to our relationship with God.

And so, what I have come to understand about doubt is that God is not threatened by ours. What good father belittles or punishes his young child for doubting his word?! God, our Father, is the same. There may be times when he says, "Hang on! Trust me. I've got you. You're not going to fall! You'll understand this later." There are times when he is silently, patiently waiting for us to come to the end of our wanderings. But, he is there. Always. Sometimes, we have to bounce around for awhile until we wear out and sit exhausted and ready to believe and receive.

But God isn't turned away by our doubts and fears. An old friend of mine called it "faith with a question mark." Faith in the face of questions. When we learn that God loves to hear us, loves to know what we are struggling with, isn't afraid of our questions, that is a great day. Go ahead and ask your questions, entertain your doubt, pursue faith. But, let me assure you that underneath your doubt is God who loves you more than anyone ever has or ever will. He is bearing you up, holding onto you! and leading you into a depth of faith and freedom that you never thought possible. 

The words of author Jim Bishop are fitting: 
"At the age of four, I knew that God was everywhere. I spoke to Him...But as I grew toward manhood, the more I learned, the less I believed in God...When I was twenty-one, my superior intellect told me that God was a fake. Heaven could not be "up" and Hell could not be "down" because in space there is no up or down. And I knew that everything in creation dies, including the smallest insect and the biggest star.

"Then one day," he said, "I felt a new experience. I saw the miracle of birth -- Virginia Lee, a child of my own -- and it turned my wandering mind around. I began to doubt my doubts. Gradually I lost faith in my intellect. It was not supplying the needed answers.

"I could not see the air, but without it I would die. Thus it is, I decided, with the spirit of man. I needed something to breathe life into a soul that had been crushed by the dominance of the human mind."

Jim Bishop needed faith. "I was a slow learner," he said, But, somehow, somewhere, as I groped my painful way, I found my soul...I knew it was there -- wounded, bleeding perhaps, but alive.

I began to pray, and as faith returned to me, I feared that it might dissolve again. So I prayed for continuing faith. It was only when I gave up -- when I let go and allowed myself to be carried by God -- that I began to really feel His Presence. He was there, and I knew it!

I had wanted proof -- something for my eyes or ears or hands. He wanted me to believe without it. Faith and trust are what He required of me! And He never rested until I found them."

What I believe you'll discover in this walk of faith is that as you learn how much this Father loves you, you WILL trust him. It is as natural as a child who trusts her father to let her jump into his arms without dropping her. What I am discovering is that trust really is more of an outcome than a decision. Everything about my life is in the Father's hands. Everything! Nothing escapes his watchful, loving eyes. As I understand more about his love for me, I naturally trust him more. And, I don't mean "understand" as just an intellectual exercise. The more I experience his love, the more I discover that I am trusting him. Something happens and I am surprised to find that I am not worrying like I used to to. Or, I go through some difficult time and later look back and realize I wasn't as frightened as I had been when that happened earlier in my life. I found that I had been trusting God all along without ever really declaring I was. Trust is just the natural outcome of what I've experienced in my relationship with him.

Such an awesome thing to learn. Faith in the midst of doubt. Trust in midst of pain and disappointment. Love that penetrates and covers it all.

1 comment:

Marshall said...

Skip, since has been more than 2 years following this Blogger post, "In Fear of Doubt". You've written an inspiring story of faith being re-birthed.
How has been the journey since?