Spiritual Practices

Wrestling with Doubt: A Way Forward

While we’re done with our Unsettling Questions series, it doesn’t mean we’re done wrestling with unsettling questions. Questions and doubt are a part of the christian life, and the last thing we want to do is hide them away or pretend they don’t exist. As Frederick Buechner once said, “Doubts are the ants in the pants of faith. They keep it awake and moving.”

It can be easy to think that doubts are only for those who are exploring or new to faith. But the truth is- even people who have been pursuing Jesus for a LONG TIME can still struggle with doubt. Today on the blog, Pastor Ben Knox shares a bit of how he has learned to follow Jesus faithfullywhile also experiencing doubt as part of the ongoing ‘white noise’ in his life..

 

If you’d prefer to read, here’s the transcript: 

Hey there, Blackhawk. Ben here. I’m the Pastor of Middle School Ministries here at Blackhawk. As we’re wrapping up our Unsettling Questions series, I’ve been asked to represent the perspective of a “mature follower of Christ” for whom doubt is a regular part of my reality. Now, as much as I resent the label ‘mature’ whenever it is applied to me, I have been walking with Jesus for about half my life, 18 out of my 36 years, and doubt is something that has been a regular for me.

Goal: Freedom from some of the weights that come with doubt

My goal today is to set us free from some of the weights that come with doubt. I’m not here to set us free from doubt, but rather set us free from some of the encumbrances that come with it. I’m going to do four things that move in that direction. First, an observation, and then two ‘Thou Shalt Nots’, and then one Way Forward.

1. Doubt is not purely intellectual.

Observation. I think early in my relationship with Christ, I thought of doubt as a purely intellectual thing. I’ve come to recognize that it is an intellectual-emotional hybrid, that the times in my life when I am most intellectually doubting the veracity of Christianity are also the times when I am struggling emotionally. It’s an interesting observation that has maybe set me free from seeing this as a purely rational quest.

2. Thou shalt not judge those who DON’T struggle with doubt.

Second, Thou Shalt Not. Thou shalt not judge those who don’t struggle with doubt. I think that many of us have been involved in churches or christian environments that go in the opposite direction, where if you struggle with doubt, you are judged for that. I think that’s probably not the case for many of us at Blackhawk, but we might struggle in the opposite direction, where if another follower of Jesus does not doubt, we somehow look upon them with skepticism of, “Well, they just haven’t thought through these issues very deeply” or what have you.

Nothing could be further from the truth. There is room for diversity in what people experience in terms of levels of certainty in their connection with Jesus. Just as we recognize other forms of diversity in the church that enrich our community, this is another form of diversity that we can celebrate that some of us just in our personality, in our makeup, are prone to be doubters and others are not. That’s okay. It’s just a neutral difference.

3. Thou shalt not envy your younger self.

Third, my second Thou Shalt Not. Thou shalt not envy your younger self or others… but primarily your younger self. This is something I’ve learned through the years. In my earlier years of walking with Jesus, there was a vibrant emotional connection that I felt on a regular basis. I don’t have that as regularly as I used to, and so I’ve learned not to envy what my walk with Jesus used to look like, but instead to allow this season of life to stand on its own two feet.

4. A way forward: what does the word ‘faith’ mean?

A way forward would be to think about what the word ‘faith’ means. I think for me, I’ve come to shy away from the word ‘faith’ in the English language. There’s nothing wrong with the word ‘faith’, but for me, it carries emotional baggage. I think I’ve heard too many messages that faith is about something you’re just supposed to have, and to me, ‘faith’ sounds like an emotional word.

I’ve come to lean into the reality that the Greek word ‘pistis’, which we often translate as ‘faith’, can be translated with a much broader range of meaning ‘faith’ but also ‘faithfulness’ or ‘fidelity’, ‘loyalty’, ‘allegiance’. There is a depth and breadth to what it means to have faith. Belief is a part of that. I’ve come to think not in terms of “I have faith in God”, but that I am faithful to God.

I have a “believing loyalty”, as one author puts it, or an “allegiance,” as another author puts it. I have ordered my life consistently in the direction of Jesus and He is the one whom I pursue– regardless of how I feel and the level of confidence that I emotionally experience on a day-to-day basis in the veracity of the Christian narrative.

This has been something that has set me free to think in broader terms of what it means to be a person of faith. I am someone who in my more clear-thinking moments have decided and settled on the truth and truthfulness of Christianity. Therefore, on those days when the emotional-intellectual hybrid doubt thing is going on, I can be a person who chooses to pursue Jesus regardless of how I’m feeling.

I hope those four things help to set us free from some of the weights of doubt. Not setting us free from doubt, but recognizing that there’s an emotional and an intellectual side to our doubt. That we are not called to judge our neighbors who do not doubt and that we don’t need to envy our younger selves or others who have a different kind of connection with God, a different relationship with doubt, and that faith and faithfulness are two sides of the same coin. So, thanks.

 


Ben Knox
About the Author: Ben Knox
Ben is the pastor of Middle School Ministries at Blackhawk and one of the pastors on the teaching team. He first came to Blackhawk as an undergrad at UW-Madison. After studies at Denver Seminary and a season of ministry in Madrid, he and his wife Meggan happily returned to Madison in 2013. They have two young kids, and parenting a child with autism is a significant part of their journey.