doubt: it’s not cool or hipster, but sacred

Posted by PeteEnns on December 30, 2016 in doubt The Sin of Certainty 11 Comments

doubtBeing “saved” by God is an ongoing process of growth and transformation, of dying and rising, of being “conformed to the image of his [God’s] Son,” as Paul puts it (Rom. 8:29). Following Jesus means experiencing the taste of resurrection and ascension now—whether doing laundry, paying bills, or leading nations.

Getting there is all about dying, and each cycle of dying and rising we come to in our lives brings us, I believe, to greater insight into our deep selves, where Christ lives “in us” and our lives are “hidden” in God [Colossians 3:3].

Of course, we all know that dying, rising again, Christ in me, hidden in God, seated in heaven are metaphors—the use of common language to grasp the uncommon, a reality too deep and thick for conventional vocabulary. Following Jesus is an inside-out transformation so thorough that dying and coming back to life is the best way to put it.

Doubt signals that this process of dying and rising is underway. Though God feels far away, at that moment God may be closer than we realize—especially if “know what you believe” is how we’re used to thinking of our faith.

Doubt isn’t cool, hipster, or chic. Doubt isn’t a new source of pride. Don’t go looking for doubt; don’t tempt it to arrive out of time. But neither is doubt the terrifying final word.

Doubt is sacred. Doubt is God’s instrument, will arrive in God’s time, and will come from unexpected places—places out of your control. And when it does, resist the fight-or-flight impulse. Pass through it—patiently, honestly, and courageously for however long it takes. True transformation takes time.

Being conscious of this process does not relieve the pain of doubt, but it may help circumnavigate our corrupted instinct, which is to fear doubt as the enemy to be slain. Rather, supported by people we trust not to judge us, we work on welcoming the process as a gift—which is hard to do when our entire life narrative is falling down around us. But we are learning in that season, as Qohelet did, to trust God anyway and not to trust our “correct” thinking about God.

Doubt is divine tough love. God means to have all of us, not just the surface, going-to-church, volunteering part. Not just the part people see, but the parts so buried no one sees them.

Not even us.

from The Sin of Certainty, pp. 164-65


  • Much wisdom in your words here, Pete. I would add that “following Jesus” to the extent admonished in the bible requires the “new birth”. We must be born-again. Everything else in the Christian life proceeds from that.

  • I’ve certainly struggled with doubt and uncertainty in my life as a Christian, and as a human being; I continue to struggle with them now. I believe it is wrong to break communion and community with those who are struggling with doubt and uncertainty regarding the specifics of Christian faith; I wouldn’t want others to distance themselves from me as a result of knowing of my own struggles. If such struggles lead to a place of openness to reformulating one’s understanding of the specifics of Christian faith, that doesn’t mean one has ceased to be Christian, no matter what amount of anguish and painful alienation from previous beliefs may be involved.

    But, if as a result of skepticism one reaches the conclusion that God doesn’t exist, or that Jesus, though he died 2000 years ago, is not powerfully and consciously alive now, then I think it’s intellectually dishonest to continue to pretend that one is still in communion with those whose community is predicated on those beliefs, and the experiences and practices that flow from them. Then it would seem to me that your path and the conclusions it has brought you to have already led you outside the community, whether you acknowledge it to others or not, and whether they are willing to say it to you or not. It seems to me that, at this juncture, it is best that everyone involved be honest about the situation. That doesn’t mean loving concern for each other should cease. But it does recognize that your struggle has now become fundamentally different from that of those who remain inside the community and its shared beliefs, convictions and practices.

  • I might add: I make the above comment as one who has never belonged to an evangelical church, but has been a member of mainline churches all my adult life, and is committed to the openness (within limits!) of inclusive, “progressive” Christianity.

  • I love this!! I needed to hear this today!!
    [Doubt]…”will come from unexpected places—places out of your control. And when it does, resist the fight-or-flight impulse. Pass through it—patiently, honestly, and courageously for however long it takes. True transformation takes time.”
    Thank you Pete for this is a potent reminder, A Stitch in Time as it were!
    “work on welcoming the process as a gift—which is hard to do when our entire life narrative is falling down around us.”

    1st John 3.20
    If our hearts condemn us, God is greater than our hearts, and He knows all things.

  • I would like to say confused rather than doubtful, which arises from the expectation of certainty and sounds rather despairing. I’m with Descartes, if you doubt that there is a spirit around here somewhere, you’ve really lost the thread. A pathology. Hopefully treatable. Whereas confused is normal and ignorant is a permanent situation when dealing with complex systems like “life”.

  • I don’t think I’d put it that way, Jeff–at least not in my experience–that doubt is self-fulfilling. But there may be a lot of junk inside that has to come out that looks like the slippery slope phenomenon. It may be that we have to see those thoughts through with bracing honesty. And (for others who might be thinking it) there is no script for where that path leads, though I do think that path needs to be walked “coram deo” (in God’s presence) as best as we are able, even if that may be the most counterintuitive thing we can imagine.

    • Ahhh yes… fair enough. I probably should have used ‘self-perpetuating’ instead of ‘self-fulfilling’. You’re right– a lifetime of evangelicalism (pentecostal/holiness-style) made for a significant amount of refuse to be exposed. Slippery slope, indeed.
      The eventual snowball effect of doubt & deconstruction was devastating to me, because I wasn’t prepared for just how pervasive the effect would be in my mind and heart. I knew little of ‘coram deo’. In fact, the deeper I delved, the farther I felt from his presence (truth is, we were never closer). Of course, 13 years ago, there were no real support mechanisms; just a few equally-as-confused bloggers and a couple of Brian McLaren books floating around.
      These days, I still struggle with the fallout, but at least the community is a little more expansive, and the tension isn’t quite as isolated. That’s helpful.

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