I feel like many Christians in my social circle do not feel like there is room, within themselves or in their community, to ask their questions. It feels like a risky thing to do. Many of them have grown up in a Christian family, have a Christian friend group in church or in high school, and are member of a Christian student association. When you start doubting whether you still feel comfortable with the world view that is central in those communities, you run the risk of losing a lot. Imagine, you go looking for answers but just find more questions. Doesn’t that mean your faith is slowly sinking into the quicksand of doubt? Will you still fit in with the people that are so important to you right now? And: what support or hope that your faith gives you will you lose? It can seem like a better option to tuck those questions away somewhere deep inside and pretend nothing is eating away at you.
When I look around me, I think I can conclude that this strategy doesn’t work very well. Questions cannot be suppressed forever, and they often pop up even more forcefully at another moment, when you are feeling down or just had a negative experience with your faith or church. In addition, they make it harder for you to feel personally touched by the faith, to keep praying and reading the Bible. The time you spent suppressing the questions was perfect feeding ground to develop an increasingly critical attitude toward the faith, which causes you to feel more resistance to a sermon or worship song than experiencing happiness or peace from the message. It feels more and more hypocritical to pray, to read the Bible or to sing along in church, because you’re not sure you still believe it’s the truth. And at some points, all the things about faith that were meaningful and attractive to you fade away, along with the hope that you will ever retrieve them.
Then how can we deal with doubts? First and foremost: do not deny that you have them. If you notice that something is not sitting well with you, look for something that helps you to take that doubt seriously. Talk about it with your small group or a good friend, listen to a sermon about the topic, read a good book or approach your pastor. These things help you to develop your thoughts further, instead of getting stuck with the question itself, which just seems to become stronger and more impossible to overcome. This development is necessary, but it does take a lot of time and energy. If you can’t find the time for it in your current schedule, it is not a huge disaster to sometimes postpone confronting your doubts. But I would advise you not to postpone for too long, because of the reasons I mentioned above. Even if you’re not actively looking for answers, keep admitting to yourself that the doubts exist.
But just allowing those doubts to exist and working on them is not always the magical solution to the problem. In my experience, there is no definitive and conclusive answer to many of the questions that can bother you. Partly, it always comes to accepting that every world view has limitations, and choosing which limitations you can best live with. It is often not possible to base a strong faith in the existence of God solely on the grounds of reason and argument for and against the existence of God, because that’s not the essence of believing. The essence is getting to know God and learning to love Him, in the knowledge that you yourself are known and loved. That part may be exactly the most challenging part of doubting your faith, because the personal and intimate aspect of believing is forced to the background by doubts when it feels strange to pray or act in line with the Bible if you’re not sure of what you believe.
But I think we need to get rid of the thought that it is hypocritical to pray or sing when you’re in doubt. Someone who is searching also, or perhaps especially, experiences a desire for connection, safety and inspiration. Looking for those things with a God that you don’t know for sure exists is not hypocritical, it is sincere. It is admitting that you are in doubt, but that involves admitting that amidst that doubt there is still a desire, still a search for something or someone. It is having an open attitude towards faith, which means you allow yourself the chance to be touched by God all over again and receive the trust that you need in order to accept the unanswered questions of faith. It is giving both finding and losing your faith a fair chance, because purely reasoned faith without a connection to God is not faith. Searching for your faith is being open to the possibility that God may speak to you again.
This whole process is and remains a challenge, and it seems like it’s never truly over. Although I accepted the faith years ago after going through a period of many doubts, new questions always keep coming up. But they don’t scare me anymore and do not seem so insurmountable, because I’ve experienced that God can still speak, even if there are questions. And His voice brings comfort and hope, gives courage to fight any challenges that come between me and Him.
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