Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Doubt vomit angry refreshing

Doubt is the distance between what we expect of God and what we experience in reality. What could be sinful about this?

The act of doubt, that is, the admitting of this gap, this distance, is not sin at all. It is a sort of repentance.

If we're going to doubt, we might as well doubt a God worth doubting. I don't bother expending much energy doubting the existence of Chemosh the Fish-Headed God of the Moabites, or the Mormon God or a god who would have endorsed slavery in the American South, or a deist conception of a God who watches us at a distance. Whether these gods are more plausible than a properly Christian conception of God is irrelevant. None of these God enthrall me. They don't evoke worship from me.

This principle, doubt a God worth doubting, makes doubt so much easier. Would the God I want to believe in hold it against me that he doesn't seem real to me?

I might doubt for terrible, sinful reasons. I might doubt God because he doesn't give me what I want, or because he's not an anarcho-syndicalist and I think I might be, or because of widespread human suffering that might not actually be his fault. Forcing God into a false conception of him is wrong; and it's foolish if I don't even like that false conception. However, the doubt itself isn't the sin, it's a symptom of a sinful attitude towards God. Doubt is the start of how that attitude would get resolution.

When I have an idea of a God I really want to love, one with integrity and mirth and mercy and danger, but I just don't see signs of his work in the world, no matter how hard I look, that's good doubt for me.

I love fights. I love wrestling and jokes and crying and yelling and singing and repentance and screaming. I love a good poop, or when I'm sick, hocking a huge loogie. I haven't vomited in years, but when I get a stomach bug, I wish for a puke-o-rama, to get it all out.

If you're angry at God, you're angry at God. Be angry at God.

If you're angry at God, do it at God, emphasis on the at. The Israelites in the Pentateuch wouldn't get angry at God, their dissatisfaction smoldered in grumbling, and this is sin. The Pharisees in the New Testament behave in precisely the same way; notice how many times in the gospels they grumble among themselves—but they never ask an honest question of Jesus.

If you're going to doubt, I suggest going all the way, doubting as thoroughly as you can. Don't say "I'm struggling to believe in God." If God doesn't seem real to you, just say so! Get used to thinking two things at once. This sounds confusing, but it only takes twice as much thinking as you're used to. Scream "God isn't real!" if that's the way it seems to you. But, think, "If God is real, then he'd certainly know better than to believe me when I say he's not, and if he's not real, there's no God to be troubled at all by my doubts." It's very refreshing.

I'm amused by the particularly angry atheists, who study a lot of anti-apologetics to prove to Christians that God isn't real. I think I'm the only one that I know personally who was wooed by their thinking. They hate being atheists, but they hate the Christian notion of God, too. They become embittered, bile and gall accumulates in their souls. They're very logical people, but they don't see the lack of logic in expending energy in disproving a God they don't even like. It's futile to be disappointed at God you don't like for not existing, that's like Jonah cursing the vine.

(There is a different category of angry atheists that I don't think are goofy. They are angry at the Christians who are worth being angry at. I wish them the best of luck. I also want them to think that I'm cool.)

Doubt because that's what you really feel. Don't doubt to punish God, that's silly, that's like when a child punishes his parents by holding his breath. I know one person who would hold his breath until he would pass out. He is now a black-belt in jujitsu, but that's irrelevant. Wise parents know to let the unruly child hold his breath as long as he likes, but not to budge an inch: otherwise, they're teaching the child that asphyxiation is an effective way to get what he wants. I suppose God, being a good parent, would deal with inauthentic doubt by ignoring it.

You don't even have to know, though, which god you're doubting. You don't have to be consistent in your doubts—the biblical conception of God is gleefully inconsistent, "Jacob have I loved and Esau have I hated." The things that everyone in your church says are the really good things about God can seem diabolical to you. You can take your pick of scriptures that you find dull or backwards; I could help you find good examples. Why would God push you away, if you were to meander near him, but with confusing reservations? I'm sure he confuses himself quite often, and won't blame you for your confusion. Christianity has never taught salvation by not being confused by God.


  1. But, what exactly are you doubting? Are you doubting that God will be there for you? Are you doubting that He will let you down--that you won't "feel" Him in the way you expect to in your life? Are you doubting that God's best is what is best for you? Are you doubting that God is working? Do you think you should be able to understand God and see Him working all the time? Doubting may not be a sin in and of itself, but it is the antithesis to trusting. And you are bound to fall if you choose doubt over trust. Doubt can destroy a relationship. So, by saying that you doubt God, you are saying that you aren't trusting Him. And I do think that trusting God is essential to walking with Him.

    It's interesting to take that and put it in the context of a human relationship. For example, if a woman doubted her boyfriend, it could damage that relationship--so much so to the point that it caused them to break up. Doubt prompts questioning. I think we choose to doubt or we choose to trust. One tears down a relationship and one builds it up.

  2. If one's criteria for belief in God's existence is seeing signs or feeling Him working, doubt is going to reign in their life. The faith God wants doesn't rely on signs or senses.

    "Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed." John 20: 28-29

    God's general and special revelation (His creation and His word) are the only evidences we're guaranteed to receive. It's true that God gives convincing signs, feelings, and callings to some of his children, but where are we told to expect such things?

    Not seeing God when intently looking is not a sign of Him pushing you away. It's just a reminder of who's in control. God gives to those who believe God will give it. (Mk 11:23) Therefore, genuinely praying for faith is far more refreshing than proclaiming and resting in doubt.

    And reading passages like the following sure help a lot, too:

    "For I am persuaded beyond doubt that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities, nor things impending and threatening nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord." Romans 8: 38-39

  3. Suz, I'm doubting that God exists altogether. You're right, doubting that someone will come through for me will erode that relationship, but I already know that such-and-such a person exists.

  4. Jeff, creation doesn't point to a personal God; at best, it points to an intelligence, but it's impossible to work merely from creation to arrive at a personal conception of God. The Bible is nice, but I need to have very good reasons to trust it, or any book. Not only that, but the Bible doesn't point to itself as a way to know God; it points to Jesus. Paul was persuaded away from doubt, but why? What had brought Thomas out of doubt?

    The Bible doesn't say that we should expect God to give us signs whenever we want them, as if he were at our beck and call. However, the Bible consistently points to signs as a very good way of knowing God: think of the instructions to build monuments and memorials in the Old Testament.

    The Bible doesn't endorse doubt as a good place to rest, and I don't either. But, if, in the midst of that struggle, in remaining in prayer, seeking God, showing mercy, and so on, I still don't see God, what should I do? What attitude should I have about myself?

  5. Those memorials were not a way to know God--they were markers to help them remember God. We, as humans, have much memory loss. And no, really God wanted people to believe without the signs.

    This is a good sermon I found.

    Have you ever thought that maybe in holding onto doubt you are refusing to believe? I am reading a book on prayer that has really surprised me. He pursues the direction of addressing cynicism (which ironically is also what C.S. Lewis is really talking about in the Screwtape letters that I'm listening to). Our cynicism--essentially our doubt can come to feel more real than what is real, because we convince ourselves of it and because we hold onto it--because it gives a false sense of security that you/we are in control of our worlds and our lives. Which we really aren't.