Philip Yancey in his book, Disappointment with God, tells of a letter he received from a woman who was struggling with life and her faith in God.
He says, “A young mother wrote that her joy had turned to bitterness and grief when she delivered a daughter with spina bifida, a birth defect that leaves the spinal cord exposed. In page after page of tiny, spidery script she recounted how medical bills had soaked up the family savings and how her marriage had cracked apart as her husband came to resent all the time she devoted to their sick child.
As her life crumbled around her, she was beginning to doubt what she had once believed about a loving God.” She wanted to know, “Do you have any advice?”
This young woman is not alone in her doubts.
The writer of the book of Psalms often struggled with doubt that came from God’s apparent silence and inactivity. He wondered if God really cared for him. He cried out: “Awake, O Lord! Why do you sleep? Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever. Why do you hide your face and forget our misery and oppression?” (Psalm 44:23-24)
When life comes crashing down around us and things continue to get worse rather than better, we tend to doubt God.
We ask God if we have done something wrong.
We question whether we are really Christians or not.
We blame ourselves, and we even blame God.
We begin to wonder if God cares, and when he seems to not respond, we wonder if he is there at all.
Fears begin to approach us that this whole “God thing” is a kind of hoax. The pain takes over our lives and we don’t seem to have the emotional energy for faith anymore.
These sorrows in life can sometimes harden us. As Rich Mullins sings: “You who live in heaven / Hear the prayers of those of us who live on earth / Who are afraid of being left by those we love / And who get hardened by the hurt.”
I know many people who seem to painfully suffer more than their fair share in this world, and when that happens, they tend to question their reality. No wonder the Bible says, “Be merciful to those who doubt,” (Jude 1:22).
Doubting is not unusual among Christians. If you have never doubted anything, it may mean you have never taken the time to seriously ponder life. So, you can hardly be a person, much less a Christian, without doubting at times. After all, if doubting was not possible, faith would not be possible either.
Doubting does not mean your faith stops; it means you are trying to understand your faith at a deeper level.
Therefore, doubt leads people to faith.
Honest doubt means we are seeking to understand – the simple answers do not satisfy us any longer and we want to know something at a new level.
I believe God honors our struggles to understand. I’m not sure God is excited about someone who passively believes only because someone told him or her to believe. It is better to fight with God than not engage him at all.
In fact, in the Bible it seems those who struggle with God receive his blessing.
Look at Jacob. His name meant “schemer” and he lived up to it by scheming his way through life – he even tried to cheat God. But God met Jacob at the end of Jacob’s self where he could no longer plot his way out of it. Jacob wrestled with God and Jacob came away from that experience a wounded, but changed, man.
As a result, God gave him a new name. He had been Jacob, but from then on, he would be known as Israel. He had been called a schemer, but now his name meant “wrestler with God.”
Phil Yancey writes: “Is it any accident that God identified his chosen people as the children of Israel, ‘the wrestler’s children,’ the offspring of one who had grappled so fiercely through the night?”
Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it” (Matthew 11:12).
The kingdom of heaven is for those who will struggle with God in order to understand.
It is for those who ask, seek and knock.
They question so they might know. Their relationship with God is too important not to struggle, because they know that doubt leads to faith.
Secondly, we will never have all the answers.
If you are waiting until you have everything figured out before you come to God, you will be waiting forever. God is bigger than you, so get over it.
This is what faith is all about. Our belief in God may be based on intelligent reasoning, but in the end, we have no proofs for anything. In a person’s heart, he or she must come to understand God through faith alone, not thinking alone.
Faith involves risk.
If you want to have all the answers, you will never have the experience of faith. Your heart will be empty and so will your head, because truth is experienced through faith as much as it is through intellectual investigation. In fact, the two go hand in hand. Faith and doubt paradoxically live together.
Henri Nouwen wrote, “So I am praying while not knowing how to pray. I am resting while feeling restless, at peace while tempted, safe while still anxious, surrounded by a cloud of light while still in darkness, in love while still doubting.”
As long as we are in this world we will always live in the tension between faith and despair, but it is our love for God that allows us to outlive our doubts.
Faith is a daily, ongoing exercise. It is a risk. Doubts arise. We struggle with God. And hopefully, faith grounded in the goodness of God triumphs – even when we do not have all the answers and life doesn’t make sense.