Doubt & All Its Paradoxes

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Jonathan Steingard, the former lead singer for the Christian band Hawk Nelson, recently made national news as the latest Christian figure to renounce or reconsider or renounce their faith. He joins other notable Christian figures like Josh Harris, author of the infamous I Kissed Dating Goodbye, and Marty Sampson of Hillsong United (amongst others).

For those of us paying attention it’s a dangerously common theme. As I read Steingard’s statement I grew overwhelmed – angry, even. Much of his message focused on his fear of admitting his thoughts and doubts and the shock he felt in learning that others in his community, people he’d known for years, had doubts, too.

This felt personal to me. I felt a kinship with him. I have been there. I have experienced seasons of deep doubt. I still doubt. Steingard uses an analogy of pulling threads from a sweater until there were no threads left, and his metaphor felt so raw and true and personal for me my mouth almost fell open in shock. I felt exactly like that.

And much of my experience, barring just a few people closest to me, happened completely alone. I did not feel safe to talk about it–to admit it. Doubt felt like a poison, evidence of weak faith, the lurch of a novice skier down a black diamond hill. I felt like once it started there was no turning back. I was horrifyingly lonely, and I isolated myself from the people who, in theory, should have been able to shepherd me through this “dark night of the soul.” I consulted Google, vague spiritual teachers, and random stories on social media, not friends or pastors or the church. I didn’t feel like I could.

Somehow, through counseling, prayer, tears, and some faithful bits of teaching, I don’t think I repaired my sweater but knit a new one instead, using remnants of what I had left. I was introduced to a more gentle version of faith–one that makes room for doubt, one that allows me not to have all the answers. I started journaling my questions. I started writing prayers that were just me telling God all of my questions and confusion about him. And somehow, as I re-knit a different sort of sweater, God became real to me again.

I have not ceased doubting – I just handle my doubts differently. Doubt has, in fact, become one of my most important spiritual practices. Doubt laced with shame affirms what we most dread – that God isn’t there, and that we cannot speak up about our most terrifying fears because they might be true. But open-hearted doubt takes away all its power. No amount of our doubt or questions changes God’s nature. When we bring our questions to him we acknowledge his ability to withstand them, to answer them, to remain unchanging even as our affections waver.

This is the essential truth, the beautiful paradox for us doubters: Even as God grows more confounding to us, His presence remains our perfect balm. He is everything we’ve ever hoped for.

While we crave certainty, God is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. While we are utterly faithless, God is still faithful. While we stagger in every wrong direction, God promises that nothing, even our apathy, can separate us from his love. While we fail to acknowledge his very existence, or throw his nature into question, or ask him the hardest questions we can think up, He relentlessly pursues us. While we sort through our suppositions, our misunderstandings, our misgivings, while we undo every thread of our sweater, God holds it delicately in his hands, staying steadfast as ever, promising that even if the Earth gives way, He is still our refuge.

He is our good news, even when we feel like the question of His nature and His existence is the greatest burden of our lives.

It’s been years now since the darkest night of that season, and I’m growing braver, more comfortable, talking openly about my doubt. Not because it’s comfortable but because it’s vital. Because I needed to hear it from someone, and I did not. Because doubt is no longer my poison, but instead a way in which I find greater intimacy with God. Because nothing fuels doubt like shame and isolation, and nothing soothes an anxious soul like truth and fellowship. We should not be afraid to talk about doubt. We must speak of it more often – not by admonishing it, but by welcoming the wrestling, the mystery, the very reality of our human nature, and the truths of God our doubts make room for.

When we leave doubt out of the conversation we risk denying the opportunity to revel in God’s unchangingness, his faithfulness, his unconditional love for us even when we go so far as to reject him entirely.

Let us not fear our doubts, let us draw in to the God who stewards our uncertainty with his love. Let us not make doubt taboo in our churches, our communities, or our lives, let us acknowledge its pain and a God who is sovereign even in it. Let us not resort to fully untangling our sweaters in private but to reach out and say, “Look! Mine is frayed, too. Help me hold it. Help me grieve it. Help me steward it.”

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