It was 1971. I was a newly minted Christian, and eager to share the good news of what I had found. I had gone to what the Methodist Church called a Lay Witness Mission, sort of a revival, and given my life over to God. It was phrased as “give as much of yourself as you can, to as much of God as you can understand.” It wasn’t much in either case – I didn’t understand much, and I couldn’t give much, but I did what I could. One of the things they had emphasized was the need to share the message of the faith you had found. They didn’t say much about how to do that, but just had a few lectures on the basics of Christianity.
So there I was one night, sitting in a dorm room at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, trying to share my faith with a friend of mine. I had gone to high school with Jerry, and we’d spent a lot of time water skiing and hanging out at the lake. He was at Tech to get a biology degree, and wanted to eventually get a PhD in some specialized type of biology that I didn’t understand. I had barely gotten through the dissecting the frog course, so I had no idea what he was studying, but I did know he was really smart.
I stumbled through the basic concepts of Christianity I had been given, somehow thinking that to be effective I needed to be sure of what I was saying, and convicted in the correctness of my position. Only later did I realize that I hadn’t thought through what I had been taught, wasn’t sure if I believed it or agreed with it, and that this made for a less than effective presentation of certainty.
Then Jerry said something that baffled me. “I think we come to faith through doubting.” I was perplexed, because they hadn’t given us an answer for that thought in the lectures. In some vague way, it felt like not being faithful to even question the validity of Christianity. I ran my stock answers past him one more time, trying to speak them clearly enough that he would understand what I was saying. I could see he remained unconvinced, and somewhere deep inside me, I felt unconvinced myself.
It took me many years to understand what he had said. Only after I had gone through doubting phases did I realize the strength of the concept he was trying to share with me. And the irony of that didn’t escape me.
I reached a point where I had tried all the Bible Studies I could sign up for – to try to better understand God. I had been very active at our church, involved in singles ministry, working as a counselor with the high school kids. I had even gone on weekend prison ministries – where we would spend the majority of the weekend inside a Texas prison unit, only returning to our motel rooms late at night – witnessing to the prisoners about our faith.
I later realized that what I was trying to do, particularly with the Bible Study – was to understand God well enough that I could quantify Him, put Him in a box, and essentially, not have to trust in God. I began to wonder if I agreed with all I had learned, and felt that all the effort wasn’t allowing me to feel more convinced when it came to my faith. Did I really believe the things I had learned and thought I knew about God?
Somewhere during that time, I also attended a Great Books study group, and heard a wonderful quote by Socrates. Paraphrased – “the beginning of wisdom is to know we don’t have wisdom.” I translated that to be free to give up trying to understand and quantify God – because it couldn’t be done. I relaxed a lot after that.
But I was still left questioning my faith, my direction, and my relationship with God. As I realized that there were unresolved issues from my childhood that had broken my trust in God, I began to see why I was not giving myself more freely. The essential question was: “If you’re an omniscient, omnipotent God like I’ve been taught – where were You when the bad things were happening, and why didn’t You stop it?” I didn’t find a simplistic answer to that question – I’m not sure if one exists – but I made peace with the fact that there had been abuse and violence that had caused me to doubt. Wait – caused me to doubt? So did I come to trust more and have more faith, through doubting? Sure seemed like it.
So now Jerry’s statement took on a whole new meaning. “We come to faith through doubting.” I didn’t understand until I had gone through it myself. But it gave me a whole new appreciation for the faith process. By questioning what I had been taught, by doubting God because of my past, I had come to that certainty that had been missing earlier about my faith. By giving up the need to know everything – more accurately, by admitting the futility of trying to know everything – I came to a greater peace about accepting life as it was, and taking faith as “the evidence of things unseen,” and relying on them as I went about my life. It freed me to a more pure spirituality – not religiosity – that allowed me to connect with God in a way I had never done before. And if I doubted occasionally – I was fine with that now, and knew it would eventually strengthen my faith.
“sensitive noise / obvious 2” milos milosevic @flickr.com Creative Commons. Some rights reserved.
“DCS00850” by David Boyle @ flickr.com. Creative Commons. Some rights reserved.
Previously published in Thoughts Along the Road to Healing