Jason Helveston was always a believer. And for a believer, doubt is perceived as the enemy. Can that enemy be faced with opportunity and grace?
A number of Sundays ago I had a problem. It was a serious issue. I remember it really well. On my way to church a cold chill ran up my spine and my head hurt. For as long as I could remember I had been a “believer”. But this particular morning I was met with an incredible frustration concerning my aforementioned spiritual title. Within Christian circles “believer” is a code word of sorts to talk about those who are on our team and, I guess, those who aren’t. I know. It’s a problematic distinction. It assumes “non-believers” (or everybody else) don’t believe. But that just isn’t true. There are plenty of things people believe besides the story that God created everything, people messed up everything, and so God sent his Son, Jesus to essentially recreate everyone and everything. (My fellow believers, please allow this simplistic retelling of the story in order to make a more urgent point.) Some people believe in Nirvana. Others in the Bab. Others still in the human race. All I’m saying is “believer” is certainly an ill-conceived title. Never before had I felt the tension of this name than that Sunday I was driving to church. That day I wasn’t believing at all. In fact, I was doubting. Everything.
My particular conundrum would be problematic for any “believer”. But for me…and on this day…it was especially alarming. You see, I was on my way to church because I am a pastor. I was on my way to preach. In moments I would be speaking to a room full of other believers who expected to be encouraged and educated in their beliefs. By the very definition of my own team I felt like I was out. I felt incomplete, broken, even sinful.
Regretfully within the space of Christian faith and the community of believers called the church, doubt is perceived as the enemy. I mean it’s the opposite of faith, right? Doubt represents just about everything that makes us Christians nervous. Questions. Conversations. Investigation. Frustration. Tension. Troublemaking. Now just to be clear, nobody ever says this. There isn’t a book. And it’s not like there’s a class in Sunday school or in seminary for that matter that tells you such things are unacceptable. But like an awkward first date that just isn’t working….you pick up on it pretty quickly.
Needless to say, I wanted to change my sermon. That is, if I was going to preach at all. At the very least I felt compelled to share honestly that this particular message was difficult for me. And so I did. Right in the middle of my message on faith and belief to a room full of believers, I confessed my doubt. Immediately the room was split. There were some who were obviously uncomfortable and nervous. Others however seem as though they relaxed for the first time since I had known them. Doubt was certainly an unwelcome intruder to some. But it was something else entirely to others. Something that felt much more like hope, opportunity, and grace.
What I’ve come to realize since that agonizing Sunday is that definitions are extremely important. And assumptions are jerks. Too often inside and outside the walls of faith and belief, doubt is perceived as the enemy because doubt is assumed to be the exact opposite of faith. And the only reason we believe this is because faith has a bad definition too. Faith is usually treated as the complete certainty of all things God and Jesus and Bible. Really? The finite comprehending fully the infinite? People totally getting and predicting and cataloguing God? Twenty-first century folks unsurprised by a first century carpenter who embrace the reputation of Lord and God? Come on man!
Fortunately that’s not how faith is explained in Scripture, nor is it the way faith moves and breaths in real life. Faith is about seeing. One New Testament writer says faith is the evidence of things unseen. And so in my mind, faith is about seeing a future where God is both present and victorious. Now let’s be honest…God’s presence and God’s victory are extraordinarily causes for a myriad of responses. Questions. Conversations. Investigation. Frustration. Tension. Troublemaking. Upon further investigation doubt lives in much closer proximity to faith and belief than most are willing to admit. Doubt and curiosity and honesty are not the enemies of faith; in many ways these are actually the allies of the believer. Or as one rabbi puts it, “it’s through the waters of mystery that we arrive to the shore of discovery.”
Illustration by Good Men Project Staff Illustrator, Katherine Sandoz