The Internets are a flutter with deconstruction and rumors of deconstruction these days. It’s big news when a fellow believer falls away, I guess. Bigger, it seems, if he made his living trying his best to navigate premature fame, an inherited church scandal, and the conference circuit. Belief, it would seem, matters more if you are a Very Important Person, and therefore ought to be commented upon as such.
I have always been thinking about faith and doubt and their very tenuous relationship mostly because I have always had a very tenuous relationship between them myself. I’ve made no secret about it here on Sayable ever and, God help me, I never will. My anthem, if I have one, has always been, “I believe. Help my unbelief.” Easy believism is not a gift I’ve been granted, and if I’m honest, it’s not one I want. I almost always feel and think I am one step from apostasy. I know a lot about God and this keeps me hemmed in most days, but I rarely feel a lot about God and this is where my doubt manifests itself most.
This past week it came in waves, one after another. Giant disappointments, glaring slander, opportunities for faith (and fear), abject shock, deep sadness, questioning of self, the Spirit, of others, and more. I rarely feel until I feel all the things at once. And, in there, once my feelings get shook, my faith shakes too. Not my faith in God—never that, but my faith in faithfulness, in doing the best we can with the information we have at the time in which we have it and then finding out we’ve failed or people have felt failed or been disappointed. I ask the question: “Is it worth all this?”
On Saturday Nate and I talked all day long. It felt like a glass of the deepest, clearest, coldest water I’ve had in a long time. It’s been a full season and has meant we fall into each other at the end of the day, watch a PBS Masterpiece bit, and go to sleep. We talk but not all day, one long conversation bumping into another. I love my husband and it was over the threshold of conversation that I came to love him at first. And so on Saturday we talked about faith and doubt, slander and turning the other cheek, accusations and repentance. These are the dishes on the menu of our lives right now and we chewed them slowly.
After my question is posed to him: If God has given everyone a measure of faith, and they have spent their lives, energy, zeal, and wisdom trying to steward that measure of faith as best as they can, and they are persecuted, bullied, slandered, misunderstood, and marginalized not for what they believe, but how they try to navigate it, and they come to the bottom of their measure of faith and just have nothing left to humanly give, not even strength enough to say, “Lord, help me,” do you think God still sees them, loves them, and most importantly, saves them?
What I am asking is not a new question. It’s plagued theologians far wiser than me for generations. If we falter in faith, does God still save us? If, in a moment of doubt, we are swept away to face God, does he see the years of faith, the confessions of sin, the profession of Lord, and does he still save us? Is falling away for a moment falling away forever?
My husband is wiser than I, and listens for a long time, and it isn’t until Sunday morning that he reminds me of the story of Peter walking on the water. He had faith, then lacked it, cried out, and Jesus rebuked him, but still saved him.
I have always felt most comfortable around folks most comfortable with mystery, tension, the unknown, and how even the known is too complex to fully know. I welcome the doubters and questioners, I am doubtful of the certain and sure. I want an honest faith more than I want a robust faith, partially because I see where a robust and certain faith leads many, many men and women these days. It is those who are most sure who have the most to spend their lives proving instead of being conformed. The men and women who reached the end of their days still receiving the gift of faith with humility are those who received it every day with humility.
Men like Spurgeon, “I think, when a man says, ‘I never doubt,’ it is quite time for us to doubt him, it is quite time for us to begin to say, ‘Ah, poor soul, I am afraid you are not on the road at all, for if you were, you would see so many things in yourself, and so much glory in Christ more than you deserve, that you would be so much ashamed of yourself, as even to say, ‘It is too good to be true.'”
Or the Shepherd King David, “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?”
The sage Eugene Peterson, “Belief in God does not exempt us from feelings of abandonment by God. Praising God does not inoculate us from doubts about God.”
Madeline L’Engle, “The minute we begin to think we know all the answers, we forget the questions, and we become smug like the Pharisee who listed all his considerable virtues, and thanked God that he was not like other men. Those who believe they believe in God, but without passion in the heart, without anguish of mind, without uncertainty, without doubt, and even at times without despair, believe only in the idea of God, and not in God himself.”
And the great apologist C.S. Lewis, “I have found that nothing is more dangerous to one’s own faith than the work of an apologist.”
The deeper in we go, the more our measure of faith (and perhaps the more God asks of us), it seems, the more opportunity there is to wrestle with the complexities of the triune God, faith, science, beauty, sin, and so much more. And the more we wrestle, the more we step into the greatness of all God has to offer us, the greater the opportunity there is to suddenly lack faith, like Peter suddenly discovering he was standing on a watery foundation. And the more opportunity there is to say with the father of the demoniac in Mark 9: “I believe, help my unbelief.”
I do not lament my unbelief any more. I used to agonize over it, sure at any moment I would be taken up and rejected by the God of the universe. A few weeks ago I wrote that “The steadfastness and faithfulness of God means he never changes, but steadfastness and faithfulness in the people of God means we are always changing.” I think a lot of Christians fear this because it means we’re being tossed about by every wind of doctrine or cultural shift, but I believe if we have any love in our hearts for Christ at all, we are always in the process of repenting, reconciling, and being reformed and conformed to his likeness. We will do it imperfectly and so therefore we will do it by minute shifts, glory to glory.
I take great comfort in this from II Corinthians 3:18, “And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”
We all, as we behold God (who we cannot fully see or understand with earthly eyes) are being transformed. It’s a process and one which none of us is fully able to grasp or even comment on in the life of another.
Pray for me. Pray for yourself. Pray for the church as we learn what it means to truly walk without sight.