“Now, I believe a critical element of our faith journey is a willingness to wrestle with doubt by honoring it, recognizing that it is part of faith.”
“Doubt is uncomfortable, certainty is ridiculous.” – Voltaire
A few years ago my then 15-year-old daughter asked me a question out of the blue: “Mommy,” she asked, “what was there before God? I know God made the world, but how did he come into existence in the first place and what was ‘there’ before?”
The first thing that crossed my mind was whipping out John 1 or Genesis 1; the only problem is those scriptures don’t properly answer her questions.
Instead, I resisted the panic rising in my chest and the fleeting thoughts that because I had no good answer, maybe my faith was a sham. Or even that I was actually an atheist. I responded, “Julia, way to go, asking the world’s most profound questions that no honest person can fully answer!”
Right after that, the next question that got fired from the back seat by one of the nine-year-old twins was, “While you’re at it, Mom, how do we know the Bible is true?”
Yeah, just an average day driving home from basketball practice for the Escobar family!
The Webster’s definition of doubt is: “to be uncertain about something; be undecided in opinion or belief.” Some synonyms for “doubt” include: apprehension, confusion, disbelief, lack of confidence, misgiving, mistrust, quandary, skepticism, suspicion, uncertainty, and reluctance. Do you recognize any of these in your life right now? The antonyms (or opposites) include: belief, certainty, confidence, dependence, faith, reliance, and trust.
I used to think the sign of being a good Christian was a rock-solid certainty that I could back up with exact scriptures. Now, I believe a critical element of our faith journey is a willingness to wrestle with doubt by honoring it, recognizing that it is part of faith.
Doubt is embedded in a life of descent, while certainty is often synonymous with ascent. Even Jesus himself expressed doubt in the Garden of Gethsemane. As honest sojourners, we will always be living in the tension between doubt and faith. Similar to the practice of welcoming pain, if we can’t embrace doubt in our own lives it is impossible to allow it in others.
And real people doubt.
As frustrating as it can be, doubt is part of the human experience.
We doubt we are lovable.
We doubt God is good.
We doubt all kinds of things, whether we say them out loud or not. In the quietness of our hearts, in the darkness of night, most people, regardless of their beliefs, education, and socio-economic level, wrestle with some form of doubt.
Honoring doubt is similar to welcoming pain—living in the tension and not feeling the overwhelming need to make it all better and tie it up with a neat and tidy bow. Julia’s question can never be fully wrapped up by slapping a scripture on it, even though I wish it were that easy.
We must learn to hold the space for doubt.
Life down in the trenches requires us to become people and communities who honor doubt. We must integrate into our practices safe places for ourselves and others to wrestle, and trust that God is at work in ways we sometimes can’t see.
I can’t tell you the number of times I have heard friends say, “I thought I was the only one who felt that way” after sharing their fears, questions, and doubts about theology or God or their faith experience and hearing that others are in the same boat, too.
We must find ways to allow people to doubt in public, instead of suffer in private.
Pockets of love can hold the space for doubt because they put relationship above belief. It is hard to live in the space of our own doubts and hold the space for others, but we must find a way. Like welcoming pain, we must trust God is at work and our main responsibility is only to be present in the midst.
I’m more convinced than ever that we love better when we stop trying to resolve what can’t be fully resolved and focus on the very simple essentials instead: love, love, and love. Most people, regardless of their specific faith experience or struggle, tend to agree on one thing: the importance of love.
We don’t have to have all the answers.
We don’t have to take away people’s pain and struggle with belief.
We don’t have to move people toward certainty.
What we do have to do is honor doubt as a natural part of the human experience.
I continue to learn, more than ever, that the downwardly mobile life requires honoring and respecting doubt–my own and others’–instead of resisting it. It’s where real people live.
My dear SheLoves friends, I’d love to hear:
- Is it easy or hard for you to embrace your own doubts? The doubts of others?
- What are you learning about doubt on your faith journey right now?
Kathy Escobar co-pastors The Refuge, an eclectic faith community in North Denver dedicated to those on the margins of life and faith. She blogs regularly about life and faith at www.kathyescobar.com and recently released her book called, Down We Go–Living out the Wild Ways of Jesus in Action. She lives in Arvada, Colorado with her husband, Jose, and five kids.