Are you one of those people who believes in everything with one hundred percent certainty, someone who never questions a decision? Or are you someone for whom every decision, every belief comes with an element of doubt?
I have always been in the second camp, and I think the majority of people would join me there.
Doubt is human. We all have doubts. Doubts about God, our lives and our purpose. We question everything. From our earliest years we have been searching for answers, our world view is readjusted with each new piece of information.
And doubt is also a constant companion when you’re dealing with chronic illness. Every decision has repercussions and sometimes those aren’t predictable. Every time I spend energy and do something, I wonder if it’s the right thing to do. I am constantly analysing my actions, trying to work out if I’m doing too much or not enough. And with the internet serving up new ‘treatments’ every week it is hard to sort the truth from the fiction. I often doubt if I’m choosing correctly.
But this kind of doubt is socially acceptable. I would be happy to admit to it over a cup of coffee. But I’m writing this today because I’m having other doubts. And these doubts are around my faith.
After a challenging year, I find myself in a place of doubting God. I am not doubting his existence. But I am doubting his love for me, I am doubting his plan for my life and I am doubting his goodness.
And this, as a Christian, is an awkward place to be. Historically the church hasn’t been a safe place to be honest about your doubts. We have often been afraid of doubt, treating it like a dirty word. We have been guilty of side-lining doubters. We relegate them to special groups or chats with the minister, sometimes we push them all the way out of our churches. It is as though we are afraid that doubt is contagious, fearing the infection will spread through our congregations. We treat doubt as the ultimate contradiction to faith.
But the bible is full of doubters. We find Sarah in Genesis, laughing when God promises her a son, doubting God’s ability to bring it about in her old age. We read of the Israelites, after the parting of the red sea, doubting God’s ability to provide for them in the desert. The Psalms are littered with people questioning God’s character and goodness, doubting that he is on their side. And then we find the disciples doubting who Jesus is and his plan for creation. Until we arrive at poor Thomas, made famous for his doubt of Jesus’ resurrection. Faith and doubt have come together from the beginning.
I believe we will all, at some point in our life find ourselves doubting something about God. Often doubt comes from a place of hurt, whether by a person or circumstance. That hurt opens a wound within us and the pain causes us to question everything we knew to be true. It is tempting to hide that pain away, but wounds untreated will fester. And the longer we wait to speak our doubts out loud, the harder it will become. If we’re not careful they can completely overwhelm us.
I know my doubt comes from a place of wrestling with how a good God can allow life to be so hard. Exhaustion wears you down, until you start to loose your sense of direction and can’t always see the way ahead. The truths you clung onto on day one, have a greater cost on day four hundred. On those days you will struggle to answer how a good, loving God allows you to suffer. And it can be easy to come to the wrong conclusion, believing that perhaps God loves you a little less than others or maybe not at all. Our fallible human minds will never be able to completely understand the character of God. And doubts will linger, in the gaps between our knowledge and experience.
So where do we take these doubts? Ironically enough the safest place to take them is to God. The same God who blessed Sarah with a son in spite of her doubts, who gave the Israelites manna in the desert when they doubted his provision, the one who welcomed Thomas to touch Jesus so he could believe. He has seen it all before.
God created us and knows us intimately. He knows every doubt before we can form the words for it. And he still invites us to come to him with our questions, our anger and uncertainty. There may be no easy answers. But we will encounter a love that is bigger than us, a father who knows what we need, and a grace that covers our failures. And that may be enough for now.