If there are two elements that have characterized my faith since I started seeking a deeper relationship with Jesus about four years ago, they would be doubt and cynicism. Is that an oxymoron, “doubtful faith”? In any case, I think it’s the truth. I feel gutted to admit this, and yet relieved that my faith proves itself honest, if anything. My prayers are frequently begrudging, my Bible often sits untouched for weeks, and sometimes *gasp* I even roll my eyes at worship music. I’m terrible, you guys. Even worse, I tend to fear the topic of Christianity coming up in conversations with non-believers because I am not confident in my abilities to defend my own easily-rattled faith. I know that this has limited my testimony to help other people come to know Jesus, and this often leaves me feeling like a failure.
In doubt I’ve been empty, left feeling like prayer is hopeless, faith is false, and nothing matters. I’ve been furious, pointing a finger at God, asking “How dare you?” And I’ve been frantic, Googling apologetics and re-reading my favorite C. S. Lewis passages until my eyes burn and my skeptical side is momentarily quieted. It all leaves me feeling disillusioned and irritable. I am grateful to be a deep-thinker, but sometimes my brain spins beyond bearing. Believing in the gospel is easier said than done.
I think one of the key problems in this is not necessarily the doubt itself, but my reaction towards it, which is generally one of surprise: “Oh, you again?” As if I expect that it will be entirely vanquished. As if I will hit the peak in my relationship with Christ and simply continue on and on into perpetual, unquestioning bliss (and when I reach eternity, however that will look, I believe doubt will be vanquished. Or, more accurately, nonexistent). But for now, here on Earth, I’m not sure a perfect faith is realistic. Not when the questions and the tragedy and the choking despair hit us like a million trucks, and the answers come behind like band-aids that don’t quite stick or stop the bleeding. I’ve prayed enough prayers to know that sometimes there is no reply. Sometimes our pain becomes even more acute, and sometimes we’re left sitting in a numb, howling silence. But an authentic Christian ought to be one who admits, “I don’t know,” before she says, “You’re just not praying hard enough,” because an authentic Christian does not ignore Jesus when he says, “In this world you will have trouble” (John 16:33, NIV).
Jesus didn’t sugarcoat the choice to follow him, so I am beginning to find the beauty in doubt; the beauty in a faith that is not stagnant or too fearful to ask questions, but one that grows stronger by embracing weakness. And from this place, I become ever more familiar with the grace of God, which says, “Give me your doubt, cynicism, and frustration. It doesn’t surprise me. And then turn back to me because I am still right here.” To those of you who doubt, you are not alone, and you are not a failure. I hate to misinterpret something, but I’m willing to stake a claim that one who questions is one whose faith is given a chance to grow into something more meaningful than it was. Keeping seeking hard after his kingdom, even if your knees shake and the boundaries of your faith must widen to accept a God who is bigger than you thought.
I sometimes think of my faith as mirroring my life. My six months of studying abroad in England last year were marked early on by wretched homesickness. I felt more loneliness than ever before. And yet, once I settled in, I went on to experience the most significant, fulfilling months of my life. When I think about this time, I never dwell on the difficult period but always on the times that gave me so many profusely joyful memories; these are what define England for me. In the same way, I know that my faith, while scarred and continually wounded by sharp doubt and cynicism, is measured by even greater encounters with unspeakable peace, certainty of my self-worth, and knowledge of being enveloped in the only perfect love that ever was. That line Jesus spoke, about how we’ll have trouble in this world? It’s followed by the absolute best words: “But take heart; I have overcome the world.” I will certainly continue to fail, and doubt will rear its persistent head, but my faith will strive to simply hold on. Until it gets easier. Until God speaks. Until the troubles ease enough for me to find that place in my heart where his love sits and waits and waits for me to return again.