Responding to Doubt
Q. You talk openly about your doubts, whereas many Christians tend not to.
Doubt is something almost every person experiences at some point, yet something that the church does not always handle well. I’m an advocate of doubt, because that’s why I became a Christian in the first place. I started doubting some the crazy things my church taught me when I was growing up! (This was a most unhealthy church, I must say.)
I’m also impressed that the Bible includes so many examples of doubt. Evidently God has more tolerance of doubt than most churches. I want to encourage those who doubt, and also encourage the church to be a place that rewards rather than punishes honesty.”
Q. Is there a danger in not facing our doubts?
As a child I attended a church that had little room for inquisitiveness. If you doubted or questioned, you sinned. I learned to conform, as you must in a church like that. Meanwhile those deep doubts, those deep questions, didn’t get answered in a satisfactory way. The danger of such a church like that—and there are many—is that by saying, “Don’t doubt, just believe,” you don’t really resolve the doubts. They tend to resurface in a more toxic form.
Inquisitiveness and questioning are inevitable parts of the life of faith. Where there is certainty there is no room for faith. I encourage people not to doubt alone, rather to find some people who are safe “doubt companions," and also to doubt their doubts as much as their faith. But it doesn’t help simply to deny doubts or to feel guilty about them. Many people, after all, have been down that path before and have emerged with a strong faith.
Q. Why don’t more Christians discuss doubt honestly and openly?
Christians tend to be propagandists. We want to convince others, put on a good face, inspire. And we also tend to ignore the Old Testament, which is where many of the questions (and questioners) are. The Old Testament proves that God honors questioners. Remember, grumpy Job emerges as the hero of that book, not his theologically defensive friends.
I deal with issues that people may think about but don’t vocalize. The church has sometimes chastised people who admit their weakness and failure, and our society has an aversion to suffering. So Christians naturally tend to hide behind a thin veneer of cheerfulness and health, while they secretly hurt and doubt. Perhaps my books provide a relief for them to see someone actually voice those hurts and doubts in print.
The 15 years C. S. Lewis spent as an atheist gave him understanding and compassion for those who find faith difficult. I didn’t spend 15 years as an atheist, but I did go through my own period of rejection. I do have compassion for those for whom faith doesn’t come easy. I have to take each one of my own beliefs and crack it open and see if I can swallow it. I like to tackle the questions, and writing gives me the opportunity.