Guess what? People have it. People of ‘faith’ struggle with it, and, as a pastor, I get a front row seat to the wrestling match.
One of my favorite moments in ministry is when students go off to college with a teenager’s faith and come home with doubts and questions, a sort of second naiveté born out of new discoveries and experiences. I love their authenticity and urgent frankness when they’re not quite sure if what they’d once believed can still be believed or if it can still be held in faith not quite sure how it integrates with the rest of their life.
The experience of college students is just a white-hot, concentrated version of what every Christian experiences at points in their lives. I think its easy sometimes to sit in church and assume you’re the only person there who doesn’t have it figured out, whose faith- and life- is basically a mess held together by sheer determination and not a little grace.
As easy as that assumption comes to us, it couldn’t be further from the truth. The stereotype of Christians as a bunch of people parroting propositions and keeping up the pretense of rock solid certainty is just that, a stereotype.
One of the best things about being a pastor is I get to know for a fact that stereotype isn’t true; I’m glad I know it’s not true because otherwise I’d be a mess myself and wouldn’t step foot in a church.
Sure, I imagine you could find churches where questions and doubt are unwelcome and discouraged. I’m sure there are churches where there are certain questions that shouldn’t be asked and everyone knows not to raise them. But I don’t have any experience with that kind of church- and, more importantly, I wouldn’t want to pastor that kind of church.
For the most part, the people I know and pastor struggle with their faith. And why shouldn’t they?
God taking flesh in a first century Jewish carpenter? God dying on a cross for_________, because of_____________, in order to __________…..what exactly? Did God really defeat Death at Easter? If so, why is it (not to mention Sin) still very much a part of our world? And speaking of world, what does this have to do with me and my life when you get down to it?
Like it or not, the way God has chosen to deal with us is in paradox and so there’s no other way around it. We’re a part of the paradox; therefore, genuine faith will always be equal parts doubt. To me, there is no more honest, faithful statement than ‘I believe, Lord, but help my unbelief.’
For every college student who realizes what they learned in 6th grade confirmation won’t sustain them through the next part of their life, I can point you to a white-haired, life-long church goer still trying to sort out this business about incarnation.
And here’s why that’s not just genuine but beautiful: to struggle, to wrestle, to question- those are all active verbs. Without doubt, ‘faith’ is just a staid affair. There’s no journey, no quest, no exploring and grasping after God, truth and a beautiful life.
So one of my favorite things about being a pastor is getting to sit ringside as people wrestle with their doubt. Because, just like Jacob by the Jabbok River, you can bet the house it’s in the wrestling that God is to be found.
And blessing too.