Archives For doubt

Everything takes practice, right?

It takes practice to learn how to ride a bike. We have to practice to learn how to play a musical instrument or a backyard sport. We had to practice in order to be able to recite our math facts, or eat an ice cream cone without wearing it.

Practically everything in life, we struggle and wrestle with because we are not born with a natural talent for it.

For some reason, though, faith has escaped that fundamental idea, that it takes practice. 

I think we assume that a bolt of spiritual lightning hits our brains and we then have faith. We believe. And we can be tested to see if we are true believers.

Maybe that was true when we were children. We believed what the adults told us.We believed in Santa and the Tooth Fairy. Maybe most awesomely, we believed in ourselves. We believed that we were awesome at everything. There are no three year olds who have body image issues (compared to something like 90% of grown women). There are no three year olds who do not believe that they can “do it themselves.”

But the older we got, the harder everything else became. It was not enough to clumsily throw objects across the room. We had to sharpen and hone our bodies in order to throw accurately. And we could no longer take everything the adults said at face value. We had to learn how to discern important things…like sarcasm. And maybe the hardest of all, we were confronted by this contradiction that God seems to love us, but on the other hand we know what we are. It became harder and harder for us to believe in ourselves, believe we are lovable, acceptable or worthy. Belief in ourselves is like some reflex that we are born with, but lose as we grow up.

One of my favorite departed Christians, Madeline L’Engle wrote in A Wrinkle In Time that believing was like anything else. It takes practice. And I wonder how many times in my life I have avoided stretching and straining my “belief” muscles, either by exercising my cynicism, or just by taking things at face value and forgetting them.

believing

This week, I think I’m gonna stretch my belief muscles. I’m going to try to believe that I’m good enough. I’m gonna try to believe that God has made me good enough. I’m gonna try to believe that God finds me worthy.

Because if I can’t practice believing those things, then the rest is all up for grabs.

You know, we have a weird relationship with doubt. 

We talk a big game. We like to say that we are very accepting and open-minded toward others. But when it comes to talking about the things that are really important to us, we suddenly change our tune.

Look at how we talk about politics or faith for that matter. We are obsessed with figuring out who is in and who is out. As soon as we band together as believers, we feel the need for a new litmus test, a more stringent set of beliefs to determine who are the true believers and who are the imposters, the fakes, the frauds and saboteurs. When someone around us doubts, it feels like an attack. It makes us afraid, fearful that we might have to start doubting something that we have taken for granted. Maybe we become fearful that we have been duped. The result is that we are more polarized, divided and suspicious of one another than ever.

The truth is that doubt, the most important kinds of doubts about God, about life, about everything around us, are usually not at their heart an intellectual exercise.

Doubt is born of disappointment. 

We believed that life was this way, that God was that way, and then it turns out to not be true. We grieve the loss of this cherished belief. That is why doubt is traumatic and troubling. Our doubts about God do not usually come out of the clear blue sky. They come from some deep hurt that we are grieving. Often, people who are in doubt about their faith are not in attack mode. They are often in survival mode or defense mode.

I found a verse this weekend that I do not think I have ever paid any attention to. I wonder what would happen if we tried to live it this week.

doubt

Some of the biggest seasons of doubt I ever experienced were the product of great loss and disappointment. What about you?

What if your church was infested?

After they burned Heretic Steve, the congregation enjoyed their monthly potluck dinner in peace.

After they burned Heretic Steve, the congregation enjoyed their monthly potluck dinner in peace.

Not infested with roaches or termites. What if your church was infested with heretics?

What if there were people who were actually inside your church, people who sat in church every Sunday, who pretended to be like you and me, but they were anything but? What if they were imposters who did not catch the “vision” of your church? What if someone was not so sure about some of the basic faith tenants that your pastor teaches?

Would you round them up?

Would you interrogate them?

Would you “bug bomb” your church to get rid of the heretics once and for all and keep the church pure and clean?

Well here’s the thing, people. Our churches are infested. And it’s up to us to decide what we are going to do about it.

Continue Reading…

This last weekend, Sunday afternoon, I had a medical emergency.images

I was home alone, my wife out on a walk with the dogs at the park.

When suddenly, I could not see.

Now, I wasn’t stricken blind like Paul.  I could see…sort of.  But my eyesight was suddenly obscured with blind spots and auras.  The world looked like a broken mirror.  As I struggled to read WebMD (obviously, the first and most reliable course of action in any medical emergency), I realized just how severe the problem was.  I could not make out more than fragments of words and I was beginning to be overtaken by a headache.

I called my brother, a nurse, who told me that I should immediately call 911.  Now, I’ve never called 911 for myself, so this understandably made me more panicked.

The afternoon was filled with my first ambulance ride, my first CT scan, and the first time I have ever been scared that I was having a stroke.  The episode lasted a couple of hours and then went away, as inexplicably as it had arrived.

The doctor had no answer, other than that I did not have a stroke.  I chalk it up to stress, a “quasi-stroke.”  In talking with others, I learned that I’m not the first person to experience something like this.

While being transported by ambulance and laying in my first ER bed, and contemplating the possibility that I might be having a catastrophic event happening to me, I thought about these few things: about life, about suffering and about what I think of God.

