Faith and Doubt in the Church

Several years ago I experienced doubt in my faith (Read about it here). During this time I was naturally drawn to people that had gone, or were going, through something similar. Faith and doubt go hand in hand, and the church needs to be a safe place to discuss what’s going on in our life. One common thread that surprised me was that most people felt like they couldn’t ask THAT question in church.

THAT question is different for all of us. Is God good? Is the Bible literally true? Is evolution how God created the world? Is that really a sin? What it boils down to is what I’ve been taught, raised in, or heard really true?

Unfortunately for many their experience is they don’t feel welcome, or comfortable, bringing that struggle into church. The church isn’t a safe place to wrestle through these issues. That’s a big problem. Especially when you consider Barna’s recent study found 2/3s of Christians face doubt.

You Are Wrong About Something

I’m always surprised when Christians critique other Christians over a change in their beliefs. There are certain theological issues that Christians deem untouchable. You cannot question that issue or believe something different. It’s like we are threatened by it. That somehow if someone believes something different than us about marriage, language, heaven/hell, or the Bible then that will bring the downfall of Christianity.

But here’s the reality. Your theology is wrong. It is. You, me, we, don’t have everything figured out. There are parts, probably some major parts, of what we believe that we are wrong about.

Often we value a consistent set of beliefs that do not change over the course of our life. But I don’t think that is healthy.

I would hope that as I grow, learn, and have life experiences that my beliefs and understanding of God will grow too. And in that growth I would expect that I will learn that some things I believe are true and in other areas I was wrong.

I think we would all admit that we don’t know everything. In other words we all have areas of our beliefs that are wrong. We just don’t know it. Now, if that’s true, why aren’t we all questioning more of our beliefs? Why are there certain issues that are untouchable? Why do we criticize people who are genuinely searching for truth? Why don’t we help, encourage, and equip people to ask these questions?

Of all the places where this should happen, the church should be the safest place to wrestle with your faith.

The Church Should Be a Place We Can Wrestle With Our Faith and Doubt

The church ought to be the safest place to ask the toughest questions.

The church ought to be a place were you can say I don’t understand why God allows…

The church ought to be a place where we can bring our doubts, questions, and concerns into the open.

But often times we are told we have to believe this specific set of beliefs and if we question them in the slightest we are branded a heretic and cast out. I just don’t believe that’s the kind of church Jesus came to establish. And I believe this is one of the leading factors as why people avoid the church, specifically younger generations. Because they are told they can’t ask that question and they have to believe what everybody else does. Which is normally a whole bunch of nonessential doctrine. Questions and doubts can actually grow our faith (that’s been my experience: Faith and Doubt (and how they coexist)).  But they can also kill our faith when we don’t allow them to be expressed. 

People should be able to come into the church and wrestle through their theology and their doubts. They should be encouraged to keep pursuing a deeper understanding of God and not be stuck with the same view they’ve always had. And they should be able to do this in community with others. 

Need Proof? Look at the Disciples

You can tell by the questions they ask and the things they say that they were just figuring things out. They weren’t the sharpest tools in the shed, if you know what I’m saying.

  • Jesus called Peter, the future leader of the church, Satan.
  • The disciples kept kids from coming to Jesus, a big no no.
  • Peter, James, and John witnessed the transfiguration (Matthew 17) and didn’t know what to do and made a silly recommendation.
  • They forgot the power Jesus had, several times.
  • Peter promised Jesus he would never deny him. Hours later he got scared by a 12 year old girl and denied Jesus… 3 times.
  • They argued about which disciple was greater.
  • Thomas doubted.
  • Peter (I know, I know, Peter AGAIN) rebuked Jesus to his face.
  • None of them understood Jesus’ many teachings about his death and resurrection.

Even after all the dumb things they said and did, Jesus never kicked them out and told them to get their “you know what” together and then they could come back and follow him. He let them figure things out. He let them say ridiculously stupid things. 

That’s not to say Jesus didn’t correct them or let their mistakes go unnoticed. But Jesus still fostered an environment in which the disciples felt comfortable enough to be themselves, to say what they were thinking. Interestingly enough, Jesus rarely preach at them. Rather he asked questions, told stories, and asked more questions. 

Think about this for a minute. The disciples were struggling to figure things out. Like people in the church today. They had a lot of issues and a lot of wrong beliefs. Like people in the church today. But they didn’t feel pressure to have it all together. Like people in the church today?

Faith and Doubt in Church (how it should be)

Here’s why I think this matters. Nothing good happens when we keep our doubts, struggles, thoughts, and questions to ourselves. We were meant to do life in community. That’s what Jesus modeled. When we keep those things hidden what typically happens is they fester and can ultimately lead to our faith being destroyed.

The church should be a place were we can ask any question, express any doubt, and wrestle through our faith. That’s what it means to follow Jesus. It doesn’t mean that we have it all together and know all the answers. It means to struggle, to question, to make mistakes, and to each day become a little closer to Jesus.

We need each other. When the church isn’t a place to ask these questions, to figure things out together we end up doing it alone. And that’s not good; that’s not healthy.

I’m not suggesting that we, as a church, just accept every question and doubt. We should lovingly challenge each other. But in a way that encourages them to keep asking and searching. Not in a way that shuts them down. We should focus on helping lead people to a better understanding, not telling them what to believe. That will lead them AND us to deeper faith and better understanding of God.

The church should be the safest place to ask the toughest questions. We should encourage people to wrestle through their faith and keep pursuing God. When someone does have doubts or tough questions we don’t need to preach at them. Rather we should engage in a conversation. Listen. Ask questions. And share your experience. We all have the same goal. When we allow tough questions to be asked in the church and engage in conversation with those asking, we will see their faith AND our faith grow.

Have you found the church to be a good place to ask questions and express your doubts?

Jeffery Curtis Poor
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