By Jason Boyett
I am a Christian. I come from a Christian family and live in the Bible Belt. I’ve been a member of the same Southern Baptist church since I learned the words to “Jesus Loves Me” in preschool. I write for Christian magazines, my books get assigned to Amazon’s Religion & Spirituality > Christianity category, and I can rattle off the names of the Old Testament minor prophets faster than I can recall the names of the Kardashians.
But there are some days when I’m not entirely sure I believe in God.
That’s a confession I’ve grown more comfortable making over the last few months, but I do it with fear and trembling. These days, certainty seems as fundamental to evangelical Christianity as the cross. Any admission of its opposite–doubt–still has the power to shock.
Other human weaknesses have gone mainstream. Consider lust, for example. After reading my most recent book about my own struggles to believe, a male college student told me he’d sooner admit a porn addiction to his church than acknowledge he doubted the existence of God.
Like lust, adultery doesn’t surprise us either. It happens to high-profile televangelists like Benny Hinn and it happens to the guy in the next pew. We’ll forgive dishonesty and hypocrisy, too. Ted Haggard fell fast and hard, but he’s back with a new church and ministry.
But doubt is different. In a world of messed-up Christians, you don’t find many admitting it publicly. I’ve heard of Pentecostal churches asking doubters to exit their prayer services, fearing they could limit God’s willingness to act. One reader told me she couldn’t read my book in front of her family members. She worried what they might think.
Why is doubt so taboo? Biblical commands to “believe and not doubt” (James 1:6) are culprits, although it helps to read them alongside the stories of heroes like Abraham, David, and the disciples–who asked direct, honest questions without any smiting-based repercussions.
Another problem is our need to belong. Christianity can be an appearance-driven culture just like high school or the country club. People want to fit in. When you’re around happy, smiling churchgoers who speak of God’s constant activity in their lives, it’s hard to admit you don’t experience quite so personal a deity, and that recent discoveries in neuroscience give you pause, and why doesn’t the problem of evil keep everyone else up at night like it does me?
So we disguise our doubts behind righteous masks. We pretend to have it all together. For a people so committed to Truth-with-a-capital-T, it takes little effort for us to default to this form of dishonesty.
Our mistake is that we view doubt and faith as opposites. I grew up thinking of “faith” as the ability to believe in certain presuppositions–that God exists or that Jesus died for my sins. If I could mentally assent to that checklist, I had faith. If I struggled with those beliefs, then I had doubt. Faith and doubt couldn’t coexist.
I’ve spent three decades learning I was wrong. Doubt is essential to faith. Faith, by definition, requires uncertainty. Answering “I don’t know” to most religious questions isn’t just honest, but humble. These days, if I have faith, it’s in my willingness to follow the teachings of Christ despite my hesitations. Faith, for me, is action.
Deep in this valley of doubt, I still call myself a Christian and try to serve others, love my enemies, and otherwise live like a follower of Jesus…even on the days agnosticism looks inviting. Even on the days I labor to reconcile evolution with the Bible. Even on the days I’m not certain God exists.
I’m a big, fat doubter, and I’m learning to be okay with that.
Jason Boyett is a writer, speaker, and the author of O Me of Little Faith: True Confessions of a Spiritual Weakling. He blogs at www.omeoflittlefaith.com and tweets @jasonboyett. Jason lives in Texas with his wife and two kids.