“If I had said, “I will speak thus,” I would have betrayed your children.” – Asaph
The line above comes from this guy, Asaph, who wrote some poetry or songs that made it through the final cut for the Bible. He’s talking out loud to God about some doubts he has about whether following God and doing things his way is really the smartest way to go.
Of course it’s an ironic line since he not only speaks it but it makes it into the Hebrew common book of prayer (also called “Psalms”) to be read or sung by the community on a regular basis.
Peter Kreeft once wrote, “Dullness, not doubt, is the strongest enemy of faith, just as indifference, not hate, is the strongest enemy of love.” Mostly we think Peter Kreeft is wrong. Doubt is the enemy we fear most of all. Doubt is what keeps us from getting our prayers answered. Doubt keeps us sick instead of being instantly healed by faith. Doubt, it would seem, hurts God’s feelings in a big way.
Or maybe not.
Actually, I’ll come clean and admit that I think Peter Kreeft is not only right but that God generally sees more faith in our doubts than he sees in our convictions. I think if all you have is doubt you’re not trying very hard but if you don’t have many doubts (about God, you, life, love, faith, politics, other humans…) you’re definitely not trying hard enough. Where once we valued journey, pilgrimage and wrestling with God, we now prefer the answers in the back of the textbook thank you and never mind how we got from here to there.
I know a guy who is a pastor of a church down in the States. Over Christmas they experienced a horrible tragedy in their church community. A young adult died during the performance of one of their Christmas drama. Shortly after, in a gathering of their church community to mourn, pray to God and process the tragedy together this guy prayed a troubling prayer. He called God out. He said out loud, into the mic, to God, that he felt let down, betrayed and confused. He spoke out his anger, frustration and disappointment that God, who he believed could have stopped the tragedy, didn’t.
That was the last straw for some folks and they left that church community for good.
A year ago I questioned what was going on with a guy named Todd in a city called Lakeland. Some folks left our church community because of that. I also lost some friends because of it and made others regard me with some suspicion for my lack of faith.
A year before that I raised some questions in our church community over the things we’ve always believed about Jesus or the things he said or did. I suggested that some things we believe because we made them up and want them to be true. Other things we believe because we were told it was so and we believe even though we never check to see for ourselves if it really is so. Some folks left. They could tolerate, even enjoy, my irreligious stuff but questions and doubts – where would it stop?
This isn’t just about doubting God though. You also can’t call people out and doubt what they’ve said, question what they’re teaching/saying/writing, or suggest someone is just plain wrong about something. That’s the fast track to being told, “Shhhhhh!” I don’t want to live my life trying to “catch” people in something they’ve said or done. But when did it become bad to point out that someone has completely missed the plot? Ah, wait, it’s not wrong when I do it, it’s only wrong when you do it to someone I like. Where’s the sarcasm button?
I have a friend here in our church community who offers to help me out with the answer to my doubts and questions every time I bring one up publicly. The truth is that he’s genuinely offering to help me out and he honestly believes he understands what I find confusing and mysterious. For him, his answers work, they satisfy him (and others too). Usually they don’t satisfy me. In fact, answers I used to find satisfying a decade ago just don’t cut it for me anymore. And strangely enough, the reason isn’t because I trust Jesus less but because I feel like I trust him more and know him better than I ever have. Like the guy I know from the States, my doubts and questions come because I feel like I know what he is like, what he can do and what could be.
Asaph didn’t say what he said because he was being dramatic. He said what he said because he knew what people are like. What I’ve learned is that to share a doubt or ask a question leaves people feeling betrayed. Some people freak out. Many people get defensive. Some get out their secret decoder rings and offer to solve the mystery for you. But rare are those who will sit and undergo the mystery with you.