I was over 2,500 miles away delivering a presentation when my cell phone blew up with emergency text messages:
All Schools: LOCKOUT (Secure Perimeter) due to law enforcement activity in the area. Learning and activities indoors. More info to come.
At this time district has placed all schools on a lockout and we are not allowed to let anyone in the building or release any students at this time. All students are safe inside the building.
While my brain tried to register this reality, a room full of expectant faces stared back at me, waiting for a word of hope. I had only questions.
I glanced at my phone, then back at my notes, trying to stay calm. Then national news updates began to light up my phone. CNN. FoxNews. CBS. I called for a break, and immediately fell into the closest chair.
A school only two miles from my house. My community. My people.
Why does this keep happening? What’s it going to take to put an end to this insanity once and for all? God, DO SOMETHING!
Two weeks before, I scanned my twitter feed after hearing about an online friend’s medical crisis. Friends and strangers from around the globe poured out their lament and begged for prayer. Rather than healing, we all ended up mourning.
“I don’t know what I believe anymore.”
I’ve heard these words—in one form or another—from friends and strangers alike over the past several weeks. This isn’t necessarily unusual. I often see people wrestle with their faith in the public and social media space. Pain makes us inconsolable. We want company in our struggle and companions in our questions.
School shootings. Unexplained medical crises. Untimely deaths. We may long to be people of faith, but the pain we can’t explain leaves us drowning in doubt. Whereas faith fuels hope, pain stirs up a deluge uncertainty enough that even the hottest faith embers start to dwindle and go out.
“I don’t know what I believe anymore. If anything at all.”
It’s difficult to make sense of God when people we love suffer.
When we suffer.
Doubt erodes trust, costs sleep, sparks panic. It ignites insecurity at best, flat-out desperation at worst. Like quicksand underneath feet searching for cement, it leaves the sinking person clawing and grabbing for something to grip, even if that something is anything but strong.
We’ll hang on to a lie, even if we have to close our eyes to do it.
Life is hard. Suffering infiltrates the planet. Evil thrives and, too often, those who claim to be religious cause more harm than good. Faith flickers.
Even, at times, my own.
When years of suffering left me with a body that will never work the same again and pain that will never go away, doubt about God’s reality, goodness, and love felt like a weight tied around my ankle.
Is God even real? If so, why so much pain without relief? Why pray if it doesn’t deliver?
It’s hard to believe when your belief doesn’t keep you from drowning.
And yet, I’m learning that doubt, as uncomfortable and alarming as it is, isn’t the enemy of our faith. Doubt is part of being a living, thinking person, one who wrestles with hard questions and impossible answers. To doubt is to care, to care so much about what is wrong that you can’t stop your brain from trying to make sense of it all, that you refuse to give up hope without an honest-to-goodness fight.
Theologian and pastor, Dr. Timothy Keller, said it this way:
A faith without some doubts is like a human body without any antibodies in it. People who blithely go through life too busy or indifferent to ask hard questions about why they believe as they do will find themselves defenseless against either the experience of tragedy or the probing questions of a smart skeptic. A person’s faith can collapse almost overnight if she has failed over the years to listen patiently to her own doubts, which should only be discarded after long reflection. —Timothy Keller, The Reason For God
There is more I plan to write on this topic. For today, however, I write to those who doubt and yet long to believe. I know how you feel like the Earth has turned upside down on itself and you wonder if you’ll ever find your footing again.
You will, I believe it enough for both of us. In the meantime, I hope these reminders provide a bit of a lifeline while a very real God walks you through your dark:
FIRST, your questions don’t condemn you. Your doubts don’t compromise either God’s reality or His love. You don’t possess enough power to make either any smaller. Giving voice to your questions is not apostasy; it’s honesty. And although well-meaning Christians might heap guilt on your doubt, God is not shocked, offended, or surprised. So go ahead and say it out loud. Ask Him your questions, tell Him those things that make you angry, confused. His love is bigger.
SECOND, doubt is a spring board, not a destination. Doubt is part of the human experience. And doubt and faith go together, the former serving the latter, as long as doubt doesn’t turn into a longterm destination. Don’t let your questions become a comfortable, self-protective prison that walls you in. Instead, let its discomfort push you to study, pray, explore, ask questions, listen, and learn. Doubt doesn’t have to be the enemy of your faith. It may be the means of deepening it.
THIRD, the presence of doubt doesn’t mean your faith is weak. On the contrary, it means you’re thinking. And growing. A weak faith is an untried one, one that is ignored, neglected, disregarded, pushed aside. However, a faith with questions means it matters to you. You’ve decided to make existence and meaning and eternity a priority for your consideration. Your questions will never be fully resolved, your doubts never fully absolved. However, when faith keeps burning in spite of doubt’s every attempt to snuff it out, that is the real miracle after all. And that is the kind of faith that shines a light, even in the dark.