Continue Reading…

I used to be an alarmist.2010-02-19-ec-peterjpg-93a862e09c069b80_large

I used to read every article, every Barna report with dread and fear.

Millennials are leaving the Church.

Fewer Americans than ever identify as Christians.

“Oh no!” I thought.  The Church is shrinking, losing influence, becoming irrelevant.  Soon, Christians will be a minority on the sidelines of American culture and we’ll all be sitting in sackcloth and ashes.

Last week, I discussed the exodus of millennials from the Church and the oft-repeated idea that is because they are “entitled.”  Today, I want to take on the whole exodus itself.  Because invariably, the statistics come across as some kind of apocalyptic doomsday scenario for the Church.

But one day very recently, I just stopped panicking.  I stopped believing that the world would end if the Church ended.

I started wondering what if it was actually a good thing for a generation to leave the Church. Continue Reading…

Can God use a talking ass to communicate to us?

Sure He can.  Those asses have names, like Martin Luther or John Calvin.  Ha!

I believe I’m on record having called John Calvin a “wang,” and I stand by that.

Of course, those aren’t the asses I wasn’t actually referring to.  In one of the most fantastical, unusual, perhaps unbelievable stories of the Old Testament, Balaam’s donkey opens his donkey mouth and speaks to him.

One of the perennial debates that goes around evangelical circles is the topic of biblical “inerrancy” and “historicity.”  Did the events in the Bible actually occur?  Can the Bible be trusted as a factual document?  My buddy, Zack at The American Jesus wrote a really challenging blog a few weeks ago about the topic.  You’ll have to make up your own mind about his assertions.

But every time this debate surfaces on my blog reader, I’ve had the sneaking suspicion that we’re missing something.  My “missing the point” radar goes haywire. Given two choices – to either believe all of the Bible, or be a heretic, there must be a third choice.

I finally found the third choice.  And it has everything to do with Balaam’s donkey.

Just the Facts, Ma’am

Raise your hand if you love C.S. Lewis.  That’s what I thought.

Raise your hand again if you believe stories like The Screwtape Letters or The Chronicles of Narnia provide apt analogies for truth about God and humans.  Yep, me too.

Now, raise your hand if you believe C.S. Lewis’ stories are factually true.  Uh-huh.  Just as I suspected.

See, there is a very real difference between a story that is merely factually true in its reporting of the facts, and a story which illustrates and leads the reader to a greater truth.  Lewis was a master of allegories which, while not true the way we expect a newspaper article to be, provide illustrations of rich truths of the human spirit.

When we discuss the Bible merely in terms of facts, arguing which facts are to be believed, we are really kidding ourselves.  We are pretending to think critically about scripture, when really we are only scratching the surface.  We are missing the intent of scripture.

Let’s say some future civilization digs us all up and finds the tools in your garage.  The future people have no idea what they are.  They can study and hypothesize about the facts of the tools – their material makeup, their shape and form.  But their understanding will be fundamentally shallow until they discover the tools’ intended purpose.  The facts won’t produce understanding until intent is included.

Flatly Factual Fundamentalists

Bart Ehrman has written another book, which inevitably tries to make our entire faith look foolishly unfactual.

Do you know what kind of religious background produces a Bart Ehrman?

Fundamentalist.

The teaching that you either must believe every word of the Bible is factually, literally true, or don’t believe it at all.

That’s a false dichotomy.  It’s a dichotomy that is driving away droves of young people who think they have to choose between their brain and their faith.  It’s a dichotomy that the Bible doesn’t even present for readers.  It’s a dichotomy that glosses over the literary beauty and the intended purpose of the text and forces people to base their faith on only a surface understanding of the Bible.

The point of the Bible is not a bunch of cute little stories, all existing independently, and whether or not they happened. It’s about something so much bigger than a boat or a donkey.

How I Learned to Stop Worrying

Is the point of Genesis 1 that God created the world in six days, or that God is our amazing creator?

Is the point of the Bible that Isaiah supposedly wrote the book of Isaiah or that Paul wrote the book of Hebrews? (He didn’t.) Or is the point that scripture is “God-breathed?”

Is the point of scripture to be a purely factual account – a history textbook?  Or is the Bible a piece of literature whose function is to point to a truth that is bigger than even its pages can hold? (Didn’t John say the gospel accounts, nay the whole world could not hold the whole truth about Jesus?)

And the big question of the day:

Can God use a talking ass to communicate to us?

I think He can.

And if God can do that, then God can use an ancient text, written over centuries, whose authors were fallible humans, as a vehicle for the Holy Spirit to penetrate our hearts and show us the truth about who He is.  If I start with the belief that scripture is God-breathed, then it no longer matters if Balaam’s donkey actually talked.  The question is what does this story say about God?  How does it fit into the whole story?

God can use stories, fantastical, even legendary to show us Truth.  And learning and embracing this was how I learned to stop worrying about “inerrancy” and love the Bible.  I don’t love the Bible because of its facts (lowercase.)  I love it because of its Truth (capital.)  I believe the Bible is inerrant, meaning the Bible is exactly how God intended it, not merely that Jonah survived in a fish for three days…

…But who knows.  Maybe I’m just another talking ass.

What do you think?  Does the inerrancy debate even matter?