Faith and Doubt

When I didn’t know of pressure it was easy to forgive
You didn’t have to be perfect
Not in my neighborhood
I don’t know what year things became so unclear but I’m still here.
But I’m caught somewhere between Faith and Doubt
And I feel like I’m never going to find my way back outta here.

The words above were penned by Aaron Espe, who plays at our coffee house now and then. I’ll have to ask him about the song sometime.

I’ve been thinking about Faith and Doubt of late. Mostly doubt. It’s been quite the journey, this Christian walk. Moments of clarity, and sometimes, confusion. Even despair. Is there reason for doubt and despair? I was going to say NO. In truth, there isn’t, because there is always hope, there is always Christ. Instead, though, I’m going to say YES. Because when you get in the trenches of life, you don’t always see clearly, you don’t always connect with the person next to year, and when the battle rages, you feel, and you wonder, and you process. In short, you are human, and I am human.

Isaiah 40 paints of beautiful picture of who God is, of his magnificence. And mind you, at the moment, the words are too transcendent to mean anything to me. I’ve often heard the end of 41:31, “They shall run and not be weary; and they shall walk and not faint.” This, when we wait on the Lord, and He renews our strength. But that verse doesn’t stand alone. It is paralleled by verses 29 and 30, “He gives power to the weary, and to them that are stricken with disease he increases strength. Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall helplessly stumble.”

There is something there, in my doubt, that I can embrace, in this God of the weary. It’s God that doesn’t faint, very clearly, and He that empowers and lifts up. But us, we grow weary, and if even youth grow weary, so do we all. But are we allowed to admit it? Does Christian culture allow this? Does American culture allow this? It’s oversimplistic to even ask, as if there is a singular Christian culture or singular American culture. There isn’t. But there is this pervasive notion that it’s not okay to express weakness or doubt. I’m not talking about this as a state of continual being, I’m talking about the times where we just fall apart and are broken, where we get tired of playing the games, when we wonder if we even know how to play.

There are Psalms where the psalmist openly begins by questioning God’s character, in a way that is obviously not true, but it was for him at that moment. And by pouring out his heart and expressing his doubt, he is able to find God in the end. He finds God by doubting. We may be familiar with “As the Deer pants for the water” in Psalm 42, but not so much with the psalmist asking God, “Why have you forgotten me?” Do you ever feel like that? David did. And not just once, for he is also said to have penned Psalm 22. Even better, there’s Psalm 88, an outright complaint to God…with no resolution to his cry. At least, not in that song.

I wrote in my personal journal something more akin to Psalm 88 over a week ago. That day didn’t end with an easy answer, at least not one felt. I think it can be dangerous to not let ourselves feel and express doubt as Christians. Too often it means going through the motions in a mediocre way, just kindof existing. While there is much I love about my upbringing, and things I appreciate about my early church years, it has taken me years, both as a Christian, and as a person, to learn to be emotionally honest. And I’m still learning. And I don’t like just existing. Because life is being alive.

Then there’s faith. Faith isn’t the opposite of doubt anymore than courage is the opposite of fear. I’m not sure you can have one without the other. Faith and courage are ways to respond. They are actions. It’s so much easier though to be caught somewhere between the two. To be inactive. To not really respond, but merely intellectually ascend (and yes, that is an intentional play on words). I find it hard to know, sometimes, what the respond should be, because in Christendom, there isn’t a singular response to many a question. Unless, of course, you listen to the ones who will say, without doubt, that they have the answer. I don’t believe in a Christianity that is robbed of wonder though, that plants a pole in the sand saying we’ve arrived, and there is no more to learn. Life is learning, and the God of Isaiah 40 takes more than a lifetime to begin to comprehend.

And the God of Isaiah 40 doesn’t promise to give us something in those verses. He doesn’t give us a formula. He doesn’t give us a principal. He gives us life from His very being. He gives us Himself. He makes us. He renews us. It’s mystical. It’s not practical. Rather, it’s running till we run out of breath, falling down in the dust, and then remembering that what’s we are, but that we don’t have to run alone. That we can look outside ourselves to be renewed. And this God will breath life into a weary soul. He will strengthen me to rise to the challenge, to run again.

As wonderful as those words sound right now. I’m still not feeling them. Not that faith is feeling. But, honestly, I despise the false dichotomy between emotion and intellect. We’re human, we’re created with both, they are both good, and they are inseparable in any equation. So, again, I’m not feeling those words right now. I wonder if I get confused about the waiting. What I am to wait for? I’ve been told before that God will do everything in His time. That it’s important to wait for God to answer prayer. To be faithful and good things will happen. And in my life, I have had good things happen to me that I didn’t deserve, sometimes that I didn’t pursue, and other things that haven’t come to pass, much to my chagrin. I do believe that God may have timing for things, but I question whether we are applying the notion in a Biblical way.

What is it we’re waiting for, exactly? Waiting for everything to be handed to us? Or waiting for God to make us? He may do both, or He may do neither. I wonder sometimes why certain things haven’t been handed to me. And other times why I haven’t been made. At the moment, I am wondering if I was ‘made’ along time ago but just haven’t realized it. I’m contemplating what it means to be confident, and how it seems different than some of the notions I’ve learned from some Christians. I’m really not sure, but there is no lack of people with opinions.

I don’t always understand this God, or this walk. But I’m thinking back to something Rich Mullins said about ‘being made.’ Just the idea. Why do some things come easy, and others not? Why am I not further along? Yet, I have come so far. There. Here. Now. I am reminded of imagination, of play, of wonder. That life is to be lived. That there will be brokenness and pain, and that to feel love, one must risk feeling.

So, I’ll finish this stream of consciousness post for the evening. When I write like this, I come back to the words of my poetry teacher, “We write to understand.” I better understand David too. And to a world that says not to express weakness, to not let my personal side show, I say, simply, no.